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caveman (after Banksy)

Man discovered alcohol thousands of years ago – without doubt as a result of a fortuitous accident with fermenting fruit.  But as sure as God made little red grapes, that man stumbled upon a hangover the following morning. And he’s been looking for a cure ever since…

As lows follow highs, after a night of alcoholic fun and frolics we inescapably suffer the consequences of our indulgences. A throbbing head that feels as if it has just been removed from the freezer..  sandpapery eyes.. a dry mouth with a despicable taste.. and an overall feeling of nausea..  are some of the ways our body warns us that the alcohol has delivered a toxic blow to our body’s key defence systems and to take things easy for a while.

To be technical about it, alcohol is broken down into a toxin which the liver’s enzymes turn into acetate – hence the horrid taste in your mouth. Secondly, alcohol causes serious dehydration, which is largely responsible for the headaches that form part and parcel of every hangover. Lastly (but not leastly) there are additives in alcohol called congeners that deliver the final blow. These congeners can be natural components (like phenols in grapes for instance) or colourings or flavourings.  But they can also be a by-product of the methods used in creating alcohol (like aldehydes which develop during ageing or distilling processes, or sulphites which are added later).  All of these additives however can produce unpleasant after-effects.

a hangover kind-of feeling...

Generally speaking: the fewer the congeners, the lighter the colour, the purer the drink and the milder the hangover.  Thus it is believed that red wine, brandy and port give worse hangovers than vodka.

Whatever the case, when a hangover hits us we need help.  Most of us have with experience developed a more or less successful way of dealing with it – the preferred method staying in bed all day.  Some of us try taking pledges never to get into such a state again but the problem with this cure is that somewhere in the back of our thumping head, a little voice reminds us that that’s exactly what we said the last time..  So what other options are there?

water and more water...

Best of course is to avoid a hangover either by drinking copious amounts of water or by drinking less alcohol at a slower rate – both methods help the body to keep up with metabolising the consumed alcohol (some say at a rate of about one measure an hour).  We can also try reduce alcohol absorption by lining our stomach walls with fats before a binge.  A generous helping of greasy fish and chips is effective but if that doesn’t appeal, try some Mediterranean fare that has been generously drenched in olive oil.  Honey too is good for boosting the ability to metabolise toxins, as is oxygen – preferably in the form of some vigorous exercise before or during the blowout. (I can think of a few exciting workouts besides a few laps around the block).  Don’t however reach for the coffee jar – while many believe that a few cups of the dark brew is not only sobering but also helps to reduce the feared morning-after symptoms – IT DOES NOT.  Coffee is a powerful diuretic and therefore only adds to the dehydration of an already dried-out body – all of which of course will make the hangover worse.

So much for trying to prevent a hangover.  But what to do when, having ignored the above advice, the hangover has struck?  Many experienced party animals swear by the beneficial effects of a sturdy fry-up (with plenty of strong tea), believing that it can soak-up the alcohol after the event.  Others consider a hamburger and chips with a large bottle of Pepsi a decent morning-after fix.  Plenty of citrus juice has its fans too – it does revitalise but if the hangover is targeting your stomach as accurately as your head, you may want to avoid a high-acid attack on an already delicate body part (in which case opt for milder fruit such as a fresh chunk of watermelon, or banana smoothie).

The fry-up

For many carbohydrates usually do the trick – lots of freshly made toast which (to keep the cellulite happy) should be dripping with melting butter and perhaps a lick of honey and marmite (together of course).  Alternatively, in winter, a big bowl of comfort porridge with a good slug of Baileys, might just do the job.  For ideas on more exotic cures Keith Floyd, a ex-veteran hangover-survivor himself, has lovingly compiled an entire book on potent pick-me-ups. It’s called Floyd on Hangovers and favours among others the ‘Corpse Reviver’ (recipe below) and ‘Lactade’ – a rather drastic solution used by vets to reverse the process of dehydration and depletion of salts and sugars in dogs that suffer from parvovirus (a potentially fatal form of dog-gastroenteritis).

