Helen’s Vegan “Medi Veg” Pasta

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Hello lovelies,

I came up with this fantastic pasta quite recently and honestly, it’s so delicious that even my die-hard meat-loving husband is asking for seconds! I was inspired by Tesco’s frozen Mediterranean vegetable mix but there were things that I wanted to add and things that I wanted to remove or reduce- particularly too much salt and oil. With that in mind, I sat down and conjured up my own roasted Medittereanean vegetable mix, only for us to blend them and turn them into a tasty pasta sauce!

I used dried pasta for this recipe, rather than fresh, as it is typically vegan (though do check!). Although not a vegan myself, I’ve wanted to explore vegan cooking for a while to find tasty, healthy recipes which will help provide my husband and myself with essential vitamins and nutrients. After a little research, I’m proud to say that this recipe is 100% vegan. It can be served alongside meat for those meat-lovers or topped with grated cheese for vegetarians of course, but I assure you that it’s quite fine on it’s own!

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups (512g) dried fusilli pasta
  • Water, plus 100ml boiled water
  • 24 cherry tomatoes
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 red onion, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 courgette, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 1 tbsp dried basil
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt (use only 1/2 tsp if you prefer not to boil pasta in salt water)
  • 1tsp ground black pepper

The method:

  • In a large pot, bring enough water to a rolling boil and boil the fusilli pasta for 5 minutes, or until cooked through. Add 1/2 tsp salt, if desired.
  • In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil and add cherry tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, courgette and garlic. Cook continuously over a medium heat until onion turns translucent and the vegetables have softened, about ten minutes.
  • Once cooked, place the vegetable mix into a blender and add the remaining salt, black pepper, basil and boiling water. Blend for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until smooth.
  • Drain the pasta and return to the pot. Pour over the vegetable mixture and stir well to coat the pasta.
  • Serve and enjoy!

I hope that you enjoy this recipe and I hope that it satisfies your tastebuds. Has this pasta got the thumbs up from your picky eaters? Do let me know in the comments!

Keep smiling, everyone!

Helen xx

Air Fryers: Added Clutter Or Kitchen Must-Have?

Hello lovelies,

Very recently, a dear friend of mine suggested that I invested in an air fryer as part of my bid to start eating healthier. I was intrigued and curious about these kitchen contraptions, but I promised that I’d by one and write an honest review of my experiences to share on my blog.

I decided to buy myself the Tower T17023 Compact Air Fryer, owing to the promises of it’s ‘compact’ size. It’s a classic case of buyer beware as ‘compact’ in this sense is misleading. It may be compact up to other air fryers, but standing taller and wider than the Russell Hobbs electric kettle, there is nothing compact about this beauty. I ordered a metal shelf unit to store some new ketchen gadgets on, but my air fryer and pressure cooker sit proudly on top shelf as they’re too tall to go anywhere else!

The fryer itself heats up to 200 degrees and boasts a generous 2.2L capacity. For larger families it may not be enough, but for 2-4 people who are trying to eat healthier but still want to enjoy fried food, then this air fryer is quite ideal.

So how did it fair?

The cooking challenges

I decided to cook 5 different dishes in my air fryer and give you a fair summary of each. All of these dishes are available in the freezer section at Tesco.com, unless otherwise stated. You also need to pre-heat your air fryer for 3 minutes prior to cooking, and the little green LED On top tells you when the appliance is hot enough. No additional oil is required, apart from for the roast potatoes!

Experiment 1: McCain’s Oven Chips

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Oven time: 25 minutes, as intructed

Air fryer time: 12 minutes, plus 3 minutes preheat, as instructed

I filled the container to the brim with frozen chips as I was concerned that portion sizes between three people would be scarce, but it actually turned out to be more than enough and produced three very generous portions, which was an overall pleasing result. The chips were hot, slightly crispy and fluffy in the middle, and everyone said they preferred them this way, compared to when they were cooked in the oven, where they turned out feeling greasy, still slightly hard, and like typical chip shop chips.

