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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Kitchen Sink Salad

kitchen sink salad

I have called this a kitchen sink salad as I put almost everything but the kitchen sink, into it.

Made me smirk.

What it actually has in it is spinach leaves, beetroot, avocado, blue cheese, red orange and yellow pepper, and tomatoes.  Not that much really, but it seemed a lot at the time.  I was going to put some walnuts in there as well, but forgot.  Which is no surprise really, as this is the first time I have rustled up a salad since last year, and am therefore a little salad rusty.

That’s my excuse anyway.

But I tell you what, it was delicious with some lovely new potatoes.

Meanwhile the wee boy’s dilemma of the day is what he’s going to change his name to when he grows up.  The options are:

1.  Wallace – his favourite films at the moment are the Wallace and Grommit series

2.  The Apprentice – taken from some Star Wars film or other, another favourite

How wonderful it is to be five.

Mini Fritattas

Vegetable fritatas

Well hello again.

Having had the most wonderful sojourn, I’m back.

The thing about going away is that it takes about three days to relax into your holiday and realise that the constraints of places to be and appointments to keep, just don’t apply.  It is only then that you completely fall in love with the holiday experience and truly allow your mind to begin expanding into possibilities.

And so it was with us.  Although totally mesmerised by the area where we were from the get go, it wasn’t really until we’d had a couple of sleeps that we began to relish everything around us.  There are always many tales of delight and wonder when you are surrounded by exactly what you need, but I won’t bore you with them all.  I have never had much patience for other people’s holiday/wedding/whatever photos, and, as I have got older have become brave enough to limit the amount I am prepared to look at – normally around ten does it for me.  I want a flavour, not the whole experience.

So it is with this ethos in mind that I will share just one story with you.

We were on a vast expanse of beach, walking towards the sea over a fairly dune like terrain when the wee boy turned to me and said,

‘Look mummy, the mermaids have been and left their tail marks in the sand’

I know, delightful.

Today’s little number is mini roast vegetable frittatas.  They are pretty simple to make, but just take time.  So when the recipe says slice 4 aubergines and 2 courgettes, place on a baking tray, brush with the warm garlic and onion infused oil and place in the oven to cook, 10 minutes on both sides, what they don’t realise is that my oven is small and therefore I have to go through this process around 5 times before all the vegetables are done.

However, eventually, I finish baking the vegetable marathon and slice them and the peppers into a bowl with chopped mint, basil, salt and pepper.

The eggs, cream, nutmeg and parmesan are whisked then the whole thing is ready to be assembled and cooked.

Tell you what, they are delicious.

Peppers

peppers

The wonderful thing about food is that it brings people together.  It doesn’t matter how you got there, (metaphorically speaking) for that moment in time you are united by the preparing and sharing of food.

I am a huge believer in setting, sitting and eating around a table.  I never request it, I expect it.  The exception is not sitting round the table.  Or ‘at table’ as my auntie Shelagh used to say.  How can you possibly converse if you’re sitting in a line with some distraction or other in the corner?

What I find incredible though, is the way setting, sitting and eating affects the spirit. Having spent the last few years observing what it’s like for people to not have the privilege of sitting around a table to eat food with others, it has become my firm belief that those who don’t adhere to this ritual, for that is what it is, lose a part of themselves forever, to something else.  It remains to be seen whether that something else is for the good or not.  But if I were a gambling man, which I am not, I know where my money would be.

Hang on a minute, I hear you cry, what is all this pontification and, quite frankly, what on earth has it got to do with peppers?

Well my lovely friends, today I roasted some peppers, warmed some pitta, bought some hummus, and shared it with a group of people who don’t often have the pleasure of setting, sitting and eating.  And I have to say, I felt honoured to share such genuine joy, appreciation and fulfilment not only of the body, but of the soul.

Sometimes it’s the little things which have the biggest impact.

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.

Red Thai Curry

photo (49)

I do believe we are officially experiencing summertime.  It’s glorious.  And with this season comes a whole array of foods to eat which compliment the heat.  In my head I have time to flick through recipes, buy new ingredients and potter in the kitchen, presenting my boys with yet another piece de resistance.  The reality is, there is never really enough time, and I end up, most of the time, falling back on old faithfuls. Things which I have the ingredients for, that don’t take too long to cook, and that I know everyone will enjoy.

When I was growing up, the summer staple was always some sort of food, with salad.  And every time we had salad, big Dave would exclaim something along the lines of,

‘Rabbit food again then?’

As a friend of mine once said, ‘I don’t do greens.  I don’t do anything with fibre’

There’s nothing quite like the soul destroying feeling of someone’s dinner disappointment.

So, with this in mind, I have incorporated a red Thai curry into my repertoire, which I believe ticks all the summer food boxes, without instigating the ‘summer salad’ conversation.  And it’s a doddle to make.

I usually use either a meaty fish (cod), pork or chicken strips, but sometimes I break the mold and just use vegetables.  Oh yes, living on the edge.  Anyway.

What I start with is a teaspoon of Mae Ploy Red Curry Paste, bought in a tub from my local supermarket which cuts out the faff of mixing together all the things I don’t have, and it keeps in the fridge for an eternity.  I think.  I add this into a wok with a splash of oil, a teaspoon of soft brown sugar, a splash of fish sauce and a dash of lime juice.  Mix together, warm through and add the meat.  If you’re using fish, skip this stage and add the fish in with the coconut milk as otherwise it breaks up too much.

Cook for five minutes or so.

I then add sliced red onion, orange, red and yellow peppers if I have all three, if not I put in whatever I do have, stir around for a wee while, and add a tin of coconut milk. Next I add mange tout, sugar snap peas, green beans, (once again, whatever I have in), and let them all cook in the milk until they look as though they’ve seen some heat**.

And that, my friends, is it!

If we’re eating it with noodles, I also add them, if we’re eating it with rice, I cook that alongside the curry and serve the two separately on the plate.

I do like to add some fresh chopped coriander right at the end, but more often than not, if I haven’t bought some that day, the stuff I have has either wilted or been semi frozen by my temperamental fridge.

It may not be totally authentic, but it tastes devine.

** Just a final thought, the peppers, beans, whatever you fancy veg really could do with having a crunch to them otherwise it does taste like ‘old people’s home’ food.