What do you use your microwave for? Do you even have one? Ours is used mostly for the boys to reheat meals that they’ve missed, and Mr E’s patented microwave bacon when I’m away. The rest of the time it sits forlornly in the utility, alone and unloved. And then Lékué came along and set me a little task: could I create a day’s meals using only the microwave and Lékué’s clever, colourful products. And you know I can’t refuse a challenge…
Those lovely bags of fries. They’re the nation’s favourite, aren’t they? A staple for any classic British meal. Quick, easy and tasty, the faithful oven chip has never let us down. It’s simplicity is its strength, because it goes so well with so much. Steak and chips, egg and chips, fish and chips, and so on.
However, chips are still far from reaching their full potential, and there are, it seems, plenty of quick, easy and mouthwatering ways of preparing a bag of McCain fries that we need to try. Some of these may seem unexpected, but they may just be your new favourite way of eating Britain’s favourite side dish. Here’s how I got on with my research:
Ages ago when I was on Nick Coffer’s Weekend Kitchen at BBC Three Counties radio, a lovely lady called Polly had this delicious recipe for this fresh and crunchy winter slaw made with shredded sprouts that was such a lovely mix of textures and flavours: fresh and crunchy, spicy and sweet.
I promised you a while ago that I’d give you an update on my favourite lentil curry recipe. This is our absolute fave – a really simple, healthy one pot dinner. I’m always messing with it – adding leftover roast chicken, or a tin of chickpeas, or some veg that’s a bit past its best: sweet potato, cauliflower, etc. I’ve always listed the ingredients separately before, but now I actually make the spice mix up in bigger quantities and it’s much easier to spoon into the curry.
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).
So recently. The Organic Trade Board challenged us to take the Thrifty Organic Challenge and switch our usual weekly shop for organic. The average grocery shopping budget for a UK family of four is £83 a week. Could I switch everything we usually buy to organic , stay on budget, and still produce yummy, healthy food for my family? Here’s how we got on.
My lovely friend Dave was telling me recently how yummy cauliflower ‘rice’ is (basically cauliflower shredded, or whizzed in the food processor to make faux ‘rice’ – a less carby alternative). I was sceptical, but then my buddy Laura told me she loves it too and that she stir fries hers and makes it loads. Inspired, I thought I’d better give it a go. I know curry isn’t much of a summer staple, but it’s a great Friday night takeaway avoidance technique when the weather’s not that balmy.
Oh isn’t it just heavenly to see the sunshine? I’ve been waking really early, the sun streaming through the curtains (this makes Mr E really grumpy but I LOVE it), making myself a cup of honey and lemon in hot water (current obsession) and wandering around the garden, watching Tails the cat hiding under the delicious-smelling jasmine (by the way, look at the size of him – will he ever stop growing?), watering my little terracotta pots of herbs and other bits and pieces, playing tug of war with Lyra…
I love, love, love travelling, and I’m so lucky that my job involves visiting all sorts of wonderful places and eating all sorts of amazing food. If there’s one drawback (there has to be one, right?) it’s that I tend to put on a little ‘food baby’ every time I go. There’s so much scrummy food, it’s find it impossible to resist. So when I’m at home, I try and cook delicious food that cuts down on the ol’ carbs and focuses on colourful, healthy, tasty ingredients. This ratatouille with spiced, roasted chicken is a good start!
Sam came home from uni the other day and completely randomly had a craving for loaded potato skins. They’re not something I ever cook, but I had a go and wow, they’re pretty moreish. I can see them being our Saturday evening TV viewing snackage of choice from now on. Here’s how I did it:
Ahhh summer is finally here. The garden’s like a jungle, the washing basket is overflowing, but I don’t care – there’s a sun lounger in the garden and that’s where I’ll be if you need me. Summer is also salad central, but I don’t know about you – I get a bit bored of leafy salads. The Death Wish Child won’t touch them with a barge pole either, so I have to get a bit creative on the salad front: something fresh and lively, but without the leafy element.
Happily, then, Apetina has challenged me to create a leaf-free salad, and this one will do you very well. We’re a bit addicted to Apetina (I used the classic cubes for this one), the slight saltiness goes well with the sweetness of the pear and the creaminess of the avocado. Add in olives and cherry tomatoes and it’s a colourful, healthy summer delight. Here goes, then:
You will need:
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 lime, juiced
1 red chilli, deseeded and very finely chopped
Handful of herbs: mint and oregano are perfect, chopped
1 ripe avocado
Couple of handfuls of black olives
Small punnet of cherry tomatoes
1 pear (slightly under ripe is fine), cored and chopped
To prepare the salad:
Crush the garlic cloves with a little pinch of salt and pop the resulting paste into a jug along with the lime juice, chopped red chilli, chopped herbs and a couple of big glugs of rapeseed oil. Mix it all up and leave to one side.
