Voluptuous Veggie Risotto

Adapted from one of my favourite feasts during university, this is a delightful dish that warms your soul as well as your body; truly comfort food at its finest.  It lends itself well to any time of year but can be particularly good as we’re heading towards the colder Welsh weather right now!  Best served if you’re cooking for many, the more really is the merrier with this dish – you can just keep on adding more to suit your party.  Add some prawns or chicken in if you really can’t live without, but I personally think half the beauty of this risotto is the absolute mountain of veggies!

Ingredients*:file_000-22

  • ¼ medium size pumpkin/~300g, cut into chunks
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • ~100g babycorn
  • Halloumi ~225g (low fat if possible)
  • 1 red pepper
  • 300g Arborio rice
  • 1 or 2 vegetable stock cubes
  • 150g asparagus
  • ~50g broccoli

The type and amount of veg you put in this recipe is completely up to you, this is just an example I made this week.  Butternut squash is also a great alternative to pumpkin and often easier to get hold of in supermarkets.

Method:

  1. Cut the pumpkin into chunks and place on a roasting tray with a little oil spray into the oven at 1800 for around 20 mins – *optional: sprinkle with some herbs and feta*
  2. Fry the onions until golden, then adding the peppers
  3. Let those brown a bit more, then add the Arborio rice and boil a full kettle – reduce the heat to low/medium
  4. Add 1 stock cube to a large jug of boiling water and mix together with a fork – you can keep topping this up throughout, it’s important not to underestimate the amount of stock needed!
  5. At this point, you can put the other veg on to steam for a few minutes or just add them in as and when, it’s up to you (I prefer to pre-steam to get the texture right)
  6. Pour in some of the stock and keep stirring in until absorbed, simmering on a medium to low heat; continue to add more and more letting it absorb each time until rice gets to a nice fluffy texture
  7. When done, add in the roasted pumpkin chunks and stir in the halloumi chunks
  8. Keep stirring and simmering for a further 10 mins or so, enough for the halloumi to melt a little – sprinkle with some extra seasoning if you like
  9. Once all the stock is absorbed, the rice is nice & fluffy and the halloumi has gone a little gooey: you’re good to go!

And there you have it!  Easy, tasty and (fairly) healthy comfort food.  It’s open to experimentation and your own tastes on what kind of things you add in or take out, but that’s the beauty.

If you’re going to save the extra portions rather than cook it for company then just be careful to cool it as quickly as possible as rice can form harmful bacteria at room temperature, whilst also being mindful that placing hot or warm things in the fridge can lower its temperature and cause other things to go off.  Also, be careful when reheating rice making sure to absolutely zap it in the microwave just to be on the safe side – check that it’s steaming hot all the way through and don’t leave for more than a day if possible.

Hope you enjoy; if you make your own creations do let me know by tagging @charlieschapter Instagram or twitter!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Juno what’s going on in Roath?

You’ve had a long, tiring day at work: Juno is there.  You’re hanging out of your arse after a heavy night out: Juno is there.  You really just need a good old pick-me-up, even better if it’s just healthy enough not to feel guilty about: Juno is there.

Living within easy walking-distance of this little local gem has definitely been a factor in my falling in love with Cardiff.  Aside from the convenience, the staff are always so friendly and helpful even if you’re there just to get some work done with a few nibbles and a nice atmosphere.  They’re also very accommodating – you’re never too much of an inconvenience, which culminates in the laid-back, super friendly and above all cosy vibe of the place that makes it so special.

The warm, cosy interior of Juno Lounge, Roath. [Photo credit: Trip Advisor]

Menu: burgers, salads, hangover breakfasts and specials; Juno has it all.  Whether you’re a meat-eater or a fussy eater, there’s no shortage of incredible options, including a whole menu of vegan and gluten-free.  For meat-lovers: the Hero Burger.  Highly renowned as one of the best burgers in Cardiff, this beast is composed of a 6oz beef patty, chorizo, mature cheddar, fried red onion, chimichurri, chipotle mayo and marinated chilli.  10/10 for sure.  For veggies: Yossi’s Falafel Burger.  Full of flavour and goodness, this isn’t your standard veggie burger!  A wood-roasted pepper, rocket, tomato, red onion, basil pesto and garlic mayo all accompany the falafel to create this fantastic, fresh feast that will surely keep you coming back for more.  9/10 from me; close but not quite as good as the following…

Specials: I’ve had the last two special burgers in a row (I’m basically a regular now) and I can safely say both were incredible.  The first, a spiced hummus and halloumi burger, was stunning.  I’m a huge fan of halloumi anyway especially in burgers, trying new variations whenever I get chance (e.g. Street Food Circus).  On this occasion I wasn’t sure how the spiced hummus was going to work but it was perfect – salty meets sweet & spicy, with a juicy roasted pepper in the middle, whilst the all-important salad balanced it all out.