Time saved: 10 minutes

Experiment 2: Quorn Vegetarian Nuggets

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Oven time: 15 minutes

Air fryer time: 6 Minutes, plus 3 minutes preheat

I had to guess with these because there is no instructions for vegetarian nuggets in the air fryer instruction manual, but the back of the packet mentions 15 minutes so I took a stab at 6 minutes. One thing that amazed me about these nuggets is that there is quite a bit of oil that comes out of them after cooking, but all of the unhealthy stuff is low on the packet and so I gathered that maybe it just makes them healthier, since the fat has kind of been cooked out of them.

I love my Quorn nuggets and, owing to the fact that I can sit down to eat in less than 10 minutes and the fact they are vegetarian and healthy, these delicious air-fried nuggets are now a stable part of my lunchtime repertoire.

Time saved: 6 minutes

Experiment 3: Egg & Bacon Omelette

Rating: 0.5 out of 5.

Hob time: 7 minutes

Air fryer time: 15 minutes, plus three minutes preheat

Oh my dear readers.. the things I put my poor air fryer through for you. You’re supposed to be able to fry almost anything fryable in this air fryer, including bacon and egg, so I wondered how difficult an omelette would be. The answer? Very.

I dry-fried the bacon for approximately 3 minutes to make sure I wasn’t divulging myself into a nice unhealthy slice of raw pork. With that looking suitably cooked through, I poured the eggy mixture on top, slammed the container back into the appliance, and waited.

Oh readers, what did I just do?

I hoped that the hot air from the air fryer would make my omelette bubbly and light, but it did not. The egg took an eternity to cook and came out firm and rubbery. The result was so unappetising that I couldn’t even bring myself to photograph it for you.

Please, please, for the love of good food, please keep your bacon and eggs far, far away from your air fryer.

Time saved: – 11 minutes

Experiment 4: Tesco’s Frozen Churros

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Oven time: 20 Minutes

Air fryer time: 8 minutes, plus 3 minutes preheat

Okay okay, I know.. I’m trying to eat healthy, but sometimes you need a little treat! I bought these for after our New Year’s Eve steak dinner and I had some left so I thought hey, why not air fry them this time?

Credit where it was due, these churros came out of the air fryer lovely and crispy. The oven ones tasted slightly burned in the centre, but they were lovely and chocolatey when they came from the air fryer. Served up with a small quenelle of good quality vanilla ice cream and some fresh raspberries, they are quite the treat.

Time saved: 9 minutes

Experiment 5: Roast Potatoes

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Oven time: 25 minutes, plus 10 minutes pre-boiling

Air fryer time: 20 minutes, plus 3 minutes preheat, as instructed

My husband will hate me for this, and he hated me for it (lovingly, of course!). Normally, my husband does the Sunday dinner, so when I took over the kitchen and turned out some delicious, crispy roasted potatoes from the air fryer, he wasn’t too impressed – well he was, but he at least tried not to be!

The trick to crispy potatoes is to pat them dry with some kitchen paper after peeling and cutting. If you don’t, then the potato juices repel the oil and the oil sits at the bottom of the pot. The result? Hot, dry, boring potatoes – bleurgh!

To make my potatoes, I mixed 1/2 tablespoon olive oil (as is the recommendation) with 1/2 teaspoon all purpose seasoning, then poured the mixture on the spuds and gave them a good toss to coat them all. I did find that I needed to add about another tablespoon of oil as the potatoes started to dry out, but that’s still a lot less than what they would have been cooked in if I’d allowed my husband to cook them in the oven!

I definitely think they’d be better for a bit of drying with kitchen paper next time, but the best part was that you don’t need to pre-boil them before introducing them to the fryer. That’s a +1 for saving time, energy and water right there!

Time saved: 12 minutes

Overall, air fryers definitely are a healthier, more time efficient way to enjoy the not-quite-so-healthy foods that you know and love. If you have the room to store it, definitely consider adding an air fryer to your kitchen – just make sure you keep you eggs and bacon on the other side of the room.

Keep smiling, everyone!

Helen xx

Helen’s Hearty Slow Cooker Beef Stew (With Herby Dumplings!)

Hello lovelies!

It’s that time of year where the cold nights are settling in and we all start looking for something warm and filling to enjoy.

Have no fear!

