Couscous Salad

Couscous salad

I do absolutely adore this time of year, but my oh my it’s busy.  There is a plethora of galas, fetes, fairs spelt this way and fayres spelt that way, shows, goodbye drinks and general merriment to be had which has once again involved the smoothie bike and this year, the bringing together of a musical.  Not single handedly, obviously.

I know, so much to do, so little time.

Amidst this party atmosphere there has been little or no time at all to even consider writing my blog.  To be honest that’s not quite true.  It’s not really time that has alluded me, after all, I have had a couple of hours before bed.  But by that time it is all I can do to muster up the energy to stare mid distance.  It’s head space.  That glorious breath you take to just think.

A measly, but honest admission.

Suffice to say, I have been remiss and must apologise for this hiatus, short though it may be.  Miniscule in the grand scheme of things.

Cracking on…

My beautiful niece Madeleine popped down to visit both ourselves and one of our local universities the other weekend, and we stopped by a salad bar for lunch – cosmopolitan things that we are.  As a base for our salad we both chose couscous which I have to say I have shelved for the last couple of years due to a couscous over eagerness.  However, I am so glad she gently persuaded me that salad was the way to go thus allowing me to indulge once more in its hidden delights.  The salad we had was absolutely delicious and it reminded me how versatile, quick, easy and nutritious couscous can be.

There are just two things to remember when making couscous.

Firstly, always read the packet to ensure that you have the correct ratio of grain to water, and secondly, seasoning.

When I add the boiling water to the couscous (160g couscous to 200ml boiling water) I always add a stock cube and leave, covered, for five minutes.  Alternatively, I boil some stock from the freezer, otherwise, for me, it’s a little too bland with just fruit or vegetables in it.

I mean you may, if you so desire, add whatever takes your fancy, but we are talking about salad for the moment and I must learn to not digress.

The beautiful man will occasionally comment on the time it takes me to make a cup of tea.  Not that I don’t do it, just that I do a million and one things whilst doing it which can often delay the receiving of said cup of tea for a ‘short’ while.

*ahem*

After five minutes, take off the cover and fluff up with a fork.  To the wonderfully fluffy couscous I add peppers and cucumber and then a couple of fruits such as blueberries and tomatoes.  Whatever combination you enjoy, add it. Then, for that added zing, I tear up some basil.  Berries and basil is such a lovely partnership.

Mix it all together and serve with meat, fish, or something softer such as humous. And if you really fancy pushing the boat out, a lovely warm flatbread or pitta. Mouth wateringly delicious and surprisingly filling.

Just one last tip, couscous salad doesn’t freeze well and becomes all globular and unappetising although it will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.

Right then, I’m off to fly around being busy, back as soon as I can…

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Chicken Soup

Chicken Soup

I have been slightly distracted this week which I can pin down to three specific things.  Work, general election and an awful thing going on with a tooth that I can go no further into, for everyone’s sake.

Consequently time has done that peculiar thing of continuing as normal but feeling distorted.  It’s a funny old thing which many new parents experience, but when you are having a lot of hours in the day awake, the rhythm of life changes and, for me, makes it feel as though I’m living through blancmange.  I have many things to do that I just haven’t done, or do not have the energy to do, and, if truth be known, am probably, in actuality, doing very little, just thinking about it.

As the Americans say, ‘Go figure’

However, I have managed in some part, to continue to cook a semblance of regular meals, with only the odd quirk here and there.  Interestingly, sometimes these quirks work, and sometimes you look back and ponder,

‘Why did I think throwing everything we had left in the fridge into a pan and just adding tomato ketchup, was a good idea?’

Which is why soup is always a good thing to make.  It’s simple, nourishing and although doesn’t have the appeal to the wee boy of say, spaghetti, it does get eaten.  Almost.

I made a chicken stock with the carcass and usual bits and pieces, boiling for 8 hours or so, then leaving to cool overnight.  Now, here’s the thing.  Often when I make a chicken stock I congratulate myself on using up ever last bit of chicken wisely thus easing my conscience.  Invariably arriving at the cooling stage without a hitch.  And then, mentally having ticked the box in my head for ‘make chicken stock’, I leave it on the hob.

