Salads that aren’t shit

I’ve been making an effort this summer to make salads that aren’t shit – some would say, a worthy goal. My standard salad has always been:

…tear up some lettuce, add some chopped tomato, cucumber, peppers etc (you get the gist), top with lemon juice, olive oil and salt…

Very boring; very shit.  But some of my cookbooks have AMAZING salad recipes in them.  Yes, they are more time-consuming but they are well worth the effort (and generally provide left-overs – always a bonus).

I bought Gill Meller’s new cookbook “Gather” towards the end of last year; a gorgeous book.  I took it to the pub for it’s first reading which may have been a mistake…I had a number of involuntary vocal reactions to the recipes that perhaps weren’t suitable for a public place.  So obviously, I couldn’t resist working my way through a few of Gill’s salad recipes.  The first two I made were Tarakihi with Pickled Cucumber, Barley & Herbs; and Fried Pears with Roasted Red Onions & Crisped Puy Lentils.  So many favourite things in these salads – love pickled things; love barley; love fried pears; love puy lentils.

The herbs and pickles go beautifully with the fish and lighten up the barley; in contrast, the pear and roasted red onion provide a subtle sweetness.  A great combination and both were absolutely delicious.


The next couple of salads from this book were Barley , Squash & Mushrooms with Herb & Crème Fraiche Dressing and Raw Courgette with Fennel, Pea, Mint, Dill and Lemon. The squash combined with the barley and a creamy dressing created a pretty robust and filling salad.  I think next time I would loosen the dressing up a bit more because the salad became quite thick and dense, particularly the following day.  A really delicious salad though.  The squash and mushrooms are cooked long and slow enhancing the pumpkin’s sweetness.  And once that’s done and the barley’s cooked, it’s just a matter of tossing it with the herbs and dressing and shoveling it into your mouth!

Given the heaviness of the Barley and Pumpkin salad, the Courgette and Fennel salad was a perfect accompaniment and pretty low effort to bring together.  A bit of slicing, chopping and dressing is all that’s required.  The mint, dill and fennel are so deliciously refreshing against the heartiness of the other dish.


I’ve also created some of Peter Gordon’s salad’s from his most recent book “Savour”.  This is proof that my salad skills are improving because, when I first bought this book I was a bit intimidated by the salad recipes.  So, buoyed by my recent successes, I launched into Peter Gordon’s recipe for Freekeh, Poached Tofu & Shiitake, Roast Beetroot, Wasabi, Crispy Capers & Curry Leaf Salad (officially meant to be quinoa but I wanted freekeh…I love freekeh).  This was a challenging salad because there were a lot of things to do…roast some beetroot, thinly slice other beetroot, deep fry sliced beetroot (whoops…burnt some ie.most), cook the freekeh, make a poaching liquid and poach the tofu, fry the capers, fry the curry leaves…phew!  I was definitely starting to get a bit frazzled at the end of all of that!  Particularly given that I’d decided to make the Minted Baby Potatoes, Peas & Crème Fraiche as well.  Luckily this was a quick and easy one to make.  And the good news is that it was worth the effort.


My final salad for this post is a simple Green Salad from “Savour”.  As mentioned earlier, my usual “green salads” are “pretty shit” so I decided to up my game on the simple salad front.  The salad below is a version of Peter Gordon’s green salad recipe using the greens that I had in the fridge and the garden.  My favourite improvements from my usual salads are that:

  • there’s no lettuce in it (a revelation!);
  • the veggies are really thinly sliced; and
  • it contains fresh mint

I was interested to note that Peter Gordon’s dressing is the same as mine – olive oil, lemon juice and salt – but it’s the mint that makes all the difference.  Result…my green salads have been revolutionised!

img_1320v2So if you’re also a boring salad maker, maybe it’s time for you to up your game.  It’s definitely worth the effort to make a salad that isn’t shit.




Eating Through the Days

My standard breakfast fare consists of untoasted, unfruited muesli and to be honest I’m quite happy to eat that every day.  Even when I go out for breakfast I’m quite often tempted to get the muesli (except usually the muesli is a bit too elaborate for my taste).  However, lately I’ve been trying some alternatives to muesli in an attempt to vary my diet and nutrition and I’ve been enjoying them very much.  Below are some images of the breakfasts I have partaken recently…

Steel cut oats topped with banana, activated sunflower seeds, cinnamon and a drizzle of maple syrup (inspiration from the Deliciously Ella Everyday cookbook)
Chia Breakfast Pudding topped with…yes…untoasted, unfruited muesli!  Very tasty, from the Deliciously Ella cookbook
Apple Pie Smoothie Bowl topped with…toasted and fruited muesli (I’m really branching out now!).  From the Simplicious cookbook by Sarah Wilson.  It wasn’t quite thick enough initially so I added some rolled oats and chia seeds.
Go-to-Green-Smoothie from the Hemsley & Hemsley cookbook.  Very zingy and full of goodness (almonds activating in the background!).

