Quick TV Supper: Quick and nutritious lunch from the cupboard

Today we were out marking the best spot to watch the Olympic Men’s cycling race tomorrow. Our plan is to walk in through the pedestrian gate, stop for coffee and bacon rolls before heading through the Olympic Circles cut in the grass in Richmond Park, then on towards the barriers. Walking at my rate will get us there in 30 minutes, but would normally take around 35-40 minutes (I am a very fast walker). Getting excited now, especially as we saw the Swiss team whizz right past us as they were practising for the big day. After all this excitement we needed lunch and this is a perfect store cupboard standby, especially if you are glued to the screen watching the Olympics….

Tuna and Cannellini Salad with lemon, flat parsley and chilli

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Serves 3-4

  • 1 x 410g tin of Cannellini beans in water
  • 1 x 185g tin of tuna in sunflower oil
  • 4 x spring onions
  • 1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 2 Tbs good quality olive oil
  • salt, black pepper, and chilli flakes

Method

  1. Drain the can of beans and put into a bowl
  2. Drain the tuna and add to the beans
  3. Wash, trim and finely chop the spring onions
  4. Chop the flat leaf parsley
  5. Add the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Top with chilli flakes if you like a bit of heat, otherwise leave out
  6. Give all the ingredients a good toss before transferring to serving dishes

TIP:

Add rocket or other salad leaves, halved baby plum tomatoes, or sun dried tomatoes if you have them to hand. Serve with some toasted country bread or wholemeal pitta bread.

Refreshing Iced Tea

While the hot weather remains with us, this is amazingly refreshing and a lovely alternative to the daily cuppa. Of course there will always be those tempted to add a drop of rum or vodka for an early evening pick me up. And why not?

Iced tea with mint and cucumber
Iced tea with mint and cucumber

Iced Tea

  • 6 ordinary tea bags
  • 10 sprigs mint
  • 300.00ml apple juice, either freshly pressed or bought but not made from concentrate
  • juice 1 lemon

To Serve

  • Slice of cucumber, mint leaves and ice to serve
  • Make the tea with 1.2 litres water. Add mint to the pot and infuse for 10 mins 
  • Strain and cool
  • Once cool stir in the lemon juice and apple juice
  • Keep in a jug in the fridge until it is cool enough to serve
  • Serve with sprigs of mint and a slice or wedge of cucumber

TIP:

I often use a large cafetiere to combine the tea and mint leaves. This is then easily strained ready for combining with the juices prior to chilling.

SUMMER WINE JELLIES

HOT WEATHER FOOD

This is a very refreshing and easy to eat pudding. Hardly any prep involved but you just need to allow time for the jellies to set, so make the day before you need them. In extreme temperatures, jelly melts easily so I would advise adding another half to one extra leaf of gelatine to ensure a set. Then either turn out if you’re feeling brave or serve in your prettiest teacups or coffee cups or even in little glasses.

Summer wine jelly in vintage teacup
Summer wine jelly in vintage teacup

To serve 4

  • 125ml size moulds, teacups or glasses

For 4 individual puddings

  • 350g mixed summer berries: rapsberries, strawberries, redcurrants, cherries, black seedless grapes etc
  • 275ml pink wine
  • 3 dessertspoons caster sugar
  • 2 leaves gelatine, soaked in a little cold water

Method

  • First work out what you are going to use to put the jellies in and make sure they will fit in your fridge
  • Pick through your chosen fruit and reject any soggy looking berries
  • Divide the fruit between your containers
  • Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water
  • Put the sugar and wine in a pan and gently heat until the sugar dissolves
  • Remove the gelatine from the water and squeeze firmly in your hand
  • Add the gelatine to the warmed wine until dissolved and strain into a jug
  • Use the jug to gently pour the wine on top of the fruit
  • Place in fridge and leave overnight
  • Needs no garnish or accompaniment (just a glass of dessert wine perhaps)

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TIP

If you are using gelatine from the cupboard, do check the sell by date as the setting qualities deteriorate with age

Christmas Comes Early!