The second, a butternut squash and edamame bean burger, featuring halloumi (obviously) and served in the beauty that is a brioche burger bun, I went back for twice because I loved it so much.  I just want to be clear on one thing… this was a chunky-ass burger.  I mean it was more than just a two-hand job…  This is the first time in my life I’ve ever had to be one of those bell-ends that cuts their burger using actual cutlery instead of our God-given hands; like those people who insist on cutting pizza with a knife and fork despite the fact that it was MADE to be eaten with our hands – even cut into portions to do so!  Anyway, this burger was huge, but it was so so good.  Packed full of veggie goodness (butternut squash being rich in fibre, vitamins & minerals, antioxidants and very low in calories, similar to pumpkin) and well-balanced flavours, it’s a solid 10/10 from me – for both of the specials, in fact.

Burgers aside, I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed every single meal I’ve had at Juno (hungover or otherwise).  The Avocado Brunch is perfect for that hangover fix due to its cheeky sprinkle of chilli flakes; the Grilled Halloumi & Falafel salad is great for those days when you want to eat out but don’t want to stray too off-plan; the Triple-stacked Buttermilk Pancakes with banana, strawberries, peach sauce and Greek yoghurt are a very filling but very rewarding breakfast to bring you back to life after a heavy night or a stressful week (also available with smoked streaky bacon & maple syrup); and lastly, but by no means least, the classic poached eggs & smoked salmon on toast which has saved me on some of my darkest days.

One of the things I especially love about this place is that the friendly chilled-out vibe is also reciprocated in the staff, meaning that when the struggle is very real and the waiter or waitress can see it on your face, they give that service with genuine smile and you know that they know what you’re going through.  (Sort of like a Friends “we know that they know, we know” situation).

My cute & cosy set up whilst writing at Juno

 There’s so much more I could say about Juno Lounge; I haven’t even mentioned the Cruiser Atlantic pale ale they serve on tap, specifically a Loungers brew, or the cocktail menu I’ve been dying to try for ages, or even the tasty-looking tapas menu!  But I will certainly be back time and time and time again.  I’d recommend it to any of my fellow Roath residents and Cardiffians: embrace it as your local/regular because that’s half the beauty of the place.  It’s convenient and it’s cosy, but it’s also really good, reasonably priced, wholesome food in a place you’re always made to feel totally welcome.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

*special thanks goes to my fave waiter Juno George for the genius title suggestion!

P.S.  I don’t actually know if his name is George

Charlie’s Chunky Red Pesto

Pesto is such a simple, understated but amazing addition to a meal, in my opinion.  Originating from Ligura, Italy, it became a culinary staple in the 1800s with each family tending to have their own variation; hence there are now so many different recipes around today.

I started making it myself from scratch during my final year of university, when one day I fancied trying something new in the kitchen, looked at the label of a pesto jar and thought “bet I could make this better and healthier myself…”

My recipe uses mostly cashew nuts rather than the traditional pine nuts because I’ve found it gives a smoother texture and fuller flavour.  I also often like to add in extra flavours such as oven-roasted peppers or caramelised red onion, the latter of which gives it a much sweeter flavour and goes well simply on its own with pasta and a bit of feta.

Anyway, here’s my recipe for homemade red pesto for you to try at home:

Ingredients:

1 jar of sundried tomatoes ~ 285g
30g basil
lemon juice
salt + pepper
2 ½ tsp tomato purée
2-3 cloves of garlic (to taste)
80g cashew nuts
30g pine nuts
55g parmesan
olive oil

Method:

I recommend using a food processor for this recipe, but if you don’t have one it can also be done in a large mixing bowl with a hand blender (it’s just a bit messier!):

  • Put the nuts into your food processor/chopper and whizz until finely chopped
    • Alternatively, you could crush them in a pestle & mortar or whack in a bag with a rolling pin biscuit style.
  • Add the sundried tomatoes and a glug of oil and mix until chopped into small chunks.
  • Add the garlic (crushed/finely chopped), parmesan, salt + pepper to taste and a few sprinkles of lemon juice. Then mix up again until combined.
  • Then tear up the basil roughly and throw into the mix, include the stalks where possible as these contain loads of flavour! Whizz it up once more, adding more oil if needed to bind it all together and create a smoother consistency.
  • Take a small spoonful and review your flavour balances, adding more seasoning (or parmesan/lemon juice/garlic) if needed to suit your own taste.

Once you’re happy with it, transfer to a glass jar or tupperware with airtight locking and enjoy!

Please note: it won’t be as smooth as the stuff you buy in jars, chunky and funky is this pesto’s style.  It will last a week or so in the fridge in an airtight container or it can be frozen on the day and saved for later.

File_000 (18).jpeg

I personally love this recipe because it’s so versatile and so simple!  Traditionally it’s perfect with pasta, especially with stuffed tortellini, but you can also try it layered on-top of salmon and baked in foil, or as a really tasty pizza base and layer it up with veg and cheese.  Whatever you’re into, there are plenty of ways to bring this into your favourite dishes – get creative!

Here’s my go-to: pesto with wholewheat pasta, prawns and salmon (I bake the salmon in foil in the oven then flake into the pasta and mix altogether at the end).

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I hope you enjoy; let me know what you come up with if you give it a go!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx