Monday, 12 September 2011

The most important meal of the day

For some reason every time I eat breakfast I end up twice as  hungry by lunchtime. I guess this is because it kick starts the metabolism and you end up using more energy but it always seems a little unfair when it happens. I've never really been one of those people who claim to love the first meal of the day above all others. As far as I am concerned any meal where it isn't acceptable to eat roast potatoes and slow roast pork is always going to finish in second place. But a friend asked me to think of some lovely healthy breakfast ideas and I was surprised how tantalising my list sounds. But sadly not that healthy:

eggs benedict
huevos rancheros
banana pancakes
hash browns

So I had to have another stab. It did occur to me that I know a fine recipe for muesli, some marvellous smoothies and also a couple of very nice, light muffin recipes that are freezable so you can cook up a batch that will last a fortnight. Not to mention the fantastically continental combo of fresh fruit, yoghurt and honey. 

So first up I'm going to go with smoothie recipes. You can pre-chop all your fruit in advance and freeze it in batches so you only ever need to prep it all once. Once made they last in the fridge up to 2 days if stored in an airtight container. I've even used bought frozen berries in the past, as they tend to be cheaper. If you do use frozen fruit and have a solid blender (ideally with a glass jug) you can blend the fruit directly from frozen, giving your breakfast drink a lovely refreshing zing. 150ml of juice gives you a final serving size of approximately 250ml. I always use apple juice in my smoothies to provide a neutral base but you can use whatever juice you prefer. Just bung the lot into the blender, whizz it up and pour. If you are feeding little (fussy) people you can pass the smoothie through a sieve first to get rid of the bits. All quantities are for 4 glasses so you can either adjust for what you need.

Blueberry and fig smoothie with Earl Grey tea.

You will need a blender or liquidiser to produce these. 

Charantais melon and strawberry
  • 200g chopped charantais melon
  • 200g hulled strawberry
  • 600ml apple juice
  • 1 slice orange, no skin
Watermelon and mint smoothie 
  • 200g chopped watermelon (without seeds)
  • 1 handful fresh mint leaves
  • 100g greek yoghurt
  • 1 tblsp pouring honey
  • 500ml apple juice
Blueberry and fig smoothie
  • 200g blueberries
  • 2 figs, chopped
  • 100g greek yoghurt
  • 500ml apple juice
  • Juice of half a lemon
Bramble smoothie
  • 200g mixed berries (raspberries, blackberries, red currants, strawberries)
  • 600ml apple juice
Cherry and mango smoothie
  • 200g frozen, pitted cherries
  • 100g chopped mango
  • 100g greek yoghurt
  • 500ml apple juice

Friday, 9 September 2011

The morns are meeker than they were

I hate to say it folks but the weather has turned. It's over. Summer is gone. Adieu.

Back in April I commented blithely that we appeared to be having our summer 3 months early and now I am proved to be some kind of omniscient being, worshipped and adored by many. We've just experienced the coldest August in 17 years which was also 46% wetter than normal. I witness this every day at work in my lovely Surrey country estate. The leaves are turning, the nuts are starting to fall and the squirrels, rabbits and hares engage in a whirlwind of autumnal organisation. Not to mention the woodpeckers. I'm not 100% sure what it is woodpeckers do in Autumn but seeing the greater spotted woodpeckers and green woodpeckers going about their business everyday has improved my quality of life immeasurably. Not to mention the fact that I get to dig out my Autumn wardrobe, buy cords, scarves and wear those lovely little wrist warmer things that look like half a glove.

All of this has put me in the mood for comfort food. Something hearty and warming, ideally in vast quantities so that I can freeze up for those tired evenings that I just can't be bothered lifting another knife. This next recipe combines two of my favourite things after mushrooms, spinach and lamb. It's a simple enough process to make and uses cheap cuts of meat so you can keep your budgets down. I'm using lamb rump offcuts that are incredibly fatty so I rendered the stew down for far longer than stated here  in order to skim off the excess. The resulting curry is not too spicy although it does warm right through to the fingertips with a soft fiery tingle. The sharp iron flavour of the spinach compliments the combined sweetness of the lamb and the coconut. Obviously this is a saag gosht but I make no claims as to authenticity, so I'll stick with a plain ol' spinach and lamb curry.

This recipe serves approximately 6, with rice or naan bread.

