Joyful Veggie Lasagne

During these strange times I have been taking my joy where I can find it: a quiet cup of coffee with my husband in the morning, a spritz of my favourite perfume, a good box set on TV. The simplest pleasures really are bringing a little glee to my day.

Top of the list, however, for daily delectation is food. Of course.

The simple pleasure we are all exalting over this week is veggie lasagne. It’s always been a favourite in our house. There’s an almost palpable euphoria when my family come down for dinner and this little beauty is on the table.

I often make this with quorn mince as it’s the kids’ favourite. But I also love veggie lasagne made with lentils or even a couple of cans of tuna. I must admit that I have never made a meat lasagne. The veggie version is jam packed with so much flavour that even my Dad, a life long meat lover, devours this with gusto.

Veggie Lasagne

Serves 4 – 6 depending on appetite

Ingredients

For the veggie sauce

  • 1 tablespoon of oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 carrots, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 bag of quorn mince or about 100g lentils
  • 2 tins of chopped tomatoes
  • A teaspoon of marmite (or 1/2 a veg stock cube)
  • 1 teaspoon each of sage, oregano and basil
  • A couple of large handfuls of spinach, chopped

  • About 12 – 16 lasagne sheets (I use the dried ones)

For the white sauce

  • 1.5 heaped tablespoons of cornflour
  • About 1 litre of milk
  • About 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • A couple of big handfuls of grated cheddar
  • A good grating of parmesan to finish off

Method

  • Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan and gently fry your onion and carrots for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the garlic and stir.
  • Tip in the quorn or lentils and stir to allow all the flavours to mingle.
  • Pour over the tomatoes and sprinkle in the herbs and marmite. Give it all a big stir then leave to simmer for about 20 minutes.
  • When the tomato sauce is just about ready, stir through the chopped spinach then turn out the heat.
  • Meanwhile preheat your oven to 180 C / gas 4 before you get on with your white sauce.
  • In a small saucepan mix your cornflour with about a tablespoon of milk. Once there are no lumps add the rest of the milk. Place your pan over a medium heat and stir, stir, stir until the sauce thickens. If you don’t keep stirring you risk a lumpy sauce.
  • Once the white sauce is thick enough, remove from the heat and add 1 handful of cheddar and a good pinch of salt. Stir.
  • Now to the assembly: pour a layer of tomato sauce into your lasagne dish followed by a little drizzle of white sauce. Then cover with a single layer of lasagne sheets. Repeat with a layer of tomato sauce, a drizzle of white sauce and a single layer of lasagne sheets until you have used up your tomato sauce.
  • Once you’ve used all of the tomato sauce place a final layer of lasagne sheets on top of everything then pour over the rest of the white sauce. Sprinkle over the remaining cheddar and grate over as much parmesan as you fancy.
  • Pop this dish of delights into the oven and bake for 30 – 40 minutes.
  • You know your lasagne is ready when it’s golden and bubbling, but to be absolutely certain you can pierce with a sharp knife to check the lasagne is cooked through.
  • I like to leave it to stand for 5 – 10 minutes before cutting. This is the most difficult thing I will likely do all day as I will be desperate to dive in. Allowing your lasagne to stand makes it easier to cut into portions and also reduces the risk of you burning your mouth on the molten hot sauce. So a little restraint pays off.

Spiced Pumpkin Seed Crunch

Spiced pumpkin seed crunch, how I love to munch you. Let me count the ways…

1. As a fabulous healthy snack. Gobbled by the handful as I walk past your bowl or packaged up for lunch box treats.

2. Scattered over a warm salad. Beetroot and goats cheese anyone? How about roasted squash and chickpea?

3. Sprinkled atop an Autumnal sweet potato, lentil or carrot soup, delicately spiced with cumin, coriander and chilli.

4. Stirred quickly through a light couscous dish, with a pile of fresh coriander.

5. To add crunch to a simple pasta.

Only 5? Well frankly that’s enough to be getting on with for now. Key take out: Versatile. Delicious. Moreish.

As it’s pumpkin season you may well be making these with the seeds from a fresh pumpkin. If you are, then you will need to wash and dry the seeds before tossing with the spices. You will also need to increase the roasting time to 12-15 minutes.

Spiced Pumpkin Seed Crunch

Ingredients

  • About a cup (120g) of pumpkin seeds
  • A generous pinch of sea salt
  • A good grinding of black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • Option to add a pinch of chilli powder or chilli flakes
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

Method

  • Preheat your oven to 180 C / gas 4.
  • Mix together all of your ingredients then spread out on a baking tray.
  • Cook in your preheated oven for 6 – 8 minutes. The seeds will be turning golden.
  • Allow to cool a little before diving in.
  • If you have any left, lucky you, they will keep well in an airtight container for a few days.

Poppy Seed Pizza Dough, for extra crunch

Who doesn’t love pizza eh? So many delicious toppings to choose from and then the array of cheeses to compliment a particular ingredient.  Like a cheeky crumbling of goats cheese with some caramelized onions.  Or occasionally no cheese whatsoever for a classic potato and rosemary combo.

