Saffron chicken and Herb Salad

Another epic salad from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook, this fresh plate of loveliness really hit the spot for lunch today. Wednesday’s are just meetings, meetings, meetings, and fitting in eating is a real challenge.

I think the title of this dish is a bit misleading. I think I’d rebrand it as ‘Roast chicken breast with an orange, honey and saffron glaze – served with a fennel and herb salad’. OK – maybe that is too long winded, but at least it is clearer!

In reality the chicken breast is simply roasted in the oven, and an orange glaze is poured over it when it is ready. The salad is not really just a herb salad, more a fennel salad with some herbs; definitely more fennel than anything else!

The orange sauce is the only thing that takes any time with this dish. Once that is on you can get everything else done with ease. Preheat the oven, season some chicken, roast it, rest it, break it into bits. Slice some fennel, add some mint, coriander, chilli, lemon juice and olive oil – and that’s done too.

The orange sauce is a segmented orange (take out all the pips) with some honey, as much saffron as you can spare, and a small amount of water – which you boil then simmer for an hour until it is all ‘glazey’.

Once the chicken has rested, pour over the glaze then toss it all together and eat. Really really easy.

This is a keeper and I think ANY white meat or fish or even Tofu might work with this sauce and salad. I liked it so much I will probably make it again later with the other parts of the chicken and perhaps serve it with another side.

Hummus kawarma

Hummus, (or houmous as I always thought it was spelled when I bought it pre-made from the supermarket) is one of our go to snacks. I’m really not one for sweet snacks; I’ll always choose a savoury snack over a pudding. I’ll often use up carrots or celery or leftover bread by dipping it in a very quickly prepped hummus.

When I make it ingredient proportions vary. Quantities of lemon juice, tahini, garlic and olive oil vary depending on availability. Sometimes I’ll use a different bean to chickpeas – but not very often. Sometimes I even add carrots or butternut squash but the pure unadulterated hummus is always the best. This recipe from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook calls for dried chickpeas soaked and boiled in bicarb. Suffice to say I didn’t do that – which may seem like a surprise given the amount of effort I put into the Gado Gado Satay┬áSauce – but I have so many cans of chickpeas and for me this is an impromptu snack – not one I want to put any effort into.

What I did make properly was the kawarma topping. This is simply some chopped lamb neck with all the spices and herbs! Black and white pepper, all-spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, za-atar, mint and parsley are all mixed together with a little white wine vinegar and marinated before being fried off in butter and oil.

The recipe also calls for a lemon and green chilli dressing but I’d run out of lemons and my Ocado order wasn’t coming until the next morning. Never mind – maybe next time.

Freya made some flatbread naan to go with the hummus. She made them with some left over yoghurt and pea dressing from the pasta dish we had the day before. They were pretty yummy but I have no idea how she made them!

The addition of the lamb made this snack into a meal for us and we ended up skipping dinner. All that bread – it was pretty filling. Saying that I’m pretty sure we demolished a tub of low calorie ice-cream later in the evening!

Gado Gado Satay Sauce

On Sunday Freya painted all day, I gardened all day; and we were both excellently productive.

For dinner I decided to make another tofu dish. We still had 2 packs left that were ‘just’ out of date and I hate throwing food away. I checked a few cookbooks, and found a Gado Gado recipe in Ottolenghi’s Plenty cookbook. We didn’t have all the ingredients for the whole dish but we did have all the ingredients for the sauce. I was sure I could cobble something together with all the ‘on edge’ leftovers that I had knocking about. At least half the dish could be made – that would do I thought!

Had I read ahead, and read more carefully, I probably wouldn’t have started this sauce so late in the day. It takes at least 90 minutes to make, probably longer. We decided to snack on leftover pork and mash instead and put this sauce aside for another day. Just as well really. It was very hot. Too hot for Freya anyway. She wouldn’t have been impressed at having this smothered all over her dinner. As it happens it wasn’t that hot when I used it for real the next day! Perhaps the tasting spoon was covered in chillies!

The last time I made a sauce that took this long was during a Cookery Course at Loaf in Birmingham. We were making a Massaman curry and had to pound all sorts of spices and chillies and garlic in a very big pestle and mortar for about an hour! I recall asking why you couldn’t just blast it all in a Thermomix, but apparently whacking something releases more flavour. It probably did – but it did seem like a lot of effort.

