Sunday, 18 May 2014

Roasted Asparagus with Tomatoes and Chilli

I love asparagus so much. The season has begun early this year, with asparagus available from the end of April. We get lovely stuff here, from Claremont Farm, Church Farm and Hawarden Estate. Like strawberries, I don't buy when not in British season, as the asparagus starts to lose its flavour very quickly after picking.

There are so many ways to cook asparagus tastily - boiled for 5 minutes in water, stir-fried Chinese-style, baked in a hot oven with lots of butter, salt and pepper. Last night I had asparagus for the second night running, and decided to make use of some sad looking tomatoes which had been languishing in my fruit bowl. They were a little hard and unripe, but they did the job. In an ideal world, I would have used the reddest baby plum tomatoes I could find, but any of the interesting variety of small tomatoes you can find nowadays would be fabulous. We were using up leftovers, so I served with some sausages and mash (the tomatoey oil flavoured the mash nicely) but I'm not averse to eating the whole lot by myself with no other accompaniments!



  • 400g asparagus spears
  • Approx. 150g small tomatoes - my choice would be baby plum tomatoes, halved or quartered, depending on size
  • Salt and ground black pepper to season
  • 1/2 red chilli (leave a few seeds in for heat)
  • 1/2 clove garlic, peeled and sliced as finely as you can
  • Copious amounts of strong, punchy olive oil
Serves 2 as a side, or me as a main



  • Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees fan
  • Trim the woody ends from the asparagus (you can do this by bending both ends and the stalk will snap where the woody bit ends), and wash well in a few changes of water
  • Drain the asparagus and lay in a roasting tray
  • Wash the tomatoes and cut into halves or quarters, depending on the size. Using your hands, squash the tomatoes a little over the asparagus so that they become mis-shapen and give up some juice, but do not disintegrate. Lay on top of the asparagus
  • Finely slice half a chilli, keeping a few seeds/pith in if you like some heat. Add the chilli and the finely sliced garlic to the tomatoes and mix them in lightly
  • Drizzle the olive oil over the tomato and asparagus generously, and season with salt and ground black pepper

  • Place in the oven for 12 minutes, then remove and serve immediately
Roasted Asparagus with Tomatoes and Chilli
Served with sausages and mash on the side!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014


Has anyone noticed the recent lowering of veg prices in the supermarkets? I thought Sainsbury's seemed cheaper than usual, with a selection of vegetables for 69p, but then my thrifty mother informed me that I was being ripped off, and that Asda and Aldi were doing the same vegetables for 50p.

I've totally lost control of my fridge and freezer for a few reasons:
  1. My parents came to stay for a week to help when we were short of childcare, and I surrendered my kitchen to them (this is normal, and much appreciated Mum and Dad!). We also got a night out whilst they were here - thanks again!
  2. My in-laws came to stay for a few days the following week, and they eat a different type of meal to my parents. They also very generously offered to babysit, so that we could experience the eating of a meal without having to get up once from start to finish.
  3. We've just had a lovely Bank Holiday weekend in Shrewsbury, where I did no cooking whatsoever
What this does mean though, is that I was frantically stuffing food into the freezer before we left, and putting all remaining vegetables into Lakeland Stayfresh Longer bags, in an attempt to preserve them for this week. Somehow I ended up with 2 aubergines, and decided to try a moussaka.

I've titled this post "Moussaka" because like my family spaghetti "bolognaise", I'm sure it contains ingredients which might be frowned upon by purists. I had about 150g of soaked chickpeas which I pulsed in a food processor and added to the lamb mince, also a couple of bags of mozzarella cheese (2 weeks past sell-by date...). The result was lovely tonight - I hope you enjoy it too.



