Tuscan panzanella

panzanella

Panzanella is a tasty and satisfying Italian summer salad, perfect for picnics and eating al fresco. We enjoyed it last weekend when the sun was shining and it felt like we were on holiday in our own garden. The weather has sadly turned greyer and damper, but I am hopeful the blue skies will return. Hope, hope!

I took this recipe from a cookery book called Yolanda’s Kitchen, written by Yolanda Pearson who was born in Normandy to a French mother and an Italian father. With that kind of a background, it’s not surprising Yolanda can cook. Yolanda is a good friend of my husband’s family. As a boy, Jason used to play with Yolanda’s son Simon whenever they visited their holiday cottage up in Shropshire and he has very good memories of eating well at their house.

According to Yolanda…

This traditional Tuscan snack gets its name from the ‘Zanella’, the ditches by the side of the fields where the farm labourers used to sit to eat their lunch, and ‘Pane’ (Italian for bread). Thus they mixed leftover and dried-up chunks of bread with whatever salad ingredients their vegetable patch had in season, hastily dressed with wine vinegar and olive oil and enjoyed in the open air as a one-course meal.

I find the salad is enough on its own for a good lunch. I’ve been taking it to work this week in my lunchbox, and it’s surprising how crispy the ciabatta stays even when it has soaked up some of that tasty dressing. I do have to apologise though when I open it up, as it rather reeks of garlic! It’s also good as part of a picnic or served as a side dish with a barbecue.

panzanella

Tuscan Panzanella

Serves 4

1 ciabatta loaf
200 cucumber
3 spring onions
2 celery sticks
1 garlic clove, crushed
250g small plum tomatoes
2 Little Gem lettuces, leaves torn
handful of basil leaves
150ml extra virgin olive oil
50ml red wine vinegar
1 tsp white sugar
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 160°C / gas mark 2-3.

Cut the ciabatta into bitesize cubes, place them on a baking tray and bake in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes, until it gains just a little colour. Leave to cool.

Peel, deseed and slice the cucumber. Finely slice the spring onion. Dice the celery. Mix together with the crushed garlic.

Cut the plum tomatoes in half. Yolanda says here to remove the seeds, but I must admit I didn’t bother with this bit.

In a large salad bowl, mix together the bread, tomatoes, lettuce leaves, chopped vegetables and torn leaves of basil.

In a small bowl, mix together the oil, vinegar, sugar and salt and pepper.

Pour the dressing over the salad and toss well before serving.

panzanella

As this is salad is perfect for picnics and outdoor dining, I’m entering into Four Seasons Food, a wonderful new challenge hosted by Chez Foti and Delicieux. The theme for the start of summer is Picnic Food & Outdoor Nibbles.

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And as it contains lots of fresh basil, I’m also entering it into Lavender & Lovage‘s ever-popular Herbs on Saturday challenge.

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Beetroot and carrot pancakes with herby mascarpone

What is it about pancakes that makes them just so popular? Whenever I announce to my brood that pancakes are on the menu, there are always shrieks of excitement. They don’t seem to care either what the pancakes are made from, so if you’re finding it tricky to get certain foodstuffs, such as beetroot, into your youngsters, pancakes could be the ideal way to sneak it past them.

These pancakes are made from beetroot and carrot, although I’m sure if you did a blind taste test no-one would be able to guess. They simply taste good in a savoury, wholesome kind of way. I was rather hopeful the final pancakes would be pink like the batter. My girls would have loved that. But unfortunately the colour changed as the pancakes fried. Perhaps if you use only beetroot you end up with a stronger colour? I need to experiment some more, I think.

I came up with these pancakes as my entry for this month’s Recipes for Life challenge. The three set ingredients for March, you see, are beetroot, carrot and cheese. So the beetroot and carrot are in the pancakes, while the cheese comes in the form of Italian mascarpone cheese combined with Greek yoghurt, lemon juice and lots of fresh herbs for a very delicious topping.

I’m running the Recipes for Life challenge in partnership with Somerset charity SWALLOW which works with adult with learning difficulties. Over a six month period we’re challenging food bloggers to come up with a whole host of tasty, healthy and easy-to-cook dishes and the best of these will appear in a new cookbook to raise money for the charity. So if you have your own ideas of what to cook with beetroot, carrot and cheese why don’t you get involved?

But for now, back to my pancakes…

Beetroot and carrot pancakes with herby mascarpone

Serves 4 to 6

250g self-raising flour
50g beetroot, scrubbed and grated
50g carrot, scrubbed and grated
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
salt and pepper
2 eggs
90g melted butter
420g milk
vegetable oil for frying
200g mascarpone cheese
200g Greek-style yoghurt
2 tbsp lemon juice
large handfuls of fresh parsley and mint (or whatever herbs you fancy), roughly chopped

For the pancake batter, put the flour, beetroot, carrot, bicarbonate of soda and a generous grind of both salt and pepper in a large bowl and mix together well.

Gently beat the eggs in a separate bowl and then add the melted butter and milk and mix. Add this to the beetroot and carrot mixture and stir until everything is well combined.

Heat a spot of oil in a heavy-based non-stick frying pan. When it’s hot, drop in spoonfuls of the batter and cook your pancakes for a minute on each side. Keep your pancakes warm in the oven until you’ve worked through all the batter.

To make the herby topping, simply put the mascarpone and yoghurt in a bowl with the lemon juice and throw in the chopped herbs. Mix it all together and season to taste.

Serve your pancakes with a good dollop of the herby mascarpone on top.

As this dish features lots of lovely fresh herbs, I’m also entering it into Lavender & Lovage’s Herbs on Saturday blog challenge, which this month is being hosted by London Busy Body. Lots of lovely recipes featuring herbs as a star ingredient have already been entered, so do take a look. I’m sure you’ll be inspired!

I’m also entering it into Turquoise Lemons’ fantastic No Waste Food Challenge where food bloggers are asked to share recipes using a particular ingredient in a bid to prevent food waste. This month the challenge is hosted by Elizabeth’s Kitchen. Do pop over and take a look. A great resource if you’ve got lots of eggs to use up!

