Ratatouille is a classic French vegetable stew with courgettes and aubergines. It’s a simple dish that has lasted because it’s easy to make, tasty and cheap. You can chop all the ingredients and cook in a casserole dish or you can put your slicing skills to work and create a beautiful pinwheel of colour. Either way you get soft veggies in a rich tomato sauce to serve alongside roasted meats or potatoes.

Makes 6 servings

250g passata
1 large green courgette
1 large yellow courgette
1 aubergine
4 large tomatoes
2 tbsps olive oil
1tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt
30g roasted garlic cloves

  • Pre-heat the oven to 195° (175° Fan). Pour the passata into a round baking dish (pie dish) then sprinkle over the chopped roasted garlic and 1/4 tsp of salt. Slice the courgettes, aubergine and tomatoes then arrange in a repeating pattern around the tin. Sprinkle over the thyme and the rest of the salt then drizzle over with the olive oil. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes then uncover and bake for 20 minutes.
  • Alternatively: Chop all the veg and tip into a small casserole dish then pour over the passata, add the garlic, thyme, salt and olive oil. Stir, cover and bake as above.

Any leftovers can be stored in the fridge for 3 days. Alternatively you can pop the leftovers in a blender and puree. Add a tin of chopped tomatoes to the puree and use as the filling for a veggie lasagne.


How to Save Money and Energy in the Kitchen

Millions of households have higher energy bills from this month and even with the national price cap it’s going to be tricky for lots of families to make ends meet. Any way we can save money and make the most of the energy we do use in the kitchen will make a difference. Feeding our families, especially during the winter, uses a lot of energy so here are some ideas to ease the strain on your kitchen purse.

Energy Efficient Appliances

Most kitchens will have an oven, a kettle, a toaster and maybe a microwave but the energy efficiency of these appliances can make a huge difference to your bill. Generally old appliances use more energy than newer ones. If your appliances were bought before 2012 they will probably cost you more over the next two years than the cost of replacing them with newer energy efficient appliances. Energy ratings go from A+++ to G with G being the least cost efficient.

Making the Most of Your Oven

Ovens are the most expensive appliance to run in your kitchen so when you do use it you want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. The whole oven heats whether or not you use it so it makes sense to use all the space. It’s quite cheap to reheat food in a microwave so use the extra space in your oven to make meals that can be reheated in the microwave another day:

  1. Make a double batch of the same dish then freeze the second batch and defrost then microwave another day.
  2. Add a tray of jacket potatoes to the empty space and bake for another day. Either freeze or refrigerate the potatoes then microwave another day.
  3. Add a tray of veggies (for example: tomatoes, onions, peppers, turnips, squash) then pop them all in a blender with some stock for a nutritious soup. Microwave as needed.
  4. The oven is still hot after you turn it off so consider shortening your active cook time and leaving the dish in the oven to cook in the residual heat. If you have a fan assisted oven switch the oven off at the socket so that the fan doesn’t come on and the oven stays hotter for longer.

Alternatives to Cooking with an Oven

There are lots of economical alternatives to cooking with the oven. Modern microwaves cost about 10p per day to use which is a lot less than an oven. Air Fryers are relatively new products so they meet high efficiency standards. They can cook meats, fish, casseroles and chips so it’s a versatile alternative to an oven. Slow Cookers use a little energy over a long period of time so they’re actually very economical, just know that older models will cost more than newer ones.

Tips on Fridge Economy

Fridges are the least efficient (amount of energy necessary to achieve its purpose) appliances so the closer they are to A+++ the better on your wallet.

Colder fridges cost more so adjust the setting just one or two degrees warmer and it will save you money with no effect on your food storage.

The less you open your fridge the less money it will cost you so make sure you know what you want to take out before you open the fridge door.

Switch Off and Save

Some appliances still draw energy even when they’re not in use. Newer appliances draw less energy. Toasters are particularly bad for drawing power so turn it off at the socket when not in use. Other appliances worth turning off at the socket include: kettles, blenders, food processors, slow cookers and coffee machines.

5 Recipes to Preserve the Tomato Harvest

Almost every veggie gardener I know grows tomatoes. I think it’s an unwritten law that no matter what else you grow you have to grow tomatoes. This year I’ve had gigantic beef tomatoes and three varieties of cherry toms. Naturally the bulk of the harvest comes at once and there’s only so much Caprese Salad I can consume in a week so I use a few tried and tested recipes to preserve my tomato harvest and enjoy it over a few months. Preserving food in jars is not complicated and can often save you a lot of dinner prep time in the future.

