Vegetarian Lentil Bake

This lentil bake has been a family favourite for goodness knows how many years now. Most recently, my 5 year old boy cub declared this to be the ‘most delicious dinner ever‘. Yay!

At this time of year when it is cold outside, this is comforting, warming and all-round wonderful. But that doesn’t stop at the taste – it’s also fantastic to prepare in the morning or even the day before and then quickly heated up just before dinner: which makes it great to feed guests without having to disappear into the kitchen for long periods of time while trying to entertain!

I’ve made this dish with a myriad of different vegetables, and they all worked well. Depending on what is in season, or indeed hiding in your fridge, you can use anything at all, and still this dish never fails!

Successful vegetables used in the past include: leeks, mushrooms, sweetcorn, peppers, peas, carrots, butternut squash, pumpkin, sweet potato, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, courgette… see? There really are no limits!!

Being the time of year it is though, and having a husband whose list of contraband foods includes mushrooms, peas and courgette, I went with earthy pumpkins and sweet potatoes this time.

Many of our friends have asked me for the recipe before, and ususally were met with the same answer: ‘I just cook it, there is no recipe.’ Which is true – I cook these things as I go along. There is a pattern though and it’s always cooked the same way, so I’ve written down what I put in and how much the last two times and even though the vegetables slightly varied, the rest stayed the same.

Here we have the chopped up vegetables, where I snuck the end of a broccoli head into (which doesn’t feature in the ingredients list, so don’t panic, I just used up something and the amount of pumpkin by weight is same as my pumpkin/broccoli together) As you can also see, this was all chopped rather small so it’s all perfectly bite-sized.

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I’m getting ahead of myself though. The first thing you do, is set the lentils to boil in a small pot. You can use either green or brown lentils. I like to use the brown ones as they keep their shape after they’re cooked as you can see here:

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While the lentils merrily do their thing in their pot, peel and roughly chop the potatoes and boil them in a separate pot. Once boiled, set aside for making the mash. The mash will top this lentil bake and is best when it’s quite firm. I used a little milk and nutmeg to make it and it’s still quite firm.

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I used nutmeg that I grate myself. Hard to give estimates on how much, but I would say roughly 1/4 teaspoon. Best to taste it yourself while making this, to be sure you like it.

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Mmmmhhhh love the smell of fresh nutmeg ❤

While both the lentils and the potatoes were cooking I chopped all the vegetables. In a large frying pan, I then first sauteed the onion/celery/garlic until a little softened, then added all the dried herbs and vegetables. I stirred them up well so everything was coated in the now flavoured oil and let it cook like this for a couple of minutes while stirring constantly.

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Only then did I add the stock to the pan, and as you can see here, the stock will not cover all the vegetables. If it did, you’d be left with much too much sauce at the end. Don’t worry though, your veggies will still cook through perfectly, without being turned into mush. All will keep its shape 🙂

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Then I turned down the heat and let it do it’s thing, stirring it occasionally. While it does it’s thing, I made the above featured mash out of the potatoes, before adding a few more bits and bobs to the vegetables in the pan to make the sauce out of the stock.

Once this was done, the lentils are added and everything mixed through before transferring the whole lot into a large oven-proof dish.

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Then I topped it with mashed potatoes, finished it off with a thin layer of grated cheese and done! Now you could leave this dish until you need it, even overnight (keep it refrigerated after letting it cool down if you are keeping it for the next day) and when you’re ready, bake it in the oven for approximately 30-40 minutes to re-heat it and brown the cheese on the top!

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If you are using it immediately, you could just stick it under a hot grill to brown the cheese as the dish is completely cooked through already.

I was going to have a lovely picture of the finished and out of the oven bake, but… well… we were hungry.