Obviously, there are as many hangover cures as there are alcoholic drinks on this earth – many of them as obscure as they are outrageous and many boasting the common denominator that they may not always stand up to rigorous scrutiny.  For who would voluntarily try the Puerto Rican favourite way of dealing with the after effects of alcohol excess – calling for a lengthy rub of a citrus fruit into both armpits?  Argentinian cow-hands apparently like nothing better than a plate of fried bull’s testicles to vanquish the demons after a hard night, whilst some Haitians recommend sticking thirteen black-headed pins into the bottle(s) from which you’ve been drinking (the concentration required to manipulate twenty-six pins if you’ve drunk 2 bottles, may take your mind temporarily off your suffering).  The Fins are perhaps the most determined in their hangover treatment (first a sauna to make the body sweat and thus rid the system of toxins, followed by a roll in the snow to shake off any residual tiredness) while the Russians tend to be the most resigned about their situation – feeling no need to restore themselves to a state of grace – they simply go on drinking..  The Japanese however who show the most scientific approach – they simply top-up on complex vitamin B supplements (the vitamins most depleted after a night of boozy merriment) in the form of calves’ liver – chopped, spooned out of a glass, and exceedingly raw.

Milk Thistle extract

The simple truth is that there are thousands of ‘cures’ some more worthy than others and it’s a matter of experimenting to find out what works best for you – being kind to your liver being the essence.  Medical studies have shown over and over again that the herb milk-thistle (available from health shops) efficiently helps your liver to survive an alcohol battering – few drops taken with water before you go to sleep and then again the following morning is probably the soundest method to fix a hangover.  Tea made from dandelion root also helps the liver to recuperate and has been used for centuries in France to treat overdoses of alcohol and rich food.

Having said this, there is still another popular way of dealing with a hangover.  Rather than fighting it, you’re advised to ‘go with it’ (the so-called hair-of-the-dog) – the main objective being to get you back on that horse before you spend too much time reflecting on your early morning pledge.  These will either easy your suffering instantly, or send you back to sleep…

Further Effective Hints to help with Hangovers

A sensual massage (neck and temples) may soothe a pounding head, especially if executed with a few drops of aromatherapy oil of lavender, clary sage or rosemary.  Or drizzle a few drops of thyme oil in cold water and dab gently on your thumping temples with a face cloth.  Then there’s the old reliable Alka Selzer or Solpadene…

Clarins’ Beauty Flash Balm – the ultimate miracle worker – can always be relied upon to lift bags that look baggier when you least need it. Use as a 10-minute mask to rejuvenate or under make-up.  Or for morning-after puffy eyes keep a supply of stainless steel teaspoons in the fridge and apply as needed. Alternatively Clinique eye gel is refreshing and ‘de-puffs’.

Make sure you own some Cesaria Evora music – her sensual Sodade rendition on the Miss Perfumado CD is one of life’s great soothers.

From DIY stores – a total black-out blind.

Tuck a few ready-bought smoothies into the fridge for emergencies.

CLASSIC BLOODY MARY

First served during the 1920s in Paris at Harry’s Bar, its variations are legion, using anything from clam juice, beef stock, horseradish and garlic, to cumin, celery salt, fresh herbs and even soy sauce. Very popular nowadays to ‘infuse’ the vodka with fresh chillies. I’ve used a stick of celery as a ‘stirrer’ but the McIlhenny family (of Tabasco fame) serve it with Zydeco Green Beans (see recipe below). You may want to adjust the seasoning, depending on your liking of spices.  Just keep tasting!

To make 1 drink you need:

  • 50ml vodka
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • good dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2-3 dashes of Tabasco sauce
  • 3-4 dashes of lemon or lime juice
  • 200ml tomato juice
  • pinch of salt

Enough for 6.

  • 300 ml vodka
  • ½ to 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1-2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • ½  tsp Tabasco sauce (or to taste)
  • juice of 1-2 lemons or 3 limes
  • 1.2 litre tomato juice
  • 1 tsp salt

Combine all of the ingredients, stir well and serve in tall, ice-filled glasses. Garnish with a celery stick.

PRAIRIE OYSTER

The remedy favoured by P Wodehouse’s butler Jeeves, to revive the young Bertram Wooster after his regular beanos at his club the Drones.  Not for the faint-hearted but the kind of cure you have to try at least once!  For 1.

  •  few drops of olive oil
  • 1 egg yolk
  • large dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • large dash of Tabasco
  • pinch of salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp vinegar

Rinse a cocktail glass with olive oil and without breaking, slide in the egg yolk. Sprinkle on the seasoning and serve. This cocktail is best drunk quickly in one – for obvious reasons! Alternatively, serve it on a large spoon.

CORPSE REVIVER

Enough for 1 corpse.

  •  25ml brandy
  • 25ml Fernet Branca (or vermouth rosso)
  • 25ml calvados

Shake the ingredients over ice and strain into a frosted martini glass. If you think your corpse will be cheered up by this, garnish with a slice or twist of orange.

