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.

Quick Quorn Creamy Pasta

I’m a big fan of quorn. Especially when I need to get dinner on the table quickly. I try to have a bag of quorn pieces (basically veggie chicken substitute) tucked away in the freezer just waiting for me to pluck out to add to something quick and delicious.

One of the mighty quorn’s exemplary features is that it absorbs all of the flavours you add to the cooking pot, so every mouthful is bursting with a lively, savoury punch.

I made this yesterday when time had run away from me and before I knew it I needed dinner to be on the table in less than 30 minutes. After a quick scavenger hunt around the kitchen this is what I concocted.

So, do the same, grab what your have and please don’t feel wedded to the ingredients I suggest. This would work with any pasta shape. Most vegetables would be grand here, I simply chose peas as they are quick and effort free. I love creme fraiche as you can keep things light by opting for the half fat version, but you could make this creamy dreamy with double cream. In times of severe bare fridge moments I have made something similar with cream cheese.

You get my point. Let your fridge be your guide.

Quick Quorn Creamy Pasta

Serves 4 people with hearty appetites

Ingredients

  • 500g bag of pasta (I used tricolor farfalle, because it was in my cupboard)
  • A tablespoon of olive oil or butter
  • 2 leeks, chopped into fairly small pieces
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 bag of quorn pieces
  • 1 stock cube
  • A couple of large handfuls of frozen peas
  • A tub of half fat creme fraiche
  • A large handful of cheddar, grated
  • A couple of tablespoons of Parmesan cheese, grated

Method

  • Cook your pasta according to packet instructions.
  • Meanwhile cook your leeks in your oil of butter over a gentle heat, until softened.
  • Add the garlic and stir for a minute, before crumbling in your stock cube and tumbling in the quorn pieces.
  • Stir, then pour over enough hot water to cover the base of your pan. Pop a lid on the pan and leave to simmer for a few minutes.
  • Pour in your peas, stir then pop the lid back on. Add a little more water if the pan is looking dry.
  • After about 5 minutes the peas and quorn should be nicely heated through, so turn off the heat and stir in the creme fraiche and then the cheddar.
  • Once your pasta is cooked to perfection, drain and return to the pan. Pour over the creamy quorn and add the Parmesan. Give it all one final big stir.
  • Serve with a good grinding of black pepper and, if you fancy, an extra sprinkling of Parmesan. Buon appetito!

Light & Lemony Beetroot Soup

I’ve been feeling a little under the weather this week. So for lunch yesterday my body was calling out for a big bowl of nourishing soup. A little rummage in the fridge and a couple of moments later I was armed with a beautiful bunch of beetroot and a few other select ingredients to chuck in the soup pan.

By absolute coincidence pretty much everything in this nourishing soup is helpful if you are in need of a health boost: beetroot is packed with antioxidants and great for nurturing our immunity; garlic is well known for its antibiotic properties, which are invaluable in fighting colds and coughs; and of course lemons are bursting with Vitamin C. I could go on by mentioning the antibacterial properties of onions etc but you get the picture, this soup is really good for you. Really really good for you.

But the crucial thing here is that this lemony beetroot soup is also seriously delicious. Everyone scraped their bowls clean.

Beetroot soup is so velvety smooth, like a soft cosy blanket, that I’d usually categorise it as Winter comfort food. But adding the lemon brings a subtle citrus zing to the party, which makes this soup ideal during these warmer months.

Whether you are feeling a tad low or on top of the world one thing’s for sure, you will feel all the better for eating a bowl of this alluring deep purple soup.

Lemony Beetroot Soup

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 500g raw beetroot, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 carrot, roughly chopped
  • 1 potato, roughly chopped
  • 1 litre beef stock (use veg or chicken if you prefer)
  • Juice of half a lemon

Method

  • Put all of the ingredients, except the lemon, into a large pan and bring to the boil.
  • Turn the heat down and simmer for about 25 minutes, or until the veg is nice and tender.
  • Blend the soup until it is velvety smooth. Stir in the lemon juice.
  • Serve with your favourite bread or crackers, we had brioche rolls with Dijon mustard and cheddar cheese.

Peanut Butter Granola

I was making a batch of granola the other day when a tasty thought came to me, I thought I’d go a bit nuts, shake things up a bit.

I went rogue and added a couple of spoonfuls of crunchy peanut butter. Yep that’s how crazy I am. I kept the rest of the ingredients pretty simple to really let the earthy peanut flavour shine through.

To be completely honest the first attempt didn’t truly live up to my expectations. It just wasn’t peanut buttery enough. So this revised recipe I share with you my dears has double the peanut butter from the original recipe. It is, as Goldilocks declared, just right.

