Mad dog salad (ready in 25 mins) – using surprisingly delicious roast avocado!

mad dog salad jamie oliver

This is a brilliant, pretty and unique salad from Jamie Oliver’s America cookbook, made using ingredients popular in Arizona.  It combines roast avocado (my favourite discovery of recent years!), cheese and seed topped tortilla crisps, salad leaves, cress, lemon juice, chilli (optional) and cumin seeds.  When you roast avocado it becomes slightly charred on the outside and extra soft in the middle and the olive oil, cumin seeds and seasoning really bring it alive.  It is pretty special.  You only need a baking tray and mixing bowl to prepare everything.

mad dog salad jamie oliver

This is a great meal for guests but it is also handy to try with kids as it contains some naughty and appealing ingredients!  My kids bulk at the word salad but were intrigued at the name (so called ‘mad dog salad’ because a cheeky local dog kept running off with the ingredients when Jamie was making it!)  I gave them just one of each of the salad leaves (so they weren’t too put off) and a few sprigs of cress along with a little of the avocado (they are used to eating avocado raw) and plenty of the cheese and seed topped crisps.

mad dog salad jamie oliver

Although the cheesy crisps were definitely the highlight, they did at least taste each salad leaf, and my youngest liked the avocado, so perhaps the term ‘salad’ has taken on a slightly more positive meaning in their little heads.  We can hope!

The dish works out as about £5 in total.   Allow 25 mins to make it.

Mad dog salad (serves 4)

2 ripe avocados
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
2-3 large handfuls of plain tortilla crisps
Large handful of grated cheddar cheese
Small handful of pine nuts (optional as expensive and not essential to the dish)
Handful of pumpkin seeds (cheap and available at supermarkets, normally in the Homebaking section)
1 bundle of cress, snipped
4 good handfuls of salad leaves
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Olive oil
1/2 chopped chilli or shake dried chilli flakes (optional)

Preheat your oven to full whack.  Halve, stone and peel your avocados and lay them on a roasting tray (cut smaller if you wish). Drizzle over some olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper and the cumin seeds. Toss until nicely coated, then roast in the oven for 15 mins so they get a bit of colour (you may need to roast for a few mins longer – until slightly golden at the edges). About 10 mins in, take the tray with the avocados out, lay out your tortilla crisps next to them and sprinkle over the cheddar, pine nuts and pumpkin seeds (over the crisps). Return to the oven for approx 5 mins so the cheese has time to melt and the nuts and seeds toast a little.

Mix your cress and salad leaves together. Drizzle over the lemon juice and some olive oil and sprinkle over a good pinch of salt and pepper. Quickly toss together.  Take your avocados and tortillas out of the oven.

Put the salad leaves on individual plates, then the cheesy seedy crisps, avocado and scatter over any remaining seeds/pine nuts from the tray.  Top with the chilli if you fancy.  Serve!


My one-pot kedgeree (ready in 20 mins)

one-pot easy kedgeree This is one of the most successful dinners in our house as we all wolf it down (including my kids, who can be quite fussy), it is quick to prepare, saves on washing up and only costs about £3.50 for the whole dish.  It is also extremely well balanced and healthy! Kedgeree is traditionally an Indian breakfast of fish, rice, hard boiled eggs, peas and curry powder that is believed to have been introduced to the UK by returning British colonels.   I have replaced the smoked haddock with smoked mackerel as it is cheap and already cooked (plus my kids love it’s salty flavour), used garam masala spice (available at supermarkets) as it is gentle and sweet so kid friendly, and added spring onions for a little crunch.  You can always use a stock cube instead of the garam masala. one-pot easy kedgeree Try to remove any bones while you are tearing the mackerel (the bones tend to be pretty small so don’t worry too much about this).   As an alternative to using fish, you could try canned chickpeas or cooked ham instead.  The kedgeree is particularly delicious with a good shake of sweet chilli sauce or ketchup on top! one-pot kedgeree One other top tip – smoked mackerel, peas and spring onions are also great in an omelette!