STORMY WEATHER

Serves 1.

  •  25ml Fernet Branca
  • 25ml dry white vermouth
  • large dash of crème de menthe
  • sprig of mint

Shake all ingredients over ice and strain into an ice-filled glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint then serve.

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No need to confess to an irrepressible desire to party all Saturday night, or to the amount of alcohol consumed… Nor to your excessively poor relaxation skills… We all are in need sometimes of a perhaps not-too-communicative, lazy, soothing Sunday brunch – one that calms and comforts our stressed nerves and drained

a fry-up for breakfast

souls…

Some say a gooey cheese omelette is the perfect answer. Or a warm pastry containing rich melting chocolate (and a massive dollop of cream).  Others think only a full-blown Irish fry can do the job.  And they’re all right.  But just in case you feel like trying something new, here are a few basic ideas which you can change according to your needs or the seasons…  No rules whatsoever!

potato latkes

In the case of the cheesy bread-and-butter pudding recipe, light and fluffy, a bit like a soufflé but oozing with comfort – if you prefer a sweet variety, try the same recipe but substitute the cheese, salt and pepper, with slices of banana, a little sugar and a drop of lemonjuice… In the case of the potato latkes, try adding half a tin of sweetcorn kernels, or grated courgettes to ring the changes….

Don’t be afraid to use your imagination – use whatever you fancy and have in cupboard or fridge – creative combinations have led to classics!

I think lazy brunches are what Sundays are supposed to be for…

cheesy croissants

Cheesy croissant bread and butter pudding

This basic recipe is divine but you can add whatever you have in the fridge or cupboard – a small finely chopped onion, some sliced cherry tomatoes, chopped rashers, mushrooms, fresh herbs, a handful of rocket or baby spinach – the world is your oyster! (Serves 2)

Ingredients:

2-3 large croissants

75g grated cheese

3 large eggs

150ml cream

150ml milk

salt and freshly ground pepper

Method: Grease a small baking dish with butter and preheat the oven to 200’C. Slice the croissants in rings and arrange, slightly overlapping, in the dish.  Whisk the eggs with the milk and cream, season, then stir in half the grated cheese.  Pour over the croissants and allow to soak for a few minutes. Scatter the rest of the cheese on top and bake for 35-40 minutes or until the pudding is puffed up, deeply browned and smells intensely cheese-scented. Yum!  Serve hot.

gooey camembert

Gooey camembert dip

A delicious fondue-like, gooey dip to be savoured with fresh, crusty bread.  I’ve used  fresh thyme and fragrant pink peppercorns, but again, you can use your imagination and add whatever you have in the house – rosemary or oregano instead of thyme, some finely chopped chilli (or chilli flakes)… You can drizzle with some olive oil or better still a little sweet alcohol – Kirsch is delicious (or another eau de vie) or if you have some leftover sweet dessert wine, but you can also use a little sherry.

Ingredients:

1 small camembert in a wooden box

fresh thyme

salt crystals and freshly ground pepper

pink peppercorns

a little olive oil, sweet white wine or kirsch

Method: Preheat the oven to 210’C. Remove the paper from the cheese, thinly cut off the top and put the cheese (rind down) back into its little wooden box. Sprinkle with a touch of fresh thyme, some salt crystals and a grind of black pepper. Drizzle with a little alcohol or olive oil and bake for about 10 minutes in a very hot oven and start dipping!

potato latkes

Potato latkes

Again, you can experiment with this dish to your heart’s content: before cooking, stir in sliced spring onions or half a tin of sweetcorn kernels or herbs or a sprinkling of chilli flakes… top with soured cream and smoked salmon, or with caramelized shallots, or salty blue cheese, or serve with creamed horseradish… You can even use grated courgettes instead of potatoes… No end to the variations.  To make 10 small latkes you need:

Ingredients:

4 medium waxy potatoes, peeled and grated

2 eggs, beaten
3 tbsp plain flour
salt and pepper
2 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp butter for pan-frying

Squeeze out all the excess liquid from the grated potato-onion mixture (easiest is to pour them into a clean tea towel and pat dry) and place in a large bowl.  Toss in the spring onions, flour, salt, pepper (and anything else you like). Add the beaten eggs and mix well.
In a large frying pan, heat the oil and butter together.  When hot, spoon some of the potato mixture into the pan and press down lightly with the back of the spoon.   Shallow fry until crisp and golden brown on one side, about 3-4 minutes.  Then flip over and cook the other side in the same way. (Cook about 3-4 latkes at a time and keep warm whilst you fry the others).
Drain on paper towels. Serve hot with sour cream.

yoghurt sundae

Yoghurt Sundaes

No recipe needed: just put layers of yoghurt, fresh fruit, fruit compote and granola in a pretty glass. A healthy, refreshing but equally comforting, lazy breakfast for Sunday mornings.