Christmas Event

Sainsbury’s

Last week, I walked into Christmas, as envisaged by Sainsbury’s. Invited along to their as a member of the Sainsbury’s Family Blogging Network, I found myself in some beautiful rooms packed with new ideas and innovations. Here is my pick of the range I saw:<

MAKE YOUR OWN

The British love affair with baking continues, and although I usually make everything from scratch I can see the sense in a little helping hand for busy times. Therefore I thought the new Gingerbread Dough Block would be a great boon for baking with the very young. My youngest son was always very impatient and leaving the dough to rest for 30 minutes before the rolling stage meant that he would wander off having lost interest. Why didn’t they think of this easy dough when my kids were small?

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These Make Your Own Macaroons in raspberry or chocolate flavours will also be making their way into my shopping basket. Macaroons need time and patience, and it is a great way of encouraging new bakers to try something other than cupcakes for a change. I would make a batch of these to serve as finger food pudding, with a sprinkle of edible glitter, or for handing around at the end of parties. Likewise, even the very pushed for time might have a go at the Sainsbury’s Make Your Own Gingerbread House kit. This would be great fun to make as part of the run up to Christmas celebrations.

For keen bakers there is also a new range of edible decorations, including mini chocolate champagne bottles, cute cherubs, pretty snowflakes and tiny holly leaves, plus silver and gold cup cake cases. I remember painstakingly making my own holly leaves to decorate hundreds of mini Christmas pudding truffles;  now I’ve discovered these it will save me masses of time.

To make home baking more fun check out the new range of  bakeware coming out this winter
To make home baking more fun check out the new range of bakeware coming out this winter

SAVOURY CANAPES

IMG_1679I’m a bit of a canape expert and I love to serve one or two savoury canapes as a relaxed first course. It is a great way of experimenting with my new recipes and none of my friends has ever complained about being a guinea pig! As a professinal caterer, I would only serve bought in foods if they were at least as good as the ones I make myself, and some of the new range on offer this year at Sainsbury’s definitely fit the bill. The most original in the Taste the Difference chilled range are these Prawn Noodle Skewers in Banana Leaf Cones, which are due in stores on 7th December. These are bound to be a big hit at parties all over the festive period. Other things to look out for in the chilled canape range are the Chilli and Chorizo Muffins, due in store 23rd November and some yummy sounding nibbles such as Baked Ham & Marmalade Crisps. Another idea to try is to top some home made soda bread with Taste the Difference Whisky Smoked Salmon for another fabulously tasty canape or starter. Serve with a swanky cocktail or two and you’ll be the most popular host in town.

TALKING TURKEY!

Anyone who thinks that turkey is dull will have their thoughts confounded by the fabulous Norfolk Black Turkey in the Taste the Difference range this Christmas. I felt very privileged to meet Mark Gorton, the genial turkey farmer who explained how his method of breeding results in succulent and full of flavour birds. Allowing all his birds to roam free in woodland and open fields follows the traditional way of rearing turkey and produces birds far removed from the dry and tasteless turkeys we have been led to accept. Aside from his whole birds, there is a more exotic sounding fig and orange stuffed crown.  Either opt for the already stuffed crown with some of the mixed flavour cocktails sausages, or team the traditional turkey with the Pork and Pomegranate wraps which serve as an interesting alternative to stuffing balls. Whichever you choose you will be on to a winner, and even the turkey doubters won’t complain.

CHEESE & STUFF

I managed to avoid eating Christmas pudding or chocolate, but I couldn’t resist trying some of the specialist cheeses on offer. The 10 month Manchego sourced from a new supplier in La Mancha didn’t disappoint. In fact I was transported momentarily back to a particular little shady square in Tarifa where they serve Manchego with a well chilled glass of fino. The big surprise was the Extra Mature Gouda which would make a much more welcome sight instead of Stilton on my cheeseboard. Unlike the waxy version we are used to in the UK, this one is really noteworthy with a deep yellow colour encased in black rind with a harder texture and an intense nutty flavour.  It came very close to some of the cheeses we sampled in a recent trip to Amsterdam where they take their Gouda very seriously.

