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Veg Box Challenge: the masterchef edition!

Firstly, let me apologise for the delay in bringing this update to you - the veg box challenge began just before Christmas and Sharon of @shazzbakes twitter fame took it to the next level over the festive period with her range of recipe ideas. Unfortunately a seized up back and then a vicious attack of the man-flu (!) kept me away from the blog.

But I'm back! Allow me to introduce you to @shazzbakes. You can find Sharon on twitter under @shazzbakes but she's also got a blog here - and what a blog! There's a vast range of recipes to choose from as well as a section on Airdale terriers! More importantly, Sharon's been on MasterChef and was a quarter finalist in the 2017 series so I'm well and truly outclassed by Sharon's culinary skills and experience!

An indication of this is the vast number of ideas Sharon came up with for the items in her veg box. Unfortunately the camera on Sharon's phone has a big scratch on it so there are no pretty pictures to accompany the recipes but don't let that put you off - there's so much below to choose from.

Sharon bought her veg box the week after I got mine which meant that she got slightly different items. In the box were potatoes, sprouts, a leek, brown onions, a red cabbage, carrots, parsnips, 1 cauliflower, beetroot, as well as a bunch of sage, 2 bay leaves, and fennel fronds. What a fabulous festive range of vegetables! Sharon also used a number of other ingredients from her store cupboard, including: celery, hot red chillies, eggs, Stilton, vegetable oil, streaky bacon (which came with salted caramel sauce), unsalted butter, Bramley apples, small oranges, lemon, cider vinegar, mustard seeds, fresh blackberries, soured cream, pecans, walnuts; and spices...ras el-hanout, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, allspice.

Without further ado - to the recipes...a whopping ten of them!

1. Potato Galettes

Slice potatoes thinly with a knife or on a mandonline (no need to peel but do scrub clean first).

Use a round cookie cutter to make circles and pat dry with kitchen paper. Arrange overlapping circles on a lined baking tray, stacked 3 or more high, in a 70's-style flower-power arrangement. Brush generously with melted butter. Bake at 180C until a knife inserted just has a tiny bit of resistance (20-25 minutes). Remove tray from oven.

Meanwhile, thickly slice 2 onions (some will be used for other recipes) and fry in butter with a touch of oil (to stop burning), moving regularly, until the onion has softened well and is carmelising (turning brown, but not burning - 10-12 minutes or so). Remove to a kitchen paper-lined plate.

Grate a Bramley (or other cooking apple) quite roughly. No need to peel, but do scrub clean first.

Assemble: Use a spatula to move each galette from the tray to a plate. Drape on some onions, sprinkle some apple and Stilton over, and if you like, a few bits of well-cooked bacon will be fine as garnish. A teeny dollop of soured cream will be luxurious.

2. Carrot & Chilli Jam

Scrub (no need to peel) 4 carrots and slice lengthwise into quarters. Take two 3-4" hot red chillies, and halve lengthwise - scrape out membrane/seeds to your taste.

This is the time to get your beetroot in the oven too, if you're doing borscht, Recipe 6. Don't peel, but quarter lengthwise.

Also cram your halved-lengthwise parsnips - again, scrubbed but no need to peel - onto the tray, or ideally, get 2 baking trays ready for the oven. (Recipe 7).

Get some potatoes (scrubbed, but no need to peel) quartered lengthwise and cram them in, too.

Drizzle with vegetable oil and sprinkle with dried cumin. Roast at 180C until squidgy - chillies and parsnips might take 30 minutes; carrots might take 40 minutes; beetroot might take 10-15 minutes longer.