I enjoyed this with fresh blackberries and plums from the garden. However, if I was nipping to the shops for berries I’d go for raspberries or strawberries – think peanut butter and jelly, classic.

Peanut Butter Granola

Recipe

Ingredients

  • 250g oats
  • 40g pumpkin seeds
  • 40g sunflower seeds
  • 150g pecans or almonds
  • 100ml maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or good quality vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 4 tablespoons peanut butter

Method

  • Preheat your oven to 150C / gas 2. Line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper.
  • In a pan gently heat your peanut butter with the maple syrup and oil. This just softens the peanut butter, making it easier to stir through the dry ingredients. If your peanut butter is already quite runny you dont need to bother with this step.
  • Mix together all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl then stir in the peanut butter mixture until everything is thoroughly combined.
  • Tip onto your prepared baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes. Give it a stir once or, preferably, twice during this cooking time to ensure an even bake throughout.

To serve

I just love granola with Greek yoghurt, fresh fruit and sometimes some chopped dried fruit too.

You can try this even more simply with some nice cold milk.

A little scattering over a warm bowl of porridge with a fruit compote is definitely worth a try as Autumn approaches.

Spiced Roasted Chickpea & Veggie Wraps

I love chickpeas roasted in the oven. They’re a lovely little snack. They also add a stunning crunch atop a bowl of simple homemade soup. Now I can attest to spiced roasted chickpeas to be the most delicious filling for a tortilla wrap. Just add a bit of crunchy veg and you’re good to go. Wrap them tightly and take them on a picnic or make this at home when the chickpeas are just out of the oven and still warm.

Another thing I’m rather partial to is garlic. So I made a really simple garlic yoghurt spread for this. You can spread what you like on your tortilla: mayo, cream cheese, aoili, chilli sauce or, for a double chickpea whammy, try hummus.

Veg-wise, I enjoyed this with grated carrot and rocket. Use whatever you have in the fridge. Cherry tomatoes, cucumber, beetroot, spinach… the choices are endless.

Feeling cheesy? You could also add feta, goats cheese, grilled halloumi or even mozzarella. My son had a simple scattering of grated cheddar to finish his off very nicely.

If you have the time and inclination you could roll this, squash down slightly and then grill or heat in a hot dry pan to get an extra layer of crispiness.

Spiced Roasted Chickpea & Veggie Wraps

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 teaspoon each of cumin, coriander and turmeric
  • A teaspoon of oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 wholemeal tortilla wraps
  • 4 tablespoons of full fat Greek yoghurt
  • 1/2 garlic clove, minced
  • A few chives, chopped (optional)
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 4 handfuls of rocket
  • Cheese of any kind you fancy (very much optional)

Method

  • First thing’s first, get those chickpeas in the oven: preheat your oven to 180C / gas 4. Mix together the chickpeas, spices, a teeny bit of salt and pepper and the teaspoon of oil and lay out on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes or until they are crisp at the edges.
  • Next get the the garlic yoghurt spread sorted (if you’re not using this just skip to the next step). Simply mix together the yoghurt, garlic and the chives, if using. Sprinkle in a small pinch of salt and pepper.
  • Now lay out your tortillas and spread with your garlic yoghurt or whatever spread you’re going for today.
  • Scatter over the chickpeas then the rest of the ingredients.
  • Fold and munch, maybe dipping and scooping up any leftover garlicky yoghurt if the fancy takes you.

Simple Summer Smoothie

Simple Summer Smoothie

I won’t take the credit for this, my youngest came up with this last Saturday afternoon. You know that time of day when you’re getting a bit peckish after breakfast but it’s not yet reasonable to eat lunch? That’s when we made this.

I love it when the kids take charge of a recipe, they can come up with some fantastic flavour combos. Although there have been times when I’ve had to step in – no I don’t think I want maple syrup on my spaghetti! Thanks for that one Elf.

There is no need for any fruit chopping here so this really is ideal for kids of any age to make all by themselves. Just make sure they’ve secured the lid on the blender properly before they switch it on.

This smoothie is light and refreshing, which makes it an ideal summer refreshment. If you don’t have / like coconut milk you could try apple juice instead.

Simple Summer Smoothie

Recipe, serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 large ripe banana, peeled
  • 1 orange, peeled and broken into segments
  • A handful of raspberries (fresh or frozen)
  • About 4 strawberries
  • 250ml coconut milk

Recipe

  • Just pop all of your ingredients into a blender and whizz until smooth.
  • Slurp straight away through your favourite straw.