Sometimes for so long that I have to throw the whole lot away… (Oh God, the guilt, even now)

This time though, I was on it like a car bonnet, separating the bones and vegetables from the juice as soon as it was cool enough to do so.  Then awarded myself a medal for achievement.  It’s the little things.

Invariably when making a pot of stock, I divide it into those plastic container boxes that the take-away shops so very kindly donate when they bring you food, although to be fair, it would be a bit odd if they stood at the door waiting until you had emptied the food onto a plate so that you could return their boxes.  Mind you, that’s a pretty good idea don’t you think?

*files away under ‘when I rule the world’*

Anyway, this time I just used all the stock created and turned it into a soup.

Firstly I chopped and diced an onion and carrot and put in the pan with a little vegetable oil.  I then added a slice of bacon, chopped, for saltiness, and the rest of the chicken that had been picked off the bones before making the stock.  The stock was added and a potato, chopped and diced.

I then left the whole thing to simmer for twenty minutes or so.  Took down the trusty steed and whizzed up.

Alongside this we had hummus, carrot sticks and muffins.

I know, not what you’d immediately associate with chicken soup, but hey, I’m doing my best here, and as I say to the boys, that’s all you can do.

Butternut Squash Risotto

butternut squash risotto

I love risotto.  It’s comforting, adaptable and an absolute doddle to make.  Which is great as the wee boy and I are home alone and not the most perky.  We are doing that energy wave thing.  You know the one?  One minute you feel absolutely fine, the next you can hardly move.

Enter risotto and it’s shining, creamy rice.

I gently saute an onion in butter on a low heat until it begins to turn translucent, then add rice and black pepper.  Stir.

Now then today, having just made some chicken stock, I added that to the rice, gradually, but it could be vegetable stock, beef stock, whatever you fancy which compliments the meat or vegetables you are using.  However, if you like to add white wine, do it before you begin to add the rest of the liquid.

Why?

Well, because you want the alcohol to evaporate leaving the flavour.  That taste sensation doesn’t have the same impact if you add the wine with the rest of the liquid.

That said, I don’t tend to add wine, not because I don’t like it in there, but because, usually, I don’t have any opened wine around.  What am I saying?  I feel I may be creating the wrong picture here.  What I mean is I don’t usually have any wine around.  I’m a ‘buy it, drink it’ kinda gal.  However, on those rare occasions when there may be some left in the bottle which has been hanging around for a few days, Nigella has a canny little trick of bagging it up, sealing it and putting it in the freezer. I admire this idea greatly but just forget to do it.

Here’s another thing, today our risotto was butternut squash which I had cooked in the oven beforehand, so added to the rice just a couple of minutes before the end.  If you’re doing mushroom risotto the technique would be different.  Still a doddle though.

Anyway, you’ll know the rice is cooked when it has a creamy, soft, nutty texture.  I have taken to adding the parmesan shavings on top of the risotto, but occasionally I stir it into the rice.  As I say, it’s diversity, along with it’s comforting textures, are just two of a risotto’s many qualities.

Meanwhile, I must now leave you and sink, graciously, into the sofa.

Carrot and Coriander Soup

carrot and corriander soup

This is probably one of my favourite soups.  Not only is it a doddle to make, but it always smells and tastes divine.

And this is how it goes…

Chop up a couple of onions and dice some carrots.  Fry the onions in a little butter, add the carrots, a splash of salt, a sprinkle of coarse ground black pepper and a teaspoon of cumin.  Stir it all around then add chicken or vegetable stock and some boiling water.  Bring to the boil and simmer until the carrots are soft then add a good handful of chopped coriander.  Let it all simmer for another couple of minutes.

Take off the heat and blitz.  I use my trusty hand whizzer, but anything that makes it look soup-like, works.  Then add another big handful of chopped coriander and stir.

It is now ready to eat.