For a stylish addition to a well chosen cheeseboard look out for Whole Kentish Cobnuts from the Taste the Difference.  I am also interested in trying Blacksticks Premier Cru, which is a creamy and unique British soft blue made using Jersey milk that is exclusive to Sainsbury’s. A sip or two of the Taste the Difference Vintage Port would be the perfect thing to round off the Christmas Feast.

There were many, many new things to try and I wish I’d had more stamina as I had to pass on many of the products.  For the sweet toothed there are plenty of new treats, among which the Mini Lemon Cheesecakes or the Mini Belgian Chocolate Melt in the Middle Puddings were the perfect canape size.

Aside from the abundance of food products being introduced, there was also a fab range of well made Nordic furniture and some great gifts. Mostly I enjoyed chatting to the Sainsbury’s staff and was impressed with the enthusiasm for the produce they all showed. It is also very encouraging to note the commitment of Sainsbury’s to offering British produce as much as possible when it is in season, as this is where supermarkets can really help both suppliers and customers get the best of what Britain has to offer.

The Ebury Wine Bar – a blast from the past

Square MealIt was wet, cold and dark and we’d decamped from the noisy Thomas Cubitt on Elisabeth Street to find some food.  Briefly stopping in the rain to chat to the athlete Jonathan Edwards, we hurried into The Ebury Restaurant and Wine Bar. This is the original, and best, of wine bars and my group of cronies used to hang out here all the time after work. We even spent a memorable New Years Eve here many years ago. A quick look around showed that not a lot had changed, except that the walls had been given a lick of paint with some murals and decoration added. We were quickly shown a cosy table and our charming French waiter brought us wine and menus fairly promptly. The wine list is comprehensive and good value; we chose an Argentinian Malbec for £27 which tasted fruity and oaky. Looking at the wine list I noticed that it was 14% which could account for being less than sprightly the next morning. You can order most wines by two different glass sizes or by the bottle which gives you lots of opportunities to try what they have to offer. The atmosphere was quite buzzy, although thankfully not as noisy as the place we had just left. You can also opt to sit in the bar area or get a table in the quieter back part for food if that is your main focus. The food was perfectly good and a variety of choice to suit all tastes. We had hummus with roast garlic and pitta bread, grilled tiger prawns with tabouleh, lime and coriander vinaigrette a perfect dish of Moroccan lamb cutlets with roasted veg and harissa salsa and another main of  sea bass fillet with warm niçoise salad and sun dried tomato dressing. I looked over my shoulder to see Boris Johnson smirking at me, and it was a relief when I realised that it was just his head painted on the wall next to me. “Perhaps you should add Hugh Grant,” we told the waiter, before explaining that before Hugh Grant became famous and was plain old Hughie, my van driver, we came here all the time with him to celebrate his getting parts in forthcoming films. The problem was that in those days he couldn’t take up the film offers as he didn’t have an equity card. It was a sad day for our little food business when he decided to concentrate on writing and appearing in revues in pub theatres in order to obtain the old equity card. With our coffees the lovely waiter brought us the most divine chocolate truffles. They were so good that I really wished that they sold them by the bag to take away.  If you are in the area, the Ebury is still a winner.

SUMMER COCKTAIL

The 37

IMG_0097Celebrate summer with this gorgeous cocktail which is perfect for a party – rain or shine! It is light, slightly scented with rose lemonade and has a nice kick of vodka. We like to use Chase potato vodka, but any premium brand vodka would work. This cocktail was created for number 37 Old London Road, a quirky interiors shop in Kingston upon Thames. Run by the inimitable Denny & Dazzle, the shop featured in the BBC programme, Mary Queen of Shops.

We held a party in the shop to celebrate their TV debut and it attracted lots of interest from locals, and there was a great mix of people. I was sorry to see that the shop now has a closing down sign, so hurry along to pick up any bargains before they shut. Perhaps we should have another party?

