Beer: the expert guide | by Ciaran Giblin


Craft beer: a brief history

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Craft beer is a relatively new idea in Britain but it has been around in the States for much longer; they’ve been experimenting with beer styles since the mid-60s. My definition of craft beer is ‘modern interpretations of traditional European beer’.

Given that the US has a much shorter history of brewing than most of Europe, they tend to be much more likely to experiment as they don’t have a wealth of tradition holding them back. Imagine asking a monk to change the recipe of the beer his monastery has been making for 500 years – I doubt he’d dignify that with an answer.

In Britain, Meantime is one of the founders of the craft beer movement. Meantime started brewing in 2000 when, inspired by both European and modern American brewing, our brewmaster and founder Alastair Hook wanted to shake up the relatively dull brewing scene in this country. 2000 doesn’t seem long ago, but when Meantime started there were fewer than 10 breweries in London – a city which was once the brewing capital of the world. Now there are close to 100.


So what’s brewing?

beer ingredients
Hops

According to the 500-year-old German purity law, reinheitsgebot, there must only ever be four ingredients in beer; cereal (grain), hops, yeast and water. Hops haven’t always been a key ingredient in beer – they were introduced in the 15th century from Belgium and used as a preservative.

Being the stubborn cluster of islanders we are, the British didn’t take to them straight away. Hops have revolutionised beer for the drinker who wants to try a wide variety of flavours. They can be compared to grapes in wine, where the biodynamics of their growing environment dramatically affects flavour.

Most craft beers tend to favour hops from the West Coast of America, but there are amazing flavours on offer all over the world. When describing hops, I refer to them as the ‘seasoning’ in beer.

At Meantime, we often add interesting and complementary ingredients to give you something new to try; the Raspberry Wheat beer has (you guessed it), raspberries; the Chocolate Porter, chocolate. We produced a beer recently in our Pilot Brewery that included scotch bonnet chillies. We always use the same four principal ingredients; water, malts, hops and yeast, but beyond that the world is your oyster (stout).


How to pair beer with food:

My top tip for beer and food matching is to remember the three C’s; complement, contrast and cut…

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To complement, think about how big the flavours are and try to keep it a similar flavour size. For example, hot curry probably needs a big beer to match the flavours. As much as it’s what we’ve been taught, pale lager isn’t really the beer for a curry: instead pour an IPA to complement the curry rather than washing it out.

To contrast, think about two flavours that might not obviously go together but could be appealing; a great example is blue cheese and dark beer. The roasted notes of the beer contrast with cloying notes in the cheese, almost like a wholegrain cracker would.

To cut, think about scrubbing your palate. For example, wheat beer with risotto – the esters and light carbonation will clear your palate of the starch coating your mouth.


Key styles:

IPA

IPA is pale ale on steroids. During the 19th century, India was very important in Britain’s empire, and lots of troops and traders lived there. Pale ale couldn’t take the nine-month journey on a wooden ship, so brewers upped the hop content and alcohol level – the preservative agents in beer.

Bitter

Up until the end of the 18th century, grain was roasted over an open flame, making the beer so smoky that the bitterness of the hops couldn’t be tasted. When more efficient slow-roasting, with hot air rather than flame, was introduced the bitterness came to the fore. It seems strange now as there are still bitterer beers from the continent, but the name has stuck nevertheless.

beer bottles by meantime brewing

Porter and stout

London was built on dark beer. As the water in the 18th century spread cholera and dysentery, Londoners had two drink options; gin or dark beer. Life expectancy was low if people chose gin, but beer was a much healthier choice. Porter was the original dark beer, named for the ships’ porters and manual labourers who drank
a lot of it. Stout was a higher-alcohol version to drink in the pub. With the taxes and recipe changes of 300 years, the lines have blurred so much that there isn’t any difference; it’s all up to the brewer to decide what they want to call their dark beer.

Saison

A beer style from Belgium and France, this beer was made for farm workers who usually worked during the summer, known as ‘saisonniers’. These are lighter ales that tend to have spicy and fruity notes due to the hybrid yeasts used by the farm brewers of the time.

Pilsner

This was first brewed in the year 1842 in the town of Pilsen in the Czech Republic. In 1841 there was a riot in Pilsen; the locals were so unimpressed with their local breweries that they ransacked them, poured the beer away and burnt the breweries down. When the town elders planned a new, central, brewery, they used local yeast and hops coupled with newly developed pale malt to create this style. Pilsners tend to have less flavour than most other beer, but that’s the point. Sometimes an 8% IPA or a super smokey porter can be overwhelming. 93% of the beer drunk on earth is pilsner!

