Archive | January, 2013

Winter Warm… Spicy Butternut Squash Soup!

24 Jan

Feeling cold?  Feeling a little down?  Feeling like you need a boost of vitamins and minerals?

Look no further!  This week I have been making this delicious winter warmer, and as per usual I took a recipe I know and then mixed it up a little.  It’s the time of year where we all need a good, hearty soup for our lunch/dinner to keep us warm, but so we feel like we are being good to ourselves too…. It is January after all!  I know I require soup at this time of year! So, why not make this recipe and then  freeze some of the portions for another day (see below), or you can pop it in a warm flask or Tupperware and take it to work with you for a delicious lunch.

If you want to eat this with some bread, try to choose a wholegrain/brown bread, as this will be packed with wholegrain goodness!  You could even have a tasty scone (see my next recipe, coming soon!) and make sure you eat these warm, with piping hot soup!  WOW!

Makes: 6 portions

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: 20 minutes (until all the squash is soft)


  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 4 carrots (finely chopped)
  • 2 stalks celery (finely chopped or grated)
  • 1 Leek or 1 large onion (finely chopped)
  • 1 large Butternut Squash (diced or grated)
  • 4 handfuls Red lentils
  • 2cm grated ginger
  • 1 ½ tablespoon ground coriander
  • 2 tsps ground chilli OR 2 fresh chilli’s, finely chopped (or enough to suit you!)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped/grated
  • 1 tin reduced fat coconut milk
  • 2 litres / 8 cups water
  • 2 vegetable stock cubes
  • Black pepper to season
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 handful of finely chopped fresh coriander – to serve (optional)


Wash your hands, get all your equipment and ingredients ready and then before you chop anything wash all your vegetables.

The lentils need washing next.  Place your 4 handfuls of red lentils into a large bowl.  Add lukewarm water and using your hands rub the lentils together.  You will notice the water turns cloudy.  Drain the water and repeat until the water is clear (approx. 3 rinses).

Next the lentils need to be cooked.  Most people would probably put the lentils in towards the middle/end of the cooking process, but this isn’t the right way to use lentils in your cooking.  It’s best to cook them and allow them to soften before you add any other ingredients.  So, place them in a pan, add the 2 litres/8 cups of water and bring this to the boil and then allow the lentils to simmer whilst you prepare the vegetables.

Now you are ready to start preparing your vegetables.

It’s really important when making a soup to ensure that all the vegetables are cut to the same size – this will ensure they all cook at the same speed.  So, if you are grating your vegetables (this will reduce the cooking time by 5 minutes) then you need to grate the carrots and the butternut squash.  If you are chopping – chop the carrots, butternut squash, celery and onion (or leek) so they are all the same size – no more than 1cm cubed.

You will notice that the pan with the lentils in is boiling away nicely, but that foam has developed on the top.  Spoon off this foam and throw it away – it doesn’t add any flavour, in fact just the opposite!

So, you’re ok to put all your vegetables into the pot now.  Place them in carefully – do not burn your hands and then add all of your herbs and spices.  Chilli is a flavour that some people can handle and others can’t, so if you are not sure just add 1tsp.  If you are brave or just like spicy food you can add a few more – but you must taste after each one to check it’s not too spicy.  If it is too spicy it could be inedible. Add the crushed/finely chopped garlic, stock cube/s and ginger.

Bring the soup to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes until the vegetables are soft.

Finally add the reduced fat coconut milk, stir well and take off heat.  I choose to use reduced fat coconut milk as it just reduces the calories a little, without taking away any of the flavour – so why not?  I think this is a slightly healthier option; especially if you are watching your calorie intake!

If you prefer a smooth soup then blend the soup with a hand blender or food processor for a thick, smooth consistency.  If you like chunky soups then you can leave it without blending; it will taste just as good.

Serve with brown, wholemeal or granary bread for an additional treat – or to make the meal even heartier.


Squashes are in season from August right through to March, so they are a fantastic winter vegetable.  They are a great source of fibre, to help you feel fuller for longer and they also contain lots of Vitamin A and Vitamin C.  Vitamin C is really important in the winter months as it helps boost the immune system, which can help you fight off colds or even prevent you from getting them in the first place.

Soups, as you will know are a great winter warmer!  So, if you live alone, don’t discount this recipe as it makes 4 portions.  Get creative!  You could make this recipe, eat one portion right away and freeze the other 3 for occasions you fancy some hearty soup.  Ensure to freeze it in suitable containers so that you can easily defrost and reheat the soup – you may just need to add a little more liquid when you come to heat it up again.  Alternatively, you could take this soup to work in a flask as a tasty, healthy lunchtime treat or out on a walk in the biting cold to help you defrost and re-energise.