TIPS of the month:

Standby’s to keep in your freezer:

-       a bag of frozen berries – just a handful of these jewels makes an instant dessert with yoghurt, icecream cream or a brownie, or make a fabulous smoothie with that blackened banana in your fruit bowl (that you wouldn’t eat otherwise), some orange juice and a little yoghurt or water….

-       a bag of frozen peas – which can be stirred into soups, pasta dishes, risottos, scrambled eggs and stir-fries when you don’t have much else…

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Party time!

party time!

December equals party time and party time equals December. Only perhaps this year we might be a little more cautious when it comes to lavish entertaining…

So what if we have a list of people to invite – either because we’ve enjoyed their hospitality once (or more often), or because we want various friends to meet or simply because it’s Christmas and a party is a wonderful excuse to gather?

Well, rather than inviting small groups for individual dinner parties, the easiest and least expensive way to ‘catch up’ on outstanding invitations is to throw a drinks party. And it doesn’t have to cost the earth.

TIPS ON ORGANISING:

waiters

  • Make lists and more lists… of guests, of the foods you want to serve, of shopping to do and of jobs to do…
  • Engage help from friends to prepare and serve as well as clean-up afterwards – make sure to brief them if they’ve never done this kind of work before
  • Clear the kitchen and living room as much as possible, leaving only a few chairs for people to sit down and a few tables to leave food and glasses – the bedroom is the place for coats.

cocktail bites

Use large platters or trays to hand around food – wrap in foil if they’re not pretty enough

Allow for extra glasses – people always ‘lose’ them during the party

Most people will bring a bottle – even so, allowing for non-drinking drivers you should count on 4 glasses per person (there are 5 in a bottle)

To cool beer and wine line dustbins or toy boxes with a large, heavyweight rubbish bag, then put in enough ice to cover the bottom, place bottles on top and cover with more ice

TIPS ON FOOD:

smoked salmon

  • Count on at least 10 bites per person.  Parties do not need hours of work in the kitchen – easy readymade party foods include:
  • Crusty bread or potato wedges with ready-bought hummous, garlic mayo, pesto or salsas. You can also serve dips with vegetables such as cauliflower and broccoli florets, sticks of carrot, courgette, pepper and cucumber, button mushrooms or radishes…
  • Bowls of marinated olives from foodmarket stalls, mixed with cubes of feta cheese and cherry tomatoes (serve with cocktail sticks)
  • Grilled cocktail sausages with a grainy mustard or relish (remember the cocktail sticks)
  • Stonebaked pizzas, cut into bite-size pieces
  • Bowls of nuts, crisps and other ready-bought cocktail snacks
  • Frozen, ready-to-throw-in-the-oven sausage rolls
  • Crostini (thin slices of baguette which have been dried and crisped in a low oven beforehand and kept in an airtight tin) topped with things like salami with slices of gherkins, goatscheese with onion jam, brie with halved grapes, tapenade with pieces of hardboiled egg, small slices of cooked black pudding with a blob of chutney etc.

TIPS ON DRINKS:

bubbly

  • Bubbly puts everyone immediately in a good mood so it’s nice to give a glass on arrival. It doesn’t have to be champagne: cheaper alternatives are Spanish Cava, Italian Prosecco or French Blanquette de Limoux.
  • If it’s very cold outside you might want to welcome people with a glass of gluewein (red wine simmered with a little sugar, an orange, a stick of cinnamon and some cloves) or even a small shotglass of a delicious hot soup!
  • To keep the drivers happy, Shloer sparkling wine juice or Ame are good alternatives. And don’t forget still and sparkling mineral water!

elviras

ELVIRAS

Delicious, cheap and really easy. Can be made a day ahead and baked at the last minute. You can also add chopped anchovies, sundried tomatoes or fresh herbs to the basic recipe. Makes about 80 bites.