Next, take your salad bowl and pop in the Apetina cheese, sliced avocado, black olives and cherry tomatoes. Lastly add in the chopped pear, then quickly pour over the salad dressing and toss gently.
And that’s it! Serve with crusty bread and a final sprinkling of fresh herbs. Delicious.
If you love this recipe, pop along to the Apetina recipe challenge on Facebook where every week Apetina will be featuring four salads and vote (for me, preferably, but hey, check out the others too). You could win a picnic hamper or – on the final week – a BBQ.
You might remember that I took part in a little challenge a while ago with Lean on Turkey, supporting our fantastic British turkey farmers, to create a turkey dish for a family of four for under a tenner. The result was my Moroccan style turkey with Ras el Hanout. This time, and happily for us it coincides with this gorgeous weather, my challenge is to cook a low fat, healthy turkey recipe, again costing under a tenner. It has to feed a family of four and can’t be a roast dinner.
So I got my thinking cap on. When I was in Florida (oh how you’re going to get fed up with me saying that), we had some amazing prawns that were both sticky, sweet and delightfully spicy. So I had a fiddle and came up with these: lovely sticky sweet chilli turkey kebabs. We ate them with a fresh salad of avocado, cherry tomatoes and olives, some crusty bread and that old summer favourite, potato salad – bit of a mish mash really, (some call if ‘fusion’) but it all came together really well and made for quite the most delicious al fresco supper.
Here’s how I did it.
For the sticky sweet chilli turkey kebabs:
1 pack turkey breast steaks
1 red chilli (deseeded and finely chopped)
2 cloves garlic
2 tbsp runny honey
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
Squeeze of lime
In a pestle and mortar, squish the red chilli and the garlic cloves with a little pinch of salt. Make sure they’re completely mashed into a paste, then add the runny honey, soy, fish sauce and lime.
Cut the turkey breast steaks into slivers and drop them into the marinade. Allow them to marinate for at least an hour.
Thread onto skewers or bamboo sticks (make sure you soak the sticks first to stop them catching fire) then grill for 10 – 15 minutes until cooked through, giving them a little baste every so often with the leftover marinade.
Serve with a fresh salad – anything you’ve got in the fridge/store cupboard will do: avocado, cherry tomatoes, olives, Feta, cucumber… Season, then toss with some rapeseed oil and a squeeze of lime.
For the potato salad, just boil the potatoes until tender and coat in a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise. I may or may not have added some spring onions here as well which I may or may not have left off my costing table below. Ahem.
And the verdict on the kebabs? AMAZING! Clean plates all round.
The verdict on the salad? ‘What’s this green stuff?.. and ‘ugh, I hate olives’.
Ah well. You can’t win them all…
For more information on the Lean on Turkey campaign, head to leanonturkey.co.uk
The afternoon we arrived at Bodegas Monje was utterly stunning. The sky was a shimmering turquoise and the rows of vines glowed emerald green, rolling down towards the sea. What a gorgeous place.
First up was a tour of the winery (meaning that we had to head into the gloom of the cellar… boooo.) Still, I learned absolutely loads about wine making (the winery produce a stunning range of wines, mostly exported to the USA).
Next, it was upstairs to the rather beautiful cookery school, to get a crash course in Canarian cooking and test some of those stunning wines as well:
First on our menu was that Canarian staple (and my Disreputable Dad’s absolute favourite): papas arugadas (meaning literally ‘wrinkled potatoes’). We had a bit of a laugh when we discovered that the type of spud used is ‘Quinegua’ – pronounce it in a Spanish accent and you’ll see exactly how it got its name: King Edward!
We watched as the small potatoes were barely covered with boiling water and an eye watering amount of sea salt was added (at least two handfuls, but don’t worry, the potatoes will only absorb as much as they need – we tested this theory). The potatoes were then covered and boiled for about 20 minutes, depending on size. When tender, they were then drained and returned to the heat where they were tossed and shaken until all the remaining water was gone and they took on their traditional wrinkly, dusty appearance. Delicious.
