Monday, 30 January 2012


Lentil lasagne

If I'm being honest, finding hearty substantial vegetarian recipes that don’t leave the meat eaters of the family feeling cheated has been very tricky. 

We've tried lots of recipes that just haven’t had enough... OOMPH ..for a better word.

There's nothing worse than slaving away preparing some supposed culinary wonder to find it’s gloopy- bland or just plain and unsubstantial..

I don't just mean the flavour, although that is vital, for me, it's also a question of consistency.  

At this time of year we would normally all have enjoyed a beef lasagne. I know you can eat it lasagne whenever, but it is a great winter feel good food.  

After much experimenting, and a small fortune on new cookery books, I finally developed my own vegetarian alternative, using lentils.

On the way we tried lots of other versions but this seems to be the most popular

It's always met with murmurs of approval from vege and meat eaters alike as the consistency is dense, as with beef, and the flavours are well developed.

Just perfect for this cold spell.

If you have scrolled down and thought no way it's too complicated.. Please...Don’t be put is straight forward ..and yes, the ingredients list is long...but most of it is in the store cupboard..honest! 


It's worth it!

Also, once you have chopped, fried, simmered and assembled which takes no more than 15-20 minutes maximum you just bung it in the oven and forget about it and get on with something far more worthwhile ..HA HA!!


Serves 4
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes


1 onion
150g Puy lentils- I use the dried variety by Merchant Gourmet great for flavour and texture
1 courgette
1 long pointy red pepper
3 cloves of garlic
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1tbsp tomato puree
2 tsp mixed herbs
2 tbsp red wine
Olive oil to fry. Salt and pepper to taste.

Sheets of lasagne to cover your dish for 3 layers this will vary on size of lasagne sheets and if square or oblong!! Sorry to state the obvious!

For the cheese sauce
1tbsp butter or marg
1 tbsp plain four
½ pint or 300ml Milk
120 g good strong Cheddar Cheese either grated or chopped into little pieces


1.     Chop the onion, courgette, red pepper and garlic and fry gently in olive oil until soft.
2.     Put the lentils in a saucepan and cover with the same amount of water again. Heat gently for about 10 minutes. Add a pinch of mixed herbs and a splash of red wine.
3.     Whilst the lentils are cooking add the red wine, herbs tomato puree and tin of tomatoes to the frying veg mix and simmer.
4.     After 10 minutes the lentils will be getting softer so drain them BUT KEEP THE WATER they have been cooking in( you might need it later)
5.      Put the lentils into the tomato mixture. Keep an eye on this don’t let it dry out...and add some more of the drained liquid if it looks like it will.
6.     Simmer this whilst you make the cheese sauce...
7.     Don’t be put off it is easy ..Melt the butter/marg in another saucepan on a low heat.
8.     Then, stir in the flour to make a rouĂ©...basically a paste..
9.     Stir the milk in gradually aiming to get rid of any lumps and keep a smooth consistency.
10.    Add the cheese and stir until it’s all melted. Season with a little salt and pepper and turn off heat.

Ok so now you’ve made the two components you just need to assemble it.   

You need an oven proof dish about 20 by 30 or 24 by 24 as one of mine is..Basically any dish big enough for 4 of you.

I tend to put just a bit more than a third of the mixture in the dish first, to give it a hearty feel, then cover with a layer of lasagne sheets topped with cheese sauce. Repeat this twice more aiming to keep enough sauce to make a tasty topping.

As a finishing touch I recommend grating a sprinkle of nutmeg on the top layer and a little grated cheese.

This is then cooked for approx 40 minutes at 180 – check the cooking instructions on the packet of lasagne you use. The brand I use is about 40 mins.

Serve with a crisp salad and if you are really hungry..garlic bread.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012


Chinese five spice marinade

At the weekend I bought a duck.

Not great for Teen Vegetarian I know, but, I had visions of a French inspired feast with a little lentil number for Teen V.