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Oops! This dish fed 4 very hungry adults and 3 hungry children. It normally feeds 2 hungry adults, 4 hungry cubs and we still have leftovers for the next day. It all depends on the appetite, but I’d say it easily feeds 6-8 people. It could also be vegan – simply make the mash with vegan margarine or substitute milk of your choice and use vegan cheese substitute or simply leave the cheese out! 🙂

Vegetarian Lentil Bake (6-8 portions), by cubs’n’coffee

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup lentils – boiled in 2 cups water or vegetable stock
  • 750 g potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped – for the mash
  • a little milk and ground nutmeg for the mash
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 350 g pumpkin, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed/finely diced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp each of rosemary, thyme, marjoram (all dried)
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp vegemite
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • black pepper, freshly ground

Method:

  1. In a small pot, add 2 cups of cold water to 1 cup of lentils. Bring to the boil and then let simmer on low until all the water has been absorbed and the lentils are cooked. Set lentils aside.
  2. For the mash, boil the peeled and chopped potatoes in water, drain and use a little milk to make a firm mash, season with nutmeg to taste.
  3. While the lentils and potatoes are cooking, chop and prepare the vegetables.
  4. In a large, heavy pan, heat the olive oil, then sauté the celery, onion and garlic for a couple of minutes until softened.
  5. Add the dried herbs and stir for another few seconds to flavour the oil before adding all the vegetables. Stir thoroughly to coat all the vegetables and keep stirring for another couple of minutes.
  6. Add 2 cups of vegetable stock to the pan. The vegetables will not be covered. Turn down the heat to a simmer and let the vegetables cook through, stirring frequently to ensure they all get to be in the stock.
  7. At this point, the lentils should be cooked and ready to be set aside. Same with the potatoes – at this point I usually finish them off to make the mash.
  8. Once the vegetables are softened (this usually takes 10-15 minutes in the pan, depending on how small you cut the veggies), add the soy sauce and vegemite and stir until the vegemite has dissolved. Then add the tomato puree to thicken the sauce; again, stir until the puree has dissovled.
  9. Add the lentils to the pan and mix with the vegetables.
  10. Transfer the lentil-vegetable mix into a large oven-proof dish, cover with the potato mash and sprinkle over the cheese.
  11. Bake in the pre-heated oven (200C) for 30-40 minutes until the cheese has browned and the bake is heated through thoroughly, if you’re re-heating it at a later date. If you are serving this bake immediately, simply grill the cheese on top under a hot grill and serve.
  12. Best served with a crisp salad and a lovely glass of red wine 🙂

Vegan Quinoa Burgers

These burgers are the result of me needing to use up a few veggies in the fridge. I had to use up a pepper, celery and carrots and felt like trying something I don’t usually make.

So I made these burgers, and had mine in a pitta bread with hummus, lettuce and a very hot Masala Chili sauce:

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The burgers were incredibly easy to make and are totally adjustable to your own tastes in spices. Today, I’ve flavoured them with thyme, oregano, paprika and pepper. Next time, I might try making these with curry, cumin and coriander.

But first things first – the quinoa. All hail this wonderful, gluten-free, whole protein power house of plant goodness. It’s my She-Ra of the grains! (if you don’t know who She-Ra is, you’re either under 30 years old or have somehow slept through the 80s hehe)

Anywhoo… at first, toast the quinoa. It effectively does the same thing as washing it really, really thoroughly, only you keep it dry and the aroma of toasted quinoa is just divine. Much preferable, in my opinion, and definitely the right thing to do for this recipe.

Quinoa before the toasting:

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To toast, simply put it into a very hot, dry frying pan and stir gently. You will hear little popping sounds that indicate it’s doing its thing. When it’s all nicely coloured, it’s done! Not to forget the wonderful scent that wafts around. Quinoa after the toasting:

 

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Once that’s done, set it aside until you need it again and get busy preparing the vegetables. I had to use up some things, but you could use anything that tickles your fancy – from sweetcorn to leeks and courgette – so long you cut it up really small or grate it, you’ll be perfectly fine! Once your vegetables are ready, fry them in a little oil, then add the quinoa and the stock and simmer them on low.

