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!

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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.

One-Pot Chunky Fish Chowder (30 mins)

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This chunky fish chowder is a tasty, one-pot dinner full of goodness from the fish and vegetables.  I’ve reduced the fat content by adding just a splash of milk, but you could keep it traditional and use more milk, or cream, instead!  The whole dish is ready in 30 minutes, and is great on it’s own or with some bread.

Chunky Fish Chowder (serves 4 )

1 tbsp oil

1 leek, finely sliced

4 medium potatoes, chopped small (I don’t bother peeling them)

Splash of water

1 vegetable (or fish) stock cube

330g can of sweetcorn, drained

320g fish pie mix, chopped  in to chunks (or any combination of fish such as salmon, trout, cod, coley, pollock – include some smoked fish in the mix to add lovely flavour)

Juice of 1/4 of a lemon

1 tbsp milk

Handful of chives, chopped

Fry the leek and potatoes in the oil for around 5 minutes, until the leek is soft.  Just about cover the mixture in water and simmer for another 8-10 minutes, stirring occassionally, until the potato is tender.  Drain the liquid off using a sieve.  Put the leek and potato back in the pan and crumble in the stock cube, add the sweetcorn, fish chunks, lemon juice and the milk.  Gently fry/simmer everything for around 6 minutes, stirring regularly, until the fish is cooked through.  Add salt and pepper if you think it needs extra seasoning.  Add the chives and mix well, reserving a little for topping the whole dish if you fancy.  Eat!

Sticky Toffee Pudding (vegan/non-vegan)

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I always assumed that Sticky Toffee Pudding was a bit of a technical feat, but not so.  It’s super easy to make and tastes wonderful!  This recipe comes courtesy of vegan entrepreneur Tegan The Vegan, a lady who lives local to me and has built a very loyal following since starting her vegan food business.  The pudding can be made with either regular dairy or vegan butter.   Eat it with regular custard or vegan custard or cream (available in some supermarkets and health food shops).

Thank you Tegan!  (Check out http://www.facebook.com/teganvegan or @teganveganLDN for more info about her vegan treats).

Sticky Toffee Pudding (serves 10)

For the cake

200g pitted dates
100ml water
250ml soya milk
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
115g dark brown soft sugar
115g regular butter or vegan margarine/butter  (vegan marge/butter can be found in some supermarkets/health food shops)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp cinnamon
200g self-raising flour

For the toffee sauce

150g butter or vegan margarine/butter
200g dark brown soft sugar
100g golden syrup
1 tsp vanilla essence

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees/gas mark 5.

To make the cake, chop the dates in half, cover with the water and soya milk in a small saucepan and simmer until the dates are soft (around 10-15 minutes). Take off the heat and stir in the bicarbonate of soda. It will froth up, but that’s okay! Leave to cool while you make the rest.

Beat together the 115g of sugar and 115g of the margarine, then add the date mixture. Mix in the spices, then fold in the flour and mix. Spoon in to an approximate 20cm x 20cm greased cake tin (any shape is fine), and bake for 30-35 minutes, until the sponge bounces back when pressed and a knife inserted in the cake comes out pretty much clean.

For the sauce, melt the rest of the butter in a saucepan and add the sugar, golden syrup and vanilla essence. Gently simmer for around 5 minutes, stirring until well combined.

Prick the cooked cake all over then use half the sauce to pour over it. Reserve half of the sauce for serving with the pudding alongside some custard or cream. Devour!

Cooking with kids – Toad In The Hole

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Toad in the Hole (along with mushroom roast) is the nostalgic taste of my childhood.  I decided to become a vegetarian aged six, so it was an extra special treat to have a traditionally meaty dish with the sausages nestled in puffed up golden batter (even if the sausages were Linda McCartney vegetarian ones!)

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This recipe is based on 7-year-old Sam’s recipe from BBC Good Food.  I choose it as the reviews said it was foolproof, and indeed it is.  I have simply added some dried herbs for extra flavour, and included 2 veggie sausages as well as meat ones, since I still don’t eat meat.  The kids helped place the cooked sausages in the casserole dish, make and mix the batter and then pour it over.

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We all absolutely loved eating the Toad in the Hole, alongside some roast vegetables and gravy (see below for empty plate evidence)!  Allow time to cook the sausages, 5 mins to make the batter and around 35 minutes for the whole dish to bake.

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Toad In The Hole (serves 4 with veg)

8 cooked sausages (can be meat, vegetarian or a mixture of both)

140g plain flour

1/2 tsp salt

2 eggs

175ml semi-skimmed milk

1/2 tsp dried mixed herbs

Cook the sausages as per the pack instructions.  While they are cooking make the batter by tipping the flour in to a bowl with the salt, making a well in the middle then cracking in the eggs.  Use an electric whisk (if possible) to whisk it together, gradually adding the milk.  Leave to stand while the sausages finish cooking.

Heat the oven to 220 degrees/gas mark 7.  Arrange the cooked sausages in a casserole/baking dish, then pour the batter all around them.  Sprinkle the dried herbs on top of the batter then bake in the oven for 25-35 minutes, until puffed up and lightly golden.  Eat with roast veg and gravy!