It’s been misty in the mornings this week. C has started pre-school. The leaves are turning and the the nights are drawing in. Summer is officially over. Ho hum. Best make some yummy kid-friendly food to cheer everyone up. I’m a stickler for (some) rules and this pie is definitely shepherd’s because I use lamb mince – if you use beef it is cottage pie, so there. I like to fancy mine up a bit and sneak in vegetables all over the place. This is a recipe that I’ve been making for years but it has evolved over time. I’d like to say that following the birth of my daughter I decided we needed more vegetables and I’m sneaking them in for her. Unfortunately this is not true and the only adaption I’ve made for her is to reduce the amount of salt I add (I use reduced salt stock powder and season more lightly these days). The sneaky vegetables are me being completely lazy and not wanting to make a side dish as well as the main event. A one pan meal (eventually). And that’s a hang over from when I worked in one of those office type jobs, where you leave the house early and get home late and then still have to knock up a proper dinner. Fact is that shepherd’s pie from scratch is a bit of a faff, so I would rarely make it midweek, but even though I really like eating (clearly) I’d usually rather spend precious weekend time making cakes and desserts. So, through design it probably doesn’t need a side vegetable but if you did want something else I can recommend a little steamed broccoli. To attempt this mid-week I’d absolutely be using leftover roast lamb and leftover mash, which you should do if you have this to hand. The instructions here though, are assuming you’re starting from scratch so you need to give yourself an hour to get this done.
One of the things I love most about leftovers is how it opens up a world of cuisine fusion possibilities. Nothing too radical, but the putting together of things in a less than traditional way that is tasty and has some links back to a classic. So here are the things I needed to use up today (it was also a Monday and I do try to be meatless first thing in a week, so if I don’t manage it again I know I started it in the right vein!): cold roasted potatoes, soysages, eggs, cavolo nero, avocado. The things that popped into my head were – breakfast hash (potato, eggs, soysages) and huevos rancheros (eggs, cavolo nero, avocado). Why not a combination of the two? A sort of spicy and tomatoey potato bake, with the cavolo nero in there and a egg baked in, topped with crispy soysage crumb, and slices of avocado. It sounded pretty good in my head, and I have to say it was delicious. I’d say no need for tortilla because of the potato (although if you’ve got some, dipping in the egg is lush), unless you’ve only got a little cooked potato and you want to bulk out the carbs. You could easily have this for breakfast if you wanted. We had it for dinner because it is substantial enough, and who doesn’t like having breakfast at dinnertime?
Time for some therapy. Me, not you (unless you’re up for that sort of thing). I’m settled on the couch, so I hope you’re sitting in an uncomfortable looking chair. I’ve been pondering why it is that I’m frequently eating meals with at least one ingredient on the cusp of perishing. On the one hand I could argue that by getting a veg box I am always running the risk of not being able to eat up all the contents in time. Were I to live next door to a farm shop I could pop in daily for fresh ingredients, and I wouldn’t be hoping to make a pile of veggies last a whole week without any of them disintegrating into mush. But this is not entirely true. If I’m honest the problem is me and my shopping habits. When I go to a store I go with a list and I don’t go very often. I buy what’s on it. But I often put things on that list for a planned future meal that never materializes because other things got in the way. I often find I’m changing my meal plan because we’re not hungry enough for the dinner I had planned or we’ve got back too late for me to make the thing I had in mind. Friends joke that if the zombie apocalypse comes mine is the house we should barricade ourselves in, as we won’t need to venture out for food any time soon. I know that it has irked me in the past to not be able to make something exactly because I don’t have the right ingredients, but I’m not like that so much now. Unless I’m actually craving something a specific way I’m now more willing to fiddle around with a recipe and not freak out. I think I need to be more strict with myself on shopping trips, to not pop things in the trolley just because they might be useful in something. I’m probably about evens on feeling chuffed I found the thing I suddenly need in the fridge because I bought it on a whim, and eating something odd because I’ve suddenly got a sausage, a pineapple and a open carton of passata to use up! Which leads me to this recipe. Mangos were on sale, so I had one of those and the thing was borderline self-juicing when I finally used it. And I had half an avocado. That’s another part of the problem. I am but one, and C is still tiny, so I’m often using half of this and half of that because I would be the size of a house if I cooked for even two adults and then ate most of it myself. Combined with leftover chicken from a weekend roast this recipe was using up three things that needed to go, and luckily it was gorgeous! As the original recipe said – summer in a bowl. You wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to have some of that, would you! I didn’t have the parsley called for in the original, and I’m not a big fan anyway, so I subbed in a bit less mint, which worked wonderfully. You should use whatever you prefer.
As I mentioned last time, I won’t bore you all summer with grilled thing plus side salad recipes. But this one was really good!! Really simple, fresh tasting, the herbs totally make this salad. And it is so quick and easy you could throw this together as an accompaniment to pretty much anything. Grilled meat, fish, BBQ tofu, it would work wonderfully with them all. The original recipe calls for feta, which I didn’t have so I omitted it. It was wonderful without but I will be making this again with the cheese because I’m very sure it is excellent that way too. The original used orzo as well, and if you can tolerate wheat I say go for it. I’ve not yet found a gluten-free mini pasta (manufacturers – there is a desire!) so I swapped it out for long-grain rice and it worked great. I know I’ve mentioned my general dislike of raw onions (other than the pickled onion, which is a whole other kettle of fish) but this salad only contains a small amount. Just enough to get the odd tingle in a mouthful without it being overpowering. Now that I can get on board with! I have served this with a griddled steak this time, but this salad will suit almost any protein and is very suitable for scaling up and taking to a party or BBQ. If you’re tired of eating tomatoes and cucumber in a regular side salad then this is another way to take those ingredients a different summery way.
