Summer Vegetable Minestrone

One thing that I have definitely become better at since becoming a parent is time management. I’ve always been a bit of a control freak organised, but I now realise I was completely terrible at managing my time!  I used to be very good at writing lists; long lists that were neatly written with little boxes to tick when I had done the task. Sounds ideal – but I would rarely, and by rarely I mean NEVER finish the list of jobs. Post-baby I still write a list every day, it’s normally scribbled on the back of an envelope with a coffee stain on, but most importantly I actually do what it says! William has been in a pretty steady two nap routine for a few months and this has made it relatively easy to be organised. It means I have two spells in the day to get things done. For my kitchen this means I need recipes that I can prep, at least in part, in advance. Most often I get the supper prep done in his morning nap as by the afternoon my enthusiasm can be dropping, or my house may have turned into a bomb-site! This summer vegetable minestrone is a perfect example of a supper that can be prepped in advanced and then cooked quickly when everyone is ready to eat.

All of the summer vegetables in this soup need minimal cooking, it takes only 10 minutes to cook and in an ideal world would be eaten straight away as this way the vegetables keep their individual character, colour and texture. On the surface it may not sound that baby friendly, but all the prep work can be done beforehand, meaning when your little one goes to bed supper is only 10 minutes away. This soup is a wonderful way of getting vast quantities of green vegetables into your family. For Will, I blend his up to make a thicker soup as the chunks are currently too big for him to manage, but an alternative for baby led weaner’s would be to drain the liquid off the soup and just give them the vegetables as they are.

The ingredient list may look long but don’t be put off, its really just a shopping list of green vegetables, and they can all be exchanged for others you may have in your fridge or freezer. The key is to not let it overcook. The other little trick in this soup is to add a parmesan rind; a trick I learnt from a Nigel Slater recipe. It works brilliantly with this soup to add a depth of flavour to the broth which would otherwise not be there owing to the soup cooking so quickly. It can be omitted but it does enhance the flavour. Adding pasta to the soup in the form of orzo or spaghetti (we use wholewheat spaghetti) makes it a filling supper on its own, but its also wonderful with some crusty bread and butter.

Soup may not seem that summery but I urge you to give this a try, it is a real celebration of all things green and sings summer!

Ingredients

  • A bunch of asparagus
  • A courgette
  • One handful of peas (fresh or frozen)
  • One leek or 4 spring onions
  • One handful of sugar snap peas (or fine beans/ mange tout)
  • Few stalks of tenderstem broccoli (normal broccoli works too)
  • One handful of frozen edamame beans
  • Parmesan Rind
  • Vegetable stock
  • Two Tbsps orzo pasta or a small handful of spaghetti broken into little pieces
  • Olive oil
  • Handful of chopped basil
  • 5-6 leaves chopped mint

Method

  • Chop all your fresh vegetables until they are the size of small cubes – try as much as possible to make everything a similar size.
  • Soften the leek or spring onion in a little olive oil, making sure they don’t colour
  • After a minute add the rest of the chopped vegetables and the edamame beans
  • Add the orzo or spaghetti pieces
  • Add the vegetable stock (a cube works just fine in this soup, because I’m also cooking for William I use salt free stock), water (about 2 pints) and the parmesan rind. Leave to simmer on a medium heat.
  • After 5 minutes add the frozen peas and mint plus half of the basil
  • Cook for further 5 minutes until the vegetables are soft but still retaining their beautiful green colour.
  • Remove the parmesan rind, ladle into bowls and garnish with the rest of the basil, enjoy!

 

Very Vegetable Chilli Con Carne

I think lots of people assume that because we live on a beef farm, we eat roast dinners every day. This couldn’t be further from the truth in our case; my husband and I often eat vegetarian meals, or meals that contain very little meat. In most of my cooking I aim for quality of meat over quantity. I try to by local, organic meat wherever possible. We are lucky to have an excellent butcher in the next village to us who supplies meat from local farms. I like to know where my food has come from and I do find the flavour to be superior, especially with minced meat. Minced beef that you get in a supermarket is okay, but I do find it lacking in any meaningful flavour. I would much rather buy beef and have it minced by the butcher in front of me. It can be more expensive but that is precisely why I choose to use less of it.

This recipe is a perfect example of just that. It won’t win any prizes for Mexican authenticity but its a delicious nutrient-dense powerhouse. It is also a brilliant way of sneaking extra vegetables into fussy eaters –  there are no less than 8 vegetables in this chilli!

It also makes a wonderful meal for babies or children. It can be blended or pulsed for those who are eating purees. If you can handle the mess utter carnage, you can feed it as finger food alongside flatbreads to dunk/scoop, or you can load spoons of it and hand them to your little one. However you choose to feed it, this chilli is packed with iron, protein and a whole host of other vitamins and minerals needed for their growth and development. I tend to pulse this for Will and add a spoon of full fat yoghurt to it, adding a little calcium hit and making it creamier.