Next we moved on to the sauces. Traditionally, red mojo sauce is served with meat and green with fish. We were on the green team (the green can be coriander, but is just as often parsley or a mixture of the two) and set to work. Mojo is traditionally made entirely by hand in a pestle and mortar and takes LOADS of elbow grease. I bet there aren’t many flabby upper arms to be seen on the island, what with all that pounding!
For Green Mojo
6 cloves garlic
1 tsp sea salt
1 green pepper, deseeded and finely diced
One small (and very hot) green chilli
1/2 bunch fresh coriander (or parsley)
2 tsp cider vinegar
2 wine glasses of olive oil
First, crush the garlic with the salt, then slowly add in the green pepper, pounding until it’s all completely pulped. Now add a tiny piece of the green chilli (to taste, but if they’re as hot as the ones on Tenerife, a teeny tiny square is all you need), then add in the coriander and keep pounding. When everything is completely pulped, add in the vinegar ad the oil.
We added a handful of crushed almonds and sultanas, which adds a little sweetness and thickens the sauce, but this is optional, as is an avocadeo, which adds a lovely creaminess.
For Red Mojo
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt
1 red pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
1 red chilli (again, as much as you like, but a small piece if they’re the very hot fiery ones)
1 slice toasted bread
2 tsp red wine vinegar
2 wine glasses olive oil
1 tsp sweet paprika
Again with the red, the garlic is pounded with the salt before the other ingredients are added one by one, making sure they’re completely broken down before the next ingredient is added. The toasted bread works as the thickener in the red mojo. Both were absolutely delicious. We ate the red mojo with some pulled pork and those gorgeous potatoes.
We also had a demonstration of how the locals eat Gofio, the baked corn flour from the mill we visited in La Orotava. The Gofio is mixed with ground raisins and almonds, milk, a splash of water and local honey. It’s worked into a firm dough and that’s it. It’s eaten sliced with goats’ cheese, and maybe even some mojo sauce. We were divided on the gofio but I thought it was really lovely.
I adored the food on Tenerife: the seafood was delicious and very fresh (the ‘wreckfish’ was delicious, but I’m struggling to find out whether this is just local to Tenerife, or if it’s called by another name elsewhere), and obviously we ate an enormous amount of flan (I suppose we would say creme caramel), delicious custardy slabs, sometimes served with the dark caramel sauce, or sometimes with other little drizzly sauces, but often just plain.
If you’d like to see more foodie photos from my trip, check out my Facebook page.
We LOVE lentils. The texture is almost creamy, satisfying in that way that only a big dollop of mashed potatoes is usually satisfying, plus of course they have the added bonus of being VERY good for you and low fat too. This recipe is one of our favourites – I often make double and blend the leftovers with stock the next day to make soup. It’s best, though, served with some big, fat, meaty sausages: our favourites being the ones from Jimmy’s Farm. Nommers.
You will need:
1 tablespoon rapeseed oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2-3 carrots, diced
1 leek, finely chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes
150g red lentils
500ml chicken stock (or I often use leftover gravy from a roast dinner topped up with water)
Salt and pepper
So heat up the oil in a big saucepan and bung in the chopped onion, carrots and leek (any old veg will do, really). Give them a little sprinkling of salt and a quick stir around then leave them on low for a good ten minutes to soften. A little sprinkling of dried chilli flakes wouldn’t go amiss at this stage either.
After that you can just bung everything else in, really. Leave it on low, pop a lid on and go and do something else for half an hour. Oh and don’t forget to pop your big, fat sausages in to the oven – they’ll take about 30 minutes too, at 200 degrees/gas 6.
Check the seasoning and away you go. I’ll warn you, it’s very moreish, so it’s best that you make double.
So, after promising you a couple of healthy recipes, I then buggered off and promptly forgot all about them. Sorry.
Anyhoo, here I am, back live and a week into my alcohol free month. It’s going well. It’s going really well. I feel fab – and after the amazing facial, my skin’s feeling fab too. I’m drinking much more water (Katy told me that your body often mistakes thirst for hunger) and one of the biggest changes for me has been lunch. I’ve switched from a sandwich and a packet of crisps, to a bowl of soup, and it’s made an amazing difference.
Why switch to soup?