This doesn’t require any whacking, just a lot of stirring and adding ingredients.

The sauce has garlic, lemongrass, sambal oelek (Indonesian chilli paste), ginger and shallots; all which are blitzed (in a Thermomix (smiley face)) and fried off in oil for almost an hour. You add sweet paprika, sugar, seasoning, tamarind, coconut milk and ‘boiled peanuts’ and keep cooking for some more time. It is worth it honest. It just takes time. Boiling unsalted peanuts for half an hour was definitely something I was glad I read in advance; at least there was some multitasking!

As I said before it is hot; hotter than I expected, but very easily fixed with more coconut cream or yoghurt. It suited my tastes but it isn’t all about me.

This made lots. Four jars worth to be precise. I hope it keeps otherwise that was a lot of effort for nothing. On the plus side our go-to ‘istu 20 minute meal’ of tofu with peanut sauce can probably be modified a little to accommodate this sauce rather than the one in their book.

Would I make this again? Possibly. Are there easier satay sauces out there – most definitely!

Salt and Pepper Tofu – Two Ways – sort of…

These two dishes are essentially the same – just subtly different. Both are salt and pepper tofu, just the accompaniments differ. But why so much tofu?!

Even before lockdown we planned all our meals at least a week in advance. We had bought three packs of tofu to cook meals from the ‘itsu 20 minute cookbook’ – my favourite of the ‘really really quick’ meals books I own.

Due to skipping a couple of meals and the ‘leg of lamb that lasted 4 days’ saga we skipped the tofu meals in favour of food that was closer to expiry. Obviously you can’t do this forever – tofu has a lifespan too – and we ended up with out of date tofu!

Whilst watching Australian Masterchef Season 12 (it’s on – watch it – it is sooooo good) one of the competitors made a tofu dish where they served it cold, pressed, uncooked, raw basically. I wasn’t impressed – so I decided to come up with something myself.

All I have done here is press the tofu for an hour, toss it in white pepper, sea salt and cornflour and fried it until a little bit crispy. Using white pepper allows for a more subtle peppery flavour – black pepper can be overpowering if you use too much!

The one on the left is fried in left over pork fat (from a dish I made the other day) and the one on the left if fried in olive oil. The pork fat one was much more crispy – but obviously far less vegetarian.

The one on the left has pickled red onion (slice and leave in white wine vinegar), sushi rice, steamed broccoli, cucumber and red chilli – and a little herby sauce (left over from another meal).

The one of the right is just boiled new potatoes, hard boiled egg, cucumber, radishes, braised red cabbage, more pickled red onion – and a Satay sauce from the Gado Gado recipe from Ottolenghi’s Plenty cookbook. The meal is almost the Gado Gado recipe but it is supposed to have green beans, bean sprouts, croutons and crispy onions – which I didn’t have to hand. I will try it again when I next plan some meals. The addition of the crunchy stuff will definitely make this a better meal.

The Satay sauce took forever to make – and I’ll talk about this another time. Suffice to say it took at least 90 minutes to make, is very very nice – and was more spicy than I expected.

One more pack of tofu left! Let us see what we are having later today!

Spicy beetroot, leek and walnut salad

Yesterday, I suggested that the Healthy Burgers and Green Salad we had would have been better with this dish. The garlic in the green salad kind of beat the burgers into submission. This on the other hand was the perfect accompaniment. There’s a lot more effort into making them, but it is worth it in the end.

I somehow managed to forget to have my breakfast shake so burgers and salad for lunch seemed like a good plan.

I’d roasted the beetroot in foil the night before. Nice little trick, if you aren’t in a rush, is don’t roast them for 90 mins in the oven (that’s a lot of oven energy for some beetroots) – roast them for 40 mins – turn the oven off and just leave them til the oven is cold. They’ll still cook, and you’ll cut down on your energy bills. After all you’re eating the beetroot cold anyway – and you have to wait for them to be cold before you can peel the skin off. Works a treat for me – seems less messy too, as most people are impatient and start peeling before they are actually cold – and the juice just gets everywhere!

The leeks are simmered until they are tender, refreshed, then cut into chunks – and while that it going on you make a dressing of walnuts, chilli-flakes, garlic, oil, tamarind water (if you have it – I’ve used a small amount of fish sauce before, or an anchovy – something Umami will do it), and cider vinegar.

