Thursday, 26 June 2014

Spectacular Seaside Scenery and a Side Salad

I've just got back from a fabulous week's holiday in Dorset. My hubby and I hired a cottage down there with the idea that we'd take the opportunity to chill out for a week. However our 'chilling out' turned into an exuberant exploration of the Dorset coast and we ended up walking  for miles along the hilly South West Coastal Path to take in some of the most spectacular parts of the Jurassic Coast. The breathtaking scenery was made even more beautiful by the gorgeous weather we had - we were so lucky - although the heat did make our walking a bit of a challenge at times.

Alas! All good things must come to an end and I'm home now with all the delights that a return from holiday bring - a basket full of washing to do and a cat that's really grumpy for having been left in the cattery for the past week!

I'd like to share some of my favourite photos from my hols along with a recipe for an easy and refreshing green salad with a creamy basil dressing that's perfect for a warm summer day when slaving over a hot stove just isn't an option - I'm glad to say we had a few of those!

Green Salad with Creamy Basil Dressing

Serves 2

Any combination of green salad vegetables will go well with this. I used little gem lettuce leaves, avocado, lightly cooked peas and cucumber.

For the dressing:
3tbsp mayonnaise
1tsp white wine vinegar
juice of half a lemon
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh basil
salt and pepper

1. Mix together the mayonnaise, white wine vinegar and lemon juice until well combined. Stir in the chopped basil and add salt and pepper to taste.

2. Arrange the salad in a serving bowl, pour over the dressing and toss until the salad is well coated with the dressing.

3. Serve.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Make your own spiced mixed nuts

One of my main failings when it comes to healthy eating is snacking! I love to snack on most things but nuts are my favourite. I love any kind of nuts - peanuts, cashews, brazils, pecans, walnuts, pistachios - you name it! I don't feel guilty about my nut addiction though, because I know that, although nuts are high in calories, they are packed with protein and vitamins and contain little saturated fat. Also, if the claims are to be believed, nuts can also protect us from heart disease. Lots of good reasons to eat them I would say! 

Although the health benefits vary from nut to nut, they are undoubtedly best eaten in their raw state without lots of salt or other additives but I do think they can get a bit boring like that, so I recently had a go at making my own spiced nuts in an attempt to liven them up a bit. I was surprised at how easy and delicious they turned out to be and as I was able to control how much salt and sugar I added I made sure they remained as healthy as possible. Also I reckon they're a lot cheaper than buying an equivalent product from the supermarket. 

All it takes is a few bags of unsalted nuts / seeds, a drop of oil, some spices and about 20 minutes of your time. I've detailed my version below which was inspired by a recipe by Thomasina Miers but a simple Google search will throw up literally hundreds of different varieties to try. Or you could just let your imagination take over and try out your own tasty combinations of nuts, seeds and spices

Spiced Mixed Nuts

150g whole almonds
150g jumbo peanuts
150g cashew nuts
150g pumpkin seeds
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp salt
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp demerara sugar
2 tbsp sunflower oil

1. Put all the nuts and seeds into a dry frying pan and gently toast over a medium heat for approximately 10 minutes until the nuts turn golden brown. Be sure to stir the mixture constantly to prevent burning.

2. Add all the remaining ingredients and stir to ensure the nuts are well coated in the mixture.

3. Spread the mixture out on a baking tray and place in a preheated oven at 180°C / 350°F / Gas Mark 4 for 10 minutes, turning the nuts over half way through the cooking time.

4. Allow to cool and store in an airtight jar.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

How to Make Perfect Baked Potatoes

Who doesn't enjoy a nice jacket potato now and then? I certainly do! For me, the perfect baked potato has a dark, crispy skin and a soft, fluffy centre and doesn't need anything fancy to fill it - just a generous knob of butter, a dollop of sour cream or a sprinkling of grated cheese. 

For the best results bake potatoes in the oven not the microwave and don't rush them - they need time to develop that soft centre!

Here are my tips to making perfect jacket potatoes:

1. After washing, allow the skins to dry out completely.

2. Prick the potatoes all over with a fork.

3. Rub the skins with cooking oil.

4. Place the potatoes directly on the shelf of the oven - not on a baking tray.

5. Bake in a hot pre-heated oven at 220°C / 475°F / Gas Mark 7 for approx 1½ hours but they may need a little longer depending upon the size.

6. Serve immediately while the skins are still crisp.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Mini Cheddar Bites - great for snacking

June this year is a great month for sports fans - the sports I like to watch that is. The French tennis open is on at the minute (with Andy Murray through to the quarter finals so far), the football World Cup will kick off in Rio on 12 June and then the Wimbledon tennis tournament will start on 23 June. Fantastic!.