Sadly, my gang are still in the ‘munching through boxes of sweets’ phase so have turned down the offer of soup.  Thankfully a lovely friend came by and happily shared a bowl with me.  The rest I have placed in a tupperware box with lid and put into the fridge, where it will either freeze, or just sit there for days until it begins to emanate a slight odour.

At this point I will either take it out, reheat and eat the last portion on my own, or, if it’s gone past the point of no return, throw it away with my head hung in shame.

You see that’s the thing about leftover food, it’s all fine and dandy transforming it all from one foodstuff to another, but if those you are feeding have no appetite for such delicacies, it remains uneaten.

There is, however, a slight chance that somebody may have a pang for something savoury in the next few hours which will vindicate my desire to have ‘just in case’ food prepared.

And it is with that eternal optimism that I am now going to retire to the sofa, having eaten enough Christmas cake and cheese for the week, in just one sitting.

Watercress Soup

photo (85)

Funnily enough, although it’s still August and therefore technically summer, it has been on the slightly parky side to the extent that our central heating has made a unilateral decision and popped itself on for an hour or so every now and again.  That said, I’m not into full stew and dumpling mode yet, and although I may be making soup, something I associate more with the colder months, chances are it will go into the freezer.  This is, if I haven’t eaten it all through ‘sampling’.  It’s darn fine.

Of course the wonderful thing about watercress soup is you can eat it hot or cold in theory, but I’m a little bit conservative when it comes to soup, and haven’t as yet, really truly relished a cold soup.  That could be down to the ingredients within the soup so perhaps I should make my own.  It would have to be when we had friends round though.  I am not very good at selling foods that I am slightly unsure of to himself and the boys, so fear I would probably end up eating alone that evening.

Onto the soup.  Chop an onion and put into a pan with butter.  Now then, I almost always cook my onion in a large lump of butter with salt and ground pepper so that it sautes however, you may prefer to hold back on the butter.  Either way, slow cook until the onions are translucent.  Chop the watercress and add to the onion.  Then add chicken stock, grated nutmeg and one or two peeled and chopped potatoes.   Bring to the boil and leave simmering for twenty minutes or so.

Just a little thought about the stock.  I use my own homemade chicken stock *polishes halo*, but you may be vegetarian, or indeed just can’t be arsed with the fuss of making your own stock.  In which case, buy those fantastic Knorr Stock Pots. They come in all types of flavours and are amazing.

So, when the stuff in the pan has been simmering away for a while, take off the heat and liquidise.  I think actually, you’re supposed to leave it to cool down a little before liquidising, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t.  In fact, I don’t think it makes any difference whatsoever, barring the heat of the soup, which may attack you when you least expect it.

And finally, if you are going to eat this soup straight away, ladle into bowls then add a little single cream in a swirly fashion to each bowl, standing on one foot with the other leg coyly lifted at the knee and thrown, with gay abandon behind you.  Make sure at least one arm looks ready to conduct an orchestra.  Perfect.

Baked Chicken and Rice

photo (75)

There is something very satisfying about putting a whole load of things in a dish and popping it in the over to discover, about forty minutes later that not only is it all cooked, but the alchemy of the food blends so beautifully together that you have something very gratifying to eat.  And so it is with baked chicken and rice.

Here’s how I do it.

Grease a dish with a little butter.  Add rice, chopped chicken pieces, red and yellow pepper, sultanas, nuts, chicken stock, salt and pepper.

Put it in the oven, gas mark 5.

Make a cup of tea.

Wait.

Look in the oven after around twenty minutes as it might need a bit of a stir.  My oven tends to cook things round the outside of the dish quicker than in the middle, so I give it a gentle swirl and sometimes add some more hot water.

Twenty minutes or so later, take out of the oven and serve.

It’s a little bit like savoury rice, but the sultanas add a touch of sweetness that I find irresistible.  Of course, you could, should the feeling take you, just bake the rice with the peppers etc and cook the chicken separately.  Either way, the results are always enjoyable.

And, as a little aside, it looks beautiful.