Cheesy butterbean bake

Most of us have our kryptonite, but which I mean our weakness: the thing that incapacitates us, makes us metaphorically fall of a cliff and be unable to function properly until it is addressed. For my husband it is food: if he gets too hungry he suddenly goes shaky and very strange and you can’t get any sense out of him until you feed him, which means almost every bag I own contains a stash of emergency cereal bars. For me it is the cold. I can be fine for ages, just a little chilly, then suddenly I seem to reach a critical point and I can’t think straight until I’m thoroughly warmed up, which usually requires hot drinks, lots of jumpers, moving around energetically and hot water bottles. It started snowing today so with shovelling snow and the freezing temperatures both of us need to be careful not to crash with hunger or cold. Comforting, hot and filling food is definietly needed. This recipe ticks all those boxes. It is inspired by one of my husband’s favourite foods, spaghetti carbonara, but actually has very little in common with with that recipe in terms of ingredients or cooking methods. However, the creamy, cheesy (but dairy free) sauce and bacon combination means it does taste similar. Instead of spaghetti, I have used some of my favourite vegetables and butterbeans to put my mark on it as well as my husbands. You can also easily make this recipe vegan (see the tasty little twists).

Cheesy butterbean bake

Cooking time: 20 minutes preparation (excluding soaking and cooking butterbeans), 20-30 minutes cooking

Dietary info: dairy free

Serves: 3

  • 300g bacon
  • 3-6 leaves savoy cabbage (depending on size), finely sliced
  • 1 leek, finely sliced
  • 200g dried butterbeans soaked and cooked as per the packet instructions (usually boil vigorously for 10 minutes then simmer for 40-60 minutes) or 1 400g can butter beans, drained

Dairy free cheesy sauce

  • 1 tbsp wholemeal flour
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 300ml unsweetened almond milk
  • 1-2 tsp lemon juice (to taste)
  • A pinch salt (I used smoked sea salt, but normal salt is fine too)
  • 1 tsp (smoked) garlic powder
  • ½ tsp dried rosemary
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • 25g grated vegan cheese (⅔ in sauce, ⅓ on top)
  1. To make the sauce, mix the flour, garlic powder, rosemary and thyme with the olive oil and enough of the almond milk to make a thick liquid in a small saucepan. Start to cook over a low heat, adding the rest of the almond milk gradually to prevent it forming lumps (if you add the milk too quickly, or if you let the mixture get too thick and paste like before adding more milk it can become lumpy)
  2. Once all of the almond milk has been added, simmer the sauce, stirring regularly to stop it sticking on the bottom, until is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon then season with salt and lemon juice, and stir in ~⅔ of the cheese (about 15-17g)
  3. Steam the leek and the cabbage for 6-8 minutes, until just soft
  4. Cut up the bacon, trimming off large bits of fat if you don’t like them, and cook over a medium heat in a saucepan, stirring to stop them sticking or burning, until they are opaque and crispy. It you want the bacon leaner, drain on kitchen paper before adding to the bake
  5. Mix together the cooked butterbeans, bacon, leek, cabbage and half the sauce in an ovenproof dish and sprinkle the remaining cheese (about 8-10g) on the top
  6. Bake at 160C fan for 20-30 minutes until the top is crispy and the bake is hot all the way through. Heat through the remaining sauce and serve on the side, along with some steamed vegetables e.g. green beans, peas, spring greens, broccoli, cauliflower

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A few tips to prep ahead:

  • Make the sauce and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 5 days
  • Cut up the leek and cabbage and keep in a sealed bag or container in the fridge for 1-2 days
  • Soak and cook the butterbeans (if using dried) and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 5 days
  • Cut up and cook the bacon and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for 1-2 days
  • On the night, cook the leek and cabbage and grate the cheese for the top, mix the vegetables, beans, bacon and sauce together, top with cheese, bake and serve
  • If you want to be super quick on the night, you can assemble the whole bake 1-2 days before and keep in the oven proof dish, covered, in the fridge, then on the night you just need to put it in the oven until it is hot and crispy

Some tasty little twists…

  • Replace the bacon with chopped up smoked salmon or cooked and flaked smoked haddock for a pescatarian option
  • Replace the bacon with parsnip or sweet potatot for a vegan option:
    • Cut the parsnip or sweet potato into slices about 3-4 mm thick and steam until just soft (about 4-5 minutes)
    • Put the parsnip or sweet potato on a non-stick baking tray, lightly spray or brush with olive oil (optional) and sprinkle with a pinch of salt
    • Bake at 160C fan until they are a little crispy on the outside but still soft and juicy inside (not dry crisps)
    • Mix into the bake as for the bacon
  • Replace the butterbeans with other beans, lentils, gnocchi or cooked pasta shapes
  • Replace the vegetables with lightly steamed cauliflower, chopped into bite sized pieces, for a dish that is more reminicent of cauliflower cheese
  • Use the sauce to stir through freshly cooked spaghetti, along with the bacon / fish / parsnip for something that is even closer to the carbonara inspiration and serve with steamed leek and cabbage on the side
  • Season chicken breast, or lightly steamed parsnip or cauliflower “steak” (cut thick slices of parsnip or cauliflower, about 1-1.5 cm thick, and steam until just softening, about 4-8 minutes) with a pinch of salt, garlic, rosemary and thyme and grill until cooked all the way through (5-8 minutes per side). Serve drizzled in the cheesy sauce and some sides e.g.:
    • Steamed vegetables
    • Mash e.g. potato, sweet potato, parsnip, celeriac, cauliflower, butterbean
    • Chips e.g. potato, sweet potato, parsnip, celeriac, beetroot
    • Roast root vegetables (par boil or steam for 5-10 minutes, toss in a drizzle of olive oil and bake at 160C fan for 20-30 minutes)
    • Cooked beans or lentils
    • Boiled rice, quinoa or similar grains

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Gingered chickpeas with sweet potato and sweet and sour apple sauce