But the base.  Well you can’t really mess with a pizza base too much without accidentally transforming it into something un-pizza-like.

That being said, sometimes I make a wholemeal base and I generally add dried rosemary to my white base. But nothing off the wall crazy you understand.

Yet the other day I veered right off those well trodden pizza tracks.  Oh yes, I added a tablespoon of poppy seeds to my dough.  My thought process was this:  I love a bit of subtle crunch to my pizza so why the heck not? Plus, I’m more than a little partial to poppy seed bread so yeah, I’ll give it a whirl.

The result was an assuredly delicate crunch.  But other than the minor adjustment, this was still 100% a gorgeous pizza.

This is my bread machine pizza dough recipe which means it’s pretty effort free. But if you like to make yours by hand or have a tried and tested pizza dough recipe that you love, just chuck in the seeds when you mix the dough.

Poppy Seed Pizza Dough, for extra crunch

(bread machine method)

Makes 4 – 5 pizza bases

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon yeast
  • 500g strong white flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 350ml water
  • Fine polenta for rolling

Method

  • Put all of the ingredients, except the polenta, in your bread machine. Set for dough and toddle off to do something exciting / relaxing while the machine does its thing.
  • Once it’s ready, tip out onto a clean surface dusted with polenta. Cut the dough into 4 or 5 pieces and roll out to fit your pizza trays.
  • Leave the bases to rest while you get on with the gathering of your chosen toppings.
  • Once your pizzas are ready to bake, I put them in a hot oven preheated to 220 C for 7 – 10 minutes.

A Little Gift to You…

Although this is a pizza dough recipe, I’ll share my simple pizza sauce recipe with you too. I use this every time and it never lets me down.

Just gently fry a thinly sliced clove of garlic in olive oil for a mere minute. Chuck in a can of tomatoes, a pinch each of salt, basil and oregano. Simmer gently for 20 minutes. Leave to cool slightly. I don’t tend to add fresh herbs in my sauce as I like to scatter them directly onto the pizza.

Scot Mex! Veggie Haggis Tacos

Fusion food. Maybe not at it’s very pinnacle of sophistication, but a blooming tasty weekend family feast let me tell you my friend.

Vegetarian haggis is delicious. I’ve never tried the traditional meat filled version. Why would I when this one is bursting with peppery flavour and packed with mouth pleasing texture. Mmmm.

When my children were a bit younger, and didn’t have quite as gargantuan appetites, I sometimes had a bit of leftover haggis and I’d try to reinvent these morsels into a crowd pleasing meal the next day. The family favourite was, hands down, veggie haggis spaghetti bolognese…

…until now. I’m always up for a bit of foodie fun so Scot Mex tacos is right up my calejon, that’s Spanish for alley don’t you know. See I’m just full of the fun!

Other than the Scottish twist on this Mexican classic, the chilli itself is pretty standard. Heaps of flavour delivered courtesy of cumin, coriander, smoked paprika and just a smidge of oregano. Deepened gloriously by a little cocoa powder.

I serve this with a really simple guacamole, a sweetcorn and black bean salsa, grated cheese and iceberg lettuce. I dont suppose it’s particularly authentic, it just happens to be what we love. Add soured cream if that’s your want.

The one thing I wish I had thought to use for this recipe is a Scotch Bonnet chilli. Not necessarily for the flavour, just the wee nod to Bonny Scotland.

Scot-Mex Veggie Haggis Tacos

Serves 5 – 6

Ingredients

  • 1 vegetarian haggis, cook according to packet instructions
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 red chilli, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 2 cans of tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • A can of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • Salt and pepper to your taste
  • A big handful of chopped coriander
  • A box of tacos (there are usually 12 in a box), cooked according to packet instructions
  • Accompaniments I’ll list at the end as they’re very much optional

Method

  • First cook your haggis. If you have a microwave it will ready in moments. If, like me, you don’t then it will take just over an hour in the oven so bear this in mind in your planning.
  • Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large pan and gently fry your onions for about 10 minutes.
  • Stir in your garlic, chilli and spices and cook for a minute or so.
  • Pour over the tomatoes, cocoa powder and beans and stir.
  • Simmer this aromatic pot of chilli for about half an hour on a low heat.
  • Once your haggis is perfectly cooked break it up a bit and add to the pot. Simmer a little longer to allow for a bit of Scottish / Mexican mingling.
  • Serve strewn with the chopped coriander and whatever else your heart desires.

My favourite accompaniments:

I wouldn’t consider eating this without a pile of grated cheese (cheddar or lancashire) and a mountain of iceberg lettuce. You can shred the lettuce and add to the tacos but we also like to keep some of the leaves whole and use them as healthier shells to stuff the chilli into.

Guacamole

I just smash up a couple of avocados with a good spritz of lime juice, fresh chilli, a pinch of cumin, a pinch of salt and fresh chopped coriander.

Black Bean & Sweetcorn Salsa

In a bowl mix together a can of black beans and a small can of sweetcorn with lime juice, a glug of olive oil, a pinch each of cumin and coriander, a couple of chopped spring onions, a very small crushed clove of garlic, half a chopped chilli, a handful of chopped coriander and plenty of salt and pepper.

