One of my biggest challenges is finding things to cook on those days where I’m just rushed off my feet. Often, especially if I’m working on something I’m really enjoying, the boys or Mr E will walk through the door and I’ll realise that I haven’t even had any lunch, let alone worked out what’s for tea. I think it’s really important to have a stock of a few store cupboard essentials that will enable you to quickly whip up a couple of simple, nutritious meals without thinking too hard about it. When Princes sent me the video (see below) for the Moroccan mackerel rice, I couldn’t wait to give it a go – it literally is ready in minutes, and it’s delicious too. I’ve found myself making it quite often for a quick and easy lunch, and we’ve experimented with several of the varieties (my favourite is still the mackerel fillets in a Moroccan style sauce with apricot purée though). The mackerel is skinless and boneless and available in some delicious sauces, so all you have to do is find some quick carbs and veggies to go with it, et voila. Princes also challenged me to come up with my own quick and easy dish using Princes Mackerel. This spiced vegetable, coconut and mackerel stew is warm and comforting and as it’s all made in one saucepan there’s minimal washing up too. I often make this when I’ve got leftover veggies to use up: it’s great with potato, broccoli and carrots too.
I never know how I feel about recipe boxes. I’ve had some good, and I’ve had some very, very bad (think teeny portions and an absolute ton of unnecessary packaging to get rid of). Recently Waitrose have joined the (dinner) party by launching their own recipe box delivery service. Cook Well from Waitrose delivers fresh, portioned ingredients straight to the door. All the meals are approved by a Waitrose nutritionist and most have at least two of your five fruit and veg a day. There’s quite a decent range of dishes, including a range of vegetarian and pescatarian recipes as well as meat options. Waitrose very kindly asked me if I’d like to give Cook Well a go, so I chose three dishes to try out. Here’s how I got on.
Last week I was in San Diego (I know! I’ve got loads to tell you about it – coming very soon), and one of the meals we all completely loved was a visit to Galaxy Taco in La Jolla. San Diego is really close to the border with the Baja Californian Peninsula, so it makes sense that a lot of the cuisine has a Mexican influence. I loved my beef taco but had massive food envy for the crispy fish tacos that a couple of the others had ordered. The fish has a Baja spiced crispy coating and is served on soft tacos with a zingy tomato salsa laced with green chilli and heavenly fresh guacamole. I decided to recreate the dish for the boys when I got home and this is the result – I’m sure it’s not 100% authentic – especially the spicing, but it tastes pretty good! If you read my last post, you’ll know that Crisp ‘n Dry are supporting RNLI’s Fish Supper fundraising event this weekend and I thought that a whole bunch of these yummy Baja fish tacos with fresh tomato salsa and guacamole on the side would be perfect if you’re joining in (more of that on my creamy fish pie recipe here).
Many of you will know that Mr E is a helicopter pilot. For many years, he flew helicopters over the North Sea, based in Aberdeen and because of that, we’re always huge supporters of the RNLI whose crews work tirelessly to rescue people and save so many lives (including those of 12 oil workers and two pilots who ditched in their helicopter about 30 miles off the Aberdeen coast in 2012). Did you know that 2016 RNLI lifeboats rescued 8,643 people? And they do all that good work with the majority of funding coming just from voluntary contributions. When Crisp ‘n Dry contacted me to tell me that they’re supporting RNLI’s Fish Supper campaign, I was happy to join in and I’ve got two delicious recipes for you if you want to host your own fish supper, including this yummy, creamy fish pie with sweet potato mash, plus a delicious crispy Baja fish taco recipe coming on Saturday.