I’ve written before about my parents glut of apples from the tree in their garden. This has made them creative incorporating apples into their cooking and one of my favourites of their creations is fish, usually cooked en papillote, with slices of cooking apple. I am more accustomed to having fish with lemon or lime but apple makes a surprisingly delicious alternative: gentler and sweeter than citrus, it allows the more delicate flavour of the fish to take the lead, but still has that pleasant tangy edge. A lot of cooking plays on the balance between contrasting flavours: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and savoury (umami), and fruit can can be a lovely way of adding that sweet and sour element to savoury cooking. This is clearly shown in the popular sweet and sour sauces commonly used in Chinese cooking so I wanted to draw on this inspiration as well as my parents apple fish recipe to make something of my own. The result was the mackerel with sweet and sour apple sauce in the tasty twists and extras, where the sweetness comes from the apple and sourness from the lemon. However, the first time I made the sauce I made double quantities and wanted to try making a vegan dish to go with the leftover sauce. I decided to go with roast sweet potato slices to enhance the sweet element, and ginger chickpeas to add more savoury flavour and texture, and tie in with the ginger in the sauce. These elements made a rather unusual combination but I really like the contrasts of flavours, texture and colours.

Gingered chickpeas with sweet potato and sweet and sour apple sauce

Cooking time: 20 minutes preparation, 20-25 minutes cooking (excludes time to prepare chickpeas if you are using dried chickpeas)

Dietary info: vegan, gluten-free

Serves: 2 (easily doubled)

  • 100g dried chickpeas, soaked and cooked as per packet instructions, or 200g cooked chickpeas
  • 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 medium sweet potato, sliced
  • Olive or vegetable oil to spray or brush the potatoes

Sweet and sour apple sauce

  • 2 small bramley apples, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp Chinese five spice
  • 100ml water
  • Juice of 1 lemons
  1. Brush or spray the sweet potato slices lightly in oil and put them on a grill pan rack in the oven at 160C fan and bake until they are soft but crispy on the outside (about 20-25 minutes), turning half way through
  2. Mix the chickpeas with the tbsp fresh grated ginger and ½ tsp salt in an ovenproof dish or on a non-stick baking tray and bake in the oven until they are crispy on the outside but they haven’t dried out (about 10-15 minutes), giving them a stir halfway through
  3. Put all the sauce ingredients except the lemon juice, in a saucepan and simmer gently, covered, until the apple has broken down then stir in the lemon juice and season to taste with extra lemon juice, salt or pepper
  4. Serve the chickpeas and sweet potato with the sauce to drizzle over them

A few tips to prep ahead:

  • Make the sauce and keep in a sealed container for up to 4 days in the fridge
  • If you are using dried chickpeas, soak and cook them according to the packet instructions (usually soak for >8 hours or overnight, boil vigorously for about 10 minutes then simmer for 45-60 minutes), mix with the ginger and salt then store in a sealed container for up to 4 days in the fridge
  • Slice the sweet potato and keep in a sealed container or bag in the fridge for up to 2 days
  • On the night, brush the potato in oil and put them and the chickpeas in the oven, heat through the sauce in a saucepan or the microwave (2-3 minutes until hot all the way through) and serve
  • For the fish version below, make the sauce and keep in a sealed container for up to 4 days in the fridge as described above then just cook the fish and heat through the sauce on the night

Some tasty little twists and extras…

  • Try swapping the Chinese five spice for mixed spice for a more European flavour (a bit reminiscent of apple pie!)
  • If you like your sweet and sour sauce sweeter, add some sugar, honey or sweetener such as Stevia to taste
  • Instead of slicing the potato, cut it into chunks, spray or toss in oil and bake on a baking tray. Serve with the chickpeas and potato chunks mixed together dressed in the apple sauce like a salad

For the sweet and sour mackerel below, you could serve it with:

  • Spiralized parsnip ‘noodles’, cooked with 1-2 tbsp apple sauce in a saucepan until they are just softening but not soggy
  • Sweet potato chips (a kind of mix of the two recipes)
  • Parsnip mash – steam or boil the parsnip until soft then mash or puree with a drizzle of olive oil and enough unsweetened almond milk to get the right texture (or butter and milk for a dairy version)
  • Stirfry of shredded cabbage and sliced broccoli mixed with 2 tbsp of the apple sauce and cooked in a frying pan for 5-6 minutes until just softening but still a bit crunchy

Sweet and sour apple mackerel

Cooking time: 20 minutes preparation, 15-20 minutes cooking

Dietary info: dairy-free, gluten-free

Serves: 2

  • 2 mackerel fillets
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 1 quantity sweet and sour apple sauce as above
  1. Put the mackerel fillets in an ovenproof dish, sprinkle with the ground ginger and bake at 160C fan for 10-15 minutes, until the fish is opaque all the way through and flakes easily
  2. Put all the sauce ingredients except the lemon juice, in a saucepan and simmer gently, covered, until the apple has broken down then stir in the lemon juice and season to taste with extra lemon juice, salt or pepper
  3. Serve the fish with the apple sauce, and perhaps some of the sides suggested above

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Potato and leek cakes with pea sauce

My husband and I are having a long weekend in Wales at the moment as the end of the year is rapidly approaching and we still have some vacation to use. Even though Wales is not far away neither of us have visited it very much so it felt like an adventure driving here, exploring new ground. We were both struck by the beauty of the countryside, distinct from the English countryside we had been travelling through, more rugged and wild but also tranquil and peaceful. Coming from Scotland, my husband immediately loved the hills which made him feel more at home and I love the walks through squelching mud which remind me of so many childhood holidays. Given we are in Wales I felt it was only right to share a recipe that included leeks (the national emblem of Wales) this week. However, the link isn’t just as tenuous as that: where we are staying the food is inspired by local ingredients and traditional cooking with fresh twists. This recipe is also inspired by traditional cooking: fish and chips with mushy peas. To make it vegan I have made the potato the star and transformed it from chips to seasoned potato cakes while making the peas so mushy they become a sauce.

