Library Lunches

Recently I’ve been really enjoying making tasty lunches to take to the library. It makes such a difference to my lunch break (and my finances…) when I have a delicious pasta salad or homemade soup to look forward to, instead of heading to the nearest Pret. These recipes are easy to make in batches for the week, all you need is a large saucepan and a few empty takeaway containers or tupperware pots. I’ve included the price breakdown of the recipes too, the prices have been calculated using Tesco and include all the ingredients in the recipe apart from salt and pepper. They all cost less than £3 per serving, cheaper than your average meal deal! The links to all the recipes are included in the post below:

 Here are my top 6 lunches for the library!


Tomato and Lentil Soup


If you’ve got access to a microwave wherever you are working or studying, this is a really great soup to keep you full and satisfied. This soup is perfect for some of the colder days we’ve been having, just serve with your favourite bread and butter. (£1.87 per serving based on 4 servings made with ingredients from Tesco)

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Herby Orzo Pasta Salad with Toasted Pumpkin Seeds


As you may have been able to guess from my recipes, I love orzo. Pasta is a perfect library lunch as you can prep a huge batch on a Sunday night, package up in empty takeaway containers and grab it easily from the fridge in the mornings. I love this recipe in particular because of the pumpkin seeds, you can add any seeds or nuts that you like really, just something to add a bit of a crunch. (£1.11 per serving based on 5 servings- multiply the orzo by 5 and adjust other ingredients to suit- made with ingredients from Tesco)

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Lemony Pesto Pasta with Roasted Veg and Feta


This one is great for bringing a bit of sunshine into the library, sharp lemony flavours with summery veg is a perfect combination. Again, really easy to make in a large batch for the week, with loads of healthy stuff to keep you on track even when you’re short on time. (£1.46 per serving, based on 5 servings made with ingredients from Tesco)

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Carrot and Freekeh Salad


If you aren’t in the mood for pasta (I’m not sure who you are…) then this carrot and freekeh salad is a great alternative. Freekeh is a tasty and versatile grain that’ll keep your lunches filling and interesting. You could cook a batch of freekeh at the weekend and change up your toppings or dressings throughout the week if you like a bit more variety! (£1.73 per serving based on 4 servings- just double the recipe- made using ingredients from Tesco and Freekeh from a health food shop)

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Pumpkin, Coconut and Ginger Soup


Another tasty soup recipe! This one is delicious too, and perfect if you’re a fan of asian flavours or a bit of spice. This recipe is also suitable for vegans, as are most on this list (just replace the cheese/egg pasta for vegan alternatives). (£1.07 per serving based on 4 servings made with ingredients from Tesco)

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Roasted Summer Veg with Herby Pesto Dressing


This lunch recipe is great if you’re trying to include a bit more veg into your diet. You can use pretty much any of your favourites here, chuck it all in a pan and roast then smother in pesto. Yum. (£2.11 per serving, based on 4 servings made with ingredients from Tesco)

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Thank you for reading, and I would love to know if you try any of these recipes, or have any favourites of your own!

Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Orzo Pasta with Feta

Sometimes there’s nothing better than a big bowl of pasta after a long day. As a student, however, eating pasta and tomato sauce day after day can get a little bit dull. Orzo pasta is great for making a more interesting, but comfortingly familiar, dinner. Its a little bit like risotto rice ( orzo means ‘barley’ in Italian) but quicker and easier to cook and pair with your favourite sauce. Its available in most larger supermarkets, or if you live near a world food market or cash and carry type shop then you’ll most likely find it there ( and for a fraction of the supermarket price). This recipe has a little bit of summer in it, feta cheese, fresh soft herbs and mediterranean flavours all remind me of sunny days and dinner in the garden. You can use any fresh herbs or cheese that you like, feta and parsley are just my summery favourites!


Shopping List


Serves 2 

1 large or 3 mini red pepper(s)

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped

100g feta

1 can chopped tomatoes

150g orzo pasta

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 a teaspoon sugar

salt and pepper


Method


Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Slice the pepper(s) in half lengthways and deseed. Place on a baking tray, skin side up, with 1 tbsp of the olive oil and a pinch of salt and roast for half an hour.

