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Vegetarian Lasagne

Vegetarian Lasagne

Lasagne is not a dish that I make very often.  First of all because it is somewhat labor intensive and secondly because there are only two of us in our house and one of us hates pasta for the most part, although I do keep working on him!

It wasn't something that my mother ever made for us when I was a child. I was pretty much an adult before I had any other than the Chef Boy Ar Dee kind. You used to be able to get it in packaged mixes, like the pizza one or the spaghetti one.  I actually used to like them.  I have not had one of any of those in years and years so I can't say if it was because I had bad taste, or if they actually did taste alright!  It was probably more a case of never having had the real thing, so not having anything to compare it to!

Occasionally I like to make a vegetarian lasagne, and this is one of my favourite ways to do it. Unless I am having company, I tend to break it up into two casseroles, so that I can freeze one to haul put at a later date. Lasagne is one of those dishes that lends itself perfectly to this!

I don't know how other bloggers get those beautifully photographed square edged photos of their lasagnes.  I have never ever been quite able to master that. Perhaps its because I am too greedy and wanting to dig in right away!

In any case, this is a delicious vegetarian version filled with cougettes (zucchini), aubergine (eggplant), tomatoes, and onions, with a ricotta and spinach cheese filling and a topping of rich bechamel.

I thought I would be fancy this time and topped it with some sliced fresh tomatoes that needed using up, prior to baking.  I thought they looked really nice and they went very well with all the other flavours.

You can leave them off if you would prefer or if you don't have any. This version of lasagne is very, VERY good.  Rich and delicious.  I usually serve some crusty bread and a salad on the side.

*Vegetarian Lasagne*
Makes 12 servings

This is fresh tasting and delicious. If you like you can prepare this in two separate dishes, and freeze one (unbaked) for later on.  

For the sauce:
2 TBS olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 tsp hot pepper flakes
2 medium courgettes, washed, dried, trimmed and diced (zucchini)
2 medium red bell peppers, trimmed, deseeded, and diced
1 medium aubergine, trimmed and diced (eggplant)
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp each dried thyme and oregano
1/2 tsp each salt and black pepper
2 400g tins chopped tomatoes in juice (28 ounces or 796ml)
1 large handful each chopped basil and parsley 

For the ricotta filling:
300g of baby leaf spinach (10 ounces)
1 medium free range eggs
475g ricotta cheese (16 ounces)
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
230g grated mozarella cheese (2 cups)
180g grated Parmesan cheese (1 cup) 

For the bechamel:
2 TBS butter 50g of butter
2 TBS flour 40g plain flour
360ml milk, heated ( 1 1/2 cups)
1 vegetable stock pot or cube
45g of  grated Parmesan Cheese (1/4 cup) 

You will also need:
24 sheets of no-cook lasagne (in North America 16 lasagna noodles, cooked)
115g of grated mozarella cheese (1 cup)
2 medium tomatoes sliced 

First make the bechamel. Melt the butter in a large saucepan.   Once it begins to foam, whisk in the flour.   Slowly whisk in the warm milk, whisking constantly.  Whisk until the mixture begins to thicken.  Whisk in the vegetable stock cube/pot and the cheese.   Make sure these are well combined.  Taste and adjust seasoning as required with some salt and black pepper.  Cover and set aside. 

To make the vegetable sauce, heat teh oil in a large saucepan.  Add the onion, garlic and pepper flakes, stirring occasionally over medium heat, until softened. Add the courgettes and aubergine, bayleaf, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring, until the edges of the aubergine are golden.  Stir in the tomatoes and bring to a boil.  You can add a bit of hot water if it is too thick. Bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat for about half an hour.  Stir in the basil and the parsley.  Set aside. 

To make the ricotta fillling, wilt the baby spinach in a hot skillet. (I just use a pair of tongs and keep picking it up and turning it until it is completely wilted. It doesn't take very long.)  Squeeze as much liquid as you can from it, cool and then chop. Beat together the eggs and the nutmeg. Stir in the ricotta, spinach, mozarella and Parmesan.  

