Clean and soba

One of the things that most exercises my brain is the constant struggle to think of things to take to work for lunch. It’s more than a little embarrassing sometimes to sit at a desk piled with cookbooks and food-related press releases eating banana on toast (though I do point out the toast is homemade to anyone who asks). Yesterday though, while digging about in the pantry for some teabags, I had a lunch epiphany that merits sharing.

Miso Soba Salad
This is fast, easy, cheap, good for you and very portable. Think of the noodles as a base to which you can add lightly cooked broccoli or green beans, or grilled chicken, or strips of omelette – or all of those things. I’ve just discovered karengo fronds and am addicted to their salty, seaweedy goodness. If you can’t find them, try snipping up a sheet of nori (the green stuff that sushi gets rolled up in) instead.

180g (two skeins) soba noodles
3 spring onions, finely chopped
2Tbsp sesame seeds
2Tbsp karengo fronds or a strip of nori, cut into little shreds

Dressing:
1Tbsp miso
2Tbsp hot water
juice of half a lemon (about 2 1/2 Tbsp)
1Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2cm piece fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped

Cook the noodles in boiling water for four minutes. Drain immediately and rinse in cold water. Tip them into a bowl and toss through a teaspoon of oil to stop them sticking together. Toss through the spring onions.
Toast the sesame seeds and nori or karengo for a few minutes in a dry pan. Be careful, as the seeds will burn the minute you turn your back. Set aside.
For the dressing, put the miso and hot water in a small jar with a lid. Shake well until the miso dissolves. Add the remaining dressing ingredients and shake again until mixed. Pour this over the noodles and stir well. Sprinkle the toasted seeds and seaweed over the top. Serves two.

What do you take to work for lunch?

Impromptu salad

Do you ever look in your fridge and think, “damn, where has that bag of salad leaves/head of broccoli/bottle of wine gone?” I do, frequently. Which is why, the other night, I bravely went out into the garden in search of Something Green To Have With Dinner. Our miniature vegetable patch has suffered much neglect over the winter months and even the spinach, which now looks like something from The Day of the Triffids, is beyond use.
But amazingly, the parsley has taken off in great leaps and bounds while I wasn’t watching, and I now have a huge patch of it to pick from. There’s also mint growing in the middle of the lawn, but that’s another story.

Impromptu Salad
No matter how lean things get in the rest of the cupboards, we always, or nearly always, have olives and red onions. A splash of vinegar, some capers, handfuls of parsley and voila, an impromptu salad to have with deep-fried whitebait and chips. Stir some drained, rinsed chickpeas through this salad mix and you also have something to take to work for lunch the next day. Oh, hang on, where are the chickpeas…?

1 red onion, finely sliced into half moons
3Tbsp red wine vinegar
2Tbsp salted capers, rinsed
a handful or two of black olives, pitted
lots of fresh flat-leaf parsley – three or four big handfuls, perhaps?
extra virgin olive oil

Put the onion in a heatproof bowl and pour over some boiling water. Drain immediately. Transfer the onion to a salad bowl and pour over the vinegar. Stir and leave to macerate for at least 20 minutes. Add the other ingredients and toss gently. Add a splash of good extra virgin olive oil and taste for seasoning – it should be refreshingly sharp, but not so much that your throat burns. Serves four as a little salad or add a can of chickpeas and it’s lunch for two.

Spice Roasted Cauliflower Salad

When I was a child, my mother had a stock response that came out when I asked what was for dinner. “Something out of my head”, she would say mysteriously. From memory, this meant either “some sort of casserole” or “I haven’t decided yet”. Worryingly, the Small Girl has now started asking “what are we having tonight?” when she gets up in the morning. I have no idea what we’re having tonight, but this is “something out of my head” from last week (and very good it was too).

Spice Roasted Cauliflower Salad Photo Credit: Lucy Corry/The Kitchenmaid

Spice Roasted Cauliflower Salad
There have been beautiful cauliflowers for sale for practically nothing at the vege market, but I often buy one and then can’t think what to do with it. After reading Molly Wizenberg’s ‘A Homemade Life’ recently, in which she describes caramelised roast cauliflower (among other things), I started looking at the cauliflower in my fridge in a different light. I’ve used Molly’s cauliflower cutting method below, but the rest is all my own work. If you don’t have the spices below you could substitute a good curry powder.

