Food, glorious food

I don’t know whether it’s having read Health at Every Size for the second time or my ongoing fascination with ZOMGMASTERCHEFOZ, but ~I’m completely, relatively uncharacteristically obsessed with cooking – and not just baking – at the moment. Particularly cooking vast quantities of vegetable-packed, warming, hearty food that can be portioned off into the freezer for lunches or quick dinners. Hmm. I wonder if winter hibernation has a role to play here, too.

Anyway, I started my experimentation by packing the fridge with my favourite vegetables and having at them. First I made a vegetarian chilli in two parts – one with paprika and hot spices for us, and one with more fragrant spices for Ramona.

It went something like this:

– Finely dice carrots

– Add to boiling water along with a stock cube and two bags of pre-cut root vegetable cubes (sold for mashing).

– Boil until al dente. Divide into two batches.

– Fry half an onion in sunflower oil until softened. Add spices (for us an Old El Paso mix, for Ramona a heaped teaspoon each of cumin and dried coriander and a level teaspoon of cinnamon). Add, roughly in this order, giving each a chance to cook slightly before adding the next: a couple of slugs of tomato puree, sliced mushrooms, a can of kidney beans, half a can of cannelini beans, the boiled veg, half a can of chopped tomatoes.

– Cook until tasty looking / smelling / tasting.

– Repeat with the other half of the ingredients for the second batch.

Having decided that this was actually quite successful, I branched out into following actual recipes. The first was gorgeous Aussie chef Donna Hay‘s chicken breasts with halloumi, lemon and honey (pictured), which sounds like a cold cure and it is, in a manner of speaking.

Her original recipe – at least, as I scribbled it down from the TV – was for two chicken breasts which I’ve quoted below, but I made 8 breast fillets so I added about 50% more of everything rather than quadrupling it which would have been a bit much.

2 chicken breasts
1 packet halloumi thickly sliced into four
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp olive oil
Zest from one lemon
6 sprigs of lemon thyme

Lay the chicken and cheese in a baking tray, drizzle over the oil and honey, then chuck in the zest and thyme. Bake at 180 for 18-20 minutes or until browned (I actually found they needed quite a bit longer for a bigger dish as I wanted the cheese to burn around the edges – more like 35-40, but as always KYO: Know Your Oven. The mixture keeps the chicken breasts beautifully moist).

Thereafter I headed on to the land of red lentils, and cooked up a sort of stew-dahl hybrid with the remaining pack of diced root vegetables, lots and lots of spinach and some fresh green and red medium-strength chillies. You wash the lentils, bring them to the boil and keep them there, boiling rapidly for ten minutes, then simmer for another ten before adding the veg and cooking until everything is soft. This needs a little stove-watching as too much liquid and it’ll be runny, too little and it’ll be burnt stodge. Some of that liquid need not be water or stock but could be chopped tomatoes or passata.

The 1kg bag of basic red lentils from Tesco is less than £1 and stretches forever (the batch I made with less than half of that has filled up five takeaway-sized plastic boxes in the freezer.

I’m feeling really good about all this. I might be imagining it but even Ashley has commented that my hair seems thicker, my skin looks better – especially given the weather – and I seem to be fighting off all manner of nasties having succumbed to loads earlier in the season. And it’s nice to know Ramona is eating lots of fresh, nutrient-packed food as well as the snacks and sandwiches she also eats; I’m no perfect organic earth mother (most of the veg was from the value bin).

And now, with the help of Vefa Alexiadou and my mother, I’m off to make a classic Greek karidopita (walnut pie), because dessert is virtuous too, damn it.

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