Ultimate summertime salad

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The weather is starting to hot up and thoughts start turning to lighter meals to enjoy al fresco (well, hopefully if this lasts!). If a Greek salad and Italian panzanella had a lovechild then this salad would be the result. It packs a punch and combines savoury, crunchy and satisfying ingredients to create a healthy but filling salad. To be honest this is a great meal to use up whatever salad vegetables may be lurking in the fridge as you can’t really go wrong. This salad is ideal to take on a picnic as you can make the main elements and then assemble it at the last minute to avoid soggy bread disasters or make a big bowl of it to serve at a BBQ to eat with grilled meats or fish.

Ingredients- serves 3-4
150g sourdough bread- cut into bite sized cubed
1 red onion- finely sliced
350g assorted vine tomatoes
Half a cucumber- deseeded and sliced
200g feta
1 tbsp oregano
100g pitted mixed olives
2 tbsp.red wine vinegar
4 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
Freshly chopped parsley

1. Preheat the oven to 150c/ 130 fan. Place the chunks of bread on a baking tray so they are arranged in a single layer. Drizzle with a little olive oil and bake until slightly golden and crisp around the edges. Remove and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the tomatoes. Cut them into a combination of halves and quarters and place in a bowl. Add the sliced onion along with 2 tbsp of red wine vinegar and 3 tbsp olive oil. Season well and  set aside to infuse.

3. In another bowl, combine the cucumber, feta, olives and oregano along with a good crack of black pepper and another tablespoon of oil.

4. Choose a suitable bowl in which to serve the salad and add half of the bread into it before adding the tomato mixture, cucumber mixture and tossing well. Add the remaining bread. Serve with an additional sprinkling of parsley and allow to stand for a few minutes before serving so the brad can soak up the juices from the tomatoes.

Ultimate summertime salad- I promise you you’ll be making this time and time again!

 

 

Garlic, herb and lemon slow roasted lamb

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Now here is a recipe that is too good not to share- my garlic, herb and lemon slow roasted lamb. This can be used for either lamb leg or shoulder and it is ideal for a lazy Sunday roast dinner or for entertaining. Lamb is now in season in the UK so it is the perfect time to get your hands on some and make the most of it. I recently cooked this for Easter lunch and it went down a storm! For 4 people I used a half leg of lamb which meant that everyone was well fed but there were certainly no leftovers! If you have large appetites, want leftovers or if you are feeding the 5,000 then by all means use a larger joint and cook for longer until the meat is falling off the bone.

If you have time then you can prepare the lamb the night before you want to start cooking it by following the first step, covering tightly and leaving in the fridge to allow the flavours to infuse.

Ingredients- serves 4
Half leg of lamb
Handful each of fresh thyme and rosemary
2 bulbs of garlic
1 lemon
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
300ml water or white wine

1. If preparing the meat either the night before or the morning of cooking then all you need to do is find a deep tray that will comfortably fit the half leg in and pop it in. Peel around 4 cloves of garlic, cut them into quarters and use a sharp knife to make slits in the lamb; pop a sliver of garlic into each slit. Scatter the remaining garlic cloves around the lam in the bottom of the tray. Drizzle the lamb with a little olive oil and rub so it is well coated; season well. Cut the remaining bulb in half width ways and place in the tray cut side up. Scatter the herbs too. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the lemon rind and place on and around the lamb. If preparing in advance, at this stage cover well and refrigerate. If cooking then and there, read on…

2. Preheat the oven to 140c/ 120 fan. Pour the water or wine, depending on what you are using, into the tray. Cover tightly with foil and place on the middle or low shelf in the oven and cook for around 4-5 hours. The time will depend on the size of the joint so check and baste from time to time. If the bottom of the tray becomes too dry then add another splash of water. When the lamb is nearly ready, remove the foil and allow the lamb to catch some colour and turn golden. The juices should run clear and the meat should come away from the bone with ease. Remove from the oven and rest whilst you make other accompaniments.

