Thursday, June 9

Pesto yoghurt chicken salad

I can hear the sound of salad bags popping. That’s right, summer is here. BST may have arrived in March, but the mercury only crept north of twenty degrees as the summer solstice fast approaches.

That said it’s here now, and it’s most definitely sun cream season.  And as our wardrobe changes (pass the Johnsons Holiday Skin PDQ) so too do our eating habits. And ‘habit’ in my own case is the operative word. It is no exaggeration to say I have eaten (slurped ?) soup every day, without fail, since last August Bank Holiday.  But lentil soup and crusty bread seems as appropriate in June as eating a Calyppo for pudding on Christmas Day (though if I offered a Calyppo to my sons when there was snow on the ground it would be leapt upon)

So as we shift our behaviour to match the season what do we reach for as a summer default?  And of course, it’s salad, and with it the chance to atone for the long cold months of bread, roast potatoes and hot chocolate.

I say ‘salad’, but I do have a fairly liberal view of word (afterall isn’t language ever evolving?!), as in, it has raw ingredients, so here is my first shot of food for the warmer months:

Chicken with pesto and yoghurt

Serves 4
3 chicken breasts
1 tsp  pesto
150ml Greek yoghurt
Juice of one lemon
150g cherry tomatoes
Quarter of one cucumber
1 avocado
Sprinkling of pine nuts
200g brown rice

1. Preheat the oven to 180
2. Begin by cutting the chicken breasts into thinnish strips (2 cm). Once this is done make the marinade by combining yoghurt,  pesto and lemon juice. Coat the chicken and leave to marinade for as long as you can. When you’re ready, bake for 25 minutes.
3. Meanwhile cook the rice; brown rice will also take 25 minutes.
4. Chop the tomatoes, cucumber  and avocado.
5. Once the rice is cooked, serve onto plates and top with chopped vegetables, followed by the chicken. There will be some runny sauce left in your baking dish which can be spooned over.  And finally sprinkle with pine nuts .

Wednesday, July 1

Summer smoothie

With Glastonbury just past and Wimbledon about to unfold in the fortnight to come I offer to you a culinary accompaniment to these two great British institutions.
I reminisce when I watch Glastonbury (on TV I should add), imagining taking our children and their rosy happy faces high on fresh air, sitting round the campfire and flopping tired from a day of taking the cultural delights of the green fields. But I know this is simply an illusion, the rosy faces would be having sun cream slapped on every couple of hours in a balancing act of simultaneously averting both skin cancer and rickets. The campfire would be a hazard of blood pressure raising proportions and the Glastonbury culture, I am just not sure a toddler and a preschooler would dig an Anglo Saxon folk band armed with a lute and a rams horn.

And what of Wimbledon, the head swivelling, Pimms quaffing, grunt fest? Why strawberries of course!

the seasonal strawberry has become synonymous with Wimbledon so only right to include it in this summertime smoothie.

Rhubarb and strawberry smoothie

Makes about 1 1/2 pints

3 chunky sticks of rhubarb
100ml water
200g strawberries
100ml apple or orange juice
Honey to taste 

1. Chop your rhubarb into thickish chunks (2cm or thereabouts). Place in a saucepan with the water and cook down to a gooey mush. Keep the lid on the pan, this will take around 10 minutes. Leave to cool.
2. Once cool, combine the rhubarb, strawberries and juice. Blend and add honey to sweeten to your own taste.

Tuesday, March 3

Chicken satay stir fry

In my effort to eliminate the foods that I know I shouldn't eat, and in some cases I am not sure why, I decided to make my own peanut butter. 

I toasted my peanuts. I added my flavourless oil. I pulsed my blender for the eons demanded by the recipe. I cracked the plastic bowl (such was the ferocity of hundreds of bullet-like peanuts hurtling at break-neck speed around a plastic drum) and probably diminished my own hearing by around 1% during the course of this peanut inspired din. 

But there it was, home crafted peanut butter. And how delighted I was to finally be able to throw out the sugar laden, palm oil saturated lurid plastic pots which I reach for on a daily basis.

My triumph was short lived. My own peanut butter was a pale gold. Not the creosote shade of the
mass produced gloop. My son, however, had not seen the light (of the peanut butter colour scale) he preferred, as he termed it, 'the orangey one'. 'Preferred' perhaps does not do justice to the scale of his reaction. Imagine you had been told you were biting into an apple, and it was a lemon.

We went back to sun-pat the next morning.

So this recipe satisfied both my craving for the citrus tang of South East Asia and my sons' love of peanut butter, just make sure it's orangey.

Chicken Satay Stir Fry
 Serves 4

2 Chicken thighs

1 bunch spring onions
100g fine green beans
Any left over veg that you fancy: carrots, broccoli, pak choi (I used carrots)
1 mango
small bunch coriander
1 lime juiced

225g soba noodles
Toasted sesame oil

For the marinade
1 lime, zest and juice
2 tbsp peanut butter
3 tsp soy sauce
chilli (optional)
1 clove garlic (chopped)

1. Make the marinade (as far ahead as you can, hours, minutes...whatever you can manage). Simply combine all the ingredients and mix until you have a thin-ish smooth paste. Chop the chicken and leave in the marinade.
2. As always the magic of the stir fry is in the prep, so chop all your vegetables in readiness, boil your water and get your soba noodles cooking. They will need a little longer than standard egg noodles. (7 or 8 minutes)
3. Heat your oil to smoking hot in the largest pan you have. Add the chicken and cook quickly. Once sealed and cooking, add the spring onion, beans and your miscelleanous vegetables. Keep it moving and cooking until the chicken is cooked through. The marinade should provide a light sauce to coat your veg as well as flavouring the chicken.
4. Once cooked, add the mango, and drained soba noodles.
5. Serve with lime juice and coriander.

