Family-Friendly Couscous with Fried Halloumi

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This is a delicious, fresh tasting summer dish.  Couscous (it doesn’t even need cooking!) is mixed with courgettes, sundried tomatoes, chickpeas, spring onion, pine nuts (optional), mint, parsley, garlic and lemon juice, and topped with slightly charred and naturally salty halloumi cheese.  Super satisfying!  My kids generally turn their nose up at more adventurous cheeses like brie or goats cheese, but love halloumi.

You could vary or scale down what ingredients you use, to make it appeal to your family specifically.  I think mint, garlic and lemon juice are essential flavours though.  Veg wise peppers, fresh tomatoes, soya beans, red onion, green beans and asparagus would also work well.  And feta cheese would make a great substitute for halloumi.  Allow about 15 minutes to make everything.  If you have a griddle pan then use that to fry the halloumi, otherwise a regular non-stick frying pan is fine.

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Summer Couscous with Fried Halloumi (serves 4)

200g couscous

1 small courgette, chopped small

4 sundried tomatoes, chopped very small

Can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Large handful of mint (add more if you want a really fresh flavour!)

Small handful of parsley

6 spring onions, chopped small

Optional – pine nuts, toasted (do this by frying them in a hot dry pan until slightly browned for about a minute, shaking regularly to avoid them burning)

2 cloves garlic, crushed

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 vegetable stock cube, crumbled

1-2 tbsp oil from the sundried tomato jar (or any oil)

1 block halloumi cheese, sliced

Make the couscous as per the pack instructions (normally only takes 5 minutes).  Meanwhile, fry the courgette in a little oil for 5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, mint, parsley, spring onions, pine nuts (if using), garlic, lemon, vegetable stock and  oil.  Heat for another minute or two until warmed through.  Taste and add salt and pepper and extra mint if you think it needs it.

Griddle or fry the halloumi on each side, until golden and slightly crispy (1-2 minutes each side).  Spoon the couscous salad in to bowls and top with a few slices of halloumi and a sprig of mint.  Eat!

Eton Mess in 5 mins

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Ah, Eton Mess. The creamy and delicious summer dessert combination of strawberries, crushed meringues and cream.

Eton Mess is believed to have originated from Eton School, who served it during cricket matches. One theory of how the recipe came to be is that the ingredients were accidentally mixed together when they were dropped on the floor, hence it being called ‘Eton Mess’! Another theory is that a cheeky labrador dog sat on a picnic basket containing the ingredients during a picnic, crushing them together. Either way, the dessert really is wonderful with a sprig of mint on top and a little vanilla added to the cream.

Eton Mess can be made in 5 minutes if you buy the meringues from the shop.  Or if you want a challenge you could make them from scratch. I tried it for the first time when making this and it was really straightforward. I used an electric whisk but if you put some welly in to it then a regular whisk is fine.  Whatever meringues you use, the kids might enjoy helping crush them up.

Although Eton Mess is traditionally made with strawberries you could try other fruit too, such as raspberries, blackberries or mango. There is even a similar dessert made with bananas called Lancing Mess. Lemon zest, liquor, elderflower cordial or ginger would work well as alternative flavours in the cream.

Eton Mess (serves 4)
400ml double cream, whisked until thick
1 tsp vanilla essence

8 ready made meringues, crushed

20 strawberries, hulled and cut smallish
Sprigs of mint, for decoration

Add the vanilla essence to the cream and mix.  Mix in most of the strawberries and the crushed meringues.  Spoon equal amounts of the mixture in to four glasses (any are fine) or glass ramekins.  Serve garnished with the remaining strawberries and a sprig of mint.

 

Noodle Salad with Asian Pesto

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I spotted this Noodle Salad With Asian Pesto recipe in the Itsu cookbook, and really fancied trying a different take on traditionally Italian pesto.  This pesto is made from unmistakably Asian ingredients – coriander, mint, ginger, sesame oil and soy sauce.  The pesto is mixed with noodles, avocado and topped with fresh chilli and toasted seeds, and I have added some soya beans too.  This is a really unusual and warming dish!