Garlic, herb and lemon slow roasted lamb- a sure fire crowd pleaser that’s packed with flavour but that needs very little care!

 

Springtime fricassee with pan fried sea bream

If you’re a regular reader of this blog then you’ll notice by now that, not only do I enjoy cooking with seasonal ingredients as far as possible, I also have a penchant for pan fried sea bream. I love how delicate it is whilst also being able to stand up to a range of flavours. If you can’t find sea bream then sea bass will also work well. When fish is fresh you really don’t need to do much to it to bring out the best in it so keep it simple. I have chosen to pair the fish with spring vegetable fricassee; asparagus, peas and broad beans are in plentiful supply at the moment so take advantage of them whilst they are at their best. I served the fish and fricassee with roasted garlic mashed potato to bring the dish together and indulge in my other love in life- garlic!

Ingredients- serves 4
Olive oil
Unsalted butter
4 sea bream fillets- pin boned and skin left on
1 shallot- finely chopped
200g asparagus
200g shelled broad beans
200g podded peas
150ml double cream
Salt and pepper to season

For the mashed potatoes
1 bulb of garlic
Olive oil
500g Maris Piper potatoes- peeled and quartered
100g butter

1. Preheat the oven to 200c/ 180 fan. Take the bulb of garlic for the mash and remove some of the outer papery layers. Carefully use a sharp knife to cut the bulb across the top to expose a little of the cloves. Place the garlic on a sheet of foil, drizzle with some olive oil and gather the side of the foil to make a parcel; roast in the oven for around 30 minutes or until the garlic has softened. When tender, remove from the oven and allow to cool until you can handle the garlic. Squeeze all the garlic from the bulb and use the back of a fork to lightly mash it down; set aside.

2. Bring a large pan of water to the boil and add a little salt. Cook the potatoes until tender; drain well and set aside before mashing with the butter added. Pop in most of the roasted garlic and combine well. Keep the mash warm.

3. Next up you need to make the fricassee and this could not be more straightforward. Bring a medium pan of water to a vigorous simmer but just below a boil. Take the asparagus and quarter each spear before then chopping each quarter to give thick sticks of asparagus. Add to the water and blanch for 1 minute before removing with a slotted spoon and refreshing in a bowl of ice cold water. Take the shelled broad beans and do the same for 3 minutes and then do the peas for 2 minutes.

4. In a medium pan add a glug of oil and soften the shallot. Pop in the remaining roasted garlic. Add the asparagus, broad beans and peas and pour over the double cream. Simmer gently for a few minutes until the vegetables are nice and tender. Taste and season well.

5. As the fricassee is finishing off get going with the fish. Heat a non- stick frying pan over a medium- high heat and add a good knob of butter and a glug of oil. Lightly season the skin of the fish and place skin side down into the hot pan; when the butter and oil starts to bubble then its ready to use. Fry the fish for around 4-5 minutes before gently flipping it over and cooking for a further minute or two. Serve the mash and fricassee and mash in deep bowls and top with the golden pan fried bream; serve immediately.

Springtime vegetable fricassee with pan fried sea bream- a celebration of seasonal ingredients!

 

Chilli beef brisket loaded nachos

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Now here is a feast that is fit for a Friday, Saturday, Sunday… or any day for that matter! Beef brisket is my favourite cut to use for a chilli as it holds the flavours of the spices amazingly well and slow cooks like a dream so you are left with a melt in your mouth chilli. I have kept the chilli recipe as simple as possible so it will be perfect served with a range of things from nachos to rice but feel free to use it as a base and add in extra vegetables or beans. Play around with your choice of chillies; I used ancho and chipotle morita to add a kick of heat whilst also adding a wonderful smokiness. If you prefer your chillies a touch milder then use whatever chillies suit you.