And finally as beetroot and carrot are both in season, I’m entering the pancakes into this Fabulicious Food’s Simple and in Season challenge, which this month is being hosted by my fantastic Food Blogger Connect buddy Chez Foti.

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Herbs on Saturday – January Round Up

When I first guest-hosted the Herbs on Saturday blog challenge for Karen at Lavender & Lovage back in July, I found the experience such good fun, particularly discovering so many talented bloggers and a whole heap of tasty new recipes to try. But I was rather surprised at just how many entries were submitted; 30 in total. Putting off writing the round-up to the last-minute was a bit of a silly move. I vowed if I were ever to host Herbs on Saturday again, I’d compile the round-up as I went along to save myself from a last-minute panic.

Hosting Herbs on Saturday second time round has been a real blast and I’ve loved the steady flow of emails arriving in my inbox offering a diverse array of tasty and tempting dishes. But guess what? Yes, you’re right. I failed to learn my lesson and so last night I had another last-minute panic on my hands. This month Herbs on Saturday attracted a whopping  43 entries – you lot are incredible! And each and every one is a wonderfully delicious celebration of cooking with herbs.

Since we’ve got a lot to get through, and I have a slight tendency to waffle on a bit, I’ve decided to be extremely strict and limit myself to just three words to describe each entry. So let’s get this show on the road…

Nigel Slater’s Hangover Salad from London Busy Body

In three words: herby hangover heaven

Herbed Cheese and Bacon Souffles from Caroline Makes

In three words: romantic slimming starter

Cumin Spiced Chicken with a Puy Lentil and Chargrilled Courgette Salad from How to be a Gourmand

In three words: hearty healthy deliciousness

Mushroom, Onion and Thyme Focaccia
from Lancashire Food

In three words: tasty, tempting, satisfying

Swamp Juice from Tinned Tomatoes

In three words: nutritious, luxurious, delicious

In three words: nutritious, luxurious, delicious

Parsley and Almond Pesto from Chez Foti

In three words: quick, simple, scrummy

In three words: quick, simple, scrummy

Slow Roasted Pork Neck in Thyme, Rosemary & Bay with Mint Flatbreads from Bangers & Mash

In three words: sweet, tender, succulent

In three words: sweet, tender, succulent

Creamy Lemon Butter Beans from The Garden Deli

In three words: fresh zingy wholesomeness

In three words: fresh zingy wholesomeness

Roast Chicken with Bulgur Wheat Stuffing and Roast Butternut Squash from Food Eat Love

In three words: mellow, warming, homely

In three words: mellow, warming, homely

Bacon-Wrapped Salmon from Fab Food 4 All

In three words: speedy succulent supper

In three words: speedy succulent supper

A Really Useful Asian Broth with Awesome Add-Ins from Food to Glow

In three words: flavoursome Asian goodness

In three words: flavoursome Asian goodness

Rosemary and Thyme Chickpea Pancakes (Socca de Nice) from Food to Glow

In three words: easy gluten-free nuttiness

In three words: easy gluten-free nuttiness

Saltimbocca alla Romana from Rita Cooks Italian

In three words: divine Italian classic

Spicy Pork Stew with Sweet Potatoes and Beans from Farmersgirl Kitchen

In three words: sweet warming spiciness

In three words: sweet warming spiciness

Parsley Pesto from The Botanical Baker

In three words: easy, tasty, versatile

In three words: easy, tasty, versatile

Chicken, Sausage and Vegetable Hotpot
from Lavender & Lovage

In three words: seasonal healthy heartiness

In three words: seasonal healthy heartiness

Dukkah & Sun Dried Tomato Muffins
from Fuss Free Flavours

In three words: herby spicy deliciousness

In three words: herby spicy deliciousness

Fridge-Raid Smoked Salmon Spaghetti
from Crumbs and Corkscrews

In three words: tasty frugal simplicity

In three words: tasty frugal simplicity

Tiger Prawn Curry with Basmati Rice from
Lavender & Lovage

In three words: seriously - diet food?!

In three words: seriously – diet food?!

English Parsley, Walnut and Stilton Pesto
from Marmaduke Scarlet

In three words: fashionably green gorgeousness

In three words: fashionably green gorgeousness

Easy Shakshuka (Spiced North African Tomato and Eggs) from Food to  Glow

In three words: intense, aromatic, luxurious

In three words: intense, aromatic, luxurious

Carrot Ginger Lime Soup with Sweet Potato Hummus from The Taste Space

In three words: creamy, zingy, flavourful

In three words: creamy, zingy, flavourful

Butternut Risotto with Butternut Crisps from Chez Foti

In three words: warming comforting fabulousness

In three words: warming comforting fabulousness

Middle Eastern Chicken Salad with Hummus Dressing from Bangers & Mash

In three words: moist, succulent, nutty

In three words: moist, succulent, nutty

Chicken Breast Fillets with Sage from
My Little Italian Kitchen

In three words: classic Italian flavours

In three words: classic Italian flavours

5:2 Diet Minestrone Soup from Tinned Tomatoes

In three words: rich, tasty, slurpilicious!

In three words: rich, tasty, slurpilicious!

Rillettes de Canard from Blue Kitchen Bakes

In three words: tempting tender tastiness

In three words: tempting tender tastiness

Cauliflower & Pear Soup from Elizabeth’s Kitchen

In three words: clever flavour combinations

In three words: clever flavour combinations

Croustade de Canard (Duck Pie with Figs) from Delicieux

In three words: economical spicy warmth

In three words: economical spicy warmth

Roasted Mushrooms with Rosemary from Cherrapeno

In three words: easy, herby, garlicky

In three words: easy, herby, garlicky

Zero Effort Spicy Carrot Soup from Dinner with Crayons

In three words: quick whizz go!

In three words: quick whizz go!

