Three Simple Salads

Happy 1st of July everyone! This is one of my favourite months: the days are longer, school is nearly over and it’s my birthday soon! 

I find that recently we’ve been lossening up on our (already pretty loose) bedtime routine. The evenings are so light and it’s so close to the end of term and I’d much rather be having fun than ushering Stink off to bed at 8pm sharp. Im pretty sure that all they do in the last few weeks of school is colouring in and watching videos anyway…
Having had a few weeks of really nice weather here in Somerset we’ve found ourselves edging away from our normal evening routine of chores, dinner, telly and bed in favour of impromptu mid-week dinner picnics and leisurely strolls along the canal to our local pub for a cheeky pint. I also find it so much easier to entertain guests at this time of year. We live in a tiny house which makes it difficult to have more than a couple of people at a time round for dinner. We are however lucky to have a good sized garden, and if you follow me on instagram you’ll have seen we’ve been making good use of it.


So I’m hoping for a sunny month with more balmy evenings in the garden, and with this in mind I thought I’d share with you three Simple Salads. All of them can be made ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days. They work just as well for barbecues and garden parties as they do for packed lunches and picnics.

Morroccan Couscous

Ingredients:

  • 200g dried couscous 
  • 350g boiling water
  • 75g raisins
  • 1/2 tsp each of cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, paprika, ginger and coriander 
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • A handful of walnuts or almonds (or both)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar 
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  1. Place the couscous, raisins and spices in a large bowl and pour over the boiling water. Stir and cover the bowl with a plate to keep the steam in. After ten minutes the couscous will have absorbed all the water. 
  2. Pour over the olive oil and vinegar, fluff with a fork and set aside to cool.
  3. Once the couscous has cooled completely add the rest of the ingredients.
  4. Mix well and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Store in a covered container until you need it.


    Tomato, Basil and Butterbean Salad with Feta 

    Ingredients 

    • 150g cherry tomatoes, halved
    • 2 large tomatoes, diced
    • 1 can of butter beans, drained
    • 1 small red onion, finely sliced
    • 100g feta, crumbled
    • A large handful of fresh basil leaves, roughly torn
    • 3 tbsp of olive oil
    • 1 tsp of good quality balsamic vinegar 
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • Rocket to serve

    Method

    1. Place all of the ingredients except the rocket and balsamic in a large bowl. Mix well and season to taste. Be careful with the salt as feta is brined and therefore very salty already.
    2. Store in a covered container until, ready to serve.
    3. To serve, gently toss the rocket and salad together, then drizzle with the balsamic vinegar.


      Beetroot, Cucumber and Zaatar Salad

      Ingredients 

      • 1 pack of pre-cooked beetroot, diced
      • 1 large cucumber, cut into semicircles
      • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
      • 1 bunch of spring onions, chopped
      • 1 clove of garlic,  minced
      • 1 tsp of  zaatar (a spice blend available in most good supermarkets)
      • 150g thick natural yoghurt 
      • Salt and pepper to taste 

       Method

      1. Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Store in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to serve.



        Pide

        Move over Pizza: we have a new favourite bread based dinner and it’s called Pide!

        Originating in Turkey this traditional bread is stretched thin and baked in a scorching hot oven, leaving the outside crisp and golden and the middle, soft and fluffy. During Ramadan this bread is eaten plain, with just a smattering of poppy seeds and sea salt, at the end of a long day of fasting. 

        Alternatively it can be topped with various different things, similar to an Italian pizza, and sold from kiosks on the bustling streets. We like our Pide with a spiced Lamb topping and a sprinkling of pickled onions. Other great toppings include Halloumi or Feta, Spinach and Egg.

        To make this as a weeknight supper, we put the dough on at about 4:30 and leave it to rise for an hour whilst we prepare the filling and any salads or dips we decide to have. By 5:30 I’m shaping the Pide, baking them in a hot and they’re on the table by 6. 