I’ve been cooking a few more healthy snacks as well for my morning tea…

Cinnamon and Raisin Cookies from the Hemsley & Hemsley cookbook.  These are gluten free with very little sweetener (other than the raisins).  They taste really good but have a very crumbly texture from the almond meal.
Broc Bites from Sarah Wilson’s Simplicious cookbook.  These are little savoury bakes filled with broccoli and tons of cheese.  I added a sprinkling of cayenne pepper and parmesan cheese on top which give them a lovely heat and crispy outside with a gooey cheesiness to the dough.

I’ve been making more interesting salads for my work lunches too and trying to get the ingredients organised in the weekend so they don’t take so long to put together.  This consists of cooking grains in advance, boiling eggs, rinsing and drying lettuce etc…

This was my own concoction inspired by the various healthy cookbooks I’ve been reading lately.  This salad consists of quinoa, butter crunch lettuce, avocado, green sicilian olives, red cabbage and green peas.  After this photo was taken I also added sauerkraut, home made japanese-style pickled beetroot (from the Momofuku cookbook) and some powerhouse dressing (from the Simplicious cookbook).
This salad was really good.  It’s also out of Simplicious and is called Puttanesca Festival Abundance Bowl.  Julienne carrots, radish leaves (instead of rocket), leftover chargrilled courgette, tomato, olives, tuna and powerhouse dressing.  It was supposed to have pesto in it but I already had powerhouse dressing made up in the fridge.  I heated it up a little bit which was very pleasant.
These are Power Up Salad Bowls from Anabelle Langbein’s Endless Summer book.  Beans, roasted kumara, kale, cranberries, grapes, seeds and nuts and a chia seed dressing.

Following on from all these lovely salads I need a good hearty dinner.  Recently I’ve been trying to use up all the white rice and pasta that we have in the cupboard…as part of my healthier eating I want to change over to wholemeal pasta but in the meantime I have to make do with white…

Pasta with Lamb Ragu from the Nigellissima cookbook.  We had leftover roast lamb in the freezer so I used that instead of lamb mince.  It’s flavoured with Worcester sauce, chilli, oregano and dried mint which gave it a wonderful tang/heat/freshness.
I’ve had a box of half-used pasta sheets in the cupboard for more than a year now so I decided to be really clever and made the same ragu sauce but this time layered it into a tin with the lasagna sheets and grated cheese…so delicious and some might say improvisational!
While I was in an improvising mood I decided to get a bit intuitive as well (see goals)! I produced this meal by combining onion, tinned tomatoes, grated courgette, leftover roast kumara, chickpeas, cumin, and chilli flakes all served on a bed of barley.  I’m not sure how I achieved it but it had a lovely tang almost as though it had lemon juice in it…really tasty.

And to finish…a pudding…rice pudding to be exact to try and use up some of the rather large quantities of short grain rice I have in the cupboard.  This was a very quick and easy recipe to make (compared to some recipes).  It is a Nigel Slater recipe that we found online…grease the dish, bung everything in, stick it in a hot oven for an hour and Bob’s your uncle!

I don’t need to tell you how good this was…(soooo good!).

Roast Lamb and a Week of Leftovers!

A couple of weekends ago I cooked up a huge roast leg of lamb (4.5kg!) for Sunday’s dinner. I knew it was going to supply us with leftovers for most of the following week so I cooked it with flavours that would blend well into a multitude of other meals.  I poked plenty of holes into the leg and stuffed these with anchovies and garlic cloves; I then rubbed salt and pepper into the outside of the leg before putting it into a low oven to cook for a few hours.  Towards the end of cooking I cranked up the heat to get a nice crispy outside while retaining the pink, juicy meat in the middle.  The anchovies provided a gorgeous savoury umami flavour along with the caramelisation on the outside of the meat.  I made a pan gravy from Annabel Langbein’s book called “Cooking to Impress without Stress” which was a lovely accompaniment – it contains red current jelly, balsamic vinegar and Marsala wine. This book was sitting in a pile of cookbooks that I had decided to get rid of…it’s now back in the bookcase!