Look out for:

We’ve only gone and made our own beer! That’s right, we’ve collaborated with the team at Meantime, pioneers of the craft beer movement in the UK, to create a delicious pomegranate porter. A take on their classic London porter full of chocolate, coffee and gentle smoke, the addition of pomegranate gives our Portergranate a unique, tart twist. It’s the perfect, refreshing, moreish pint with a dry finish to get you through the cold months. Find it at the brewery shop, or online at meantimebrewing.com. £22.99/12 x 330ml

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The Chefs’ Take: Parsnips

A thick, taupe-hued version of the ubiquitous, snack-friendly carrot, the parsnip is an unsung root vegetable seldom eaten raw. Then winter arrives, and its nutty profile deservedly gets the spotlight in a barrage of hearty soups and braises. But, there are other clever ways to celebrate the parsnip’s complexity this season.

Five nights a week, chef/owner Nicolas Delaroque of Nico in San Francisco serves a five-course tasting menu. Inevitably, parsnips make a cameo this time of the year. “I enjoy their versatility. We can use them in so many types of cooking,” he explains. That’s why he embraces the vegetable’s floral notes and incorporates them into a dessert. One splurge-worthy scoop of brown butter ice cream is dressed with fried parsnip chips and wood sorrel. “Parsnips have a sweet disposition, and with the cozy, warm feel of maple and bourbon, it just makes sense on a cold day.”

Before mopping up a fragrant seafood curry at La Thai Uptown, in New Orleans, patrons might want to order chef/owner Diana Chauvin Gallé’s salad with julienned parsnips and carrots along with their go-to order of rice paper summer rolls. Inspired by her mother’s recipe for classic Thai papaya salad, it’s brightened with fish sauce and Bird’s eye chiles, along with garlic, lime, cilantro and green onions. “I added cashews and pumpkin seeds for crunch, and to enhance the earthiness of the parsnips,” says Gallé. “Yet it remains light, refreshing, and healthy.”

Parsnips also provide a leaner alternative to sushi at Gramercy Farmer & the Fish in New York. Chef/owner/farmer Michael Kaphan swaps sushi’s traditional log of starchy white rice for a mélange of riced root vegetables—parsnip, as well as Scarlet turnip—and tops it with wild salmon, Bigeye tuna sashimi and basil. Parsnips, he says, “have a great texture and gingery-apple flavor that works really well with most recipes. I feel that they are usually overlooked by most chefs who forget how wonderful they are fresh.” In Kaphan’s case, they come straight from his five-acre farm in Westchester County.

Alia Akkam is a freelance writer and former Food Network intern who covers the food, drink, travel and design realms.

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Chatting with Fanny Slater, a Co-Host on Kitchen Sink

Fanny Slater“Yes, my name is actually Fanny, and no, it’s not short for anything.” That’s what Fanny Slater told us when we asked if there was anything she wanted to say to fans to introduce herself. We recently caught up with her on the set of Kitchen Sink, the brand-new series all about party-ready dishes and can-do techniques, and she told us about her style of cooking and a few of her favorite dinners and ingredients. Read on below to hear more from Fanny in a one-on-one chat and learn her secrets to becoming a “CEO.” (Spoiler: It’s not what you think.)

Many Food Network fans might know you from when you won Rachael Ray’s Great American Cookbook competition. But for newcomers, how would you describe your style of cooking? What will you bring to the party on Kitchen Sink?
Fanny Slater: I would say I’m bringing a little fun and silliness and storytelling, and the food that I love to eat from my childhood, which is really what the cookbook was based on. Just what I grew up with and how I put my own spin on it. So [I’m] definitely sort of a storytelling type of person. I love when food has a story behind it.

Do you gravitate towards to certain cuisine or style of cooking?
FS: I like elevated comfort foods — comfort foods in a tuxedo. Things that are familiar to me or things that are comforting to me but done up a little bit, definitely nothing too fancy. I don’t really gravitate toward a certain type of cultural cuisine — I guess maybe American or New American if I had to pick one.

What are you most looking forward to in terms of working with an ensemble?
FS: Everyone grew up with different culinary backgrounds, and that aspect of it, bringing them all together — everyone has a different bite of food that tastes like childhood to them, and I think that bringing all those things together in one bite is really fun. So you’re getting such a variety of types of foods, types of flavors and types of personality in the food. That’s what’s fun about us. It’s not just you and your ideas, but it’s also getting to work with a team of people who also love food as much as you do.