One-pot kedgeree (serves 4)

200g rice (long-grain/basmati/brown)

3 eggs

75g frozen peas

5 spring onions, chopped

200g smoked mackerel, torn up

Optional – 1-2 tsp garam masala (depending on how much you like it – I use 1 tsp which gives it a mild flavour) OR 1 vege stock cube, crumbled (I like OXO)

Start gently simmering the rice and add the eggs (still in their shells) together in one pan.  Stir occasionally to avoid sticking.  After 10 mins take out the eggs and add the peas and spring onions to the pan.  Take the egg shells off and chop each egg in to 10 pieces.  After a few mins more the rice, peas and spring onions should be cooked.  Drain the mixture and add the eggs and torn mackerel.  Add either the garam masala or crumbled stock cube and season with a little salt and pepper if you like (it doesn’t need much).  Add a little butter/marge if it needs more moisture.  Mix well and serve!

School dinner jammy coconut sponge (ready in an hour)

school dinner jam coconut sponge

As a kid I absolutely LOVED school puddings – the friendly dinner ladies would heave huge metal trays of naughty desserts to the serving area after our main course and we always got a big portion along with custard. My absolute favourite was gypsy tart but you have to whisk the tart filling for about a week to prepare that (I tried and failed) so I have chosen my second favourite, jammy coconut sponge!

school dinner jam coconut sponge

This jammy coconut sponge recipe is based on one from ‘Jamie’s Great Britain‘ and is delish – the combination of light sponge along with the sweet jam and desiccated coconut topping, served with custard, is proper comfort food. It is simple to make even if you are not used to baking.  Allow at least an hour to prepare, cook and top the cake.  Kids may like spreading the baked sponge with jam and then sprinkling on the ‘snow’ (desiccated coconut). Gorgeous.

For an alternative, exotic yet simple recipe using desiccated coconut try these burfis (Indian sweets).  They taste beautiful, contain 4 ingredients and take 30 mins:  And for a straightforward homemade strawberry fridge jam recipe click here:

School dinner jammy coconut sponge

225g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing

225g caster sugar

4 large eggs

225g self-raising flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

Splash of milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

75g desiccated coconut

150g jam (raspberry/strawberry/blackberry – cheapest is fine!)

Grease and line the bottom of an approx 30 x 20cm cake tin with baking paper.  Preheat the oven to 180 degrees/gas mark 4.

Mix the butter and sugar together until pale, then beat in the eggs one at a time.  Fold in the flour and baking powder, add a splash of milk and the vanilla extract and mix again.  Pour in to the lined baking tin and cook for at least 30 mins, until golden brown and a knife inserted comes out clean (it may take a little longer – just keep a close eye).

Leave the sponge to cool for around 10 mins then spread the jam on top and evenly sprinkle on the coconut.  Serve with custard!

Tortellini kebabs (15 mins prep) – less than £1 per head

tortellini kebabs

I was thinking about making some more ‘dinner on a stick’ meals for the kids as they love sliding the little chunks off the stick  or biting them straight off (and sometimes assembling the kebabs themselves).   As my kids also love tortellini (little filled pasta parcels), I decided to mix some shop-bought tortellini with a couple of less familiar foods, mozzarella and roast red peppers from a jar, in the hope that they would try them.  I also added olives (always a winner in our house). For our grown up version I mixed up the mozzarella with pesto and lightly grilled a few cherry tomatoes.  The meal worked out as about £3.60 in total and took 15 mins to prepare.

You can vary what you put on your kebab sticks (you can find metal or disposable wooden ones from supermarkets and some pound shops) – cheddar cheese or grilled halloumi cheese, pasta (penne pasta is good to slide on), other veg (e.g. broccoli, carrots, courgette, mushrooms, potatoes, asparagus, avocado), sausages, prawns, chunks of fish, chicken, tofu, falafel.  Anything that can slide on to a stick!  Also feel free to use a little sauce to add more flavour e.g. pesto as mentioned above,  sweet chilli sauce (not spicy if you use sparingly) or bbq sauce.  If you mix foods that you know your kids like (or let them choose some) with one or two that they have never tried or are unsure about, the novelty of eating a kebab may be enough to tempt them!

tortellini kebabs

My kids were a little apprehensive about trying the mozzarella and roast peppers but once the tortellini and olives were gone they couldn’t resist picking up a small bit with the tip of the kebab stick (only once I should add) and attempting to get it in to their mouth before falling off – so that is a small victory!  Other novel eating ideas are using chopsticks (even with just a selection of finger food), eating from a cup (see my 7 minute noodles in a cup recipe here or using a larger than normal fork or spoon.

