Spinach & Artichoke Pasta Bake

After watching numerous videos on ‘spinach artichoke dip’ or ‘spinach artichoke bread’, I jumped on the bandwagon and decided to make a spinach and artichoke pasta bake.

Cheese and spinach I love, so that wasn’t a problem. However, I had never tried artichokes until having this dish. I was a little bit hesitant, but after giving this new veg a taste, it made a great addition. I can understand why everyone loves the spinach and artichoke combination now!

This dish is really simple to make and lends from my Turkey and Bacon Pasta recipe. I added vegetable stock, cream cheese, cheddar, and parmesan to make a flavourful and creamy cheese sauce.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 250g pasta of your choice (I used wholewheat fusilli)
  • 150g baby spinach
  • 1 can (400g) artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
  • 250ml milk
  • 1 1/2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1 vegetable stock cube (I prefer Knorr)
  • 30g grated parmesan
  • 2 tbsp light cream cheese (I used Philadephia Light)
  • 100g grated mature cheddar (use 40g for topping)
  • 1 tsp season-all
  • 1 tsp ground garlic
  • 1/2 tsp paprika (for topping)
  • 1 tsp black pepper (1/2 tsp for topping)

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C fan)/ gas mark 4.
  2. Boil the pasta according to packet instructions, but remove from the heat 2 minutes before the suggested time.
  3. On a low heat, melt the butter in the pan and then add the flour. Stir for 2 minutes until the mixture becomes a smooth consistency.
  4. Pour in a quarter of the milk at a time, then the stock cube, and stir until the mixture blends smoothly.
  5. Add in the cream cheese, grated parmesan and cheddar, and stir until the cheeses melt into a smooth mixture.
  6. Add the spinach, artichokes, season-all, ground garlic, paprika and black pepper into the pan. Stir into the sauce until the spinach wilts. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.
  7. By now, the pasta should be cooked. Drain and add the pasta to the sauce, stirring until the pasta is covered evenly.
  8. Pour the pasta into an oven dish, top with the cheddar, paprika, and black pepper, and bake for 15 minutes.
  9. Enjoy!

Spinach Artichoke (1)

Tip: If your sauce is too thick, add some milk. If it’s too thin, add more flour and cheese.

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Meat-free: Week 16

I’ve made it to week 16!

These last few months have been very interesting. I’ve tried foods that I would have never usually have before: some good, some bad. I’ve also noticed myself leaning towards one particular type of cuisine.

Weeks 5 – 8 saw myself going for a variety of seeds/grains/pasta such as:

  • Bulgur
  • Brown rice
  • Couscous
  • Quinoa
  • Wholewheat pasta
  • Wild rice

Bulgur or couscous would be used in a stir-fry along with soy sauce, and vegetables such as peppers, onions and mushrooms.

I’d cook quinoa and mix in vegetables similar to the above, but top with feta or halloumi, and a squeeze of lemon or lime for some freshness.

Brown rice with a stew or curry was one of my go-to’s. Otherwise, I’d have a mix of brown rice and wild rice with stewed or roasted vegetables.

Wholewheat pasta was used to make delicious pasta bakes, topped with cheese of course.

I was also trying to find a vegetarian burger at this point – not the burgers that only have a portobello mushroom as the ‘patty’. I’ve tried the falafel type burgers – one from a restaurant, and one at home – and surprisingly, they were heavy. Flavour was there, but it was a mission trying to finish them.

Weeks 9 – 15 I explored Indian food. Before removing meat from my diet, I only had Indian food once in a blue moon. But, if I was to order out on a Friday from an Indian takeaway, I’d go for a Chicken Dhansak.

Now, I’ve had many dishes that include ingredients such as spinach, paneer, potatoes and lentils. Indians really do make vegetarian dishes taste great!

Despite the variety of food, week 16 saw the temptation for meat come in. I’m actually starting to miss it now. I gave in and tried a vegetarian sausage, thinking it would taste nice. It tasted like cardboard. Safe to say I’m never having that again.

I wonder how long this can last because… I could really do with a good burger right now.

 

Banana, walnut & chocolate chip loaf cake

It’s about time I made a loaf cake.