Potato and leek cakes with pea sauce

Cooking time: 20 minutes preparation, 20-25 minutes cooking

Dietary info: vegan, gluten-free

Serves: 2

  • 1 medium potato, sliced
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 1 medium leek, finely sliced
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • ½ tsp ground celery seed
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp salt

Pea sauce

  • 200g peas, fresh or frozen
  • 200ml water
  • 1 tsp celery salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  1. Steam the potato until it is soft, about 8-10 minutes. Steam the onion and leek until soft, also about 8-10 minutes
  2. Mash the potato, either by hand or in a food processor with the cornflour, spices and salt
  3. Stir in the cooked onion and leek and spoon tbsp of the mixture onto a non-stick baking tray (I use a silicon baking sheet to stop them sticking) and bake in the oven at 160C fan for 20-25 minutes until they are crispy on the outside. The potato cakes will probably still be very soft when they are cooked so don’t worry if they break a bit when you take them off the baking tray. Using a fish slice with a good edge can help get them off cleanly
  4. While the potato cakes are cooking, put all of the ingredients for the pea sauce in a saucepan and simmer over a medium heat until the peas are hot all the way through, then blend it to a smooth sauce, adding more water if it is too thick. If you don’t have a blender then separate out the solids and liquid and mash the peas by hand until they are a smooth-ish puree then stir the liquid back in
  5. Heat the pea sauce through before serving then serve the potato cakes with the sauce on the side and some steamed vegetables or fresh salad

A few tips to prep ahead:

  • Make the pea sauce and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 5 days
  • Make the potato cake mixture i.e. steps 1-3 up to spooning the mixture onto a baking tray and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for 1-2 days
  • On the night just spoon the potato cake mixture onto a baking tray and cook, heat through the pea sauce for 2-3 minutes in the microwave or a small saucepan until it is hot all the way through and serve

Some tasty little twist and extras…

  • Try replacing the potato with sweet potato, celeriac, parsnip, turnip or swede
  • Add a handful of peas to the potato cakes along with the leeks to dial-up the pea theme

This recipe started out life inspired by fish and chips with mushy peas so it only seems right to also include some fish versions:

  • Use the potato cake mixture as mashed potato on top of a fish pie
    • Mix 200ml unsweetened almond milk with 1 tsp cornflour (add the milk to the cornflour gradually to avoid lumps) and heat until the milk is starting to thicken (try not to boil too vigorously as this can make the milk separate a lot)
    • Stir in ½ tsp ground celery seed, ½ tsp black pepper, 1 tsp parsley, the zest of 1 lemon and 300g diced fish pie mix and put into an oven proof dish
    • Top with the potato cake mixture and bake for 25-30 minutes until the pie is piping hot and crispy on top

And the basic fish version:

Baked fish with pea sauce

Cooking time: 10 minutes preparation (including the pea sauce), 10-15 minutes cooking

Dietary info: dairy free, gluten-free

Serves: 2

  • 2 fillets gilt head bream or other fish fillets
  • ½ tsp ground celery seed
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp parsley
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 quantity pea sauce (see above)
  1. Put the fish in an oven proof dish and sprinkle the seasoning over the fillets
  2. Bake at 160C fan for 10-15 minutes until the fish is cooked through, the fillets should be opaque all the way through and flake easily
  3. Serve with hot pea sauce and some salad or steamed vegetables. For a more substantial meal also serve with some chips (normal or sweet potato) or crusty bread

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Winter one pot stew

I feel that I should hate this time of year in the UK: the leaves have suddenly fallen from the trees and sit rotting on the ground; I am leaving and returning home in the dark; I wrap up and make myself a hot water bottle at every opportunity to ward off the cold; and the days are getting greyer and wetter. I admit that I do join in the moans about the winter dark, cold and damp but in my heart I find it hard not to also enjoy the change of seasons. I may start off my drive to work in the dark but I get to watch the sun rise, flooding the sky with unreal streaks of red, gold and pink and sparkling on the ghostly morning mist still clinging to the fields. Similarly, on my evening drive home the display of sunset colours takes my breath away as dashes of crimson and scarlet stand out against dark clouds. Even though I don’t cope well with the drop in temperature I also know it is necessary for me to fully enjoy that delicious feeling of the warmth from a hot cup of tea and hot water bottle soaking into my bones like butter into toast when I come in from the cold. That is why my recipe this week is a warm and filling winter stew: the perfect food to make a warm, light home all the more inviting after a cold, dark day and to celebrate the joys of winter.

Winter one pot stew

Cooking time: 15 minutes preparation, 30 minutes cooking (excluding time to cook the beans if you are using dried beans)

Dietary info: vegan, gluten-free

Serves: 3-4

  • 100g dried black or borlotti beans, cooked as per packet instructions or 200g canned beans, drained and rinsed
  • 400g mushrooms
  • 2 onion, sliced
  • 1 medium potato or 200g new potatoes, chopped into bite sized chunks
  • 1 medium parsnip, chopped into bite sized chunks
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • 1 vegetable stock cube (make sure this is vegan / gluten-free if you are making a vegan / gluten-free version)
  • 300ml water plus extra for cooking the onions
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tbsp port
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Lemon juice, salt and pepper to season
  1. Put the sliced onions in a large saucepan with enough water to stop them sticking and cook over a medium heat while you prepare the other vegetables
  2. Add the potatoes and parsnips once the onions are starting to soften (about 5 minutes), crumble over the stock cube and sprinkle over the cornflour and stir to combine
  3. Add the tomato puree, port, bay leaves and water, cover and simmer until the potatoes and parsnips are soft enough to eat, about 20-25 minutes (I test them using a fork – when the fork goes in easily but doesn’t cause them to break apart they are done)
  4. Stir in the cooked beans and season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Heat until the beans are warmed through then serve