Well, firstly, if you make it yourself, you know exactly what’s in it. You can pack it full of veggies (great for that half a butternut squash left in the fridge, or a half packet of green beans that got forgotten) and it’s really low fat. If you’ve got leftover chicken or beef in the fridge, you can add that in too. Do what I do and make a great big vat of the stuff and store it in the fridge so it’s easy to grab and stops that lunchtime dithering thing that can see you reaching for a lump of cheese and a box of crackers (or is that just me?). And remember, lentils are your friend.
Lentils are, and I don’t use this word lightly, a real superfood. They’re full of fibre and loads of other fab stuff like iron and B vitamins and are great for providing that protein kick you need at lunchtime to see you through the day. They also have the advantage of being a great thickener, so if you’re trying to eat healthily they’re an excellent addition to soups and stews. They absorb flavours really well and have a mild, almost nutty taste themselves.
A good rule of thumb when making soup is to make sure you have lots of different colours going in there. Different coloured veg generally provide different vitamins and minerals, so bung in some carrots or butternut squash, then choose something green (freeze a bag of spinach so you can grab a handful) and maybe, say, a red onion too. Here’s a quick recipe, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be making a different variety every time and you’ll never get bored.
Vary your seasoning
Think past salt and pepper. Sweeter vegetables like parsnips and carrots go really well with a bit of earthy spice… tomatoes go well with chilli… have an experiment.
Lentil and vegetable soup
There are no hard and fast rules here.. add what you like and leave out what you don’t.
1 tablespoon rapeseed oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
Variety of veg, peeled and chopped (three or four double handfuls should do it). I used:
3 large carrots
1 large parsnip
1/2 butternut squash
1/2 bag watercress and rocket salad
Thick slice of savoy cabbage, chopped
2 litres chicken stock (or veg stock – cube is fine)
About 150 – 200g red lentils
So heat up the oil in a very large saucepan. Add in the onion and fry until translucent. If you’re adding spice, add it now – stir it around with the onions and oil until you can really smell it (I know that sounds weird, but it works). Now, add in all your prepared veg, then pour over the stock. Add in the lentils (use less if you prefer your soup thinner). Simmer for about 20 minutes or until tender, then blitz with a stick blender.
I’ve been writing on Ready for Ten recently (I would link to it but it’s not published yet – patience, grasshopper) about the age old dilemma of getting the kids to eat enough fruit and veg. I make this sauce a lot (I use it as soup as well) and although it’s got plenty of green veg in, it still looks like plain ol’ tomato which puts paid to ‘ewww – what’s that?’ – my most favourite dinnertime question. Plus, of course, there’s the satisfaction of getting one over on your kids, which is always a bonus.
Of course, even if your family will happily eat their five a day, it’s still a great tea-time all rounder. You can:
- add in other veg, increase the stock and serve as soup with some easy herby bread
- tart it up with 1/2 tsp chilli flakes (put them in at the beginning) and some fried streaky bacon strips
- add basil and pour over pan-fried meatballs
- use in lasagnes and bolognese
- stir into a pack of tortellini (spinach and ricotta is our favourite) and sprinkle with Parmesan
- pour over chicken breasts, dot with torn pieces of mozzarella and bake in the oven
I could go on, but frankly I’m starting to bore myself, but you get the message: it’s incredibly versatile. It has a lovely mellow sweet flavour too. This quantity makes enough to cover pasta for four people and a portion for the freezer too. Ninja costumes at the ready, then:
You will need:
1 large leek
1 large onion
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tsp salt
1 tin good quality tomatoes (don’t use the cheapo ones, they’re too runny)
The same amount of stock (chicken, veg, bouillon, whatever)
1 tsp sugar
Freshly ground pepper
So slice the leek lengthways and rinse under running water to remove any grit or mud. Chop finely.
Heat the rapeseed oil in a heavy-based saucepan and pop in the leek. Finely chop the onion and add that in too. Sprinkle with the salt and then cook on a low heat, stirring occasionally for a good ten minutes until everything is well softened.
Add in a tsp of sugar and the tinned tomatoes. Fill the tin once more with the stock (if I don’t have any home made I just pop in a stock cube and top it up with boiling water). Add in to the pan.
Now just cover and leave it for half an hour. This bit’s really important – everything needs to be really soft to get the texture right. After that, you can remove from the heat, blend with a stick blender and test the seasoning (add pepper or a touch more salt). You’ll end up with a really gorgeous smooth sauce and – here’s the bonus – no hint of anything green in there.
I love a bit of stealth health. Off you go, then, team…
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