        Ingredients 

        For the dough:

        • 7g instant dry yeast
        • 1 tbsp flour
        • 300g flour
        • 2 tsp salt
        • 100g water
        • 30g yoghurt
        • 2tbsp olive oil

        For the Lamb filling:

        • 500g minced Lamb
        • 1 onion, finely chopped
        • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
        • 3 tomatoes, finely chopped
        • 1 tsp cumin, ground
        • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds, ground
        • 1/2 tsp cinnamon, ground
        • 1/2 tsp sumac
        • Salt and pepper to taste

        For the pickled onions:

        • 100g white wine vinegar
        • 100g water
        • 50g sugar
        • 5g salt
        • 5 cloves
        • 2 small red onions, sliced 

        Method:

        1. Make the dough by putting the flour and yeast into the bowl of your stand mixer. Make a well in the centre and pour in the salt, sugar, water, yoghurt and oil.
        2. Mix on a low speed to combine the ingredients and form a dough.
        3. Continue mixing on a medium speed for 10 minutes until a smooth and elastic dough has formed,
        4. Set aside to rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
        5. To make the pickled onions, combine the water, vinegar, cloves, sugar and salt in a small pan. Bring to a boil whilst stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar, 
        6. Once the liquid has come to a boil, remove from the heat and pour into a bowl. Add the onions, stir and set aside to cool.
        7. To make the Lamb filling, heat a large skillet with a small amount of oil. Add the onions and cook slowly until they start to caramelise.
        8. Add to this the Lamb and the ground spices. Turn up the heat to brown the meat.
        9. Then add the garlic and tomatoes. Add a little water if the mixture looks dry and cook on a low heat for approximately 15 minutes until the tomatoes start to break down.
        10. Season to taste and set aside to cool while you wait for the dough.
        11. Preheat your oven to its highest setting, prepare your baking tray by dusting it with flour.
        12. When the dough is ready, turn it out onto a floured work surface and divide into 4 equal portions.
        13. Shape each piece of dough into a long oval shape by stretching it with your hands. Place onto the baking sheet and spread the Lamb evenly across each Pide, leaving a 3cm edge all the way around.
        14. Fold the edge over the Lamb, pinching it at either end to make a point, and pinching all along the edges with your finger and thumb as you would to crimp a pie edge.
        15. Brush the edge of the Pide with a little olive oil.
        16. Bake in a hot oven for approximately 10-15 minutes, turning half way to ensure an even colour.
        17. The Pide are done when the dough has cooked underneath, the lamb is sizzling and the edges are golden.
        18. Serve immediately with the pickled onions on top.



        It’s Not My Favourite

        I am the proud parent of a fussy eater. 

        Since the age of about 4 days my child has been a pain in the arse when it comes to food. At one of the daily home invasions from the community midwife, I was informed that I wasn’t breast feeding correctly and this squawking, angry bundle of baby had lost half of her birth weight. We were hot-footed back to hospital where we were treated to a gruelling 4 hour feeding schedule of trying and failing to feed her myself, desperately trying to express, bottle feeding expressed milk and topping up with formula. Every. Four. Hours. For three whole days. There was much crying, so much mama-guilt, heaps of anxiety and virtually no sleep. 

        We eventually got into the swing of things and started on our next food hurdle: weaning. 

        I became a mum at 19 and I hadn’t had a chance to read the parenting books. I was too busy being shit scared to read the”how to keep it alive” manuals from the current child rearing guru. I had some not-very-helpful leaflets from my very lovely, but alas, not-very-helpful health visitor. But we gave it a bash. Stinky, me and Jake and a bowl of mashed up banana. Compared to breast feeding, this was a walk in the park. We fed her all sorts of things and she loved it (mostly). Apparently we were doing “baby led weaning”. We basically just put food in front of her and and watched while she squelched it between her fingers and rubbed it in her ear holes. 


