Speedy Salad Dressing

As you may know, I’m pretty much a slave to Pizza Express House Dressing, but my dear fiancé has recently convinced me that homemade vinaigrette can be every bit as good. I’d never had a vinaigrette I really liked until he presented me with his delicious lemon and garlic chicken salad with mustard and white balsamic dressing. So, I asked him for the recipe and attempted my own, albeit I only had regular balsamic in my cupboard.

  

For this, you will need:

4 tablespoons oil of your preference, he swears by sunflower

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar 

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Salt and sugar to taste 

I also added some oregano and parsley, which are completely optional 

1 clean, sterilised jar or dressing bottle with a well-fitting lid

  
Add all the ingredients to the jar or bottle, screw the lid on and shake hard until well mixed. Taste, alter the balance of salt, sugar, mustard or oil and shake again. Repeat until you are happy with it. I’ve been keeping this in the fridge but be warned that the cold may seize up the oil (I used a little olive oil in mine)

  
  

Tuna Pasta Bake (With Extra Veggies)

This is a fantastic recipe for when you have a hankering for pasta but want to keep the carbs relatively low in favour of protein, bulked up with vegetables. Comforting, warming, versatile and full of goodness. If you want to be especially good, use wholewheat pasta. 

  
For this version, you will need:

1 onion

1 pepper

1 clove garlic

Handful of green beans

1 tin sweetcorn 

2 tins tuna. If you don’t like fish, this would be great with leftover chicken or cooked sausages cut up into chunks.

2 tomatoes (or however many you have)

1 tin chopped tomatoes

Chilli, oregano, basil, salt and pepper

A handful of grated hard cheese

A couple of crackers to crumble on top, or breadcrumbs, but I used a few baked tortilla chips since I often have a relatively fresh batch lying around 

A short cut pasta of your choosing, enough to feed 2-3 people should do the trick, or around 150g. I used Conchigliette because I like the way the sauce gets trapped inside the little shells.

An oven-proof casserole dish 

  
1. Slice the onions and pepper and cook off in a medium to large saucepan in a little olive oil on a low to medium heat. These will give you great flavour if cooked low and long.

2. Chip or grate the garlic and add to the saucepan once the onions and peppers are on their way to softening. 

3. Chuck the pasta into a large saucepan with a good punch of salt and pour over some freshly boiled water – give it plenty to swish about in and cook until there is still a bit of bite to the pasta, stirring occasionally. Remember this will be going in the oven with the sauce so will be cooked a little more later on.

  
4. Meanwhile, top and tail the beans and cut in half so they are bite sized. This should be a nice easy eat!  Add these to the vegetable saucepan and stir.

5. Chop the tomatoes into smallish chunks and add to the other vegetables. Once everything has had a good chance to heat through, add the tinned tomatoes, then swirl a little water in the empty can to release the residue. Add the herbs and seasonings and leave to simmer.

  
6. When your pasta is ready, add s couple of tablespoons of the cooking water to the sauce (thanks Nigella and Mr Brooker), drain the pasta and set aside. Preheat the oven to 180C fan. 

7. Drain the tin of sweetcorn (bring careful not to cut yourself on the lid!) and add the contents to the sauce.

8. Repeat with the tuna chunks, making sure to use the lids to really squeeze out the extra oil, brine or water, depending on which type you have. I pretty much always mix my tuna with mayo or add it to a sauce like this so I’m not very fussy about which I buy, although I’m not too keen on the brined version (just a family habit!). I find it easiest to use a fork to release the tuna flakes. Add this to the sauce when you’re happy it’s almost ready, as you really just want this to heat up before putting it all together. 

  
9. When you’re happy with everything, mix the pasta into the sauce (I only do it this way to save getting two saucepans dirty but feel free to explain if you think the other way is better) and pour into the casserole dish.

  
10. Sprinkle the grated cheese and crumbled up crackers over the top, and bake for 15 minutes or so, or until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese has melted to your satisfaction.  

 

I made this last for 2 suppers and 3 small lunches (reheated in the microwave) served with salad, and it was great every time. I kept the last bit in the fridge in a sealed container for about 5 days and it was still great. If you’re using cooked chicken or sausage, you might want to use it up within 3 days and be really sure you’ve reheated it properly. 