When you’re ready pop it all on a bed of rocket and sprinkle some pomegranate seeds over the top, and a drizzle of olive oil.

One thing I don’t like about whole pomegranates is you never know how plump and colourful the seeds will be (in this picture they are really pale). You can buy the seeds already popped in a plastic pot but I don’t like the plastic waste. I’d rather the wormery had the husk than worry about whether the plastic will get recycled!

This was a far more balanced accompaniment to the turkey burgers. And filled a nice little spot in my tummy until dinner time. Right – back to work! Adios!

Healthy Burgers and Green Salad

Let’s try a straight-forward title – because these two dishes combined would make for quite the long title.

The Burgers – ‘Turkey & Courgette Burgers with Spring Onion & Cumin’ – and the Salad ‘Feta, Parsley & Barley Salad’ both come from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook. Both were packed with flavour – if a little heavy on the raw garlic.

We chose this meal today out of necessity more than anything else. Many of the ingredients were in desperate need of cooking – or going in the bin. Especially the fresh herbs. There’s only so long you can keep cut coriander and parsley before if starts to yellow. I remember on Masterchef Australia a few years ago that George Calombaris swore that the only way to store herbs was rolled in kitchen towel – but this has never worked for me. If anyone has any great tips I’d love to know how to prolong their life.

The initial plan for today’s dinner was a Spicy Beetroot, Leek and Walnut Salad (with the Turkey burgers) but the beets needed 90 mins in the oven and we didn’t really want to wait that long to eat dinner, so we subbed in the Barley Salad instead. In hindsight, the beetroot would have been better – as the garlic and parsley did somewhat overpower the burgers. I love strong punchy flavours but Freya struggled. Fortunately we have enough for the same burgers tomorrow – this time with the beets – so we will see if the balance of flavour is better.

As much as lockdown is terrifying and frustrating, it has given me a new-found desire to cook again. It has made me plan meals better; portion control better; and it has also made me take more pride in my kitchen. I wash up as I go, have become more methodical, and leave the kitchen spotless after every meal. It is so much easier to cook in a tidy clean kitchen when you know where everything is, and what you have, and that you don’t need to clear up before you start the next meal!

Back to the food. There’s so much in these burgers; turkey, courgette, spring onions, coriander, mint, garlic, cumin and cayenne. It was hard to believe a single egg would bind it all together. But it did – sort of! You just chuck all this stuff together and fry them off in batches. I made half the burgers that were suggested – and will have the others tomorrow.

The accompanying dip is a triumph. One to keep for almost any other dish; sour cream, yoghurt, garlic, lemon (zest and juice), sumac and olive oil all mixed together and seasoned. I added some more of my preserved lemon salt for a bit more punch. This punchy yoghurty healthy sauce/dip really worked well with the burgers; I think it’d also work nicely with baked salmon, chicken and other lighter meats.

The salad was pretty simple too. Apart from the barley prep (boil it for 30 mins) everything else is raw. Marinate some feta in oil, za’atar, cumin and coriander seeds and then chop parsley, spring onions, cashews, green pepper and garlic. Throw it all together and serve with a squeeze of lemon and a little all-spice.

I definitely overdid the garlic in this. Or should I say – the garlic cloves were just massive – I should have used half as much as the hit from the parsley AND the garlic was a bit much for Freya.

This is a great healthy meal. Just go easy on the garlic!

Pan-fried mackerel with golden beetroot and orange salsa & Basmati & wild rice with chickpeas, currants & herbs

Nice snappy title! fish, salad and rice probably would have done.

We rarely have fish. In fairness before lockdown we barely had meat either. But doing the vegetarian and vegan thing is a harder work when you struggle for availability of items and also need to keep them ‘alive’ and fresh for 2-3 weeks.

So for lockdown we aren’t trying too hard to be vegetarian. There are bigger things to worry about; so meat and fish are back on the table. This is the first fish dish I’ve cooked this year (I think).

Both dishes (the rice dish is a completely separate dish) are from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook. This is a great book indeed and I never tire of cooking from it.