However, I went to see The Artist, which is such a fabulous film,

and got a bit sidetracked, so ran out of time for a proper family roast on Sunday. More of Roasts, which I also love another time....

Back to this week.

Yesterday. Monday. Chinese New Year.

Just the mention of Chinese New Year was enough to get my taste buds going. All I could think of for the whole morning was crispy roast duck. 

Fatal. So, I had a change of plan. Abandoned France and went off on a Chinese tack.

After a long search for fool proof crispy duck recipes on some of my favourite blogs- including

Which, by the way, is great for showing technical step by step suggestions on how to prepare food. I found an easy guide for roasting a large duck.

As mine was small bird I kept it really simple and basically scored the duck with a diamond pattern on its top and put it in the oven at 200 degrees.

 Because of its size it only needed one and half hours.

I cooked it top up for 30 minutes, then, turned it over for the next 30 minutes and turned it top up again for the final 30 mins. For the final stage I basted it with my spicy honey mixture making it smell delicious.

  Teen Vegetarian was totally taken with the spicy aromas filling the kitchen so we decided to cook some quorn pieces in the same sauce and she was very happy.

Normally I steer clear of quorn and meat substitutes as I don’t like processed foods and rarely buy a ready meal.

Why be a vegetarian and opt for a cleaner living if you are going to eat more processed stuff???

When Teen V became a vegetarian a year ago we were very busy and after a while ended up buying quite a bit of this type of food. 

It seemed more than a little ironic that she had made a choice not to eat meat, and yet was eating more processed food than we were.

 Umm not good!

Luckily it has all changed now. With a little more time and better planning I have managed to move away from this and now just use it occasionally.

Anyway, I thought I would give you the recipe for the delicious easy marinade/sauce as it was so versatile.

I put it on the duck as marinade and then drizzled it all over the carved duck before I served it and added some to the cooking quorn. 

Some of the family even dunked their spring rolls in it.


3 tsp Runny honey
1 tsp Black treacle
3tsp Chinese five spice
3tsp Soy sauce or a little more to suit your taste buds

The quorn was fried in a little sunflower oil with a sliced clove of garlic for a few minutes. Half a chopped beef tomato was then added and a teaspoon or two of the marinade. It only took a few minutes to cook and was pronounced delicious!


We served our duck and quorn dishes with stir fried batons of courgette, carrots and bean sprouts with slivers of fresh ginger.

Happy Chinese New Year!

Saturday, 21 January 2012


Herrings, Johnson's fish market, Old Portsmouth

After an interesting morning in the Naval Museum archive library, researching my radio play, I headed down to the fish market in Old Portsmouth in search of supper.

Fishing boat Old Portsmouth

On the Camber in Old Portsmouth is Johnson’s, a traditional fish market. 

Fishing pots Old Portsmouth

After the catch-Fishing nets and rope 

Johnson's Enterprises, Portsmouth's original fish market, is literally on the quay side. The water laps just metres away, fishing boats and ferry's glide past regularly.  It is a great place to buy fish. 

Big glass fronted cabinets are crammed with ice displaying a range of seasonal fish.

The boxes of sardines and herrings caught my eye instantly.
The sardines made me think of warm Mediterranean suppers. Lulling me with thoughts of summer that I was nearly seduced into buying some.

Sprats, Fish Market Old Portsmouth

 But as the biting wind blew in off the steely grey Solent I had a reality check and realized that what worked on a sultry Spanish evening probably wouldn’t prove as popular on a damp dingy January night in England

I was taken with the lemon sole and gurnard form Looe.
Then there was the beautiful looking mackerel... I was spoilt for choice!

However, as my feet went from damp to soggy then freezing, I realized that all I really wanted was the ingredients for a good fish pie. 

Darren, the manager, helped me pick a selection of fillets of coley, haddock and smoked haddock , then de skinned, boned and chopped the fish ready for me to cook.

Darren, filleting fish, Johnson's Enterprises, Old Portsmouth

How easy was that?!