On Monday I made Lamb with Couscous, Lemon and Mint from “River Cottage Everyday”.  This was super quick to make and very tasty – the lemon and mint gave it a beautiful fresh flavour while the dried apricots provided a hit of sweetness with some crunch from the toasted almonds.  I probably should have served this with some greens but…I didn’t!


Tuesday I made Lamb Souvlaki with Pita from “The Great New Zealand Cookbook”.  For this I served up a platter of fresh veges including lettuce, capsicum, tomato, sprouts, red onion and coriander and made up a bowl of Tzatziki.  I chargrilled the wholemeal pita breads and gave the lamb chunks a quick fry with some olive oil and oregano.  Such a wonderful summer dinner.


Wednesday night I made Couscous, Lamb and Courgettes from “Hugh’s Three Good Things”.  This was another nice quick dinner that was packed with flavour and a great way to use some of the glut of courgettes from our garden!


And finally on Thursday I made Punchy Crunchy Lamb Noodle Salad from “Save with Jamie”.  This was another lovely fresh meal made up of salad veg, carrot ribbons, rice noodles, crisped up leftover lamb and a spicy dressing of ginger, chilli, vinegar and soy sauce…and of course the requisite fresh mint!


So a fantastic weeks meals from a single roast.  They were quick, easy, fresh and tasty – what more could you want?!  And it was a great exercise in using up leftovers.

Food Adventures of January!

In January I learnt how to efficiently joint a chicken and improved my pizza making skills.  I did some spiralizing, I started a kombucha and did some dehydrating.  I had some salads, made use of garden produce and made my first coconut chia pudding.  It was a great and enjoyable start to the New Year!  See my January blog posts for more details of the images below 🙂

Delicious December Dinners

Over the last month we’ve had a range of delicious dinners to keep us going through the hectic Christmas period.  I bought a new cookbook called SPQR which is the cookbook from a restaurant and bar in Auckland.  The very first night I had it I cooked their Chicken Fettuccine recipe.  This was a fairly quick, basic recipe making it perfect for a weeknight but also a bit decadent with plenty of cream and white wine in the sauce.  It’s also a great way to use some of the spinach and sorrel in the garden.


During this month I also bought myself a vegetable spiralizer which was very exciting!  To test it out I made Rachel Khoo’s Courgette Linguine with Tomato, Olive and Caper Sauce.  This was really fun to make (thanks to the spiralizer!) and a very satisfying alternative to pasta which can sometimes feel a bit stodgy.  I’m looking forward to getting more courgettes from the garden so I can spiralize to my hearts content!IMG_0111

Another quick weekday meal that we had during December was Market Chicken Fried Noodles from the “Dumpling Sisters” cookbook.  All the recipes that I’ve made from this book so far have been lovely and flavoursome and quick to make.  An interesting tip is that they use a small amount of baking soda in their marinades which they say helps to soften the proteins in the meat and make it more tender – good tip!


For the last few weeks we’ve had a big chunk of prosciutto in the fridge that needed to be used by the 28th December.  As such, on the 27th December I thought I better use it!  A lot of recipes I looked at only used a smallish amount of prosciutto but eventually I found a recipe called Orecchiette with Roast Tomatoes and Pecorino Cream Sauce in my book “What Katie Ate”.  This was a recipe of large quantities…lots of prosciutto, lots of cream and lots of cheese.  I cut the cream down by a third and halved the cheese which didn’t do any harm as far as I could tell.  The tomatoes are roasted with fresh herbs, plenty of salt and pepper and olive oil and are served on top of the pasta.  It was delicious and comforting; we all agreed that it tasted like an upmarket version of macaroni cheese!


To go with the pasta I made a Mixed Leaf Salad with Mozzarella, Mint, Peach and Prosciutto from “The Return of the Naked Chef” by Jamie Oliver.  This was a lovely refreshing salad that consisted of fresh peaches, fresh mozzarella, rocket and mint dressed in olive oil and lemon juice…this was a lovely contrast to the richness of the pasta dish.IMG_0152

Last night we were feeling lazy so we had a quick meal of leftover pasta, leftover egg salad and some sliced steak served with a Broad Bean and Mint Salsa Verde.  The salsa verde recipe came from a book called “A Cooks Tour of Scotland” by Sue Lawrence and was pretty quick to whip together.  I doubled the amount of horseradish in the recipe because it didn’t come through enough for me and it went very nicely with the steak.


All in all, a satisfying month of meals and it’s not over yet!

