Monday, March 20

Date, orange and almond salad

So I have absolutely lost the plot on whether fruit is good.

Making the case for the virtue of fruit is the fact it’s fresh food, and fresh food always trumps vacuum packed and anything that’s been marinated in xantham gum. It’s an official part of the 5 a day after all. ‘An apple a day’ and various nursery rhymes riffing on plums make fruit part of the heritage of our language as well as our food history. I am sure that carries weight when we’re mid cross examination and an orange segment sits mournfully in the dock.

But against fruit and it’s a biggie this.. . Is fruit just basically DRESSED UP SUGAR, and we all know sugar is EVIL. It’s practically a swear word now. God forbid if you eat a biscuit sweetened by sugar and not say...dates. In fact let’s rename sugar, much as actors refer to ‘the scottish play’, us eaters may now only refer to the S word, as ‘the sweet stuff’. I was going to say ‘white stuff’, but is that some kind of surf label? I obviously wouldn’t know, having only done ‘bodyboarding’ once on holiday in 1990.

So who knows if a salad that contains fruit may as well be a salad that contains a packet of Love Hearts. As I say I am confused. MEGA confused. No idea who to trust or where to turn on this? The news opines for both sides so regularly I am left in a fug. And isn’t all news fake these days anyway? How to spot fake news is apparently going to appear on the curriculum, I hope kids are also learning some hardcore nutrition theory, they’re sure going to need it as they sift through the fake news in their struggle to reach an informed view on whether fruit is nectar for the soul or just The Sweet Stuff.

So I am going to go with Jack Horner. Stick with fruit as a good thing and hope that Rocket  sprinkled with a packet of (fruit flavoured) Skittles wouldn’t have offered a like for like nutritional alternative for this rather tasty salad.

Date, orange and almond salad

Serves 2

Packet of rocket
Handful of almonds
1 orange cut into chunks
10 or so date chopped into quarters

I am not sure I can really provide a recipe. I think that would be overstating it, just throw together and dress to your taste (I recommend some kind of oil/balsamic combo, or you could try a packet of Tangfastics)

Monday, March 13

Chicken and apricot burgers

I am doing my best Mad Men on these beauties because though I’ve rather grandly called them burgers, in my heart I am thinking patties. Bit Fanny Craddock that. Bit Flan and Prawn Cocktail. I don’t think that quite cuts it in this era of Deliciously Ella and medjool dates. The latter of which must surely been a major player in the recent rise in household food expenditure. A Christmas food we now devour on a weekly basis. Prosecco anyone?

Anyway, I am following the lead of successful people, turning a bit braggadocio. This is my little nod to the understanding it’s 70% blag and 20% substance (and 10% luck?) when the success alchemy is being conjured. Its the small things right, like the fact it is no longer satisfactory for strawberries to appear without being labelled as SUPERSWEET, or inexplicably my orange squash has been beefed up to DOUBLE STRENGTH.

A recent study of conversational English, a chart rundown of the movers and shakers when it comes to the vernacular shows my compatriots have already cottoned on to a rather punchier prose. Out goes ‘mucking’ (no time to muck about when your phone is blinking, enticing with every flash) and in comes ‘massively’.

I can do this. I can massively do this. Like 1000%. I can embrace my inner American, quash my British desire to downplay and shout from the sidewalks that these BURGERS ARE AWESOME.*

*Awesome, a word on the up according to The University of Lancaster and Cambridge University Press.

Chicken Burgers
Serves 4
2 large chicken breasts
100g oats
10 dried apricots chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
100g parmesan or similar
Herbs – Whatever you fancy/ have. I used thyme.
Flour for dusting

1. Place the chicken, apricots and oats into a food processor. Pulse until minced and combined.
2. Either stir in the cheese, garlic and herbs or add into the food processor and pulse again. Whatever is easier.
3. Place a small pile of plain flour on one plate and set a clean plate next to it. Shape the mixture into small patties (or burgers!) and coat in flour and place on the clean plate.
4. It is best if possible to make a little ahead of time and leave to chill in the fridge as the burgers will hold their shape better.
5. When ready cook in the oven at 180 for approx 25 minutes (burger thickness dependent)). You may want to spray a little olive oil on the burgers before cooking.
6. I served with pitta, mange tout and chutney.

Monday, October 3

Rice with prawns and rocket

Have you noticed how the word ‘authentic’ has become one of the buzzwords of 2016? In fact, how ‘authentic’ (or maybe that should be ‘authenticism’) has become a movement in itself. The backlash against the polished, elite establishment, stuffed with vested interests, opaque protocol and closed doors has been seized upon by a new crowd. The New Authentics. But this is 2016, years of spin are now in our collective psyche. Perhaps New Authenticism is the ultimate PR coup?

We all want to be part of The Authentic Crowd don’t we? Y’know projecting our lives as just a bit starrier than they actually are whilst still appearing totally real. It’s the positive opposite of that feeling you get when you tell a lie, but you base it one grain of truth and therefore justify it as Not So Bad. Start from a position of truth, add some fakery and hey presto: we’re in with the In Crowd. 

 Who doesn’t curate their Facebook profile? Hazy smiley snaps, witty asides, all crafted to appear o so casual, oh so authentic. Like a living CV for a comms agency. 

Batiste, the life changing dry shampoo isn’t the wonder product of the decade for nothing, who would turn down the opportunity to FAKE washing their hair. And choose the odour to leave your hair tided over with. Tropical please. 

In our house, we’ve notched up the fakeometer to a new level: we’ve done away with REAL grass and replaced it with the greengrocers stuff. Honestly.

