Monday, 30 November 2009

Lunchables Day 1 - Doodl'nana

Who says romance is dead!? Me? Well, woops. I've just had a very cute BBM (Blackberry Messenger, don't you know) message from a friend of mine who's opened his lunchbox to find his girlfriend has doodled all over his lunch banana. Sounds dodgy, photo's prove it's kosher.


(Unzip me, baby)

Lunchables Day 1 - Falafel & Houmous Pitta

Monday's Lunch: Falafel, Houmous and baby spinach filled brown pitta bread with a few herby Queen olives and whole cherry tomatoes on the side
Location: UK Office
Cost: £1.64 when totted up... bargain!

I like things that are healthy and tasty. It just so happens that this is pretty good for both. Falafel can be easily bought from most supermarkets now. They're good value, healthy and a good source of fibre. A good option if you're vegetarian! Serve in a warmed pitta bread (so that it opens up) with baby spinach smothered in houmous for moisture. The olives were a real treat; going cheap on the deli counter at Sainsbury's so I couldn't resist. A little salty but tasty nether the less.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Fun on the 9 - 5

These days it's all about the 9 'til 5. I was very lucky to buck the trend set my many of peers by starting my graduate career only a week after my graduation ceremony. When I'm in the UK office - which seems to be about 50% of my time on average at the moment - I am based in the deepest Cotswolds working from a converted stables on a farm in a teensy hamlet. This is very different to the working environments I've experienced in the past. It's rural! There isn't a sandwich shop just the road where I can grab a roll when I forget my roll or a corner shop to pop to when I get a handy bar of chocolate. It's all very strange!

The world of business is getting busier, more competitive. There's more cost-cutting involved due to the infamous credit crunch so with jobs under threat and time at a premium, employees are working crazier and crazier hours. We continue to burn the candle at both ends; we don't want to compromise on our evening activities but we're having to get up earlier to satisfy our employers expectations. We skip breakfast in haste, grab a skinny latte during rush hour and sweat it out until lunchtime. We deserve a break! Don't work through it! Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day but lunch is a little salvation from the working day.

Now, with my working location, I can't get away with running out the door five minutes late only to grab a quick sandwich somewhere in town when the time comes. I have to be prepared. And it's annoying. But it got me thinking... how do we keep the 9 - 5 grind interesting? Food can improve a miserable day. What do you eat? And where? I'm wondering how many people eat at their desks or just skip a lunchbreak altogether.

So next week, you can expect a picture a day of my office lunches to inspire (I hope!).

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Waffles!

The Boy delves into a cupboard, roots around and produces a well-loved waffle iron. "We could makes waffles?" he says, rapidly suggesting that we do so the very next morn. This doesn't happen. Sunday mornings, when we are together, tend to be more about cuddles and cups of tea though the Boy is a breakfast King.

So this morning, it's just me and waffle iron. My beloved is at work - yes on a Sunday, not fair! - so I have time to experiment. Things like sandwich toasters and waffle irons seem to be the kinds of things that are bought as a cool idea but end up languishing in the depths of a dusty cupboard. If you have one, give this a try! My recipe is a variation of one found in an ancient Good Housekeeping Cookery Book (1976).

Waffles



Makes: a crispy on the outside, soft on the inside breakfast treat. Nice as a desert too.

Ingredients: (Makes about 4 waffles)
125g self raising flour
15ml/1 tbsp caster sugar
1 egg, separated
30ml/2 tbsp butter, melted
150ml milk
Equipment:
Waffle Iron (Needless to say, these get very hot. Be careful - use oven gloves or a tea towel to protect your hands if in doubt. Cleaning can be tricky. Wipe with a damp cloth while still warm to dislodge any cooked on batter. Then wipe with kitchen towel.)