Thyme, Black Garlic and Tomato Flatbreads from
Blue Kitchen Bakes

In three words: sweet mellow crunch

In three words: sweet mellow crunch

Bresaola Spirals from Leeks and Limoni

In three words: deliciously romantic temptations

In three words: deliciously romantic temptations

Shakshuka from Exploits of a Food Nut

In three words: herby flavour explosion

In three words: herby flavour explosion

Peashoot, Bacon & Ricotta Penne from Anne’s Kitchen

In three words: speedy frugal tastiness

In three words: speedy frugal tastiness

Nigella’s Chicken Tagine from Blue Kitchen Bakes

In three words: yummy Moroccan flavours

In three words: yummy Moroccan flavours

Kroppkakor – Swedish Style Dumplings from Delicieux

In three words: tasty meaty dumplings

In three words: tasty meaty dumplings

Belleau Minestrone from Belleau Kitchen

In three words: nourishing, hearty, satisfying

In three words: nourishing, hearty, satisfying

Sicilian Style Tuna with Salsa Verde from 8&Ruth

In three words: zingy, fresh, lemony

In three words: zingy, fresh, lemony

Smoked Mackerel Salad with Yoghurt, Horseradish & Dill Dressing from Recipe Junkie

In three words: fantastic flavoursome fish

In three words: fantastic flavoursome fish

Lemon Chicken with Cannellini Beans and Rosemary from Lavender & Lovage

In three words: cooking next week!

In three words: cooking next week!

Cheesy Chorizo Flatbreads from Blue Kitchen Bakes

In three words: easy cheesy breadilicious

In three words: easy cheesy breadilicious

Goats Cheese Souffles with Thyme from Maison Cupcake

In three words: step-by-step souffle guide

In three words: step-by-step souffle guide

Now how’s that for an impressive selection of recipes, providing a veritable wealth of culinary inspiration? I look forward to working my way through the list. I’m starting the 5:2 diet next week and will be trying out the Lemon Chicken with Cannellini Beans and Rosemary from Lavender and Lovage, and I’ve also got my eye on the Croustade de Canarde from Delicieux, as I have some duck breast in the freezer. Which dishes have caught your fancy?

“But who won the prize this month?” I hear you cry. Well, the lucky winner of Your Kitchen Garden: Month-by-Month, by the renowned gardening author Andi Clevely, is none other than Rachel from Marmaduke Scarlet for her fashionably green pesto made with English parsley, walnuts and Stilton. Karen’s mystery judge this month is a professional herb grower based in North Yorkshire, who we’ll call The Herb Lady.

The Herb Lady said: “It took me a long time to select the winner but I chose Marmaduke Scarlet’s pesto as it is so fresh and innovative and a good use of parsley, which is so often relegated to garnishes and sauces. Using walnuts instead of pine nuts makes this a thoroughly British pesto.”

Congratulations to Rachel and we hope you have lots of fun devising new ideas for your kitchen garden with inspiration from your new book!

Before I sign off, I’d just like to say a huge thank you to Karen at Lavender & Lovage for once again entrusting her Herbs on Saturday challenge to me. I’d love to host again some time – once I’ve fully recovered from compiling this round-up! And now I think I need a little lie down…

Middle Eastern chicken salad with hummus dressing

We get through a lot of hummus in our house, whether it’s the supermarket variety or the incredibly garlicky and insanely zingy homemade kind. The children love it. When they need a little snack in between meals, it tends to be a pot of hummus I reach for, plus a handful of chopped vegetables or breadsticks for dipping.

The other week I borrowed a recipe book from the local library called Make It Moroccan by Hassan M’Souli, and came across a tasty looking salad smothered in a hummus-based dressing. I’ve never thought of using hummus as an ingredient in anything before, so thought I’d give it a go. M’Souli’s original featured falafel and haloumi cheese but I’ve used marinaded chicken breast in my version instead, and it works a treat. The chicken breast is butterflied and cooked quickly in a griddle pan, so it is beautifully moist and succulent, while the hummus, chickpeas and toasted pinenuts give the salad a lovely, satisfying nuttiness.

Middle Eastern chicken salad with hummus dressing

Serves 4-6

4 chicken breasts, skinned, butterflied and flattened (cover with cling film and bash with a rolling pin)
a squeeze of garlic puree
handful of fresh thyme, picked
juice of 1 lemon
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp hummus
1 tsp cumin seed, dry fried and crushed
½ preserved lemon
1 head of lettuce, washed and roughly torn
large handful of green and black olives
large handful of sundried tomatoes
½ tin chick peas, rinsed and drained
handful of pine nuts, dry fried

Place the flattened chicken breasts in a dish and add the garlic puree, thyme, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Rub the marinade ingredients into the meat and then leave for around 20 minutes.

Whizz up the hummus, cumin and preserved lemon in a food processor with the remaining olive oil until well combined and runny. Add a little more oil if you like to get the right consistency.

Throw the lettuce leaves into a large salad bowl with the olives, sundried tomatoes and chickpeas.

Heat a griddle pan over a fairly high heat and fry the chicken pieces for two to three minutes on each side. Slice into strips and add to the salad.

Drizzle over the hummus dressing and toss it all together. Finally, sprinkle over the toasted pine nuts and serve.

And as this recipe features fresh thyme, I’m entering it into this month’s Herbs on Saturday blog challenge, devised by Lavender & Lovage and hosted by me, Bangers & Mash.

January Herbs on Saturday blog challenge – win a copy of ‘Your Kitchen Garden’

Well, here we are in 2013 already. How on earth did that happen? I know I say it every year but 2012 really did feel like it was over in a flash. I hope you enjoyed a delicious Christmas and had a wonderful time seeing in the new year. Ours was lovely. Christmas was a whirlwind of visits from family and friends, while we spent New Year’s Eve very quietly, enjoying steak and chips, good red wine and Jools Holland on the telly. Splendid.

I’m extremely pleased to be welcoming in the new year here on Bangers & Mash by hosting the Herbs on Saturday blog challenge for Karen at Lavender & Lovage.

