Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Pasta Shells Stuffed with Mushrooms and Squash

This dish came into being as I had a whole punnet of chestnut mushrooms that needed using up and couldn't think what to make. I initially though I'd make a lasagne or cannelloni, but then spotted the conchiglioni pasta I'd bought and not known what to do with, at the back of the larder. Be warned, this recipe uses a lot of pans, and is a bit faffy to make, but I think it tastes good enough to serve up as a vegetarian dinner party dish, so it's worth the effort (and the washing up!). If you want to impress your guests, call the dish: Conchiglioni ripieni al forno (baked, stuffed pasta shells).

The main dish is vegan, and can be topped with either dairy or non-dairy cheese.

Serves 4

The pasta and stuffing
  • Conchiglioni (large pasta shalls) - allow around 2-4 shells per child and 4-6 shells per adult
  • 200g/8oz chestnut mushrooms, diced finely
  • 200g/8oz butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1cm/½" cubes
  • 1 large onion, diced finely
  • 8-10 sage leaves, chopped (add more if you love the taste of sage)
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tbsp sun-dried tomato paste
The sauce
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 large clove of garlic, crushed
  • 500ml/1pt pasata
  • 1 tin chopped plum tomatoes
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp sugar
To top
  • 125g/5oz soft goats cheese plus 50g/2oz grated mozzarella OR
  • 150g/6oz melting vegan cheese plus 2 tbsp vegan Parmesan
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a deep baking dish at 180C/170C Fan/ Gas 4/350F.
Add the diced butternut squash and sage and roast for 15-20 minutes, turning once.
Take the dish out of the oven.
Meanwhile, heat another tbsp of olive oil in a large pan.
Add the onion and cook on a gentle heat until soft.
Add the mushrooms and cook for 3-5 minutes.
Add the squash, sage  and sun-dried tomato paste and cook for a further 5 minutes. Increase the heat and cook until you have a fairly dry mixture.
Season to taste.

Boil the pasta shells for 10 minutes. Drain and refresh in cold water.

Stuff the pasta with the mushroom and squash mixture, using a teaspoon, and place them in the bottom of the baking dish you cooked the squash in.

Make the tomato sauce in another pan.
Heat a further tbsp of olive oil and gently cook the onion and garlic.
Add the passata, sugar, tinned tomatoes, and oregano.
Simmer for 10 minutes (the sauce should be quite thin at this stage). 

Pour the tomato sauce over the stuffed pasta shells (they need to be covered).
Top with the dairy or non-dairy cheese and return to the oven for 20-30 minutes, or until the tomato sauce has thickened and the cheese is golden brown.
Remove from the oven, cover dish with foil and allow to stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Serve with garlic bread and/or salad.

Suitable for freezing before baking. Add the cheese topping after defrosting.

You could use pretty much any combination of diced vegetables to stuff the pasta.
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Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Big Session Festival 2012 - a review

OK, I'll admit it, I'm a bit of a folky. Now, I know that isn't cool or awesome or sick or whatever the correct term is these days, but I don't care; My name is Lisa and I like folk music! 
I like to think that folk is about to have a bit of a revival, due to the rising popularity of acts such as Ed Sheeran and Frank Turner (or maybe not!), but anyway, since I've come out as a folk music fan, I can now tell you about the Big Session Festival...

We've been going to the Big Session for several years now. It used to be held in Leicester city centre, but has now moved to a new rural site in South Derbyshire. We were a little worried about the change in venue, as we weren't sure how it would change the whole festival atmosphere, but despite the deluge of rain and copious quantities of mud, the Big Session remained true to its former identity.

We arrived at the
flat, spacious and very scenic camp site on Friday evening. One major luxury with this festival was that we could drive around the camp site, find a pitch and unload everything before having to drive back to the car park (there was also a toilet block, shower block, stand pipe and elsan point).This was particularly advantageous as it was pouring with rain when we arrived. We pitched the tent in record time, before parking the car and then heading off into the arena. 

There were 3 stages (all under cover), which was just right for the amount of people attending. There was a smattering of the usual festival stalls and food outlets too, but not as many as in previous years (maybe due to the inclement weather which has been ongoing since the hose-pipe ban was announced!). There was one totally vegetarian/vegan food stall, plus plenty of other options such as veggie burgers and crepes at the other stalls; these weren't as varied or adventurous as the food at some larger festivals but more than adequate. 