        Shortly after we started weaning we had a lot of things change in our lives. We moved house twice in six months, I went back to work full time, Jake started university and Stinky started nursery. At 18 months, all of this change must have been a lot to deal with for such a tiny human. After our second move, Stinky had started to refuse to try new foods. She even started refusing foods she had previously enjoyed. The list of acceptable foods was short: apples, bananas, blueberries, strawberries, yoghurt, peas, mashed potato. Like I said, short. 

        Phsycologists say that every toddler goes through a fussy eating phase, usually at about 16 months. Typically this is when we start feeding our little darlings new foods. Weaning is going so well; you’ve graduated from mush to slightly lumpy mush, then finger food and you get cocky. One dinner time you just go right ahead and put something completely obscene like aubergine on your toddler’s plate and they freak the fuck out. They’ve never seen it before, never smelled or touched anything like it and they certainly won’t be putting in their mouth. If your darling child is anything like mine, they’ll probably stage the toddler version of a dirty protest by smearing it across the magnolia walls of your rented house. 

        According to psychologists this is normal. It’s called Neophobia, which is the fear of new foods. It’s an evolutionary survival instinct which stops us from eating food which may be harmful to us. For example, many green vegetables like broccoli and sprouts have a bitter taste, just like a poisonous Berry in the wild might. This translates to a developing toddler’s brain as “sprouts are poison”. 

        It’s estimated that a third of under 5s go through a fussy eating phase. Whilst it’s really very easy to judge other parents for their child’s eating habits, our blame yourself, some research has suggested that genetics can be partly to blame for fussy eating. My child is not an adventurous child; she’s highly suspicious of new things and everything has to be thoroughly mulled over so it stands to reason that those personality traits are projected on to the dinner table. Finding this out did good things for my gut wrenching mama-guilt. It’s not entirely my fault for not being a stay at home mum after all. She is who she is. 

        I’ve heard that there are two types of people: those that eat to live and those that live to eat. As a chef and general food obsessed person, I am definitely in the live to eat category and it hurts my soul to see my child not sharing my love of food. At age nearly 8, we have made considerable progress. Long gone are the days of Mash Pandas: a phase where she would only eat mash, peas and sausage artfully arranged in the shape of a panda. What was I thinking?

        So how did we get over the crippling fussiness? 

        First off I let go of the mama-guilt, leave the control-freak part of my personality at the front door and pour myself a large glass of stay calm (that’s a metaphor by the way, wine is not the answer). We sit down together as a family, we eat the same meal, we chat and we laugh and enjoy our meal. Stinky is a painfully slow eater (made worse by the fact that she never stops talking) but I try not to let her sit in front of her plate while her food gets cold. No one wants to eat cold, congealed spaghetti. Some gentle encouragement is often required but there’s a fine line between encouraging her to shut up and eat and commencing a bloody battle of wills over the dining table. Watching her prod at a lovingly prepared supper fills me with rage and I’m certain that my nagging makes her furious. We try our very best as parents to not make dinner time a big deal, to not lumber her with a lifelong complex. I certainly don’t want that time I made her eat butternut squash whilst she gagged because it was stringy to be something she tells her therapist in later life. 


        Another thing which helped with the general suspicion of funny looking food was shopping and cooking together. Food should be fun, not a chore or something to get your knickers in a twist over. Grocery shopping as a family gives Stinky a chance to have her say in what we eat. I ask her what she would like for dinner (normally pizza, meatballs or shepherds pie) and she feels involved in our decision making. It also means she can identify lots of different foods, she feels comfortable eating new fruits and vegetables and because of that is able to enjoy a more varied diet. That being said, she might be able to identify a celeriac but she sure as hell wouldn’t touch it with a shitty stick, let alone eat it. 