I’m so ready for Easter! The clocks have gone back and there are new shoots and beautiful trees full of blossom everywhere you look (and obviously there’s the whole chocolate egg thing to consider). There’s something about this time of year that just brings the kid out in all of us, isn’t there? Daffodils, the smell of the mown grass, Easter egg hunts and hot cross buns – it’s one of my favourite times of year and reminds me so much of my childhood. This Easter, Sainsbury’s is celebrating never growing up, so it’s a happy coincidence that one of my favourite sharing dishes is a twist on another childhood favourite: fish fingers, chips and peas. These delicious salmon fish fingers are a great recipe for feeding a crowd, as you can just double, or even triple the recipe, and it’s also a really great way to encourage the kids to eat a bit more fish too. I’ve swapped the usual potatoes for sweet potatoes, and created a delicious, fresh mint, pea and yoghurt dip for dunking too.
This last week before we head off on our long-awaited cruise has been a bit strange. We’ve barely seen the boys as they’ve been spending time making the most of their last few days of freedom before education beckons again, and I feel a bit like I’m in limbo: like I know that this really is the last of our English summer and that when I come home it will properly be autumn. Already, as we’re walking the dog, the blackberries are ripe and ready to pick, and even on a really hot day, there’s that little nip in the air when the sun goes in. I’m still loving quick, healthy eating and we’ve been packing away easy summer dinners of warm salads, fish and stir fries. Read more
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s SO much easier to eat healthily in the summer isn’t it? We’re such lazy eaters and it really suits us – I’ll bake a load of chicken breasts and we’ll have them hot with the yummy easy rice dish above (you might have seen it if you follow me on Instagram), and when the boys come in they just slice them and stuff them into baguettes with a load of salad. Easy peasy. Here, then, for your viewing pleasure is the latest instalment of ‘this week, I have been mostly eating…’
This salad came about a little by accident, which, of course, is how all the best things happen. The very lovely people at John Ross Jr sent me some of their rather delicious smoked salmon (it’s traditionally smoked in red brick kilns) and it was in the fridge when I happened to be making a salad and rootling about for something yummy to put in it. I was going to add a poached egg, but then on a whim decided to warm the salmon through and – wow – that little bit of warmth brings out all the glorious, salty, smoky sweetness of the salmon. Do give this a go, it’s rather good (even though I say so myself).
Turkey and all the trimmings may be the traditional Christmas dinner of choice for many, but if you fancy doing things a little differently this year, why not serve salmon instead?
Here’s a little food inspiration from John Ross Jr to tempt your taste buds:
So following on from my first post about the Sunday Times Ultimate Cookbook, the Sunday Lunch edition, this weekend it’s all about fast, fabulous Quick Eats. Once again, I got a little sneaky peak of the recipes and there are some absolute crackers in there. Just because you’re time pressed or busy, it doesn’t mean that you can’t eat well. I was delighted to see Nigella’s wonderful lemon linguine featuring – it’s a family favourite here, often served simply with some peppery watercress salad for a satisfyingly quick supper. We keep grated parmesan in the freezer, which is really convenient and means that we avoid that awful moment when you reach for the block of cheese in the fridge and discover it’s gone a pretty shade of blue.
Yotam Ottolenghi has a delicious Jerusalem artichoke soup – a great choice for a quick and easy meal, this soup contains egg and yoghurt and I’m dying to give it a go. Eventually though, as we love a bit of spice, we decided to cook Ken Hom’s Sichuan prawns in chilli sauce. I couldn’t find any chilli bean sauce locally, so used our favourite spicy chilli sauce. It’s such an easy recipe – the hardest thing is chopping up a couple of cloves of garlic. The sauce is rich, spicy and zingy. I served ours simply with some buttered noodles and fresh green salad. Delicious, healthy, fresh and simple. Who needs ready meals?
Get your copy of The Sunday Times Ultimate Cookbook: Quick Eats this weekend, the second in a four-part series. Featuring a selection of the finest recipes of the celebrity chef era, The Ultimate Cookbook is part of The Incredible Edibles Food Series dedicated to food and dining.
Upcoming editions in the series are Brunch & Baking on Sunday December 1 and Dinner Party on Sunday December 8.
Visit thesundaytimes.co.uk to subscribe and to find out more details about exclusive Times+ chef events, hosted at some of the country’s best restaurants.
