Homemade Houmous / Hummus

Nearly all of my vegan friends are huge lovers of chickpeas, but whilst I can tolerate them in a dish, they don't really rock my world.  Strangely though, I absolutely love them when they're whizzed together and made into houmous.  Now houmous is something I could eat every day!  If you're a fan, I strongly urge you to ditch the supermarket / shop varieties and have a go at making it from scratch yourself.  It's unbelievably quick and easy to do, and trust me when I say it tastes a million times better.  It really does!  

- 400g can of good quality chickpeas (preferably organic), rinsed and drained 
- 2 tbsp tahini paste
- 2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped or crushed
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (you can use more if desired)
- freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tsp smoked paprika to serve with (optional)

How to: - 
1.  Place the chickpeas into a food processor, and then add in all of the other ingredients on top.
2.  Blend on a medium speed for a few minutes until everything is thoroughly blended, and so that it has a smooth overall texture.
3.  Place in a bowl and sprinkle over the smoked paprika if desired. 
4.  Serve with your favourite crudites and pitta chips, use as a spread in pittas, or with some falafels.  Keeps for up to 3 days in the fridge.

This recipe was adapted from one a friend picked up when she was travelling through Palestine last year.  The original version uses mint leaves, more olive oil and less tahini, so it's a very easy recipe to adapt to your own tastebuds.  Changing the texture is also easy; just add more olive oil, lemon juice, or cold water if you want it more runny, and less if you want it to be thicker. You can also try adding herbs, different spices like cayenne pepper and rock salt to season it further.


Strawberries with Golden Meringue Pieces

The end of September marks the end of the strawberry season in most places in England, so I wanted to bid a fond farewell to my favourite fruit and I whipped up this little dessert.  I decided to make a whole meringue as it keeps for up to a week in an airtight container (and I just love meringues!) so use your discretion about how much you want to use when it comes to serving this up.

- 225g golden caster sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp cornflour
- 4 large egg whites
- a large handful of strawberries, quartered
- caramel sauce or ice cream to serve (optional)

How to:-
1.  Preheat the oven to 160C / Gas mark 3.  Draw a 25cm circle on baking paper, and place on a baking tray.
2.  Stir the golden caster sugar and cornflour in a jug together.
3.  In a large bowl, whisk the egg white until they are stiff (do the holding the bowl over your head trick!), and then whisk in the sugar mix a tbsp at a time until everything looks thick and glossy.
4.  Pour the mixture carefully onto the circle of the baking paper.
5.  Bake for 1 hr, then turn the oven off and allow it to cool inside for a further 1hr.
6. Once cooled, break the meringue up into chunks and arrange in dessert bowls with the strawberries.
7.  Serve with caramel sauce (as shown) or ice cream if desired.    


Grilled Halloumi & Pepper Open Ciabatta Sandwich

My appetite finally returned with an avenge today after nearly a week of having the flu.  I was craving something carb based so I opted for this open ciabatta sandwich which was exactly what I needed!

Serves 1 very hungry person

-  2 or 3 thick slices of halloumi
-  4 slices of pepper, ideally red or yellow (I chose both for some variety in colour)
-  2 slices of ciabatta
- a touch of flour
- oil for grilling

How to:-
1.  Heat some oil in a grill pan over a medium temperature.
2.  Gently blot the halloumi slices with some kitchen paper to soak up any excess water, and then lightly flour each slice on both slices.  This will give the halloumi that lovely, slightly crunchy outside texture and some colour.
3.  Place the halloumi slices into the grill pan and cook each one evenly on both sides for a few minutes until lightly browned.  Do the same with the pepper slices.
4.  Pop the ciabatta slices into a toaster or put them straight into the grill pan to warm it up.
5.  Arrange everything into an open sandwich, and tuck in!


Warm Exotic Mushrooms Salad

This meal was entirely down to the fact that I stumbled across some of the new packs of exotic mushrooms in M&S for a reduced price today.  Super quick and easy to throw together, and just the right portion size for a light lunch.  You could also bulk it out with some basmatic rice for something more substantial, or if you're making it for two people.

Serves 1

- 1 small pack of mixed exotic mushrooms
- 2 or 3 handful of mixed salad leaves
- 2 tsps of toasted sesame oil

How to:-
1.  In a wok or large frying pan, heat the sesame oil and then quickly fry the mushrooms over a medium heat for 1-2 minutes.  
2.  Arrange the mixed salad leaves on a place, and serve the mushrooms warm on top.