And finally, the food. This preamble serves a (loose) purpose you know, so in keeping with our theme I bring to you the latest product to enter the mainstream. Microwave rice. A cheats way to the perfect way. New Authentic Rice.

Rice with prawns and rocket

Serves 2

1 packet of microwave wholegrain rice
Large handful of rocket
Bunch of spring onions
Zest and juice of one lemon
Packet of jumbo prawns
Sprinkling of pumpkin seeds
Whatever herbs you fancy, basil, parsley etc

1. Heat some olive oil in a large frying or saute pan, and add the chopped spring onions. Cook low until softened and sweetened, approx 10 mins.
2. Whilst the onion are cooking blast the rice as per the packet in the microwave, usually around 2 minutes.
3. Once onions are cooked, stir through the rice and add the punch of rocket. Keep the heat fairly low and wilt the rocket. If you have  lid the rocket will wilt quickly.
4. Add the prawns , lemon Zest and juice, pumpkin seeds and any herbs you wish. Mix together and heat for further few minutes until everything is warmed, serve immediately.

Tuesday, September 20

Busyness pasta

I like to have a  cup of coffee within arms reach. I’ve discovered it’s all too easy to start chaining the black stuff,  especially when you’re eternally deprived of the optimum amount of sleep. No doubt my caffeine habit is doubling the negative effects of said lack of sleep; decision making faltering, creativity stifled and judgment wobbly, but instead simply disguising it with a caffeine zip at regular intervals throughout the day.

Might I recommend a hugely interesting series on Radio 4, Oliver Burkeman on Busyness. Socking me with home truths blow after blow.  The kudos of ‘busyness’, the default response in polite conversation (‘how are you?’ ‘busy, busy’ has replaced ‘fine thanks’ or the more melancholy ‘not too bad’). The creep of Email and social media bustling out the quieter pasttimes of reading or even watching one tv programme without furtively glancing at a second screen every few minutes, (by the way I am fully aware of the irony when I tag this post on Facebook). So we are busy, our bandwidth is maxed, we are worthy with frenetic pace. And this brings me back to coffee.

I’ve embraced with Aeropress. Who’s got time for coffee to brew anymore? I am serving my Bodum it’s redundancy papers. It’s seems so noughties, so pre-financial crash, and right now in Austerity Britain where free time is as frowned upon as public spending let’s all do our bit and make our coffee the speedy kind.

So this food is quick. Pasta  (what else?), together with veg, greens and some protein. Not quite ‘eat the rainbow’ but more the British weather version.

Busyness Pasta
Serves 4ish
300g wholewheat pasta
6 chipolatas
1 large onion
1 head of broccoli
1 clove of garlic
1 red pepper
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tsp crushed fennel seeds

1. Bring to the boil a large pan of boiling water
2. Whilst your water is warming prepare and start cooking your vegetables: slice the onion, chop the garlic,  cut the broccoli into smallish florets  (keep as much of the stalks as you like,  just slice finely), and cut the pepper into thin strips. Lastly chop the chipolatas into 2cm chunks.
3. In a saute pan or deep frying pan lightly brown the sausages and let the fat render. Hopefully there will be enough fat for you to fairly quickly add the onion and fennel seeds. If the pan feels a little dry add a dash of oil. Cook both on a low/ medium heat for 5 minutes.
4. At this point start cooking your pasta (wholewheat will take 12ish minutes) and as simultaneous as is possible add the pepper, broccoli and garlic  to the onion and sausage  and cook high to soften everything nicely.
5. With a couple of pasta minutes to go add the tinned tomatoes and bring to the boil for a couple of minutes. Once the pasta is cooked, drain,  and stir through the sauce.

Thursday, September 15

Messy Pasta

Messy pasta.

Some people say dogs look like their owners. May I suggest that dinners bear some reflection of their creator too? I am not suggesting I look like a piece of fusilli or even my non-holidayed skin the complexion of this dinner’s salmon but the narrative of the plate: mess, does, I am not ashamed to admit rather reflect the conditions in which it was made.

I am sometimes asked how I ‘cope’ with three children under five. I think ‘muddle’ is perhaps the operative word rather than ‘cope’. As I survey my scene I am surrounded by tripping hazards, aka toys, washing (by the way so few clothes actually need ironing. Try it, you may be converted to The Messy Side), books, and even a bottle of suncream (a conflict of optimism vs paranoia). So the answer is I mess my way through. And that brings us neatly onto dinner. Who needs two pans to wash up when you can have one? Granted the result is not beautiful, but it is quick, filling and can be made PDQ. Who needs The Third Way when you can have The Messy Way (trademark pending)?

Messy pasta

300g pasta (I used wholemeal which takes around 12 minutes to cook.)
2 salmon fillets
Juice of one lemon
Tsp dill (I used dried , but obviously fresh would be extra nice)
1 head of broccoli
2 cloves of garlic
1 saucepan

1. Bring to the boil a large pan of water
2. Whilst water is heating cut the broccoli into florets. Feel free to use as much of the stalks as you wish, just slice finely.
3. Take the skin off the salmon if it has any and cut into chunks (not too small or it will flake away)
4. Once water has boiled add the pasta, garlic and broccoli.
5. When pasta has around 5 minutes remaining add the chunks of salmon.
6. Drain pasta at 12 minutes and stir through lemon juice and dill. You may want to loosen up with some pasta water or a little olive oil. You will find the broccoli has over cooked and has become nice and mushy, and like magic it makes its own sauce.

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.