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 🙂

Best laid plans and all that…

First of all… my apologies for the lack of promised posts with Halloween foods.

It’s been one hell of a rollercoaster recently. I’ve decided to file the whole of last week under ‘must scour from brain’ and start again.

Well, there are a few things I can’t forget, really. This poor neglected pumpkin, for example,  will still feature on my menu this week… shame to waste it. It must feel very sad and excluded not having been carved at all!!!

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Honestly though, between cubs home from school on mid-term break, fighting head lice off cub’s head (isn’t it great when the little ones share those!), a not-so-plain-sailing daytrip on the ferry to and from Dublin-Holyhead (Wales), tummy bugs over Halloween (yes, I was sick for two days missing it ALL) which lead to an ever increasing Mt Washmore… all while having a visitor in the house! Let’s just pretend that week didn’t happen and move on, shall we!?

This week started off quite well. Cold and blustery, but well nonetheless. Cubs are happy back in their schools, the house is s.l.o.w.l.y. looking somewhat clean again and the coffee flows freely. I have news of more upcoming voice-over work on the horizon (not the exciting movie stardom ones – pssst if you are looking for someone in that area though, PICK ME! – ‘only’ corporate stuff, but still: hooray!) and I actually got a couple good night’s sleep in.

If the weather holds – you never know, we might be lucky – I will bring the cubs out farther afield to have a go at locating and collecting some marrons to roast and eat. A friend had done that and offered me some, but at aforementioned tummy bug time and I didn’t even want to think about food then. So a foraging-for-food-adventure is called for, me thinks!!!

Once we’ve managed to procure some, I shall share our results.

For now, I’ve put up a recipe that came about out of sheer frustration. Shopping’s not been as organised recently *pointing back up to that dreadful youknowhat* and I’ve had to use some things up that looked rather sorry in the fridge. Therefore, I will leave you today, with this utterly delicious creation made tonight:

Vegan Quinoa Burgers (gluten free and low-fat!)
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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 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Halloween is only around the corner!

Halloween is fast approaching. My two eldest cubs are at their school’s Halloween party tonight. One as a witch, the other as a Knight in shining armour. Too cute the two!

You might wonder why their school has the party a week away – it’s because the kids here in Ireland will be on mid-term break and are off school all of next week.

It’s always been a fun thing for me to make all sorts of spooktastic food for Halloween. At last year’s party, we’ve had everything from eye balls to witch fingers, jack’o’lantern ice creams and all sorts in between.

For tonight’s party at the cubs’ school, I simply made some shortcrust biscuits in bat form and some as witch fingers. Normally, I’d use a shaved or a whole almond as a fingernail, but due to nut allergies in the school, no nuts at all were allowed (yes, yes, almonds aren’t really nuts, I know, I know! But they’re on the banned list!) So this time, they are tiny pieces of red onion… should give the kids a nice facial expression when they bite into those hahaha!

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To form the fingers, your shortcrust pastry needs to be very cold from the fridge, handled the shortest possible time and best shoved back in the fridge before baking. They easily flow apart otherwise while baking and turn into flat biscuits instead!

Of course, those bats just beg to be decorated with icing, but I hadn’t the time today so they went to the party all nekkid like that 😉

I’ll be putting up more ideas that I’ve used in the past soon; to give you a taster of what’s to come, here’s a pic of our Halloween party food last year:

176663_10151130534126918_1121963627_o So there we have witch fingers in the basket, a tiramisu with creepy crawlies on top, red velvet eyeballs (seriously, they looked so cool on the inside!), broken off fingers on a tray with cheese bugs, toadstools and earthworms on mud… Can’t find the picture of the rotting, amputated foot we’ve had lol

Oh, and in case it’s not obvious, the dish in the middle of the right row… it’s a ‘cat litter tray’ with chocolate poop in crunchy hazelnut litter!

Hungry yet? 😀

Recipes to follow for a great buffet, including a roast pumpkin risotto and the jack’o’lantern ice-creams.

