Sunday, 21 April 2013

Turning over a new (lettuce) leaf

I've been having feelings of slight despair every time I look in the fridge. It's the same kind of feeling I get when I open my wardrobe. I will make a decent dish out of what's there/will be able to dress myself without causing looks of alarm from passers-by, but really I want to chuck everything out and start again. I could solve the wardrobe problem with a personal shopper, but does anyone offer a personal shopping service for fridges?

Thinks: The fridge PS could take into account your body shape and decide to stock you up with full-fat or low-fat yogurts; she could update your classics with a new spicy chorizo or a flavoured houmous; she could suggest accessorising with some coloured plastic storage boxes; or she could even lead you towards a whole new line of fridge magnets.

But then something magical happened; the sun came out. Now I can strip out all the dark coloured moth-eaten stuff and replace it with white linen, and throw away that old shrink-wrapped swede and buy salad leaves! I lost no time in making Salad Niçoise.

Close up of salad nicoise

Salad Niçoise with hot smoked salmon

1 egg per person, lightly hardboiled
green beans, cooked
black olives
hot smoked salmon (I used a 150g pack for 2 people)
new potatoes

Cut the potatoes into smallish chunks and cook them in a pan of water with a pinch of salt. Add the eggs to the pan just as the water comes up to the boil and keep them there until the potatoes are done. Drain, and place the eggs into cold water for a few minutes, before peeling and quartering them. Meanwhile, assemble the salad by piling it all artfully on a large platter, finishing with the eggs and flaked salmon. I like to serve it undressed (it, not me) as it looks prettier that way (I don't). Serve with a dressing of your choice or this one:

Simple salad dressing

2 teaspoons runny honey
half a teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil
a generous pinch of salt

Place everything in a screw-top jar and shake vigorously.

Salad nicoise on a platter

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Old skool

Love her or loathe her, Maggie did me a big favour. I was often milk monitor in my early days at school, which involved sticking straws through the foil tops of mini bottles of thick, cheesy milk which had been sitting in the playground all morning. In a bid to save the country money she scrapped the milk and became known as 'Maggie Thatcher, milk snatcher'. Hooray!

Milk wasn't the only vile thing we had to drink at school. Our lunch was served with water in coloured aluminium jugs (and matching tumblers) which tasted like it had been scooped out of a fish pond and was always slightly warmer than room temperature. The food wasn't bad though. I have to admit to being partial to the odd spam fritter with an ice cream scoop of mashed potato, and I really loved the spongey puddings and coloured custard. 

Here's one I made earlier...

A serving of jam and coconut sponge pudding with pink custard

Jam and Coconut Sponge with pink custard

125g margarine (for an authentic 1970's flavour)
125g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
125g self raising flour
½teaspoon baking powder
a few drops of vanilla essence
a splosh of milk
raspberry jam
dessicated coconut

Pre-heat the oven to 180/gas 4. Cream together the marg and sugar until pale and fluffy, then add eggs a little at a time. Mix in the milk and vanilla, then fold in the flour and baking powder. Pour into a lined tin measuring 18x20 cm and bake for about 20 minutes until risen and golden. When cool, spread liberally with raspberry jam and a  sprinkling of coconut. Serve with Ambrosia pink custard (in the little tubs) which has a very authentic taste.

Definitely the best days of our lives!

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Chocolate chip shortbread

It's going to be a lovely day tomorrow. Really. So do your time in the kitchen today and be ready to get outdoors when the sun starts shining.

Whatever the weather, these chocolate chip shortbread rounds will not disappoint. Crisp, crunchy, buttery shortbread with chunks of dark and white chocolate (such as left-over Easter eggs). You could even go wild and add a handful of nuts.

stack of 6 chocolate chip shortbread biscuits on vintage plate
Just add tea

Chocolate chip shortbread

225g butter
100g caster sugar
¼ teaspoon salt (if you're using unsalted butter; a generous pinch if not)
225g plain flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
125g chocolate (any type), chopped

Pre-heat oven to 150/gas 2. Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the flour, baking powder and chocolate and stir to form a stiff dough. Roll into walnut-sized rounds, flatten each one slightly and place on a baking tray at least 3cm apart. Bake for approximately 20 minutes until light golden brown. Remove from baking tray and cool on a rack.

3 chocolate chip shortbread biscuits on a vintage plate with gold rim

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

The trouble with holidays

For me, a real holiday is one where the only thought I have to give food is what to order from the menu. No planning, no cooking, and no clearing up. But I do have one major area of disquiet that chips away at my unfettered enjoyment - the children's food choices. Given free rein at the buffet or menu they choose stuff that makes me cringe. Sometimes it's the combination, sometimes it's the bald lack of respect for their own bowel function. On a trip to France last year Child 1 proudly chose an "all-mollusc meal" (squid followed by snails).

Returning home from holiday recently, I was obsessed with redressing the nutritional balance. I cooked pasta sauce full of tomato seeds and red pepper skins, muffins with blueberries and lemon, and - today - sweetcorn fritters. They went down very well with a simple prawn and avocado salad and a dollop of sweet chilli sauce. Super-quick and delicious for all ages.

Sweetcorn fritters on plate with prawn and avocado salad and sweet chillii dipping sauce
Sweetcorn fritters and prawn & avocado salad

Sweetcorn fritters

2 eggs
5 tablespoons milk
knob of melted butter
85g plain flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
330g can sweetcorn drained (I used 250g frozen sweetcorn, cooked for a couple of minutes)
a couple of finely sliced spring onions

Whisk the eggs, milk and melted butter together. Add the flour, salt and baking powder and whisk a bit more til smooth. Tip in the sweetcorn and spring onions and mix. Shallow fry large spoonfuls in hot oil for 1-2 minutes each side until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper and keep them warm in the oven while you cook the rest. This made 10.

Prawn and avocado salad

An avocado
A couple of handfuls of cooked prawns
A squeeze of lime (optional)
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons cold water
½ teaspoon caster sugar
a few drops of sesame oil

Cut the avocado into chunks and sprinkle over a little lime juice. Mix together the soy sauce, water, sugar and oil and pour it over the avocado and prawns. Serve with a few shredded mint or whole coriander leaves. Serves 2