To make the tomato sauce, heat the rest of the olive oil in a large saucepan on a medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the garlic and fry until fragrant but not too brown. Add the chopped tomatoes, salt, sugar and pepper and 1/3 of the empty tomato can of water and simmer on a medium heat for about 20 mins.

Once the peppers and tomatoes are ready, add the peppers to the sauce. I like my sauce to be nice and smooth, so I used a stick blender to blend the peppers into the tomato sauce. If you’d prefer not to, or you don’t have a stick blender or processor, then skip this step.

Cook the orzo pasta according to the packet instructions (it should take around 10 minutes).

Add the orzo to the large saucepan and heat through. Season to taste and serve with the feta crumbled on top with some fresh parsley.

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Ratatouille

It’s March! Spring is finally starting to arrive, and with it the return of delicious courgettes to the supermarket shelves. This simple ratatouille makes the most of this summery veg, and only takes half an hour. Its a perfect simple supper, you can use whatever leftover veg you have in the fridge, if you like, and do not skimp on the garlic! My recipe serves 3 people, or 4 people as a side.

 


Shopping List


1 courgette

1 red pepper

1 red onion

1 can chopped tomatoes

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

3 tbsp olive oil

1 teaspoon dried basil

salt and pepper


Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Chop the courgette, red pepper and red onion into 2 cm chunks. Place on a baking tray and combine with 2 tbsp of the olive oil, the dried basil and some salt and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes.

While the veg is roasting, heat the remaining oil in a large saucepan. Once the oil is hot, add the garlic and fry for a couple of minutes until the garlic is fragrant. Add the chopped tomatoes and stir. Fill the empty can 1/3 with water to swill out any tomato left in the can. Simmer the sauce away for 15 minutes until the veg is cooked.

Add the veg and simmer for 5 more minutes, then season to taste.

Serve hot with lentils, potatoes, or crusty bread and butter.

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Slovenian Jota

I’ve always been intrigued by Eastern Europe, so when Ingham’s asked me to create a recipe inspired by one of their holiday destinations, I thought I’d give one of the more unusual locations a try. Food from Eastern Europe has a reputation for being heavy and meaty, so this jota is a great vegetarian alternative for those wanting to experience some lighter Slovenian cuisine at home! Jota is a delicious stew, traditionally made with potatoes, turnips, sauerkraut and bacon. This version skips the bacon, and adds sweet smoked paprika to add the essential smokey ness. The tomato base makes this stew surprisingly light, and the fresh dill and soured cream makes jota an all year round classic.


Shopping List


350g potatoes, peeled and chopped into 2 cm chunks

3 small turnips, peeled and chopped into 2cm chunks

400g sauerkraut, drained and rinsed

1 x 400g tin kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 white onion, finely chopped

5 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 bay leaves

1 heaped tsp caraway seeds

2 tsp sweet smoked paprika

1 tbsp plain flour

4 tbsp passata

750ml vegetable stock

2 tbsp olive oil

salt (I used smoked salt) and pepper to season

finely chopped dill to garnish

To serve:

Soured cream

Crusty bread and butter


Method


Heat the oil in a large saucepan on a medium heat, when the oil is shimmering and hot, add the onions. Cook for 10 minutes until translucent, but not too browned. Add the flour and stir continuously until all the flour is incorporated. Add the passata and stir until the onions, flour and passata create a thick pasta. Add the sweet smoked paprika and stir to combine. Then add the vegetable stock and turn down the heat to low.

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Let the base of the stew simmer on a low heat, then, using a large frying pan, heat the remaining oil on a medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic, caraway seeds, potato, sauerkraut and turnip. Pan fry for 5 minutes until the garlic and caraway are fragrant, but the garlic isn’t browning too much.

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Add the contents of the  frying pan to the saucepan, stirring to combine. Put the lid on the saucepan and simmer for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the lid of the saucepan and add the kidney beans, then, still with the lid off, cook the stew for a further 10-15 minutes. If the sauce is too thick, add a little bit of water to loosen it.