IMG_0099COCKTAIL RECIPE

For 2 cocktails

  • 10-12 cubes of ice
  • 60ml vodka
  • sprig of fresh mint
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 120ml Fentimans Rose lemonade
  1. Place half the ice cubes into a cocktail shaker 
  2. Pour the vodka, mint and lemon juice over the ice
  3. Shake well until well mixed
  4. Put the remaining ice cubes into the glasses and strain the cocktail over them
  5. Top up with Fentimans Rose Lemonade
  6. Decorate with a fresh mint leaf, crystallised rose petal or slice of lime

HOW TO FEED A CROWD

Spiced Chicken with Sour Cherries and Pomegranate

Feed a crowd by preparing a few fabulous cold dishes then placing them in the centre of the table for your guests to dig in and help themselves. This relaxed approach means that you can make sure the food not only tastes good but looks amazing too. Most importantly  you can really enjoy the company of your friends without the stress of last minute cooking. This is a recipe I devised for one of our favourite clients for a big country gathering a couple of summers ago. It was hugely popular so when my friend Rachel asked for party food suggestions this sprung to mind. She was planning on 14-20 guests, so we decided on a salmon dish with a fresh tomato, red onion, caper and basil salsa, a vibrant orzo salad and this chicken dish.  I went along to help her prepare it and got a text first thing the next morning saying how much everyone enjoyed it.

The quantities below would easily serve 14 with salads and bread.

  • 3 x large organic chickens
  • 2 x lemons
  • 2-3Tbs olive oil
  • 3 Tbs Baharat spices – Bart’s do a good blend
  • 2 x large white onions, peeled and diced
  • 1 large pot of Greek yoghurt
  • 1 x 800g jar Hellman’s mayonnaise
  • 2 x 70g packets of sour cherries (usually found on the dried fruit shelf of the supermarket)
  • 1 x large bunch coriander
  • 1 x 110g packet of pomegranate seeds (on the prepared fruit counter, or a one fresh pomegranate if unavailable)
  1. Remove chickens from fridge, remove all packaging and string and allow to come to room temperature
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 190’C
  3. Cut the lemons into quarters and stuff into the cavities of the chickens
  4. Place the chickens into roasting pans and rub all over with olive oil
  5. Rub 1 Tbs of the Baharat spices onto the oiled chicken
  6. Wash hands well and pop the chickens into the oven – depending on oven size you may need to do this in batches
  7. Cook the chickens fo 1.5 – 2 hours. The rule of thumb is generally roast for 20 minutes per lb, then check and allow for a further 20 minutes if necessary. The way to check is to pierce the leg, and check if the juices run clear, bearing in mind that cooking more than one chicken will take longer than usual. The chicken will continue to cook once it has been removed from the oven.
  8. When you are happy the chicken is cooked, remove from the oven and place on cooling racks.
  9. When the chickens are perfectly cool, remove the skin then strip the chicken from the bones in large pieces. When you have finished doing this will all the chickens, chop into bite size pieces and leave in fridge while you prepare the dressing.
  10. Heat 1 Tbs oil in a frying pan and add the chopped onions
  11. Cook, stirring for 5-10 minutes until softened then add 2 Tbs of the Baharat spices. Give a good stir and cook for a further 3-5 minutes.
  12. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. When completely cool, stir into the mayonnaise and yogurt.
  13. Soak the cherries in water for a few minutes to soften
  14. Chop the coriander and divide into half
  15. Mix half the coriander and the sour cherries into the spiced yoghurt mixture
  16. Mix into the chopped up chicken, taste and season with salt and black pepper.
  17. Place in fridge overnight, keeping the rest of the chopped coriander and the pomegranate seeds for garnish.
  18. Before your guests arrive, pile the chicken onto beautiful plates and scatter over the coriander and pomegranate seeds. Damp down some greaseproof paper, squeeze out and cover the chicken until ready to serve.

NOTES:

Baharat is an aromatic blend of spices used in Middle Eastern cooking and contains Paprika, Coriander, Black Pepper, Cumin, Cinnamon, Cayenne Pepper, Cloves, Nutmeg, Cardamom. It is used in Middle Eastern cooking.

If you can’t find the sour cherries, omit them and use extra pomegranate seeds

If you are not confident about cooking meat you can invest in a meat thermometer which will be able to tell you when the meat or poultry is thoroughly cooked.