Squash & Sage Risotto

We’re on the run up to Halloween. Pumpkins are in every greengrocers and supermarket you walk in to. It would be a shame not to make something of them in the short time they line our shelves, right? I wanted to develop a recipe that you could easily recreate at any time of the year, and this risotto is perfect for that. My family have made this beautiful risotto with butternut squash for a few years now but it works equally well with pumpkin or any other squash, for that matter.

The honeyed flavour of the roasted squash with the salty parmesan work in perfect balance to create this winter warmer. I dressed mine with a kick of spice and crunch from the roasted seeds but lightly fried sage leaves are a welcome way to add more interest and texture.

pumpin vegetarian risottobutternut squash risottoAs I go through this recipe, we’ll look at some of the fundamentals of risotto, where you might be going wrong and what on earth that wooden spoon with a hole in the middle is for. Fair enough, you might prefer to blindly follow my recipe but it’s the geekery in me that’s always asking these questions and wondering why. Knowing these answers is the start to being more independent and creative in the kitchen, and that’s exactly what I want for you. So, let’s start.

To serve 4 you’ll need:

1 Small Pumpkin or squash
3 Garlic cloves
1 Onion, finely diced
400g Arborio or carnaroli rice
8 Sage leaves, finely chopped
Half a glass of white wine
2.5 Litres Chicken stock
100g Parmesan, grated
Knob of butter


Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celcius.

Slice the squash in half and scoop out the center, retaining the seeds. The stringy insides of pumpkin make this tougher to do than most other squash but using a sharp spoon that yields a clean scoop, like the OXO fruit scoops, makes this easier.

oxo fruit scoops

Cut the flesh in to inch square chunks. Drizzle a large baking tray with vegetable oil and toss the squash in it. Nestle the garlic cloves between the chunks, leaving the skin on. Roast for 30 minutes until the flesh is tender and the edges are beginning to turn golden. Don’t be tempted to use olive oil in this recipe, its flavour is too strong.

If you’d like to finish your risotto with the roasted seeds, click here for that recipe.

At this point, you can leave the recipe for later in the day or store the roasted squash and garlic in the fridge for tomorrow. When you’re ready to make your risotto, heat a knob of butter in a large saucepan on a medium heat. As soon as it has melted, add the diced onion and fry until softened. This is the start of ‘tostatura’, or the toasting. We want to toast the onions but not brown them, and the same for the rice, which we’ll come to in a minute.

Peel the skins away from the roasted garlic and using a knife, rub the cloves on a chopping board until pureed. Add the garlic puree to the pan, allowing to fry for a minute before adding the sage and rice. Stir to coat the grains in the butter allowing them to heat up, but not brown.

Add the wine, you should hear a satisfying noise as it hits the pan. A sozzle. If you don’t hear it, turn your heat up. Allow the alcohol to cook off briefly.

Mash half of the squash lightly with a fork, leave the other half of the chunks intact. Add around a handful per person to the pan (4 handfuls in this case).

pumpkin risotto recipeNow, there’s that spoon I mentioned. The girariso (a wooden spoon with a hole in the middle) is designed to cut the risotto stirring work in half for you. As you push the spoon through the mix, the hole allows some of the rice to work the other way, effectively double stirring in one movement. You can of course make risotto without one, but you’ll need to stir much more to agitate the rice and release the starch that separates a good risotto from an exceptional one.

Anyway, it’s stock time. We don’t want the temperature to drop as the stock is added, that would make this a much longer process. To combat this, keep your stock in a pan at a constant simmer or if you’re using instant stock, split your stock cube/jelly and make it in small batches so each is freshly boiled.

Add a large ladleful at a time, stirring it in, keeping the risotto pan at a constant simmer then adding another as the stock reduces. Don’t let the pan go dry or flood the rice. After 15 minutes you should see the rice grains are still separate and although cooked, have a little bite. Dragging a spoon across the base of the pan, you should see the metal for a moment before the wave of risotto covers it.

Take the pan off the heat and add the parmesan and a knob of butter. Here comes the ‘mantecatura’, or the point where you beat the risotto like crazy to combine the cheese and butter with the rice. This releases the last of the starch so stop when you reach your desired consistency. At this point, check the seasoning. Parmesan can be fairly salty so you may not need much salt at all.

risottopumpkin risotto

I don’t think there’s anything more comforting than a good risotto with that season’s produce. I really hope you enjoy this recipe if you try it and the insights I’ve included give you a little more confidence in making your own or trouble shooting any issues you’ve had in the past.

P.S. I applaud anyone that can take amazing photos of risotto. It’s a tough one!

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Yard plans

Two months ago, Matt and I had a 4m x 3m concrete box. It was far from Pinterest worthy, and minuscule in comparison to the results thrown up on Google when I typed in ‘yard ideas’.