The festival site had plenty of bins/recycling points, a real 
ale tent and even flushing toilets with running water in the sinks (as opposed to portaloos and anti-bac foam). There was a large, undercover kids area with art, craft and musical activities, circus skills and more besides. There should have been a climbing wall too, but I guess the rain made it too dangerous to use.

Old favourites
Chumbawamba and the Oysterband played on Friday night and were as entertaining and tuneful as usual. We also discovered some new acts over the weekend, who we hadn't heard of before, including Abandoman (Irish hip hop comedy!), Jesca Hoop (the slightly loopy former nanny of Tom Waits' children), Dizraeli and the Small Gods (hip hop/folk fusion) and The Leisure Society folk/pop/rock). 

The only down side to the festival was the weather and the resulting muddiness of the site, but that certainly wouldn't put us off going again. 

I would definitely recommend the Big Session to anyone who wants to try out a small, friendly festival with their kids, before venturing on to a larger one...who knows, if you go, you might even get to like folk music too!

The Big Session Festival takes place at Catton Hall, South Derbyshire. For more information, visit 
Big Session.

More posts on 
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Monday, 18 June 2012


Wendy from Inside the Wendy House has tagged me in this meme about the eternal question "Why?"

When my children were little and going through their inquisitive, cute toddler phase, the question "Why?" was generally met with a nice little explanation. I remember Miss Ony asking me "Why did dinosaurs become extinct?" so I explained how there were different theories, but it was probably because the climate changed in some way, maybe due to a meteorite hitting earth. 
You can see how patient I was back in those days!

Now, the question "Why?" is often met with  a terse "Because I said so!" and generally follows a question about bed time, money, clothes, tidying bedrooms, dying hair or piercing ears! 

There are many why questions I have myself though and here are just a few of them...

  • Why do my kids find Disney channel repeats so entertaining?
  • Why can't anyone else in my family change a toilet roll?
  • Why is there so much sport on TV and why does Mr O have to watch it all?
  • Why do my kids text and Facebook their friends instead of talking to them on the phone?
  • Why are so many mums obsessed about the size of their ironing pile?
  • Why does it rain every time we go camping?
  • Why do people buy ready meals/processed foods and then complain how expensive their shopping bills are?
  • Why do tall people always sit/stand directly in front of me at the cinema, gigs etc?
  • Why do I talk back to the self-serve checkouts at the supermarket?
  • Why do people always ask me if I eat fish after I've told them I'm vegetarian?
I could keep going for some time, but why don't you tell me your whys instead?

  • What are your whys? Post as few or as many as you like.
  • Link up your post to Mummy Central, and it would be great if you could leave a comment too.
  • Tag 5 bloggers to keep this going.
  • If you’re not a blogger, leave your whys as a comment below. I'd love to read them.
  • Show your support by reading a few others and commenting on them.
I'm tagging Aly from Plus 2.4, Clare from The Vegetarian Experience, Mandy from Mummy on the Edge Mrs M from At Home with Mrs M and Mrs Average from Observations of Mrs Average...if you haven't been tagged, please feel free to join in anyway.
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Thursday, 14 June 2012

Nachos with Vegetable Salsa

Now this might not sound like much of a recipe, but it's a good way of making a quick snack or light meal out of left-over vegetables and store cupboard ingredients. For a healthier version, use the refried beans and salsa mixture to fill tortilla wraps.

Serves 4 as a main course or 8 as a starter/snack

  • 1 bag of lightly salted or unsalted tortilla chips
  • 1 can of mild refried beans
  • 1 carton/jar of mild tomato salsa (around 1 cup)
  • 1 small onion , finely diced
  • 1-2 bell peppers, finely diced
  • A few mushrooms, finely diced
  • 1 tsp mild chilli powder
  • 100g mozzarella or cheddar cheese, grated (or vegan melting cheese)
Pre-heat the oven to 180C/170C Fan/Gas 3
Tip the bag of tortilla chips onto a baking tray.
Using a spoon, dollop the refried beans over the chips - spread out a little if you can without breaking too many of the chips! 
Fry the onion in a drop of olive oil until softened, then add the chilli powder, bell peppers and mushrooms and cook for a further couple of minutes.
Add around 1 cup of salsa to the pan and stir in.
Simmer for 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat. Taste and add more chilli powder if needed.
Pour the salsa mixture over the tortilla chips and sprinkle the grated cheese over the top.
Cook for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling.