Let’s say it’s a regular Tuesday night and you are at home. What are you making for dinner?
FS: Cast-iron chicken thighs … Whatever I have in the fridge is a go-to with the chicken thighs. But I just love getting the skin extra crispy in the cast-iron and doing the whole thing in there. But I’ll usually do lemon — lemon gets all nice and charred in the oven — fresh herbs and then potatoes in there too, and it’s kind of a one-pot meal.

Tell us a bit about your approach to reading a recipe and how viewers have the potential to make any recipe their own.
FS: In almost every case, you can substitute whatever you want. So if you need a cheese that’s really melty and oozy, you don’t want to use feta or something like that. But in most instances, I think everyone can really just substitute vegetables and citrus and proteins for whatever flavors they enjoy.

What do consider to be your signature dish?
FS: There is a breakfast sandwich that my dad made for me when I was growing up. He would wrap it in tin foil, and it was always the same thing — it was eggs and cheese. And he would give it to us in the car. He was the one who made it, but he would turn around, and he’d say, “What did you get?” So we’d call it the Tin-Foil Surprise.” So I make my own version of that, and it’s pretty much always on an English muffin [with] fluffy scrambled eggs, and I love to toy with a different cheese, a different jam. The orange-lavender fig jam is what my book is named for. So I would say that breakfast sandwich and just making it fun using a different spread, a different jam, a different herb oil, different cheese, different vegetables in there. I think that breakfast should be different and fun and exciting every day, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.

Food hacks are all the rage these days, and they’ll certainly make appearances on Kitchen Sink. Do you have a favorite food hack, or perhaps a helpful shortcut?
FS: I think when you’re cooking a lot during the week, a lot of things that people don’t enjoy doing are all the prep. I think sometimes on a Sunday it’s a great day to do a bunch of prep for the week, so that way when you get home, you don’t have to do all the chopping. So for example, if you know you’re going to use garlic almost every night — I never buy the store-bought minced garlic. I’ll just take a couple heads of garlic, which obviously are very inexpensive, and pop the cloves out, put them into a food processor with a little bit of oil, and that will give you your own fresh homemade garlic. And just put a little bit of oil in it and that’ll keep for the week. And that can go into all your dishes.

Is there one store-bought ingredient that you do condone people taking to make prep work a little easier?
FS: Most definitely. There is a Thai red curry paste that I use. The Thai red curry paste — all day long — is a great store-bought ingredient. [It] keeps in the pantry. Once you open it, [it] goes in the fridge — keeps forever. All you really need with that is ginger, lemon grass, garlic, the red curry paste and some coconut milk, and you’ve got this great sauce base for any vegetables, any protein, any starch.

What food trend from 2016 are you hoping doesn’t stick around in the new year? Is there something that you are hoping does become a big deal in the food space in 2017?
FS: Yeah, the rainbow everything. Like rainbow bagels, rainbow this, rainbow that. I think it’s fun and it looks fun, but it doesn’t really have any flavor. … I would rather eat something that isn’t as colorful but just blows my mind with flavor, rather than look at something that I’m like, “Cool, it looks like a unicorn but tastes plain.” So I could say good bye to that.

And as for things that I would like to welcome, I would like to bring back artichokes. About time. Hail to the artichokes. … I think they are very underrated. They’re so much fun to make, so easy to cook and so much fun to eat. Such a great appetizer for your family instead of, like, chips and dip. So, all hail artichokes.

On your blog, you call yourself a “CEO (Chief Eating Officer).” What advice would you give someone who also wanted to be a “CEO” and pursue food or recipe writing, like you did?
FS: For me, in my down time I always focused on what I wanted to be my job, which was food writing and blogging and recipe development. So any spare time that I got — because it was something that I enjoyed — I tried to devote that additional time to it, and for me it was kind of leisurely. And then another great tip that is at least very helpful for me — if I have an idea in mind or something that I need to work out, whether usually with writing or a recipe, what helps me is I live on the river walk, and it’s such a great place to go run. So I would say that getting out and doing a little exercise, whether it’s running or taking a walk through a pretty area. … I don’t believe in over-working yourself to death. I believe in the balance of doing work but also doing things that are good for you inside and out, and I think one of those is literally going out and taking a walk, even if it’s 15 minutes. I meditate, but a lot of people don’t do that. But I think it’s just a great way to clear your head, and sometimes when you do that, that helps you see things a little clearer. But as far as you taking that jump, you have to reach out for every opportunity that’s in front of you. You have to say yes to everything. You have to get out there and meet people and network. I live in a small town, and I made sure that everyone knew who I was in every circle, because I thought, this is what I want to do and I want to make sure that people remember my name. And so little touches were a big part of it — dropping off sandwiches or sending writing samples. And it’s the Gary Vaynerchuk Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook method. It’s all about not really asking for anything. It’s just about giving of yourself, even if it’s just a little piece, and hoping that putting it out there into the universe kind of gives you something back.