This tiny outside space attached to our Victorian terrace had gone unused all summer, despite the amazing weather we’ve had. It needed overhauling and although we were on the approach to winter, believe it or not that was the perfect time to do it. You see, garden and outdoor living prices take a steep fall in the colder months. Makeovers at this time of year also bring the opportunity to plant plenty of bulbs so that come spring, your outdoor space is a gorgeous retreat. Oh, and I couldn’t bear another Winter looking out of our patio doors and seeing nothing but the peach, flakey walls.

So, here begins a series looking back at our plans, sharing the journey and finally revealing our end result. Be warned, I’m sharing the ‘uglies’, my life isn’t picture perfect and nor is our home right now. This is real life.

We had three main issues to tackle in the yard. We needed to soften the box feel, brighten it up and make it more usable. We planned a brilliant white paint for the walls to reflect light back in to our kitchen and living room and make the yard seem bigger. To soften the concrete floor, we began to look at artificial grass and settled for the best we could find within our budget. To inject some colour, we chose a Cuprinol Coastal Mist for the yard gate and some accents.

yard makeover

To make the space more usable, we needed a solution for the washing line. The position it was in made it impossible to stand in the centre of the yard. We found a retractable washing line by Minky that would neatly tuck away when not in use. That would leave space for a dining set. Our next issue came with our decision to use artificial grass. We then needed an area of hard standing to put the bin and recycling box on and a barbecue for the summer months. Here’s how that would plan out:

yard makeover uk

As for plants, I teamed up with Plant Me Now to create a planter full of colour and a herb box for our kitchen window that would stock my recipe needs. I can’t say how helpful their advice was because when it comes to flowers, I’m a novice at best. I’ll talk you through our planters in the next post, how we got on with planting up our winter bedding plants, spring bulbs and whether Matt and I can lay this grass properly… I’m nervous! From this point, we still have a lot to do.

yard makeover to do list

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M&S style nutty superfood salad

This nutty superfood salad recipe is a ‘dupe’ of one of my favourite Marks and Spencer lunches. I don’t think I’ve ever loved a salad as much. It’s knocked the wild rice & lentil off the top spot. To call this a hearty salad sounds rather oxymoronic, but it is hearty, and it is a salad, so I’m going to persist in calling it that.

I’ll forgive you if you’ve never tried nuts in a salad before, but they’re a game changer. The protein, healthy fats and texture they bring turns what could be a limp salad in to something much bolder and better for you. Raw broccoli is a new one for me too, but it really works in this.

marks and spencer salad recipesuperfood salad recipehoney soy salad dressingBefore I share the recipe, let’s have a moment of ‘real life as a blogger’ from the day I took these photos. It was an overcast day. I hunted the house for the best light and decided to set up on top of a big wooden chest by the front door. The exposed stone wall adds a bit of interest to a photo and for lazy points, I can sit on the floor whilst I get the perfect shot. So there I am, sat on the floor in the huge entry of my Parent’s house. The entire wall is floor to ceiling glass. I’d picked out a white pasta bowl that I laid on top of some hessian for a bit of texture (actually a 10p B&Q sandbag). Camera slung around my neck, spatula in hand, tub of houmous in the other.

Something in the corner of my eye caught my attention. It was the postman. He looked completely bewildered. He didn’t knock, he just dropped the parcel on the floor outside and walked away. Turning back I could read the look on his face. “Was that girl eating her lunch off a wooden chest by the front door, with a sand bag as a coaster?” Yep, Mr Postman, that is what I was doing.

Anyway. To serve 4, you’ll need:

4 Tbsp Houmous
2 Broccoli florets
1 Handful of peas 
1 Small carrot, grated
200g Black eye beans
3 Tbsp cooked quinoa
1 Handful peanuts
1 Handful pistachios
1 Handful almonds

For the dressing, mix together:

1 Tsp soy
1 Tsp grated ginger
1 Tsp oil
1 Tsp honey


The Marks & Spencer version of this recipe comes with a heap of houmous buried under the salad. I pinch a little with each forkful, Matt mixes it right through. However you eat yours, the houmous is an essential flavour in this mix up so don’t skip it. Smoosh around one tablespoon per person on to your plate or in to your lunch box.

houmous on plate

Combine the other salad ingredients, chopping the broccoli in to the tiniest florets. Heap on to the plate.

superfood salad

Mix the dressing ingredients together and drizzle over each portion or alternatively, toss through the entire lot in a large bowl. nutty superfood salad recipe

There are quite a lot of ingredients in this but feel free to play around with the components of the salad. Lighten the prep by using the ready cooked quinoa, stocked by most supermarkets now. Use frozen peas if it saves you hunting down a fresh pack out of season. M&S have green beans in their version, try bulgar instead of quinoa, use different nuts, add some chilli to the dressing. And if you do make it, please let me know how you get on.