Nearly No Fruit Carrot Cake

It's no secret that I have a sweet tooth, and I have something of a long term affair going on with Carrot Cake.  From my childhood curiosity of this apparently strange creation to conversations with fellow bakers about whether it should contain fruit or nuts, or both; I'll always find myself deeply satisfied when I'm enjoying a slice of it.

There are many variations of Carrot Cake, and mine doesn't feature any Dates or Figs as I've never liked them.  Instead, I load up on good old walnuts and of course plenty of carrot.  I also bake mine with added mashed banana because there's nothing more depressing than a dry Carrot Cake; it has to be soft and moist IMO.

- 225g self-raising flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 150g soft light brown sugar
- 100g chopped walnuts (plus a handful for the top)
- 2 large carrots, grated
- 2 small very ripe bananas, mashed
- 2 eggs
- 125ml sunflower oil
- 175g soft cream cheese
- 175g icing sugar, sifted

How to:-
1.  Lightly grease an 18cm round cake tin, ideally with a loose, springform bottom.  Cut out a circle of baking or greaseproof paper and place it inside.  Preheat the oven to 180C / Gas 4.
2.  Mix together the flour, baking powder, chopped walnuts and brown sugar in a large bowl.
3.  Squeeze out as much water from the grated carrots as possible (using your hands is easiest) and add them to bowl, then mix in the mashed bananas.
4.  Beat the eggs and oil together and then pour them into the mixture, beating well with a wooden spoon.
5.  Spoon the mixture into the cake tin, making sure to level it out.  Cook for around 1-1/4 hours, until a skewer pushed in the middle comes out clean.  Carefully remove cake from the tin and leave to cool on a wire rack.
6.  Beat the cream cheese and icing sugar together, and spread evenly over the top of the cake.  Sprinkle on the extra chopped walnuts and pop into the fridge for about an hour to allow the topping to set before serving.


Vegan Singapore Vermicelli

Today I'm helping with the cooking for a friend's birthday bash which has an asian buffet theme.  I decided to do a big batch of Vegan Singapore Vermicelli as one of the sides that people can help themselves to.  It's easy to do and absolutely delicious, plus there's none of that extra fat and greasiness that comes in the takeaway versions!

Serves around 4 as sides

- 300g pack of fresh rice noodles
- 2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 & 1/2 tbsp mild yellow curry powder
- 1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce 
- 1 tsp granulated white sugar
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 large red pepper, deseeded and sliced
- 2 carrots, finely sliced
- 100g broccoli florets
- 200g pack of mixed mushrooms
- 4 spring onions, trimmed and sliced
- large handful of peas
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped

How to:-
1.  Cook the rice noodles to packet instructions, drain and set aside.
2.  In a small bowl, mix 1 tbsp of the toasted sesame oil and all the mild curry powder into a smooth paste.  Then mix in the sweet chilli sauce, sugar & soy sauce until everything is combined.  Mix all of this sauce with the cooked rice noodles, coating it evenly, and leave for 5-10 minutes.
3.  In a large wok, heat the remaining toasted sesame oil and add the pepper, carrots, broccoli, garlic and ginger.  Fry over a high heat for around 5 minutes and then add the mushrooms, spring onions, peas and rice noodles, making sure to add any excess/leftover sauce to the wok.
4.  Fry everything together, stirring quickly for another few minutes (a good indicator is to stop when you can see the mushrooms are cooked), and serve immediately.  Season with extra soy sauce if desired.


Bruschetta with Garlic Mushrooms & Feta

Being a serious lover of carbs, few things fill me with more pleasure than a hefty chunk of quality bread.  I had some ciabatta left over this week, so I decided to use it up for this simple bruschetta lunch today.

- 2 thick slices of ciabatta
- 2 or 3 small mushrooms, sliced
- a few chunks of feta cheese
- half a glove of garlic
- olive oil
- mixed herbs

How to:-
1.  Drizzle a little olive oil over each ciabatta slice and then gently rub the garlic all over into the bread.
2.  Pop the ciabatta slices under the grill for a couple of minutes until lightly toasted.
3.  In a small pan, fry the sliced mushrooms with the garlic until cooked, and arrange them on the ciabatta slices.
4. Top them off with the chunks of feta and sprinkle over some mixed herbs.  Enjoy alone or serve with salad.


Grilled Halloumi & Tomato Salad

I was in the mood for a nice salad today but wanted something that wasn't completely cold.  After a rummage in my fridge, I decided to use up the rest of a pack of halloumi for a quick and easy lunch.  Also a random tip for all you dieters out there - low fat halloumi doesn't taste all that different to the full fat stuff.  In fact, it's probably the best tasting low fat vegetarian cheese in my humble opinion. 