  • 450g lamb mince
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • Olive oil for frying and roasting
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp chopped oregano
  • 1 tbsp Lea and Perrins Worcester sauce
  • 150g chickpeas, soaked overnight, then drained and boiled hard for 15 minutes (or use tinned chickpeas)
  • 2 aubergines, rinsed and cut into round slices 5mm thick
  • 1 X 400g tin of peeled plum tomatoes
  • 1tbsp tomato puree
  • 250g sliced mozzarella cheese
  • 1 handful of grated parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 pint of milk
  • 40g butter
  • 2 dessert spoons of plain flour
  • A pinch of grated nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper to season
Serves 4-6



  • Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees fan
  • Soak the aubergine slices in a large bowl of salted water for 30 minutes, to remove the bitter juices
  • Pulse the chickpeas in a food processor, so that they are coarsely chopped
  • Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a saucepan to a moderate heat, then add the onions and fry for 3-4 minutes until softened. Add the garlic and fry for a further minute, stirring constantly
  • Turn up the heat and add the lamb mince. Brown the mince completely, then tip the mixture into a colander and drain away the excess oil. Give the pan a rinse and return to the heat
  • Return the lamb mixture to the pan and add the chickpeas, bay leaf, oregano, tinned tomatoes, tomato puree and Lea and Perrins, and add plenty of pepper to season. Stir well to combine
  • Bring the pan to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Check the pan regularly, and add small amounts of water if the mixture appears to be drying out
  • Brush oil over a couple of baking trays and pre-heat in the oven
  • Drain the aubergines, rinse with water and shake well to get rid of excess water
  • Lay the aubergines in a single layer on the baking trays and brush with olive oil. Add ground black pepper

  • Bake the aubergines in the oven for 30 minutes, turning once
  • Make the béchamel sauce. Heat the butter in a heavy-based pan over a moderate heat. When it has melted, add the plain flour and stir-in to make a roux. Cook over a gentle heat for 1 minute
  • Add the milk, a little at a time, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Continue adding until the milk has reached a thick but pourable consistency. Add a small amount of salt and pepper, and grate a little nutmeg into the sauce. Mix thoroughly
(I used two baking trays as I was cooking for two separate meals)
  • Place about 1/2 of the mince mixture into a baking dish and add 1/2 the aubergines. Repeat with the mince mixture and add the remaining aubergines on top
  • Pour the béchamel sauce over the aubergines and top with sliced mozzarella. Add a handful of grated parmesan cheese, then bake in the oven at 180 degrees for 30 minutes until the top is browned and bubbling
  • Remove from the heat and serve immediately. I like mine with rice and some green vegetables


Baked Cod with a Cheese and Mustard Crust

This recipe is so simple, and perfect for a quick dinner after school. It takes about 5 minutes to prepare and 12 minutes to cook. I made up the breadcrumb and cheese mixture at night and kept it covered in the fridge, only adding the oil when I was ready to cook. When just cooked through, the fish is moist and juicy, and its mild taste is nicely offset by the strength of the cheddar and mustard. The children had it with mash and peas (well, the middle ate two peas, which is two more than he ate last time they were served), but it would also go nicely with some simply cooked pasta, tossed in butter or olive oil, salt and pepper, and any manner of green vegetable... courgettes, asparagus and fine beans spring to mind.



  • 2 thick fillets cod or similar firm white fish
  • A large handful grated cheddar cheese - aim for similar volumes of cheese and breadcrumbs
  • 1 slice of stale bread (I prefer seeded but any bread is fine, and the crusts are fine too)
  • 1/2 tsp English mustard powder (has to be Colman's for me)
  • 4-5 enormous shakes of olive oil - or 20-25g of butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1 tbsp pine nuts
  • 1 tsp dried mixed herbs
  • Salt and pepper to season
Serves 2-3



  • Pre-heat oven to 195 degrees. Oil a baking tray and pre-heat in the oven
  • Whizz the bread to breadcrumbs in a processor, or chop roughly
  • Mix the breadcrumbs, grated cheese, mustard and dried mixed herbs with the pine nuts together in a bowl, and season well with salt and pepper. Add the olive oil (or butter) and mix well
  • Press the breadcrumb mixture down onto the fish fillets and place on the baking tray

  • Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the cod is cooked through and the crust is browned
  • Serve immediately
Baked Cod with a Cheese and Mustard Crust

Served with mash and peas