  

Chocolate Banana Muffins

I had a project meeting to attend in Edinburgb last week, and one of my colleagues requested that I should supply some sort of baked breakfast (he has requested cherry bakewells for next month so watch this space!). Recently, the company has been providing us with weekly fresh fruit boxes, meaning there is often a glut left at the end of the week. This time, there were a gazillion ripe bananas left over. They were just crying out to be baked into something. Banana bread seemed too obvious, and wouldn’t travel as well, so I set about scratching my head and looking through my books. These were the result (courtesy of Nigella), however, if I had my time again I would have added a cup of chocolate chips to the batter. I contemplated it at the time but decided that Nigella knows best!  

 You will need:

3 ripe bananas

125ml vegetable oil

2 eggs

100g soft light brown sugar

225g plain flour

45g cocoa powder

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Muffin tin and 12 muffin cases 

Optional: 1/2 cup of chocolate chips

  
1. Mash the bananas and mix with sugar and oil until thick and creamy. 

2. Crack in the eggs and mix again until you have incorporated plenty of air. 

3. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and fold in until just combined. 

4. Optional – add in the chocolate chips and gently mix. 

  
5. Place the muffin cases in the tray and divide the mixture as evenly as you can between them. I usually add a tablespoon to each case and then divide the rest of the mixture between the cases as evenly as possible i.e. half a tablespoon at a time until all used up. 

6. Bake at 190C fan for 15-20 minutes, or until risen and springy to the touch. 

  

Chilli Con Dos Carnes

I’ve made basic Chilli Con Carne more times than I can remember. But I was reading Nigella’s Kitchen the other day and thought that her version, which features cocoa powder and chorizo, might be worth a try, especially as I had chorizo in the fridge. This recipe, therefore, combines elements of her recipe and my own (although I’m not convinced the cocoa powder added much!)

I just ate mine with some home-made guacamole and baked tortilla chips with a light sprinkling of Gruyère over the top while it was still hot from the pot. It’s warming, it’s filing and it’s (mostly) full of goodness. And let’s face it, there’s not much better than a pot of chilli bubbling on the stove on a Sunday afternoon!

  
You will need: 

110g approx. of cooking chorizo

500g beef mince (or lean steak mince if you can get it)

1 tsp cocoa powder

1 tsp dried oregano

2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp mild chilli powder 

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 clove garlic, grated or finely chopped 

1 knob of fresh ginger, grated

Salt and pepper 

1tbsp tomato purée 

1 normal tin of chopped tomatoes (400g approx.)

1/2 tomato tin of hot water swirled around to catch the remnants (full can of not using the coffee)

1 good splash Worcestershire sauce

1 can kidney beans 

1 carrot

1 onion

1 pepper 

1/2 cup brewed coffee (optional)

Beef stock (optional) – I used 1 Knorr Stock Pot

  
1. Slice the onion, carrot and pepper however you like and add to a casserole dish which has been preheating on the job with a splash of oil in it and cook until starting to soften. 

2. Slice the chorizo into thick disks, then quarter the disks. Add a new pan on a low heat and cook on both sides until starting to brown, and until you see the fat starts to render out. You can, of course, cook this in the main casserole dish if you’d like; I just prefer it this way so you can control how much fat ends up in the final Chilli. 

3. Add the grated garlic and ginger, stir, then add the tomato purée, turning down the heat to avoid the garlic burning and to help the tomato purée to render out into sweetness. Then add the chorizo to the vegetables, and however much fat you wish to include. I used quite a hot chorizo so I got rid of all of the rendered fat, leaving a residue in the pan for browning the mince. 

  

4. How you continue at this point is up to you, but for me, this was dictated by the size of my casserole dish!  You want to gently brown the mince, not boil it, so if you don’t have alot of space in the casserole (or large saucepan), I would advice browning the mince in the pan you used for the chorizo. Add the mince to the pan in batches, making sure you don’t overcrowd the pan, occasionally flipping and stirring it, until it had sealed all over. Sprinkle the mince with the cocoa, dried herbs and dried spices. 

5. Add the mince to the casserole, stir into the vegetables and add the tomatoes, water, stock, coffee and Worcestershire sauce. Give it all a good stir and allow to simmer on a low heat for at least 40 minutes, but 1 or 2 hours would be best, stirring occasionally. If it starts to get dry, add in some more water or coffee. 

 
6. When you think you’re about half an hour or so from the finish, strain the kidney beans and add them to the Chilli. I like to rinse them out as well, as they seem to accumulate a purple goo in the tin which perturbs me a little!

