The more observant reader will spot an increase in the number of store cupboard recipes this week! That’s because there was a bit of a cock-up with the veg-bags last week: nothing to do with the lovely squirrels and everything to do with something called Innovative Learning Week (don’t ask). But never fear, we’ll be back to normal come Thursday.

Anyway, not only have I been watching sport this weekend, but I’ve been doing some too: this morning caught us running alongside the canal in heavy snow. By yesterday the cake tin was empty, and so I knew I had to take action to make sure there was yummy to eat when I got back from the run. Inspired by the Welsh victory I made this fabby tea-loaf, which is dead easy to make (as long as you remember to soak the fruit the night before) and uses really simple ingredients that I already had kicking around.

Bara Brith

175ml strong black tea
225g dried fruit (whatever you’ve got)
150g light soft brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
225 self-raising flour
1 tsp ground mixed spice

Put the tea, dried fruit and sugar in a large bowl, cover and leave overnight.
The next morning, put the oven on to 180 deg C/ Fan 160 deg C/Gas mark 4 and grease and line a loaf tin (approx 20 x 10 cm)
Add the egg to the fruit mix and stir in.
Sift the flour, salt and mixed spice together over the mixture.
Use a metal spoon and lightly mix everything together: don’t over mix.
Spoon or pour it into the tin and level the mixture.

Bake in the oven for about an hour, until a skewer inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean. Leave in the tin to cool for 10 minutes and then turn out onto a cooling rack.

Apparently this improves with keeping over a couple of days: but as the photo shows – I wouldn’t know!! It is absolutely fabulous, especially with butter on it and we’ll definitely be making it again.

Hurrah – it’s the weekend. Not only that, but there is a feast of sport on the TV today and tomorrow with both 6 nations rugby and the world track cycling championships. To set the mood we decided we needed a leisurely brunch today. I still had some sprouts and potatoes left from my veg bag so what could be better than some bubble and squeak.

Bubble and squeak cake
4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
12 small sprouts, shredded
1 egg, lightly beaten

Put the potatoes into a saucepan of cold water and bring to the boil. When it starts boiling put the shredded sprouts in a sieve above the potatoes and put a lid on the pan. That means that the sprouts can steam whilst the potatoes are boiling. When the potatoes are done put the sprouts to one side, drain the potatoes and mash them with some butter. At this point I also added some nice soft cheese with garlic and herbs that I had kicking around. Then stir in the sprouts and the egg.

Now heat some butter in a frying pan. Add the potato mix and press it all down into the pan. Cook gently for about 10 minutes. Then either try and flip the cake over or put the whole thing under the grill for another 5 minutes to cook the top.

We had it with beans and sausages for a lazy Saturday brunch!

I’ve been dashing around this week, but I’ve still had time to make a batch of soup to keep us going for lunches. I still had the two big parsnips from my veg bag plus a carrot so they were the major component of the soup. Looking around for inspiration I came up with this

Curried root and pear soup

1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped finely
2 large parsnips, peeled and chopped
1 medium carrot peeled and chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp garam masala
1.2 litre veg stock
1 pear, peeled and chopped.

Heat a couple of tbsp of oil then fry the onion and garlic gently until they are soft. Add the parsnips and carrot and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Add the spices and stir thoroughly to mix them in. The add the veg stock, bring to the boil and simmer gently with the lid on for 20 minutes or until the veg are soft. Add the pear and cook for another couple of minutes and the blitz until it’s the texture you’d like. If you’re feeling decadent you could stir in some cream.

For some reason I have made two different risottos in the last few days: one was with rice and the other with pearl barley (very hip and trendy don’t you know!) That got me thinking about the different forms of grains/starches I use. My top 4 are definitely: rice, bulgar wheat, couscous and pearl barley.  Just out of curiosity I decided to have a look at the cost per portion (yes I need to get out more) and based on prices from a local supermarket this is what I came up with:

Couscous: 1 portion = 60g; 8p per portion

Bulgar wheat: 1 portion = 75g; 16p per portion

Risotto rice: 1 portion = 75g; 17p per portion

Pearl Barley: 1 portion = 75g; 8p per portion

So none of them exactly breaks the bank!

This evening I made a risotto using some really nice smoked fish I had left-over from something else and I decided to use the leeks and sprouts from my veg bag. Is this the first recorded instance of sprout risotto I wonder? And it occurred to me that risotto is one of my favourite ways of using stuff up:  so here’s a suggestion for whatever veg and stuff you have kicking around:

Bottom of the fridge risotto (serves 2)

1 onion or 1 large leek

2 cloves garlic (optional)

Handful shredded cabbage/sprouts/ frozen peas/sweet corn

150g risotto rice or pearl barley

500 ml stock (veg, chicken or whatever)

2 tbsp olive oil (or butter or any other oil)

1 glass white wine (if you can spare it)

100 g of whatever else you have : mushrooms or peppers or cooked chicken or fish or prawns

Heat the oil/butter. Fry the onion/leek and garlic for 5 minutes until soft. If you are adding peppers or mushrooms add them now and continue to fry until soft.