The mackerel is marinated in harissa, cumin and salt. I used rose harissa as we seem to have 3 jars of it. While it infuses into the fish, boil some beetroots (golden ones), then when the are cold, dice them with oranges, lemons, olives, herbs and chilli flakes – and a good glug of oil.

When the salad is ready, get a pan REALLY hot and add the mackerel for less than a minute (it says longer but I disagree), take the pan off the heat, then serve it with the salad. We added the rice as it didn’t feel like a complete meal.

The rice is pretty epic. Just rice is never a good side. This rice has Wild rice (which takes forever to cook) basmati rice, and chickpeas, as well as curry powder, onions and lots of herbs. Oh and currants – the currants make this dish. The recipe asks you to cook the wild rice first then the basmati separately, but I cheated somewhat, guessed when the wild rice had 12 mins to go and chucked the basmati in with it. Obviously this could have been a fail but it worked out fine.

This rice would be perfect for any dish I think – or BBQ if we ever get outside with friends again!

Freya wasn’t a fan of the beetroot and citrus salad. I lapped it up – thought the two things went really well together. The mackerel was a triumph too. The rice I will make over and over!

We still have many meals on the list before our 10th May Ocado delivery. Watch this space for more yummy stuff!

The ‘Get You Through the Day’ shake.

Sometime back in December 2019 I decided that 2020 was gonna be different for me. I was going to lose weight and get healthier. Most of 2018 and 2019 was spent consuming a lot of food and even larger quantities of alcohol and I somehow had crept up to 91kgs – which might not sound like much but I am pretty short.

2020 I vowed to not drink any alcohol and was going to lose 20kgs. 125 days into 2020 I haven’t touched a drop. I have also lost 20kgs. Now I weigh 71kgs. Yay for me!

Anyone that has known me for any length of time will know that I am a semi-professional yo-yo dieter and will inevitably put weight back on – but so far so good.

These people that know me will also know I am a bit obsessive and when I say I am going to do something I do it!

My new regime, with a few exceptions, is this shake for breakfast and nothing else until 7pm when we have dinner. Lately 100+ days in I have had the odd sausage sandwich for breakfast; especially if we have some bread that has seen better days, but as a rule this shake is all I need.

There are slight variations, but generally, get the big Nutribullet cup, 1/3 fill with frozen dark fruits (it must be frozen), add a banana, a peeled orange (or grapefruit, once I did 3 limes), a scoop of Protein Works, and a small amount of water. Then blitz!

Sometimes I add a frozen spinach puck, sometimes I add a splash of Vimto or Ribena, and when there are vegetables in the fridge crying for the compost bin, they go in too. I rarely throw stuff away.

I used to add milk instead of water – but it really isn’t worth the calories or the potential to miss out on cups of tea – especially during lockdown where you only get milk every 2 weeks!

This can keep me going all day. I never get tempted to snack, and just go about my day without a thought for more food – until dinner time, where I just eat a regular meal.

I’m not suggesting anyone else does this. But this worked for me, and has changed the way I now eat.

Lamb Mezze – or the Lamb That Kept on Giving

Saturday’s slow roast Leg of Lamb kept on giving today with its third offering. This time as part of a mezze from Ottlenghi’s Plenty cookbook.

Yesterday we had Lamb Ragu with pasta. It really wasn’t worth the picture or talking about as I just boiled up some pasta and added a good amount of lamb and the red wine sauce left over from Saturday’s epic dinner.

Two types of lamb featured today; the Leg meat (simply reheated in the oven) and the spicy minced lamb (left over from the Minced Stuffed Aubergine dish we made last week). I have the say the lamb leg was just as tender and juicy as it was when it was first cooked.

Accompanying the leftovers were Fried tomatoes and Garlic from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook. Very little to this really; I just pricked some fancy Natoora tomatoes and all the available parsley stalks and fried them for a minute or so with olive oil and sea salt. After taking them off the heat I added some more parsley, a couple of red chillis and some grated garlic. And that was that. 10 minutes to make this max!

The salad (in the centre of the picture) we’ve had before. Also from Jerusalem it’s called Baby Spinach with dates and almonds. I love it. It conforms for Ottolenghi’s preferred ‘all salads need nuts and fruit’ rule. It’s another really easy dish which you can adapt to whatever you’ve got. I’ve made it with apricots before, added sultanas, and even dried cherries. Any nuts will do too; I’ve made it with hazelnuts and walnuts before. Chopped apple also works well.