7. Continue to simmer until you’re happy with it, adding any other seasonings you feel are needed to taste.  Serve with rice, tortilla chips, salad, tacos, whatever! The world is your kidney bean. It is fantastic with sweet potato wedges, with lashings of cheese, sour cream and guacamole. 

   

¡Buen provecho!

Honey and Peanut Butter Granola Bars

These guys may not be as healthy as you’d like, but they are packed with nutritious stuff and will keep you going all morning as an at-your-desk-with-coffee snack breakfast or on the go (great for your train commute!). And they might just keep your hands out of the biscuit tin. 

The other great thing about these is that you can add all sorts of great ingredients to them to make them to your liking: your favourite dried fruits, nuts and seeds, difference cereals, additional spices, almond butter, perhaps, if you don’t like peanut, or even chocolate chips!

You will need a square cake tin or brownie pan for this, but if you don’t have one you could try using a cake tin and cutting it as you fancy, but a loose bottom is really helpful. Grease the tin but experience tells me not to line it with greaseproof paper!

You will need:

125g salted butter

150g light brown sugar 

1tsp cinnamon or mixed spice (optional)

125g crunchy peanut butter, no added sugar, or another but butter of your choice

75g runny honey, plus extra to glaze

Grated zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon (not essential!)

200g porridge oats

200g dried fruits, I like a mixture of sultanas, dried cranberries, raisins and dried apricots

100g mixed seeds and/or chopped nuts, I like pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and flaked almonds

  
1. Preheat the oven to 160C. 

2. Put a medium to large saucepan on a low to medium heat and add in the butter, sugar, honey, spice, zest and peanut butter and allow to start melting together before stirring occasionally. Be careful with the heat as you don’t want the sugar to burn, but you do want the sugar to melt and for the ingredients to be nicely combined. 

   
3. Meanwhile, weigh out the oats, fruits, seeds and nuts you have chosen and mix together in a bowl. I like to keep back some flaked almonds and sunflower seeds to sprinkle over the top for texture.

  
4. When your liquid ingredients have melted and combined, stir in the dry ingredients until everything is nicely combined – you’ll want to avoid any dry oat patches. I like to keep this on a very gentle heat while I’m doing this so nothing stiffens up too much. When you’re happy, pour into the prepared tin and spread out, but try not to be too tempted to eat too much of the raw mixture off of the spoon!

  
5. Once it’s all smooth in the tin, sprinkle over the reserved seeds and nuts and drizzle over some more honey…..this is easiest if your honey comes in a squeezy bottle. 

   
6. Bake in the oven for around 25 minutes, or until golden around the edges and caramelised in the middle. Be careful not to burn them!

7. When they’re ready, take out of the oven and allow to cool. If you’ve used a greased loose bottomed pan you can just push the bottom up (I like to use an upturned mug or canister to help with this – set the loose part on the canister and help the sides to drop away) then you can lever it off the base with a pallette knife where you can cut it up into bars. I like to wrap them individually in cling film and keep them in an airtight tub. Then should keep for around 2 weeks, but I’ve often had them after that and they’ve still been great. 

  

 

Bacon and Onion Quiche

I can’t actually express how delightful this quiche is. It takes a lot of patience, and quite a bit of time to get things right, but it’s worth it for an occasional treat. Who knows, I might get quicker with practice! It would work well with other fillings and cheeses as well – the pastry and custard parts will stand up to lots of tinkering. 

  
For the pastry case, you will need:

125g plain flour

50g salted butter at fridge temperature 

1-2 teaspoons cold water
For this filling, you will need:

4 rashers smoked bacon

1 white onion

2 large eggs

150ml single cream

50g Gruyère cheese

A couple of grinds of pepper 

A couple of gratings of nutmeg

A sprinkling of chives and parsley, fresh 

The first thing to prepare is the shortcrust pastry, as it will need to chill in the fridge for at least half an hour. I like to make it, chill it, roll and line the case and chill again before I bake it to make sure it stays thin and crisp.

1. When measuring out the butter, dice it into small pieces to make it easier to incorporate the flour. Add the flour to the bowl and rub the two together. This will take patience and strong fingers, but the better you can incorporate the two to make small even crumbs, the more consistent your pastry will be. Remember, it’s important to rub, not knead, as overworking will activate the gluten in the flour and give you a tough quiche crust. 

