Mediterranean fish stew (with veggie and kid friendlier options!)

This is a great meal for using up onions, tinned tomatoes and many different types of fish and it only takes 25 minutes from chopping to serving.  The addition of the olives and capers give an unmistakable Mediterranean taste and the more unusual flavour of the fennel seeds (optional) compliments the fish beautifully.  I had a feeling my kids were not ready for fennel seeds yet so took out their portions before adding them, and replaced the fennel seeds with familiar peas (which I had cooked separately).

Mediterranean fish pie

To make the dish more adult you could add a splash of white wine with the tinned tomatoes and use fresh parsley instead of dried herbs.  And if you don’t eat fish you could use chopped halloumi cheese or a tin of (drained) chickpeas instead.  Eat the stew on it’s own as a light meal or alongside some rice, pasta, salad or jacket potato!

Mediterranean fish stew (serves 2 adults and 2 kids)

1 white/red onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

Shake dried mixed herbs

Tin chopped tomatoes (value are fine)

200g fish fillets, skin removed and roughly chopped e.g. trout/salmon/coley/cod/haddock

10 green/black olives, chopped

tbsp capers (optional)

1/2 tsp fennel seeds (optional)

1 veggie stock cube (I like OXO as it crumbles easily)

Salt and pepper

Fry the onions, garlic and dried herbs in oil for about 7 minutes until the onions have softened.  Add the chopped tomatoes, fish, olives, capers (if using), fennel seeds (if using) and crumble in the stock cube.  Simmer for about 10 minutes until the fish is flaky and cooked through.  Season with salt and pepper and serve!

Kale crisps (4 mins prep/15 mins cooking)

kale crisps

People have been raving about kale as a source of low-calorie goodness for a while.    It is only about £1 for a big bag so pretty cheap too.  If you sprinkle some kale with a little olive oil, lemon zest, cumin seeds and salt and pop them in the oven for about 15-20 minutes they become tasty and crispy.  Great as a snack or as part of a meal for adults and (certain!) children.

kale crisps healthy kids snack

My two year old loved them (watching him stuff fistfuls in to his little mouth was very satisfying!) while my four year old thought it was a big joke to call them ‘crisps’…

For an alternative kale recipe this kale and almond gratin from Nigel Slater is brilliant: https://katielovescooking.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/kale-and-almond-gratin-a-unique-and-sumptuous-dish/

Kale crisps (serves 2 as a snack or part of a meal)

120g kale (I left the stalks on as I don’t mind a bit of crunch)

Zest of 1/3 lemon

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

Small drizzle olive oil

Pinch salt

Preheat the oven to gas mark 3/160 degrees.

Put the kale in a baking tray, add the other ingredients and mix up with your hands.  Bake in the oven for around 15-20 minutes, checking and giving the tray a good shake/stir every 4 minutes.   You want the kale to be a little singed around the edges to ensure they are crispy enough, but only around the edges.  Serve quickly while they keep their crispiness.

Mushroom roast – rich and sumptuous (20 mins prep/35 mins cooking)

mushroom roast

This mushroom roast is the standout recipe of my childhood.  Rich and sumptuous thanks to the mushrooms and marmite, and with a little crunch from the onions, it is best eaten in an old fashioned way with veg and gravy, but is also great cut in to wedges as a cold snack the next day.  My poor mum had to be creative with her meals when I was a kid as I was the only vegetarian in our family, but this recipe was a winner with all of us, and the taste still makes me feel nostalgic!  It is from the lovely Vegetarian Cook Book by Doreen Keighley, which is simple and unpretentious in the way that cookbooks used by our parents seem to be (or am I being nostalgic again?).  It was written in 1985 when people looked frightened and cooked you a fried egg if you said you were a vegetarian, so at the time the book must have been quite revolutionary!

Use as little butter as possible (draining it once the mushrooms and onions are fried) and press the ingredients tightly in to the baking dish/loaf tin to help it bind.  Don’t worry if the mushroom roast breaks up a bit when it is cooked and you are taking it out of the tin.  Mine has never stayed all in one piece but it still tastes great!

Mushroom roast – serves 2 hungry people or 4 as part of a lighter meal

200g mushrooms, chopped small

Large knob of butter

1 onion, finely chopped

150g grated cheddar cheese

90g breadcrumbs (I just blend some slices of bread)

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 tsp marmite

Salt and pepper

Butter your baking dish/loaf tin.  Fry the mushrooms and onions in the butter for approx 10 mins. Drain the butter away.  To the mushrooms and onions add the grated cheese, breadcrumbs, marmite, beaten egg, salt and pepper, and mix.  Place the mixture in a greased baking dish/loaf tin, pressing it tightly together.   Bake at 190 degrees/gas mark 5 for approx 35 mins, until nicely brown. Leave to cool for 10 mins before getting it out.  Don’t worry if it falls apart a little!  Delicious served with veg and gravy or cut in to wedges and eaten cold the next day.