In case you are wondering what happens to “the troublesome feline” when I go away, I can tell you that a house/cat sitter comes and looks after him. It’s not that I object to taking him to a cattery, it’s just the nearest ‘nice’ one is a little journey away and, as with most things, it is not cheap. When he has to stay in one then working on the basis you get what you pay for I’m glad it is a bit pricey, but I reserve it for special occasions. I’d rather have a housesitter anyway, especially when it is hot, because the garden gets watered as well! I always get the box of vegetables I would normally have for the housesitter – and they always vow to eat them – and then they never do. So I’ve been the queen of stir-fries since I came back hefting through the rapidly expiring veg mountain. One pack of bok choy and some celery didn’t make it (composted) but I’ve been impressed with the amount C and I have got through. I’m a bit obsessed with tofu at the moment (I think it was the mostly meat and fish fest that was France) although we did eat veggie one evening. So you may expect a little run of recipes featuring that to come up soon. I’ve not quite perfected the sriracha and peanut sauce one yet but I’ll let you know when I have. In the meantime, here’s a little something for the carnivores amongst us. I am working on getting a gluten-free chilli-bean sauce, which is what the original recipe called for. Many apologies for the general mauling of what, in the original, was probably quite an authentic dish from this cuisine. If you like chilli you should pop some in from the start but as you’ll probably know by now I’m happy to swap some out with hoisin when I’m cooking for C. It does change the lean of the whole dish, but it is no less tasty. And with my trusty bottle of sriracha I can spice things up at the end for myself with no worries. You just go right ahead and do whatever works best for you. I won’t come round and tell you off!
Adapted from Jamie Cooks It Up!’s Cheesy Spanish Rice
Today’s recipe is probably not for anyone that can make a macaron successfully. This is easy, peasy, lemon squeezy. But I’m excited to post this because I probably eat a version of this most weeks. And anyone can make it, even someone who has never really cooked before. Savoury Rice or Student Rice, if you like, which is probably when I first started cooking something similar. The recipe at Jamie Cooks It Up! is the easiest route I’ve found to savoury rice nirvana, but then I also love her blog because she is just so funny. There are lots of good family orientated meals there. I find it very inspirational when I’m looking to cook something that C and I will both appreciate. This dish only requires one pot (unless you’re cooking a protein separately), it can be a main or a side and you can add whatever you like. Endless versatility is definitely its virtue. I’d say I usually stick with the basic bones of the dish every time: onions, garlic, pepper, long-grain rice, cumin, passata and stock. But you can add, or swap, almost any element. Herbs instead of spice, vegan, veggie, meaty, fishy proteins. Leftovers, frozen veg, tinned tomatoes instead of passata, this dish doesn’t care what you add in! It’ll just take it and be all the better for it. I’ve gone with a sausage version this time – the sausage is also your choice. Big or small, spicy or plain, veggie or meat. The base recipe is vegan until you add either your stock or your protein, so make of this what you will. I’ve added leftover roast beef and broccoli before. I’ve added prawns and frozen peas. I’ve added a vast quantity of mixed veg and some sriracha, or mushrooms with cheese popped on the top at the end (see Jamie’s original recipe for the cheesy version). It’s all good. Just remember to add uncooked meat or vegetables at a time that will allow them to cook through by the time the rice is done, which might be as early as the first step. Double the quantities for a horde – I make it for four and save some as I’d rather not have half a pepper and half an onion sitting the fridge, but you should just go with the flow.* And it can be done on a budget, when you’re short of time, and when there’s barely anything in your cupboard. If you’re nervous about cooking give this a go, because just as long as you stir it a couple of times it is very forgiving. Love it.
What can we say about the English version of Mexican food? I guess we do a version of Tex-Mex. Is it even possible to do an inauthentic Tex-Mex? Mexican food that’s an awful lot of steps removed from the real thing by the time we get our hands on it. However, that doesn’t stop it tasting really good! I guess now I’m gluten-free I miss the soft flour tortillas that make a burrito so, so delicious. But without dwelling on what I can’t have, I’ve gone full steam ahead and got myself a tortilla press. Yes you can buy corn tortillas ready-made on the internet but they’re not particularly cheap, especially compared to a packet of masa harina (the flour used to make corn tortillas). I reckon it has already paid for itself the amount I’m making and really, they are so easy to do yourself. I follow a combination of instructions on the packet of flour and internet directions (see link above). They are just flour, water and a little salt, although I do make them slightly larger than recommended. It has taken a few goes to get them really good but it has been worth it. I’m not sure they would be as easy if I were rolling them, but I just threw myself into the tortilla abyss. He who dares wins as they say! Corn tortillas in the stores, around here at least, have wheat flour in them because it makes them a bit more flexible. So of course they do! Crispy tacos are gluten-free usually, but I like a soft one, I just do. To go with these wonderful creations I’ve made shredded beef. I’ve opted for my favourite slow-cooking cut of shin of beef again because it is very flavourful and cheap as you like. I actually made the filling the day before I needed it this time and reheated on the day, making the salsa, guacamole and tortillas from scratch that evening. If you want to save time you could just buy ready-made pots of salsa and guacamole. Nothing wrong with them, it’s just I like making my own! I also tend to serve tacos with cheddar cheese and a sour cream substitute (either a low lactose cremè fraîche like Rodda’s, or home soured soya cream).