I had been tempted by the plaice but he recommended waiting another few weeks for the best local fish to come in, telling me to enjoy the fish pie!

It’s great to have someone with his knowledge of the fish and sense of humour. To have the sea near by, well that's just an added bonus. I love the sea what ever the weather or season. The fact  that I can get great fish, thereby having the ingredients for a fresh wholesome supper that all the family will eat means I will definitely be back soon.

That was the easy bit.
 I now had to decide what fish pie I was going to make.

 There are so many recipes out there all claiming to be The ultimate or The easiest or The best...

All the celebrity chefs have their own version:

Jamie does a great one with grated carrot and cheese
Sophie has prawns and a celeriac mash
Nigella adds boiled eggs and cheddar.....and there are so many more..

All good but chez nous, the prawns often get picked out by someone in our house...
boiled eggs don't receive a warm welcome either and the celeriac mash was voted too strong a flavour for the fish below.

Instead we have tried a mash mix with sweet potatoes which looked pretty and went down well. On a plus side sweet potato is a great source of vitamin A so gets my vote as anything that boosts teen vegetarians vitamin and mineral intake is a bonus and to be encouraged.

So in the end I opted for a simple fish pie perfect for a cold winter evening. 


Serves 4
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 20-30minutes

Pre heat the oven to 180


The basics:
1 onion
500g mixed fillets of fish- I used coley, smoked haddock and haddock. It is a very good idea to make sure you do have some smoked fish to add flavour
2 leeks
 350 ml Milk
1tbsp plain flour
2 Bay leaves
Optional extras I have been known to put in; a tin of sweet corn, handfuls of spinach, or peas.

For the mash
500g  Potatoes
500g  sweet potato
splash of milk for mashing

Olive oil to fry. Salt and pepper to taste.
You need a saucepan, frying pan and deep pie dish for cooking.


1.     Peel potatoes and cut into small chunks and the sweet potatoes then put in a saucepan of water and boil until both are soft. Approx 15 minutes.
2.     While this is boiling chop the onion finely, and slice the leeks into circles. Then fry in a glug of olive oil until soft.  
3.     Put the milk, bay leaves and fish in a large saucepan and simmer gently to infuse the milk with the flavours of the fish for about 5 minutes- while the onions are frying.
4.     Stir in the flour to the onion and leek mixture and stir well until  a paste like consistency. Then add the milk gradually, stirring to avoid any lumps in the sauce. Don’t put in the bay leaves.
5.     When all the milk has been added turn off from the heat and add the fish.
6.     At this stage if you like prawns you can add prawns into the mixture.
7.     When the potatoes are soft drain them really well then mash them until soft and fluffy. You can add a splash of milk and knob of butter to create a smooth texture.
8.     Put the fish mixture into a pie dish and spoon the mash mixture over the top. Place in a pre heated oven for 20-30 minutes to brown.

Fish Pie served with mange tout and peas

It is great with peas and mange tout. 

HMS WARRIOR, Portsmouth.

Thursday, 19 January 2012


Inspired by Clementine's


In search of inspiration for an afternoon treat to cheer up hungry tired people returning in the January gloom  I was rummaging through the cupboard

 – oh the glamour and excitement of my life!- 

There I saw the half used pot of Italian mixed orange peel bought for the Christmas cake.

I am embarrassed to admit that usually these sort of pots generally get pushed to that back of the cupboard and are only rediscovered several months later when, 

1, they have lost all appeal, 

and 2, normally after something else has been knocked over and I have to do a clear out!

However, at the moment we are all totally addicted to Clementine’s...hence the photo. 

I am constantly buying those little crates of fruit and am totally amazed how quickly they are being eaten. 

With this thought in mind I decide the orange peel should not be left to fester behind bags of flour, but become the magic ingredient in my chocolate biscuits.

I know I said I am all about encouraging healthy eating, and maintaining a balanced diet and this really doesn’t sound very healthy, but,  I would much rather teen vegetarian gets her chocolate fix eating my orange, fruit and nut choccy bars than several bars of shop bought stuff.