Tune in to Kitchen Sink on Sunday, Jan. 15 at 11a|10c.

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Rachel Roddy’s recipe for fish poached in tomato and wine | A kitchen in Rome

Some recipes aren’t an exact science – such as pesce all’acqua pazza, or fish in crazy water – where whole bream is poached in a glistening sauce of extra virgin olive oil, garlic, chilli, and tomatoes and wine

“It is not a recipe, but a way.” It must be 10 years since Vera said this to me. We were making pasta and chickpeas in her small, organised kitchen, which was on the other side of the wall from my not-so-organised small kitchen. We were just about done and drinking coffee, the soup at a simmer. I was writing things down and asking questions, to which she was responding more with handfuls and tastes, rather than grams and minutes. Then she said it: “This is not a recipe, but a way.” It wasn’t a new or revelatory idea, we all know that most of the time cooking is not guided by exact recipes or precise measurements, but her words summed it up well, and the expression stuck.

Her way stuck too, a template for the thick bean soup with pasta variations of which I have written about many times: fry aromatic vegetables in olive oil for a soffritto, add a herb and cooked beans, then liquid, simmer, add pasta and cook until ready. Of course, when we make something, we may look to a specific recipe from specific places or people, to give something an authentic name. But most of the time we are cooking by “way” rather than recipe, following sketched rather than detailed maps; letting experience, taste and smell lead us. Baking is a different matter, which is possibly why it is not my strength.

Continue reading…

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Top 5 feel good trips for foodies


Ayrshire

As well as ivy-clad turrets and excellent food there’s one thing Glenapp Castle has plenty of: fresh air. It sits in 36 acres of grounds, all detailed for guests in a beautifully illustrated map. We spent hours watching birds in the Victorian walled garden, keeping quiet in the red squirrel play area, sniffing the candy floss scent of Katsura trees – and chasing the path of a gurgling stream through a wooded glen, rich with deer and the tallest fir trees in Britain.

And for lunch? Let the team pack you a bespoke picnic, eaten by the azalea pond with a background view of Glenapp Castle’s sandstone battlements. Or walk a little further, beyond the estate to the Stinchar Valley, and have them meet you half-way with hot soup and crusty bread… they won’t even judge you if you ask for a lift back (we did!).

Double rooms from £295, b&b (glenappcastle.com)

A fish dish at Glenapp Castle, Scotland

Cornwall

Staying at Tom’s Cottage in foodie Porthleven means you are both on one of the most beautiful parts of the South West Coast Path and in prime cream tea, pasty and fish and chips territory. Fortunately the harbor-side house is one of Beach Retreats’ hideaways, which means we could get some balance with the help of the company’s specially commissioned running routes: a sharp left out of town took us on a stunning seafront run (you could also walk it) down to Loe Bar and around the creek and forest.

The town’s culinary credentials means eating out is a highlight of staying here but if you’re too tired to stumble more than a few steps after a particularly taxing workout, Beach Retreats has also partnered with The Mindful Chef; guests get 25% off a healthy meal box, where local ingredients (including organic beef from Dartmoor and fish from St Ives) and a recipe can be delivered to the door for you to cook up at home.

Cottage sleeps 2, from £329 per week (beachretreats.co.uk)


Hampshire

Cycle Southern England has made planning a cycling break in the New Forest a breeze with its dedicated website listing route suggestions, and places to stay and eat along the way.

Booking through Cyclexperience, a specialist hire company, we linked together two of its suggested Sat Nav-aided routes. In this case two circular itineraries that began and ended at Brockenhurst train station and, over two days, led us through spectacular, off-the-beaten-track forest cycle paths (no chance of getting lost with that Sat Nav) via a glut of culinary pitstops.