I first hosted Herbs on Saturday back in July and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The challenge is a fabulous way to share delicious recipes that celebrate cooking with herbs, and I was fortunate enough to meet so many new and talented food bloggers as a result of hosting it last time. I can’t wait to see what comes in this month, particularly after seeing the recipes submitted last month.

To take part in the challenge, simply submit any recipe using fresh or dried herbs by emailing me with the URL for your post. And they don’t only need to be recipes made on a Saturday. At the end of each month, a ‘special blogger’ will choose their favourite recipe from all the entries, and the winning blogger will receive a fantastic cookbook as their prize. The full entry guidelines are below.

January’s prize is Your Kitchen Garden: Month-by-Month by renowned gardening author Andi Clevely.

Highly practical and easy-to-use, with clear illustrations and seasonal charts, Andi Clevely’s book is invaluable for creating a  well-managed kitchen garden providing a plentiful supply of vegetables, fruit, salad crops, herbs and flowers throughout the year. Each chapter focuses on one calendar month, setting out the tasks to be done and featuring crops that will be ripe for harvesting.

Herbs on Saturday for January – guidelines on how to enter

  1. Send your recipe URL to me at vanesther-at-reescommunications-dot-co-dot-uk, including your own email address and the title of your recipe or post. The closing date is Thursday 31 January.
  2. Display the Herbs on Saturday badge (as shown above and below) on the relevant recipe post, with a link back to this post  and also to the challenge page over at Lavender & Lovage.
  3. Email me as many recipe links as you like, there is no limit and the recipes and posts can be from any day, not just Saturday!
  4. If you tweet your post, please mention #herbsonsaturday, @BangerMashChat and @KarenBurnsBooth in your tweet – I will retweet all that I see.
  5. The recipe can be one of your own or one you’ve seen elsewhere. You are welcome to republish old recipes/posts but please add the information about this challenge as listed above with the Herbs on Saturday badge.
  6. As entries come in, links to these will be added to this page and at the end of the month there will be a round-up of all entries received.
  7. A guest blogger will choose their favourite recipe at the end of the month, and the winner will receive a copy of Your Kitchen Garden: Month-by-Month.

If you have any questions, please feel free to drop me a line. I’m really looking forward to receiving your entries for Herbs on Saturday!

January’s entries:

  1. Nigel Slater’s Hangover Salad from London Busy Body
  2. Herbed Cheese and Bacon Souffles from Caroline Makes
  3. Cumin Spiced Chicken with a Puy Lentil and Chargrilled Courgette Salad from How to be a Gourmand
  4. Mushroom, Onion and Thyme Focaccia from Lancashire Food
  5. Swamp Juice from Tinned Tomatoes
  6. Parsley Pesto from Chez Foti
  7. Slow Roasted Pork Neck in Thyme, Rosemary & Bay with Mint Flatbreads from Bangers & Mash
  8. Creamy Lemon Butter Beans from The Garden Deli
  9. Roast Chicken with Bulgur Wheat Stuffing and Roast Butternut Squash from Food Eat Love
  10. Bacon-Wrapped Salmon from Fab Food 4 All
  11. A Really Useful Asian Broth with Awesome Add-Ins from Food to Glow
  12. Rosemary and Thyme Chickpea Pancakes (Socca de Nice) from Food to Glow
  13. Saltimbocca alla Romana from Rita Cooks Italian
  14. Spicy Pork Stew with Sweet Potatoes and Beans from Farmersgirl Kitchen
  15. Parsley Pesto from The Botanical Baker
  16. Chicken, Sausage and Vegetable Hotpot from Lavender & Lovage
  17. Dukkah & Sun Dried Tomato Muffins from Fuss Free Flavours
  18. Fridge-Raid Smoked Salmon Spaghetti from Crumbs and Corkscrews
  19. Tiger Prawn Curry with Basmati Rice from Lavender & Lovage
  20. English Parsley, Walnut and Stilton Pesto from Marmaduke Scarlet
  21. Easy Shakshuka (Spiced North African Tomato and Eggs) from Food to  Glow
  22. Carrot Ginger Lime Soup with Sweet Potato Hummus from The Taste Space
  23. Butternut Risotto with Butternut Crisps from Chez Foti
  24. Middle Eastern Chicken Salad with Hummus Dressing from Bangers & Mash
  25. Chicken Breast Fillets with Sage from My Little Italian Kitchen
  26. 5:2 Diet Minestrone Soup from Tinned Tomatoes
  27. Rillettes de Canard from Blue Kitchen Bakes
  28. Cauliflower & Pear Soup from Elizabeth’s Kitchen
  29. Croustade de Canard (Duck Pie with Figs) from Delicieux
  30. Roasted Mushrooms with Rosemary from Cherrapeno
  31. Zero Effort Spicy Carrot Soup from Dinner with Crayons
  32. Thyme, Black Garlic and Tomato Flatbreads from Blue Kitchen Bakes
  33. Bresaola Spirals from Leeks and Limoni
  34. Shakshuka from Exploits of a Food Nut
  35. Peashoot, Bacon & Ricotta Penne from Anne’s Kitchen
  36. Nigella’s Chicken Tagine from Blue Kitchen Bakes
  37. Kroppkakor – Swedish Style Dumplings from Delicieux
  38. Belleau Minestrone from Belleau Kitchen
  39. Sicilian Style Tuna with Salsa Verde from 8&Ruth
  40. Smoked Mackerel Salad with Yoghurt, Horseradish & Dill Dressing from Recipe Junkie
  41. Lemon Chicken with Cannellini Beans and Rosemary from Lavender & Lovage
  42. Cheesy Chorizo Flatbreads from Blue Kitchen Bakes
  43. Goats Cheese Souffles with Thyme from Maison Cupcake

Courgette and mushroom omelette with garlic and parsley

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know I’ve only discovered my cooking mojo in the last few years. I spent a long time feeling out-0f-place in the kitchen. But I do believe I’ve arrived and earned my right to wear a pinny (although I generally forget to until it’s too late). Don’t get me wrong, I’ll never be a great cook and I won’t be entering Masterchef anytime soon, but I think I might be turning into a good cook. Indeed, in a restaurant the other evening, my husband told me he thought my cooking was better. I was ever so slightly on the chuffed side.

