Christmas is long over; the decorations packed up for another year, turkey sandwiches but a distant memory. And there’s that creeping sense of regret that 5 mince pies with a double Baileys chaser as a pre-dinner snackette may not have been so wise after all. My fat day jeans are tight, but I’m just not ready for salad yet. It’s too chilly for anything remotely lettuce like.
So dieting in January is not for me. But if I reframe ‘dieting’ as ‘healthy eating’ then I can muster some enthusiasm. (Not too much mind, it’s cold outside). So here’s where the gadgets step in. I love ANYTHING that makes my life easier. If it saves time and money then I feel duty bound to wax lyrical about it to all and sundry. (That includes you). So, here are a few kitchen must haves as far as I’m concerned:
- A stick blender. Soup is popular with my lot, but transferring soup into a liquidizer to blitz it is messy, risks scalding and takes an age. Then there’s the cleaning. Instead I use a stick blender – that’s one of those where you point the blender directly into the pan. They’re also easy to wash up. Happy days.
- Smoothie blender. Wake up late? Kids refusing usual breakfast fodder? Then it’s smoothie time. Milk, fruit, oats, maybe some peanut butter or even some veg if you can sneak it in, oh and some ice. Get them started on their five a day before 8am without any battles. Make sure the wattage is high enough to cope with frozen fruit and ice cubes. 600W or more does the trick.
- Microwave. Porridge the traditional way requires just a little too much hands on time for my liking of a Monday morning. But microwave porridge is totally achievable. And no need for those little packets. Regular oats are microwave friendly too. Oh and poached eggs are easy too.
- Pressure cooker. I’m NOT talking about the big monster things Granny used to use on the stove. I am talking about digital ones. Pop it on in the morning and let it keep your stew/ragu/curry/poached chicken warm until home time. Saves lots of money too and unlike slow cookers, not everything has that samey taste.
- Food processor. I seriously can’t deal with methodical chopping mid-week. I need speedy solutions for chopping and that’s where a basic food processor with a blade attachment comes in.
- Cafetiere. Okay, so I love a cup of tea, really I do. But in the morning I want coffee and I want the proper stuff. I even have a mini cafetiere in case I’m the only one partaking in the strong stuff of a morn.
Photography: Scott Choucino (http://scottchoucino.com/ )
Styling and Props: Woodrow Studios (http://www.woodrowstudios.co.uk/ )
Two years ago: Roasted rainbow roots and pan fried pork, Banana and chia porridge bread, Baked tortilla, Roasted cauliflower, celery and garlic soup, Garlic, lemon and sweet chilli chicken, Oreo peanut butter brownies and Skinny orange and cardamom tealoaf.
For the tagine:
- 1 tbsp ground paprika
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- 1 tbsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp hot chilli powder
- 4 large red onions, peeled and roughly chopped
- 3 garlic cloves
- 3cm piece of fresh root ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
- 50ml olive oil
- 200ml lemon juice (the juice of about 5 large lemons)
- 1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes
- 1 generous tbsp honey
- A large handful of flat leaf parsley
- A large handful of coriander
- 300g butternut squash, peeled and cut into 3cm chunks
- 2 x 200g cans chickpeas, drained
- 400g potatoes, peeled and chopped into 3cm chunks
- 400g carrots, peeled and chopped into 3cm chunks
- 1 x 410g prunes in juice, drained or dried prunes
For the couscous and to serve:
- 200g couscous
- 60g butter, cut in to cubes
- A small handful of sultanas
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 50g flaked, toasted almonds
- Small jar of harissa, to serve.
- 2 sprigs of mint, leaves picked and chopped, to serve
Slow cooker method:
Toast the cumin, paprika, turmeric and chilli powder in a hot pan for about 1 minute, stirring until brown. Put the toasted spices, two of the red onions, garlic, ginger, oil, lemon juice, tomatoes, honey, parsley and coriander into a food processor and blitz to a paste. Transfer into the slow cooker, add the rest of the onions, butternut squash, chickpeas, potatoes, carrots and prunes, stir well and leave to marinate for an hour at room temperature.
After an hour pour over 200mls cold water. Cook on ‘high’ for 4 hours.
Make the couscous 20 minutes before the tagine is ready. Rinse the couscous in cold water and pour into a shallow bowl. Scatter the butter over the top, season with salt and pepper, and then sprinkle the sultanas around the edge of the bowl. Pour boiling water over the top until the couscous is covered by about 1cm. Cover with a plate and leave for 10-15 minutes; the grains will plump up and become tender. Uncover and run a fork through it. Keep warm.
Serve the tagine straight from the oven with the cous cous and scattered with the toasted almonds and mint. Place the harissa on the table for everyone to help themselves.
Prepare the tagine for marinating as before, using a large casserole dish instead of the slow cooker.
After an hour pour over 400mls cold water. (It should cover the veg by about 1cm, add more if necessary). Cover the tagine or casserole dish with a lid, place in the oven and cook for about 45 minutes in a preheated oven at 220C/fan 200C/gas mark 7, and then turn the oven down to 180C/fan 160C/gas mark 4 and cook for another 45 minutes.
Prepare the couscous, finish the tagine off and serve as before.
Pressure cooker method:
With the lid of the digital pressure cooker open, press the ‘stew’ function. Add the cumin, paprika, turmeric and chilli powder. Fry for about 1 minute, stirring until brown. Turn the pressure cooker off. Spoon the spices out of the pressure cooker and blitz in a food processor along with two of the red onions, garlic, ginger, oil, lemon juice, tomatoes, honey, parsley and coriander. Return this paste to the pressure cooker; add the rest of the onions, butternut squash, chickpeas, potatoes, carrots and prunes and leave to marinate, at room temperature, for an hour.
After an hour, close the lid of the pressure cooker and ensure the valve is set to ‘closed’. Press the stew function and adjust to 4 minutes.
Prepare the couscous as before. When the tagine is ready release the pressure by covering your hands with an oven glove and turning the value to ‘open’ being careful to stand back. When all the steam has released open the lid. If you prefer your tagine a little thicker, press ‘cancel’ then ‘stew’ and reduce the sauce with the lid off. Serve the tagine as before.
This recipe first appeared in Back to School digital magazine.
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