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A few tips to prep ahead:

  • If using dried beans, soak them 2 nights before you want to make the stew, cook them the night before, then store them in the fridge until you need them
  • Make the whole stew and keep in a sealed box in the fridge for up to 6 days. The flavours can actually develop and improve if you keep it for a few days
  • On the night you just need to reheat the stew in a saucepan for a few minutes until the sauce is bubbling and it is hot all the way through

Some tasty little twists and extras…

  • Replace the beans with 200g diced stewing beef and the vegetable stock cube with a beef stock cube for a meat version
    • Cook as for the vegetarian version but brown the beef with the onions at the beginning instead of adding near the end
    • You can also cook the beef version in a slow cooker if you have one: combine all of the ingredients (the first 2 and a bit steps) except for the seasoning then put in a container in the fridge until the day you want to cook it. Transfer the stew to the slow cooker pot on the day you want to eat it and cook on low for 8-10 hours
  • Try experimenting with different seasonings e.g.
    • Replace the port with a glass of red wine
    • Add extra fruitiness and sweetness by adding 1-2 tsp of plum jam or redcurrant jelly, or tanginess with 1-2 tbsp vinegar e.g. red or white wine, balsamic, or sweet fruit all work well
    • Add in your favourite dried or fresh herbs e.g. rosemary, thyme, parsley
  • Serve with some steamed green vegetables to get in more veg into your diet and / or with crusty bread to bulk the stew out
  • Turn any of the stew variations into a hearty winter pie by topping with ready made shortcrust or puff pastry, or the vegan wholemeal pastry below

Vegan wholemeal pastry

Cooking time: 5-10 minutes to make, 30 minutes chilling time, 30 minutes to bake

Dietary info: vegan

Serves: 4 as part of a pie

  • 50g vegan spread (I use avocado oil spread or vegetable oil spread – check the ingredients carefully and look for ones marked as vegan as many plant oil spreads contain some milk products)
  • 100 wholemeal flour
  • A pinch of salt
  • Enough cold water to make into a firm pastry
  1. Stir the salt into the flour
  2. Rub the vegan spread into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs
  3. Gradually add the water a few tbsp at a time, lightly mixing with your hands or a knife between additions, until the pastry can come together into a ball without crumbling
  4. Put the pastry in the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes before cooking so that the fat doesn’t melt before the pastry cooks when you put it in the oven (if it melts too fast the pastry can collapse and become greasy)
  5. Fill your pie dish with the filling and chill the filling too if it is still hot to prevent it melting the pastry fat
  6. Roll out the pastry on a floured work surface until it is the same size and shape as the top of your pie dish and carefully place the pastry on top of the filling, cutting off any excess around the edge of the dish and using these to decorate the top of the pie if you want
  7. Make a few cuts or holes in the top of the pastry to let steam out and bake for 25-30 minutes until the top is browning and feels sandy to the touch

Tip: keep all of the ingredients as cool as possible when making pastry to prevent the gluten developing which can make it become chewy

Steak and/or mushrooms with balsamic lavender dressing and sweet potato chips

When I met my husband he didn’t really think a meal was a proper meal unless it contained meat of some sort. Even though he now happily eats vegetarian and vegan food most of the time and loves lots of vegetables, he really likes a steak every so often as a treat. This means that over the years I’ve had a lot of opportunities to experiment with variations on the traditional steak and chips and this recipe is one of my favourites. Steak and mushrooms are a classic pairing which go together beautifully with their dark earthy taste and juicy texture. Here I have contrasted this with the soft sweetness of sweet potato, tangy balsamic vinegar, fragrant lavender and smoky black cardamom to give a balanced pallet of flavours. I realise that lavender and black cardamom are not common store cupboard seasonings and can be challenging to get hold of but please don’t let this put you off. Online shopping has made it much easier to buy unusual ingredients (I get my spices from the Spicery) and I have even noticed edible lavender stocked in my local supermarket as some shops diversify to meet the more adventurous tastes of their customers. Even if you can’t find them, don’t worry: you can replace them with other seasonings (see the tasty little twists section) which will give slightly different flavours but just as nice a dish.

Steak and/or mushrooms with balsamic lavender dressing and sweet potato chips

Cooking time: 30-35 minutes

Dietary info: dairy free (see the tasty little twists for vegan versions)

Serves 2

  • 1 steak, about 200-300g, trimmed of excess fat if you prefer it lean
  • 4 large, flat mushrooms
  • 1 medium sweet potato, cut into bite size chunks
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Dressing

  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp lavender
  • ½ tsp ground black cardamom
  1. Mix together all the ingredients for the dressing and warm through in a small saucepan or the microwave (about 1-1 ½ minutes) to help it infuse
  2. Toss the sweet potato with the oil and spread out on a non stick baking tray. Cook in the oven at 160C fan,  turning halfway through, until the are soft on the inside and crispy on the outside (about 20-30 minutes)
  3. Heat a griddle pan on the stove and when it is hot (hold your hand a few mm above the surface and see if it feels warm) then cook the steak for 2-4 minutes per side depending on how thick it is and how well cooked you like it.
  4. Once the steak is cooked, brush it with some of the dressing on each side and leave it to rest.
  5. Cook the mushrooms for about 4-5 minutes each side until they are soft then brush them with some of the dressing.
  6. Serve the steak and mushrooms with the sweet potato, remaining dressing and some salad or steamed vegetables

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A few tips to prep ahead:

  • Make the dressing and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to a week
  • Cut up the sweet potato the night before and keep in a bag or container in the fridge until you need it
  • Then on the night you just need to toss the sweet potato in the oil and bake them, griddle the steak and mushrooms and serve

