Friday, 27 July 2012

The Olympics are here...!

OK, I'll admit it, I am officially excited! For the last seven years, since London was awarded the Games, I've been very blasé and dismissive about it…

“We can’t afford it”
“There’s a recession on”
“We won’t be as good as Beijing”
“The bloody Americans always win everything”
“I’m not really interested”

…but now we’re on the brink of the whole thing starting I’m really getting quite enthusiastic.

We’ll sit down this evening with some stuffed baguettes and salad followed by fruit and soya yogurt and have a right old Olympic wallow in front of the telly.

Good Luck guys and may the best man, woman or team win!

(If Andy Murray wins gold in the tennis tournament I'll definitely start blubbing and I may just start turning cartwheels - now that'd be a sight to frighten people!)

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Greek Salad

There was something strange in the sky when we woke up this morning; it was a big round ball that seemed to be giving off a lovely warm brightness. It looked familiar but because it was so long since we’d seen it, I couldn’t be sure…is it....could it be....surely not? Yes….it’s the sun! Well, bless my boots, I think the summer’s arrived!!

I went into the garden to throw a few words of encouragement to the veg plot and was so taken aback by the unaccustomed summeriness (is that a word?) that I started thinking about lunch in the garden. Something salady was needed, obviously – a chunk of feta in the fridge caught my eye and the words “Greek Salad” popped into my head. Perfect summer food.

I’ve been making this salad for years but I feel I should confess that, having never been to Greece, I wouldn’t know an authentic Greek salad if it jumped up and slapped me so, for purists, my version could probably best be described as Greek-ish.

½ red onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
juice of half a lemon
½ tsp dried oregano
2 large vine ripened tomatoes
5 inch piece of cucumber
200g feta
20-25 kalamata olives
black pepper

olive oil for drizzling

Put the thinly sliced onions in a large salad bowl and mix with the olive oil, lemon juice and dried oregano; I find this short marinating takes some of the ‘sting’ out of the onions.

Chop the cucumber in half lengthways then into chunky half-moons; chop the tomatoes into chunky pieces, discarding the cores; halve the olives. Add cucumber, tomatoes and olives to the salad bowl then crumble over the feta and mix well (use your hands to avoid bruising the cuke).

Drizzle with olive oil and grind over a little black pepper before serving.  

This made enough for two with enough left over to fill a couple of wraps for lunch tomorrow.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Couscous, Chickpea and Feta Salad

The wet weather goes on here unabated, but there's a rumour going about that we're going to have some decent weather next week just in time for the Olympics – it's only a rumour but we're all so desperate we'll clutch at any straw; if the summer doesn’t hurry up it’ll overlap with autumn if it's not careful! I’m really not a big fan of hot weather, but even I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit of sun; much more rain and we’ll all start going rusty!

Our veg plot has really suffered for lack of warmth and sun; the potatoes and onions have been happy enough but the more summery crops are struggling quite badly. The tomatoes don’t even have a single flower on them, nor the courgettes and the least said about the poor peppers and French beans the better…

Strangely, despite the weather, the salad leaves have been pretty good so I picked some lollo rosso and added it to this salad. This is another one of my Waitrose chiller-cabinet imitations; I can’t for the life of me remember what theirs is called but this is my take on it.

NB: I mentioned the weather above; well, I would have put this post on earlier this evening, but it was raining so hard the local electricity sub-station was knocked out which meant we had no power - it was like a monsoon! Don't you just love these lazy, hazy days of summer....?!

150g couscous
175ml boiling stock
1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
½ small red onion, finely chopped
2 large vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped
2 teaspoons chopped mint
1 heaped tbsp chopped parsley
finely grated zest of ½ a lemon
200g feta, chopped into cubes

4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp grainy mustard
1 tsp honey
2 tsp finely chopped parsley

salad leaves

Put the couscous in a large bowl, pour in the boiling stock and stir well; cover with a plate and leave for 10 minutes. Fluff up with a fork then carefully stir in the rest of the salad ingredients.

Whisk the dressing ingredients together and drizzle over the salad before serving.

Serve with salad leaves of choice.

Serves 4

Thursday, 12 July 2012

No-Knead Loaf

On a food forum where I post there has been a thread running recently about the pros and cons of fresh yeast versus dried yeast. Sakkarin, who actually runs the forum, posted about a ‘no-knead’ loaf he’d made, using dried yeast; the loaf looked gorgeous and was described as 'pretty close' to being ciabatta.

I love bread but I’m useless at making it, which is why I use a bread machine, so my eyes lit up at the thought of no kneading. Could this be the breakthrough whereby I make a loaf of bread by hand which doesn’t require the consumer to undergo extensive dental work afterwards? Surely even I could manage this? The answer to both questions is a resounding “Yes”!

I followed Sakkarin’s instructions to the letter and, to my amazement, I produced an astonishingly good-looking loaf with a thinnish crust and a lovely, slightly holey, soft-textured crumb; it was a delight.