Ingredients- serves 4
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 beef brisket- approx. 500g
1 red onion- finely chopped
2 garlic cloves- crushed
1 tbsp each of ground cumin, coriander and oregano
1/2 tbsp each of paprika and cayenne pepper
Dried chillies such as chipotle morita and ancho
400ml hot beef stock
400ml passata
Salt and pepper

For the nachos
Lightly salted tortilla chips
Salsa, guacamole and soured cream
Fresh jalapenos
Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese as much as you dare!
Fresh coriander

1. Preheat the oven to 150c/ 130 fan. Choose a large, lidded, heavy based casserole dish and heat half of the oil over a medium- high heat. Season the brisket and brown it on all sides before removing from the pan. Drain off any excess fat and add a little more vegetable oil. Lower the heat and fry the onion and garlic together for a few minutes until softened.

2. Sprinkle in the spices and herbs and stir well to combine with the onion and garlic. Cook for an additional minute or two. Pour in a splash of the beef stock to remove any pieces of onion that may have caught to the pan slightly. Add the remaining stock and passata along with the dried chillies; bring to a simmer and add the brisket back to the pan. Pop the pan into the oven and cook for around 3-4 hours or until the brisket is meltingly tender. If the chilli looks like there is still a lot of liquid you can either remove the lid and continue to cook it or put it on the hob and simmer to reduce and thicken.

3. When ready to assemble the nachos, simply use two forks to pull the brisket apart. Take an ovenproof dish and layer with tortilla chips, salsa and some sliced fresh jalapenos. Sprinkle a little cheese before repeating. Add the chilli on top of the seond layer of nachos, add more cheese and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes at 200c/ 180 fan until the cheese is bubbling and melted. Finish with a handful of freshly chopped coriander and some more fresh jalapeno.

Chilli beef brisket nachos- ultimate comfort food perfect for a quiet night in or a party!

 

Tray bake ‘fry up’

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The term ‘fry up’ conjures all sorts of images of greasy spoon cafes offering calorie laden breakfasts with tea so strong that you can stand a spoon upright in it but this is a completely different take on this. Rather than a meat heavy breakfast this makes the best of two of my favourite things which are both in season in the UK at the moment- Jersey Royal potatoes and asparagus. Each year I eat the best part of a family’s asparagus quota to myself and I hope this year will be no exception. My tray bake ‘fry up’ is much lighter and healthier than the usual fry up but it is perfect not only as a breakfast but also as a brunch or even a midweek dinner. It’s speedy but also is low on washing up which is always a bonus in my mind!

Ingredients- serves 2-3
Glug of vegetable oil
Jersey Royals- as many as you want depending on hunger!
1 red or white onion
1-2 garlic cloves
4-6 rashers of streaky bacon
Bag of baby spinach
200g asparagus spears
Cherry tomatoes on the vine
4-6 Portobellini or Portobello mushrooms
1 tsp chilli flakes
2-3 eggs

1. Start by preheating the oven to 200c/ 180fan and bringing a medium pan of water to the boil. Take the tray that you will be making the majority of the meal in, add a splash of oil and heat on the hob over a medium heat. Meanwhile simmer the potatoes until just tender; drain well. Take a separate tray, add another small glug of oil and toss the potatoes in it. Season with salt and pepper and roast until golden whilst you crack on with the rest.

2. When the oil is warm, add the onions and garlic and fry until softening. Shred the spinach and add to the tray; stir until combined with the onion and garlic and continue to cook over a lower heat until wilted. Remove from the hob whilst you assemble the rest.

3. When the potatoes are golden, use a slotted spoon to remove from the tray and use the back of a fork to lightly crush them. Add the asparagus, tomatoes, mushrooms and potatoes to the pan. Sprinkle with chilli flakes and season well. Brush the vegetables with a light coating of oil so they don’t catch in the oven and bake until just tender. Make a couple of hollows in between the vegetables and crack an egg into each; return the tray to the oven and cook until the eggs are set.