Some tasty little twists…

  • For a vegan version, leave out the steak and either get a larger sweet potato (i.e. griddled mushrooms with sweet potato) or replace the steak with black or borlotti beans (100g dried beans soaked and cooked as per packet instructions, or a 200g cooked canned beans, drained and rinsed). Stir 1-2 tbsp of the dressing into the beans and heat them in a saucepan or the microwave for 1-2 minutes until they are hot all the way through
  • If you don’t like mushrooms just have the steak and chips, maybe with some green beans stir fried with 1-2 tbsp of dressing or a beetroot, grated and mixed with 2 tbsp of the dressing
  • Try swapping the beef for venison steak or other game when in season
  • If you are lucky enough to have an Actifry machine, they are great for cooking the sweet potato chips. Put the sweet potato chunks in the Actifry, drizzle over the tbsp of oil and put the Actifry on for 20-30 minutes until the potatoes are soft on the inside but crispy on the outside
  • If you can’t find lavender and black cardamom try some of these substitutions:
    • Swap the lavender for dried rosemary
    • Swap the black cardamom for ground green cardamom (the more widely available cardamom, often just labelled as cardamom), ground cloves, ground allspice or ground caraway

Butternut squash soup (with chilli, lime and coconut, or pepper, lemon and cardamom)

This weekend the evenings have been punctuated with the explosions of fireworks as the UK celebrates bonfire, or Guy Fawkes, night. It always struck me as a rather odd and grisly celebration, born from a failed conspiracy and with a history coloured by the execution of the conspirators,  anti-Catholic sentiment and the burning of effigies. Even though the modern celebration is a far more family friendly affair, the hot spitting bonfires and explosive bang of fireworks still have a slight undertone of violence. However, the flickering flames and brightly coloured sparks illuminating the dark sky also have an undeniable beauty and as the nights get longer I find myself increasingly aware of the fascination of the lights that tend to feature heavily in winter festivals. This is why this weeks recipe is squash soup which looks like sunshine in a bowl, the rich glowing orange reminicent of the last warm golden rays of sunshine as the sun goes down. I like squash soup so much I have actually given two different recipes here. One of the reasons I make it often is that it is incredibly easy to make, pretty much just shove everything in a pan, simmer and blend: perfect for days when you don’t have much energy. The most difficult bit is deseeding and peeling the squash which was why I was pleased to find my local supermarket sold big bags of ready prepared frozen squash chunks. If you can’t get these another trick for making the squash preparation a bit easier is to bake the squash first: halve it, scrape out the seeds and bake at 160C fan for about an hour. The squash should then be lovely and soft making it easy to scrape the flesh off the skin.

Butternut squash soup with chilli, lime and coconut

Cooking time: 10 minutes effort, 20 minutes simmering

dietary info: vegan, gluten-free

Serves: 3-4

  • 500g squash chunks (de-seeded and skinned)
  • 1 small cauliflower
  • 1 vegetable stock cube
  • 1 tsp garlic powder or 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes or powder
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 – 1 ½ tsp salt, plus extra to taste
  • Juice of ½ a lime
  • 150ml coconut milk drink
  • 1 litre water
  1. Put all of the ingredients, except for the lime juice and coconut milk drink into a saucepan and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes
  2. Add the lime juice and coconut milk drink and blend the soup to a smooth liquid. If you don’t have a blender, drain off the liquid and mash the vegetables to a smooth mash then mix the liquid back in
  3. Season with extra lime juice and salt if wanted and serve

A few tips to prep ahead:

  • Either soup can be made ahead and kept in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 5 days
  • On the night just reheat until the soup is hot all the way thought (I find this easiest in a  saucepan rather than the microwave) and serve

Some tasty little twists…

  • As the recipes above and below show, butternut squash soup is a pretty flexible dish so try experimenting with your favourite flavours e.g. adding your favourite spices/ spice blend / curry powder rather than the seasoning in either recipe
  • Increase the vegetable content by stirring in some lightly steamed green vegetables after you have blended the soup and before you serve. This also gives a lovely colour contrast e.g. spinach, finely chopped asian greens, shredded cabbage, finely sliced broccoli or green beans
  • Add some protein to this soup by stirring in some baked tofu chunks, cooked beans or cooked lentils after you have blended the soup and before you serve. You could also add some flaked fish or shredded chicken for a non-vegetarian version
  • You can make this dish more filling by serving with some bread, toast or naan bread

Butternut squash soup with pepper, lemon and cardamom

Cooking time: 10 minutes effort, 20 minutes simmering

dietary info: vegan, gluten-free

Serves: 3-4

  • 500g squash chunks (de-seeded and skinned)
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom seeds
  • 1 vegetable stock cube, crumbled
  • 1 tsp sea salt, plus extra to taste
  • 2 tsp ground black pepper
  • Juice of ½ a lemon, plus extra to taste
  • 1 litre water
  1. Put all of the ingredients, except for the lemon juice, into a saucepan and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes
  2. Add the lemon juice and blend the soup to a smooth liquid. If you don’t have a blender, drain off the liquid and mash the vegetables to a smooth mash then mix the liquid back in
  3. Season with extra lemon juice and salt if wanted and serve

Lime and ginger miso with cucumber noodles, sweet potato (and / or tuna)

My sister and I have been very close since we were small, playing together, confiding in each other and always being there for the other one. Even now when we live in different cities we phone or message each other most days and we try to book in some special sister time – a day or two just us – every few months when we have a wonderful time talking, relaxing and doing fun things together. At our last special sister day we went to a spa. One of the treatments on offer was a lime and ginger body scrub and as I relaxed my mind drifted to cooking and how I could use that combination of ingredients in a dish. As Halloween is coming up I wanted to make something light and fresh to counter Halloween sweets that also incorporated the colours I associate with Halloween: orange and green. These threads of thought came together as cucumber noodles (light and green) and sweet potato (orange) with lime and ginger miso and optional tuna chunks (because my husband loves fresh tuna and I’d prefer to give him a Halloween treat rather than trick).