Season with salt and pepper, I actually used some smoked salt to give the stew a really great smokey flavour, but ordinary sea salt will also do the job! I also used plenty of pepper. Serve topped with dill and soured cream, and some crusty bread with butter.

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https://www.inghams.co.uk/lakes-mountains-holidays/resorts/slovenia

Nectarine, Blueberry and Mascarpone Pancakes

It’s nearly pancake day! I really enjoy pancake day, its a nice way to brighten up a gloomy February and use up a few things lying around in your cupboards. These pancakes are a departure from my usual crepe style pancake with lemon and sugar, but they are delicious, colourful and good fun to make. The recipe makes around 5-6 pancakes, so a big stack for 2 people to share!


Shopping List


 For the pancakes:

130g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 a tsp salt

2 tbsp caster sugar

130ml milk

1 large egg

2 tbsp melted butter, plus extra for cooking

For the Mascarpone:

2 tbsp mascarpone

1/2 tsp honey

1/8 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp nutmeg

For the toppings:

1 nectarine

a handful of blueberries

1 tbsp light brown sugar


Method


To make the pancakes, sift the flour, sugar and baking powder into a large bowl and add the salt. Beat together the milk, egg and melted butter in a jug with a fork, then pour into the bowl. Beat together with a fork until you have a smooth batter with no lumps.

To prepare the mascarpone, mix together the mascarpone, cinnamon, nutmeg and honey and set aside.

To prepare the toppings, cut the nectarine into 8 wedges, place in a bowl and sprinkle with brown sugar, then set aside.

To cook the pancakes, put a frying pan on a medium heat and add a knob of butter to the pan. Once the butter has melted, add 2 tablespoons of batter to the pan. When bubbles start to appear on the surface of the pancake, it’s time to flip it! If the pancake splatters its mixture, just tuck it back into the pancake using a fish slice or spoon. The pancake only takes a couple of minutes each side so be careful not to let it catch!

The pancake should have risen to about 1.5cm and be light brown and fluffy. Keep pancakes on a low heat in the oven while you cook the rest of the batter.

To serve, spread a little mascarpone on each pancake, and stack them and top with the remaining mascarpone. Add the nectarine and blueberries, and drizzle with a little of the nectarine and sugary juice.

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Ras el Hanout Roasted Cauliflower and Cous Cous Salad

This month I’ve been particularly enjoying cooking with cauliflower, it’s meaty in texture and really versatile. Back in July whilst on my River Cottage veg course I made some pan fried muergez cauliflower that I absolutely loved, but since then I’ve somewhat neglected this tasty veg in favour of pumpkins, squash and courgettes. However, I’ve been loving roasted cauliflower with warm spices like ras el hanout, cauliflower carmelises wonderfully and is delicious in salads and curries. This salad recipe is great both hot and cold, I’ve been taking it for my lunch and it lasts really well in the fridge.


Shopping List


1 cauliflower plus the leaves

1 tablespoon ras el hanout

250g cous cous

1 red onion

a handful of fresh parsley

a handful of fresh coriander

the seeds of 1 pomegranate

the juice of 2 lemons

a good glug of cider vinegar and extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons of sumac

salt and pepper

2 tbsp olive oil


Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Slice the leaves off the cauliflower and then slice into 3cm strips then spread on a baking tray. Break the cauliflower into florets and spread on a separate baking tray. Season both parts of the cauliflower with salt and pepper and toss in the olive oil. sprinkle over the ras el hanout and toss to cover the veg. Roast for 30 minutes until the cauliflower has caught slightly and is nice and tender. The leaves may need to come out sooner, you’re looking for the middles to be tender but the leaves not to be too crispy.

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While your cauliflower is in the oven, you can cook the cous cous and prep the rest of the ingredients. Put the cous cous into a bowl and cover with 250ml boiling water. Put a plate over the bowl and leave to steam for 5 minutes. Remove the plate and use a fork to run along the surface of the cous cous, using a medium pressure, to scrape off layers. This makes the grains nice and separated and fluffy.

Finely chop the red onion, coriander and parsley and add to the cous cous. Remove the seeds from the pomegranate and add to the salad.