Among the highlights were scoops of New Forest ginger ice cream, a lunch of meatballs made with wild boar mince at the genteel Master Builders hotel and supper at the Montagu Arms’ Michelin-starred Terrace restaurant. It’s unlikely that all our bike rides this year will end with plates of delicate golden scallops, and south coast turbot with wild mushrooms and creamy pearl barley. We’re starting as we mean to go on, though.

Bike, helmet & Sat Nav hire from £17 per day (newforestcyclehire.co.uk).


Devon

Babbacombe is the kind of place Agatha Christie might have sent a recuperating character to: there’s Devon sunshine, blue seas, charming Oddicombe beach made for long walks and even an art deco funicular railway linking the beach to Babbacombe’s pretty clifftop green.

The Cary Arms, right above the beach, dates back to the 1800s and feels custom-designed to embrace the view. Hotel bedrooms have a fresh, coastal feel, or rent one of the adjoining blue-and-white fisherman’s cottages with their log fires and fancy bathrooms. Back at the main building, get some fresh air on the outside terraces or make the most of the log fire inside at a seawards-pointing table.

For breakfast, try grilled kippers or the Devon full English, for lunch a succulent local white crab meat and lemon mayonnaise bloomer. Dinner centres around fish – pick one of the chef’s specials for the freshest catch, delicately poached John Dory with basil pesto and seasonal vegetables, perhaps, or Lyme Bay lobster. The wine list is extensive and each week the De Savary family (the inn’s owners) choose a different house white and red.

Double rooms at The Cary Arms start from £195, b&b (caryarms.co.uk)

Babbacombe

Snowdonia

Whether in bright sunshine or under dishwater skies, Wales’ west coastline always seems picture-perfect. For walkers and dog-owners there are miles of wind-whipped sand and dunes to wander and, directly behind the village, rolling green hills. Aberdovey, a picturesque estuary village, itself is a creative little place, with art galleries, cafés and a deli.

For a mixed generation get-together, book one of the handful of cottages at the Trefeddian Hotel. A classic family-friendly retreat (complete with games room and swimming pool) with a bit of old-fashioned grandeur, it’s in a quiet position just outside the village, separated from the sand dunes by a golf course.

Aberdovey has a fish restaurant, pubs and a decent fish and chip shop, but it’s worth booking a table at the Salt Marsh Kitchen in neighbouring Tywyn. This small bistro is particularly good on fish and local meat; check the specials board for adeptly cooked scallops, hake or bouillabaisse. If you really don’t want to step outside, hunker down at the Trefeddian with a Welsh afternoon tea: buttered bara brith, homemade Welsh cakes and tea or coffee.

Cottage rental at the Trefeddian Hotel starts from £285 per week for six (trefwales.com)

Snowdonia beach with cloudy moody sky

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Best ever healthy low fat recipes


Miso-glazed sea bass with ginger greens

Eating healthily doesn’t have to mean compromising on good food. This miso-glazed sea bass with ginger greens is quick and easy to make and comes in at under 300 calories


Lamb kleftiko tray bake

We’ve given classic lamb kleftiko a healthy makeover with this recipe for four. Use lighter feta cheese to keep the fat content low without compromising on flavour

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Sumac roast cauliflower and chicken salad with mint yogurt

Ready in under 30 minutes, this minty chicken and citrus roast cauliflower dish makes a speedy and super simple gluten free meal for two. Using fat-free yogurt keeps the fat and calorie content down

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Lentil ‘meatballs’ with fresh tomato sauce

Lentils are a great way to make a meal vegetarian. Swap these for your usual meatballs and your family will hardly notice the difference. Plus, they’re low in calories and fat and ready in just 40 minutes – perfect for during the week


Seared tuna with ponzu dressing and coriander rice noodles

Our recipe for seared tuna with ponzu dressing and coriander rice noodles is low calorie, low fat and ready in just 20 minutes

Seared tuna with ponzu dressing

Chicken dhansak

This is our healthy version of chicken dhansak. It’s easy to make, ready in under an hour, high in protein and under 500 calories. Put the takeaway menu down… this will taste better too!

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Kale waldorf salad with buttermilk dressing

This kale waldorf salad with buttermilk dressing is a clever update on a classic. With a good amount of crunch and tangy dressing, it makes a great side dish


Spicy prawn linguine

Healthy food doesn’t have to be boring. This spicy prawn linguine has a spicy chilli kick to keep it interesting. It’s so delicious you’ll forget that you’re being virtuous!