Toasting seeds is really simple – you just briefly dry fry them in a non-stick frying pan, shaking regularly.   I buy frozen soya/edamame beans lots, and you don’t even need to cook them, they just need to defrost.  They are great for adding to salads, as a snack or with scrambled eggs, and make a nice alternative to peas.

My kids were a bit sceptical when I served up this meal, as they adore regular pesto, but they ate most of it in the end.  We had just watched a beautiful and insane Japanese family film called Spirited Away so were able to link the food to the film!

Noodle Salad With Asian Pesto (serves 4 and takes around 20 minutes)

For the Asian Pesto

50g coriander, roughly chopped

1 tbsp mint leaves

Thumb sized piece of ginger, grated tiny

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 tbsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp salt

1 tbsp lemon or lime juice

1 tbsp honey

For the salad

320g noodles (any is fine)

1 tbsp sesame oil

2 ripe avocados, chopped

2 tbsp soya/edamame beans, defrosted or fresh (no need to cook them)

2 tbsp sunflower seeds

2 tbsp pumpkin seeds

1 red chilli, topped tiny

To make the pesto, put all the pesto ingredients (leaving a little coriander for serving) in a blender/food processor and blitz until it is a smooth sauce.

Cook the noodles as per the pack instructions, drain and toss with the sesame oil.  Add the chopped avocados and defrosted/fresh soya beans.  Toast the sunflower and pumpkin seeds by heating them in a dry non-stick frying pan for 30-60 seconds, shaking regularly so they don’t burn.

Add the pesto, avocados and soya beans to the noodles and put in to bowls.  Top the mixture with the toasted seeds, chilli and remaining coriander leaves and eat!

Cheat’s Summertime Pizza

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I love recipes that make life easier, but involve a few touches to make them your own.  This colourful, delicious, summery pizza is just that – you buy a margarita pizza and then add sweetcorn, prawns and pesto (either homemade or shop-bought).  If you’re making the pesto you will need a food processor.

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If you like you could vary what ingredients you use to make this a summertime pizza – other seasonal summer ingredients are spring onions, tomatoes, asparagus, crab and rocket.

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We ate the pizza in the garden with our hands, along with some chopped carrots and cucumber and a jug of squash.  Yum!

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Cheats Summertime Pizza (serves 4)

Large Margarita pizza

Small tin sweetcorn, drained

Small pack of king prawns

Shake of dried mixed herbs

For the pesto (alternatively use shop-bought pesto)

40g watercress or rocket

Juice of 1/4 of a lemon

1 clove garlic, crushed

Small handful of pine nuts (or other nuts)

Dessert spoon of oil (ideally olive oil but any will do)

Optional – 1 tsp chilli flakes

Put the Margarita pizza on a baking tray.  Scatter over the sweetcorn and prawns and a shake of the herbs.  To make the pesto, blitz all the pesto ingredients in a food processor until well combined, adding a little more oil if it needs loosening up.  Dollop the pesto  all over the pizza.  Scatter over the chilli flakes if using (or just use them on half if you want half of the pizza to be non-spicy).  Cook the pizza as per the packet instructions.  Eat with hands!

THE BEST Tuna Pasta

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I recently ate this one-pot Tuna Pasta at my friend Jen’s, who is a genius at making tasty comfort food.  It was by far the best tuna pasta I have ever had, so once again I consumed an unacceptably rude amount of it.  In addition to the traditional tuna, sweetcorn and pasta, Jen adds feta cheese and olives, which give the dish a wonderful salty creaminess.  She also adds peas for extra goodness.

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There is no need to finish the dish off in the oven so it only takes about 20 minutes to make.  It also happens to be a good introduction to feta cheese for kids – my kids only knowingly eat cheddar or halloumi cheese but they wolfed this down without question!

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Tremendous Tuna Pasta (serves 4)

300g pasta ( any is fine but Jen uses penne)

4 handfuls frozen peas

Approx 20 olives, cut in half (any is fine)

Small tin of sweetcorn, drained

2 small tins tuna, flaked

80g low fat soft cheese

1/2 block feta cheese (about 100g), crumbled

Good shake of dried mixed herbs OR fresh parsley, roughly chopped

Shake of pepper

Cook the pasta, and a few minutes before it is ready add the peas.  Drain.  Add the olives, sweetcorn and tuna and mix well.  Add the soft cheese and mix, adding a little water or olive oil if it needs loosening up.  Add the feta cheese, herbs and pepper, heat and stir for a few more minutes and then eat hungrily in bowls!