Tortellini kebabs (makes 7-8 sticks – enough for 2 adults and 2 kids)

1/2 pack tortellini, cooked (normally only takes 4 mins)

3 roast peppers from a jar, chopped

32 olives (any kind)

1 mozzarella ball, cut in to chunks (optional – mix with pesto for extra flavour)

Optional – cherry tomatoes, either as they are or lightly roasted in hot oven for 10 mins (turning once)

Divide the ingredients (and mix them with sauce if you fancy).   Slide them on to the kebab stick as pictured.  Serve!  Add some rice or salad alongside the meal if you are extra hungry.

Moroccan preserved lemons (20 mins prep and only £1 per jar – great chopped up in salads and stews)

I have been wanting to make preserved lemons for ages since coming across them in salad, tagine, stew and dressing recipes.  They are really easy and quick to make, make a great gift and the ingredients work out as about £1 per jar – you simply chop some lemons in to quarters, put them in a jar with some lemon juice, coriander seeds, bay leaves and lots of salt and leave them to preserve and marinate for at least 4 weeks.  They are finely chopped and used lots in Moroccan and Mediterranean cooking to add a ‘mellow, sweet and salty undertone’ apparently.  Once mine are ready I will try them out and report back here! easy preserved lemons You can use old jam/olive jars to store the lemons.  Just wash them first then sterilise the jars and lids by placing them on a tray in an oven at 150 degrees/gas mark 2 for 10 minutes (or a dishwasher cycle will do the trick).  Fill the jars while still warm (be careful as they will be very hot at first but don’t take long to cool down). This recipe makes about 4 jam jars worth (or 1-2 large jars).  You should be able to find the coriander seeds and bay leaves in large supermarkets and international shops. Preserved lemons (makes 4 small jars) 20 lemons (8 for squeezing and 12 for cutting in to quarters) 4 tsp coriander seeds 12 bay leaves 100g salt Cut 12 of the lemons in to quarters and rub them with plenty of salt.  Divide them in to 4 jam jars.  Separately squeeze 8 lemons and add 100g salt.  Give the mixture a vigorous stir and divide it between the jars (you want it to cover all of the lemons – I had to top mine up after the photo was taken).  Add 1 tsp of coriander seeds and 3 bay leaves to each jar.  Put the lids on and shake.  Leave them for at least 4 weeks, turning often.  They will keep for up to 12 months.  When using, discard the flesh and chop the rind finely.

Fuss-free olive (or grape) focaccia – great to cook with or for kids

easy focaccia

Focaccia is an Italian oven-baked bread that is traditionally topped with ingredients such as olives, herbs and olive oil.  Italian grandmothers would have plenty to say about my simplified, no-knead version, and it certainly looks a little uneven and chunky, but that is all part of it’s charm in my opinion!

easy focaccia

easy focaccia

You can use olives or grapes for this recipe, and there are plenty of ways kids can get involved with the preparation – helping to mix, watching the dough prove (rise), spreading it out on to the baking tray and, most fun of all, pushing the olives (or grapes) in to it with their chubby little fingers!  Other toppings you could experiment with are rock salt, herbs (thyme or rosemary work well), dried fruit or chilli.   Allow 15 mins for preparation, at least one hour for the dough to rest and rise, plus 30 minutes cooking time.

easy focaccia

easy focaccia

Eat the focaccia on it’s own as a snack or with pesto, humous or chorizo slices.  The whole loaf costs about £1.30 to make and will keep for two days wrapped in clingfilm.

Olive (or grape) focaccia

300g strong white bread flour

200g strong wholemeal flour

tsp salt (around 4g)

tsp dried yeast (around 4g)

375g cold water

4 tbsp olive oil

30 pitted green olives or seedless grapes

Pour the flour, salt and yeast in to a large bowl and mix.  Add the water and mix then use your hands to mix more and shape in to a ball.  Return to the bowl, cover with a damp, clean towel and rest for at least an hour so the dough can prove (increase in size).

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees/gas mark 7.  Grease a baking tray with one tablespoon of olive oil then gently lower in the dough.  Use your hands to stretch it to the edges of the tray and make sure it is roughly even all over.  Use your fingers to push the olives in to the dough.  Rub 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil all over the top and pop in the oven, first for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 190 degrees/gas mark 5 for a further approx 20 minutes.  It is ready when it is crusted and golden brown.  As soon as you take it out of the oven pour 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil on and spread evenly all over, so the hot focaccia can soak it up.  Tear or cut in to wedges and serve!