Tuscan pork steaks

Our recipe for Tuscan pork steaks ticks all the boxes. It’s low calorie, low fat, low sugar, low salt and high in satisfying protein

tuscan pork

Chicken saag

This chicken saag recipe proves that you can eat healthily without having to miss out on your favourite foods. Coming in at under 500 calories, this dish is on the table in under an hour


Tandoori lamb steaks with chilli-spiked slaw

This recipe for tandoori lamb steaks with chilli-spiked slaw is low fat, low sugar, low salt and high in protein to keep you feeling full but the calorie count low. Plus, it’s really easy to make and looks amazing on your plate!

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Ginger lemon sole with Chinese greens

Our ginger lemon sole with greens is a quick and easy Chinese recipe. In China, fish celebrates prosperity and greens symbolise longevity


Freekeh risotto with spring greens 

Freekeh is made from cracked, roasted green wheat. It works well for risotto as the grains keep their bite when cooked. The spring greens add goodness and keep this dish feeling fresh

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Thai burgers with salsa and sweet potato wedges

These healthy pork burgers are flavoured with Thai curry paste and coriander, then served up with a spicy chilli and mango salsa. Because there’s no bun, they’re lower in calories and fat. Why not serve homemade sweet potato wedges on the side?


Healthier lasagne

Our low calorie lasagne is a delicious dinner recipe for six people. Serve with a green salad for a healthy version of this classic Italian dish. Comfort without lots of unnecessary fat!


Fiery chickpea and harissa soup

A fast-to-make and easy spicy soup made with chickpeas. This vegetarian recipe gets its heat from harissa, the hot chilli pepper paste from Morocco. Ready quickly in just 20 minutes


Asian black rice salad

Black rice has a higher nutritional value than white rice, and the same amount of fibre as brown. Try it in our Asian prawn black rice salad


Whole sea bream cooked en papillote

Fish can be intimidating to cook but this recipe for whole sea bream cooked en papillote is really easy but looks impressive, and is low in fat to boot!


Moroccan veg and chickpea tagine

This recipe for Moroccan veg and chickpea tagine is vegan, low in fat and really easy to make. It makes enough for four, but the leftovers freeze well

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Szechuan prawn noodles

These hot and spicy Chinese-style noodles only take 15 minutes to whip up so they’d make a great quick and easy midweek meal if you’re stuck for time or craving some healthy fast food low in calories and fat

szechuan-prawn-noodles

Creamy lentils with spinach and thyme 

Perfectly suited to those who want a light but tasty 5:2 friendly meal, this healthy vegan lentil dish is high in protein but low in calories and fat

creamy lentils with spinach and thyme

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8 Kid-Friendly Slow-Cooker Meals

Slow-Cooker Pot RoastWhen it comes to family meals, I’m always looking for three things: wholesome ingredients, simple preparation and kid-friendly flavors. You really can’t beat the slow cooker for the second one; just throw your ingredients in, and that contraption politely cooks dinner for you all day long. These are the crowd-pleasing recipes I’ve made over and over again. Every one of them is full of fresh ingredients and kid-tested.

Slow-Cooker Pot Roast (pictured above)
This is the meal my mother-in-law makes every time we gather for a special family meal. Pot roast may be my father-in-law’s favorite, but this dish has other things going for it too: All the veggies cook right along with the meat (one pot!), and every bite is so tender that even our two-year-old can dig right in.

Not-Too-Spicy Chicken Tikka MasalaNot-Too-Spicy Chicken Tikka Masala
If your family isn’t quite ready for curry, this is the starter dish for you. In fact, my soon-to-be three-year-old once asked to have this for his birthday dinner. Now that he’s 4, he still asks for it — and the rest of the crew does too.

Slow-Cooker Chicken Noodle SoupSlow-Cooker Chicken Noodle Soup
If there’s one thing my kids have fallen in love with this winter, it’s a big bowl of hot chicken noodle soup — and this slow-cooker version makes it so easy. Tip: Dish up the soup in two quick steps. First, a ladle for the broth, chicken and veggies, and then use tongs to pluck out just the right amount of noodles for each bowl.

Easiest-Ever Pulled Pork
There is simply no easier way to feed a crowd than throwing a pork butt or shoulder into the slow cooker and letting it do its thing. While you’re putting the rest of your meal together, the pork quietly transforms into the moistest and most-flavorful meal you — and your guests — have had in ages.