 

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When all the stock has been absorbed, the quinoa mix should look something like this:

 

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By the way, that’s really tasty by itself, so be careful not to munch too much in the name of ‘tasting‘ before you get to the ‘burger making‘ part! In order to form burgers successfully though, it needs something to turn it into a more doughy mass. I used oats. Make sure you use gluten free ones if making these for gluten intolerant people. Adding the oats while the mixture was still hot did the trick very well here:

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After the mass had cooled down enough to be handled, these were easily formed:

 

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And in the name of science, I fried half and grilled the other half in the oven. Both versions turned out well, although the oven-grilled ones were lower in fat and held together better on top of that. I would recommend the oven version. In this pic, they are all cooked through, the darker ones are the fried ones… the casualty in the middle was the result of my 2-year-old being faster than me and having a not-so-sneaky taste! One’s missing because it fell apart in the pan… and got gobbled up by me.

 

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For the cubs, I put these into wholemeal pitta breads with some hummus (and ketchup in cub 3’s case) and served them with carrot sticks and cucumber slices. Obviously, the addition of the bread doesn’t make it gluten free anymore, so if you want to keep it that way, serve it on a bed of mixed salad with some pine kernels or sunflower seeds strewn across.

 

Vegan Quinoa Burgers (makes 10 small burgers) by Cubs’n’Coffee

 

 

Ingredients:

 

 

 

 

  • 100g Quinoa, toasted
  • 1 carrot, finely grated
  • 1/2 pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 1 small stalk celery, grated
  • 50g peas
  • 300ml vegetable stock (if you use stock cubes make sure they’re gluten free!)
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil for frying (plus a little extra for baking tray)
  • 1tsp oregano, 1/2 tsp thyme, 1 tsp paprika, generous dash cracked black pepper
  • 50g oats

 

 

 

Method:

  1. In a heavy bottomed pot, fry the pepper and the celery in the oil until a little softened.
  2. Add the other vegetables, herbs, spices and toasted quinoa. Give it a quick stir to mix it all together.
  3. Pour in the vegetable stock, stir and cover pot with a lid. Set it to simmer on low to medium heat until all the water has been absorbed and the quinoa is cooked through.
  4. Take the pot off the heat and add the oats while it’s still hot. Let it stand until cool enough to handle.
  5. While it’s cooling, pre-heat the oven grill. Once the mass has cooled, form 10 little burgers.
  6. Place the burgers on a non-stick oven tray which is lightly greased with oil. I spray oil onto it as it uses less with the same effect. Spray (or brush) a tiny amount of oil onto each burger and grill until lightly browned. Turn and repeat on other side.
  7. Serve on a salad bed with pine kernels and sunflower seeds. Alternatively, serve it in a pitta bread with salad and hummus or even in a soft flour tortilla wrap. The possibilities are endless!
  8. Please let me know if you liked this 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vegetable Bake

There are few nicer things than a lovely, hot vegetable bake on a rainy day. Especially when it is comfort food you’re craving but still want to have something healthy.

I had this lovely romanesco in the house and really wanted to make something nice with it, so I decided on a vegetable bake. Not least because that gave me the freedom to use up some other vegetables in dire need of being eaten.

For this bake, you can use whatever vegetables you have in the house, there’s no need for a regimented shopping list, but as a guide, this is what I used (serves 6 – generous portions):

  • 1 head romanesco, washed and pulled into florets
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • 800g potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 can kidney beans, drained
  • 2 stalks celery, washed and diced
  • 3 spring onions, washed and cut into rings
  • 350 ml cream (use a mix of milk and cream if you’re worried about fat!)
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • grated nutmeg
  • 1 tbsp dried parsley
  • 100g grated cheese
  • salt/pepper

The little pot next to the beans is full of toasted quinoa. It’s nothing you need, but I like the crunch of it, added to the cheese on the top of the dish. So feel free to do that also! As you can see, I’ve chopped the vegetables quite small as to help them cook in the oven. The kidney beans were a last minute addition to add some extra protein.

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After having prepared all the ingredients, I mixed them all up and filled them into a large oven proof dish. Once you’ve done that, in a large jug, whisk the cream (and milk, if you’re using it) together with the mustard, nutmeg, parsley, salt and pepper. Pour the mixture over the vegetables and make sure they’re all just about covered. Add a little more cream if they aren’t.