Preheat the oven to 190*C/375*F/ gas mark 5.  Butter a 13 by 9 inch deep baking dish.  Spread a dessertspoon each of the bechamel and the vegetable sauce in the bottom of the dish and top with 1/4 of the noodles. Spoon 1/3 of the remaining vegetable sauce over the noodles.  Top with another 1/4 of the noodles.  Top with another 1/3 of the vegetable sauce and top with the ricotta filling. (Dollop it over the top and spread out as best you can.) Top with another 1/4 of the noodles and then top with the remaining vegetable sauce.  Place the remaining noodles on top and spread the bechamel cheese over top to cover.  Sprinkle with the remaining mozarella cheese.  Evenly space slices of tomato on top.  

Cover loosely with foil and bake for 20 minutes.  Uncover and bake for a further 20 to 25 minutes, until heated through, golden and bubbling.  Let stand for 20 minutes before serving. Cut into squares to serve. 

To freeze - Make the casserole in two separate baking tins, 9 inch square in size.  Omit the sliced tomatoes from the one you want to freeze.  Cover tightly with foil and then place into an airtight freezer bag, label and date. Freeze. When you want to bake it, remove it from the freezer to the refrigerator the night before and allow to thaw overnight and proceed as above.

I actually baked this one day last week, but looking at the pictures I am wanting to drag the other half out of the freezer and bake it for our tea tonight.  MUST resist!  Bon Appetit!

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Marie Rayner
BBQ Porcupine Meatballs

BBQ Porcupine Meatballs

I think I have always loved Porcupine Meatballs.  They are so called because the raw rice that you mix into them swells when they are cooking and looks like little prickles sticking out all over when they are done! 

Ordinarily Porcupine Meatballs are cooked with a tin of tomato soup, but today I decided to mix things up a bit and give them a BBQ sauce to bake in, with MOST delicious results.  We love, LOVE BBQ!

These meatballs are so easy to make.  You simply mix everything together in a bowl and shape into balls.  There is no cooking involved, no browing, and because they are made with rice, they are also gluten free.

The sauce is also very easy to make.  You just whisk everything together and pour it over the balls. No cooking involved there either.  And, if you use gluten free ketchup and mustard, the sauce is also gluten free, making for a totally gluten free, delicious entree!

I looked to my mother for inspiration with the sauce.  She always used to cook leftover ham in a similar sauce, for sweet and sour ham, and so I largely leaned on that when making up my sauce. I didn't add any herbs to it like she always did, however.

Wait, I lied . . .  there is a bit of dry parsley in the meatballs.  I have used grated onion, but you could just as easily use onion powder.

Just form the meatballs, pour over the sauce, cover with foil and bake.  Its as simple as that.  I like to uncover them for the last fifteen minutes to colour them up a tiny bit.

They are absolutely flipping delicious!  I kid you not.  I think I am going to throw about the tomato soup recipe and make them like this from now on!

I just love it when I experiment  with recipes like this and they turns out so successfully.  They don't always.  Sometimes I have some pretty spectacular failures.  That's the name of the game. When they do work out, however, all I can say is WOW! I hope you will try these tasty concoctions! I think you are going to love, LOVE them!

*BBQ Porcupine Meatballs*
Serves 4

A rif on an old favourite that turned out quite delicious! The recipe can be successfully cut in half. 

500g extra lean ground beef (1 1/4 pound)
105 uncooked long grain rice (1/2 cup)
60ml water (1/4 cup)
1/2 small onion, peeled and grated
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp dried parsley flakes
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp paprika 

245g tomato sauce, ketchup (1 cup)
180ml water (3/4 cup)
60ml cider vinegar (1/4 cup)
2 TBS worcestershire sauce
2 TBS regular BBQ Sauce, your favourite brand
50g soft light brown sugar (1/4 cup, packed)
1 TBS Dijon mustard
1 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp celery salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

Preheat the oven to 190*C/375*F/ gas mark 5.  Have ready an 11 inch by 7 inch baking dish.  Set aside. 

Whisk together all of the sauce ingredients until smooth.  Pour into the baking dish. 

Lightly mix together all of the ingredients for the meatballs. Gently shape into 12 meatballs.  Place into the baking dish, turning to coat them in the sauce. Cover tightly with foil.  Place onto a baking tray (just in case it boils over) and  bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour, uncover and bake for 15 minutes longer, or until the rice is tender.  Serve hot. 

I served these with some baked jacket potatoes and English peas.  They went down a real treat!  I just know they are destined to become a favorite with you as well!!  Bon Appetit!