  • 1 loaf of pre-sliced toast pan
  • 300g cheddar cheese, grated
  • 2-3 large onions, chopped
  • few tbsp of mayonnaise

In a bowl mix cheddar and onions together with just enough mayonnaise to bind it all together. Remove crusts from bread and cut each slice into 4 equal squares. Spread mixture thickly onto each piece of bread, place on baking trays, cover with clingfilm and refrigerate until needed. When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 220’C and bake for 10 minutes or until the bread is crisp and the topping a bubbling, golden brown.

cucumber boats

CUCUMBER BOATS WITH MACKEREL PATE

  • 2 cucumbers
  • 1 vacuum pack of smoked mackerel fillets
  • 5-6 tbsp of Greek yoghurt
  • 1 tbsp horseradish sauce
  • (optional garnishes : finely chopped chilli, fresh tarragon or dill etc)

Halve the cucumbers lengthways and with a small spoon remove the centre. Lightly salt and set aside till most of the liquid is drained off. Remove the skin from the mackerel and place in a food processor. Add yoghurt and horseradish and whiz until you have a nice thick paste. Wipe the cucumbers dry with kitchenpaper then fill with mackerel paste and refrigerate. Cut into bite-size pieces before serving.

CHICKEN SATE

chicken sate

There’s no need for a peanut dip with this recipe as it has been added to the marinade.

  • 1kg chicken breasts, cut in bite-size pieces
  • for the marinade:
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 6 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
  • 2 tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 5 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • salt and pepper

Mix all the marinade ingredients in a bowl. Add the chicken and refrigerate overnight. Thread two chicken pieces onto each cocktail stick and place on a baking tray. Preheat the oven to 220’C and bake for 15-20 minutes or until cooked, then allow to cool and refrigerate till needed. When ready to serve, reheat in a hot oven for 5-8 minutes.

SWEET PEA GUACAMOLE with TORTILLA CHIPS

Great recipe that doesn’t lose its colour, unlike the real thing. Besides, little sweet frozen peas are easier to find than ripe avocados! If you don’t like chillies, use finely chopped tomato.

  • 1 kg frozen petit pois
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons fresh limejuice
  • salt ,pepper and a pinch of sugar
  • 1 red serrano chilli, chopped
  • 1 pck fresh coriander, chopped
  • 2 bags of tortilla chips

Simmer the peas in boiling water for 4 minutes then refresh under cold water and drain. Transfer to a foodprocessor and whiz with the olive oil, limejuice and onion, then season with sugar, salt and pepper to your liking. Stir in the chilli (or tomato) and coriander and serve with corn chips.

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sliced bread

No-one likes to waste food, especially a ‘Prudent’ girl… So, if your leftover bread is no longer fresh enough for sandwiches, don’t throw it away – there are plenty of delicious ways with stale bread, both sweet and savoury. And nobody will ever know…

TIPS FOR USING LEFTOVER BREAD

  • To make croutons either tear the bread into small irregular shapes, or cut it into 1.5cm squares. Drizzle with a few tablespoons of olive oil and either fry until crisp or put in a low oven (150’C) until crunchy and golden.
  • crostini

    To make crostini cut bread into thin slices, drizzle with olive oil and grill until golden and crisp (you could add a sprinkling of dried thyme before grilling), then top with things you like.

  • To make dried breadcrumbs (which keep for ages in an airtight container) put a single layer of old bread slices on a baking tray and dry out in the oven (1-2 hrs at 120’C) – do not allow to brown. When completely dry, blend to crumbs in a food processor. Or, if you don’t have a processor, put the dried slices in a sealed plastic bag and roll with a rolling pin or a glass bottle.
  • country bread

    To make fresh breadcrumbs simply process the bread in a food processor, then freeze in a plastic freezer bag until needed.

  • Season fresh breadcrumbs with salt, pepper and things like fresh herbs, chilli flakes, lemon zest, chopped onion, chopped nuts etc. Wet this mixture with a few tablespoons of water, then use as a stuffingfor roast chicken. Or flatten a pork fillet with a rolling pin, pile on the stuffing, roll up and tie with some string, then roast in the oven.
  • homemade bread

    Remove crusts from a slice of bread and gently push into a buttered muffin tray; then bake in the oven at 175’C to form a crispy, golden pastry shell to be filled with all manner of delicious mixtures.

  • To use up 1-2day old ciabatta, make panzanella, also known as Tuscan bread salad… Break the bread into bite-size pieces and toss with your favourite vinaigrette dressing. Then mix in diced tomatoes, cucumbers and red peppers. You can even add feta cheese (or canned tuna!), capers, olives and/or anchovies to make a meal. Add basil leaves just before serving.
  • pain perdu

    Pain Perdu (or ‘lost bread’) is what the French call french toast… just beat 4 eggs, add 300ml milk then flavour with a little sugar and a pinch of ground cinnamon. Put in 4 slices of stale bread and leave to soak up the liquid, then fry in a little butter. Eat hot, drizzled with a little honey or maple syrup. Alternatively make a savoury version by omitting the sugar and cinnamon and adding a little creamed horseradish to the egg mixture, then serving with grated cheese.