Sprinkle the cheese across the top, add a bit of toasted quinoa for crunch and off with the whole thing into the oven at 200C for 25-30 minutes. Eh voilà:

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I did have a taste and a quick picture last night. However, after a big debacle of Cub 4 having turned the oven temperature down and me having fed the kids the Wholemeal Bread I had baked earlier in the day, we will be having it for dinner this evening instead.

It was delicious though! Notice the steam, hot and wonderful.

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Enjoy and let me know what you thought of it!

Three Days of Madness: Act II

Don’t get me wrong: my children are the best thing in the world to me. When they’re up to mischief, more often than not, I’m laughing about it as much as they are. Take Cub 4, for example. His little big sister, Cub 3, came running into the kitchen the other night and shouted at me that Cub 4 is stuck. Of course I rescued him, but what kind of mother would I be had I not taken a picture of him first:

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Fun as they are, boy did they drive me mad yesterday! Every single button they could, they pushed.

After the usual, and expected, Monday morning madness of trying to get the four of them up, washed, fed, and dressed, I thought that I’d get a little break while they’re all in school, preschool, childcare. Well, if by break I meant time to clean the house, put on a wash and do the dishes, then I got it.

The real trouble started when I picked up Cub 4. He didn’t want to go in the buggy. Not having had his full rain gear and it being a rather incessant soft day out there, I made him sit in it anyway, much to his annoyance. From there we went to pick up Cub 3, who cried all the way home as her legs were tired and I hadn’t brought the double buggy (less than 10 minutes walk, but she can make it seem hours!).

By the time I had to get them out again to pick up Cub 2 from school, I decided to drive and get a couple groceries while I was at it. At least cubs would stay dry and no more crying about walking – until, at the supermarket: my car wouldn’t start again!!!! Rather inconvenient that to say the least.

On the phone, sending a message to the husband about the misbehaving car, I try a sixth time, and voilà: the car started up. Typical. (Hubby is going to check it out and fix that little snag, hurrah!)

Thinking that my bad luck for the day was all used up, I started making some bread and while that was left to rise, I dove right into Mt Washmore.

Mt Washmore, you see, is higher than Mt Everest. Believe me when I say it is. I’ve never really managed to conquer it. I fondly remember the days before the cubs, single and more or less organised. I used to wash one dark and one white wash a week. Ah – memories! It took me a solid hour to fold all the washed and dried clothes, never mind putting them into the closets.

Cub 1 returned from school with one of her best friends, and the two of them had a great time. Add another friend and still, all was well. Add Cub 3, who shares the room with her big sister, to the mix: an eternity of screaming, shouting, missiles throwing later, we had tears and tantrums with me left wondering where their tiaras were.

Only three casualties though:

  1. The clock: it fell off the wall (completely by itself, would you believe. No? Me neither…)
  2. The ceramic horse: a bad decision to use that as a missile. It broke a leg, but the husband glued it. I was ready to throw it out. Good cop, bad cop. Guess I’m the bad one again. Sigh.
  3. The beaded necklace: lovely clatter as it was torn apart by the two pulling on it, then blaming each other for breaking it.

Of course, after all that was resolved, and peace restored it still wasn’t the end of things. I’m not actually sure how much coffee I drank yesterday, but it was a LOT. You see, while holding the mug, I’ve got my hands full and can’t go strangle them. I hear that’s frowned upon anyway, so probably better I drink coffee!

I had finished the bread, and gone on to make dinner. You see, I had this gorgeous romanesco in the house still and needed to make something yummy with it. I love romanesco. So much nicer than just cauliflower. I think it’s the texture as well as the look and the slightly nutty flavour.

So I chopped and stirred and created and pre-heated the oven at 200C and then shoved the vegetable bake in. It takes around 25 minutes to cook in the oven.

