Balanced Bolognese

One of the biggest misconceptions I come across is that healthy food has to be sad “diet food”. 
Yes, we all benefit from eating a healthier diet but that doesn’t have to be salad. 
The easiest ways to be healthier is just to switch half of a plate of food to veg. The simplicity of everyday meals being transformed with a few humble veg is far less overwhelming than having to devise a complicated new menu.
The net result isn’t just a healthier meal but one that’ll be filling, your entire family is more likely to eat it and you aren’t having to learn to cook anything radically new, you are just upgrading what you already are comfortable with cooking. 
Here is a family classic, the bolognese (or for the purists ragu), but balanced with a few veggies and much better for you. 

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Ingredients (serves 4-6)

For the ragu:
1 large onion , finely chopped
500g good quality beef mince, ideally organic
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
300ml of passata
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon of mixed dried herbs
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to season
200g chestnut mushrooms, sliced

The rest:
60g of pasta of your choice per person, cooked according to packet instructions - this is a lot less than you are likely used to
75g of frozen peas per person
75g of another green veg per person, for example green beans, broccoli or asparagus

To make the ragu, put a large saucepan on a medium-high heat, add the mince and finely chopped onion and cook until the mince is fully browned. Stir occasionally so it doesn’t stick. Take the pan off the heat, tip it to one side, push the mince to the top and, using a spoon, remove the excess fat that collects at the bottom.
Reduce the heat to medium and put the pan back on the heat . Add the crushed garlic, herbs and bay leaf, stir and season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Pour in the chopped tomato and passata, add the mushrooms, reduce the heat a little bit more and simmer for 30-40 minutes until the sauce is thick. Stir every now and then. 
When it’s ready, check the seasoning and season again with freshly ground black pepper and sea salt if needed. 
While the ragu is simmering, cook the pasta according to packet instructions. When it’s nearly done, tip in the greens and peas and bring to the boil. Drain straight away and allow to steam for a few  minutes. 
To serve, divide the pasta and veg between bowls and top with a ladle of the sauce.
Leftovers make a great lunch the next day.

Sweet potato and chickpea goulash with a dill tahini sauce

Goulash is a beautiful traditional Hungarian dish made with tons of paprika. Think of it as a super tasty stew that's slightly sweet and 100% satisfying.
Ordinarily it includes meat but for this plant-based version, chickpeas and sweet potato are combined. Top with the dill and tahini sauce for a flavour contrast and extra nutrients.

Sweet potato & chickpea goulash.JPG

Ingredients to serve 2:
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into bite sized chunks (400g approximately)
1 red pepper, chopped into rough squares
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tin of chickpeas
2 teaspoons of paprika
1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon of coconut or rapeseed oil to cook
sea salt and black pepper to season

For the dill & tahini sauce
1 tablespoon of tahini (available from most supermarkets & health food stores)
Juice of a lemon
a tablespoon of chopped fresh dill fonds

Heat the oil in a large saucepan on a medium heat.
Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened, approximately 5 minutes.
Add the paprika, smoked paprika and cumin, season with a pinch of sea salt and some black pepper and cook for a further minute.
Add the cubed sweet potato, chopped pepper and bay leaf, stir well and cook for a couple of minutes.
Pour in the chopped tomatoes and just enough water to cover the potatoes (half a can approximately), season with a little bit more sea salt and black pepper and cook for 15 minutes on a low heat with a lid on the pan.
Take the lid off the pan, add the chickpeas and cook for a further 10-15 minutes or until the sweet potato chunks are fully cooked. 
To make the dill tahini sauce, whisk the tahini, lemon juice and two tablespoons of water with a pinch of sea salt until creamy. The sauce should be the thickness of cream, if it isn't add a little bit more water or lemon juice. Stir in the dill.
To serve, divide the goulash between two bowls and top with a couple of tablespoons of the dill tahini sauce.

Crab and sea veg tagliatelle

As an island nation, we should take great pride in the bountiful seafood around us. Shellfish and several tasty species of fish are abundant in our waters and have been nourishing the British population for many years. 
Sadly, much of the seafood is falling out of favour and we are shipping a large proportion abroad to be sold on foreign markets. As much as 80% of British crab, for example, ends up in far flung destinations.
This of course, is a total shame because crab is insanely nutritious. Zinc, selenium, copper and B vitamins are all abundant in these tasty crustaceans plus there is plenty of protein to boot.
Above all, you can use crab meat to create delicious dishes, such as this, in 10 minutes flat.
This beautiful recipe was one that I used at the Tatton Park Food & Drink Festival and it vanished pretty quickly, so as crowd approval goes, let's just say it's a goodie.

