Valentines Day might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I think there can never be too many days to celebrate the people you love. If that sounds too Hallmark for words, rest assured that I’ll cheerfully stab anyone who claims that ‘every day is Valentines Day for us’. It’s precisely because every day ISN’T full of hearts and flowers that we need to be grateful for the ones that are.

Anyway, if you’re stuck for ideas for ways to celebrate, here are some particularly good tomato recipes to make for your beloved(s). If that seems like a weird thing to do, rest assured that the French once thought tomatoes had aphrodisiac powers. Oh la la and all that, you know?

The thing about having a food blog is that people always think you are having something exciting for dinner. People often ask me what I’m planning to eat and until very recently I would admit that I had no idea because my beloved was in charge of dinner. Sure, I was mostly in charge of shopping and thinking ahead, but he did the leg work on the nights I was working. It was great.

Things have changed and now I’m home first and it’s not the cushy number I thought it was. Among other things it means – oh no! – that I’m now in charge of dinner all the time.

If you have a similar role at your place, here are five fast family dinner ideas to make your after-work life more balanced. Don’t forget to pour yourself a G&T when you get in, you deserve it.

Chicken Salad And Crunchy Noodles Photo Credit: Lucy Corry/The Kitchenmaid

1. Chicken and crunchy noodle salad
This was our favourite fast dinner this summer. The noodles – I pretend to myself that they aren’t deep-fried – turn a salad and some protein into something exciting and fun. You can do it with any kind of protein you like – I do it most often with chicken thighs or pork schnitzel, but fish or even pan-fried tofu are good too.
To make this when you get home from work, marinate about 600g sliced chicken thighs in a splash of soy sauce, a spoonful of marmalade or apricot jam, a clove or two of smashed garlic and a teaspoon of sesame oil (if you are really organised you can do this before you go to work). Turn the oven on to 180C and line a small baking tray with foil, then baking paper. The foil keeps the tray clean (less washing-up) and the baking paper stops the chicken sticking to the foil. I favour using the oven, rather than the stove-top, because it offers more hands-free time. However, if your oven is slow to heat up, or you get home very late, then by all means shelve my oven-cooking instructions below for your own stovetop methods.
So – stick the chicken in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until cooked. Meanwhile, assemble a collection of salad fixings (leaves, shredded seasonal vegetables, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, whatever) on a large platter. Toss through a little vinaigrette. When the chicken is cooked, scatter it on top, then sprinkle over the crunchy noodles. Serves four.

2. Rhi’s sausages: This is an idea that the lovely Rhi left in a comment once. Throw some roughly chopped good sausages, potatoes, cherry tomatoes, garlic, rosemary and onions into a roasting dish and drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 200C for 30 minutes, then toss in some chunks of oil-drizzled baguette and bake for another 10 minutes until the bread is golden and crusty. You can extend or shrink this to suit however many mouths you have to feed – though be warned, they will all eat more of it than you think.

3. Homemade fish and chips:  Turn the oven to 200C. Scrub some potatoes and cut into thin wedges. Put in a plastic bag with a couple of tablespoons of oil and smoosh about until the wedges are coated. Tip onto a lined baking tray, sprinkle over some salt and pepper. Bake for 35 minutes, shaking occasionally. Meanwhile, line a small baking tray with foil. Lay some fresh fish fillets on top, then drizzle over some olive oil, a bit of lemon juice and grind over some salt and pepper. Switch the oven to grill and put the fish in to cook for about five minutes (leave the potatoes in the bottom of the oven, they will be fine). Serve with steamed beans, cherry tomatoes and lots of lemon wedges.

4. Bacon and egg pie: This easy bacon and egg pie takes five minutes to make and – if you use really good bought pastry, like this one – it feels like a real treat. If you’re really lucky, there will be some leftover for lunchboxes the next day.

Fish And Flatbreads Or Wraps Photo Credit Lucy Corry

5. Fish ‘n flats: Not to be confused with style for harried mothers website Fox in Flats, fish ‘n flats is another insta-dinner. Grill or fry fish as above (I prefer oven grilling, as it saves on smell and washing a frying pan; my beloved says frying gives you more crunchy bits, which is also true). Serve with flatbreads (homemade or bought), hummus (ditto), crunchy salad stuff. In my experience small children will eat all sorts of things if they can wrap them up in a flatbread.


What do you eat on busy days?

Ice creams. Fish and chips. Sand castles. Sand in everything. February has turned out to be the month that January should have been. And boy, am I glad about it.

Fish And Chips From The Waimarama Store, Hawkes Bay

Very early readers of this blog might recall the summer holiday we took three (THREE!) years ago. We had such rose-tinted memories of that stay (despite the fact that it rained a lot) that we went back for a few days at the beginning of the month.

Waimarama Beach Hawkes Bay

We shopped at New Zealand’s best Farmer’s Market, ate New Zealand’s best fish and chips, went for swims and made a lot of sandcastles. It was a proper, old-fashioned summer holiday.

