Wholewheat Penne with Pancetta, Onions & Spinach

I assume most people are like me, rushing home from work in the evening and trying to get dinner on the table. Some days I consider cooking anything for dinner an achievement, let alone cooking a healthy, well-balanced meal. On those days, the only thing stopping me from phoning the nearest takeaway is the thought of having to go outside to collect it.

The next easiest thing to a takeaway has to be a simple pasta dish which can will be on your table within 20 minutes without much work. I tend to keep my fridge stocked with pancetta, baby spinach, and decent parmesan, and my store cupboard always has onions, pasta and olive oil in it. With a little bit of love and effort, these simple ingredient can be transformed into something delicious and healthy.

This recipe isn’t so much a strict recipe as a method using some basic ingredients. If you have chorizo rather than pancetta, feel free to use that, or if you stocked up on courgettes recently, grate them up and use them instead of the spinach. Add some cherry tomatoes if you have a punnet of them in your fridge, or replace the onions with shallots if that’s what you have to hand.

Pancetta, Spinach & Onion Pasta

Wholewheat Penne with Pancetta, Spinach & Onions

Serves 2

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
2-4 cloves of garlic, crushed
200g wholewheat penne
100g cubed pancetta
100g baby spinach
salt & black pepper
Parmesan

Method

1) Heat the oil in a large sauté pan and add the onions. Saute for 10 minutes until they are softened, and then add the garlic.
2) Cook the pasta according to packet instructions.
3) Meanwhile, add the pancetta to the pan and season well. Add the spinach to the pan after 7 minutes and allow the spinach to wilt down.
4) When the pasta is cooked, reserve a mug of the cooking water. Drain the pasta and add to the pan with a splash of the cooking water. Mix well, adding another splash of water if needed, and season to taste.
5) Serve sprinkled with some grated Parmesan.

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Beef Pie

One of the most useful additions to my kitchen over the last two years has been the cast iron casserole dish we were given by my fiance’s parents as our engagement present. Countless stews, casseroles and curries have been cooked and served in this beautiful royal blue pan. It is the  most versatile piece of cookware we own, perfect for making stock out of a leftover chicken carcass or making batches of soup for weekday lunches.

My advice if you’re looking to splash out on a present for a foodie, a cast iron casserole dish is a fantastic idea if they don’t already own one!

Onto the recipe… This is an adaptation of a recipe from Rachel Allen’s Easy Meals with more emphasis on vegetable content to bulk up the dish. I bought a pound of stewing beef from one of the butchers in the English Market and after 2 hours of cooking in the oven, it was falling apart in the pan and tasted absolutely amazing.

Beef Pie

Beef Pie Slice

Beef Pie

adapted from Rachel Allen’s Easy Meals

serves 4

Ingredients

2 tbsp olive oil
454g stewing beef, cut into 2cm chunks
salt & black pepper
2 tbsp flour
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1cm cubes
2 large leeks, trimmed and cut into 3cm pieces
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tbsp tomato paste
200 ml red wine
300ml beef stock
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 strips orange peel
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs rosemary
200 g ready rolled pastry
1 egg, beaten

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 160C.
Pour the olive oil into a casserole dish on a medium-high heat, season the beef with salt and pepper and, when hot, add the beef to the pan. Fry for 3-4 minutes until well browned, then stir in the flour and cook for a further minute.
Add the vegetables, tomato paste and garlic. Stir together and cook for 5 minutes or until the vegetables have softened. Add the wine, vinegar, orange peel, bay leaf and rosemary, along with the beef stock. Season with salt and pepper, then stir together, bring to the boil and cover with a lid.
Place in the oven and cook for 2 hours or until the beef is tender. Remove from the oven and turn the temperature up to 220C.
Cut the pastry to fit the top of the casserole dish, leaving an extra 1cm on the edge. Make a hole in the centre with a sharp knife, and add the pastry on top of the filling.
Return the dish to the oven, and bake for a further 12-15 minutes until the pastry is crisp.

Sweet Potato, Carrot & Coconut Soup

While I might not love everything winter has to offer (colds, heating bills, rain, etc), I absolutely adore winter cooking in all its forms but especially soup.

Soup is very possibly the easiest lunch you can throw together on a lazy weekend morning to cure a hangover or cold, and even then it’s so simple to double or triple the recipe to stock up your freezer… and all you need is a few fresh vegetables, some simple store cupboard ingredients and a blender.

I started off my soup making many years ago in college with ‘refrigerator soup’, made from the leftover vegetables in my vegetable drawer which were starting to look a little worse for wear, whatever dried herbs or spices I could lay my hands on and some stock.

I still call upon this recipe from time to time to use up leftover carrots and sweet potatoes, but sometimes you need some other ingredients to make it taste amazing. Adding some fresh coriander leaves, a tin of coconut milk, fresh chillies and lemongrass elevates a simple Saturday lunchtime soup to something utterly luxurious and mouthwateringly delicious.

This recipe is all about the coconut milk which is added right at the end of the cooking process and lends the soup a silky texture and a very distinctive taste. As with all soups, you can really adjust this soup to your own tastes. Add extra spices or more chillies if you want more heat, or even replace the sweet potato with butternut squash, but do not leave out that tin of coconut milk.