SAVOURY BREAD AND BUTTER PUDDING

The classic pudding loved by all – only this is a savoury version, one that’s perfect for a long leisurely Sunday brunch! I’ve used garlicky mushrooms but you can also mix in leftovers like leftover meats, grated cheese, olives, tomatoes (fresh or sundried), spinach or rocket… the world is your oyster! Serves 6.

savoury bread and butter pudding

  • 12 slices white bread, crusts removed
  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise or soft butter
  • 6 medium mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • parsley
  • 4-5 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp Colmans strong English mustard
  • 600ml half milk-half cream
  • salt and pepper

Butter a baking dish. Cut the bread slices diagonally into triangles and spread lightly with a little mayonnaise. Arrange the bread triangles in the dish by overlapping them. Heat the olive oil and at high heat fry the mushrooms for 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and parsley and fry for another minute. Toss this mixture between the triangles of bread. Whisk together the eggs, mustard, milk and cream, then season and whisk again. Pour mixture over bread slices and set aside for at least 30 minutes to let the bread absorb the liquid. Preheat the oven to 180¡C and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden. Serve immediately.

fish cakes

FISH CAKES

Great for using up leftover mash, and if you don’t have fresh fish, use a can of salmon or tuna. Serve with some ready-bought Thai sweet-chilli sauce and a side-salad for a simple lunch or brunch. For 4-6.

  • 500 g of fillet of firm white fish
  • 350g old potatoes
  • little milk and butter
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsps freshly chopped parsley
  • 100g bread crumbs
  • 4 tbsp sunflower or olive oil for shallow frying

Cook the fish in a non-stick frying pan for 4-5 minutes, cool, then flake with the help of a fork. Boil the potatoes until tender, then drain and mash with a little milk and butter. Season well with salt and pepper and add the parsley. Now add the flaked fish to the mashed potatoes and gently mix. Using your hands, form small patties, and roll in breadcrumbs. Place the well-crumbed fishcakes on a plate and shallow-fry just before serving.

GARLIC ROLLS

garlic rolls

Delicious to serve as bites with an aperitif or to accompany a soup. They can be made a day or two ahead and kept in the fridge or even frozen. You’ll need a small plastic box and a rolling pin. To make 12 rolls you need:

  • 1/2 sliced white pan of a day or two old
  • 100g butter
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • handful of chopped parsley, chives or tarragon (or a mixture of these)

Start by making the garlic butter: allow the butter to soften, then simply stir in the crushed garlic and herbs. Set aside. Cut the crusts off the bread and on a flat surface, roll one slice at a time to 2 mm thin. Spread generously with garlic butter and roll up tightly, then press into a small plastic box to keep its shape. Continue with the other slices then refrigerate until needed. Just before serving, remove grill briefly, turning a few times, until they’re crisp on the outside and all gooey and buttery inside.

pasta with pangritata

PASTA WITH PEAS, FETA, MINT AND PANGRITATA

When there’s no money to buy Parmesan to finish off a pasta dish Italians use pangritata to add crunch – yummy garlicky croutons fried in olive oil. For 4.

For the pangritata:

  • 200g stale bread, ‘torn’ into small pieces
  • 6-8 tbsp olive oil
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic. crushed
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
  • salt and freshly ground pepper

For the pasta:

  • 450-500g dried penne
  • 2-3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cups of frozen peas
  • (2 tbsp pine kernels)
  • 200g feta, cubed
  • handful of mint leaves, roughly torn
  • handful of basil leaves, roughly torn

First make the pangritata: heat the olive oil in a fryingpan, add the bread croutons and gently fry for 5 minutes, tossing continuously. Add the garlic and thyme and continue to fry till the bread is golden and crisp. Season and allow to cool. Whilst the pasta is cooking in boiling salted water, gently sweat the onion in another saucepan. When the onion is cooked, add the peas and stirfry for 3 minutes. Take off the heat and stir in the pine kernels if used. Drain the pasta, and whilst still piping-hot, stir in the vegetable mixture, the cubed feta and torn herbs. Mix well, then immediately before serving, toss in the pangritata.