There’s something else I read online today: something called a Switch Witch! Sadly, I cannot remember where I found that link, but it was an interesting idea to take part of the sweet bounty from the trick or treating and leave it as an ‘offering’ near the door. During the night the Switch Witch comes and switches the sweets with a little present. How wonderful to cut down on the awful sweet things the kids get!!

Mind you, ours usually end up giving away half their sweets anyway because: 1) I don’t allow them to keep any sweets that aren’t factory wrapped (so no mix bags of sweets already handled by people!) and 2) a LOT of the sweets they get contain gelatin, which reduces the amount by at least a third each year.

 

Still though, the idea of a present instead of the sweets… can’t help but love the idea! (It was on a blog, so if it was you, please comment and link to it!!!)

 

Tomorrow morning at the toddler play group we’ll have our Halloween party for the little ones. Which means that now I’m off to carve little faces into clementines. A healthy, fun treat for the tiny ones! Try it out, it looks really cool…

 

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… and the smell is delish, too!

 

 

 

Dealing with the weekly Menu

Today I am going to write a bit about my weekly menu planning.

There are six people in our household and that inevitably also means that there are several different ideas of what a nice dinner looks like. It isn’t easy to get them all to agree on food you’re making, but it is not impossible. What I am writing now, is what works for my family. It might not suit yours perfectly, but it might give you ideas on how to tackle the daily fight of ‘What’s for dinner’.

Every weekend, I sit down and write the menu for the week ahead. Not every meal, but the two main ones: school lunches and family dinners. This helps me keep the food costs down as I shop for the meals I am going to make and rarely go outside those boundaries; and, almost more importantly, it keeps the fights over what food it is at a minimum. Kids see what’s on the menu and the board it is written on doesn’t allow them to argue back. It’s written down and rarely gets changed.

Why don’t I plan for breakfasts? Because that is a staple in our house that doesn’t change much. Breakfast is a very important part of the day. I make sure my children have a good breakfast before they head off to school; it is important for their concentration and all-round wellbeing.

However, to keep it simple and make sure they eat healthy, I have one simple rule: During the week, there is only one choice. And that is to either eat your porridge, or eat your wheat biscuits (We favour the cheaper Aldi brand) – both these breakfasts fill them up well and give them a power start to the day. On Fridays, I let them have a teaspoon of chocolate spread in their porridge or a squeeze of honey over their wheat biscuits. Friday is our treat day.

You know best the likes and dislikes of your family when it comes to food. For example, I know my 3-year-old would be perfectly happy to eat pasta with pesto every single day of the week. As tasty as that is, it isn’t something I’m willing to entertain. I vary our dinners as much as possible by keeping the costs down by using similar ingredients.

This is a sample dinner menu for our week – recipes for all these will be posted over the coming days:

  • Beanburgers with potato & carrot mash
  • Vegetable Soup with brown bread
  • Pizza
  • Vegetable Rice with naan bread
  • Maccaroni Cheese
  • Chickpea “Chicken” Nuggets with Wedges and corn on the cob
  • Lentil Stew

As different as the dinners are – shopping wise, they are quite similar. Once you have your freezer stocked with petit pois, sweetcorn, corn on cob – you’re half-way there. This sample menu – which is a typical one for us – uses these fresh, raw vegetables/pulses:

potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, lentils, peppers, sweet potato, butternut squash, broccoli, cauliflower

There are carrots in 4 of the dinners. Potatoes in 3. Butternut and sweet potato in 2 of them. You see where this is going – but that’s not all. I also sync the school lunches with the dinners. The night I make pizza: I make extra dough to make mini calzones for their school lunch the next day. Potato and carrot mash left over? I add an egg, a few frozen peas and some cheese to make a dough and bake them into potato cakes for their school lunch next day. It’s a welcome change from the old cheese sandwich.

A little imagination goes a long way to keeping lunches different, healthy and tasty – and your wallet a bit fuller by the end of it! 😀

I’m very aware how long this post already is, so I will leave it at this until the next post of school lunch ideas and will report back when the recipes are up for each dinner listed!