I didn’t own a loaf tin until last week actually.

I’ve seen many recipes using 2lb loaf tins, but I went and bought a 3lb one because my family can eat.

I do love a banana bread, but I also love to jazz things up. I’ve added chopped walnuts for a nutty crunch, and dark chocolate pieces for pockets of its bittersweet flavour. I was also easy on the amount of sugar because ripened bananas are already sweet as is.

The purchase of a loaf tin may mean I’ll start baking loaves of bread and many more loaf cakes, who knows?

Below’s recipe is for a 2lb tin, but just do some quick maths to adjust the measurements for a larger (or smaller) tin.

Serves 8-10

Ingredients

  • 3 large ripe bananas
  • 250g plain flour, sieved
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 100g brown sugar
  • 120g unsalted butter, soft
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 70g chopped walnuts
  • 70g chocolate chunks (I prefer dark chocolate)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC (160ºC fan)/ gas mark 4. Grease a 2lb (23×13cm) loaf tin with butter.
  2. Peel and mash the bananas in a bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, cream together the butter, caster sugar and brown sugar with a wooden spoon or whisk until well combined and paler in colour.
  4. Beat in the eggs one at a time, add the vanilla extract, then fold in the mashed bananas, flour, baking powder, milk and cinnamon.
  5. Fold in the chopped walnuts and chocolate chunks.
  6. Spoon the batter into the loaf tin, and place into the oven for 50 mins to 1 hour, or until the cake springs back when tapped gently.
  7. Leave to cool, then enjoy!

Tip: If your bananas aren’t ripe, roast them (unpeeled) in the oven for 20 mins at 180ºC (160ºC fan)/ gas mark 4. The skins should be black. Peel and mash them up as usual, but leave to cool before adding to the cake batter.

Quinoa, Stir-fried Vegetables, and Feta Salad

I was in the mood for having ”super grains” after having some from the cafe at work a few weeks ago. It was a quinoa, sultana and almond salad. Of course, I picked out the sultanas (it’s a texture thing), and just had the quinoa and almonds, along with some lettuce, onions and tomatoes. It tasted great.

Sometimes I get bored of having the typical rice, pasta, or potatoes, so quinoa was a good change. Also, my rice cooker broke mid-week, and I can’t be asked to sit in the kitchen to watch over brown rice cooking on the stove after work everyday.

The thought of having to wait for my stainless steel pot to soak in soapy water for at least an hour before being able to wash up, made my head hurt. I really have to do the dishes before eating, or it just feels wrong!

If I could make something in bulk just once, and refrigerate it, I’d be content. Old rice just doesn’t sit well with me, unless I’m stir frying it. I was hoping to find a tasty dish with inexpensive ingredients, so I had a browse on BBC Good Food.

I came across this amazing recipe by Sarah Cook, and gave it my own spin.

Serves 5

Ingredients

  • 250g quinoa
  • 3 large bell peppers, cut into chunks
  • 1 large courgette, sliced into ~ 5mm thick semi circles
  • 1 large red onion, cut into chunks
  • 1 vegetable stock cube (I prefer Knorr)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1/2 tsp season-all
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 150g feta cheese, cubed
  • Parsley, chopped (optional)

Method

  1. Follow the packet instructions for cooking the quinoa, but add in the vegetable stock cube and stir. Drain once cooked and separate the grains using a fork.
  2. In a pan, heat the olive oil over a medium/high heat, then add in the chopped onion, bell peppers, courgettes, paprika, chilli flakes, season-all, and black pepper. Stir fry for 3-4 minutes until the vegetables start to soften.
  3. Once the vegetables are cooked, add them to the quinoa.
  4. Add the lemon juice and feta cheese, and stir until well combined.
  5. Serve into a bowl and top with roughly chopped parsley.
Bulgur veg and feta salad
I tried this meal with bulgur wheat as well, and it tasted just as great!

 

Baby Potatoes with Roasted Vegetables

It was one of those days where I had to throw something together in a short space of time. I gave myself a pat on the back for not succumbing to getting a takeaway.

