Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Winter Warmer Recipe

Around 4pm every Monday evening, my thoughts always turn to the same subject:  food.  It’s not that we don’t eat on other nights, just that Monday is one night when we have to be really organised, as hubby has to be out before 6pm – he’s a volunteer fire fighter  and Monday night is training night.  As this can mean quite a bit of physical exercise, outdoor work, often with vast quantities of freezing cold water involved, come Monday night I’m looking for a meal that ticks several boxes.  It has to be relatively straightforward and preferably child friendly, to save having to make something different for the kids.  It has to provide lots of energy for Mr. Fireman, without sitting too heavily in his stomach during training and, perhaps most significantly, it has to be really warming, to help him withstand the cold while he’s out training on a cold, winter’s night.  If he’s lucky and there are some leftovers, it might even make a useful supper dish to warm him up again once he gets home! 
 So when The Co-operative Electrical suggested looking out a favourite winter warmer recipe, it seemed such an easy topic but, in reality, it was hard to know where to start, as we have so many favourites that fit the bill.  As the emphasis is on our delightful “arctic British weather” though, I thought I’d share one kind of dish which is particularly popular in many British homes (although with a slight twist here):  a stew. 

As I’m semi-vegetarian (I still eat fish), I used to think that I was somewhat more limited than our meat-eating friends when it comes to stews.  However, since discovering Quorn, in its many forms, this is no longer the case.  With so many more recipes opened up to me, I therefore have so many more filling and warming recipe options to cook to keep hubby warm on a chilly winter evening on a windswept west coast island.  It’s one of these recipes that I have chosen to share with you here. 

 Winter (Quorn) Chicken Stew


·        1 tbsp olive oil

·        1 onion, sliced

·        4 garlic cloves, sliced

·        700ml hot vegetable stock

·        1 large potato, finely grated

·        ½ - 1 tbsp dried thyme

·        2 tsp dried rosemary

·        300g pack Quorn chicken-style pieces

·        3 carrots, halved lengthways and cut into chunks

·        2 parsnips, halved lengthways and cut into chunks

·        1 leek, well washed and thickly sliced

·        Mashed potato/ baby potatoes/ rice/ couscous, to serve (optional)

Serves 4
 Utensils needed

1.  Heat the oil in a large pan – one which has a lid (you’ll need this later). 

2.  Meanwhile, prepare the onion and garlic.  We like quite chunky onion, so that it has a bit of a bite to it but, if you prefer, the onion can be finely chopped.  Likewise, the garlic can be chopped or crushed – makes little difference to the end result. 

 3.  Fry the onion and the garlic for a few minutes, until soft.  I tend to leave it until the onion is starting to brown, but try to avoid letting the garlic brown, as it seems to be more inclined to burn than onion. 

4.  While the onion and garlic are frying, prepare your stock and potato.  I obviously use vegetable stock, but chicken would work equally well, I’m sure.  I have grated the potato here, but if you prefer a chunkier stew, it can be cut into pieces instead.  It’s going to be boiling for quite a while later, so even larger pieces should still be thoroughly cooked. 

 5.  When you’re happy with the onion and garlic, pour in the stock.  Beware of hissing stock as it hits the base of the pot!  Stir in the potato and the herbs.  I used dried herbs, as it was freezing cold and pouring with rain and I had no intention of going outside to pick any fresh ones, but it’s equally, if not more, tasty using fresh herbs.  Adjust the herb amounts according to the intensity of flavour you prefer. 

6.  Add the Quorn chicken-style pieces and bring to the boil.  Unless you have prepared the rest of your vegetables beforehand, bring to the boil quite slowly to give yourself time to chop everything. 

  7.  Prepare the carrots, parsnips and leeks.  Once each one is prepared, it can be added to the pot straightaway, otherwise you’ll have quite a mound of vegetables to add all at once.  Once you have stirred in all of these vegetables, use your discretion in deciding whether you need to add more stock.  I felt that the stew was looking a little too thick at this point, so added some more – unfortunately, I got distracted and added more that I intended to.  On the bright side, that’s a good excuse to add something else tasty to the meal to mop up the extra gravy! 

8.  Cover the pan and leave to simmer over a low heat, stirring occasionally, until all of the vegetables are as tender as you like them.  The original recipe suggested 40 – 45 minutes, but it was trying to cook real chicken – if you don’t want very mushy vegetables, you probably wouldn’t want to leave this particular version simmering for quite so long.  Once it has been simmering for a while, check for seasoning.  I chose not to add any extra salt, as we’re trying to cut down in sympathy with my Dad, who was recently diagnosed with diabetes, so has to watch his diet very carefully.  However, I did add copious quantities of black pepper – no restrictions there! 

This stew is filling enough to eat on its own, especially if you don’t add too much stock like I did!  We have tried it with various accompaniments, such as couscous or boiled potatoes.  Any extra couscous can also be stirred through the stew and reheated with it the next day, if there are any leftovers. 
On the Monday night in question, we ate the stew on its own, so Mr. Fireman wasn’t going out on too full a stomach.  He, of course, polished his off easily, but I was struggling to finish mine, delicious though it was.  I persevered though!  There was plenty left over to give us another meal the next night, this time with a couple of boiled potatoes. 

