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P1030871

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Spring is here so I’m counting down the days until summer sunshine. Since I just can’t wait, here is a lovely summery salad, no real recipe required.

Ingredients:

  • fennel
  • orange
  • rocket (or watercress)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt 
  • pepper

That’s it! Just enjoy the sunshiney goodness.

   

 When I’m feeling organised I do a pasta bake on nights when the children have swimming. This meal does have a slightly high washing up count but can be made in advance and re-heated when the children come in late and famished.

I have two which I do over and over: Salmon pasta bake and Tomato pasta bake.

Salmon pasta bake

As well as being delicious this is also extremely economic – I can feed two children with one fillet of salmon.

Ingredients:

  • pasta
  • salmon
  • milk
  • broccoli
  • leek
  • mascarpone cheese
  • breadcrumbs
  • grated cheddar

Boil the pasta, throw in the broccoli florets for the last couple of minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, gently fry some chopped leek in a little butter. Do not allow it to brown.

Put the salmon in a little milk, cover, and microwave for about a minute.

Combine the pasta, broccoli and leeks in the pan whilst still warm and stir in the mascarpone. Add the salmon (try to keep it in largish chunks.)

Put into a baking dish, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and grated cheddar.

Put under a grill to brown.

Tomato pasta bake

I sometimes have this as a side-dish to fish cakes, but more often allow it to sit by itself.

Ingredients:

  • pasta
  • onions
  • mushrooms
  • courgettes
  • any other vegetable
  • tinned tomatoes or passata 
  • mascarpone
  • breadcrumbs
  • grated cheddar

Boil and drain the pasta.

In the meantime whizz the vegetables together in a food processor (I usually keep some mushrooms to one side and slice rather than disguise them, just for texture).

Fry the vegetables, add the tomatoes, and finally the mascarpone.

Mix it in with the cooked pasta and transfer to a baking dish.

Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and grated cheese. Whack it under the grill until golden. 

P1030375

It occurred to me recently that blini are the twenty-first-century equivalent of vol-au-vents. I love them anyway. To me they are the perfect party nibble. I like them with taramasalata and caviar, or sour cream with horseradish and smoked salmon.

I would definitely advise you to make these in advance and freeze. They can be a little smokey to cook, and quite time consuming, so you want them done well before guests arrive. They keep very well in the freezer and take just five minutes to heat in the oven.

Before you start, make sure that you are not in a hurry – you will need plenty of time for the batter to rest, and the blini need to be cooked in batches.

Ingredients:

  • 165g plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5g easy-blend dried yeast
  • 150ml creme fraiche
  • 175ml milk
  • 2 eggs, separated

Sieve the flour, salt and yeast into a large bowl.

Heat the milk and creme fraiche in a small pan. Do not allow it to get too hot. It needs to be luke-warm/blood temperature – any hotter, you kill the yeast.

Whisk the milk into the dry ingredients. Add the egg yolks and whisk again. Cover with a tea-towel. Put the bowl in a warm place for about an hour.

After an hour, the mixture should have started to bubble up.

Whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, and fold into your batter. Cover with a tea towel. Put the bowl in a warm place for about an hour.

Now you are ready to cook the blini. If you have a good thick-bottomed, non-stick frying pan you should need hardly any butter. Indeed, after my first batch I didn’t use any butter at all. Fry up the blini, about a teaspoon at a time. You might need to experiment a little, but I find it helps not to have the hob at it’s highest temperature.

I freeze these on trays overnight, wrapped in cling-film. Then throw them into a ziplock bag.

Hint: To serve, put the blini on a baking tray in the oven at 200C for just five minutes.

Hint: For the sour cream and horseradish topping, I find that 250ml sour cream to 2 tsp horseradish sauce is just about perfect. Don’t forget lots of black pepper.

MAKES ABOUT 80

P1030673

P1030609

This has been my breakfast of choice over the past few weeks. These lovely dark-skinned figs have been in the shops for about 25 pence each, and I’m making the most of them whilst they are still in season. I love the preserved ginger – a delightful little kick first thing in the morning.

Ingredients

  • 4-5 stoneless, partially rehydrated prunes 
  • the zest and juice of half an orange
  • 1 ball of stem ginger (the kind you buy preserved in a jar with ginger syrup), sliced
  • a drizzle of ginger syrup
  • 2 fresh figs, sliced

Ideally, this should  be prepared the night before, to allow the prunes to soak up the lovely juices: simply add the figs just before eating.

SERVES 1 (no-one else in my family will even consider eating this).