How to Sterilise Jars

Wash your jars and lids in hot, soapy water then place the rinsed, wet jars upside down in a clean roasting tray along with the lids then place in a 175°C oven for 15 minutes. When preserving foods in jars be sure to transfer the mixture into sterilised jars whilst the food is HOT. Do not wait for the mixture or the jars to cool.

Roasted Mediterranean Tomatoes

Most of my tomato harvest will end up in this recipe because I use jars and jars of Roasted Mediterranean Tomatoes. I tip a whole jar over cooked pasta and stir while it heats then grate over parmesan and finish with basil. It’s a ridiculously easy and delicious dinner. I add jars to casseroles and pour over roasted chicken thighs then heat for 5 minutes in the oven. It’s so versatile. Recipe Here

Joyce’s Salsa

My mother in law makes the best salsa and every year part of my tomato harvest becomes Joyce’s Salsa. I store this in smaller jars so that once the jar is open the whole lot gets eaten in one go. In our house autumn Friday nights are accompanied by the sound of crunching taco chips loaded with salsa. Recipe Here

Aubergine, Red Pepper and Tomato Puree

I love the flavour of aubergine but don’t always find it easy to get into everyday cooking. This puree keeps in the fridge for about 3 weeks or can be frozen in batches. It’s fantastic as a dip or stirred into pasta or poured over roasted chicken or fish. Lots of flavour and veggies packed into one beautiful puree. Read Here

Hot Tomato Masala Chutney

Chutneys are incredibly easy to make and last for months in sterilised jars kept in a cool, dark place. This smoky, sweet and spicy chutney is delicious with cheese and crackers or stirred into curries and scooped up with poppadums. Recipe Here

Slow Roasted Tomatoes with Lemon Yoghurt

I make batches of these roasted tomatoes then reheat a jar’s worth to pour over lemon yoghurt as a sharing dish when friends come over. It’s a sweet, salty and tart dish that disappears quickly over a couple of glasses of white wine and good chat. Recipe Here

Black Rice Power Bowl

Whenever I cook black rice I double the batch so that I know I can make this Black Rice Power Bowl. A power bowl is a collection of ingredients high in long burning energy foods. Besides being really good for you they also have to be delicious and this recipe ticks all the boxes. You have a lot of flexibility with which ingredients you include but be sure to add something crunchy and to whip up some of the amazing peanut sauce.

Post-Natal Superfood Profile: NUTS, BEANS & SEEDS
Some nuts, beans and seeds contain good levels of omega-3 which is an essential nutrient for your brain to function, especially when managing depression.

Serves 2 Adults

1 avocado
1 small tin of corn
1/2 red onion
120g frozen edamame beans
120g washed baby spinach
handful of green pumpkin seeds
1/2 lime
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

for the sauce
1tbsp smooth peanut butter
1 tsp sriracha
juice of 1/2 lime
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp brown sugar

80g black rice, 400ml water, 1/4tsp salt

  • If cooking the black rice from scratch then wash the grains twice in cold water then tip into a small pan and add 400ml of water and 1/4 tsp salt. Bring to a boil then immediately turn down the heat, place a lid securely on top and cook for 50 minute then fluff with a fork. If reheating the rice simply microwave in a microwave safe bowl on medium high for 2 minutes when ready to dish up.
  • Mix together all the sauce ingredients and leave to stand whilst assembling the bowls. Peel and finely slice the red onion then place the slices in a small bowl and add the apple cider vinegar then grind over with salt. Give the onion a little stir then leave to soften for a few minutes.
  • Boil the edamame beans in salted water until they float to the top of the water then drain. Toast the pumpkin seeds in a dry pan until then take on a little colour. Drain the tinned corn. Halve the tomatoes. Peel and slice the avocado.
  • Divide the rice and spinach between two bowls then divide the corn, edamame, avocado, red onion and pumpkin seeds. Drizzle over with the sauce and serve with a wedge of lime.

Fig and Tomato Tart

Fig season is here again so I’m a very happy cook. The sweetness of these little soft fruits is improved by slow roasting them and the same goes for tomatoes. The depth of roasted sweetness is wonderful in this Fig and Tomato Tart especially against the sharpness of the ricotta. It’s delicious hot or cold so pop any leftovers in the fridge for a quick lunch the next day.