Omelettes were always one of those dishes I had trouble with. Well, rather I assumed I would if I actually plucked up the courage to try making one. Yes I know they’re quick and simple, but only if you’re a proper cook. Or so I thought. In recent months, I’ve made myself learn how to make a good omelette because I realise they are the ultimate fast food. After one or two duds along the way, I’ve worked out they’re not all that difficult after all. It’s all about trial and error and not being afraid to make a few mistakes. If you don’t make mistakes, how can you find out what works and what doesn’t?

We now eat a fair few omelettes in our house. Our life can get pretty manic, what with school and work and all the various out-of-school clubs and activities, not to mention some attempt at a social life; so it’s good to have a speedy and adaptable supper up your sleeve. They also make the perfect brunch dish, when you fancy something warm and tasty but don’t want to go to too much effort.

Now that I’m turning into a bit of an omelette fanatic, I was rather pleased when Littlewoods sent me a set of Russell Hobbs pans to test out – a frying pan and an omelette pan*. After many years, the non-stick coating on our old pan had given up the ghost, and omelettes aren’t so great when you don’t have a non-stick pan. At just £27 for the pair, they do seem a bit of a bargain. At first, when the pans arrived, I thought they were a little on the lightweight side, but having used them a few times now, I can confirm they are pretty decent pans. How long they’ll remain non-stick with the amount of wear and tear they’ll get in my kitchen remains to be seen, but for now they certainly turn out a good omelette.

I enjoy trying out new fillings for my omelettes. This latest concoction was simply a way of using up a few bits and bobs in the fridge. It worked out rather well so I think I’ll be adding it to my tried-and-test list.

Courgette and mushroom omelette with garlic and parsley

Serves 2

olive oil, a couple of glugs
1 courgette, halved lengthways and sliced
handful of chestnut mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
handful of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
knob of butter
4 eggs, lightly beaten and seasoned with pepper

Heat a glug of olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and gently fry the courgette until softened. Throw in the mushrooms and soften these too before adding in the garlic and parsley. When the garlic is golden, take off the heat and keep warm to one side.

In your omelette pan, heat another glug of olive oil with the knob of butter over a fairly high heat. Pour in the beaten egg and leave for a few seconds to give it time to ‘catch’.

Then using an implement that won’t scratch your lovely non-stick pan (my weapon of choice is a rubber spatula!), start dragging the edges of the eggy mixture into the middle, going round and round, and letting the runny egg fill in the gaps you are leaving. As the omelette starts to firm up, tilt the pan to encourage the uncooked egg to flow into the spaces.

When the only runny egg left is on the surface, leave it for 30 seconds or so to continue cooking, and then it’s time to add your filling.

Pour the mushroom and courgette mixture over one half of the omelette and carefully fold over the other half. Cut in half and slide out onto warmed plates. Enjoy!

As a good omelette is a perfect lazy brunch dish, I’m entering this recipe into December’s Breakfast Club, a blogger challenge created by Fuss Free Flavours and which this month is being hosted by – oh yes, it’s me! If you’d like to enter a dish you can find out more here.
And because it features lots of lovely fresh parsley, I’m also linking up with Herbs on Saturday hosted by Lavender & Lovage.
* Disclosure: I was provided with two complimentary Russell Hobbs pans for review purposes and no money exchanged hands.

Basil and garlic focaccia

Whenever I bake bread I always find myself marvelling at just how easy it is to make something that tastes and looks so good for such remarkably little effort.

While it might take a little time and is therefore not the kind of foodstuff I fancy making after a long day at work, baking bread is definitely my idea of a perfect weekend activity. And home-baked bread makes for a perfect weekend lunch, served still slightly warm from the oven with a spread of tasty cheeses, cold meats, olives and salad.

Baking often makes me a little nervous as the end result is usually meant to look neat and tidy. But thankfully bread is different and focaccia in particular should look a little rustic and rough around the edges. Which is obviously another reason why this is my kind of bread.

You can top your focaccia with whatever you fancy really – a light scattering of your favourite herbs, cheese, olives, or maybe someone caramelised onions and sun-dried tomatoes. But here I use my all-time favourite: basil and garlic.

Basil and garlic focaccia

500g strong white bread flour
15g salt
15g sugar
10.5g dried yeast (one and a half 7g sachets)
300ml lukewarm water
Semolina
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Large bunch of basil, finely chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
Half a lemon
Salt and pepper

Put the flour, salt, sugar and yeast in a large bowl and mix together. Make a well in the middle and pour in the water. Gradually work the dry ingredients into the liquid to form a soft dough. If it’s still a little dry, add a drop more water; if it’s too sticky, add a little more flour.

Flour the work surface and tip out the dough onto it. Knead the dough for five to ten minutes until it is elastic and smooth. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rise in a warm, draught-free place for around an hour, until it has doubled in size.

Remove the dough from the bowl and give it a punch to knock the air out of it. Knead for another minute or so.

Split the dough into half. Roll each half into a rough circular shape about half an inch thick. Place the dough on a baking tray dusted with semolina.

In a small bowl, mix together the chopped basil, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Smear generously over the top of each piece of dough. Then push your fingers deep into the surface of the dough to make those little holes you always see on focaccia, allowing the flavours to get down deep inside the bread. Leave in a warm spot for another 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.

When the dough has risen again to just over an inch thick, bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until the top is a beautiful golden colour. Drizzle the bread with a little more olive oil and sprinkle sea salt over the top. Leave to cool slightly but try to eat while still warm if you can.

