Spaghetti and meatballs is one of our favourite family dinners (‘spagerder!’). You just can’t beat tender, savoury meatballs in a silky tomato sauce with mounds of freshly cooked pasta. Of course, there are a hundred different variations out there: some meatballs use pork and beef, some add Parmigiano to the mixture, some bake, some cook in the sauce… the possibilities are endless. My take on it uses a pretty standard beef meatball, baked in the oven first, then cooked in a rich tomato sauce with a hint of sweetness from the balsamic vinegar and a hint of chilli spice too. Of course you can use a jar of tomato sauce, which I often do too, and linguine instead of spaghetti if you don’t have it. Here, then, especially for you, is my own, well-loved recipe for spaghetti and meatballs with tomato balsamic sauce.
I love to travel, but it’s also really lovely to get home and do a bit of nesting. I miss being in our kitchen, cooking for everyone while we all chat, catch up and have a giggle – there’s nothing quite like a house full of people (and quite a bit of mess at the moment – I need to do some decluttering). Charlie is home from uni and Sam has finished uni (I’m so old!) so doing a bit of part time stuff until he can get something more permanent, so often there’ll be all of us – plus girlfriends and often the odd friend too. I love it. The more the merrier, and these easy spiced lamb kofta meatballs are perfect for feeding a crowd. I guess you wouldn’t really look at meatballs as sunny day food, but, if you’re anything like me, there’s only so many salads you can eat when the weather is warm.
Our lovely neighbours are complete barbecue fanatics. As soon as there’s even a hint of nice weather, the most delicious smells start wafting through from their garden, making me really want a barbecue. I think the thing that’s holding us back is the thought of buying a big, expensive barbecue and then never using it, so last week we went out and bought one of those really cute, cheap little bucket barbecues to have a try without spending too much money. The lovely chaps at Very Lazy had, coincidentally, sent me a couple of their handy jars so I thought I’d start simply with a few sausages and a tasty maple and ginger barbecue chicken, using the Very Lazy jars of chopped ginger and chopped red chillies .
I love pottering about in the kitchen; I find stirring, chopping, rolling and mixing completely therapeutic – that kind of mindless manual labour that’s both soothing and uncomplicated (although I mostly do the kneading in the KitchenAid, if I’m honest – I’m far too lazy for that). There’s only one thing that makes pottering nicer, and that’s the chatter of people. One of my favourite evenings is a weekend night when the boys are both home, maybe with friends/girlfriends in tow and we have an impromptu pizza night. I can only fit two at a time in the oven, so there’s a whole pizza production line going on, with people chatting and munching – I love it. My one photograph – snapped before someone grabbed a slice – is completely rubbish (I’ll rephotograph it, I promise) but I wanted you to experience this lovely, fun family evening as soon as possible. Here’s my foolproof, easy home made pizza recipe, that you can jazz up/double up as much as you wish:
Some people are just REALLY DIFFICULT to find presents for, don’t you think? Let’s face it, we’re all lucky enough to have more or less everything we need, so we have a bit of an unwritten rule in our family that gifts have to be useful (and/or useable), and I think edible gifts fit really well into this category, so when Ryvita Thins set me the challenge of creating a Christmas gift hamper, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. If you have friends and family that are real foodies, this is such a lovely idea: a gift of inspiration, and the starting point to easy Christmas nibbles if they’re entertaining over the festive season (or just lovely snackage for in front of the TV if they’re not).
Ahhh leftover turkey. I know people moan about it, but we always buy an extra mahoosive turkey, even if there’s just the four of us on Christmas day, as we love our turkey leftovers! This easy leftover turkey nachos recipe takes no time to put together, has some proper fresh, zingy flavours, and is a fabulous sharing dish – basically everything you want from Boxing Day and beyond. And for the rest of the year, well, just make it with chicken!
Well hello, hello! Sorry for the radio silence but I’ve been gallivanting around the outer reaches of Newfoundland on assignment for Cruise International magazine. I’ve had the most incredible time and can’t wait to tell you all about it, but the first thing I did (after getting massive cuddles from my boys and having a quick kip) was to get straight into my garden and have a look around. It seems like summer has truly arrived while I’ve been away, shivering under raingear, so it was time to whip up some fresh flavour in the shape of delicious steak sandwiches with basil chimichurri sauce!
I love a feast. A proper, gather round the table heaped with dishes, everyone talking at once, help yourself, kind of feast. My favourite one recently was our huge Middle Eastern feast for New Year’s Eve. when the table was heaving with all sorts of different things ready to tuck into. We talked, we laughed, we drank lovely wine, we stuffed all sorts of different things into pittas, and then into our faces. A real joyful night.