Chocolate and peanut butter cups (4 minutes of effort!)

These chocolate and peanut butter cups require about 4 minutes of effort and taste divine, so are brilliant to share with friends (or keep to yourself!).  They are basically two rounds of smooth, sweet milk chocolate with crunchy, salty peanut butter in the middle.  The combination of sweet and salty and the texture of the cups as you bite in to them are a little bit special.  Just don’t even THINK about using smooth peanut butter!

chocolate peanut butter cups

I was inspired to try my hand at these after spending the last 2 months eating the wonderful chocolate and peanut butter bites at our lovely local cafe, Wynwood Art District, in Walthamstow, London.  Mine are definitely not as good as their’s and I am told that they use a particularly good peanut butter (I am afraid I don’t know which).  Wynwood also do lots of other delectable cakes (their lemon squares are gorgeous), great coffee and tasty, interesting savoury meals such as chickpea and tahini soup (unusual and beautiful), feta and spinach pie (my favourite) and bean and chorizo salad (the perfectly delicious hangover cure according to my boyfriend).  The fact that it is a family business where the sisters, mum and dad are all involved in cooking what they love and running the cafe warms me.  More details re Wynwood are at the bottom of this post!

But back to the chocolate and peanut butter cups.  Allow an hour to prepare them as the chocolate needs time to set in the fridge once melted – you can come and go throughout the day as they only involve 2 x 2 minutes of actual work.  Use silicone muffin cases or a silicone tray if you have them, otherwise paper muffin cases should work fine.  My version was a little chocolate heavy so I have changed the chocolate/peanut butter ratio slightly for the recipe.  Enjoy!

Chocolate and peanut butter cups (makes 6 cups using 6 muffin cases)

200g milk chocolate (any kind)

6 tsp crunchy peanut butter (I used Whole Earth but reckon any brand would work as long as it is crunchy!)

Melt half of the chocolate in a pan or in the microwave in 20 second bursts, to avoid burning.  Use a spoon to divide the chocolate in to each muffin cup, then put in the fridge for at least 20 mins to set.  Once set, take out and put around 1 tsp peanut butter per cup on top of the chocolate.  Then melt the remaining half of the chocolate and spoon on top of the peanut butter in each cup.  Pop in the fridge for a further 20 mins or until fully set, then carefully peel off the muffin cases and serve!  Keep at room temperature as long as it is not too warm.  Great with coffee!

Wynwood Art District in Walthamstow can be found at http://www.wynwoodartdistrict.co.uk, as ‘Wynwood Art District’ on Facebook and @wynwoodartd on twitter

Cooking with kids – sweetcorn soup with garlic bread!

Here is a simple, budget cooking activity that has a good chance of success with kids! I find they tend to enjoy the sweetness of sweetcorn and the tastiness of garlic bread.  And by the way, when I say ‘cooking’ with kids what I actually mean is ‘maybe getting your kids to join in for 2 minutes before running off’!  I never get long out of mine, but I believe every minute counts…

garlic bread sweetcorn soup

garlic bread sweetcorn soup

This cooking activity is a good way to introduce kids to both soup and garlic/parsley, and all ages can contribute – young children can spread the bread with the garlic butter and tip in the soup ingredients and older kids can help with the chopping and (supervised!) stirring.

garlic bread sweetcorn soup

garlic bread sweetcorn soup

If you want to tart the soup up a little for your adult portion top it with some chopped fresh parsley and chilli flakes.  Allow at least 30 minutes to prepare and cook this meal!

sweetcorn soup garlic bread

Sweetcorn soup and garlic bread (serves 4 as a light meal)

For the soup

2 tbsp butter

2 small tins sweetcorn (I used value sweetcorn)

1 onion, chopped

280ml milk

2 veg stock cubes, crumbled (I like OXO as it crumbles easily)

Salt and pepper

For the garlic bread

tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

50g butter, slightly softened for about 10 seconds in the microwave (you only want it soft – it still has to be solid and spreadable!)

Small baguette, chopped in to rings

For the soup, fry the onion in the butter for about 5 mins, until soft.  Add the sweetcorn (putting aside a tbsp of sweetcorn if you want the soup to have texture) and then the milk and simmer for 5 mins.  Crumble in the stock cubes.  Use a hand blender for a good while to make it smooth.  If you want, add the remaining sweetcorn afterwards so there are a few bits visible in the soup.  Otherwise blend all the sweetcorn.  Add a little hot water if you think it is too thick.  Season the soup if you like but remember there is salt in the stock cubes so you may wish to leave salt out of your kids’ portions.

For the garlic bread, mix the softened butter with the parsley and garlic and spread it on to the rounds of baguette (you may have some garlic butter leftover).  Bake in the oven on gas mark 6/200 degrees for approx 7 minutes (maybe longer), until the bread is lightly browned and the garlic butter has melted in to the bread.