Slow-Cooker Pork TacosPork Tacos with Mangoes
This idea’s a twofer: Either cook the pork according to this recipe, or use the leftovers from the pulled pork option above. (I love one meal that you can service twice, in two totally different ways.) Either way, pair the mouthwatering pork with tangy bites of mango in soft flour tortillas.

Shredded Chicken Tex-MexShredded Chicken Tex-Mex
There’s something about corn that kids love. I use it as a bridge food all the time — something familiar served along with something new — and the technique works well almost all the time. (I say almost because we’re dealing with four small kids at my house, so …) Serve this instant hit over rice or between tortillas, or use the leftovers again later in the week and do both.

Slow-Cooker Whole ChickenSlow-Cooker Whole Chicken
Did you know you could cook a whole chicken in the slow cooker? You can bet that the flavors of the spice rub work their way into the bird until the whole thing is soft and tender, practically falling off the bone.

Fully Loaded Baked Potato SoupFully Loaded Baked Potato Soup
There are only two things you need to know about this recipe: There’s no need to peel the potatoes, and my kids love, love, love it. Tip: Let your little ones sprinkle all the toppings on themselves.

Charity Curley Mathews is the creator of Foodlets.com, a site full of recipes and tips for teaching kids to love good, fresh and simple food.

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7 Ways to Rethink Meatless, Dairy-Free Meals

Vegan Quinoa Cranberry Stuffed Acorn Squash
When it comes to New Year’s food resolutions, it almost feels as if we are set up to struggle — especially since we start the year in the middle of a cold season when salads really don’t cut it and we connect comfort food to all things meaty, creamy and cheesy. But take heart, friends. Taking a cue from the Meatless Monday movement, which advocates cutting meat from your diet one day a week, and going one step further, we’ve got a few recipes to help rewire your cravings and change the way you think of meatless, dairy-free meals.

Vegan Quinoa Cranberry Stuffed Acorn Squash

The key to any stuffed dish is variety, and this stuffed squash recipe has that in spades. Enjoy layers of fluffy, crunchy and chewy textures — from a stuffing of quinoa, pistachios and dried cranberries — and rich flavor, from a mix of warming spices and a sweet maple syrup glaze.

Grilled Shiitake and Tofu Banh Mi

Grilled Shiitake and Tofu Banh Mi

Tofu is usually one of the first foods to spring to mind when it comes to meat-free eating. Though there’s nothing wrong with using tofu in a tried-and-true stir-fry, it’s worth dressing it up in a banh mi. Extra-firm tofu stands up well to a good grilling and transforms under a sweet and garlicky marinade.

Butternut Squash Tamales

Butternut Squash Tamales

There’s nothing to be missed with these hearty tamales on your plate. Butternut squash gives the masa dough a dose of earthy sweetness while the filling features chipotle chiles, Spanish olives with pimentos, golden raisins and capers.

Vegan Pulled Pork Sliders

Vegan “Pulled Pork” Sliders

Take the the classic vegetarian-friendly portobello burger to the next level by roasting the mushrooms in a pulled-pork-style marinade.

Vegan Saffron Risotto

Vegan Saffron Risotto

If you’re feeling fancy, try making this saffron risotto. The dish stays dairy-free thanks to nutritional yeast, which gives it a cheesy bite.

Lentil-Mushroom Meatballs

Lentil-Mushroom Meatballs

These meat-free meatballs are veritable flavor bombs, boosted by umami staples like soy sauce, tomato paste and nutritional yeast.

Chickpea Soup with Spiced Pita Chips

Chickpea Soup with Spiced Pita Chips

Take note from Food Network Kitchen’s culinary predictions for 2017 and make the humble chickpea your new pantry staple. When the cold weather leaves you hankering for soup, make this hot and sour treat to satisfy your cravings.

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One-on-One with Tregaye Fraser, a Co-Host of Kitchen Sink

Tregaye FraserIt was less than a year ago that we saw Tregaye Fraser standing in Food Star Kitchen, accepting the coveted title of the next Food Network Star. Now, she’s set to showcase her Star potential on Kitchen Sink, which kicks off its new season on Sunday, Jan. 15 at 11a|10c. Each week she’ll be joined by food-loving pals, including a few familiar faces from The Kitchen. You can count on over-the-top dishes that will turn your party menu into an unforgettable feast, plus no shortage of entertainment, as Tregaye told us when we caught up with her on set. Read on below to hear from Tregaye in an exclusive interview, and get her take on what she’s bringing to the party on Kitchen Sink.