Chop 2 of the roasted carrots (set 1 aside for borscht, Recipe 6, and 1 for Rostis, Recipe 7) and the chillies quite finely, and put in a pot on the hob. Add 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar, 2 tablespoons cider vinegar (sherry, rice wine, or plain vinegar might do; if using balsamic, 1 tablespoon only). Add 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, and a handful of carmelised onion (see Recipe 1). Bring the pot to the boil; reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook, stirring regularly, until you have a sticky, thick jam (about 10-15 minutes). You might want to use a stick blender in the pot to whizz it together and amalgamate the ingredients better, depending on your taste for marmalade v jam. Taste, and add more chilli / sugar / spice to your liking.

3. Pickled Leek Rings

Chop the darkest green end off (save in the freezer for making stock later). Slice the remaining leek as thinly as you can (or, use a mandoline). Save half the leek rings for your rostis (Recipe 7); put the other half in a pot on the hob with 6 tablespoons vinegar (cider, sherry, rice / red / white wine will all impart different flavours / colours), 4 tablespoons soft light brown sugar, 6 peppercorns, a palmful of mustard seeds, 1/2 of a small red chilli (optional), 1 teaspoon salt, and fresh fennel fronds (optional). Bring to the boil, then take off the heat. Pour into a sterilised jar (one that's been in a 100C oven upside-down with lid/ring for at least 30 minutes).

This will keep in the fridge for 6 weeks/months depending on newness of jar/lid and will add piquancy to Recipe 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, and more.

4. Savoury Blackberry Jam

Put 250g blackberries into a pot on the hob with the juice of one orange, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 tsp allspice, 1 tsp ground ginger, and 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar. Bring to the boil, then knock back to a simmer until the berries are almost mushy (8-10 minutes). Pour into a sterilised jar (see Recipe 3).

5. Cauliflower with Carrot Jam or Savoury Blackberry Jam

Break apart the cauli head into similar-sized florets. (Any additional stems, and leaves, save in the freezer for stock as per the leek greens in Recipe 3.) Put in a steamer, or in a sieve over a bowl of boiling water with a lid to cover, until "al dente" - not mushy, but not hard, which could take 10-15 minutes. Serve with lashings of Carrot Jam (Recipe 2) over each serving.

Steamed cauliflower is also delicious with the Savoury Blackberry Jam from Recipe 4; although it's enhanced even more by a sly sprinkling of really finely chopped hot red chilli and a quick dash of cider vinegar.

6. Borscht

Take the roasted beetroot from Recipe 2, and 1 roasted potato from that recipe. Peel the beetroot, and put into a large pot on the hob (leave aside a few sliced cubes for garnish if you like) with the potato. Add 1 heaped tablespoon of soured cream for each whole beetroot (i.e., if using all 3, add 3 tablespoons soured cream), and add the extra roasted carrot, roughly chopped. Finely chop 2 celery stalks (for 3 beetroot; 1 stalk for 2 beetroot) and add to the pot, with 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 200ml hot water or heated veg/chicken/beef stock, and a palmful of fresh dill/fennel fronds. Bring to the boil, knock back to a simmer, and leave until the celery is slightly tender, 8-10 minutes. Take the pot off the heat and use a stick blender in the pot to whizz it to smoothness.

Serve with the reserved beetroot cubes (optional), a swirl of soured cream, and fresh dill/fennel fronds as garnish.

7. Parsnip and Carrot Rostis

Take 2 of your roasted parsnips and the extra carrot from Recipe 2. Carefully grate on a large vegetable grater into a bowl. Add 1 egg, the leftover leek rings from Recipe 3, salted caramel sauce (optional; it came with my bacon but you could drizzle some runny honey, maple syrup, or even some golden syrup over, with the teeniest pinch of salt). If you have some leftover steamed cauliflower from Recipe 5, break it up and add it to the bowl. Ras el-hanout is a gorgeous Moroccan spice which is perfect here; if you don't have it, add pinches of pepper, paprika, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, fennel, turmeric, cardamom, and/or dried chilli flakes. Mix together while you heat some vegetable oil in a frying pan.