On both nights, this winter warmer most definitely did its job, as it cooked, while we were eating and long afterwards, banishing all thoughts of the wintry landscape outside the window, which we could admire from our cosy kitchen, safe in the knowledge that our piping hot, tasty winter (Quorn) chicken stew was there to defend us against the elements. 

This post is an entry into The Co-operative Electrical winter warmer recipe competition, which can be found at:



Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Moments That Mattered

It was a beautiful November day in 2013 when I sat waiting for my “Moment that Mattered”.  I knew it was coming, but I just didn’t know what kind of moment it was going to be.  Glorious sunshine streamed through the windows, horses and sheep, along with the odd chicken, wandered by outside, revelling in the unexpected winter warmth.  I, however, while I was aware of all of it, wasn’t really seeing any of it. 
All I could see was this unexploded bomb sitting right in the middle of my family.  And that November day was the day I was going to find out if the bomb was about to destroy us or if it could somehow be disarmed. 


For months now, my Dad had been losing weight with a frightening rapidity.  Everyone he met would comment on how slim and svelte he was looking…and every comment was like a knife going through us, because we all knew he was eating just as much as ever.  It’s easy to imagine the one thing that was on every family member’s mind…he’s losing weight, he’s getting tired so quickly, so many things…it must be cancer.  With one thing and another and, in retrospect, with fear probably playing a huge part, he didn’t get round to going to the doctor, despite my Mum’s repeated pleas for him to do just that.  Finally, however, it couldn’t be put off any longer…and there I was, sitting staring blindly out of the window, trying to imagine what life was going to be like when the phone finally rang and we knew what was wrong. 

Autopilot somehow got me through the day.  By the time evening came, I had gone over almost every conceivable scenario a million times.  The one thing of which I was certain was that nothing  was ever going to be the same.  It’s not that I hadn’t been worrying before then…I’d been taking pictures like crazy, even secretly recording his voice as he sang to and played with the children, just in case.  It’s just that now, I actually had to face up to the reality; no more “what ifs” and “maybes” – a few more hours, minutes, seconds and I couldn’t avoid it any longer…we would know the truth. 


The phone rang and, with more fear and trepidation than I had ever experienced in my whole life, I answered.  It was my hubby, calling to say that he was just heading off to pick my Mum up from the ferry to bring her back to our house.  My heart sank.   I heard this tiny, scared voice asking him if it was just her who was coming.  “Don’t be daft!”, was the response, “Dad’s coming too.”  He had no more details for me at that point, so the agony continued.


In they all trooped, chatting away, kids running around delighted to see Grandma and Seanair (Gaelic for Grandad) back.  My heart was beating so loudly in my ears that I thought I was going to pass out, but even so, I couldn’t bring myself to ask.  I was desperate to know, but equally desperate to remain blissfully ignorant.  After what seemed like an eternity, Mum said to Dad that he’d better give us an update.  “There’s good news and bad news,” he said, glass of wine in hand and looking years younger already.  “The good news is, it’s not cancer.”  Now I realised that Mum had had this broad grin on her face since she arrived back on the island and that they both had a bounce in their step that had been missing for so long.  Never has the word “diabetes” sounded so sweet.  He went on to explain that things were still serious, but with some, admittedly major, dietary and lifestyle changes, along with some medication, things were looking so much brighter than they had been a few short hours before.  I heard little more…my daddy was going to be ok…that’s all that mattered.  I was quiet for a while, then disappeared upstairs to utter the most heartfelt prayer of thankfulness I have ever said…and also to have a good cry, tears of sheer and utter joy, as well as the release of months of pent up emotion. 

That diagnosis was a “moment that mattered” in so many more ways than the obvious though.  In the months that have followed, my family and I have learned so much about diabetes (although we have much, much more to learn).  We have all become increasingly aware of what is actually in our food and the effects each ingredient can have on our health.  However, I think that one of the most important things which has followed on from this “moment that mattered” is my approach to life and my attitude towards my loved ones.  Having come so close, or at least having felt like I was coming close, to losing someone so adored and so important to me has made me realise where my priorities lie.  The little, annoying things no longer bother me.  So what if my parents phone in the middle of a TV programme or if the kids interrupt when I’m at a really intriguing part of a book.  Does it matter if a friend pops in to visit when I’ve got something on the cooker?  All of these and a myriad of other niggling little complaints no longer feature in my life.  I have found a peace and am capable of appreciating every moment, every little thing about all of my family.  I know that one day, we will inevitably be separated for a season, but until then, my 2013 “moment that mattered” has given me the encouragement I needed to live life to the full, surrounded by my wonderful family, enjoying and appreciating everyone and everything…even the moments that really don’t seem to matter so much, but are still important in their own special way.  Thanks to the diagnostic “moment that mattered”, I’m so indescribably thankful that my Dad, the children’s Seanair, has been able to take his place at the centre of so many more “moments that matter” in all of our lives. 


This post is an entry into the Lloyds Bank “Moments that Mattered” competition.