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.

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