        My last piece of advice is to just keep trying. Keep offering new foods, don’t make different dinners and don’t give up on your child. I never gave Stink peppers, thinking there was no way she’d eat it and then one day, Jake put some on her plate. She ate them by accident and loved them. Take pleasure in the small victories. After 4 years of refusing to eat meat (too chewy) she discovered bacon and fell in love. She then discovered pigs in blankets and it blew her tiny mind. She’s recently discovered that burgers are nice, and chips are acceptable but not the fat ones. They won’t like everything, every time but if they know you won’t make a big fuss over a bit of wasted food then they’re more likely to eat it. I’ve always discouraged the phrase “I don’t like it” because it’s so negative and final. It basically says “I will never eat this ever again”. Instead she tells me it’s “not my favourite” and I can live with that. 

        Iced Buns

        It is a well known fact that nobody can say no to an iced bun. They’re nothing special, but the sweet simplicity of an iced bun is irresistible. Maybe it’s the way that the soft, enriched white bun with its layer of sweet icing is quite simply ‘enough’. Enough softness, enough chewiness, enough sugary sweetness. And ‘enough’ is all anyone really wants from life, isn’t it?

        Maybe it’s their magical powers of taking us back to our childhood. Every time I make iced buns they are greeted with delighted cries of “I haven’t had these since I was a kid”. I know I certainly have many fond memories of eating iced buns as a child. They remind me of family picnics, of Sunday afternoons and of squashing around my grandmas kitchen table, elbow to elbow with my cousins.


        Ingredients 

        • 325g strong white flour
        • 150g warm milk
        • 40g butter
        • 40g caster sugar
        • 5g salt
        • 10g fresh yeast
        • 1 egg
        • 200g icing sugar
        • Water
        • Egg wash (beaten egg with a pinch of salt and a dash of milk)

        Method

        1. To make your dough, place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the egg and butter. Dissolve the yeast into the warm milk and pour in to the bowl. Mix for approximately 7 minutes, until a soft and elastic dough has formed. This dough will feel a little sticky.
        2. Leave to prove in a warm place for a couple of hours. Sweet doughs will often take a little longer to prove because of the extra fat, but just be patient.
        3. When the dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured work surface. Divide your dough into equal portions. I scale mine to 50g as I prefer a daintier bun, but if you like a larger bun weigh out larger portions.
        4. Using your hand and as little flour as possible, roll each portion of dough into a ball. Then roll each ball into a sausage shape.
        5. Place the shaped dough on a lined baking tray. They need to be about 1.5cm away from each other to ensure they batch. This simply means that they touch at the sides whilst they bake. It means you get soft fluffy edges and it also encourages the buns to be taller.
        6. Cover the buns with a clean tea towel and leave to rise for 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C or gas mark 6.
        7. Before you bake the buns, give them an egg wash to make sure they come out shiny and golden.
        8. Bake the buns for 10-15 minutes. They should be well risen and golden in colour.
        9. Whilst the buns are in the oven, make the icing by adding water a drop at a time to icing sugar. It needs to be quite thick and spreadable.
        10. Allow the buns to cool,completely before icing them. 


        Spiced Orange Polenta Cake

        If you follow me on Facebook or instgram you’ll have seen that last week I was on holiday with my family in beautiful Marrakech. We spent our time lounging on rooftops and mooching around the souks in the thirty degree heat. Coming back to th UK to find that winter has finally arrived was certainly a shock.

        In Marrakech we saw orange trees everywhere and the smell from the many orange juice vendors in Jmaa el Fnaa square is divine. We wandered around the labyrinth of alleyways in the Medina and got pleasantly lost, stumbling across shops selling exotic treasures. I particularly loved the spice souks; the heady smell of rich spices piled high and shaped into cones and the sight of shops laden with dried chillies and things I couldn’t even identify was magnificent. 

        This Spiced orange cake is inspired by the flavours that remind me of Marrakech. It’s gluten free, using Polenta and Almond, and can easily be made dairy free by substituting the butter for a soya based margarine. As usual, I’ve used whole spices and ground them myself to make sure they are as fresh and fragrant as possible. If you’re not a fan of the spices I’ve used, leave them out or substitute them for whichever spices you prefer. I’ve chosen to ice this cake with an intense orange icing, but it’s sweet and moist enough to be simply dusted with icing sugar. It is also really delicious served warm from the oven, with mascarpone or ice cream.