2. When you think this is about evenly mixed, add in a teaspoon of cold water and mix this in. If this is still really dry, you might want to add more water, but you should try to get this dough to come together with as little moisture as possible. It takes effort and perseverance, but it’s worth it to make the pastry as “short” as possible. This basically means it will be crisp, biscuity and thin, rather than soft and podgy.

3. Wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge for 20 minutes or so. Now it’s time to roll out the pastry. I find it easiest to do this by placing the dough between two layers of cling film, as it means you don’t have to add any flour to stop the rolling pin sticking, helping you keep it short. Roll it out as round and as thin as you can – a couple of mm thick is what you want to ensure a thin, crisp base. 

4. Butter a loose-bottomed tart tin and carefully lay in the rolled out pastry. Try your best to get it right into the corners, and press up against the flutes in the tin. Don’t worry too much if it cracks a little. You can always patch it up. Using a ball of excess dough can help push it into the corners if you’re worried about pushing your finger or nail through it. It’s important to properly patch any cracks to stop the egg leaking through to the tin and making the base soggy. I haven’t yet decided on the right school of though for the edges of the crust. Some chefs advocate cutting all of the excess off at this stage, whilst others say you should leave a bit extra then run a rolling pin over the top once the case has been baked to compensate for shrinking in the oven. I’d say I was somewhere in between. This will shrink down the sides, but in my experience it happens when the pastry starts to cool and contract. If you take the latter course of action, you put yourself at risk of cracking the case when you trim it, or of getting the case stuck to the tin. What I tend to do is cut it off to the top level of the tin while it’s still raw then push the pastry back into the flutes so it spreads to sit a little above the top. 

  
    

  

5. Let the case chill in the fridge for at least half an hour. I can’t stress just how important this is. Not only will it help the pastry to stay short, but it will help to stop it shrinking down the sides of the tin. 

6. Line with greaseproof paper and baking beads and bake blind for about 20 minutes. When it starts to brown at the edge, remove the paper and beans and put back in for 5 minutes or so to let the base dry out. 

  
7. Grate some Gruyère and sprinkle over the base, which wil help to seal off the pastry. 

  
8. During all the rolling and baking, you might want to fry off your onions and bacon so they can cool to let you proceed as soon as the pastry is cool. It’s best if the onion gets really soft and caramelised. 

  
9. Now you’re ready to make and pour out the custard! This is where everything comes together really quickly. I find it easiest to make the custard up in a jug for easy transfer to the pastry case. Crack the eggs into the jug, whisk up a bit with a fork just to loosen them up, then add the cream, seasoning, nutmeg and fresh herbs. 

  
10. Pour into the case. Don’t be alarmed that the custardy filling will come up to almost the very top of the pastry case – it’ll puff up in the oven then sink back down again when you take it out.  

  
11. Sprinkle on some more cheese and then it’s ready to go in the oven at 180C for 20-25 minutes or until the surface has turned golden brown all over. 

Leave to cool and enjoy!

  

Chicken and Bean Sprout Stir Fry

We all know how difficult it is to keep eating healthily when there’s so much temptation out there, especially when there are so many meals you could cook on a Sunday. To try to keep things exciting, I spent Friday night flipping through cookery books and writing a shopping list. I always find that trying new recipes is the best way to make the effort less tiresome. 

This isn’t the most exciting or glamorous looking dish, but it’s light, quick and healthy with plenty of flavour. Besides, I rather think the chopped fresh veg look pretty exciting.

 
You will need:

A couple of handfuls of bean sprouts or mixed stir fry veg

1 chicken breast, or whichever fish or meat you like.

Additional vegetables according to your taste or what you have in the fridge. I sliced up some mangetout, half a red pepper, a few florets of broccoli and a third of a tin of bamboo shoots. 

1 tbsp oyster sauce 

1 tbsp soy sauce

A dash of sesame oil 

1 tbsp xaioshing rice wine or sherry 

A dash of groundnut oil for frying

Rice or noodles to serve

  
1. The key to stir frying is to be prepared! I like to chop up all my veg first, mix the sauce ingredients up in a ramekin and get the pan nice and hot (as well as timing your accompaniment so it will be ready at the same time – I used brown rice so I had that on the go before I started cooking anything else).

2. Once your oil groundnut oil is up to speed in the pan, chuck in your harder veg, such as the peppers, to let it soften a little first.  Add in the rest of the veg and slice your chicken.

3. Add about a third of your flavouring mixture to the veg, then add the rest once the chicken has taken on colour on both sides.

4. Stir, and cook until the chicken is cooked through.  Serve and enjoy!