Monday, February 23

Baked and Spiced Bananas

Baked bananas with a spiced sauce

You may wonder what my inspiration could be when I present a recipe as unashamedly retro as Baked Bananas. Have I been watching Abigail's Party this weekend, or perhaps it was Margot and Jerry Leadbetter that were my culinary pair of muses?

In actual fact I've been chaining episodes of  House of Cards, but when you see a slightly kitsch, lo-fi, pud such as this your mind doesn't leap to Francis and Clare Underwood. Which I must say comes as something of a relief to me. I am reassured to know that two pyschopathic narcissists have not seeped into my pudding related sub-conscious. When I start offering a narrative piece to camera over the hob you'll know I've watched an episode too far.

Baked and Spiced Bananas

Serve 2

2 Bananas
Juice of 1 lime
2 tsp dark brown sugar
a pinch of All Spice

1. Preheat the oven to 180
2. Butter an earthenware dish. Slice the bananas in half lenth ways and place in the dish.
3. Squeeze over the lime juice.
4. Mix the sugar and allspice, and scatter over the the bananas.
5. Cook for around 10-15 minutes, until the sugar has caramelised and turned into a rather intriging sweet, sour and spiced sauce.

Baked bananas with a spiced sauce

Wednesday, February 11

Avocado chocolate mousse

chocolate avocado mousse

This recipe is fantastic in many ways, but I don't want to be called to Trading Standards on a chocolate related charge. I don't think, if I am totally honest, that it will hit the spot of a full-on all-consuming tidal wave of a chocolate craving. The kind where you're fully prepared to drive to a garage in your pyjamas.


It will satisfy the urge for something sweet, it will provide you with one of your five a day (a boon in itself I am sure you will agree), and it will certainly provide a topic of conversation around the dinner table.

'Bet you can't guess what's in this'

Chocolate Avocado Mousse
Serves 2

2 very very ripe avocados
5 tbsp honey
4 tbsp cocoa
Juice of 1 lime

(I have made this with avocados which were not ripe enough and I added dates to increase the sweetness)

There's very little method to this mousse. Simply chuck all the ingredients in your blender and blitz away to silky smoothness. Serve into bowls and chill for at least 30 mins.

chocolate avocado mousse

Monday, February 2

Kale pesto and spaghetti

kale and brazil nut pesto

I have it on great authority that kale is currently being advertised at Westminster tube station. Yes, that is kale of curly variety, a member of the great dynasty The Brassicas. Some might liken The Brassicas to The Firm, so meteoric has been the rise of broccoli/kale/cauliflower trio in recent months. Currently seen muscling its way to the front of cookery books/magazines/shows everywhere. But I prefer to think Von Trapp when I read of the Brassica family: all singing all dancing cauliflower, oh so trendy kale, ever popular broccoli, of course just a few of my favourite things.

So answers on a postcard as to why kale is being advertised to our esteemed (ahem) MPs and their SPADs, do they need the health kick more than the rest of us or perhaps there really are some Capone credentials in the Brassica clan?

Kale pesto and spaghetti 

Serves 4
Half a packet of kale
100g Brazil nuts
Olive oil
50g Parmesan
Juice of 1 lemon

400g wholewheat spaghetti

1. Trim the kale from its's toughest stalks. And blanche the remaining leaves and thin stalks in boiling water for around 4 minutes.
2. Once drained place the kale in a food processor, and add the parmesan, a generous few glugs of olive oil, brazil nuts and lemon juice and season well with salt and pepper. Blitz for a few minutes until you have a paste. If the mixture is too stiff simly add a little more oil.
3. Cook the spaghetti according to the packet and stir through the pesto.

kale and brazil nut pesto with spaghetti

Wednesday, January 21

Cauliflower 'rice'

I reckon this is perfect January fodder.
The coldest month offers something of a quandry: the soul yearning for comfort food, warming and hearty (shepherds pie, spag bol, curry), the body yearning for little more than a lettuce leaf after an over-indulged December.
Whether you're mid-way through a 'dry January' or slogging onwards with your detox diet I offer you this, a way to cheat the system. Have your curry and eat it (maybe with yoghurt instead of cream?)  Swap your rice for cauliflower (YES REALLY) and ta da, you're still on track...
(ps I drunk a glass of wine whilst writing this)

Cauliflower pilau 'rice'
Serves 2

1 small cauliflower
1 tsp turmeric
5 cardamom pods
pinch cumin
small handful of sultanas
2 tbsp toasted coconut flakes
25g flaked almonds
Olive oil

1. Start by grating the cauliflower on the course side of a cheese grater
2. Deseed the cardamom pods and crush in a pestle and mortar. Dry roast the spices for a few minutes until they start to smell toasty (but not burnt)
3. Add a tbsp of olive oil to the hot spices pan, stir, and straight away add the cauliflower.
4. Lightly saute for a few minutes (to warm through and combine the spices, but not cook).
5. Finally stir through the almonds, sultanas and coconut flakes.
And of course serve with curry.

cauliflower rice