If you decide to eat some bread with this soup, try to choose a healthy wholemeal/brown bread.  Wholegrain/brown bread is a great alternative to white bread as the wheat is not refined, so you get the wholegrain goodness, which includes extra fibre, B vitamins and essential fatty acids.  The increased fibre will keep you feeling fuller for longer!


Utterly Delicious Chorizo, Tomato & Spinach Pasta… gobble gobble!

19 Jan

chorizo stew

Hello readers!

I thought today I would give you a lovely, healthy, delicious, heart-warming, inexpensive dish that you can make over and over again – to share with family or friends; or just to eat all to yourself if you like!? Once made you could also freeze a few portions of this recipe, so that you have a tasty meal when you get in from work which will be ready in just 15 minutes.

So, ‘what is this amazing recipe’, I hear you cry? As the title suggests it involves chorizo, tomatoes and spinach. It is a little more like a stew than a sauce, but it can be eaten with pasta or rice, or you could even just toast a few pitta breads and dip them in the ‘stew’. I have done all 3 of these versions and it’s just great each time!

I have to mention where this recipe originated… I am very lucky to have some gem icecreamwonderful friends, some that are great cooks (others potentially not so!), but those that can cook, cook with me and it is generally a highlight of our reunions! So, this Christmas I ventured over to Anna’s house (you can see her over there…  eating ice cream with me) and we raided the fridge and made this! It was excellent and so I want to share it with all of you…

Without further ado…


COOKING TIME: 15 – 20 minutes

MAKES: 4 portions


  • 1 Large Onion  (33p)
  • 2 tsp Chilli Flakes
  • 2 Cloves Garlic
  • 1/3 Ring of Chorizo (£2 for the whole ring, so approx. 67p)
  • 1 tin/carton Chopped Tomatoes (79p)
  • 1 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar (the bottle cost me £1.30, so about 10p)
  • 1/4 bag Spinach Leaves (£1.50 for the bag, so approx. 38p)
  • Ground Black Pepper – to taste


Overall this dish should cost about £2.27 and with wholemeal/brown rice or pasta add about another £1.  I think a grand total of £3.27 is exceptionally reasonable value for a family of 4.

If you add a little cheese, add about 40p to the cost of the recipe, and if you eat a pitta bread with each portion too add another 60p.

I think the key with this recipe is, once you have the basic stew/sauce, you can make additions as you like to keep in line with your weekly budget.  Give it a go and experiment, if you find a cheap alternative to something you could always add that instead.


The first thing to do is obviously to get the onion cooking, so lets chop that nice and finely, then add a tiny bit of olive oil to the frying pan, heat it up (so that it is just lightly smoking… no more, you don’t want the onions to sizzle when they hit the pan).  Use a garlic crusher (or mortal and pestle?) to crush the garlic, and add this straight to the onions.  Add the chilli at this stage and then let all of this cook until they turn golden, but do not let them burn.  If they do burn, throw them away and start again as burnt onions will really spoil the taste of your dish.

Now the onions are lovely and soft, reduce the heat and prepare the chorizo.  I like to cut this into small pieces, just roughly chopped is fine (we aren’t cooking in a Michelin star restaurant so its ok!) and then pop the chorizo into the frying pan too.  You want to turn the heat back up and keep moving the chorizo and the onions around in the pan.  The chorizo will start to release its flavour as it cooks, through the oils in it.  This will give off a lovely aroma and will colour the onions.  Give this process about 5 minutes.

*If you are serving this dish with rice or pasta, start cooking it around about now.  Don’t add salt and try to use brown rice or pasta for a little extra wholemeal goodness.*

Next reduce the heat, so it is just on low… add the chopped tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and black pepper (to your taste preference).   I would advise not adding any salt to this recipe as the chorizo is salty and will give a salty flavour.  If you do add salt remember it is not good for your health to have too much salt, but also you could spoil the dish.  Just proceed with caution!

Let this cook for about 10 minutes.  The volume of the sauce/stew will reduce, so do feel free to add a little water to keep a saucy consistency –  we aren’t making chorizo and tomato paste.. unless you want to give that a go to!?