What has the journey to this moment been like for you, from winning Food Network Star in August to finally hosting The Kitchen Sink?
Tregaye Fraser: I’m so happy to finally be here. I’m so happy to finally be doing the show. It’s been a great journey, doing my guest appearances and things like that, so the experience itself is amazing. … And so now it’s show time. The moment of truth, the moment I have been waiting for. And I plan on making sure we get season after season. We’re going to have a good time on this show.

How are you approaching Kitchen Sink? What can we expect?
TF: I’m approaching Kitchen Sink the way I approach everything else: food fusion with a twist. I basically take everyday foods and make them in an unconventional way. So everything we do on Kitchen Sink is my completely style of cooking. So this is perfect for me. It’s the perfect space because we do mash-ups. We take something that you know and change it into something you may not know.

When it comes to making a successful mash-up, are there rules in terms of fusing flavors?
TF: You know, I am a firm believer that there aren’t many rules in the kitchen. You pretty much do what you feel, and whatever tastes good to you, you do it, because that’s how you create. Now, I could sit here and say, “Stay in the flavor profile of what it is you know.” So if you’re making cheeseburger nachos, maybe use some kind of crispy bread and burger and lettuce and cheese. Or I could say, “Just do whatever the hell you want.” Take those nachos, put some shrimp on top, put some cheese on top and go for what you know. You really just want to stick with mild flavors and kind of graduate. I think you should gradually go into things. A lot of times when I am creating a mash-up, I’ll start off with the base of what I think, and then I might add a little something extra to it. And that may be amazing. And then I might add something else to it, and then that’s like, “OK, I just took it to another level.” So it’s really just experimenting and trial and error.

In working with an ensemble on Kitchen Sink, what do want your voice to bring to the party?
TF: I’m going to bring the fun. I’m definitely going to bring the swag. I’m definitely going to create some amazing dishes that are going to blow your mind. And I just want to keep it cute. I want to have fun, I want to have a good time, and I want people to be at home and [having] a good time. I want them to look at me and say, “Man, Tregaye has fun in the kitchen, and I want to do that. I don’t even want to go out to eat anymore because I want to sit in my kitchen and watch Tregaye and the crew on Kitchen Sink do their thing.” That’s what I want.

When you’re cooking, how do you approach a recipe?
TF: I actually — secretly — I don’t even really work off recipes. I hate even writing them. I really like to taste as I go. … Sometimes the most-beautiful thing is a mistake when you are cooking. That’s kind of how I go.

What do you consider to be your signature dish?
TF: I don’t like that question. That’s a crazy question. I don’t have a signature dish. I say this time and time again: Food is like your kids. You can’t pick a favorite. And I’m so finicky. One day I like Mediterranean, one day I love nachos. I’m going to love wings until the day I die. … I’m always in a mood for something different, and I go through these phases, so it depends on my mood.

Food hacks are so popular these days. Do you find yourself gravitating to one in particular?
TF: You can always go to the trusty beating the meat with the frying pan. … That’s my thing; that’s like my go-to right there. I do a lot of kitchen hacks. I think we do kitchen hacks as chefs and we don’t even realize we’re doing them. Especially when you misplace something — everything becomes a kitchen hack. You just wing it. Use a bowl to crush cereal. Whatever.

What store-bought item do you condone people use when it comes to taking shortcut in the kitchens?
TF: I love using frozen fruit for smoothies. That’s the best, even better than fresh fruit to me. Pizza doughs — I love that, because every kid loves pizza, and nobody wants to sit there and wait for the yeast to rise, and do this and do that. You can go right in the store and get a pizza dough. I think that’s number one, because you can mix and match and make calzones and pizza burgers and all kinds of things because you have that dough that’s already made in the store.

Is there one cooking myth or rule you think it’s time we disprove once and for all?
TF: That seafood and cheese do not go together. … That’s the great debate. Of course, there are a lot of seafood mac and cheeses and things like that out there, but really people are starting to get more comfortable with it. But for years people [would say], “Seafood and cheese, that doesn’t go.” I love it. I love it. Put cheese all on my fish.

What one food trend are you ready to say goodbye to?
TF: The chicken and waffle. I’m about over the chicken and waffle, honestly. … You can make waffles a thousand ways, and it’s cute, but I am so done with the chicken and waffle.

Tune in to Kitchen Sink on Sunday, Jan. 15 at 11a|10c.

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