As my focaccia features lots of lovely fragrant basil, I’m linking up with September’s Herbs on Saturday blog challenge, hosted by Karen at Lavender & Lovage. I’m looking forward to working my way through the delicious looking recipes that have been submitted so far, including Recipe Junkie’s rosemary focaccia!

Herbs on Saturday – July Round Up

Well, I have to say I have thoroughly enjoyed my first experience hosting a blog challenge. What a wonderful opportunity to get to know new food bloggers and share in such a diverse and exciting collection of recipes. Before I go any further I must say a massive thank you to Karen at Lavender & Lovage for entrusting her Herbs on Saturday challenge to me for the month of July!

I have to admit I was a little worried I wouldn’t receive any entries during my ‘term in office’ but can you believe there were actually 30 entries to Herbs on Saturday this month. Thank you each and every one of you for your entries, each dish a glorious celebration of cooking with herbs. So let’s take a look at each of those dishes…

First up is this tasty sausage plait from Mamacook, which I can’t wait to try out on my own family – we love both puff pastry and sausages in our house! And I love the fact there are sneaky hidden vegetables in there too.

Sausage plait from Mamacook

Doesn’t this Pan Bagnat from Lavender & Lovage look incredible? A gorgeous French picnic sandwich that just cries out for a day spent lazing on a rug in a summer meadow with some good friends, a bottle of cold white wine or perhaps some Pimms, and maybe a game or two of French cricket or Pooh sticks…

Pan bagnat from Lavender & Lovage

I love the fact that Cooking Around the World’s Mediterranean Feta and Tomato Bake comes complete with its own fairy story! It looks such a fresh and simple dish, perfect for mopping up with a great hunk of crusty bread. Definitely my kind of food!

Mediterranean Feta and Tomato Bake from Cooking Around the World

Try it, like it, love it are the instructions accompanying this simply delicious spaghettis aux herbes et ail from Simple Quiet Modern, and I have no doubt that anyone who tastes it will instantly fall in love with it. I adore simple pasta dishes, with a glug of good olive oil and some lovely fresh herbs, and this bowl of spaghetti looks incredible.

Les spaghettis aux herbes et ail from Simple Quiet Modern

Next up is my chicken and noodle salad with coriander and mint, a fresh, zingy summer salad. My family weren’t quite sure what to make of it when I first served it. Cold noodles! Are you mad?! But after a couple of bites, they were persuaded…

Chicken and noodle salad with coriander and mint from Bangers & Mash

Another simple pasta dish now; this time a quick and satisfying Pepper and Mushroom Pappardelle  from Tinned Tomatoes, who knows a thing or two about good vegetarian family food. I do love a creamy pasta sauce and was interested to see this recipe features goat’s yoghurt as well as cream. I must give it a try!

Pepper and Mushroom Pappardelle from Tinned Tomatoes

If you happen to have a glut of gooseberries or have over-indulged at a pick-your-own farm, then this Devilled Gooseberry Sauce and Tarragon Vinegar from As Strong As Soup should have you pricking up your ears. It sounds absolutely delicious and easy to make, and apparently is good with oily fish like mackerel, as well as chicken, duck and pork.

Devilled Gooseberry Sauce and Tarragon Vinegar from As Strong As Soup

I think cheese scones with salad are perfect for a light lunch, providing a tasty alternative to bread, and it would seem Janice at Farmersgirl Kitchen agrees. Take a look at her scrummy Cheese and Herb Scone, featuring chives, rosemary and thyme.

Cheese and Herb Scone from Farmersgirl Kitchen

These Turkish Zucchini Fritters from Tinned Tomatoes look incredibly tasty and very, very versatile. I know my two girls are going to love trying these with their favourite hummus and soured cream dips, and I think they’ll work well in their lunch boxes when school starts again.

Turkish Zucchini Fritters from Tinned Tomatoes

I have never tried Involtini di melanzane before but after seeing this beautiful entry from Leeks & Limoni I really must put that right and make it soon. Aubergine is a favourite ingredient of mine and I do like the sound of these rolls with cheese, pinenuts, passata, mint and oregano.

Involtini di melanzane from Leeks & Limoni

Food and childhood are inextricably linked and in her beautiful entry white asparagus tips with tarragon sauce, Helene at French Foodie Baby recalls memories of Sunday lunches eating white asparagus as a child in her mother’s apartment. Here she adapts her mother’s recipe for her own son Pablo.

White asparagus tips with tarragon sauce from French Foodie Baby

Pablo is one very lucky boy! Helene at French Foodie Baby created this heavenly Nectarine Shiso Ice Cream for him as his first ever taste of ice cream. I have never tried the herb shiso before but I really must track some down now!

Nectarine Shiso Ice Cream from French Foodie Baby

Next French Foodie Baby brings us her take on a French classic, Salmon with sorrel. This is an incredibly simple and delicious dish, which she’s created as a puree for her young son and is ideal for anyone looking for new ideas for little ones moving onto solids.

Salmon with sorrel from French Foodie Baby

Back to me again for penne with chicken, tarragon and broccoli, a very quick and easy pasta dish using lots of one of my favourite herbs, fresh tarragon, as well as purple sprouting broccoli which I just can’t get enough of!

Penne with chicken, tarragon and broccoli from Bangers & Mash

Mich from Piece of Cake brings us this tempting Rosemary Foccacia next. I just wanted to reach into my computer screen and grab a slice when I saw it! I’m rather partial to a good foccacia and this looks very, very good.

Rosemary Foccacia from Piece of Cake

These blackberry lavender popsicles from girlichef look so enticingly juicy and refreshing. As Heather herself describes them – berrylicious! The pairing of blackberry with lavender really appeals to me. We have lots of lavender in the garden so I can’t wait for the blackberries to ripen so I can make my own…

Blackberry Lavender Popsicles from girlichef

Heather from girlichef brings us another refreshing recipe for hot sunny days with her sensational Herbal Lemonade - inspired by the novel Thank You for Flying Air Zoe via a band called The Flip-Flops which made her think of summertime. Love it!