CRab linguine wide.JPG

Ingredients for 2:
160g tagliatelle
100g asparagus, sliced
150g frozen peas
100g brown and white crab meat (I used Seafood & Eat It Fifty Fifty Cornish crab from Waitrose)
25g sea vegetables (optional - I used a mix of samphire, sea aster and sea spray which I found near the herb section of Sainsbury's, they add crunch and a subtle salty flavour)
juice and zest of a lemon
1 clove of garlic, crushed
a pinch of chilli flakes
a knob of butter
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a pan of water to the boil. Drop in the tagliatelle nests and cook according to packet instructions.
Whilst the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a frying pan on a medium heat. Add the asparagus, peas, garlic and chilli flakes, season well with sea salt and black pepper and cook for a few of minutes until the peas have defrosted and the asparagus is cooked.
Grate in the zest of a lemon, stir and squeeze in the juice of the lemon.
Take the pan off the heat, stir in the crab meat and sea vegetables, if using, and mix well.
Once the pasta is cooked, move the tagliatelle to the pan with the crab using a slotted spoon. Add a splash of the water that the tagliatelle cooked in to loosen the crab sauce and put back on a medium heat for 30 seconds. Season with more freshly ground black pepper and serve immediately.

Rocket pesto, butternut squash, goats cheese

Big news: I'm in possession of a brand new, shiny Canon Eos 77 DSLR camera (that I have no idea how to use). This marks the end of an era of phone photography so to celebrate, I'm giving the trusty iPhone one last job having created this rocket pesto, butternut squash and goats cheese dish.
This recipe is the result of discovering a big bag of rocket that needed using up asap and there was no better way than to turn it into a delicious pesto. 
The quantities aren't exact but the recipe is flexible with no need to measure anything. 

Rocket pesto v2.JPG

Ingredients (feeds 2)
For the pesto:
2 large handfuls of rocket
1 handful of cashews
100ml of rapeseed or good quality olive oil
Zest and juice of half a lemon
1 clove of garlic
A pinch of sea salt

For the salad
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and chopped into cubes
Rapeseed oil
Sea salt and black pepper to season
A pack of purple sprouting broccoli
Liberal amounts of goats cheese to sprinkle on top

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Drizzle the butternut squash cubes with some rapeseed oil and season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
Roast until fully cooked (30 minutes approximately).
To make the pesto, put all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until roughly combined. Don't overprocess it since it should be a chunky consistency not a puree. 
Blanch or steam the broccoli.
To assemble, put the butternut squash and broccoli on a plate. Top with chunks of goats cheese and drizzle over some rocket pesto.

Noodle Bowls

On cold evenings (or days), nothing beats a warming bowl of noodles.
This quick to prepare dish is the ideal combination of warming spices, protein and those all-important carbs, because who doesn't crave carbs in winter? A sprinkling of sesame seeds, coriander (or parsley if you aren't fond) alongside sliced spring onions adds further flavour. 
I've featured 3 combinations but none take longer than 15 minutes from the time you start chopping to when you get to eat it.

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For the Noodle Broth:
300ml of vegetable stock
1 star anise (optional)
1 teaspoon of soy sauce or tamari
3 slices of ginger
60g of noodles, cooked according to packet instructions

For the topping:
1 spring onion, finely sliced
a few coriander leaves
1/2 teaspoon of sesame seeds

Tofu Noodle Bowl
100g firm tofu, cubed
40g broccoli
1 small carrot, shredded

Salmon Noodle Bowl
1 salmon fillet, cubed
40g broccoli
a handful of spinach

Chicken and Mushroom Noodle Bowl
1 chicken breast, thinly sliced
50g asparagus
3-5 mushrooms, sliced

Put the stock, ginger, star anise and soy sauce into a saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer.
If you are using chicken or fish, add these next, bring to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes.
Add the vegetables and tofu (if using), pop a lid on the pan and cook for a further 2 minutes.
Finally, add the noodles, cook for another minute and it is ready to serve.
Top with coriander, sesame seeds and sliced spring onion.