Superfood Profile: Eggs
Contain Omega-3 (DHA) and Selenium which improve physical brain health and stabilize mood.

Makes 8 slices

9 cherry tomatoes
4 figs
250g ricotta
65g grated parmesan
375g ready to roll shortcrust pastry
2 large eggs
handful of fresh basil leaves
*this recipe requires a spring-bottomed pie tin and a food processor

  • Halve the tomatoes and grind over with salt then grill under a 175°C grill for 10 minutes. Squish the grilled tomatoes to remove any excess liquid then set aside for use later.
  • Roll out the pastry then gently press into a spring-bottomed pie tin that has been buttered. Trim off any excess pastry around the edges. Scrunch up the paper that the pasty was rolled in and flatten out over the pastry then pour over ceramic beans to weigh down the pastry. Bake for 10 minutes at 195°C (175°C Fan).
  • Put the ricotta, parmesan and eggs into a food processor then blitz until smooth then stir in the chopped basil. Pour the mixture into the par-baked pie shell then arrange the tomatoes and figs around the top and bake for 30 minutes at 195°C (175°C Fan). Sprinkle over some fresh basil and serve.

Burger Sauce

We’re big fans of sauce in our house and the fridge has a dedicated shelf for ketchups, mayos, mustards BBQ and chilli sauces. Whenever we have burgers (beef, chicken or veggie) I make this burger sauce because it’s so delicious and makes any burger pop with flavour. I simply mix together 4 ingredients you probably already have in your cupboard and voila, it’s done.

covers 6 burger buns
2 tbsp mayo
2 tbsp bbq sauce
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp Dijon mustard (use 1 tsp if you want it less hot)

  • Add the 4 ingredients to a small bowl and whisk until completely combined. Will store in a sterilised jar for up to a week.

Admiral’s Pie

When I make fish pie I use whatever assortment of fish looks good but for Admiral’s Pie I always use cod and prawns. I don’t cook the fish before it goes into the oven so I make an extra thick sauce because it will mix with the water from the frozen fish to make the sauce. I absolutely love mashed potato but because the fish and prawns are so soft I prefer the extra texture of scalloped potatoes on top of this pie instead.

Serves 2 Adults & 2 Kids
400g frozen cod
250g frozen prawns
150g frozen peas
approx. 700g russet potatoes
1/2 onion
2 bay leaves
3 cloves
2 garlic cloves
60g unsalted butter
4 shallots or 1 small onion
4 tbsp plain flour
500ml milk
1 tbsp horseradish
1/2 tsp salt
black pepper

  • Arrange the frozen cod, prawns and peas in a baking dish and allow to defrost a little while the potatoes are cooking. Pour off any excess liquid from the dish before assembling the pie. Peel the potatoes and leave whole then place into cold water with 1 tsp of salt. Bring the water to the boil then cook the potatoes for 25 minutes. Once the potatoes are par-boiled remove them from the water and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
  • Pour the milk into a small pan then add the peeled onion, bay leaf, cloves and peeled garlic then cook for 10 minutes over a medium high heat: Do not boil – you want at least 400ml of milk after 10 minutes. Once the flavours have infused into the milk remove all the flavourings and discard.
  • Pre-heat the oven to 220°C (200°C Fan). Peel and slice the shallots. Add the butter to a small saucepan over a medium high heat and try the shallots for 5 minutes until softened. Sprinkle in the flour and stir to combine. Gradually but consistently add the milk whilst stirring until you have a thick sauce then stir in the salt and horseradish. The sauce will be really thick but it will thin out as it combines with the water in the fish.
  • Slice the potatoes into 3mm deep discs. Pour the sauce over the fish and peas and grind over with pepper then top with slices of potato, overlapping to cover the sauce. Grind salt over the potatoes then dot over with butter. Pop into the oven for 25 minutes then under a 225°C grill for 10 minutes to brown the potatoes.

Fennel and Fig Pizza

The kids are devotees of margarita pizza so that’s what I make most often, but every now and then I crave a pizza that doesn’t have tomatoes. I had a Fennel and Fig Pizza in York that was so good I couldn’t stop thinking about because it so I had to whip up my own version. At the weekend I’ll make my own pizza base but for a weeknight meal I use a pre-made pizza base to save time. I love blue cheese so that is a must for me on this pizza but it’s not essential, just add more brie instead.