Spinach and lamb curry
  • 800g lamb in 2cm chunks (shank, chump or neck are all perfect for this slow cooked dish)
  • 2 tblsp vegetable oil
  • 5 cloves
  • 5 cardamom pods, crushed
  • 2 pepper corns
  • 2 tblsp ginger and garlic paste (I just throw peeled ginger and garlic into the processor and blitz - finely diced would work just as well)
  • 2 white onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tblsp tomato purée
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 500ml water
  • 500g chopped fresh spinach
  • handful chopped fresh coriander
  • 5 tsp plain yoghurt
  • 2 tblsp grated coconut (or dessicated)
  • pinch garam masala for decoration
  1. Heat the oil and fry off the cloves, cardamom and pepper for a couple of minutes.
  2. Add the onion and garlic and ginger paste and cook until soft and translucent before stirring in the meat, all the dried spices (except the garam masala) and the tomato puree. Cook for 5 mins until the lamb is browned and the puree has completely cooked out (until it no longer tastes sharply of tomato)
  3. Stir in the water, lower the heat right down and leave to simmer for 1 hour, skimming off any fat as necessary.
  4. Now add the yoghurt in thirds, fully incorporating one batch before the next is added. Add the spinach and the ground almonds and cover. Simmer for a further 30 minutes.
  5. Remove the lid, stir the contents and simmer until any excess liquid has evaporated leaving you with a thick, spinachy sauce. Serve and sprinkle with a pinch of garam masala.
As the spinach cooks it will soften to form the sauce

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Tortilla de patatas a la española

Continuing my fairly tenuous theme of light lunches today I offer you the Spanish omelette. If you put a potato and an egg in a pan with a bit of salt you are almost guaranteed to get something delicious, right?

I first tried tortilla when I lived in Northern Spain in my early twenties. At the time I was vegetarian and struggling to find nourishment in a strange and foreign land. Back in the mid-nineties I was viewed with intense suspicion and most places that claimed to serve vegetarian food would offer pizza or omelette with sliced ham in it. This simple repast kept me alive for the 4 months before I finally decided to taste a little bit of chorizo and it was all ¡Hola cerdito! from there on in. Now I use it as a faithful option for a light summery lunch but it's also a fabulous side dish for a barbeque, a cold roast chicken or even sliced in a hunk of baguette. If bread, egg and potato in one meal is wrong then, hell I don't wanna be right! For a healthier option you can also use courgette and red pepper to create a delicious fritatta, maybe I'll do one of those soon.

I served this with a rocket, chorizo and red pepper salad and added some sweet sun-blush tomatoes for a little extra zing. Back when the sun was shining it was a lovely garden picnic.

Tortilla de patatas a la española
  • 400ml sunflower oil
  • 1kg starchy potatoes (Desiree, King Edward, Maris Piper), thinly sliced
  • 8 eggs
  • 2 tblsp olive oil
  • S&P to taste
  1. Heat the sunflower oil in a large frying pan. Add the potatoes and cook until soft and golden brown, not too dark or crisp, remove from the pan and drain well.
  2. Beat the eggs well and season to taste. Add the potato slices and combine with the egg.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a large deep-sided frying pan and pour in the egg and potato mixture. Turn the heat down to the lowest setting to gently cook your tortilla without burning the bottom. Gently shake the pan occasionally to prevent sticking and check the setting consistency of the centre of the omelette.
  4. Once the the lower half of the omelette is set you can either invert the omelette on to a plate and slide back into the pan to continue cooking or place the pan under a hot grill to cook the top. Once cooked and set, turn out onto a board for cutting and serving. You are aiming for a set consistency but not too dry, which would indicate that it has been over-cooked.
Spot the geek

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

It's got bite. *is* wild!

Wild rice is something of a treat for me. It's got this hugely healthy reputation but what I always forget is that it is utterly delicious. Nutty, woody, fragrant and with a delicious bite that complements pretty much all textures and doesn't overpower the taste of anything you add to it. This salad is summery and light but manages to remain so filling. Serve by itself as a vegetarian dish or as a side dish to roast chicken if you prefer something a bit larger.

I've used peashoots for their sharp sweetness which is offset by the aniseed of the fennel and the lemony dressing. The brunoise of carrot and onion adds a crunch behind the natural chewiness of the rice. Honestly I could eat this every day of the week and never tire of it. A 250g box of wild rice produces about 6 portions of salad as a main dish. It freezes well though so I tend to boil up the whole packed and then I freeze portions in case I need a quick lunch for one later in the week.

Wild rice salad (serves 6)

  • 250g wild rice
  • 1 fennel thinly sliced
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 red onion, very finely diced
  • 1 handful peashoots (or watercress), lightly chopped
  • 1 carrot, very finely diced
Lemon vinaigrette
  • 1 part fresh lemon juice
  • 3 parts olive oil (not extra virgin)
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp liquid honey 
  • S&P to taste
  1. First boil the wild rice in a large pan for 25-30 mins. The Tilda packets say 40-50 mins but I've never needed that amount of time. It should be soft in the centre and starting to split to reveal the soft white centre. Once cooked, drain and plunge in cold water to stop it from cooking.
  2. In a large salad bowl mix the diced carrot and onion, the peashoots, the fennel slices, tomato and the rice and then coat with dressing and stir together. I like a lot of vinaigrette but it's up to you. Less will obviously be healthier and more will be richer.