One of my favourite moments aboard the Disney Magic was when I had the amazing opportunity for a one to one masterclass with the Executive Chef of the fine dining restaurant, Palo. Here I am (below, with lovely Jamie the cameraman – he works on the X Factor you know) doing my piece to camera VERY BADLY.
So next up on my easy tapas menu from the Disreputable One’s birthday tapas feast were these beautiful pink spicy garlic prawns:
Spicy garlic prawns
1 kg prawns (we bought shell-on and peeled them beforehand – never again!)
Large glug of olive oil
3 or 4 cloves garlic, finely grated or crushed
2 red chillies, chopped and deseeded
2 tbsp sweet paprika
If you bought shell-on prawns, it’s a really nice touch to leave the tail on – it just makes it slightly easier to pick them up. Make sure you provide a finger bowl or two with some lemon slices and plenty of towels – eating these is a messy job! I also left a couple whole just for decoration.
Heat the oil in a large, heavy based pan and add the garlic, chillies and paprika. Fry gently for a couple of minutes (don’t let the garlic burn), then add in the prawns. Put the heat up a bit and fry just until the prawns turn pink. Serve immediately with loads of bread for dunking as the sauce is AMAZING.
So it was the Disreputable One’s birthday on Saturday. As he loves a bit of tapas, I thought I’d cook him a tapas feast fit for a birthday boy. The menu looked like this:
Olives and spicy nibbles to start (we used these from Olives et Al – very yummy they are too)
baked cod with garlic and oregano
Spicy garlic prawns (click for recipe)
Smoky bacon meatballs (Albóndigas) in tomato and pepper sauce
Selection of cheese including The Birthday Cheese
Baked cod with garlic and oregano
When we were in the Canary Islands last year, we ate a beautiful baked hake dish with garlic and oregano. Sadly there was no hake at the market this Saturday, but I was determined to cook this dish for my Dad so we picked up some nice, chunky cod, which works equally as well. Here’s my approximation of the dish. Use a decent make of dried herb – you don’t want a dry, dusty one. I like dried oregano from Schwartz, but if you’re using fresh, double up and use 2 tsp.
1 kg fresh cod fillets
1 clove garlic
1 tsp oregano
Olive oil (preferably Spanish!)
Preheat the oven to 190/gas 5.
Pop the cod fillets into a large ovenproof dish. Bash the garlic with a pestle and mortar, add the oregano, then slowly glug in about 50ml olive oil.
Pour the mixture over the cod, then bake, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or until the fish flakes easily.
I’ll publish all the rest of the recipes for you, but until then, here’s the Birthday Boy, blowing out his cheesy birthday candle. Happy birthday Dad!
Asda’s Fishmonger, Darren Wrend has created some recipes to give you a bit of inspiration for how to cook a whole salmon. They asked me if I’d like to have a go and have kindly allowed me to publish their recipes (and turned a blind eye while I fiddled with them too, bless ’em):
Salmon en croute filled with parsley, lemon and lemon and pepper butter
Our verdict: delicious, easy to do and really attractive to look at – would make a perfect dinner party dish. The boys absolutely loved this and have begged me to make it again – the combination of crisp, flaky pastry and soft lemony salmon is a winner. I did think the oven temperature was slightly too hot though (see note below):
Recipe will serve 6 people
- 2 skinless salmon fillets (fillets taken from a whole salmon)
- Bunch of flat leaf parsley
- 1 lemon
- 3 lemon and pepper butter ovals (available from the fish counter – I didn’t have these so I used butter with a squeeze of lemon and a grinding of pepper)
- Cracked black pepper
- Sea salt
- Cup of milk
- 2 sheets ready rolled puff pastry
- 1 sheet of baking paper
- Pre-heat the oven to 230C/ gas mark 8 (I found 200C/gas 6 was enough here)
- Lay a sheet of greaseproof paper on a oven dish/tray, and on top of this lay flat one sheet of rolled out pastry
- Place one salmon fillet on top of the pastry, skin down (if the fillet is too long for the pastry tuck the tail under to fit)
- Along the middle of the fillet place sprigs of flat leaf parsley, then finely grate the lemon over the parsley, along with some cracked black pepper
- Crumble on the lemon and pepper butter ovals for additional flavour