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office lunch

Ever reflected on how much you spend on lunch every day? Even the dullest sandwich, softdrink and takeaway cappuccino will set you back €10 a day – which works out at a massive €2350 per year!

Taking a pre-packed lunch to work admittedly takes a little time and forward planning but can save a packet of money.  Don’t worry – you’ll soon get the hang of it. And with the tips below, you might even get to enjoy it!

  • Most of us lack time (and energy) in the morning, so my first tip is to prepare your lunch the night before. Easiest is to do it straight after dinner, especially if there are leftovers that can be used. Surplus meat or chicken (you can even make a little extra for that purpose) can be made into fabulous sandwiches with a lick of garlic mayonnaise or chutney and a few green leaves or a slice of tomato. Leftover vegetables and pastas can be turned into salads or, with the help of a beaten egg, into a filling frittata omelette.
  • Buy a few little Tupperware containers of different sizes to take your lunch to the office.  It saves buying foil and plastic bags.
  • Always include some protein in your lunch – it stops hunger pangs later on and therefore saves money spent on nibbles.
  • Buy your drinks in large bottles, then pour into a smaller bottle to bring to work – much cheaper than buying from the office vending machine or nearby shop.

    lunch boxes

  • Soups warm and re-energize in colder weather – bring in a thermos flask if your office doesn’t have a microwave.
  • If you bring salads with leaves (lettuce, rocket etc) take the dressing in a separate container. If dressed too early, leaves get soggy. Potatoes, chickpea and bean salads should be dressed beforehand so they soak up the flavours.
  • Just before closing time, supermarkets may sell a ready-roast chicken for as little as half price. Eat for dinner then use leftovers to make the chicken salad or wrap below.
  • Keep a few rolls, bagels and small baguettes in the freezer. Crisp them up in a toaster or hot oven for a few minutes before using.
  • Keep a jar of garlic mayonnaise or chutney in the fridge – they make any basic sandwich into a treat. To make your own delicious garlic mayo, stir freshly crushed garlic into a jar of your favourite mayonnaise – it keeps for ages. For a lighter spread (but one that doesn’t keep) mix a handful of freshly chopped herbs into a tablespoon of fromage frais.
  • Grow herbs like parsley, chives, tarragon, thyme and rosemary in a pot or window box. It saves a fortune and you’ll always have fresh herbs at hand.

To put the creative thinking process in motion, I give 4 examples of different categories of lunches to bring to work – a sandwich, a salad, a thick omelette and a spread of something that can be eaten with any type of bread or wrapped in a tortilla.  Each one can be adapted a thousand times with different ingredients.

Pick one, then use your imagination and whatever is leftover from dinner or happens to be in the fridge, and make up one.

frittata

FRITTATA of PASTA

Frittatas are thick omelettes, sort-of quiches without pastry, ideal for using up leftover pasta. Try adding a handful of leftover vegetables, frozen peas, cherry tomatoes, a sliced pepper or a handful of spinach. Other good combinations are (cooked) courgettes with feta and basil, or cooked potatoes, onions and rashers. You’ll need a 20cm diameter deep-ish frying pan.   For 2 servings you need:

3 large eggs

black pepper

a bowl of leftover pasta (with or without sauce)

4 spring onions, chopped

2 handfuls of cooked leftover vegetables (peppers, peas, French beans…)

handful of freshly chopped herbs

small piece of feta cheese, cubed

olive oil

In a bowl beat the eggs with the pepper, stir in the cooked pasta, onions, vegetables, herbs and feta. Heat a tablespoon olive oil in a non-stick frying pan until hot and pour in the egg mixture. Turn down the heat and cook for about 8 minutes until firm underneath. Turn over to cook through or heat the grill and finish cooking the omelette on top.

Chicken, tarragon and grapes...

SALAD of CHICKEN, GRAPES and TARRAGON – Enough for one.

large handful of leftover cooked chicken

large handful of green grapes

large sprig of fresh tarragon

2-3 tbsp of mayonnaise or half mayo half yoghurt

Tear the cooked chicken in bite-size pieces, halve the grapes, remove the pips and chop the tarragon. Put everything in a bowl and mix in the mayo. Spread on a baguette or roll or bring along in a Tupperware and eat with rice crackers.

smoked salmon on brown bread

SMOKED MACKEREL or TROUT in FROMAGE FRAIS on BROWN BREAD

Simple, delicious and very quick. Enough for one.