- Halloumi, sliced
- 1 tbsp flour
- Oil for grilling
- 1 large tomato cut into quarters or a handful of cherry tomatoes
- Two large handfuls of mixed salad leaves

How to:-
1.  Preheat the grill to a high heat.
2.  Slice the halloumi and pat each slice dry with a paper towel to remove any excess moisture.
3.  Lightly coat the slices in the flour and then drizzle a little oil over them.  Place under the grill for a few minutes until it's grilled how you like it (I've only lightly grilled mine as you can see), remembering to turn it over half way so that both sides are done evenly.
4.  Place the mixed salad leaves and tomato into a bowl and arrange the grilled halloumi slices on top.


Homemade Tomato & Basil Soup

Apparently Spring is on its way, but the weather here in England is firmly holding onto Winter for the time being.  For this reason alone, I decided to make a batch of tomato and basil soup to take to work this week.  When it's freezing cold and dreary looking outside, a warming bowl of soup has a tendency to make everything seem much better (or so my mother always used to say!).

Makes around 4 portions

- 1kg ripe tomatoes
- A large handful of fresh basil leaves
- 500ml vegetable stock
- 50g butter
- 300g onions, chopped
- Olive oil

How to:-
1.  Halve the tomatoes and spread them out on a baking tray.  Drizzle a little olive oil over them and then roast them for about 30 minutes or until softened at 220C / Gas 6.
2.  Heat the butter in a large pan and stir in the chopped onions.  Sweat over a low heat until they're soft.
3.  Add the vegetable stock to the onions, stir for about 5 minutes and then add the roasted tomatoes.
4.  Remove from the heat and transfer everything into a blender. 
5.  Add the fresh basil leaves, 3tbsp olive oil and blend until smooth.
6.  Season to taste and serve with warm crusty rolls.


Grilled Flat Mushrooms with Spinach & Basmati Rice

As the weather warms up, I'm trying to eat a lot more healthier and include more greens into my diet.  I've recently started to eat a lot more spinach and love this filling, but incredibly low fat and healthy light lunch.

Serves 1 as a main

- 2 flat mushrooms, stalks removed
- two large handfuls of baby spinach
- 40g basmati rice, cooked
- 1/2 clove of garlic, finely chopped
- 1tbsp olive oil

How to:-
1.  Place the mushrooms on a baking tray and grill for 10-15 minutes, until cooked all the way through.
2.  In a saucepan, add the baby spinach, garlic and olive oil, mixing everything together over a medium heat for a few minutes.  Once the spinach has wilted, remove from the heat.
3.  Stir in the basmati rice and top the mushrooms evenly.  Serve with a garden salad if desired.


Homemade Pizza with Mushrooms, Chilli & Rocket

If you love pizza as much as I do, you really need to try making one yourself from scratch.  It's a lot easier than what you might think and a lot healthier than fast food versions too.  Getting the dough to the right thickness that you want it can take some practice though, so this is often about trial and error.  Experiment with it and you will be rewarded with some seriously yummy pizza.  I've used mushrooms, chilli and rocket to top this one, but choose whatever you have in and fancy, the variations are endless!

Serves 4

- 350g strong white bread flour
- pinch of sea salt
- pinch of caster sugar
- 1 & 1/2 tsp of easy to blend dried yeast
- 200ml lukewarm water
- 4tbsp olive oil
- 200g chestnut mushrooms, finely sliced
- 85ml passata
- 3tbsp tomato puree
- 2 x 125g vegetarian mozzarella, drained, halved lengthways & sliced
- 2 red chillis, finely sliced
- 40g pack of rocket
- extra virgin olive oil to drizzle

How to:-
1.  Mix together the flour, salt, sugar and yeast in a large mixing bowl.  Add the water and 1 tbsp of the olive oil and stir to form a soft dough.  Transfer to a lightly floured work surface and knead the dough for around 10 minutes or until very elastic.  Knead into a ball and return to the bowl.  Cover with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place for about 1 hour until it's well risen and doubled in volume.
2.  Meanwhile, lightly oil a large baking sheet and set aside.
3.  Heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil in a large frying pan and fry the mushrooms on a high heat until cooked.  Transfer to a plate and allow to cool.
4.  Return to the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Using a rolling pin, roll it into a rectangular shape that's around 38 x 20cm and about 5mm thick.  Transfer to the baking sheet and leave for around 20 minutes until risen.  Preheat the oven to 220C / Gas 7.
5.  Mix together the passata and tomato puree, and season.  Spread evenly over the dough, leaving about 5mm for the crust.
6.  Arrange the mushrooms, mozzarella and chillis on top, overlapping the mozzarella slightly.  Drizzle the olive oil and bake for about 15-20 minutes, until golden.  Top with the rocket and drizzle over the extra virgin olive oil to serve.