When I checked it after around 20 minutes I was disappointed to see the veg wasn’t even nearly cooked through. Doubting myself, I resigned myself to having to wait. After a few more checks and at 45 minutes I realised why it wasn’t cooking: Cub 4 had taken to turning knobs and pushing buttons whenever he got his fingers on them. I found the oven at 110C. No wonder it wasn’t cooking!

What else was I to do but serve up the freshly baked bread sandwiches for dinner, accompanied with carrot sticks and a few crisps on the side (rare that I do that, but hey, it was that kinda day!).

On the plus side, today’s dinner’s already done and only needs re-heating!

Three Days of Madness: Act I

It truly has been a helluva few days!!!

All day Saturday was simply mad. I dared take three of the four cubs into one of the busiest shopping centres around, right smack bang in the middle of the day. Let’s just say, it wasn’t the best of ideas!? Apart from the fact that it was insanely crowded, hard to get through the shops with a double buggy and I’m not a shopper at the best of times… sentences such as, ‘Cub 2, stop rolling around and get off that shop floor NOW‘; or, ‘Cub 2, I swear if you hide in the middle of the clothes racks one more time I will leave you there‘; and indeed, ‘Cub 4, stop eating the clothes off the hangers!‘, were heard all day. Much to the amusement of other shoppers. I failed to see what was so funny about it. I hadn’t had nearly enough coffee for that trip.

But, much to my – and the cubs’ – amazement, we all survived that trip and the cubs have some much needed new clothes to show for it.

However, the trip took a lot longer than anticipated, so by the time we were home and all the cubs in bed, I was so wiped, I couldn’t do another trial run of the vegan, gluten free apple pie I was going to bake for Sunday’s apple pie contest.

Fast forward to Sunday morning:

The current husband took the four cubs out to the seafront where the school had a sponsored walk for all the kids to raise funds for new maths equipment. Mind, during the night I was convinced it wasn’t going to happen, as we’ve had a thunderstorm with downpours of epic proportions. Alas, the weather had changed and even the sun was out! Happy days! They were out in the fresh air and I had peace and quiet to bake my contest entries!

But of course, nothing’s ever straight forward when it comes to me. Be boring anyway, right? Right!?

Problem number 1: my last attempt at the gluten free, vegan pastry hadn’t really worked as it lost its form, and had a funny aftertaste when eaten by itself.

Problem number 2: I couldn’t decide which dish to bake. After all, I have a tried and tested Cinnamon Apple Recipe. Well, when I say I have one – I mean, I bought it. It’s the cookbook that has it, really. Brilliant book though ‘La Dolce Vegan!’ by Sarah Kramer. Look it up guys, it’s absolutely full to the brim with fabulous recipes and then some!

How did resolve the problems? Well…

In order to have some sort of chance, I decided to forego the experimental pastry and simply make the pastry that was on the recipe, which was neither vegan, nor gluten free: it was simply vegetarian. I could live with that though, time was of the essence after all: It was 11am and the entries had to be at the venue before 2pm. Really not the time for more experiments.

Result Number 1:

Sarah’s fabulous Vegan Cinnamon Apple Muffins

(I’m not sure on the copyright of the recipe – can you tell I’m new to this? – so I will possibly share this recipe at a later stage when I found out!)

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I knew I had all the ingredients at hand. I had baked them several times before, and also knew they were quick and fool-proof.

Until I needed the egg replacer. My go-to egg replacer is ground flaxseed and water. I always have ground flaxseed in the house. Except Sunday. I still don’t know what happened to it, because I don’t remember finishing it!!!! No matter, there are other ways to replace an egg. I had bananas, but I didn’t want to put an overpowering banana taste into an apple-centered contest! Apple sauce then. Again, the cupboard came up emtpy!

Man, that clock ticked loudly in my ears!!!

Not one to give up easily, I quickly peeled and de-seeded one of the cooking apples and, with a touch of vanilla and water, made my own apple sauce which turned out delicious if I do say so myself!

The oven door wasn’t quite shut on the muffins when I immediately jumped to the apple pies. You see, it was an apple pie contest, but I couldn’t bring myself to just make a traditional apple pie. I wanted to stand out of the crowd and have people go, ‘Oh wow, look at that!