P1030595

P1030345

The sun is trying to shine and the elder is in bloom. It’s time to make elderflower cordial.  I was given a bag of flowers and a scribbled recipe from the school gardening club. I thought it might have been passed down from generation to generation, but then I found the original online. So here it is, summer in glass:

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 kg granulated (or caster) sugar
  • 1 1/2 litres water
  • 2 unwaxed lemons – pare the zest then slice into rounds
  • 85g citric acid
  • 20 fresh elderflower heads, stalks trimmed

Put the sugar and water in a large pan. Heat gently, without boiling, until all the sugar has dissolved. Stir occasionally. Then, bring the syrup to the boil and then turn off the heat.

Rinse the elderflowers in cold water and shake off any excess.

Add the lemon zest, lemon slices, citric acid and elderflowers to the syrup. Cover and allow to steep for 24 hours.

Line a colander with a clean tea towel and sieve the ingredients through. Discard the bits left in the towel.

Decant the cordial into sterilized bottles.

The cordial is ready to drink straight away (try diluting with sparkling water) or will last for up to six weeks in the ‘fridge.

It can also be frozen in ice-cube trays so you can just use as required.

P1020246

Easter feels like a long time ago, but since the children are still off school, I think this can just about make a claim to be an Easter ham, rather than just a ham. Everyone said this was delicious, and even I was tempted to have a little nibble, even though I don’t eat meat. I’m just hoping there’ll be some left portion off and freeze, because it is very useful for adding to chicken dishes.

There are lots of recipes for hams, including boiling in cola, or using ginger wine and marmalade in the glaze. I have kept things simple here, but it this is an easy, basic recipe that can be adapted depending on how creative you’re feeling.

Ingredients

Stage 1 – soaking the ham

  • ham joint
  • cold water

Stage 2 – boiling the ham

  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 1 leek, trimmed and sliced
  • 1 small onion, quartered
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1tsp peppercorns

Stage 3 – glazing and roasting

  • 1tsp dijon mustard
  • 1tsp wholegrain mustard
  • 2tbsp runny honey
  • cloves, for studding

Stage 1

The first question is to soak or not to soak. Most recipes these days say not to bother.  I thought the children would prefer the ham it if it were a little less salty, so I soaked it overnight in a pan of cold water.

Stage 2

Pour out the soaking water and top up with fresh, cold water. Add the carrot, leek, onion, bay leaves and pepper and simmer for about an hour and a half.

Stage 3

Set the oven to 200C.

Leave the ham to cool in its stock for half an hour or so. When it is cool enough to handle, use a sharp knife to cut the skin, and a little of the fat off the ham. Score the ham to make a diamond pattern.

Mix the honey and mustard together and drizzle and rub it into the ham.

Stud the cloves into the centre of each diamond.

Bake for 20-25 minutes. Great hot or cold.

P1020053

I should have taken a picture of the smile on Jim’s face, rather than the steak. He absolutely loved this, and it is only (and unbelievably) 308 calories per person. I don’t eat meat so I’ve always been a bit afraid of cooking steak, but this got a big thumbs up. Because this is a quick-to-cook meal, the key here is preparation. The recipe comes, of course, from The Hairy Dieters.

Ingredients

  • 1 lean rump steak (about 325kg), 2cm thick and cut into 2
  • 1 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tbsp flaked salt
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 2 large, ripe vine tomatoes
  • 75g whole chestnut/brown mushrooms, wiped and quartered
  • 1/4 beef stock cube
  • 150ml just boiled water
  • 3 tbsp half-fat creme fraiche
  • 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp white wine (optional, and I left it out)

Trim all the fat from the meat and cut it into two similar sized pieces, each should now weigh about 140g.

Brush a teaspoon of oil onto both sides of your steaks. Coat them generously with the pepper and salt. (Dave and Si tell you to use a pestle and mortar for the peppercorns – I just use our whizzy electronic pepper mill). Set to one side.

Grill the tomatoes for 5-8 minutes until softened.

Meanwhile, pour the remaining oil in a pan and fry the mushrooms on a high heat for 2-3 minutes until lightly browned. Set the mushrooms to one side.

Using the same pan, on a medium heat, fry the steaks for 2-3 minutes on each side. I cooked Jim’s for 2 minutes on the first side and 1 minute on the second side – he likes his steaks medium rare.

Put the steaks on a warm plate, cover with foil, and leave to rest.

Return the mushrooms to the pan, add the stock and mustard, stir continuously. Add the creme fraiche and stir together for 1-2 minutes until the sauce is nice and thick and hot.

Spoon the mushroomy sauce over the steaks and serve with the grilled tomatoes and a salad. I also sneaked in a tiny baked potato.

Serves 2.

Here's one I made earlier

Here's one I made earlier

Hi, my name's Helen and I live in London with my husband and two children. When I started piping the potato on my shepherd's pies, my husband suggested that it might be a good idea for me to find an outlet for my creativity, so here we are. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, the extra twist is that I don't eat meat (I do eat fish though) and Jim, who loves meat, is always on a diet. Here are a few recipes that I have enjoyed making for my family.

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