Italian Veggie Cottage Pie

A nice and easy vegetarian dinner here, and an interesting take on cottage pie from BBC Good Food.

Pretty simple to throw together – cook the diced aubergine first, then add the garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and some of their oil plus some oregano. Cook for a little bit then add the spinach and let it wilt down.

Add some flour and stir it in, then add some milk and grated cheese and bring to the boil. Let it bubble and reduce so that the sauce thickens, then transfer it all to a pie dish and cover with mashed potato and a bit more cheese. Warming, filling and tasty – plus a good wodge of vegetables!

Prawn Jalfrezi

A quick burst of heat for dinner on a cold winter’s day comes in the form of this prawn jalfrezi, the recipe for which is available online at the BBC Good Food website.

There were a few panics whilst making this – particularly when I realised we had no tinned tomatoes in the cupboard and I had to run to the corner shop on a particularly cold and windy night. The recipe also calls for you to cook the onions and spices, then add the chopped tomatoes and water and blitz with a hand blender. I tried to do this in the pan (heat turned off, obviously!) but the depth wasn’t sufficient to do without spattering so I had to decant everything to a pyrex jar, blitz it, and then put it back in the pan.

Also, the recipe called for one 400g tin of chopped tomatoes plus half a tin of water – I suspect the water wasn’t needed because our sauce was quite wet even after reducing down for a long time. The recipe said cook uncovered, but we took the lid off in an attempt to try and make things a bit thicker.

Despite that, the end result was really nice. Not a 100% authentic jalfrezi, but a nice and spicy sauce with a fresh taste.

Chicken Gumbo

After the tasty jambalaya we made a short while back, it seemed appropriate to make some chicken gumbo as a follow up. None of our recipe books really have much in the way of creole recipes, so we went with a recipe we found on the BBC Good Food website.

Things didn’t get off to a good start when the online shopping delivery didn’t come with any okra (they tried to offer us some pak choi as an alternative – clearly the person who packed our shop had no idea what okra was!).

I was also a bit worried when I started to read some of the comments under the recipe which said that it was bland and unauthentic. There was no need for concern though. I made the whole meal for 4 for just the two of us (some comments suggested that the recipe was a bit measly in terms of portions) and the quantities seemed to work out just right. I was a bit heavy handed with the spices too – “just in case” – and it all seemed to come together really nicely. The flavours seemed (to my British palate) pretty authentic and we thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing.

The recipe suggested serving with some rice or bread – Mark had brought home some freshly baked rye bread which, when smeared with lashings of butter, complemented the whole thing beautifully.

Pan-fried White Fish, Chorizo and White Bean Broth

A combination of all typically Spanish things, this BBC Good Food recipe seems a fairly good balance between simplicity and authenticity. Chorizo and cubes of white bread are fried with garlic to make croutons, while white beans (we used haricot) are boiled with thyme and bay leaf. 

Fry an onion with paprika, add the drained beans and some chicken stock: there’s your broth.

Pan fry the fish, and serve on the broth (not forgetting the sprinkles!)

In hindsight, the execution wasn’t quite as straight forward as I’d hoped, and I can’t help but wonder whether Nigella has any recipes like this – it’s right up her street, and her version would be much more streamlined and simple. Maybe it was the large quantity of washing up for a ‘bowl food’ meal. My haricot beans came from a tin unlike the dried beans described in the recipe, so perhaps they could be cooked straight in the broth. Then, close to the end of the broth’s coking time, the fish could be pan fried, set aside, and the croutons and chorizo rapidly cooked in the same frying pan.

Cajun Chicken with Bean Salsa

This would have been another BBC Good Food recipe, had I been able to find pinto beans in the supermarket. I’m not even sure what a pinto bean is, and whether black-eye, barlotti, butter, kidney or Heinz baked- beans would make a good substitute. So I used a can of mixed bean salad in water and hoped for the best.