Lime and ginger miso with cucumber noodles, sweet potato (and / or tuna)

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Dietary info: gluten-free, vegan if you use vegan miso and replace the tuna with a second sweet potato

Serves: 2

  • 1 cucumber, spiralized
  • 1-2 sweet potato(es), chopped into bite sized chunks (use 1 potato if you’re making the version with tuna or 2 for the vegetarian / vegan version)
  • 250g fresh tuna chunks (leave these out for the vegan version)
  • 1 tbsp olive, coconut or vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp ground ginger

Lime and ginger miso sauce

  • 1 tbsp miso paste
  • 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 100ml water
  1. Toss the sweet potato in the oil and put on a baking tray in the oven and bake until soft on the inside but crispy on the outside, turning the pieces halfway through to crisp up both sides
  2. Mix the sauce ingredients together until smooth (this is easiest if you gradually add the lime juice and water to the paste and ginger and mix after each addition rather than adding it all at once) and heat through in the microwave or a small saucepan until just warm but not boiling (about 30s)
  3. About 5 minutes before the sweet potato is ready sprinkle ½ tsp ground ginger over the tuna chunks and cook with a splash of water to stop them sticking in a non stick frying pan for 3-5 minutes depending on how well cooked you like it
  4. Put the cucumber noodles in a bowl and drizzle with a few tbsps of the miso sauce
  5. When the sweet potato is cooked, sprinkle with the remaining ground ginger, top with the sweet potato and tuna if you are using it, and serve with the rest of the miso sauce to drizzle over

A few tips to prep ahead:

  • Mix the sauce together and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 5 days
  • Chop up the potato and keep in a sealed bag or container in the fridge for up to 2 days
  • On the night cook the potato (and tuna if using), spiralize the cucumber, heat the miso through and assemble

Some tasty little twists…

  • Replace the tuna with salmon or chicken for other non-vegetarian options
  • Serve any options with some fresh grated ginger for a fresh and zingy garnish
  • Replace the spiralized cucumber with lightly steamed spiralized courgette or broccoli stems
  • Add 1 tbsp of soy sauce and 1 tbsp lightly toasted sesame seeds to the cucumber noodles to boost the flavour
  • Add lightly steamed sugar snap peas, oriental mushrooms, or raw grated carrot, mixed in with the noodles to make a more interesting vegan version
  • Use the miso to dress a salad or lightly steamed beansprouts, grated carrot and sliced cubumer or stirfried Asian greens, or brush it over slices of aubergine, salmon fillet or chicken before cooking under the grill

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Spicy sweet potato pie

In Japan there is a custom called “momijigari” which means something like “autumn leaf hunting” and is when people go in search of beautiful autumn foliage to admire. We may not have such an established custom of admiring the changing colours here in the UK, or as many maple and ginkgo trees with such striking red and yellow leaves, but I still think the autumn is gorgeous. I love the spectrum of yellows, reds, oranges and browns that suddenly appears and for me this beauty is heightened by the contrast of the warm colours and the cooling weather: golden autumn sunlight on yellow and red leaves against a moody dark grey sky has a magnificence that takes my breath away. These colours are mirrored in a lot of the food I associate with autumn, from pale yellow spaghetti squash to deep orange pumpkins and tawny russet apples, they evoke warmth and richness. One of my favourite coloured vegetables is sweet potato where the earthy reddish skin and bright orange flesh perfectly advertise its sweet comforting taste. Here I have paired the sweet potato with a rich tomato sauce filled with red-purple kidney beans, bright red and green peppers and spicy, smoky seasoning to sum up the elements I associate with comforting autumnal food.

Spicy sweet potato pie

Cooking time: 30 minutes prep and initial cooking, 20-30 minutes cooking on the night (excludes time to soak and cook the kidney beans if you are using dried beans)

Dietary info: vegan, gluten-free

Serves: 3-4

Topping:

  • 1 sweet potato, cut into chunks
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt

Filling:

  • 100g soy mince, rinsed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped
  • 1 green pepper, deseeded and chopped
  • 100g frozen or fresh peas
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 4 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 x 400g can kidney beans, drained and rinsed, or 200g dried kidney beans, soaked and cooked as per the packet instructions
  • 1 tsp mace
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes, I like to use slightly smoky and sweet ones such as urfa chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp garlic powder or 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • 1 vegetable stock cube (make sure this is vegan and gluten-free if you want to make the dish vegan and gluten-free)
  1. Put the onion in a non-stick pan with a splash of water to stop it sticking and cook for about 5 minutes so that is starts to soften
  2. Add all of the other filling ingredients and stir to combine. Simmer for about 20 minutes until all of the vegetables are softening and the flavours have started to meld together
  3. Meanwhile, steam or boil the sweet potato until it is just soft enough to mash (about 8-15 minutes depending on the size of the chunks) then drain it if you were boiling it, combine with the other topping ingredients and roughly mash together. I like to leave the mash pretty chunky for this pie to give it more texture and a cheery homey look but if you prefer a smooth mash you can mash it for longer, or puree it, adding a splash of unsweetened almond milk or soya milk if needed. You can also peel the potatoes if you don’t like the skins, but they are my favourite bit so I leave them on
  4. Put the filling in an ovenproof dish and cover with the potato topping, then bake at 160C fan for 20-30 minutes until the top is browning and crispy (and the filling is hot all the way through if you are cooking it from cold). Serve on its own, or with the tomato chilli sauce in the tasty little extras section to add some extra kick, and/or with salad or steamed vegetable dressed in lemon juice

A few tips to prep ahead:

  • Make both the filling and topping and either store them separately in sealed containers in the fridge for up to 5 days, or assemble the whole pie in an ovenproof dish, cover and keep in the fridge for up to 5 days
  • Make the chilli tomato sauce (if using) and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 7 days
  • On the night all you need to do is assemble the pie (if you’ve kept the topping and filling separate), pop it in the oven, and heat up the chilli tomato sauce if you are using that