It was pronounced a “triumph” by Mr Simply Veg who had three slices for lunch today with Brie and red onion marmalade – I didn’t bother with any pronouncements; I was too busy chomping on a slice of warm bread and butter!

Thanks Sakkarin – I’m chuffed to little mint balls!

500g strong white bread flour
7.5g dried yeast
7.5g salt
40ml olive oil
380ml water

Mix the dry ingredients together then add the olive oil and water and mix together to form a moist mass.

Cover with cling film and leave for 10 to 12 hours by which time the dough will have risen dramatically.

Tease the dough carefully out onto a silicone sheet dusted with flour – it will be very sticky.

With as little handling of the dough as possible, shape it a bit into the traditional ciabatta slipper shape; dust the top with flour and cover with a clean dry teatowel. Leave on the worktop to prove for 2 hours. When your oven is up to temperature (225 degrees), put a few squirts of water into a baking tray in the bottom of the oven to create steam. Slide the silicone mat onto a heavy baking sheet (or a bakestone, if you have one – I don’t)

Bake at 225C for 25 mins until deep golden and gorgeous and cool on a wire rack.

I’ve paraphrased Sakkarin’s instructions, but if you’d like to see his post and pics click here. (fifth post down on page 2)

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Lemon and Coriander Houmous

For some reason I’ve never been entirely happy with it whenever I’ve made houmous, (or should that be hummus, hummous, humous or even homous...?) it always seemed to lack a certain 'zing'.

I’m very fortunate in having an ‘outpost’ of Borough Olives at our local market where I happily spend a small fortune on tapenade, harissa, sun-dried tomatoes and, of course, gorgeous olives. Luckily for me they also sell really delicious houmous, so for the last couple of years I haven’t bothered making my own when theirs is so much better. Thing is, they don’t always have it on Tuesdays when I shop (I can’t be fagged with going shopping on a Saturday; far too many people for my liking) so last week I studied the ingredients list displayed on the stall, committed it to memory, and came home to have another go at it myself.

Well, it wasn’t half bad – no, actually, it was very good; I think I might be getting the hang of it finally. I used more oil and lemon juice than I have in the past and I think that may be where I’ve been going wrong – I also added a smidge of cumin, just to ‘warm’ it up a bit.

Lovely with a few breadsticks and some crunchy veg and, just to prove it, here's a pic of my lunch today...a nice summery type of lunch, I think you'll agree; what a pity it was raining stair-rods outside!

1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tbsp tahini
juice of 1 lemon
3 tbsp good olive oil
1 tbsp warm water
¼ tsp ground cumin
chopped fresh coriander to taste

a little olive oil for drizzling

Put all the ingredients, except the coriander, in a food processor and blitz until almost smooth. Add the coriander and blitz again for a few seconds.

Scoop into a serving bowl, cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours to let the flavours come together. Drizzle with olive oil before serving.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Aubergine and Mushroom Lasagne

You will see from the second picture on this post why I don’t often make lasagne…apart from making it in individual dishes, (which I don’t have) how the hell do you serve it so that it looks as good on the plate as it does in the dish? Why does it never sit nicely on the plate so that you can see the separate layers? Answers on a postcard, please, because I’m damned if I know!

Despite its slightly iffy appearance this lasagne had a really nice depth of flavour; we both enjoyed it a lot. I love aubergine in any way shape or form; put it together with mushrooms, pasta and a cheesy sauce and I’m a very happy bunny indeed.

Incidentally, there was some of the aubergine sauce left over so I might have a go at making a quesadilla-type thingy for lunch tomorrow; handy to eat whilst watching Andy Murray in the semis at Wimbledon. I’ll be yelling at the television and my nerves will be shredded; definitely not the type of thing to watch on an empty stomach….Come on, Andy!!

1 medium aubergine, chopped into large dice
250g chestnut mushrooms, halved or quartered
1 large red onion, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
75ml red wine
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano

4 or 5 sheets of fresh lasagne

250ml milk
20g butter
25g plain flour
1 tsp Marigold Bouillon stock powder
75g mature cheddar, grated
2 tbsp grated parmesan-style cheese

Heat the olive oil in a large pan; add the aubergine, mushrooms and onion and sauté over a medium heat for 10 minutes, add the rest of the sauce ingredients, bring to the boil then simmer gently for 30 minutes.

When cooked, put a layer of sauce in the base of an ovenproof dish then cover with a sheet of lasagne; repeat three or four times ending with a sheet of lasagne.

Heat oven to 180C

Put the milk, butter, flour and Marigold stock powder into a small saucepan over a medium heat and bring to the boil, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens; simmer for 5 minutes. Take off the heat and stir in the cheddar; pour the cheese sauce over the top layer of lasagne then sprinkle with grated ‘parmesan’.

Bake at 180C for 45 minutes until golden and bubbling

Serves 2