- Place the second salmon fillet skin side down on a chopping board and season with sea salt and cracked black pepper
- Once seasoned place the second fillet on top of the other fillet skinless side down
- Brush the visible edge of the pastry with milk, then lay the second sheet of pastry on top of the salmon
- Using the side of your hand go around the edge of the fillet and seal the pastry together, cutting off any excess pastry
- Using the excess pastry decorate the top of the en croute and brush the top layer of pastry with milk
- Place the salmon en croute on the middle shelf of the pre-heated oven and cook for 30-35 minutes or until the pastry has gone a light golden brown colour
Salmon Fillets Stuffed with Cod Our verdict: I won’t lie, this was tricky for me, but I’m not tremendously dexterous and trying to tie up slippery fish wasn’t easy. I managed it, but my offering was slightly less attractive than Asda’s photo! The taste, however was delicious and fabulously healthy too. This recipe will serve 8 people Ingredients needed:
- 2 skin-on salmon fillets (fillets taken from a whole salmon)
- Approx. 300g skinless cod loin
- 2 lemons
- Sprig of dill
- Salt and pepper for seasoning
- Pre-heat the oven to 200C /Gas mark 5
- Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper
- Cut six pieces of string (measure from hand to elbow) and lay along the width of the baking tray
- Place one fillet in the middle of the string, skin side down
- Season well with cracked black pepper and sea salt, then place five wedges of lemon across the salmon fillet
- Place a layer of cod in the middle of the salmon (about three fillets), and squeeze the juice of one lemon over the cod
- Lay the second fillet on the work surface, skin side down, season with sea salt and cracked black pepper
- Place the second fillet on top of the first fillet so the skin is upwards. To secure the fish take both ends of string wrap around the salmon and tie in little bows, finally season with sea salt and cracked black pepper and drizzle over a little olive oil
- Place the salmon filled with cod in the pre-heated oven for 45 minutes, until the skin has gone crispy
Pastry always seems a bit terrifying. But honestly, have a think about it: it’s really just a vessel to hold delicious contents, all of which will spill out over your pastry making it all taste yummy anyway. And if it’s a little thick or a bit uneven, who cares? That’s what home made food is all about. If you know how to make a chicken pie (or any pie!) it’s such a versatile skill. So come on, let’s dive in: practice makes perfect!
A quick word about pie dishes. By all means use a classic ceramic pie dish but you’ll get a much better result by using a metal tin. I swear by Mermaid, who do proper hard anodised aluminium tins that you can use on the hob and in the oven (this one’s actually a tarte tatin dish) – they conduct the heat really well, resulting in nice, crisp pastry and an even bake.
How to make pastry
The best tip I can give you about making pastry is to keep everything as cool as possible. Sweaty hands make for a big gluey mess, so try and keep to just using the tips of your fingers, and use a light touch.
For standard, shortcrust pastry, you’ll need:
200g cold butter
400g plain flour
You can make pastry in the food processor, or by hand. Here are both versions:
Making pastry by hand:
Cut the cold butter into cubes, and add it to the flour:
… add in the salt, and then rub in the butter gently with just your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs:
Now add the egg. It’s less messy initially so use a knife to just stir it around until it starts to come together. Then, with your hands, bring it together into a dough. Don’t knead it, remember, just treat it very gently.
Making pastry in the food processor
Chop the cold butter into cubes and add it to the flour and salt. Process it until it looks like breadcrumbs.
Now plop in the egg and pulse slowly until it comes together.
Every time you make pastry it will be different: flours can have different moisture levels and eggs can be different sizes, but you should find it comes together into a ball quite well. If it’s really dry, add a tablespoon or two of cold water, but you don’t want a wet mess, be very sparing.
At this stage, with either processor-made or hand-made pastry, you’ll have a rough ball of dough. Now just wrap it in clingfilm and chill for about 2o minutes.