Serve with salad.

If you don't have any refried beans, use a drained tin of baked beans instead and add these to the salsa mixture.
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Sunday, 10 June 2012

Time to share - an update

You may remember that almost a month ago, I blogged about Charity called Deki. Well, the great news is that Leontine (the woman who I featured and chose to loan to), has now had her loan fully funded. This will mean that she can start to expand her business, and hopefully make more money to support her family.

If you weren't able to loan any money to Leontine, but feel you would like to contribute to another entrepreneur, you might like to consider
Afi, who  makes and sells cakes on a street stall in Togo. Afi is 35 and is married, with two children. With the help of a loan from Deki, she hopes to be able to buy larger quantities of ingredients and eventually expand her business and employ others. 

© Image courtesy of Deki

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Friday, 8 June 2012

Red Pepper & Courgette Salad (vegan)

This simple pepper and courgette salad is packed full of fresh basil, which gives it a really summery taste. It works well served with barbecued foods and can even be used as a panini filling or served over pasta.
  • 1 large courgette (zucchini), thinly sliced 
  • 2 red bell or pointed peppers
  • 1 tbsp fresh, chopped basil
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted
Heat the grill (broiler) on it's highest setting. 
When hot, place the peppers under the grill and cook for around 10 minutes, turning occasionally, until charred all over. 
Once blackened, remove peppers from the heat and place in a bowl. Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside. 

Meanwhile heat a large frying pan.
Cut the courgette in half widthways, then slice each half thinly - I used a mandoline slicer.
Fry the courgettes in a little of the olive oil, until softened and lightly browned (you might need to do this in 2 or 3 batches). Once cooked place in a bowl.

Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel away the charred skin; Then cut open the peppers and pull out the core and the seeds.
Slice each pepper into about 8 pieces and place in the bowl with the courgettes.

To make the dressing, finely chop the basil, add the remaining olive oil and the vinegar, mix well and season with black pepper.
Pour over the courgettes and peppers and mix gently to coat.
Toast the pine nuts either under the grill or in a hot, dry pan, until lightly browned and then sprinkle them on top of the salad.

Serve warm or cold.

Alternatives: Use ready-skinned red peppers in brine to save time.
Make into a lasagne filling or pasta sauce by adding a tin of chopped tomatoes and a crushed clove of garlic to the cooked vegetables.
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Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Vegetarian Sloppy Joes

Apologies if you've ever eaten bona fide sloppy Joes...I haven't, so this recipe is a bit of a stab in the dark! I've seen them eaten on various American TV shows, so after a bit of online research I've come up with a vegetarian/vegan version.

This is an economical and low-fat recipe, which you could cook in a slow cooker or even whilst camping.

Serves 4-6

  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 1 large bell pepper, finely diced
  • 2 cups veggie/vegan mince e.g. Quorn or vegan alternative (vegetarian ground beef-style crumbles)
  • 1 large clove of garlic, crushed
  • Finely chopped pickled or fresh jalapeños/chilli sauce/cayenne to taste (optional)
  • 1 portion home made bbq sauce, or ½ cup shop-bought mild/sweet bbq sauce.
  • 4 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 cup boiling water or hot vegetable stock
  • Bread rolls/burger buns/pitta breads to serve
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large pan.
Add the onion, garlic, chilli and pepper and cook gently for 3-5 minutes until softened.
Turn up the heat slightly, stir in the tomato purée and cook for a further minute or so.
Add the veggie mince and mix well.
Pour in the bbq sauce and water/stock.
Bring to a simmer, cover the pan and cook for around 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
Remove the lid and allow to cook until the sauce has thickened up and most of the water/stock has evaporated.
Serve in warmed bread rolls with oven-baked sweet potato chips (fries) and corn on the cob.

Not suitable for freezing.

Halve the amount of veggie mince and add an extra 1-2 cupfuls of finely diced seasonal vegetables, such as courgette/zucchini, squash, mushrooms, sweetcorn or peppers (and/or some cooked lentils).
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