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Once the cauliflower has cooked, leave to cool for a few minutes, then add to the salad.

To make the dressing, mix the extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice and sumac together with a fork. Season to taste, adding more lemon, vinegar or oil where you see fit. You want the dressing to nicely cover the salad without making it too wet.

Add the dressing to the salad, then serve! This does 4-5 servings as a lunch, so I keep mine in a big bowl in the fridge to eat throughout the week. Alternatively, you could serve it as a side dish for 5-6 people with some grilled halloumi or as part of a tasty mezze.

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Dinner Parties and Cooking for Friends: Tips for Students

I absolutely love cooking for my friends and family, there’s nothing quite like sitting down to a tasty meal with plenty to drink and some  of your favourite people around you. Cooking for others is such a satisfying and enjoyable thing to do, one that your friends too will appreciate (I hope) and may even offer to help wash up at the end! However, I realise that cooking for a large group of hungry people can be daunting, so I’ve put together some of my top tips for student dinner parties or just cooking a meal for smaller groups of friends or family.


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 Plan ahead, this is a big one. Make sure you know your audience, double check with your friends that no one is secretly allergic to anything, who is following any specific free-from diet, and any religious dietary requirements. Decide on what you are going to cook a few days before, checking your cupboards for any forgotten ingredients that could use to spice up your chosen dish. Create a list and head to the shops with a budget in mind- it’s so easy to get carried away when you’re cooking for someone other than yourself!

Keep it simple, I like to serve my food family-style, usually in the pots in which the food is cooked (less washing up) with serving spoons for everyone to help themselves. This style of serving lends itself to one-pot dishes that can be made ahead of the meal, such as chillies, curries, casseroles and risottos. Although none of these seem like spectacular culinary efforts, they are crowd pleasers and the ease of cooking them will mean that you will enjoy the company of your guests and will not be confined to the kitchen. I recommend a one pot dish with a few interesting sides where you can get a bit more creative.

Split the cost, cooking for others can get expensive if there’s a large crowd. Ask your friends beforehand if they’d mind chipping in a little for ingredients, if you’re cooking for 6 and each person provides £3 then you’ve got almost £20 to create your feast, which is more than enough for a delicious meal. Alternatively, split the cost of booze, bread and dessert by asking your guests to provide these for you so all you have to worry about is buying the ingredients for the main course. Although dinner parties can be seen as an expensive luxury, a few cans of tomatoes and chickpeas with some supermarket basic pitta bread and yoghurt can create a tasty spread for very little cost that everyone can enjoy together.

Rally the troops, if the idea of cooking an entire meal for a large group all by yourself is particularly daunting, then delegate! Round up your friends, family, or housemates to be your sous chefs. Having everyone in the same room can make the cooking a more relaxing experience and is a great excuse to get the drinks/party started early. Delegate jobs such as peeling, chopping and mixing that can be easily done with no pressure or kitchen bossiness from the head chef (that’s you!).

Consider your environment, make sure you have enough plates, wine glasses, tumblers, jugs, serving dishes and boards for whomever and whatever you are cooking. If you haven’t got enough, ask your friends to bring theirs or, if you’re not feeling fancy, use mugs! Candles are always nice, and fairy lights too. Setting the table nicely will show off what you’ve cooked and give the meal a sense of being special.

Cook what you love, whilst it’s important to keep in mind what your guests might want to eat for their dinner, as well as any special requests and requirements, but make sure that you cook what you enjoy cooking. If you hate waiting for sauces to simmer then make a fresh, zingy pasta dish, if you hate stirring things on the hob then create an entirely oven baked menu, it’s up to you!  Have fun and enjoy yourself and your friends will too.


Here are some of my recipes that would be perfect for cooking for a crowd- just increase the quantities!

Chickpea Tagine with Orange Rice

Creamy Vegetable Curry

Caribbean Sweet Potato and Bean Curry with Wild Rice

Butternut Squash Pasta Bake with Thyme

Cheddar and Leek Risotto

Vegetable Goulash

Chickpea, Coconut and Almond Curry