Herbal Lemonade from girlichef

I defy anyone to be able to look at this piece of toast and not instantly crave strawberry jam! Sarah from The Garden Deli brings us this gorgeous strawberry and basil jam, which she describes as not so sweet as your usual strawberry jam, but still with that fresh taste a good strawberry jam should have. I want some now!

Strawberry and basil jam from The Garden Deli

For me, this Courgette, Feta & Basil Bruschetta from Chez Foti is summertime on a plate. I always enjoy reading about Lou’s adventures in her veggie patch, or rather potager, over in France. This summer she has a large glut of courgettes and therefore a steady stream of clever and creative courgette recipes on her blog. This bruschetta looks so tasty and I look forward to recreating, along with her yummy courgette cake…

Courgette, Feta & Basil Bruschetta from Chez Foti

I’ve developed a bit of a passion for beetroot in the last year, probably as a result of our weekly veg box, and so this Beetroot with Chorizo, Feta and Mint from Farmersgirl Kitchen is right up my street. The combination of sweet beetroot with the spicy, smokey chorizo, salty cheese and punchy mint definitely appeals.

Beetroot with Chorizo, Feta and Mint from Farmersgirl Kitchen

Next up is A Gratin of Tomatoes from how to cook good food and as soon as Laura mentioned she made this dish in minutes, she’d got my full attention. It’s the school holidays and with two young daughters I’m constantly on the look-out for quick and easy food to make the family, and this tasty gratin looks just the ticket.

A Gratin of Tomatoes from how to cook good food

Karen from Lavender & Lovage offers us a second dish with her glorious Stuffed Tomatoes with Herbs and Oats. I really like the idea of using oats to make the meat go further, which means it’s both a frugal and tasty family dish.

Stuffed Tomatoes with Herbs and Oats from Lavender & Lovage

French Foodie Baby offers us more stunning photography and another incredible yet simple dish with her Artichoke bottoms with green sauce. You could serve just about anything alongside a soft-boiled egg and I’m there, but this dish really does beg to be made. I’ve said it before, but little Pablo really is a very lucky boy!

Artichoke bottoms with green sauce from French Foodie Baby

Herby Roast Chicken from A Trifle Rushed is our next entry – now doesn’t that look so good? You can almost smell the roast chicken from here – yum! Another dish which shows that good food doesn’t need to be complicated; it’s all down to seasonal, local ingredients cooked simply and well.

Herby Roast Chicken from A Trifle Rushed

This Pesto Linguine is a favourite dish of Jacqueline over at How to be a Gourmand - a quick mid-week meal when she needs an easy, fuss-free dinner. It’s a classic dish elevated to a whole new level through Jacqueline’s beautiful photography.

Pesto Linguine from How to be a Gourmand

Raspberry, lemon and mint semifreddo is my final entry into this month’s challenge. I don’t own an ice-cream maker so semifreddo is my homemade ice-cream of choice. This version is even easier as it uses condensed milk instead of eggs. Don’t you think it looks pretty?

Raspberry, lemon and mint semifreddo from Bangers & Mash

Linzi at Lancashire Food says her Grilled halloumi and herb salad will transport you to the Mediterranean in moments and I absolutely believe her. I love using heaps of fresh herbs in salads, as an ingredient in their own right, rather than just a flavouring, and Linzi’s salad looks the perfect accompaniment to her paprika-dusted grilled halloumi. I’m beginning to drool a little thinking about it…

Grilled halloumi and herb salad by Lancashire Food

Tomato and basil are a match made in heaven, and they certainly look good together in this Tomato and basil tart by Blue Kitchen Bakes. As I’m not a natural-born pastry chef myself, I particularly enjoyed Jen’s descriptions of her escapades while making the pastry for this tart!

Tomato and basil tart by Blue Kitchen Bakes

Lou at Chez Foti continues her love affair with courgettes with her 70s Flashback Stuffed Marrow – an overgrown courgette in other words. This looks so much better than the flabby stuffed marrows I remember from my childhood and I love the combination of pork in the stuffing with sage and apple. If the courgettes in my veg patch ever get going, I’ll be leaving one of them to grow and grow just so I can make this dish.

70s Flashback Stuffed Marrow by Chez Foti

And finally we have a Tomato and Herb Foccacia from Working London Mummy, who uses slow roasted tomatoes and fresh oregano to top her sumptuous olive oil rich bread. Regular readers of my blog will know how much I adore slow roasted tomatoes, so this recipe’s going straight to the top of my ‘to do’ list!

Tomato and Herb Foccacia from Working London Mummy

So there you have it – all 30 entries for July’s Herbs on Saturday challenge. I’m sure you’ll agree, they make a very fine recipe collection.

But of course there can only be one winner. And this month the winner receives a copy of The Best-Ever Easy-to-Use Herb Cookbook, edited by Joanna Farrow. Helen from Fuss Free Flavours is July’s mystery judge and she has chosen as the winning post… drum roll please!… Nectarine Shiso Ice Cream from French Foodie Baby.

Helen said of the winning post:

Lovely recipe.  Really like the use of herbs in a sweet dish, and the flavour pairing intrigues me. I imagine the slight sharpness of the shiso combined with the concentrated sweetness of the roasted nectarines is quite amazing and adds so much to the ice cream.

So huge congratulations go to Helene at French Foodie Baby - the cookbook will be in the post to you very soon.

And congratulations also to girlichef as Helen at Fuss Free Flavours was keen to single out your Blackberry Lavender Popsicles for a special mention.

Thank you so much to everyone for sharing their fabulous food and for making Herbs on Saturday such a pleasure to host this month.

Raspberry, lemon and mint semifreddo

Semifreddo is a wonderfully easy ice-cream to make for anyone who, like me, doesn’t own an ice-cream maker. Usually it is made from eggs and whipped cream but this version uses condensed milk instead of eggs, making it even more of a doddle. It looks really rather impressive though, so no-one would ever guess it only took 10 minutes to make!