The leftovers from this soup will keep for a few days in the fridge and tastes great reheated for lunch the next day.

Sweet Potato, Carrot and Coconut Soup

Sweet Potato, Carrot & Coconut Soup

serves 6

from A Year in Avoca

Ingredients

2 large onions, peeled and chopped
50 g butter
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped
1 lemongrass stalk
600 ml vegetable stock
1 x 400g tin of coconut milk
handful coriander leaves
salt & black pepper

Instructions


1) Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a low heat and then add the onions. Cook for 10 minutes or so until the onions have softened.
2) Add the potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots and chilli to the pan and saute for 1-2 minutes. Gently bruise the lemongrass stalk and then add to the pan along with the vegetable stock. Season well, cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes until all vegetables are tender.
3) Remove the pan from the heat and add the coconut milk and the coriander. Remove the lemongrass stalk from the pan- this may have fallen apart during cooking so do double check that you removed all the lemongrass.
4) Blend the soup until smooth and adjust the seasoning. Reheat gently and serve garnished with some chopped coriander leaves.

Chicken, Aubergine & Goat’s Cheese Salad with Mint-Chilli Dressing

As part of my good intentions to be healthier this year, I realised that one of the biggest changes I needed to make in my diet was to reduce the amount of carbohydrates in my diet. Don’t get me wrong, I love carbs but sometimes the body needs to step away from pasta, bread, potatoes and rice every now and again for a change. This recipe is light on carbs but is filled with lot of healthy vegetables and salad leaves.

When I saw this recipe in Good Food Magazine last month, I instantly wanted to make it for dinner that evening. The original recipe is vegetarian and would be perfect for a light dinner or lunch but as I was hungry, I added some grilled chicken which had been flavoured with Ras-al-Hanout spice rub.

Aubergine and Goats Cheese Salad

Chicken, Aubergine & Goat’s Cheese Salad with Mint-Chilli Dressing

adapted from BBC Good Food Magazine

serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1 tbsp ras-al-hanout spice rub
  • 2 aubergines
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 pieces pitta bread
  • 175 g cherry tomatoes
  • 4 large handfuls salad leaves
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 50 g hard goat’s cheese

dressing

  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large handful mint leaves, finely chopped.
  • 1 red chilli, seeds removed, finely chopped
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped

Instructions

  1. Heat the over to 200C/ 180C fan. Cut the aubergines into 3cm chunks. Drizzle with olive oil and seaon. Arrange on a baking tray and roast for 25 minutes or until browned.
  2. Cut the chicken into thick strips and rub with the spice mix. Heat a griddle pan and brush on olive oil, or preheat a grill. Cook the chicken and keep warm while assembling the salad.
  3. Rip the bread into pieces and put on a baking tray. Put into the oven when the aubergines are nearly ready and bake for 8 minutes.
  4. To make the dressing, mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl and season.
  5. Toss about 1/3 of the dressing with the aubergine and save the rest to pour over the salad. Arrange the tomatoes, salad leaves, shallots, dressed aubergine and crisp bread on a large platter. Drizzle the reserved dressing and scatter the goats cheese on top.

February Review & March Plans

February has been a quiet month around here, between injuries, sickness and busy weekends, there has been very little going on here. March looks to be a far more active and exciting month, and I hope to have a far more interesting post at the beginning of April!

Books

Wheel_of_time

I started to read The Wheel of Time book series in January and during last month, have managed to read Books 5-9 in the series. For those who don’t know, it is a fantasy series by Robert Jordon and Brandon Sanderson spanning 14 books, the last of which was just released in January. I hope to finish the series in March, all going well.

Beauty Products

Revlon Cherry Blossom

My beauty obsession this month is the Super Lustrous lipstick from Revlon in Cherry Blossom. I think it was part of the limited Shanghai collection last year. The lipstick is a dark pink, almost red shade which is super-flattering on pale skin. The formula doesn’t feel drying on the lips and last 3-4 hours before needing to be reapplied. Overall it’s a sophisticated change to my more usual bright red lipsticks and stains.

In The Kitchen

Pepperplate

During my time off this month when I was injured, I set myself a project to organise my cookbooks and recipes. I signed up to Pepperplate, a website which allows you to add recipes manually from your cookbooks, clip recipes from websites and create menus, meal plans and shopping lists. It has made the weekly grocery shop so easy with its automatic shopping list and ability to adjust serving size.

I am going to continue this project, filing the recipes in my favourite cookbooks into Pepperplate for even easier weeknight cooking.

Health & Fitness

During February, I couldn’t exercise due to my shoulder injury but now that it is mostly healed, I plan on introducing exercise into my routine again. I am going to start with a walk after work every evening, and eventually work more challenging workouts into my schedule towards the end of the month.

Apart from that, I’m going to try to remain on a good health kick during the weekdays- between giving up Coca Cola and reducing other soft drinks to the rare occasion (read- hangover, night out or junk food night at home), eating more vegetables and fruit every day, and avoiding white bread as much as possible, I think I’m off to a good start for March.

Photography

Lately I haven’t been very good for taking photos so I signed up for a photography course last week and as the weather is gradually improving, hopefully I will be outside with my camera again this month.

How was your February, and how is your March shaping up?