Pat together little burgers of the mixture and fry on a high heat until browned on each side - not more than 3-4 minutes or so per side. Serve with either the Carrot Jam (Recipe 2) or Savoury Blackberry Jam (Recipe 4).

8. Hasselback Potatoes

This is just oven-roasted potatoes with a bit of flair, but I found from practice that they work best when pre-cooked slightly.

Take whole potatoes (scrubbed, but no need to peel), and put whole into boiling water in a large pot on the hob. Keep on the boil until a knife goes easily into each one - approximately 10-15 minutes. Pre-heat your oven to 200C.

Carefully drain the potatoes, and dry with kitchen paper. Put onto a foil-lined baking tray, and slash each potato several times across the top, about half-way down in depth. Put your topping of choice into the slashes: butter, Stilton, leftover cooked leek or onion, streaky bacon chopped into bits, ras el-hanout or other spices. Bake until a knife goes cleanly and easily into the bottom of each, and the skin is crispy.

Serve with soured cream, roasted chillies, more cooked bacon/leek/onion, and plenty of herbs.

9. Twice-baked Potatoes

This isn't a recipe so much, as a stepping-stone for your own creativity (and what you have in your larder).

Scrub - but no need to peel - whole potatoes. Wipe dry with kitchen paper. Rub some vegetable oil all round, halve lengthwise, and place on a foil-lined baking tray in a pre-heated 180c oven, drizzling some veg oil over the cut tops.

Leave to roast 45-60 minutes, until a knife inserted goes in and comes out cleanly and easily. Remove from the oven.

Meanwhile, make your filling. Cheese? Onion? Leek? Bacon? Roast beetroot? Herbs? Chilli? Spices? Mustard? Horseradish? Mashed steamed cauliflower?

When the potatoes are slightly cooled, scoop out the flesh leaving the skins whole. Mix the flesh with your preferred filling mixture, then pile back into the skins. Leave in the oven at least 10-15 minutes for the filling to cook.

To serve, you can't go wrong with soured cream; but plain yoghurt is also very good.

10. Braised Red Cabbage

This is what I've done for 20 years, and I was chuffed to find a red cabbage in the Fyne box, so I could make it. On my website: red cabbage, butter, red onion, Bramley apple, dark brown sugar, spices, port, jam

11. Sprouts with Bacon & Chestnuts

This isn't really original, but:

- Fry off until very crispy some streaky bacon

- Fry finely sliced onion or leeks - not chopped; thinly sliced rings are best

- Get some hulled chestnuts ready

- Slice sprouts on an angle

Heat up butter (with some veg oil to avoid burning); add bacon, and fry on medium-high heat, stirring regularly, until quite crispy. Remove from pan to a plate lined with kitchen paper. Add onion/leek, and fry in bacon fat until softened.

Meanwhile, slice chestnuts. When onion/leek is softened, add chestnuts and keep stirring to ensure nothing burns, and it all warms up.

Add sliced sprouts. Whack up heat to high; when everything's sizzling, turn down the heat to very low, and keep stirring/flipping until the sprouts are "al dente" i.e. not hard, but not mushy - perfectly inbetween.

Serve as-is; or, this is a fabulous accompaniment to Parsnip & Carrot Rostis (Recipe 7), Hasselback Potatoes (Recipe 8), or even to "beef up" Recipe 1 to a main dish rather than an accompaniment.

I think we can all agree that Sharon has squeezed a fantastic amount of recipes out of the veg box, combined with the items from her store cupboard, and what a range of recipes! Personally I'm a huge fan of the hasselback potatoes (so effective!) and intrigued by the twice-baked potatoes. The carrot and chilli jam sounds like a winner too. What will you cook from your veg box? I really hope that, if nothing else, this challenge has given folk some fresh ideas on what to do with what can seem like very 'ordinary' vegetables. Winter veg doesn't need to just go into soup (though that's brilliant way to use it up) and there are so many different things you can do...from pickling, to jam, to roasting and rostis. Enjoy experimenting!

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