Post-Natal Superfood Profile: NUTS, BEANS & SEEDS
Some nuts, beans and seeds contain good levels of omega-3 which is an essential nutrient for your brain to function, especially when managing depression.

Serves 2 Adults

1 fennel bulb
2 figs
100g brie
100g stilton
5 cloves roasted garlic
1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
30g walnuts
1 pre-made ready to bake pizza base
*optional: honey

  • Pre-heat the oven to 220°C (200°C Fan) with a shelf on a high shelf. Cut the root off the fennel then shave it into thin slices on a grater or mandolin. Stop slicing before you get to the fingers of the fennel. Add the oil to a frying pan over a medium high heat then add the fennel and stir regularly.
  • Quarter the figs and roughly chop the garlic then add to the pan along with the salt and juice from half a lemon. Stir until the figs break down and the fennel is soft. Roll out the pizza base onto a baking sheet then tip the fennel mixture on top and spread out leaving a 2cm border.
  • Crumbled over the stilton then place slices of brie over the pizza. Roughly chop the walnuts then scatter over the top. Finish with a little drizzle of olive oil and pop in the oven for 15 minutes. For a little extra sweetness drizzle some honey over the hot pizza.

Fine Tomato Salsa

I love chunky salsa with taco chips but for tacos and breakfast I prefer a fine salsa. Fine salsas need more liquid so it’s a perfect way to use up the cherry tomatoes going bonkers in my garden. For chunky salsa you need to deseed the tomatoes but for this salsa you don’t need to; the liquid in the cherry tomatoes makes the sauce. The type of chilli you use will affect the spiciness of the salsa (big chillies tend to be milder than small ones).

Post-Natal Superfood Profile: Spice
Certain spices contain chemical compounds that aid brain function and repair. The post-baby brain works extremely hard and spices help support the changes that happen.

Makes 200ml

225g cherry tomatoes
375ml water
1 or 2 jalapenos
1 shallot
1 garlic clove
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp salt

  • Trim the stalks off the chillies and peel the shallot and garlic then cut the shallot in half. Remove all the stalks and leaves from the tomatoes. Pour the water into a small pan then add the chillies, garlic and shallot halves. Bring the water to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes (without a lid).
  • Take out the chillies, garlic and shallots and put into a small blender along with 60ml (1/4 cup) of the water and blitz for a few seconds. Add the tomatoes and blend for 30 seconds.
  • Heat the oil in a frying pan and once it’s hot add the sauce (it will look pink but it will change colour as it cooks). Sprinkle over the salt, stir and simmer for 5 minutes then store in a sterilised jar. Keep in the fridge for up to a month.

Butternut Squash Curry

Butternut Squash Curry is incredibly quick to make and delicious served with rice. The pieces of squash are tender but still have bite and the sweetness is balanced with the tartness of the lime and the creaminess of the coconut milk. You can use any curry paste of powder you have but make sure you add the turmeric because it adds extra earthiness. The toasted green pumpkin seeds aren’t just packed full of nutrition they also add another texture that brings the whole dish together.

Serves 2 Adults & 2 Kids
1 butternut squash
1 yellow onion
1/2 head garlic
equal amount of ginger to garlic
120g washed baby spinach
1 tbsp curry paste or powder
400ml coconut milk
1 lime
1.5 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
2tbsp vegetable oil
handful of green pumpkin seeds

optional: 180g black rice, 400ml water, 1/4tsp salt, 1 lime

  • If you’re using black rice then wash the grains twice in cold water then tip into a small pan and add 400ml of water and 1/4 tsp salt. Bring to a boil then immediately turn down the heat, place a lid securely on top and cook for 50 minute then fluff with a fork.
  • Use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin from the squash then cut the flesh into large cubes and discard the seeds. Peel and finely chop the garlic and ginger then peel and slice the onion. Pour the oil into a large pan over a medium high heat then gently fry the onion for 5 minutes before adding the garlic and ginger and cooking for another minute, stirring regularly.
  • Add the butternut squash, turmeric and curry paste (or powder) then stir before adding the coconut milk and stirring again to combine. Place a lid on the pan and gently boil for 10 minutes before adding the spinach and cooking for another 3 minutes with the lid on. Whilst the squash is cooking, toast the pumpkin seeds in a dry, hot pan for 3 minutes tossing occasionally. Serve the curry with the rice and sprinkle with the toasted pumpkin seeds.