This is the stage where you can get on with making your filling. I’ve made a creamy chicken filling, but you can use your imagination and fill it with whatever you like: beef and mushrooms in gravy… fish in a creamy sauce… (or veggies) or, if you fancy a sweet pie (add a tablespoon of caster sugar to your pastry), apple, cherry… the list is endless. Leftovers make fab pies. We always make turkey and ham on Boxing Day, and leftover curry makes a lovely pie too.
Filling for a creamy chicken pie
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 shallot, finely sliced
2 large free-range chicken breasts (or leftover chicken or turkey)
Couple of slices of nice ham (or leftover gammon, cut into chunks)
Dash of double cream
About 200-300ml chicken stock (cube is fine)
So gently fry the shallot in the oil until translucent and add in your cubes of chicken breast. Fry until just coloured (remember it’ll cook properly in the oven), then add the ham (snipped into little pieces, or chopped), season well (not too much salt – the ham’s salty) and then the splosh of cream. Pour in the stock and leave to bubble away and reduce a little (you don’t want too much ‘juice’ in the pie as it will make the pastry soggy). Add in some fresh herbs if you like, too. Thyme is delicious with chicken, and so is tarragon.
Once your filling is done, leave it to one side to cool while you roll out the pastry. Oh, and this is a good time to preheat the oven to 180/gas 4.
Rolling out the pastry
Retrieve it from the fridge, flour your work surface AND your rolling pin really well. Divide your pastry into two pieces: one about 2/3 for the base and the other 1/3 for the top.
Roll the larger piece out to about 5-6mm thick, moving the pastry around in 1/4 turns as you roll until you’ve got a rough circle. This will prevent the pastry from sticking to the work surface. Remember: it doesn’t have to be perfect!
Roll the pastry up around the rolling pin, then unroll it over your pie dish. Push it down gently, and use little extra bits to fill any holes or cracks. Don’t worry too much – it’s home made!
Now spoon in your cooled filling. Don’t put hot filling into the pie as it will begin to melt the butter and you’ll get the dreaded ‘soggy bottom’!
Now do the same thing with the final third of pastry. Unroll it over your filling and crimp the edges with your fingers, or a fork so that they’re sealed together.
If you’re feeling arty, make some letters (I’m desperate to do a pie that says ‘bum’) or cut out leaves or whatever. Pass swiftly on to the eggy wash department for a brush with beaten egg or milk (grab a passing child if you can) and pop in the oven for about half an hour at 180/gas 4.
And yes, sometimes it all goes wrong (this one needed that extra bit of cold water – the patry was far too crumbly) just laugh at yourself and serve it up anyway – it will still taste lovely! (oh, and writing BUM on it is excellent therapy too, trust me).
And that’s it. YOU MADE A PIE! You’re a genius.
The lovely chaps at Fish is the Dish work hard to promote fish as the perfect family food. They often send me little surprises, and this time it was a tray of the freshest sardines. There’s really only one thing to do with sardines: obviously that’s eat them fresh from the barbecue with a glass of local wine at some beautiful beachside location. Failing that, you can make this easy, fresh version of gremolata to go with your shiny silver dinner:
You will need:
Fresh sardines, gutted
Large bunch parsley
2 cloves garlic
Couple of glugs of olive or rapeseed oil
Salt and pepper
First, preheat your grill so it’s really hot. Sprinkle the sardines with salt and pepper and pop them under the grill. They’ll only take a couple of minutes each side – just enough time to make the gremolata oil.
Traditionally gremolata is a ‘dry’ mixture of lemon zest, garlic and tons of parsley all chopped together. I’ve added oil here to make it easy to drizzle. So just squish the garlic with the side of a knife (use a pinch of salt for grip), then chop the parsley into it and add the zest of the lemon. Transfer into a bowl and add the olive oil. Squeeze in the lemon juice. I added a pinch of dried chilli too.
Serve the sardines piping hot with crusty bread (or I made little square crispy potatoes) and drizzle with the gremolata.
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