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Marie Rayner
Oaty Peanut Butter Cookies

Oaty Peanut Butter Cookies

I think I have been carrying on a love affair with peanut butter my whole life.  I come by it honestly.  My father also loves it.  My bedtime snack of choice has always been a slice of bread or toast (whole wheat these days) and peanut butter, and I can remember as a child when my mom was cooking the Sunday morning bacon and eggs for the rest of the family, I chose to have peanut butter on toast with my bacon instead of eggs.

These are gorgously tasty cookies and quite different than the usual peanut butter cookie.  You should smell them when they are baking!

The recipe is adapted from a cookery book entitled Canteen, Great British Food,  and makes only 15 to 20 cookies.  That is not a problem from where I am sitting. We are a small family and I am not supposed to be eating things like this.

Oh the smell though  . . .  when they are baking.  Absolutely Heavenly!  Bliss!  Actually as far as biscuits go, although quite high in sugar (most  cookies are), they contain healthy carbs in the way of oats and whole wheat flour.

The dough is a bit sticky when you go to roll it into balls.  But not so sticky that it is impossible to work with. Just roll them and put them onto the baking tray.  Do leave plenty of space in between as they do spread a LOT.  I baked only 8 at a time, spread out on a medium sized paper lined tray.

The original recipe called for a bake time of only 8 to 10 minutes, but I found that to be far too short.  I baked them for 15, which was just perfect.  They were crunchy without being hard, and having just a tiny bit of chew in the middle. The peanut garnish on the top is my own addition.  These are great!

*Oaty Peanut Butter Cookies*
Makes 15 to 20
Sweet and salty and wholesome with the addition of oats and whole wheat flour.  Scrumptious. 

75g soft  butter (1/3 cup) softened
110g soft light brown sugar (1/2 cup packed plus 1 TBS)
90g caster sugar (1/2 cup)
1 large free range egg
1 tsp pure vanilla
120g peanut butter (can use smooth or crunchy) (2/3 cup)
60g plain wholemeal flour (7 1/2 TBS wholewheat)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
75g porrige oats (scant cup)
80g roasted salted peanuts, chopped
Optional - a few whole salted peanuts to garnish each cookie

Preheat the oven to 165*C/325*F/ gas mark 3.  Line a large baking tray with baking paper.  Set aside. 

Cream together both sugars and the butter until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg and vanilla.  Beat in the remaining ingredients, mixing well together. 

Roll in your hands into walnut sized balls and place spaced well apart on the baking sheet.  Flatten slightly and top each (optional) with a few more salted peanuts.  

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until golden brown on the edges.  Leave to cool on the baking sheet for 15 minutes before scooping off onto a wire rack to cool completely.  Repeat as necessary until all the cookies have baked.  Store in an airtight tin. 

If you are looking for a great cookie to bake for a weekend treat, or to pop into the kids lunch boxes next week, or even just to enjoy with your morning cuppa, and you love peanut butter as much as I do, you can't go very far wrong with these tasty biscuits!  Crisp, sweet and salty, they go down a real treat!  Bon appetit! 

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Marie Rayner
Lemon Rice Pudding

Lemon Rice Pudding

My husband is a very old fashioned man with very old fashioned tastes.  If I want to make him extremely happy all I have to do is to make him a Rice Pudding.  He adores rice pudding more than any other dessert execept for maybe apple pie and custard.

He is not overly fond of lemon desserts but when I saw this recipe for a Lemon Rice Pudding in a book I have called The Vicars Wife Cookbook by Elisa Beynon, I really wanted to give it a go.  It sounded really nice and it was dead simple.

She won a cookbook deal in a Waitrose competition way back when I was still working at the Manor, and this book was the result of that.  I have had the book for quite a while now and I am ashamed to say, this is the first time I have cooked a recipe from it. This pudding is an adaptation of the one in this book.

I really need to spend some time going through the book and seeing if there is anything else I might want to cook from it. It has never really been one of my favourites.  Sadly today I discovered that she actually passed away in 2015.  Its a really tragic and sad story.  She was only 45.

Back to the pudding it is everything that a good rice pudding should be  . . .  it is rich and toothsome . . .  comforting and the lemon flavours are an exciting twist to an old favourite.  Even Todd who does not normally like lemon desserts said it was delicious.