The dish is incredibly simple. Red peppers, spring onion and avocado are diced and added to the beans, then tossed in lemon juice and olive oil. Chicken breasts are dusted in Cajun spice mix (ground coriander, chilli powder, cumin and salt) and flattened out between two pieces of grease proof paper with a rolling pin. 

An infinitely adaptable meal. No red peppers? Use whatever salad ingredients are lurking at the bottom of the fridge. The method of dusting chicken breasts and flattening before pan frying is a favourite of Jamie Oliver’s, paprika or fennel being commonly used but any ground spice in the cupboard could be used.

French-Style Chicken with Peas and Bacon

What do you cook on the hottest day of the year? A stove-top casserole which bubbles away for 30 minutes, apparently. 

Another recipe by BBC Good Food, this was actually a welcome shot of summer freshness, loaded as it was with lettuce, peas and spring onion. Following a long day in an un-air conditioned office, the salty bacon was something of a life-saver.

What was interesting to this hungry boy, munching on the little gem lettuce whilst waiting for the chicken to cook through, was how sweet the lettuce was. We so often just use prepared salad leaves that, having scoffed these little gems, just don’t compare.

One-Pan Roast Salmon and Asparagus 

The tray bake is an easy way to make a tasty weeknight meal: very little prep and minimal washing up. Usually very tasty they’re rarely healthy, see for example Nigella’s Spanish Chicken.

This recipe from BBC Good Food has all the ease of a tray bake but less guilt. New potatoes are roasted over about 45 minutes while other ingredients are added to the pan. First in-season asparagus, then cherry tomatoes, and finally salmon fillets. A drizzle of balsamic vinegar mid-roast adds sweetness while the fresh factor is boosted by a handful of torn basil at the end.

An easily adaptable recipe that could see any meat, fish or seasonal veg thrown in. Replace asparagus and tomatoes with apple and Brussels sprouts and the salmon for belly pork, for instance. Doesn’t that sound good?!

Roasted Asparagus, Pancetta and Cherry Tomato Pasta

A quick meal with few instructions needed, from BBC Good Food.

Roast panecetta and asparagus in a drizzle of oil, meanwhile begin to cook the penne. When the pasta is almost cooked, add halved cherry tomatoes to the roasting dish for five minutes.

Throw the cooked pasta into the roasting dish, tare in some basil leaves, stir in seasoning, then serve.

Fast, easy, inelegant and honest food.

Smoked Salmon Carbonara

Yet another one from BBC Good Food, we just wanted something that was quick to cook with little fuss.

What we ended up with was a very rich meal of double cream, pungent with garlic and smoked salmon. While good as a speedy weeknight meal, we felt that this could have tasted fresher: a return to this meal might see us substitute the smoked salmon with fresh, and maybe add lemon juice and zest. The chives were somewhat lost in all the fishy, garlicky taste, but parsley may work.

In the comments section of the website some user have mentioned adding broccoli or frozen peas to the boiling pasta. While we used wholemeal pasta, we couldn’t completely erase the guilt of this vegetable-less meal, and green leaf salad could be a good addition.

Halloumi with Tomato and Chickpea Salsa

We hadn’t eaten halloumi in a long time. Once a regular occurrence in the form of Looni Halloumi, our efforts to not keep eating the same things all the time have seen us try garlic mushrooms with pancetta and halloumi on toast and halloumi aubergine burgers with harissa relish.

A hankering for the dry-fried salty cheese led us back to a Looni Halloumi style recipe in the form of this recipe by BBC Good Food.

There are lots of dishes based around a grain (bulgur wheat, quinoa, couscous, rice) salad with flavoured withs herbs. Meatballs, grilled vegetables, fried tofu, sliced breaded chicken and, yes, fried halloumi all make good additions. The dish from BBC Good Food was simple to assemble, and following a recipe meant that we avoided going overboard by adding chopped dried fruit, nuts, olives, spring onions… these simple dishes can easily become complicated and expensive!