[Base recipe from Vegetarian Living, September 2010]


Mum's Minestrone Soup

As a young child, I was an incredibly fussy eater and vegetables were not my friend.  My mum tried everything to get me to eat (or at least try) vegetables, but I often flatly refused unless they were covered in cheese, and even then, I'd still pick at my plate.  I don't remember how old I was, but one day I was in bed with flu and my mum made me a bowl of this Minestrone soup.  I ate everything and it soon became the only way I would eat any veggies for a long, long time.

My mum's homemade minestrone soup always had more carbs than vegetables in it (so that I would eat it I assume!), which makes it much more filling than the standard version, although many variations of minestrone exist and can be happily altered to accomodate all tastes.  This is the recipe that I still stick to and will probably be how I'll always make a good bowl of my mum's minestrone soup.

Serves 4

- 300g can of cannellini beans, drained
- 2tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 3 carrots, roughly chopped
- 2 gloves of garlic, crushed or finely chopped
- 1.5 litres of vegetable stock
- 400g can of chopped tomatoes
- 2 large potatoes
- 150g dried spaghetti, broken into smaller pieces
- 50g petit pois or garden peas
- handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
- handful of fresh basil leaves, finely chopped

How to:-
1.  Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the onion, carrots and garlic.  Cover and cook on a low heat for around 20 minutes until softened, stirring occasionally.
2.  Add the vegetable stock and chopped tomatoes, bring to the boil and cover and simmer for around 15 minutes.
3.  Then add the beans, potatoes and spaghetti, and bring back to the boil.  Cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender (but still retaining their form).
4.  Stir in the parsley and basil, season to taste and serve with warm crusty rolls.


Tagliatelle with Pesto & Toasted Pine Nuts

When it comes to carb cravings, sometimes only a big bowl of pasta will do.  This simple classic Italian dish is quick and easy to prepare, and oh-so comforting if you're suffering from the winter (or any other) blues.  You can use ready made pesto but have a go at making your own because you really can taste the difference and it makes the dish that extra bit more special.

Serves 4

- 2 gloves of garlic, roughly chopped
- 50g vegetarian parmesan-style cheese
- 50g pine nuts, lightly toasted if desired
- 2 handfuls of fresh basil leaves
- 125ml extra virgin olive oil
- 450g fresh tagliatelle
- extra pine nuts and parmesan to serve if desired

How to:-
1.  Put the garlic, pine nuts, parmesan and basil leaves into a food processor or blender and blend on high until almost smooth.  With the blender running, then slowly add the olive oil until your pesto appears relatively thick.
2.  Bring a large pan of water to the boil and add the tagliatelle.  Cook to packet instructions and drain, but keep about 100ml of the pasta water.
3.  In a large bowl toss together the pesto, tagliatelle and pasta water until everything is mixed evenly.
4.  Serve with some extra toasted pine nuts and grated parmesan if wanted.


Stuffed Red Peppers with Soft Goat's Cheese

If you follow me on We Were Raised By Wolves, you may have seen that one of my New Year resolutions is to update A Wolf And Her Dinner at least once a week.  I love cooking and trying out new recipes, so it should be an easy resolution for me to keep!  Anyway, I thought I'd start the New Year off with one of my favourite simple, yet absolutely delicious, lunches that I enjoy making for myself at the weekend or whenever I have a day off.  I probably eat more stuffed peppers than I do stuffed mushrooms (though I do love both), and find that peppers are one of the few fresh foods in my fridge that keep for more than a couple of days, so they're always good to have in there as a back up.

This recipe involves soft goat's cheese as the main filling, but if you don't fancy that, you could use any other soft cheese; something like Camembert works just as well.

Serves 1 as a main, 2 as a starter

- 1 red pepper
- 50g soft goat's cheese
- 1tbsp pesto
- 1 small vine tomato, diced
- 4 pitted black olives
- 1 slice of wholemeal bread, crumbled
- extra virgin olive oil

How to:-
1.  Preheat the oven to 200C / Fan 180C / Gas Mark 6.
2.  Cut the pepper in half, discard the core and seeds, then place on a lightly oiled baking sheet.
3.  Divide the pesto, olives and diced tomato between the pepper halves.  Add the soft goats cheese on top, finishing with the wholemeal breadcrumbs and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
4.  Bake for 30-40 minutes until the breadcrumbs are crisp and the peppers are tender.
5.  Serve with a green salad and balsamic dressing if desired or try it with some warm ciabatta slices.