And what did I do? I did what every person would do these days: I asked Google to give me ideas. And boy did I find one, right here: Apple Pie (in the apple) <- and hers look truly stunning, pity I don’t have such pretty flower cutters!

Which brings us to result 2:

Apple Pie (in the apple)

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I used the recipe given on her blog for her ‘sweet pie dough’ exactly as described (well, besides the fact that I had no baking powder left! Honestly, no idea what is going on with me! So I substituted it with 1/2 and 1/2 of Cream of Tartar and Bicarbonate of Soda!):

Ingredients for the pie crust:
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup corn starch
1tbsp sugar
100g butter, cold
1 egg
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder

Put all ingredients in the jar of a food processor and mix only until it forms a ball. If necessary, add a few drops of cold water. Don’t over mix. If you want do do it manually, mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the butter and rub the mixture with your hands until you have a crumbled texture. Add the egg and  mix until it comes together into a ball. If necessary, add a few drops of water. Do not over mix.
(This recipe does indeed make enough for 8 lids on small apples, or 5 lids on large apples. I kept the remaining pastry refrigerated, wrapped in cling film, to do mini quiches for school lunches!)

The apples themselves, however I changed a bit to suit my own tastes. Here’s what it looked like in my kitchen:

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INGREDIENTS for filling: 

insides of two Cooking Apples

 1 tablespoon raisins

 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

 1 teaspoon vanilla sugar

 1/2ish teaspoon carob syrup (or treacle!)

I cut a thin lid off two big cooking apples and used a spoon to take the flesh and core out, careful not to get break the sides. I then discarded the core, chopped the apple flesh into small chunks and mixed those with a tablespoon of raisins. I then added a teaspoon each of cinnamon and vanilla sugar and just enough carob syrup to coat the lot before spooning it back into the apples.

Pastry lid on top and off into the oven! I baked the apples at 170C (fan assisted oven) for 25-ish minutes. The recipe says 40 minutes but by that time, my apples would’ve fallen apart. I needed them to keep their shape and for my apples, that time was just right, the pastry was just right and all looked well.

In other words, keep an eye on your apples! If the pastry looks done, poke your apples carefully to see if they’re soft to avoid overcooking them.

And here they are, my creations, at their destination: The Happy Pear!

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The creations being judged… the crowds had gathered! And take note of the most rare phenomenon: sunshine 🙂 Who’d have thunk it after the Monsoon the night before!

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To wrap it all up – I didn’t win. Quite happy with the judges’ comments though, they were all-round happy with the baked apples and one told me afterwards that he’s not quite sure why I hadn’t won. Heh. They were all fantastic though, I didn’t envy them their job to chose winners at all.

Best part of it? Besides the fun to enter and having a good time there, we were let loose on the creations after judging and got to taste them all. It was the most delicious Sunday in a long time. I’ll be back next year – and hopefully with a perfect vegan, gluten free pastry!

Chickpea Nuggets by Peachy Palate

I’ve recently tried out Michelle’s wonderful Chickpea Nuggets. They’re amazingly easy to make and taste just divine.

All four cubs agreed and even the husband enjoyed them! Of course, that was before I started this blog and so I didn’t take my own photos of them. But a few things I can say about this dish:

Most of the ingredients you might already have in your cupboard – which is a great thing about this recipe. And if you’re missing something, it’s easy to substitute to suit your own taste!

I made the nuggets with a whole can of chickpeas and simply increased everything else a little bit also. And that made 16 small nuggets – enough for the six of us for dinner (I served them with a potato and broccoli mash, and baked beans as cubs requested those)

Here’s one of Michelle’s pics of her creation.

Michelle's wonderful Chickpea Nuggets

Doesn’t your mouth water just looking at those? Mine sure did and when I ate these, there certainly was no disappointment at all. Just great taste!

Click CHICKPEA NUGGETS to get to her recipe! And please take a look around her site, Peachy Palate if you haven’t already!