Method:
- Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl.
- Add the egg yolk, melted butter and milk then beat into a smooth batter.
- Whisk the egg white until it becomes slightly stiff and fold into the batter.
- Heat the waffle iron. Open and brush with butter.
- Spoon about a serving spoon of batter into the iron (the iron I was using needed slightly more than this but see how you go). The batter should coat the bottom but shouldn't completely fill the iron
- Close the iron and. cook for 2 - 3 minutes. You can open it about half way through to see how the waffle is doing - you want it to be golden brown but not too dark.
- When it is done, remove carefully using a plastic spatula. Serve with a little butter and some maple syrup or honey.
Variations:
Serve with fresh fruit of any kind; great, of course, with blueberries or strawberries. Ice or whipped cream or chocolate sauce can work well too. You can also add a tea spoon of cinnamon or mixed spice to the dry ingredients to give the batter a bit of a kick.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Roasted Skate with cherry tomatoes

I return home on Friday the 13th to find the boy has conjured up a beautiful meal for the two of us. A feast of steamed artichoke with garlic butter to start followed by skate and scallops for main. Yum! Underestimating the size of skate wings, we had some left over so I decided to try my hand this time. I haven't tried to cook skate before and I must confess - I don't think I've eaten it before. It's a strange, slippery piece of fish with a fine lacy edge. Be sure to cook yours when it fresh from the fishmonger otherwise it adopts a nasty taste. It also has some slightly strange cartiledge in the middle of the wing to look out for. Not a major hazard but could get stuck between your teeth!

Roasted Skate with Cherry Tomatoes and Parsnip Mash


Makes: a delicious and fresh fish-based main in less than half an hour

Ingredients: (for two)
2 Skate wings (has cartiledge in the middle - watch out!)
Generous handful of cherry tomatoes (or normal ones if you have none)
One red pepper
3 Parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
Small piece of Parmesan cheese
Milk
Butter
Basil

For the dressing:
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp (red wine) vinegar
2 tsp Dill & Mustard Sauce (or dijon mustard
5 capers, chopped
seasoning

Method:
- Heat oven to 180C, boil half a kettle of water.
- Deseed and chop pepper. (If using normal tomatoes, quarter.) Mix in a bowl with tomatoes and drizzle with oil.
- Place on a baking tray, spread out nicely and roast for 10 minutes, stiring gently and occasionally.
- Heat a frying pan on a high heat with some oil. When smoking, add each skate wing and brown for a minute on both sides. It may stick slightly, don't worry if this happens.
- Move the vegetables to one side on the baking tray and place the skate wings on the tray. Roast for a further 10 - 12 minutes.
- While this is cooking, boil parsnips in just enough water to cover on a medium heat for around 10 minutes or until soft.
- While you wait, mix together all of the dressing ingredients and set to one side.
- Remove the baking tray from the oven and put to one side, covered. Bung plates in the still warm oven now, if you wish.
- Drain and mash the parsnips. They will not become as smooth as potato but keep mashing until you've minimised lumps. Add a knob of butter and stir in with a spoon. Add a dash of milk to bring together and grate a little Parmesan into the mash. Season and stir well.
- Plate the skate with a dollop of mash next to it. Drizzle the roasted veg with dressing and ripped basil. Stir well and pile on top of the fish.

Variations:
This could be done with any firm while fish. Haddock would also work well. If you don't have Parmesan, a little mature cheddar cheese might be nice or simply add a grating of nutmeg. Can be a starter by simply using one skate wing cut in two and two parsnips for the mash.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Macaroni Cheese!

Another tiring day of work over and I head home to cook dinner. The dilemma hits me that I the cupboard is relatively bare... what to do? Well, here we go!



Macaroni Cheese with Bacon and Mushrooms



Makes: a quick and easy supper

Ingredients: (enough for two people)
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp plain flour
1 cup milk
50g grated cheddar cheese, plus more to top
150g macaroni, dried
50g smoked bacon, trimmed and sliced
50g mushrooms, sliced


Method:
- Preheat oven to 190c.
- Boil macaroni for 10 minutes until just tender.
- Meanwhile, fry bacon and mushrooms over a medium heat in a saucepan until bacon is browned and mushrooms soften.
- Remove from pan and set aside.
- In the same pan, melt butter over a low heat then add flour.
- Stir vigourously until combined into a smooth paste.
- Add milk little by little and up the heat to medium low, still stiring.
- Keep adding milk gradually until all is added and the sauce begins to thicken.
- Add grated cheese, bacon and mushrooms and stir until combined.
- Mix macaroni and sauce together and put into an oven proof dish.
- Top with grated cheese and bake for 10 - 15 minutes until golden brown
- Serve with a fresh mixed salad


Variations:
Instead of bacon and mushrooms, use leftover roasted vegetables stirred into sauce. A little pesto in the sauce and a topping of Parmesan is nice with this option.
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