I started pot of this wonderful hearty stew off this evening and I thought.. hey.. why not feature it on my blog? It was a bitter -3 degrees in some parts of the UK last night and I’ve no doubt that some of you need warming up!

Serves: 2

For this recipe, you will need:

  • 400g diced beef
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 medium-sized carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 500ml beef stock (or 500ml water and 1 bouillon cube)
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • 200ml red wine (I use Merlot!)

You will also need:

  • 100g plain white flour
  • A large pinch bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 large rounded tablespoon butter substitute (Utterly Butterly etc)
  • 30ml milk
  • Black pepper

Method:

  • Set your slow cooker to LOW
  • Place the beef, stock, carrots, onions, red wine and thyme in the bowl, cover with the lid and allow to simmer for at least 3 hours.
  • Half an hour before serving, set your slow cooker to HIGH.
  • In a small bowl, crumb together the flour, butter substitute, salt sugar, thyme and bicarbonate of soda.
  • Mix in the milk a little at a time until a stiff dough forms.
  • Divide the mixture with a spoon and shape lightly with your fingers. It will be a little sticky.
  • Give the stew a good stir and drop the dumplings into the stew, Stirring the stew first distributes the heat so that they start cooking straight away.
  • Cover with the lid again and allow the dumplings to cook for fifteen minutes.
  • Divide between two serving bowls and sprinkle with some cracked black pepper. Enjoy!

Feel free to add other vegetables and let me know how it turns out. This is only a very simple, warming and filling stew from my household to yours!

My Perfect Steak & Onion Rings Recipe



I promised Matt that I would be sure to include the way I cook his steak with onion rings on my recipes page. We’ve tried all kinds of steak for this, but we’ve agreed that a nice juicy sirloin or rib-eye steak is best.

From several men that I have spoken to, my husband is apparently a lucky fella. A woman who knows how to cook a steak to perfection is apparently to be cherished!

I always remove the fatty rind from my steak. Personally, I find it gives the steak a less greasy, more luxurious flavour. Try it and see what works for you.

My onion rings are made with a simplified tempura batter. Since making them the first time, my onion rings have become rather popular. I tried making them with a beer batter like I used for cod and I found this worked just as well. The ingredients are also a lot cheaper and the result is just as good!

For this recipe, you will need:

The Steak

Ingredients

  • One 8 oz Sirloin steak, fat removed
  • 1 tsp finely ground sea salt
  • 1 tsp finely ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp clarified butter
  • A little flour

You will also need

  • A griddle pan
  • Tongs or a spatula
  • A clock, or a good sense of time!
  • A pastry brush

The method

  • Combine the salt and pepper and season the steak generously on both sides.
  • Melt the butter in the griddle pan. When a pinch of flour bubbles in the pan, it is ready.
  • Fry the steak in the centre of the pan for 2 minutes thirty seconds. Flip and fry on the other side for another 2 minutes and thirty seconds. It will be brown on the outside, but perfectly medium-rare in the centre.
  • Allow the steak to rest for a minute or two while you prepare the plate. Brush with the melted butter and juices before serving.

The onion rings

Ingredients

  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp plain white flour
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • 1 pinch bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 pinch table salt
  • 3 tbsp water
  • Sunflower oil

You will also need;

  • A small bowl
  • A fork
  • A small frying pan
  • A plate
  • Kitchen roll (for draining)

The Method

  • In a small bowl, mix together the flour, cornflour, bicarbonate of soda and salt.
  • Generously fill a small frying pan to 1/3 full with sunflower oil.
  • Add the water to the flour mixture and whisk with a fork. The mixture should resemble heavy cream. Do not worry if some small lumps remain, If the mixture is too thick, add a few more drops of water and whisk again.
  • Test the oil by allowing a small amount of batter to drip into the oil. If it bubbles and floats after a few seconds, the oil is ready.
  • Dip the onion rings into the batter and allow any surplus to run off. They don’t need a thick coating as the batter will bubble in the oil.
  • Fry the rings for a minute or two either side, until golden. When they are ready, transfer them to a plate lined with kitchen roll to drain.

To serve, place the steak on a warmed plate, pile the onion rings on top of the steak and serve with plenty of thick cut chips, mushrooms and peas.

Buon appetito!