Some tasty little twists and extras…

This pie can easily be adapted to suit your personal taste:

  • Make a meat version of this pie by replacing the soy mince with 200g of your favourite meat mince. If using meat mince add the mince with the onion to allow it to brown
  • Replace the peppers and peas with your favourite vegetables e.g. aubergine, sweet corn, mushrooms, courgettes etc.
  • Replace the kidney beans with your favourite beans or lentils, or if you don’t like beans or lentils just replace them with more vegetables, mince or a grain such as quinoa or pearl barley (check packet cooking instructions in case the grain needs extra cooking time, if unsure, cook as per the packet instructions then stir into the filling 5 minutes before the end of the filling cooking time)
  • For a simpler seasoning, replace the mace, cinnamon, allspice and cloves in the filling with 3 1/2 tsp ground mixed (pumpkin pie) spice and the cinnamon in the topping with 1 tsp ground mixed (pumpkin pie) spice 

The tomato chilli sauce below makes a nice addition to add some extra chilli heat to this pie, or to drizzle over a side salad or steamed vegetables.

Tomato chilli sauce

Cooking time: <5 minutes to put together, plus 5 minutes to soak the red pepper flakes if you use them or 20 minutes to prepare the red pepper if you use that instead

Dietary info: vegan, can be made gluten-free if you use white wine vinegar and gluten-free soy sauce

Serves: 3-4 as part of the recipe above

  • 1 tbsp dried red pepper flakes, if you can’t find these then use 1 tsp mild sweet chilli flakes, or ½ a red pepper, baked and puree
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • ½ – 1 tsp chilli powder – I like to use 1 tsp of a mild and sweet one like ancho, or ½ tsp of a stronger smoky one like chipotle
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 tbsp malt vinegar (swap for white wine vinegar for a gluten-free version)
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce (use a gluten-free soy sauce if you want to make this gluten-free)
  1. If you are using dried red pepper flakes, soak them in a splash of boiling water for 5 minutes. If you are using red pepper, bake it in the oven at 180C fan for about 15 minutes until it is softening and starting to char a little at the edges then chop finely or puree it in a blender. If you are using chilli flakes skip straight to step 2
  2. Combine all of the ingredients and stir to combine
  3. Heat through in a small saucepan or the microwave until it just comes to the boil (about 30-60s) before serving

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Chickpea and lemon pasta

My sister and I are definitely planners. It is something we tease each other about. I make lots of lists to organise myself, so much so that I didn’t realise that my husband wasn’t a lists person at all for several years as my list making had dominated over his more free flowing style. When it was suggested to my sister that she had a spontaneous weekend she immediately began blocking out the hours for spontaneous activities, suggested a spontaneous visit to an art gallery and was booking tickets in case the exhibition was fully booked before it was pointed out that this didn’t qualify as “spontaneous”.  However, no matter how much you plan and organise, life is unpredictable and it is always useful to have a few store cupboard dinners up your sleeve for those times when dinner plans change and you haven’t bought something to cook (though I do realise planning for the unexpected is maybe planning too much!).  Crab pasta is a store cupboard favourite of ours as it is easy to have some dried pasta and tinned crab in the cupboard and these tend to go well with a whole range of sauce ingredients, from a tomato sauce (based on passata, tomato puree or fresh tomatoes if you have them) to a squeeze of lemon and sprinkle of chilli, or just a dash of olive oil and garlic.  I wanted to challenge myself by making a vegan version of this tried and tested staple and decided to replace the crab with finely mashed chickpeas for that creamy texture with a vegetable stock cube to enhance the savoury, salty flavour. I usually either make a lemon or tomato sauce for crab pasta and in an indecisive mood went for both combined, alongside some broccoli for a bit of fresh greenery

Chickpea and lemon pasta

Cooking time: 20-30 minutes

Dietary info: vegan (see the tasty twists for gluten-free options)

Serves: 2

  • 80g dried wholemeal spaghetti, or 125g fresh wholemeal spaghetti
  • 1 broccoli, the stem spiralized or coarsely grated, and half of the florets chopped into bite sized pieces (you don’t need the other half of the florets – you can steam these and serve them on the side if you want)
  • 2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom seeds
  • 150g dried chickpeas, soaked and cooked as per the packet instructions, or 1 can chickpeas drained for last minute dinners (about 300-400 cooked chickpeas)
  • 1 vegetable stock cube (make sure it is vegan for a vegan / dairy free dish)
  1. Cook the spaghetti according to the packet instructions in a pan of boiling water (about 4 minutes for fresh spaghetti, 10-12 for dried), drain and rinse with water to stop it getting too sticky
  2. Mash the chickpeas with the vegetable stock cube, either by hand or in a food processor for a finer mash
  3. Put the garlic, broccoli florets and chopped tomatoes in a non-stick frying pan with a splash of water to stop them sticking along with the lemon zest, pepper, salt and cardamom until the tomatoes start to break down and the broccoli starts to soften (about 3-4 minutes)
  4. Add the spiralized broccoli and mashed chickpeas and cook for 1-2 minutes until the broccoli is just starting to soften, then stir in the cooked spaghetti and lemon juice and cook for a further 1-2 minutes so that everything is heated through. Serve with steamed green vegetables or a salad

A few tips to prep ahead:

  • Cook and mash the chickpeas and keep them in a sealed container in the fridge for 2-3 days
  • Chop and spiralize the broccoli the day before and keep in a sealed container or bag in the fridge until you need them
  • Measure out the salt, pepper and cardamom and keep in a sealed container at room temperature for up to a week
  • However, this is all very easy to make on the night with no preparation ahead (if you are using tinned chickpeas, otherwise you need to cook the chickpeas ahead), which is why it makes a good last-minute dinner