It couldn't be any simpler to make.  Short grained rice gets stirred together with whole milk and single cream (half and half). . .  some sugar and lemon zest . . .  and then baked long and slow in a low oven, giving it a stir every now and then.  I used Paella rice because that is what I had and it worked very well.

At the end of it cooking it still looks quite thin, but you stir some  lemon curd into it, either homemade (if you have it) or a good quality store bought one . . .  and it magically thickens up so that it is just the right thickness.  this is rich and lemony.  I only had one taste and I could tell that this will even be fabulous served cold from the refrigerator.  Todd practically licked the bowl clean!

*Lemon Rice Pudding*
Serves 4 - 6
depending on appetites 

This tastes special without requiring a lot of effort on your part.  Wholesome comfort. 

75g short grain rice (6 TBS)
600ml full fat milk (2 1/2 cups + 1/2 TBS)
150ml single cream (scant 2/3 cup)
2 TBS caster sugar
the finely grated zest of 2 lemons
6 TBS good quality lemon curd

Preheat the oven to 150*C/300*F/ gas mark2.   

Stir the rice, cream, milk, sugar and lemon zest together in a 1.2 litre/1 1/4 QT shallow baking dish.  Place into the oven. Bake for 1 1/4 hours, stirring in the skin ever half hour.  It will not look overly thick at the baking time, but don't worry about that.  Stir in the lemon curd and more sugar if you think it needs it.  Let stand for a few minutes and then serve.  Not sure how it works but the lemon curd thickens it up very nicely.

If you are looking for a really simple, and delicious pudding to make for your family or friends this weekend, this will surely fit the bill on all counts!  Rich and comforting. Bon Appetit!

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Marie Rayner
Chicken with Lemon & Capers

Chicken with Lemon & Capers

Capers are an ingredient that I always, always have either in my larder or in the refrigerator.   I just adore their tangy flavour and the flavour boost they give to dishes that they are used in!  I had never ever heard of them prior to moving over here to the UK.  Mind you I hadn't discovered pizza until my late teens, nor Chinese food!  I had a really limited experience with food when I was growing up.  It was all simple but good.  Nothing fancy smancy, and I guess I carried that somewhat into my adulthood . . .  with a few new discoveries along the way, of course! 

Capers are the small flower buds of a Mediterranean  shrub called Capparis .  They are picked by hand which means they can be fairly pricey but they're a versatile store cupboard ingredient, and are good for adding a distinctive sour/salty flavour to many savoury dishes.  Also a little goes a long, long way flavour wise, so they are not a bad investment as they will keep virtually forever in the refrigerator so long as you keep the berries submerged in the pickling liquid if you have bought the pickled ones and salt is a natural preservative so the salted ones keep virtually forever as well. 

Really small, peppercorn-sized capers, called 'nonpareille' are available, but the slightly larger ones are more common. Capers are preserved a number of ways - either in salt, wine vinegar, brine or olive oil. The brine-pickled type has the sharpest flavour and is slightly less versatile than the salted type. For a more sophisticated caper flavour, you can try the elegantly stemmed caper berries, which are a little milder and sweeter than the standard type. I have a bottle of those in the larder, which I have yet to use.  I think they are more for dinner party garnishes, and we don't have many dinner parties. 

They go really well with mild flavoured proteins such as chicken and mild flavoured fish . . .  and they are great in tartar sauce!   They actually help to bring out the best in these things . . .  and when you mix them with lemon, it's a combination that  just goes WOWSA in your mouth! 

This dish here today is one of my absolute all time favourite chicken dishes.  I could seriously eat it every night of the week . . .  well, maybe not every night, but fairly often anyways!

The chicken is so tender in this . . . because it cooks so quickly and that sauce is just to die for.   Buttery and lemony . . . with just the right amount of salty piquancy!  I just adore this and I think you will too.  It's quick and easy and just fancy enough to be considered special.

*Chicken with Lemon and Capers*
Serves 4
This is so impressive, and yet it is quick and simple to make.  The sauce is rich and delicious.  Have all of your ingredients ready before you start and things will run as smoothly as clockwork.