Pea and Mint Soup with Parmesan Crisps

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My favourite springtime recipe has to be pea and mint soup.  It is so fresh and flavoursome that I ate an unacceptably impolite amount of it at my friend’s house once.  You can make parmesan crisps to dip in to the soup for an extra impressive, yet surprisingly simple, dish.

My other seasonal springtime favourites are: charred lettuce and spring onions with goats cheese; potato, onion and fennel tortilla; asparagus with tomato salsa and crumbled cheese; and watercress pesto (all recipes are on this blog and can be made in 30 mins or less!)

Allow about 25 minutes to make the soup and crisps.  You will need a food processor or hand blender and baking/greaseproof paper.
Pea and Mint Soup with Parmesan Crisps (serves 4 as a starter or light main)

1 tbsp oil
Large knob of butter
1 medium potato, diced small
700g frozen peas
2 vegetable stock cubes (ideally OXO as they crumble well)
Large handful mint, roughly chopped
65g parmesan, very finely grated (or use double this if you want two crisps per bowl of soup)

Heat the oil and butter in a pan and when bubbling add the diced potato. Fry for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until golden and cooked through. Add the peas then add water so they are only just covered. Simmer for a few minutes, until the peas are tender, then crumble in the stock cubes and stir well. Add the mint then then use a food processor or hand blender to whizz everything together until smooth. If the soup is too thick then gradually add water until you are happy with the consistency.

To make the parmesan crisps, heat the oven at 220 degrees/gas mark 7. Line a baking tray with baking/greaseproof paper and on to this divide the grated parmesan into 4 long strips, in a thin layer. Bake for around 5-7 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and golden. Leave to cool a little, for about 5 minutes, then while still a little warm carefully peel the crisps off the baking paper. Cool until firm.

Serve the soup in bowls with a parmesan crisp on the side to dip in!

Chicken (or Veggie) Chow Mein

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This delicious Chicken (or Veggie) Chow Mein recipe comes courtesy of Judy and Andy Mus, a couple who run excellent ‘Saturday Cooking Club’ family cooking classes in Walthamstow, East London. Judy says this is the most popular dish at their cooking club, with many people commenting that it tastes better than a take away!  Even many fussy eaters have enjoyed it.   I have added fresh coriander to the recipe, as I can’t get enough of it and it is nice to sprinkle on some fresh herbs.

You can use chicken, prawns, tofu or quorn chunks along with the veg.  Allow about 25 minutes to prepare and cook it all.   The kids could help with all aspects of the dish – here is a guide to cooking with kids, in particular a video about knife skills: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/guide-cookery-skills-age.  I had never let my kids cut with a sharp knife until I attended the cooking club!  It was a little scary, but my 6 year old did really well and still has all his fingers.
If you are local to Walthamstow then check out E17 Pop Up Kitchens on Facebook for info about upcoming cooking sessions. It costs £15 per family, is fun and relaxed, and there is no minimum age.

Chicken (or Veggie) Chow Mein (serves approx 4)

3 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
Small thumb ginger, peeled and grated or chopped very small
1 clove garlic, crushed or chopped very small
Any oil, for cooking
2 chicken breasts, cut in to small chunks OR chopped smoked tofu OR quorn chicken chunks OR prawns
1 pepper, cut in to thin strips
5 spring onions, chopped
200g beansprouts

200g noodles (any is fine – I used medium egg noodles)

Optional – roughly chopped coriander

Mix the ketchup, oyster sauce, soy sauce, ginger and garlic together and set aside.

Heat some oil in a frying pan on a medium heat and add the chicken (or tofu, quorn chunks or prawns), stirring regularly for about 10 minutes, until it is white and cooked through.

Meanwhile cook the noodles as per the pack instructions and set aside.  To the chicken add the pepper and stir fry for another 2 minutes. Pour in the sauce and stir well until bubbling. Add the noodles, beansprouts and spring onions and mix well for another 2 minutes.  Eat, sprinkled with coriander if you wish.