In our house this will no doubt mean the usual shouts of encouragement being hurled at our TV (along with lots of other expletives that I really couldn't repeat here) in the belief that it'll somehow make a difference to the performance of the players. Not to mention the utter devastation when England inevitably get knocked out of the World Cup by Germany on penalties again! I am a realist though - England haven't won the World Cup since 1966 and are not likely to this year so I'm going to try to enjoy it and not get too carried away. I am rooting for Andy at Wimbledon though - it would be great if he could win two years in a row :-)

Lots of sport also usually means lots of eating, drinking and snacking in front of the TV so I thought I'd share this recipe for mini cheddar bites. Incredibly cheesy, a little bit chewy and a touch spicy, they're perfect to have with a glass of beer or wine while cheering your team (or player) on.

Mini Cheddar Bites with Chives and Cayenne

Notes: This recipe was inspired by one of my favourite blogs Ms Marmite Lover although I have adjusted the recipe slightly with the inclusion of Cheddar Cheese, Chives and Cayenne Pepper. I have also used olive oil in place of butter. Feel free to try different cheeses in this - I think Parmesan would be lovely too. Also, omit the Cayenne if you're not keen on spice. If you don't have a small cutter, just use a shot glass. I found that part of my icing set fitted the bill!

Makes approx 50 small 2.5cm biscuits.

200g grated cheddar cheese
100g plain flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
2 tsp chopped chives or ½ tsp dried chives
40ml olive oil
1-2 tbsp milk or water

1. Put the cheese, flour, salt, cayenne and chives into the bowl of a food processor with a chopping blade. Whizz for a few seconds until well blended.

2. Add the oil and blend for a few seconds more until it is well combined.

3. Add the milk or water 1 tbsp at a time and blend until the dough forms a lump. Turn out onto a floured board, wrap in cling film and chill for half an hour.

4. When the dough has chilled, roll it out on a floured board and with a floured rolling pin until it is approx ¼cm thick and use a cutter (see notes above) to cut small circles out of the dough.

5. Place the dough circles on a baking tray covered with greaseproof or parchment paper. Prick them all over with a fork and then cook in a pre-heated oven 180°C / 350°F / Gas Mark 4 for 12-15 minutes until golden. I found it useful to turn the tray around half way through the cooking time to ensure even cooking.

6. Allow to cool on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Chicken with Grapefruit Sauce - a throwback to the 1970s

As a child growing up in the 1970s I was exposed to all kinds of weird, wonderful and, dare I say, exciting food...Angel Delight, Dream Topping, Vesta Chow Mein, Arctic Roll and Smash instant mashed potato to name a few. I've come to the conclusion that being fed these instant foods explains why I now crave good, home cooked food that doesn't contain a whole lot of additives and E numbers. I probably overdosed on them as a child!

Despite my memories of all these dehydrated foods (just add water) I do think that the 1970s was the decade where good, interesting food began to emerge and started to capture the imagination of the masses.  Although I don't remember any of these dishes making it to our dinner table until the '80s at least, I wanted to share just a few of the foods that were really popular at the time and that, for me, define 1970s cuisine:

Duck a l'orange
Trout with Almonds
Prawn Cocktail
Beef stroganoff
Chicken Kiev
Scampi (with chips in a basket)
Coq au Vin
Baked Alaska
Black Forest Gateau
Vol au Vents
Lobster Thermidor (but only if you were particularly well-heeled)
And who could forget... cheese and pineapple on cocktail sticks stuck into a potato or an orange covered in aluminium foil!

This recipe has something about it that takes me back to the days when pairings of meat and fruit were seen as the height of sophistication. It isn't from a 1970s cookbook - I have adapted it from one that appears in one of my favourite cookbooks 'Cooking Outside the Box' by Keith Abel (of Abel & Cole fame) from 2006. The original recipe uses blood oranges to flavour the sauce but I've made it with grapefruit instead. The sauce is sharp and fruity and goes really well with pan-fried chicken - delicious! 

If you would like to try this, make sure to get the full experience by putting on some music from c1976 to listen to while you eat it!

Chicken with Grapefruit Sauce

Serves 2

1 tbsp butter
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 tsp flour
50ml white wine
Juice of 2 grapefruit
Salt and pepper
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tbsp olive oil

1. Make the sauce first by melting the butter in a frying pan and gently fry the onion until it is translucent. Stir in the flour and cook for a further minute then add the wine and the grapefruit juice.

2. Season with salt and pepper and allow to simmer for approximately 10 minutes until it thickens. Remove from the heat and keep warm.

3. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and fry them in the olive oil for 6-8 minutes per side, or until they are thoroughly cooked through. This will depend upon the size of the breasts. 

4. Once cooked, transfer to serving plates, carve and serve with the grapefruit sauce poured over.

Delicious with spinach, sauteed potatoes or buttered cabbage.

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