 Add your choice of grain and stir well to coat the grains in the oil.

Add the wine and stir until it is absorbed. Slowly add the stock a couple of tablespoons at a time, stirring every time you add more stock and waiting until it is absorbed before you add some more.

When almost all the stock is added add whatever else you have left (the cabbage/peas/sweetcorn plus any chicken/fish/prawns) and make sure they are heated through.

Serve with some grated cheese on top.


Weekends are time for the 3 R’s: relaxing, recovering and re-stocking. And even after the Valentine’s cakes, plus the cake from mum last weekend the cake tin was looking a bit bare so my thoughts turned to sweet things! I love carrot cake and saw a recipe the other day for beetroot muffins so I raided my veg bag and starting from these two unprepossessing characters I came up with:

Sweet roots fairy cakes
(Makes about 15)

Pre-heat the oven to 180 deg C/160 deg C Fan, or Gas Mark 4

Put 15 fairy cake cases into cake trays (if you don’t have cake trays you can just stand the cake cases on a baking tray, but in that case put 3 of them one inside the other so they are strong enough to stand up on their own)

175g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground mixed spice
200g light soft brown sugar
150ml sunflower oil
2 large eggs
180 g grated carrot and beetroot
75g chopped walnuts or sultanas or a mixture

Sift the flour into a bowl with the baking powder and add the mixed spice.

Now in a big bowl mix the sugar with the oil, then add the eggs and beat in until the mixture is smooth. Then add the grated veg and the walnuts and/or sultanas. Finally gently fold the flour, baking powder and ground mixed spice.

Spoon into the cake cases and cook for about 20 minutes until they look done, or a skewer put into one of the cakes comes out clean.

Leave to cool in the tray for 15 minutes, then remove the cakes from the tray and leave to cool completely on a rack.

You can either eat them as they are or, for a really indulgent treat, make some frosting. Soften 100g of butter (don’t tell anyone, but I put it in the microwave for 10s), gradually beat in 225g of icing sugar, then add 35ml of lemon or orange juice. Beat until light and creamy then get creative!

It’s Thursday – and today I have at least three reasons to be cheerful:

1.       My hens have finally decided it’s spring and have started laying again. Well I say hens, but I’ve only had 2 eggs from them in a week so I suspect that only one of the girls is laying. However, the sisterhood is standing firm and they aren’t letting on who’s pulling their weight and who isn’t!

2.       It’s Valentine’s Day, so here’s what I made my husband. Yes I know it’s cheesy, and I know it doesn’t have any veg in it, but hey!

3.       It’s veg bag day. As ever the cheerful squirrels were there with their veg bags. And this week there was talk of workshops: a mushroom growing session and a curry cooking session coming to a campus near us soon: yes please! Checking out the contents of my bag revealed:


6 medium potatoes
2 large parsnips
3 huge carrots
1 beetroot
3 leeks
3 onions
A couple of dozen sprouts

That’s got to be the best £4 I’ve spent for a while!  I also got ½ a dozen eggs to keep me going until my hens really start laying again.

Tonight’s recipe was inspired by those rather yummy veg pots that you see in the supermarkets. They look great: a mixture of funkiness and healthiness and so easy to heat up a healthy lunch – what’s not to like. But, let’s face it they are pretty pricey and then there’s all that waste: the cardboard wrapper (ok you can recycle it) and the plastic pot. So surely I can come up with my own not-quite-so-innocent pot. What follows makes enough for two hearty lunches.

The pots start with some rice or grain: so I took 140g of bulgar wheat, put it in a glass bowl, added a tsp of ground cumin, and then add enough boiling water to just cover the bulgar. Cover the bowl and leave to stand for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile make 1 portion of the spicy carrot pate that I tried out a couple of weeks ago. But don’t blitz it quite so thoroughly, it needs to stay quite chunky.

And then there is always some green healthy stuff in one layer. So I took a dozen sprouts, washed them thoroughly and chopped them up into really thin slices. The idea with these is that you don’t pre-cook them, so they need to be in small enough pieces that 3 minutes or so in the microwave will cook them, but leave them with some crunch.

Now assemble your pots: put half the bulgar wheat in each pot. Then add a layer of shredded sprout, top with the chunky carrot pate, and then sprinkle on some seeds (I used sunflower and pumpkin). And there you have it, veg pots that can be heated in the microwave for about 3 minutes to provide a yummy healthy lunch.

Just in case anyone was wondering where I've been, and why the glorious silence.....