4. While that is in the oven, fry the streaky bacon in a dry pan or even wipe out the tray that you used to roast the potatoes and use this on the hob to minimise washing up further! Streaky bacon has a high fat content so you won’t need any extra oil. Fry until golden and remove from the pan. Towards the very end of cooking you have a bacon related decision to make… You can either serve the bacon on the top of the tray bake in whole rashers or you can do as I did and crumble a couple over the top whilst keeping a couple whole so it’s up to you. Serve immediately.

Tray bake ‘fry up’- just as delicious but minus the calories!

 

Sweet and sour pork

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Sweet and sour pork is one of the mainstays of most Chinese takeaways and restaurants and is known and loved throughout the land. There’s only one snag though- it’s rich often cloying batter so I decided to give the dish a revamp and lose the batter but not compromise on flavour. If you know me, I am not a huge fan of fruit in savoury dishes, but the pineapple in this dish is a must as it balances the flavours and is deliciously tender. If you prefer, you can substitute pork with chicken.

Ingredients- serves 3-4
For the sauce
3 tbsp. ketchup
2 tsp plum sauce
4 tsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 tsp lea and perrins
2 tsp oyster sauce
2 garlic cloves- crushed
1 inch piece of fresh ginger- peeled and grated
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp corn starch in 4 tbsp. water

For the rest
Groundnut or vegetable oil
1/2 fresh pineapple- peeled, cored and chopped
1 red and 1 green bell pepper- chopped
350-400g pork tenderloin tossed in 2 tbsp seasoned corn flour- chopped

1. Kick off proceedings by combining all the sauce ingredients in a small pan and heat over a low heat until starting to thicken; remove from the heat whilst you start the pork.

2. Take a pan that you can shallow fry in and add enough oil; heat to medium- high. In a couple of batches, fry the cornflour flour tossed pork until golden. Remove from the pan using a slotted spoon, blot onto kitchen roll to remove excess oil and set aside.

3. In a wok, add a glug of oil and fry the pineapple and peppers until softening and until the pineapple is picking up a little colour. Pop the pork in the wok and cook for a further couple of minutes before adding the reduced sauce. Continue to cook until well combined and the sauce is coating each piece of pork. Serve immediately with rice or noodles and dive in!

Sweet and sour pork- not a scrap of batter in sight!

Cauliflower cheese

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In the modern world, we are constantly bombarded with messages of healthy eating, clean eating (no phrase annoys me more!) and food fads but sometimes we all need proper comfort food. It’s a time to forget calorie counting once in a while and eat what makes you happy and cauliflower cheese is definitely one of those meals! Cauliflower cheese needs no introduction as it is exactly what it says it is- no pretention! It can be the main event or a side dish for a whole host of dishes. It also allows you to play around with a mixture of cheeses to make it as savoury as you want and cheese sauce is also a perfect way to use up any odds and ends of cheese that may be lurking in your fridge. In this recipe, I have given you the basic cheese sauce recipe that I use but feel free to add blue cheese if you like as cauliflower can stand up to the sharpness of it. Fried off cubes of pancetta are also a welcome addition!

Ingredients- serves 3-4
1 cauliflower
45g plain flour
45g unsalted butter
250ml double cream
300ml milk
50g cheddar
50g parmesan

1. Kick off by preparing the cauliflower. Clean it and cut into large florets. Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil and boil until the stems are just tender- it will continue to cook when it is baked so it needs a bit of texture still at this stage. Drain well and set aside while you make the sauce.

2. For the cheese sauce, use a pan and heat over a medium heat. Melt together the butter and flour to form a roux. Gradually add in the milk and cream; making sure you keep stirring to ensure that no lumps form. If any lumps start creeping in then remove the pan from the heat and whisk it like your life depends on it before returning to the heat. Continue to stir and simmer until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat and add in the parmesan and season to taste.

3. Choose an ovenproof roasting dish that will fit the cauliflower in a single layer. Arrange the florets and pour over the cheese sauce. Top with grated cheddar and a little extra parmesan if you like. Bake at 200c/ 180 fan for around 30 minutes or until golden and bubbling. Serve immediately.

Cauliflower cheese- like a cheesy hug for soul!