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A few tasty little twists…

  • This recipe was originally developed as crab pasta, so unsurprisingly works well with crab. To make it as crab pasta replace the mashed chickpeas and vegetable stock cube with 1 prepared crab, or 1 tin of brown crabmeat and 1 tin of white crab meat, drained
  • To make this recipe gluten free replace the spaghetti with gluten free pasta, rice noodles, or extra spiralized vegetables. If using rice noodles check the packet to make sure that they are 100% rice
  • To make a lighter dish, replace the spaghetti with a spiralized courgette
  • To make this more substantial, double the amount of spaghetti or serve with crusty bread or garlic bread, though shop bought garlic bread may not be dairy-free / vegan if you want to make a dairy-free / vegan dish
  • To make this even more store cupboard, replace the tomatoes with 2 tbsp. tomato puree, use frozen broccoli florets instead of fresh (don’t worry about spiralizing any of the broccoli) and use tinned chickpeas, then all you need is fresh lemons. You can use bottled lemon juice but I have never liked the taste much

 

 

Sausages with apple sauce and mash

I’ve written before about my love of apples, my parents apple tree and how, for me, autumn is the time of apples (see my blog on cheese and apple patties with celeriac mustard sauce). Luckily my mother-in-law shares my love of apples so, as she is visiting this weekend, we went to a local apple day where we saw and tasted lots of beautiful apples with weird and wonderful names, from tiny yellow pimaston pineapples (which despite their name, are in fact an apple) to the magnificent green and red orbs of Howgate wonder and many others in between. Afterwards we all went to my parents house for dinner where we ate baked hake with apple and celery (apple actually goes surprisingly well with fish) and had a choice for pudding of apple crumble, tarte tatin or baked apple: you would never guess they had an apple tree in the garden! You’d think after all of that I would be complete appled-out, but here I am writing yet another apple recipe, and being slightly reminded of the Margaret Mahy book I read as a child called “Jam” about a family who have a plum tree from which they make enormous quantities of jam. They then end up eating jam for all three meals a day, dreaming of jam and only just finishing the last jar when the first ripe plums begin to fall the next autumn. Luckily I am not at that point yet and am still very much enjoying munching my way through lots of apples. This recipe is a twist on two classics: sausages and mash and roast pork with apple sauce. These came together as sausages and apple sauce, and when we were wondering what to use to add a little more liquid to the mash we decided to use a bit of the apple sauce turning it into apple mash as well: you cannot have too much apple in my opinion!

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Sausages with apple sauce and mash

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Dietary info: dairy-free, vegetarian/vegan if you use vegetarian/vegan sausages, see the tasty little twists for gluten-free ideas

Serves: 3-4

  • 8 chipolatas or 6 sausages (meat, vegetarian or vegan) – see the tasty little twists
  • 300g potatoes
  • Salt to season
  • A squeeze of lemon juice to season

Apple sauce

  • 2 small Bramley apples, or other cooking apple
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp garlic powder (smoked )
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 200 ml water, plus extra if needed
  1. Remove the core from the apples and chop them finely. I don’t peel the apples as I love the skin but if you prefer your apple sauce very smooth then you can peel them before you core and chop them
  2. Put the apples with all of the other apple sauce ingredients into a saucepan and simmer, covered, until the apples have broken down into a smooth sauce (about 15-20 minutes), stirring occasionally to help them break down. If you want an extra smooth sauce you can puree it
  3. While the apple sauce is cooking, wash and slice the potatoes then steam or boil until they are soft (a fork can be easily inserted, about 10-15 minutes), then mash or puree with 2 tbsp. of the apple sauce and season with salt and a splash of lemon juice
  4. Once you have the apple sauce cooking and the potatoes steaming, put the sausages or chipolatas in a frying pan and cook over a gentle / medium heat. This will allow them to release their fat and cook in their own fat rather than having to add extra oil. Cook them until there is no pink in the centre if you cut into them and the outsides are getting a little crispy. This will probably take 15-25 minutes. It is a good idea to turn them every 5 minutes or so to make sure every side is cooked
  5. Serve the sausages or chipolatas with the mash and apple sauce on the side

A few tips to prep ahead:

  • Make the apple sauce and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 5 days
  • Make the mash and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 5 days
  • On the night, cook the sausages or chipolatas and reheat the apple sauce and mash (in saucepans, the microwave or the oven) until hot all the way through (about 3 minutes in the microwave, 3-5 minutes on the hob, 5-10 minutes for the oven) and serve
  • You can also cook the sausages a day or two ahead and just reheat them in the frying pan or oven on the night

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Some tasty little twists…

  • As suggested, make this dish vegetarian or vegan by choosing from the large range of vegetarian and vegan sausages now available
  • Make this dish gluten-free by selecting gluten-free sausages or using pork loin or pork steaks instead of sausages
  • Whether you are using meat, vegetarian or vegan sausages, experiment with different flavours. I tend to use quite plain or herby sausages with this recipe to allow most of the spice flavours to come from the sauce but don’t feel bound by this. I am sure some of the more exotic or spicy sausages would also make a nice variation
  • Wrap the chipolatas or sausages in streaky bacon and bake them in the oven (about 15-25 minutes depending on the thickness of the sausage at fan 160C) for a pigs in blankets variation. As you might guess, this one is a winner for my bacon loving husband
  • Another variation suggested by my husband is a kind of sausage&mash toad-in-the-hole. Instead of encasing the sausages in batter as you normally would for toad-in-the-hole, put the cooked sausages in an oven proof dish, spread the mash over them (leaving bits of sausage poking out) and bake for 15-20 minutes at 160C fan until the top of the mash and any bits of sausage poking out are nicely crispy. This can be an easy way to heat up the sausages and mash together if you have prepared them all before and you can put them all in the oven proof dish a day or two ahead, cover the dish and keep in the fridge until you need them then put them straight into the oven
  • Use the apple sauce with any other pork dish e.g. roast pork, pork steaks, bacon sandwiches  etc., or with fish like my parents do. It really does go surprisingly well, providing a freshness but not being too sharp and overpowering

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