Anyway, this quick fix consists of baby potatoes, peppers, onions, courgettes, and cheese. The cheese of choice on this particular day was Gouda as I wanted something mild and mellow. I also kept the vegetables large and chunky.

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 500g baby potatoes, halved
  • 50 – 70g Gouda, sliced into small pieces
  • 2 large bell peppers, cut into chunks
  • 1 courgette, sliced
  • 1 large red onion, cut into chunks
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp season-all
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 200°C (180°C fan)/ gas mark 6.
  2. In an oven proof dish/tray, add the bell peppers, courgettes, red onion, olive oil, paprika, garlic powder, season-all, and black pepper. Give it a mix and place in the oven for 20 minutes. Toss half way.
  3. While the vegetables are roasting, cover the potatoes with cold water in a pot and bring to a boil over high heat on your stove. Reduce the heat so the potatoes simmer for 10 – 15 minutes until tender.
  4. Drain the potatoes in a colander, and take out your roasted vegetables from the oven. Add the potatoes to the oven dish/tray and mix with the vegetables. Top with chunks of Gouda (or a cheese of your choice), and place back into the oven for a few more minutes until the cheese has melted.
  5. Enjoy!

Meat-free: Week 4

Four weeks have passed since giving up meat/fish. It has been fun, but I can’t lie, that first week was a struggle. Here are some quick dives into some of my experiences so far.

Fatigue hit hard

The first week as mentioned, was a struggle. Now surprisingly, it wasn’t because I was craving any meat/fish, it was because of the lack of energy I had. When I still had time off work for the Christmas & New Year break, I could easily take an afternoon nap to rejuvenate. As soon as I was back at work however, it was a mission staying awake.

tenor

If I didn’t get up and take walks, I would have knocked out on my desk. That would have been absolutely shambolic.

Snacking increased

For these first four weeks, some of my meals felt incomplete. The cravings for savoury snacks were something else. Plantain crisps were definitely my go-to (shout out to Asiko). A couple of changes to some meals have gradually curbed these cravings.

Lunch got a lot more interesting

Before 2018, my lunches for work weren’t very inspiring. It would either be some sort of sandwich or a boring salad. Now the challenge of having no meat forces me to be more creative with food, so that I can get the right amount of nutrients.

Pulses are key

So I don’t like many types of beans, let’s get that clear. But lentils and peas? Love them. Before scrapping meat/fish, I’d never actually tried lentils. Not only are pulses an alternative to regular ol’ rice, but they are great sources of protein, iron, and fibre.

Speaking of fibre…

I noticed that the number of bathroom breaks went up.

Need I say more?

tenor (1)

Overall, this challenge has started off quite well, despite the initial hurdles. I haven’t missed the taste of meat (yet), but we’ll see how long that lasts.

Now to conquer February.

Roasted Rosemary Potatoes

These roasted potatoes were made back at Christmas. They went nicely alongside the rest of our dinner which included: roasted turkey (marinated for 2 days by my mum of course), pigs in blankets, carrots, parsnips, sage & onion stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, and slaw. We also had a classic apple crumble for dessert – you can find my recipe here.

I used Maris Piper potatoes as they leave you with a fluffy inside and crispy outside. The oil/fat chosen was simply olive oil. I know some people like to use duck or goose fat which gives a nice flavour, but for me, it’s not necessary. Check out the quick and easy steps to making these rosemary roasted potatoes below.

Ingredients

  • 2.5kg Maris Piper potatoes, peeled, cleaned, and cut into medium sized chunks
  • 6-8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp cracked black pepper
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tsp ground garlic

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 200ºC (180ºC fan)/ gas mark 6.
  2. In a large pot, parboil the potatoes for 6-8 minutes, then drain. Shake the potatoes together to fluff up their edges.
  3. Add the olive oil into a large baking tray until covered with a thin layer, and heat in the oven for a few minutes until smoky.
  4. Once the oil is hot, carefully place the potatoes onto the tray and season with the rosemary, salt, pepper and garlic. Coat with the olive oil already in the tray.
  5. Roast for 40 – 50 minutes, turning at least once throughout the cook.
  6. Enjoy these spuds as part of your roast dinner.