Even better, my sister came to stay and brought with her a shiny new ice cream machine and a batch of this ice cream. I’ve thought about it often ever since.

Emma Galloway's Dairy Free Chocolate Ice Cream

Back home, we harvested our own tomatoes, which have thrived despite inclement weather and neglect. I listened to this completely charming interview with Wellington’s best French patissier and made a mental note to visit his little shop more often.

Homegrown Tomatoes

The pantry is in – and filled – but I’ve decided to wait for the big reveal until the painters have finished, because the rest of the kitchen is such a tip I can’t bear to show it. I’m sure you can wait a little longer.
In the meantime I have more cupboards to clean, more dust to vacuum, and an urgent appointment with a glass of wine in my garden while the cicadas chorus around me.

What have you been up to this month?

I know I shouldn’t complain, but living in a building site is starting to get me down. The fact that I also have to work in one (my office building has been yellow-stickered and I’d rather not take my chances of surviving if it collapses), is adding insult to injury.

Working from home certainly has its advantages, but I struggled to find any today thanks to the bitterly cold wind turning the place into an icebox. Then I remembered that I could make myself something warming and restoring for lunch in between phone calls and emails and life seemed a little brighter. Here’s what I did.

Easy Tomato And Carrot Soup

Instant Carrot and Tomato Soup
This soup is inspired by – but unrecognisably different to – one in Soup Glorious Soup by Annie Bell. Hers involves carrots and scallops; I like to think of this one as a simpler, humbler relation. It’s an excellent rescue remedy for cold days when it feels like there’s nothing to eat (and it only takes 20 minutes to make, most of which is hands-free). This amount makes enough for two, but is easy to scale up as necessary. Don’t try to scale it down – just freeze the leftover amount for a rainy day. And for more vegetarian soup-y ideas, you might like to check out the links at No Croutons Required (though it’s ok to add croutons if you want.)

500g carrots, washed, peeled and roughly chopped
1 x 400g tin of whole peeled tomatoes
400ml (approx) good quality stock or water
salt and pepper
cream, creme fraiche or yoghurt, for swirling

Put the carrots and whole peeled tomatoes in a medium-sized saucepan and set it over medium heat. Using the tomato tin, measure in the stock or water. Cover and bring to the boil, then simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the carrots are soft enough to collapse at the prod of a fork, remove from the heat. Blitz to a puree with a stick blender or in a food processor (the latter is faster but involves more washing up afterwards), then season with salt and pepper to taste. Reheat until starting to simmer, then serve with a spoonful of cream, creme fraiche or Greek yoghurt swirled across the top.

Do you work from home? What do you make for lunch?

We have been living on reduced rations this week, not because it’s January and everyone else is a) on a diet or b) broke, but because our renovation work has started and we are a) somewhat nervous about spiralling costs and b) our pantry supplies are in a series of cardboard boxes on the kitchen floor because the old pantry is kaput and the new one isn’t built yet.

I knew this day was coming so I’ve been a bit slack on the shopping front lately. But despite having the world’s smallest freezer we almost always have a frozen chicken in it, so even when it looks like there’s nothing to eat we can treat ourselves to a roast chicken. But with no potatoes – and very few vegetables at all except what’s in the garden – I decided to pot-roast the chicken instead. Discovering that we were all out of my all-time favourite pantry staple, the humble tin of whole peeled tomatoes, meant a bit of creative thinking was required. This delicious pot-roast was the result.

Easy Chicken Pot-Roast With Chilli And Chickpeas

Pot-roast chicken and chickpeas
This may take an hour to cook, but it requires very little preparation and minimal hands-on time. You can add more liquid and shred the chicken before serving for a hearty, ‘bowl food’ presentation, or serve with rice and/or flatbreads to make it go further. You can always add more vegetables too. Either way, something green and crunchy is a good accompaniment.

2 Tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
1-2 small dried chillies (or a chipotle pepper)
1 free-range organic chicken, patted dry with kitchen towel
a good splash of white wine
250ml good chicken stock
1 x 400g tin of chickpeas or other white beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, roughly chopped
a handful of parsley, leaves only, roughly chopped
50g spinach or kale, washed and roughly chopped
salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy, lidded pot (like a Le Creuset), then add the garlic and onions. Saute gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chillies and cook for a minute, then raise the heat to medium and add the whole chicken. Brown the chicken on all sides (as best you can) then pour in the wine and a splash of water. Let it bubble and sizzle away for a minute, then add the remaining ingredients – tuck them down the sides of the chicken. Put the lid on the pot and let simmer gently for 35-45 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure the liquid hasn’t evaporated. There should be between 2-5cm of liquid in the bottom of the pot.
When the chicken is cooked, remove it to a warmed serving plate and cover with a tent of foil. Keep warm (the chicken, not you). Using a stick blender, whiz what’s left in the pot to a chunky, rustic sort of sauce. Taste for seasoning (and add a little hot water if it is very thick), then pour some of the sauce over and around the chicken, then bring the rest to the table in a jug. Serves four to six. Enjoy!