Simple Elderberry Syrup

If you go down to the woods today… you might be lucky enough to find an elder tree dripping with deep dark red elderberries. Sorry to disappoint those with a penchant for picnics and teddy bears. But on the plus side you might not have to venture as far as the woods to find these treasures. There’s a lovely old elder tree right next to my suburban garden. 

If I catch them at them earlier in the year I love to pick the elderflowers and make homemade elderflower cordial.  I’d love to make elderflower champagne but I’m a bit worried about exploding bottles. I need to learn to live a little closer to the edge before I attempt it.

This year I missed out on the elderflowers so I was determined to get my hands on the berries.

Elderberries are absolutely chock a block with antioxidants, which give our immune systems a massive boost. So making a syrup now and digging into it over the autumn and winter months is a great way to help ward off colds and flu.

A word of caution with these berries – you really have to cook them or you might risk an upset tummy.  When raw these little berries are obnoxiously sour so you’d probably want to cook them anyway – nature’s way of keeping us safe. Also make sure you discard the leaves and stalks as these can be toxic.  A little vigilance is totally worth it for the sweet elixir you end up with.

This syrup is made with sugar but you could absolutely make it with honey, which would also cram in yet more healthy delights. I added a couple of slices of fresh ginger and a couple of cloves and the result is that the finished syrup is slightly reminiscent of cola. So when my youngest was under the weather a couple of days ago he slurped down his ‘medicine’ no questions asked. If you prefer, keep it simple and just go with the berries and sweet stuff.

You could use this as a cordial, drizzle over greek yoghurt or vanilla ice cream, add a dash to a cocktail or simply down a small shot when you feel your body needs a helping immune boosting hand.

Simple Elderberry Syrup

Ingredients

  • 500g elderberries
  • 400g sugar
  • The juice of a lemon
  • Optional flavour enhancers: a couple of slices of ginger and a couple of cloves

Method

  • First and foremost make sure you remove all of the stalks and leaves from the berries as these are toxic. Also discard any green berries.
  • You can gently pull the berries off the stalks or use a fork. I really like the fork method, which also cuts down on the staining of your fingers.
  • Give the berries a wash.
  • Tip them into a pan and cover with water (the water should be about 1cm over the berries). Add your ginger and cloves if you are using them. Simmer for about 15 minutes.
  • Take the pan off the heat and leave to cool slightly.
  • Now strain through a sieve. Pour the liquid back into the pan along with the lemon juice and sugar. Simmer over a low heat for about 10 minutes.
  • Once cooled you can either bottle this and keep in the fridge or, to make it last even longer, freeze in ice cube trays.

Claire’s Loaded Veggie Breakfast Stack

Thank you scrumptious Claire for tickling my taste buds with this pile of savoury favourites… eggs on halloumi on avocado on chilli jam on focaccia. Be still my beating heart!

After a particularly punishing morning HIIT workout in Claire’s garden, my legs were trembling, my arms were aching, my stomach was rumbling, nay roaring! This hearty stack of deliciousness is what she treated me with.

Digging a little deeper into this plate it turns out it didn’t only bestow pleasure on my taste buds. Each of the ingredients is massively helpful to us after a workout. The protein in the eggs helps to repair and build muscle; the avocado is dense in nutrients and fibre, which is really important for our metabolic health; and of course we needed carbs to replenish all the fuel we’d just burned, hello foccacia.

When you stack these awesome ingredients high it’s quite a challenge to open your jaw wide enough to eat this so Claire helpfully served this in 2 halves, making it less exhausting to devour, especially in polite company.

The focaccia was a herby delight but any bread or toast would be welcome to join this party stack. I’m thinking sourdough, bagels or wholegrain toast.

So get veggie stacking this weekend. Workout optional.

Claire’s Loaded Veggie Breakfast Stack

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 4 generous slices of focaccia or bread / toast of your choice
  • 1 packet of halloumi, thickly sliced
  • Chilli jam
  • 1 avocado
  • 2 – 4 eggs (depending on how starving you are)
  • Salt & pepper

Method

  • First of all heat your oven to about 120C / gas 1 and slip in an oven tray. This is for keeping the halloumi warm once cooked.
  • Heat a frying pan and once it’s warm cook your halloumi slices. You will not need oil for this. Once the liquid has evaporated and the halloumi is golden flip over and cook the other side, the 2nd side cooks much quicker than the 1st so keep an eye on it. Transfer to the warm oven tray to keep nice and warm.
  • Now add a little oil to your pan and fry your eggs (1 or 2 each).
  • While you’re waiting for the eggs to cook you can spread your chilli jam on your toast / bread and slice your avocado.
  • Arrange the avo on the bread / toast, followed by the halloumi and eggs. Sprinkle over salt and pepper if you like.
  • If you’ve built a stack you can pop the 2nd slice of bread / toast on top or just keep it on your plate to catch the tumbling odds and ends.
  • Loosen up your jaw then sink your teeth into this heavenly manna.