        Ingredients 

        • 200g butter, melted and cooled
        • 200g fine Polenta
        • 100g ground almonds
        • 200g caster sugar
        • 3 eggs
        • 7g gluten free baking powder
        • The zest of one orange
        • 1 star anise, 3 cloves, the seeds of 5 Cardomom pods, a small piece of ginger and a small piece of cinnamon, all finely ground. 

        For the syrup:

        • The juice of one orange
        • 100g sugar
        • 100g water
        • 3 star anise, 3 cloves and a small piece of cinnamon, left whole.

        For the icing:

        • 200g icing sugar
        • 1 tbsp honey
        • Zest of half and orange
        • Juice of half an orange

        Method

        1. Preheat your oven to 170 degrees C / gas mark 3. Grease and line an 8″ cake tin.
        2. Mix together the butter, sugar, spice and zest. 
        3. Add the eggs and whisk well.
        4. To this, add the Polenta, ground almonds and baking powder.
        5. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 45-55 mins. The cake will feel springy when it is baked, and a skewer will come out clean.
        6. Whilst the cake is in the oven, make the syrup. Place all the ingredients in a saucepan, stir to dissolve the sugar and bring to a boil.
        7. Simmer for 5 minutes to reduce the liquid into a syrup. Leave to cool with the whole spices infusing. This will intensify the flavour.
        8. When the cake is baked, poke several holes in the top with a skewer and pour over the syrup. If you are using a loose bottomed tin be sure to place the cake on a tray or plate so that should any syrup escape out of the bottom it doesn’t make a sticky mess all over your kitchen.
        9. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 20 minutes, the gently remove and place on a serving plate. Do not place on a wire rack as this will allow all of the syrup to escape. Because there is no gluten in this cake, it is very delicate so move as carefully as you can and as little as possible. 
        10. If you are icing the cake, leave to cool completely.
        11. To make the icing, place the icing sugar, honey and zest in a bowl. Add the orange juice a little at a time, mixing as you go. The icing should have a thick but still gloopy consistency. 
        12. When the cake is cool, carefully spoon the icing over the cake and use the back of a clean spoon to smooth it out. This cake is very delicate, so be careful not to tear up the top. 


        Chocolate Birthday Cake


        When I was little, I had a chcolate cake pretty much every year for my birthday. For me, chocolate cake is to birthdays what wine is to Friday evenings. You can have one without the other but it just isn’t as fun.

        My father in law said to me recently that nobody makes a chocolate cake as good as your Mum’s, and I definitely have to agree with him. My mum is an amazing baker and every year for my birthday I had a glorious, homemade cake. My favourite one by far was the chocolate cake covered in whipped cream and strawberries.

        This recipe is a slightly tweaked version of the one my mum uses, which was passed to her by a great aunt.

        Ingredients 

        225g plain flour

        350g sugar

        85g cocoa

        10g baking powder 

        10g bicarbonate of soda

        2 eggs

        250g milk

        250g oil

        Pinch salt

        1 tsp vanilla bean paste

        1/2 tsp ground cinnamon


        Method

        1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees centigrade or gas mark 4.
        2. Grease and line two cake tins.
        3. Sieve together all of your dry ingredients in a large bowl and make a well in the centre.
        4. Add the milk a little at a time, so as to avoid clumping.
        5. When all the milk has been incorporated, add the oil and the eggs.
        6. Split the batter evenly between to two tins and bake in the middle of the oven for 30-40 minutes. The cakes should be well risen and springy.
        7. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing from the tins. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack.


        To Decorate

        This cake makes a really good base for lots of different styles of cakes. It’s not too sweet and not too rich, plus it’s reasonably sturdy and stays moist for several days. Here are some ideas for quick and easy ways to finish this cake.