My Family Heirloom Fruit Cake Recipe



I love Great British Bake Off, don’t you? Even if you’ve never seen it (you should), baking is pretty awesome and a favourite past time of mine.

When I was a little girl, my grandmother used to make these darling little gems and keep them in an old Quality Street tin. She’d never offer you a cake, she’d just hold them at hip height and rotate the tin back and forth a few times. If there was a rumble, she concluded, there were fruit cakes, and they were probably good enough to eat. Only then would she remove the lid and offer you a cake. When she passed away in 2011, I made it my personal goal to make these little gems and serve them in a Quality Street tin at her funeral, just like she would have done if she were there. I later found out that this recipe has been handed down to me by at least five generations!

It’s important to note that this recipe calls for going by sight, not exact weight. None of us are perfectionists, and in my blood line “about” is a perfectly acceptable unit of measurement. Use scales, but don’t use them too precisely. They are quite a dense cake and definitely aren’t a sponge, but don’t let that put you off.

Oh, and if you have a gas oven rather than an electric oven, then they are much, much better!

For this recipe, you will need:

  • About 8 oz/230g white self-raising flour
  • About 4oz/115g salted butter
  • About 4oz/115g 4oz granulated white sugar
  • 2 free-range eggs
  • A little milk
  • 1-2 handfuls sultanas

You will also need:

  • A large mixing bowl (glass preferred, but not essential)
  • A wooden spoon
  • Kitchen scales
  • A mug
  • A fork
  • A 12-hole muffin tray OR an 8-inch round cake tin
  • 12 muffin cases OR greaseproof paper
  • Wire cooling rack

The Method:

  • Heat the oven on gas mark 5/190 ° C/375 ° F.
  • Line the muffin tray or cake tin with muffin cases or greaseproof paper and set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl, crumb together the butter, sugar and flour until fine crumbs are formed.
  • Crack the eggs into a mug and whisk well with a fork.
  • Make a well in the crumb mixture and add the eggs and dried fruit. Mix thoroughly to combine all ingredients.
  • The mixture should fall off of the spoon with little effort when raised. If it’s too dry, add a little milk. If it’s too wet, add a little more flour.
  • Beat the mixture for 1-2 minutes to incorporate plenty of air. The cake batter should appear glossy and the sultanas should be covered.
  • Once ready, transfer the mixture and share or spread evenly into your lined cases or tin.
  • Bake the cakes in the middle of the oven for approximately 25 minutes. If a skewer pierced through the top of the cake comes out clean, then your cake is ready.
  • Transfer the baked cake or cakes to a wire cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

Top tip

  • These cakes is best enjoyed with some lovely traditionally sweet, white breakfast tea!



My Omelette To End All Omelettes!



Hello lovelies,

For lunch today my dearly beloved asked me to make an omelette and I decided to be a little more attentive than usual. Normally, I just make him his ham & cheese omelette but today I decided to go for that something extra!

As a sensualist, cooking is just something else that I enjoy. I love it when I create such a flavour that I leave people silenced!

For this crowd-pleasing omelette you will need:

Ingredients

  • 3 large, free-range eggs
  • 1 small white onion, diced
  • 1tbsp olive oil
  • 1 pinch table salt (not rock salt)
  • 1 pinch ground white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried parsley
  • 2 tbsp fresh milk
  • 1 slice deli ham, diced
  • 2 medium slices mature cheddar cheese

You will also need

  • A non-stick frying pan
  • A jug
  • A whisk
  • A small bowl (for the fried onions)

The method

  • In a large non-stick frying pan, heat the oil and fry the onions until translucent, then set aside in a small bowl. Do not wipe out the pan as you can use leftover oil for cooking the omelette later.
  • Whisk the eggs, milk, salt, pepper and parsley together until uniform and foamy.
  • Heat the frying over a medium-low frame, whisk the egg mixture again briefly and pour into the pan.
  • Sprinkle in the ham and fried onions and crumble over the cheese.
  • Once the omelette is beginning to set and come away from the edges, flip it onto itself and finish cooking.

I’ve been asked to add mushrooms next time, so I will let you know how that goes!

What do you like in your omelettes? Let me know in the comments!