Serve the soup, topping the adults’ (or adventurous kids’) portions with fresh parsley and chilli flakes  for extra flavour and effect!  Eat along with the garlic bread, dunking it in to the soup if you fancy!

Rich, tasty paella in 40 mins

I recently made the discovery that my two year old loves seafood.  This, and the recent pack of saffron that my mother -in-law brought me back from Turkey, lead me to one conclusion – make paella!  Paella is a traditional Spanish rice recipe that can be made in many different ways but over here we know it best with rice, seafood and peas.  My recipe is pretty simple and the saffron (a deep red threaded spice used in paellas, risottos and French fish soup) is optional – the dish will still taste rich enough without it. My family love chorizo so I added a bit to their portions but this is also optional – a seafood mix of prawns, mussels and squid is plenty of flavour and texture without the chorizo.

simple paella

We all loved this dish apart from my oldest who pushed it away dramatically without trying it.  I guess seafood divides people!  A hearty meal to warm you up at this cold time of year.

simple paella

Paella (serves 5)

Oil

1 leek, chopped

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp turmeric

1 tbsp tomato puree

200g tinned chopped tomatoes

300g paella rice or long grain rice

1 litre vegetable stock (I like Oxo as it crumbles easily)

300g frozen seafood/paella mix (normally contains prawns, squid and mussels)

Optional – 1/2 tsp saffron

200g frozen peas

Large bunch parsley, chopped

Heat the oil and soften the leek for 5 minutes.  Add the turmeric, paprika, tomato puree and chopped tomatoes and stir.  Add the rice and stir some more then pour in the stock.  Bring to the boil then simmer for 15 minutes, stirring regularly.  Pour in the frozen seafood/paella mix and cook for 5 minutes.  Add the saffron.  Add the peas, stir and cook for a further 3 minutes or until the rice is cooked (if it seems dry add a little water).  Season, sprinkle with parsley and serve!

Algerian omelette from The Park Cafe (10 mins prep/15 mins cooking)

algerian omelette

Hands down one of THE most memorable meals I ate in 2014 was an Algerian omelette from the brilliant Park Cafe In The Hub in Victoria Park, London.  An unusual omelette made from eggs (obviously), chips, cheese, red onion, tomato, coriander and smothered in a smokey harissa rub, it is like a big, comforting, spicy hug.  The cafe’s manager Jamsheed very kindly shared their recipe with me so I could recreate it at home (I have also simplified it slightly).   While mine is not a patch on the cafe’s own, it is definitely worth a try!

algerian omelette

The cafe make their chips properly in a deep fat fryer while I cooked my shop-bought chips in the oven and as usual managed to overdo them slightly – try to just about cook yours without browning them too much.  The cafe also make their own harissa – a fiery North African rub that is used to flavour and marinate food (mostly meat) – while I bought mine from the supermarket.  I am addicted to harissa at the moment and have also been rubbing it on to halloumi cheese before griddling and enjoying it with salad.  For another harissa recipe using fish click here https://katielovescooking.wordpress.com/2012/08/05/moroccan-style-coley-20-mins-prep15-mins-cooking-depending-on-size-of-pan/.

To fully appreciate this Algerian omelette recipe I would suggest visiting the Park Cafe in the Hub itself (which has a number of other equally wonderful and interesting menu options).  If you have children or just happen to like slides then you can enjoy the massive, fast slides in the play area next door too!

algerian omelette

Algerian omelette (serves 2 hungry people)

4 eggs

1 small red onion, finely chopped

8 cherry tomatoes, each quartered

Large bunch coriander, chopped

Large handful grated cheddar

30 chunky/regular chips

Harissa (available from supermarkets)

Cook the chips (either in the oven or a deep fat fryer) until just cooked but not too browned.  While they are cooking get a mixing bowl ready.  Crack in the four eggs with the onion, tomato and most of the coriander.  Mix gently until the egg is blended well and make sure the texture is not too fluffy.

Once the chips are ready place and spread them in a fairly hot pan with some oil (veg or rapeseed oil – the cafe recommend rapeseed oil as it brings out the flavours more but i didn’t have any so used veg oil).  After one minute pour over the egg mixture, on a medium flame.  Cook for a few minutes until the egg is 3/4 cooked, then sprinkle on the cheddar and place it under a grill.  Once the egg is fully cooked and the cheese is melted and slightly browned, smear on the harissa (generously if you want lots of flavour and spice!) and place it under the grill again for 40 seconds.  Remove and garnish with the remaining coriander.  Cut and serve (with a crispy salad if you like).

Recipe by The Park Cafe in the Hub, Victoria Park, Hackney, London.  You can find their website at http://www.theparkcafeinvictoriapark.com, Facebook ‘The Park Cafe in the Hub’ and on twitter @jamsheedt