        1. Fill the inside with vanilla buttercream and your favourite jam. Dust the top with icing sugar.
        2. Fill and top with Nutella. Make it easier to spread by microwaving for a few seconds and stirring well.
        3. Fill the cake with whipped cream and seasonal fruit and finish with icing sugar and more fruit.
        4. Fill the cake with chocolate buttercream and coat the outside with chocolate ganache. Decorate with your favourite chocolates and sweeties.



        Tips

        • If your batter turns lumpy, use an immersion blender to ensure a silky smooth batter.
        • If you only have a small oven, bake your cakes one at a time to help you get an even bake. Make sure you keep one in the fridge whilst the other bakes. 
        • If you are only using shallow tins, you only need to line the base of the tin. I start with a square of paper the size of my tin, fold it in half, half again, then diagonally and diagonally one more time. Then cut across to top of the triangle, open it out and voila! Butter the tin, place the paper inside and rub more butter around the paper to keep things neat and to help avoid leakages.



        Bacon, Beer and Lentil Stew

        This sounds like an odd flavour combination, but it really works. Just like when you cook with wine, the beer you use does make a difference. This recipe needs something quite dark like a stout or a porter. Here I’ve used Bath Ales Dark Side because it’s delicious and local, and I definitely recommend exploring breweries local to you to find an ale. If you can’t be arsed with that, Guiness works really well. 

        It’s not a quick supper as it will take a couple of hours to make, but I like to make this in advance and reheat later in the week. It also makes quite a lot, so if you don’t fancy eating it every day for a week, I’d recommend freezing some. Spending one afternoon a week cooking dinners means I get to spend more quality time with my family when I get home from work and less time doing washing up! 

        Ingredients

        • 250g smoky bacon lardons
        • 250g brown lentils
        • 1 large onion
        • 1 leek
        • 3 sticks of celery
        • 2 turnips
        • 2 carrots
        • Salt and pepper
        • Whole grain mustard
        • 1 500ml bottle of ale
        1. Take a large saucepan and place it over a medium flame. When the pan is really hot, throw in the lardons and cook until really crispy. 
        2. While the bacon is cooking, prep the vegetables. Dice the onion and celery, thinly slice the leek and put to one side. Peel the turnips and carrots and chop into 2cm cubes. Place to one side but don’t muddle up with the onions and celery.
        3. Once the bacon is nice and crispy, remove from the pan with a slotted spoon. Put the onion, celery and leek in the pan and cook in the bacon fat until softened.
        4. Next add the root vegetables and cook for five minutes.
        5. Pour the lentils into the pan, along with half of the beer. 
        6. At this point, the stew will need to simmer for an hour or so. Keep an eye on it, keep topping it up with water every time it starts to look dry. The lentils will absorb a lot of liquid, so you’ll need at least a litre. You really have to use your own judgment here as to how much water to add. I like a nice, thick stew so I add the water a little at a time and reduce until it looks good.
        7. After an hour, when the lentils and root vegetables are soft, pour in the rest of the beer and the cooked bacon. Simmer for another 20 minutes. 
        8. Add the mustard,  taste the stew and season well with salt and pepper. Serve with crusty bread. 


        Tips

        • If you make the stew too runny and want to thicken up the gravy, there a few things you can do to help:

        1. A few teaspoons of gravy granules added and stirred in well. Make sure it won’t make your stew too salty though. Don’t tell my mum I use Bisto though, she would be horrified!
        2. Mix cornflour and water into a paste, add to the stew and cook for a few minutes. 
        3. Smash (again, don’t tell my mum!) can be added a teaspoon at a time and stirred in well. 
        • If you really like the smokiness of the bacon, I highly recommend adding a bit more smoky oomph with a couple of dashes of liquid smoke. You can get it online or in fancy delicatessens and it is totally worth every penny. 
        • If the stew tastes a little bland to you, try adjusting the acidity before reaching for the salt. Extra mustard or a tiny dash of cider vinegar can really brighten up the flavour. Just remember to add seasonings a little at a time and taste after every adjustments.