12 TBS cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces divided
2 TBS finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
80ml chicken stock (1/3 cup)
1 sp sugar
3 TBS fresh lemon juice
1 tsp parsley flakes
fine sea salt
2 heaped dessertspoons of non-pareil capers, rinsed and drained
For the Chicken:
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (or use cutlets)
2 TBS grated parmesan Cheese
45g flour (1/3 cup)
fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
olive oil
8 ounces (1/2 pound) angel hair pasta, cooked and drained to serve

Cut the chicken breasts in half horizontally through the middle so that you have 8 fillets. Put them in a plastic baggie, one at a time and pound lightly to 1/4 inch thickness throughout. Season liberally all over with salt and pepper. Mix together the parmesan cheese and flour. Dredge the pieces of chicken in this until well coated. Set aside.

 Heat a swirl of olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Once it is hot add the chicken and brown well on each side. (About 3 minutes per side. Don't overcook) Remove to a plate and then keep warm in a low oven.

Add 1 TBS of the butter to the pan. Reduce the pan to low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, add the garlic and stir for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the chicken stock, sugar, parsley flakes and lemon juice. Increase the heat and bring to the boil. Cook until the liquid is reduced by about half. Turn the heat down to very low. Start whisking in the butter a bit at a time, letting it melt before adding more. The sauce should form a thick silky emulsion.

Stir in the capers. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

To serve divide drained pasta between plates. Top with chicken pieces and spoon sauce over all. Serve immediately.

This is absolutely gorgeous.  Just looking at the pictures makes me want to eat it all over again!  I just know you will love it too!  Bon Appetit! 

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Marie Rayner
Dark & Delicious Chocolate Cake

Dark & Delicious Chocolate Cake

This chocolate cake is "The" chocolate cakes to end all chocolate cakes.  I always struggle with showing my chocolate bakes in a positive light.  They are incredibly difficult to photograph!  This is especially disappointing when you know what you have baked is incredibly moist and delicious!

How do other people cope with the "Chocolate" bake?  I would love to hear any suggestions you might have that would help me to take better photos.  But then again . . . 

Its all about how it tastes . . .  not how it looks and this tastes incredible. 

This has been my go-to chocolate cake for years now.  I can't remember where the original recipe came from.  I strongly suspect the back of a tin of cocoa powder . . . 

It is dense . . .  and moist . . .  and very chocolatey.  If anything it tastes even better the day after you bake it . . .  when all of that chocolate ripens and gets ooey scrummy, delish.

*Dark & Delicious Chocolate Cake*
Serves 12

Moist, dark and really delicious.  The chocolate snacking cake to end all chocolate snacking cakes! 

380g granulated sugar (2 cups)
245g plain flour (1 3/4 cup)
85g cocoa powder (3/4 cup) (Not drinking chocolate)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 tsp salt
2 large free range eggs
240ml milk (1 cup)
2 tsp vanilla
120ml vegetable oil (1/2 cup)
240ml boiling hot coffee 

For the frosting:
6 TBS butter
350g icing sugar (2 2/3 cups)
55g cocoa powder (1/2 cup) (Not drinking chocolate)
80ml milk (1/3 cup)
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 180*c/ 350*F/ gas mark 4.  Butter a 9 by 13 inch baking tin and lightly dust with flour, shaking out any excess.  Set aside. 

Whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, soda, and salt.  Add the eggs, milk, vanilla and vegetable oil.  Beat with an electric whisk for 2 minutes on medium speed, stopping to scrape up the sides and bottom.  Beat in the hot coffee. The mixture will be very thin. 

Pour into the prepared pan.  Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until the top springs back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Allow to cool completely in the tin, placed on a wire rack. 

Beat the butter for the frosting until fluffy.  Sift together the cocoa powder and the icing sugar.  Beat into the butter, alternately with the milk and vanilla until smooth and of spreading consistency. (You may need additional milk or sugar.  Use your own judgement)  Cut into squares to serve. 

Every time I bake this I am incredibly grateful that I have neighbors and friends that don't mind me gifting them with it.  Todd is not a fan of chocolate cake at all, and I am not supposed to be eating it at all . . .  but every now and then a gal just has to do what a gal has to do.  When the kids were growing up it was never around long enough to be a problem!  You could also bake it in layers if you wanted to, just reduce the baking time to about 25 to 30 minutes if you do.  Bon Appetit!

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Marie Rayner

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