A Cocktail of Fish

We had fish a couple of times last week.  The first time we had it I used a recipe called Gin-Poached Lemon Fish and Sour Potatoes out of the book “Cook with Me” by Aaron Brunet.  I love gin and with it being summer now I couldn’t resist cooking my fish in it!  The potatoes are cooked with sauerkraut which I didn’t have, so rather than spend 2 weeks making some I made Cheats Sauerkraut from Karena & Kasey’s book “For the Love of…”. This only took me half an hour which was much more convenient!  It’s then served with blanched and salted red onion and thinly sliced cucumber with mint.  It was nice – the fish had a lovely soft texture and the sauerkraut added a nice kick.  I thought there might be a stronger flavour from the gin but I didn’t notice it particularly.


The next time we had fish I did my usual favourite which is to dust it in seasoned flour and cook it quickly over a high heat so that it has a crunchy outside with a juicy middle.  I served this with a green salad and Peppered Stir-Fried Snake Beans from “The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook”.  I couldn’t resist buying the snake beans when I was at a Chinese supermarket recently and this was a delicious way to serve them.  They’re cooked with asparagus, drained green peppercorns and Asian flavours such as fish sauce and chili.  I also added some lemony sorrel which went well with the other flavours.  I dressed the salad with a Peanut and Lime Chilli Dressing from Peter Gordon’s “Everyday” cookbook which added a nice crunch.  It was all extremely delicious!


Surely anything is good with an egg on top!

Last weekend my husband came home with a pomegranate that he’d bought on special.  We were both quite excited about what we might cook with it.  A few days later I made a Spoon Salad out of “Anatolia” which is topped with pomegranate seeds and to go with it, Pide with Four Cheeses…as soon as I saw the picture with an egg on it I was sold!!  The salad is a mix of finely diced tomatoes, capsicums, walnuts, red onion and finely chopped herbs.  The pide is made with a yeast dough filled with a cheesey mix, slices of capsicum and tomato with an egg broken into the centre.  They are then baked in the oven on a pizza stone and scoffed to your hearts content…they are delicious with the salad spooned on the top for a bit of zing and freshness.  However there was one sad moment when I opened the pomegranate to discover that it was…brown inside!  NOOOOO!!!! None of the lovely red jewels that we were hoping for 😦 I made this meal especially for the pomegranate and ended up with no pomegranate to put on it!  Luckily the meal was delicious even without it 🙂

Lovely cheesey, eggy bread boat
The spoon salad looking delectable even without it’s lovely crowning jewels.

The next night I wanted to cook something quick for dinner and I needed it to include some tinned anchovies that were open in the fridge.  I chose this Claudia Roden pasta recipe from “The Food of Italy” called Ditali coi Broccoli or Pasta with Broccoli if you want to be boring about it.  It met my expectations for speed and was delicious as well.  The broccoli is briefly boiled and set aside while the pasta cooks.  The anchovies, green olives and other ingredients are cooked to a mush, mixed with the cooked pasta and broccoli, spooned into a bowl and topped with freshly toasted bread crumbs…scrummy.  It was good as left-overs the next day as well, always a good aspect to a recipe.

Crummy scrummyness!

This weekend was a long weekend and what better way to celebrate it than with a delicious, relaxing brunch?  I had a cookbook out of the library called “For the Love of…” by Karena & Kasey Bird (I have now bought my own copy!) and there was a delicious looking recipe for Mushroom Bruschetta with a poached egg on top…as soon as I saw the poached egg I was sold! The mushrooms are chopped up really finely and cooked with garlic, thyme and white wine before being mixed with cream and served on toast with the revered poached egg…O…M…G…delicious!!

Lovely looking grilled cheese!
I’m very proud of that poached egg!

For dinner last night I cooked Pancetta Wrapped Meatloaves with Tomato Sauce from “Italia” by Jo Seager.  These were quite quick to prepare and the sauce was very basic, just tomatoes, red wine and seasoning that absorbed the flavour from the pancetta to create a lovely rich sauce.  The meatloaves were more like large rissoles, they have a nice lightness to them rather than the solidity of a traditional meatloaf.

Ready for the oven…they’re looking promising…
Out of the oven…they are all that I hoped they would be!

I served these with some chargrilled asparagus, from the book “What Katie Ate”.  These were topped with a thick sauce of mint, lemon and chili and were a great accompaniment to the richness of the meatloaves.

A delicious way to eat asparagus, so fresh and zesty.

And as it turns out…my husband has bought another pomegranate…let’s hope we have better luck with this one!