Spice mix:
1tsp cumin seeds (or ground cumin)
1tsp coriander seeds
a good pinch or two of cayenne pepper (less if you are frightened of hot stuff)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2tsp ground ginger
1/2tsp garam masala
1/2tsp salt

1 cauliflower
1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3-4Tbsp olive oil

3 handfuls of spinach, washed, dried and shredded

1/2 cup plain, natural yoghurt mixed with juice of a lemon, 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard and a tablespoon of good extra virgin olive oil, plus salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 220. Put all the spices in a small bowl and stir well.
Wash and dry the cauliflower, then sit it on a chopping board, stem end down. Cut into 1cm-ish slices – some will break into little bits, others will stay whole. This is ok. Cut out and discard any big bits of stem. Transfer the cauliflower into a large bowl, tip in the chickpeas (if using), the spices and the olive oil. Mix well, using your hands, until everything is well coated. Tip into a large roasting dish and put in the oven for 20-30 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender and crispy. Set it aside to cool slightly.
Put the prepared spinach in a serving bowl, tip the cauliflower and chickpeas on top, then drizzle the yoghurt dressing on top. Makes a good take-to-work lunch and is especially good alongside some simply cooked fish. Serves four generously.

What are you having for dinner tonight?

Sweet sweet Friday: Lemon Biscotti

Some days, you don’t feel like an all-singing, all-dancing, all-chocolate-with-caramel-and-piped-rosettes extravaganza. Some days, all you want is a something to nibble while you sit down with a nice cup of tea to read the paper and do the crossword. These biscuits are just the ticket.

Little Kitchen Around The World Lemon Biscotti

Little Kitchen Lemon Biscotti
This slightly tweaked recipe is from a sweet book a friend sent me recently, Little Kitchen Around The World. It would be a great Christmas present for a keen small cook – or their parents. They’re not biscotti in the sense of something you crunch into fearing an expensive visit to the dentist, but an an intriguing mixture of soft and chewy. The two other things you should know about them is that the raw mixture is addictively good and the cooked biscuits are very good with sharp cheddar cheese.

130g butter, melted
2 1/2 cups flour
2 1/2tsp baking powder
1/4tsp baking soda
1 cup caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
150g sour cream
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
finely grated zest of two lemons

3/4 cup icing sugar

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and sugar into a large bowl. Add the melted butter, vanilla, sour cream, eggs and lemon zest and mix well to a firm dough. Cover the bowl with plastic and put in the fridge for at least 20 minutes (you could probably leave it for two hours without any harm coming to it).
When you’re ready, preheat the oven to 200C and line three baking trays with baking paper. Sift the icing sugar into a shallow bowl. Roll tablespoons of the mixture into balls, then roll them in the icing sugar so they are well-coated. Place them on the prepared trays, allowing room for spreading.
Bake for 10 minutes, until light gold in colour. Cool for a few minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely. Makes 36.

Have a sweet, sweet Friday and a great weekend, everyone.

Asparagus Tart

One of the joyous things about working in magazines or newspaper features is something called Forward Planning. You see, we don’t just have clever ideas on the spot and turn them out the next day (that’s what online journalism is for), we have to think about them in advance. In the UK, this meant people started ringing me up about Christmas story ideas in July. I quite liked going to champagne and mince pie tastings in the middle of summer in London because it felt like home, but it also means you are seriously over Christmas by the time you’ve written or commissioned 20,000 variations on how to stuff a sodding turkey and not get fat.
Things seem a little more relaxed in the southern hemisphere, but I have felt a bit like my old self in recent weeks thanks to an obsession with when the asparagus season is starting so I could organise my asparagus issue. Acting on a Twitter tip-off, I finally found some in two different locations last week so I could rush out and grab some to photograph. See, there is an element of public service journalism in what I do…

Asparagus Tart
My favourite thing to do with asparagus is to cook it really quickly in boiling water and dip the stems into melted butter, salt and pepper, but I needed to photograph this tart for work. It’s really good – and very, very easy.

1 sheet frozen puff pastry
1 egg
125g sour cream
about 40g Parmesan, grated (a couple of handfuls)
about 16 spears of asparagus, washed and the tough ends snapped off
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C. Lie the pastry on a baking sheet and score a line about half an inch from the outside (like you’re drawing a frame inside the pastry edge). Mix the egg, sour cream, cheese and salt and pepper together in a small bowl, then spread this on the pastry, inside the ‘frame’. Lie the asparagus on top. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, until the pastry is risen and golden. Makes a nice light lunch for four with salad and bread.

There seemed to be a lot of interest last week in the Small Girl’s cooking abilities. Here’s a shot of her in her favourite role, chief taster.

“Look Teddy, it’s not too hot, it’s just right”

What’s your favourite thing to do with asparagus?