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Post workout Smoothie

I love banana milkshakes. My Mum used to make them when I was younger, with just bananas and milk. Sometimes she’d add ice cream and it was a whole new level of awesome. Now I’ve grown up and those shakes have too. These days the ice cream is skipped and I add a few dates for sweetness. Coconut water replaces the milk and with the addition of some hemp protein powder,  the finished product is just as creamy. I also love to add a little cinnamon in the colder months, I could tell you all about it’s anti-inflammatory properties but really, it just tastes ridiculously good.

coconut water Protein shake

I don’t work out, but this is the perfect post workout recovery drink. It brings much needed carbohydrates, protein for muscle repair and the coconut water is incredible for rehydration and balancing electrolytes.  Of the 25 recipes I developed for Vita Coco, this is the one that fills my glass most often. You can see more of them on the Vita Coco twitter account if you fancy giving your smoothies and juices a shake up.

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Char Siu Buns

I pride myself on my recipes being something that even an inexperienced cook could pick up and turn out great results. 99% of recipes on my blog are exactly that. If something is quite complex, I weed out the problem areas, finding alternatives for you until it’s manageable. This Char Siu Bun recipe however, is purely self indulgent. Matt loves them, I adore them and although the recipe is fairly hands off, the steps take place over 24 hours. I’ve got your back though. I know a lot of people avoid anything that needs that much forward planning, so I’ll give you two ways to make the char siu pork; the real deal and the sneaky cheat. Same for the bao (buns); a from scratch version and something easier.

Whichever way you choose to do it, these buns area heavenly, smooth pure white dough holding the key to my heart. The Char Siu pork is just incredible, you’ll impress your guests with this, but to be honest, it’s almost too good to share. I tested the water with this recipe on my Facebook page, and y’all went crazy! So let’s do this.


Pulled Char Siu Pork:

You’ll need:

1kg Boneless pork shoulder
3 Tsp Five spice
100g Honey
60ml Xiaou Tsing rice wine
3 Cloves garlic, minced
60ml Hoisin Sauce
250ml dark soy sauce

Rub the five spice in to the pork shoulder and transfer to a large ziplock bag.

Mix together the honey, rice wine, garlic and hoisin in to a thick paste then let down with the soy sauce.  Pour the mixture in to the bag with the pork and seal. Leave overnight in the fridge to marinade.

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celcius. Place the meat on a rack (or tinfoil balls) in a roasting tin with 1cm of water in the base. Cook for around 4 hours or until the pork comes apart easily with two forks. Keep the bag of liquid and baste the meat with a ladle of it every half an hour whilst it is in the oven.

Once the pork is ready, shred with 2 forks. At this point, the pork can be frozen or kept in the fridge for 3 days. When you come to serve, just fry it off in a hot dry pan until the edges of the pork begin to brown and it’s piping hot right through.

The cheat: Pick up a good quality pack of barbecue seasoning, like the Flava It marinade (75p in Tesco at the moment) and mix with 3 tsp of five spice. Roast or slow cook the pork using the directions above and then shred the pork. Once shredded, mix the seasoning with 2 tbsp water and combine with the pork. Fry off in a hot dry pan until slightly browned. Obviously this isn’t a legitimate char siu, but it’s good and distinctly reminiscent of the real deal for those that just don’t have the time. 

char siu boa recipe

For the buns:

This recipe is converted and adapted from David Chang’s steamed bread recipe. It makes enough buns to be the main meal for 4 hungry people. You’ll need:

2 teaspoons active dry yeast
350ml warm water
3 tablespoons lard, melted
480g strong white bread flour
180g plain flour
50g sugar
2 teaspoons salt

Mix together the yeast, water and lard, stirring until the yeast has dissolved and the mixture is cloudy.Combine the flours, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl, adding the yeast liquid bit by bit and mixing until the dough comes together.Knead the dough by hand for around 15 minutes of in an electric mixer with a dough hook for 8 minutes. Turn in to an oiled bowl and cover with cling film. Leave in a warm place until doubled in size (about 2 hours).

Punch the air out of the dough and shape in to a log and cut in to about 25 pieces. Shape in to golf balls. Using a rolling pin, press the centre of the ball and roll up and down until a flat oval is formed. Brush the top of the dough with a little sesame oil and fold in half. Transfer to a lined baking sheet, cover with cling film and leave to rise for another 40minutes.

If you don’t have liners for your bamboo steamer, cut squares of greaseproof paper to go under each bun. Lay as many as you can fit in each basket with a little space to expand. Add 2cm water to a wok over a high heat, rest the bamboo steamer in the base of the wok and steam for 8 minutes.

The cheat: You can actually buy pre made dough for these buns from asian grocery stores or alternatively an instant mix that just requires water. Will they be as good as home made? I doubt it, but it saves a lot of time if you don’t have the patience. 


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