To quote one of the expert chocoholic teen tasters..

 “Oh this has a lovely dense fudge-i-ness  to it”

Which I took as a huge compliment as actually it has enough healthy bits of fruits and nuts thrown in not to make it totally bad.

Here is the recipe:

orange, fruit and nut ChocCy biscuits 

Makes about 16 biscuits
Preparation time 5-10 minutes
Chilling time 2 hours


100g/4oz Butter or margarine
3 tbsp golden syrup
8 oz digestive biscuits roughly bashed up
2 tbsp cocoa
2 tbsp each of raisons and chopped nuts- again I roughly bash these up as it is great to have different sized pieces
1 tbsp candid orange peel
5 dried apricots chopped -I usually cut them up with scissors as it’s quicker
2 oz chocolate broken into bits (use up whatever you have around.. half eaten chocolate reindeers worked very well)


   1. Melt the butter/marg, golden syrup and cocoa in a large saucepan until bubbling
    2.Whilst this is melting crush the biscuits and nuts.

   3.Turn off heat and stir in the biscuits, dried fruit and nuts until coated with lovely 
     gooey chocolate mix
    4. Line a 20cm by 20-25cm baking tin with baking parchment. 
   5. Then add the chocolate to the mixture and tip into a lined baking tin
       Press down until flat then put in the fridge for a couple of hours until set.

Before you all worry that it only makes 3 pieces..don't panic...

It makes more 


It's just my camera and I weren't quick enough!

I had wanted to put a photo of a mound of the shiny chocolate pieces beautifully displayed on a plate.... just like they do in magazines


It proved so popular with the everyone that within minutes of it being taken out of the fridge only three pieces and a few crumbs remained!


Instead here are the remaining three pieces snapped before eager hands scoffed them too! 

So a word of advice... after this experience I would suggest doubling the recipe if you know you will have lots of hungry people and their friends. 

Otherwise just put a box of these on the table as well and I'm sure everyone will be happy.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012


Winter has finally hit and it’s really cold here.
 I love the pomegranates stacked in our local veg shop.

My default supper at this time of year would be a rich beef casserole however that isn’t an option for all of us. Let's face it, after all the excesses of the past few weeks I want something healthy and warming yet simple as a balance.

 In this weather I love soups and could eat them everyday however my enthusiasm doesn't seem to be shared by the teenagers in the family. So a half way house is a delicious Bean hot pot served with home made bread. 

It’s easy, tasty, veggie and here’s the best bit- can be quickly transformed for the carnivores who need a meat hit. It’s also fab as it can be added to easily if more people turn up and the left over’s can be used in ..a soup if there are any left over’s!!

So here is my quick and easy recipe for:


Serves 4
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 20-30minutes


1 onion
2 Cloves of garlic
1 red pepper
3 tins of cannellini beans (or 2 of cannellini beans and 1 tin of butter beans)
2 x packets of chopped tomatoes
Several sprigs of rosemary
½ tsp smoked paprika (can use 1tsp if want a warmer taste and palettes like it )
1tsp red pesto paste
Olive oil to fry. Salt and pepper to taste.


1.    Chop the onion, red pepper and garlic and fry gently in olive oil until soft. Stir on the half teaspoon of smoked paprika.
2.     Open and drain tins of beans and add to the pan
3.     Add the tomatoes, sprigs of rosemary and tomato pesto to the mixture.
4.     Bring to the boil then simmer for at least 20 minutes.


Chop one 10-12cm piece of chorizo into 1cm pieces for 2-3 meat eaters
Fry it gently in a separate pan so you release the rich spicy juices for a couple of minutes. Spoon the amount of bean mixture you need into the pan and cook as before.

This dish is best served with crusty bread or if you have the time, homemade focaccia...I will post my recipe for that another day as it's delicious and easy.

I think it's perfect for a cold winter evening and satisfies the veggie and non veggies in our household.