This last week of term is such a slog isn’t it? We’re looking forward to a summer of travel: sunbathing, restaurants, al fresco eating and fun in the sun. I’ve slightly scuppered Sam’s plans to get away with his friends by booking us back-to-back on various trips right up until September. Still, not the worst thing a mother could do, I’m sure. They’re trying to squeeze in a group trip to Skiathos, where one of their friends has family with a hotel, which, judging by the photos, is absolutely beautiful. To make him feel better, I made him a lovely Greek-inspired dinner:
Easy spiced lamb kofta kebabs
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 level teaspoon sea salt
1 or 2 cloves garlic
2 slices bread, cut into cubes then soaked in a little milk
500g minced lamb
Salt and pepper
With a pestle and mortar, grind the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, salt and garlic into a paste. Fish out the bread – don’t squeeze it too hard, but too much excess milk will make it a bit sloppy, making it impossible to stick on the skewers – then add it in and squish (technical term) until combined.
Put the lamb in a large bowl, add the spice/bread mixture and the egg, plus the salt and pepper.
With clean hands, squish the mixture together well.
Squish the mixture around some metal skewers in a rough sausage shape. Grill (or barbecue) until golden on the outside (the metal skewer will ensure that the middle is cooked through) – about 10 – 15 minutes should do it, depending on the heat of your grill.
Quick and easy coriander hummus
Hummus is quick and easy although I recently saw Simon Hopkinson painstakingly taking the skin off every single chickpea before making it (go ahead if you’re that way inclined!):
1 tin chickpeas, drained
1 clove garlic (I sometimes cut out the garlic and just use a good quality garlic oil instead)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Pinch of salt
2-3 tbsp olive oil or rapeseed oil
Handful of chopped mint or coriander
Paprika to garnish
So just whizz the chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice and salt up with a stick blender, glugging in enough oil to loosen the mixture. If you like it a bit runnier, feel free to add a couple of tbsp water. Stir in the chopped coriander and serve sprinkled with paprika and maybe a swirl of oil.
About 1/2 cucumber, deseeded and grated
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 pot thick Greek yogurt
Mint leaves, chopped
I don’t mind the peel on the cucumber, but it’s a bit much iFirst, make sure that you’ve
Like many things in cooking, barbecue sauce is one of those things that you buy, until you finally make it yourself, then instantly realise that home made is ten times better than bought.
This sauce gets made all the time in our house. It’s scrummy poured over meat, like pork belly strips, or sausages, before you cook them, or you can bubble it away a little to thicken it up, then serve it as a condiment with any sort of roast meats, burgers or chicken.
It’s delicious and really easy. I promise once you’ve made it once, you’ll be making it all the time! If you’ve got lump-phobic children, you can give it a quick whizz with a hand blender for a smoother finish too.
You will need:
1 tbsp oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
Pinch of smoked paprika
About 1 tsp fresh ginger
4 tbsp cider vinegar
2 tbsps runny honey
2 tbsps brown sugar
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
2 tbsps soy sauce
Pinch dried chilli
2 tbsps tomato purée
So firstly, pop the oil in a saucepan, and gently fry the onions until they’re starting to go a bit translucent. Grate in the ginger (I keep my ginger in the freezer and grate it straight in), sprinkle over the paprika then basically just add in all the other ingredients.
If I’m cooking sausages, lamb chops or belly pork strips, what I do now is spoon about half of the mixture over the meat (make sure you line the tray with foil as the sauce does caramelise), and pop them in the oven for about half an hour.
With the rest of the sauce or if you just want it to serve with burgers or at a barbecue, just simmer until it thickens. It will keep in the fridge for a few days too.
Check out my slow cooked barbecue pulled chicken as well.
Once again, my Dad’s wonderful apple trees have provided him with buckets of fruit that he has absolutely no interest in cooking (or, indeed eating – I mean, how many apples can one man possibly eat?). He arrived bearing massive bags of fruit (we won’t go into the missing one – my cousin Moon, visiting from Slovakia, got the blame, but he was far too busy trying to smuggle sausages out of the country, so the ‘case of the missing apples’ has now settled happily into family folklore) so I thought I’d have a go at some chutney.
This chutney is quite delicately flavoured and doesn’t contain any onions. It’s not too vinegary (the malt vinegar gives a nice rounded taste) and the fruity taste makes it an ideal accompaniment to both cheese, and roasted meats. It’s almost more of a posh apple sauce, really.
You will need:
1.5 – 1.75kg apples
300ml malt vinegar
Large handful of mint
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
I’m not a massive fan of raisins in this chutney, but add 50g if you fancy it.
This amount makes about three jars, but if you stick to the general ratios above, you can multiply the recipe up or down as appropriate (and use any fruit or veg you fancy… pears, pumpkin, onions…).
To make the chutney:
Basically, just peel, core and chop the apples (it helps to drop them into slightly salted water – they don’t go brown), add in the sugar and vinegar and then just bring to the boil (stir so that the sugar dissolves) then simmer uncovered until it thickens – it won’t take long, about 45 minutes to an hour.
When the chutney is at the right consistency, take if off the heat and stir in the herbs.
Make sure your bottles are sterilised, then pour in the chutney and pop on the lids.
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.
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