1 fillet of smoked trout or smoked mackerel

2-3 tbsp fromage frais or greek yoghurt

1 tbsp creamed horseradish

freshly milled pepper

chopped dill (or parsley or tarragon)

Flake the fish and mix with the cream, horseradish and herbs. Season with pepper. Eat piled on brown bread.

tortilla

TORTILLA with LEFTOVER CHICKEN and ROASTED PEPPERS

You can also stuff pitta breads with this kind of mixture. Or try other combinations like a Greek salad with feta, tomato, cucumber and black olives. Or lamb with vegetables and some yoghurt.

Makes 2 wraps:

2 soft flour tortillas

cos lettuce

handful of leftover roast chicken (or a small cooked chicken breast)

handful of strips of roasted peppers (see below)

tbsp soured cream (or low-fat fromage frais)

Put a tortilla flat on a board. Place on top 3-4 salad leaves, bits of cooked chicken and peppers and top with soured cream or tomato salsa. Roll up and wrap.

ROASTED PEPPERS

Strips of roast peppers, covered with a little olive oil, keep well in the fridge and they’re handy to have as they give flavour to all manner of different dishes.

Simply quarter the peppers, remove seeds and membranes, then put skin-side up under the grill.  Grill until blackened all over. Transfer to a bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to sit for 10 minutes. Then peel off the black skin and cut into strips.

ADDITIONAL TIPS AND IDEAS

Mix different flavours and textures. Great combinations are:

  • leftover roast beef, a handful of rocket and a tablespoon of pesto on a bagel (see photo)
  • goatscheese with some chilli or cranberry jam and lettuce on a baguette
  • smoked trout or mackerel with fromage frais and horseradish on brown bread
  • blue cheese with sliced pears and cranberry sauce on walnut bread
  • pieces of chicken with grapes in a garlic or herb mayonnaise with french bread or rice crackers (see photo)
  • brie with onion jam and lettuce wrapped in a tortilla
  • hummus with crunchy bread and crispy vegetables (you can also make a kind of hummus with crushed white beans from a tin)
  • tinned chickpeas (or red kidneybeans) with tuna, cucumber and celery, dressed with vinaigrette – either as a salad or stuffed into a pitta

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In season…

In season…

Narbonne market

One of the fabulous things that thrill me every single day about living in the South of France is that we still have so much access to seasonal produce. Real seasonal I mean – not seasonal somewhere in the southern hemisphere when we live in northern spheres, like asparagus from Peru at Christmas time in Europe. Or strawberries from South Africa when there’s snow underfoot here.

Real seasonal of course means vegetables and fruit grown and harvested maybe less than 10 kilometers from your home and sold in local markets without the need for packaging, storing or transport. That is almost unheard of nowadays in Ireland, unless you visit the somewhat exclusive and expensive farmer’s markets…

market stall

Of course seasonal produce not only tastes much better (because it is meant to be eaten at that time) but it is also much cheaper at that time. And then there is that great anticipation factor – if you haven’t eaten say, fresh cherries for a year, doesn’t your mouth start watering just at the thought of them being in season again?

As we all know, by eating according to the seasons we also have the satisfaction of doing our bit for the environment – after all, by buying ‘local’ we contribute less to those wasteful and planet-damaging food-miles. Did you know that half of all vegetables and 95% of all fruit eaten in the UK comes from foreign lands? Most of this food arrives by air which generates more greenhouse gases than any other form of transport. Besides, why should a country like Kenya, which cannot feed itself, supply us with all our french beans and mangetout?

market day

Here in France, even if we don’t have the opportunity to visit our open-air market twice a week, the chances are that we still buy fresh, locally grown, seasonal produce in our supermarket because the French have a wonderful system in place that allows most managers to buy supplies locally. How good is that?

olive picker

As you may have guessed, seasonality is a subject close to my heart – one that I return to daily in my Minervois-based cookery school. So I have chosen it to be the ‘golden thread’ that winds itself through my writings here. I shall write about the things that are available every month, how to recognise them, if they can be picked wild or what to do with them once you’ve taken them home. I shall write about peaches in summer and gluts of tomatoes in august, and what to do figs when they are hanging plump and sun-warmed from their wild branches. I shall talk about fragrant ceps when the autumn mists descend or wild boar during the hunting season. I shall write about confits to serve with foie gras for the festive season or fab wild asparagus when the air begins to warm in March. I’ll talk about my favourite locally-made goatscheese, at its best after the spring pastures, or about seabass when it looks particularly good or artichokes that are so good for us. Maybe I’ll report on the salt pans in Gruissan that produce the divine fleur de sel, or the olive harvest. Whatever is seasonal, I’ll be looking forward to it…

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