I tend to make this with flatbreads (the most versatile bread dough) or simply with brown rice. Its also rather delicious on its own, in a bowl in front of the TV after a busy day!

Ingredients 

This quantity serves 6 people easily. I tend to cook in larger batches and freeze portions  for busy days. 

  • 500g lean minced beef
  • 2 medium onions, finely sliced
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled & chopped
  • 2 tins of tomatoes
  • 1 tin of pinto/kidney beans
  • 2 courgettes, grated
  • 1 large handful of chopped spinach
  • 1 1/2 peppers, deseeded & chopped
  • 6 tablespoons of lentils, red, green or puy – or a mixture of all three
  • A little oil for softening the onion and garlic

Spices- this is just a guide, its what I like to add. I remove Will’s and then add the chilli to just the adult portions, but it really is up to you.

  • 2 Tsp ground cumin
  • 1Tsp paprika
  • 1Tsp ground coriander
  • 1 Tsp chilli powder

 

Method

  • Brown your minced beef in a wide base frying pan
  • Finely chop the onion and garlic and sweat in a large saucepan using a little oil (I use olive oil) on a low heat. You don’t want them to colour, just soften.
  • Grate the courgette using a coarse grater
  • Chop the peppers finely
  • Once the onion and garlic have softened add the spices (except the chilli if making this for little ones) and stir on the heat until the aromas are released
  • Add the beef to the saucepan, as well as the peppers, grated courgette and lentils
  • Add two tins of tomatoes and one tin of drained beans
  • Add roughly a pint of water
  • Simmer on a low heat for around 45 minutes with a lid on. After this time the  lentils should be cooked and the sauce reduced slightly.
  • Before serving add the chilli if you haven’t already and the handful of spinach.

 

 

 

 

Roast Aubergine & Tomato Soup

img_6131-e1499974362467.jpg

Will has been really poorly with an ear infection. It’s the first time he has been properly unwell (thankfully) and it has been horrible. He had a fever that wouldn’t come down with painkillers and it worried me a lot. As a pharmacist, I thought I would be calm and controlled when my child was ill but if anything it makes me even more neurotic! I also, despite being surrounded by medicines every day, hate to give him things if I can avoid it, so when he was given antibiotics I was weirdly disappointed – a completely stupid emotion as within two doses he had perked up no end and his temperature was back to normal. There is such negative stigma attached to antibiotics and it’s completely unfounded; of course they should only be used when needed, but when they are needed they are incredible, life saving medicines that we should thank our lucky stars for! Although he has been feeling better, he still hasn’t been his usual bubbly self and its been upsetting to see.

Anyway, as I was feeling hopeless at making my little man feel better I focussed on what I could do, making him some soothing, nutritious food. Soup is my go-to food when anyone is ill. Its quick to make, comforting, healthy and can be eaten at literally any time of day. Soups have always been a regular meal in our house, but even more so since we became parents. I love to batch cook soups and freeze portions to have for lunches or late suppers. Its also great to have something that is quick to reheat and can be eaten with one hand (or put in a mug when you have a cluster feeding newborn)!

This particular soup is a firm favourite in our house. It really showcases summer vegetables so it is perfect for this time of year. The aubergine gives the soup a wonderful creamy texture which works beautifully to cut through the acidity of the tomatoes without having to add sugar. This soup is also able to make even the most tasteless, unripe supermarket tomatoes taste delicious. Although it goes without saying that the better your tomatoes, the better the flavour will be.

Soups are also a marvellous way of sneaking extra vegetables into children or babies. I spoon-feed Will food like this (my kitchen or my type A personality wouldn’t cope if he fed himself soup!) To encourage him to feed himself as well, I give him bread soldiers that have been dunked in the soup for him to chew on. I also added some live natural yoghurt to Will’s to give him back some of the good bacteria the antibiotics may have taken!

Any leftovers can obviously be frozen but this soup also works perfectly as a pasta sauce, two recipes in one!

Ingredients

  • 1 aubergine, chopped into chunks
  • 5 fresh tomatoes
  • 1 tin of tomatoes
  • 1 red onion
  • pinch of fresh or dried oregano
  • pinch of mixed herbs
  • black pepper to taste
  • olive oil

Method

  • Chop the aubergine and tomatoes and place in an oven tray to roast with the dried herbs and a drizzle of olive oil
  • Roast them at 180C until they are soft and browning
  • Peel and finely slice the red onion and sweat in a saucepan on a  low heat until it is translucent
  • Add the oven roasted tomato and aubergine to the saucepan with the onion, rinse out the oven tray with some water and pour into the saucepan so you lose no flavour
  • Add the tin of tomatoes and a little water
  • Simmer for 15 minutes
  • Season to taste and blend, adding water until you reach your desired consistency.

 

This obviously isn’t an adult bowl of soup, but ours was eaten very late and I was too hungry for the camera!