Here some dates and some red onion are pickled for a short while in white wine vinegar and a little salt. You really don’t need those expensive Medjool dates; just get the cheap and cheerful ones and quarter them lengthways. Once they’ve been pickling they’ll soften up nicely.

While that’s pickling melt some butter and oil in a pan and tear in a couple of pitta bread (or even some regular bread that isn’t as fresh as it could be) and some chopped skin on almonds. Keep it moving in a hot pan until it gets golden and crunchy then take it off the heat and add some sumac, chilli flakes and salt. I added some more of my friend Becca’s Preserved lemon salt as it gives everything extra punch!

After letting it cool a bit – you don’t want to wilt the spinach – throw this bread mixture on top of the spinach and then the red onion and dates. Finish it off with a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil.

I think this is one of the best salads I’ve ever made – and it goes with just about anything.

Finally I made a quick tzatsiki by grating half a cucumber into some yoghurt and stirring in some chopped mint and a bit of sea salt.

We loved this dinner. Freya said it was the best meal to come from the Leg of Lamb; and as you can see there was way too much for 2 people to eat. Six pitta breads went into this dinner! 2 in the salad and two that we stuffed with the mezze.

We will inevitably be having it all again tomorrow for lunch, meaning we’ll have gotten 8 meals out of one leg of lamb. Now that’s resourcefulness for you!

Very Slow Cooked Lamb

In a change to the regularly scheduled Sunday Zoom call cook-along with Freya’s parents we decided to shift to Saturday for a change. Nothing like a bit of variety during these challenging lockdown times.

Mine was slow cooked in the over for 7+ hours; Freya’s mum did hers in her outside log powered pizza oven.

I’ve made this recipe up, and although you can’t see it yet (picture to follow shortly), the lamb was cooked in a traditional red wine sauce – which I’ll get to in a minute.

Main inspiration for this dish (rather than the Ottolenghi lamb dish we did a few weeks ago) was the rapidly fading vegetables we had knocking about, and my inability to throw any food away that isn’t already walking to the compost bin by itself. We also had a 3/4 full open bottle of red wine, and some stock that I made from the carcass of Ottolenghi’s Soffrito chicken. Together these ingredients were bound to make a good sauce.

Prep for mine started the day before. I stabbed the lamb (and it was a very big lump of lamb) with a sharp knife and filled every stab hole with a chuck of garlic and some rosemary. I then rubbed some of the salt from my friend Becca’s homemade Preserved Lemons over the lamb and left it for a good 12-18 hours.

The next morning I started dinner (it was around 9:30am and we were going to eat around 6pm)

In a large saucepan I added some olive oil and browned off the leg of lamb on a high heat, to get some colour on it – and to release some of the meat juices into the pan. I then put the meat to one side.

In the same pan I fried off some diced carrot, onions, celery and garlic then added all the leftover wine, all the leftover stock, two tins of chopped tomatoes and some tomato puree. I had some left over thyme in the fridge which was borderline so this went in too. I brought this too the boil, let it blip for a while and they poured it all over and around the lamb and popped it in the oven at 160 degrees (uncovered) – and that was basically it!

I only seasoned with pepper as I thought I’d used enough salt already on the lamb and didn’t want to ruin it.

After about 4 hours it started looking a bit dark so I turned the lamb over in the sauce and covered it in a sheet of tinfoil.

After 7 hours it looked pretty epic (as you can see in the picture). I separated the sauce from the meat and blitzed the sauce in the Thermomix to made a rather thick and very very tasty Ragu like wine sauce. Traditionally you’d remove the veg by straining off the liquid to leave a glossy sauce. I don’t really do refined and I prefer a thicker sauce with this sort of meal.

We had about 20% of this melt in the mouth, falling apart lamb with the Ragu sauce, mashed potatoes and garlicky Cavolo Nero.

Our Scotty dog Bruce was very pleased with the lamb bone too – it kept him busy for hours.

A very successful meal indeed. We used up all the borderline veg, leftover wine and stock and probably have enough Ragu sauce and lamb to have it with some pasta today – and perhaps the next couple of days too!

Freya is now making Tattie scones with the leftover mash potatoes. We don’t throw anything away in this house!