After the 10 minutes has elapsed you can start thinking about adding the spinach.  I would get this out of the bag and give it a very good wash.  Sometimes the spinach leaves can have grit/soil still on them and this will be discovered when you start eating and your teeth crunch onto the grit!  Once washed, tear the leaves or roughly chop them and then drop them into the stew/sauce and cook until the leaves wilt.  If you have never cooked spinach before and don’t know what the ‘wilt’ looks like, it is ok!  Just keep stirring until the spinach goes very dark green and becomes very soft, you will hardly be able to see it any more in the sauce!  (See my picture above!).

You are now about ready to serve!  Drain your pasta or rice, toast your pitta bread and then serve in a bowl.  If you want to indulge a little sprinkle some cheddar cheese or parmesan over the top.  If you have made it very hot you could add a little sour cream or natural yoghurt to reduce the heat a little.

Most of all… ENJOY!  You have put a lot of hardwork in, so sit down and enjoy your meal.

Ps.  If there is lots left over portion it up and freeze it in Tupperware boxes or freezer bags ready for another day – or make a large batch and freeze it.

PPS.  Another amazing addition is houmous!  (You can make this really easily, but if you buy it, buy the reduced fat version…)  So,warm some wholemeal pitta breads, carefully cut them in half, spread with houmous and eat with your chorizo and pasta/rice.  AMAZING.

Onion Relish… Just for DAD (…happy birthday old fella!)

15 Jan

onion relishHappy New Year everyone and all the best for 2013.  I hope you had a great Christmas and enjoyed making my mince pies – if you did so!?

For Christmas this year I made a range of relishes, chutneys and pickled a few things just for Dad, as these really are his favourite thing (I think I have been watching the Sound of Music too much!).  To say he loved my chutneys/relishes would be an understatement (… not blowing my own trumpet here) as he ate it (naughtily) at all times of the day.  Needless to say he was constantly reprimanded by my mother for doing so – ‘it’s supposed to be a treat!’

So this week it is his birthday and I thought he would love nothing more than the recipe, so that he can make it for himself over and over again.  He has all the jars he needs (recycled from me), so HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD and enjoy my yummy, scrummy onion relish!


  • 6 red onions
  • 200g dark brown muscavado sugar
  • 166ml cider vinegar
  • 45g balsamic vinegar
  • 3g salt
  • sprinkle of black pepper
  • 2 tsp thyme (optional)


First you need to chop all your red onions up.  It is best to do this by peeling them, cutting them in half and then cutting the slices, so you get half moons of onions.  This will make sure your onion relish has lots of lovely strands of tasty onions.  Make sure you chop them quite thin… each slice wants to be about 3-4mm.

Now all the onions can go in the pan.  You will need quite a large pan to fit all the onions in!  Turn the heat on, but only on a low heat.  You want to sweat the onions down, which means allowing them to go soft.  You don’t want them golden, nor do you want them burning – as this will give the relish a horrid bitter taste.  So ensure you keep the onions moving and that you don’t get bored and whack the heat up to high!

The sweating down of the onions should take about 30 minutes (I know that’s a long time!) but I promise it is worth it.  You will have noticed that the volume of onions in the pan has reduced by about 2 thirds.  This is right.  Don’t worry.

It’s now time to add the sugar.  Pop in this in with the onions and continue to stir the onions and sugar.  You want to caramelise the onions in the sugar now, to increase the flavour, so you can turn the heat up just a little.  Keep stirring, don’t allow to burn.  Has the sugar dissolved and coated all the onions?  Excellent, we are ready to add all the other ingredients.

So, in no order you can add the vinegars, salt, pepper and thyme (if you are using).  Keep stirring so that everything is thoroughly mixed. Your relish will now look nothing like relish and more like some weird onion soup with a very pungent (potentially eye watering) aroma.  This is just what you want!  Now let the liquid evaporate off (also known as reducing) the relish for about 5 – 10 minutes and then start stirring again.  You will notice that your relish looks sticky and gooey and thick.  PERFECT!  Turn the heat off and get your jar ready.  If you have not sterilised it – follow the notes below, otherwise pour/spoon your relish into the jam jar, use an oven glove to pop the lid on and taaa daa!  Your delicious onion relish is made.




Decorate your jars as so, and you can give them as presents! Gorgeous.


Have you sterilised your jar?

It is really easy to sterilise a jar.  Wash it thoroughly, rinse it, let it dry.  Turn the oven on.  On a baking tray place the jar and the lid and put in the oven at about 150 degrees for about 10 – 15 minutes.  Be really careful and wear oven gloves when handling the jar – it will be extremely hot!