I've been away visiting my mum down south. I travelled down on Thursday so the good news is that I've been fed and watered all weekend and have come back North loaded up with fruit cake, cheese and other maternal goodies. The bad news is that cos I went away on Thursday I didn't get a veg bag, which is a shame cos a peak in my colleagues' bag revealed: onions, potatoes, carrots, savoy cabbage and mushrooms: yummy!

So normal service will be resumed on Thursday - see you then.

After last night’s pancakes the veg bag was empty! That’s ok because super tonight is already taken care of. But I did need to make some soup for lunch. Thank heavens for store cupboard standbys. My top 5 store cupboard items would have to be:

1.       Tinned tomatoes
2.       Veg stock powder
3.       Lentils
4.       Soy sauce
5.       Various herbs and spices

Taking my top three I rustled up some tasty lentil soup.

Spiced lentil soup

1 large onion, chopped

350g red lentils

1.5 l vegetable stock

1tsp ground cumin

1tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 tin chopped tomatoes

In a large saucepan fry the chopped onion in some oil until it has softened. Then add the spices, stir a lot and then put the lid on and let the onion sweat for another 5 minutes. Now add the red lentils and stock and bring to the boil. Then put the lid on and let it simmer gently for about 20 minutes, until the lentils are soft. Then add the tin of tomatoes, bring back  to the boil and simmer for another 10 minutes. Finally blitz until it is your preferred texture. This has made enough for at least 8 servings!

Ok I’ll admit it – I got confused and thought this week was pancake day! I knew I had half a cabbage plus my eggs left so I was thinking some sort of savoury pancake and then I remembered the fabulous Japanese pancakes I’d had. A bit of googling later and I had supper sorted out. Apparently Okonomiyaki roughly means “as you like it”, and is almost the Japanese equivalent of bubble and squeak. It can be filled with whatever you’ve got, but apparently the essential ingredient is cabbage. It is supposed to be served with Okonomiyaki sauce, which is kind of like Japanese HP sauce and a Japanese version of mayonnaise.

I’ve mangled the recipes so much that I daren’t call it Okonomiyaki, so I shall go for Japanese inspired pancakes:

Japanese inspired pancakes with home sauce
125g plain flour
1 tbsp cornflour
½ tsp baking powder
1 egg
160 ml stock (veg stock, or dashi if you can get hold of it)
½ cabbage finely shredded
Random other fillings (I used some chopped mushrooms and some smoked salmon: traditionally it would be prawns or shredded pork)


Mix the plain flour, cornflour and baking powder together in a largish mixing bowl. In a small bowl gently whisk together the egg and stock. Add the egg and stock into the flour mix and mix gently until you have a pancake batter.

Now add the cabbage and other fillings.

Take a large frying pan and heat a tbsp of oil. Put all the mixture into the pan and cook, turning it over at least once.

Whilst it is cooking you can make the sauce.

Mix together:

3 tbsp tomato ketchup
3 tbsp Worcester sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp cornflour mixed with a little water.

Put them all in a jug and microwave for 1 minute. Stir and then microwave again for another 30s.


Serve the pancake with the sauce artistically drizzled on top (or in a jug on the side!)

Note: next time I thing I will either use a bigger pan or cook it in two batches as it took a bit of cooking in the middle!


I’m not really a great fan of TV cookery programmes, but I have to admit I have a soft spot for Nigel Slater. He just seems to be more in touch with the real world. I really enjoyed his “Simple Suppers” series that was on recently: and it’s still available on iplayer. One of his recipes from the series was “Tidy Friday Pan Fry” which basically used up the last contents of the fridge at the end of the week. Even though it’s Monday I’ve taken inspiration from this idea and come up with “Hungry Monday Pan Fry” which used stuff I had in the fridge. It is completely flexibly and could easily be made vegetarian by omitting the bacon and adding, say, some mushrooms or whatever else you have.

Hungry Monday Pan Fry

1 onion, finely chopped
4 rashers of bacon, chopped into small lardon
4 small potatoes
½ dozen cherry tomatoes
½ small cabbage finely shredded

Cut the potatoes into quarters and put into a pan of cold water, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 15 minutes – until just done.

Meanwhile put some oil into a medium frying pan and when it has heated add the bacon bits and cook until crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan and put to one side. Now add the onions to the pan and fry until softened.

By this time the potatoes should be ready, cut them into smaller chunks and add them to the onion mixture, and continue to fry gently.

Now put the cabbage into a separate saucepan and cook until just done (probably only a couple of minutes). In theory you should now add the bacon, tomatoes and cabbage into the frying pan and fry for a couple of minutes, possibly increasing the heat until things start to crisp. However, I didn’t have enough room left in the pan so I just served the cabbage on the side!

Serve with lots of nice wholegrain mustard.

And sorry there are no photos, but it was cold and snowy – and we were very hungry!!!