A note on the vinaigrette. This goes well with many dishes. I use it as a dressing for any salad as well as cous cous and it's delightful with chicken. You can adjust the sweetness depending on how much honey you use and it's also delicious with one small crushed garlic clove added. Although make sure your guests aren't garlic phobic before serving them this.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Sun-blush tomatoes

If you are currently reaping the benefits of your tomato crop you'll no doubt have a glut round about now. Not me, you understand. I live in a first floor flat and couldn't be arsed with anything more than a pot of herbs which I killed after 3 weeks. The farmer's markets are full of them though and British toms are cheap as chips in the supermarket. Nothing says summer like the fresh, sunny taste of a straight-from-the-vine plum tomato. But for a true taste sensation I reckon you'd have to go a long way to beat the home-grown cherry. Bursting with sweetness and crunchy as a kumquat I could eat them morning, noon and night, with plenty left over for snacks in between.

If however you do start to crave something else, here's an idea of a way to preserve your tomatoes for the coming weeks. Sun blush tomatoes are semi-dried in the oven and tend to be sweeter and prettier than their sun-dried cousins. At work we use them as a garnish for twice baked soufflé or salmon roulade. When I make them at home I store them in jars and cover them with extra virgin olive oil to prolong their life. Kept in the fridge they'll last for 3-4 weeks like this and they are lovely in salads, Spanish tortilla, as a filling for chicken or just straight out of the jar with a sexy wedge of Camembert. And what's more they couldn't be easier to make.

Sun-blush tomato
  • As many cherry tomatoes as you can fit on a tray, basically
  • A handful of fresh thyme
  • A healthy pinch of smoked sea salt
  • 2 turns of freshly ground black pepper (depending on the volume of tomatoes)
  • 2 tblsp extra version olive oil (for baking)
  • 100ml olive oil (for jarring, if required)
  1. Slice your tomatoes in half through the core. Sprinkle with the freshly picked thyme leaves, salt and pepper and olive oil. 
  2. Finally place any vines left over on the tray (for that lovely aroma to seep into the tomatoes) and place in the centre of a very low oven (110C) for 2-3 hours. When they are semi-dry, ie dry on the outside, but still juicy to the bite, they are ready.
  3. If you want to jar them, wait until they are completely cold before transferring them to the jam jar and completely covering with the olive oil. 

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Chicken breast stuffed with sun-dried tomato, basil and parmesan

We've eaten a lot of salads this summer. Mr Hungry isn't anti-salad as such but I think it's fair to say he is highly suspicious of their lack of carbs and preponderance of greenery. I've therefore been trying out a number of ways to make the idea of salad more appealing. There's a fabulous wild rice and lemon version coming soon but I haven't got a photo of it yet so I'll start with this stuffed chicken.

The salad here is kos, tomato, cucumber,celery and chorizo dressed in a french vinaigrette but ultimately you can serve it with whatever you have to hand. The chicken is tender and complemented perfectly by the sundried tomato and basil inside and the chorizo is - well the chorizo is just because there isn't a salad on the planet that couldn't benefit from a bit of chorizo.

  Stuffed chicken with sundried tomato, basil and parmesan
  • chicken breast with skin
  • 1 jar sun-dried tomatoes, drained well
  • 1 small handful basil leaves
  • 100g grated parmesan
  • S&P to taste
  • 1 tblsp olive oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 200C.
  2. Add the sun-dried tomato and parmesan to a food processor and blend until smooth. Alternatively chop the tomato finely with a knife before adding the parmesan. Chop the basil into thin ribbons and mix into the tomato and basil mixture.
  3. Remove the fillet from the back of the chicken breast and keep to one side.
  4. (See images below) With a sharp knife carefully score a vertical line from the top of the fillet to the bottom without going all the way through. Now slice sideways from the central cut in order to open the breast up into wings. Do the same on the opposite side so that you have one wing on the left and one on the right. You are aiming for a pouch that will hold the filling. Beware not to slice too deep. If you go through to the outside of the flesh the filling will seep out when cooking.
  5. Now spoon the filling into the centre of the opened out breast in a line from the top of the breast to the bottom. It should be about 1cm in depth and 1cm in widthlace the discarded fillet on top of the filling and then carefully fold the wings over the fillet to close the pouch.
  6. Place the breasts, skin-side-up on a non-stick oven tray, or on a parchment covered tray. Season and sprinkle lightly with oil and bake for 15 -20 mins on 200C until firm to touch or 75C at the core (if you have  a digital probe).

Remove the fillet (it should just pull off so you don't need to cut it) and score a line down the centre of the breast from the top to the bottom. Do not cut all the way through.

Slice sideways from the central cut in order to open the breast up into wings, then repeat on the right hand side. This should give you a perfectly innocent looking pouch. It does not look rude. Honestly? You disgust me.

Spoon the filling into the centre of the opened out breast in a line from the top of the breast to the bottom. It should be about 1cm in depth and 1cm in widthlace the discarded fillet on top of the filling and then carefully fold the wings over the fillet to close the pouch.

When you slice the chicken you should get little elongated discs of filling in each slice. Serve with the salad of your choice. The chicken skin keeps the flesh beautifully moist as it bakes. It's also delicious on a bed of puy lentils.