I got the idea for a semifreddo made from condensed milk from Kavey Eats. The theme for her Bloggers Scream For Ice Cream challenge this month you see just happens to be condensed milk, and I was intrigued.

The recipe I’ve come up with to enter the challenge is a light and summery combination of perfumey raspberries with zingy lemon, lifted further still by the addition of chopped fresh mint. It’s loosely based on a recipe I saw on the Carnation website.

And as the recipe also features lots of lovely mint, I’m also entering this semifreddo into Lavender & Lovage’s Herbs on Saturday challenge.

Raspberry, lemon and mint semifreddo

1 can (405g) sweetened condensed milk
juice of 3 lemons
grated zest of 1 lemon
300ml whipping cream
200g fresh raspberries
large handful fresh mint, finely chopped

In a large bowl, mix together the condensed milk, lemon juice, zest and whipping cream. Whisk until you have soft peaks.

Carefully fold in the raspberries and fresh mint.

Spoon the mixture into a 2 litre loaf tin lined with clingfilm, covering the top with more clingfilm. Freeze for at least four hours or preferably overnight.

Simply slice and serve.

Highs and lows in the Bangers & Mash kitchen – part 6

So far July has been an interesting month for me as a food blogger. For the first time, I’ve stepped up into the exciting world of hosting blog challenges. It is so lovely to see such a wide range of dishes being entered and getting to meet a whole host of new food bloggers.

Food writer and blogger supremo Karen Burns-Booth from Lavender & Lovage kindly let me loose on her popular Herbs on Saturday challenge this month. Herbs on Saturday is a lovely way for bloggers to share their dishes that celebrate cooking with herbs and we’ve received lots of wonderfully tempting recipes.

My second blog challenge hopes to raise awareness of a fantastic family cookbook produced by a charity called TACT, which is the UK’s largest fostering and adoption charity. I’ve worked with the Bristol and South West branch of TACT for the last four years or so, and I am constantly amazed and inspired by the incredible support they provide to many of our most vulnerable children and young people.

The Care to Cook recipe challenge is calling on people to submit their recipes for food they’d cook to welcome someone into their family. We’ve only had a handful of entries so far, but I’m hoping the prize of a copy of the Care to Cook recipe book signed by TV chef Lorraine Pascale (who happens to be TACT’s celebrity patron) might encourage a few more. If you have not entered yet, please do! The closing date is 12 August.

In the kitchen, it’s been rather exciting too. Writing this food blog has pushed me to be so much more creative and adventurous as a cook. And luckily most of my experiments seem to be working out well and the family is enjoying the food. Of course, there are plenty of safe, easy, every day meals in the mix, as you’ll see from the meal plans below. As a mum and a freelancer, I just don’t have time to spend hours in the kitchen every day. But when I can, I do like to have a go at something a little bit different.

Recent successes include…

Roast duck and rhubarb compote

Chicken and noodle salad with coriander and mint

Homemade hummus and aubergine dip with olives, salad and pitta bread

Caribbean pot roast chicken

Courgette, carrot and cheese scones

Butternut squash and bacon chowder

Bean casserole

Pork escalopes in balsamic vinegar

As well as some tasty food, I’ve had two other reasons to make me smile recently. The first was when one of the other mums at school came up to me to tell me she’d cooked my chicken and noodle salad after seeing it on the blog, and how much she’d enjoyed it. It’s always lovely to receive positive comments on the blog, but it’s something very special to have someone tell you in person they like your food. That really made my day that did.

And then the other thing that made me chuckle lots was when my daughter Jessie insisted on photographing her dinner plate before she would start eating! She’s just begun work on her very own blog Jessie’s Art and she plans on putting her photo up there sometime soon. Like mother, like daughter it seems.

In case you need any ideas, here are my meal plans for the last few weeks…

Monday 25 June
Lunch: pasta salad
Dinner: stir-fried Swiss chard with ginger and noodles

Tuesday 26 June
Lunch: ham salad rolls
Dinner: lamb casserole (F)

Wednesday 27 June
Lunch: rice salad with broad beans
Dinner: ham, egg and chips

Thursday 28 June
Lunch: tuna mayonnaise rolls
Dinner: salad wraps and homemade hummus

Friday 29 June
Lunch:  garlic mushrooms and salad
Dinner: chicken noodle salad with mint and coriander

Saturday 30 June
Lunch: aubergine dip, hummus, pitta bread, olives and salad
Dinner: fish cakes, new potatoes and vegetables

Sunday 1 July
Lunch: Caribbean pot roast chicken 
Dinner: bread and cheese

Monday 2 July
Lunch: beans on toast
Dinner: cheese and onion quiche, new potatoes and salad

Tuesday 3 July
Lunch: cheese and chutney rolls
Dinner: noodle soup with dumplings

Wednesday 4 July
Lunch: ham salad rolls
Dinner: spaghetti Bolognese

Thursday 5 July
Lunch: hummus salad rolls
Dinner: ratatouille and pasta

Friday 6 July
Lunch: rice salad with grilled chicken and artichoke hearts
Dinner: bangers and mash

Saturday 7 July
Lunch: roast duck with rhubarb compote, rice, broad bean and parsley salad
Dinner: bread and cheese

Sunday 8 July
Lunch: butternut squash soup
Dinner: Chinese chicken and rice

Monday 9 July
Lunch: Marmite and cucumber rolls
Dinner: egg fried rice with courgette and peppers

Tuesday 10 July
Lunch: garlic mushrooms and salad
Dinner: warm new potato and sausage salad

Wednesday 11 July
Lunch: potato and sausage salad
Dinner: bean casserole

Thursday 12 July
Lunch: pasta salad
Dinner: butternut squash and bacon chowder

Friday 13 July
Lunch: courgette, carrot and cheese scones
Dinner: pasta with bacon and tomato sauce

Saturday 14 July
Lunch: sausage and cabbage bake
Dinner: bread and cheese

Sunday 15 July
Lunch: pork escalopes in balsamic vinegar, new potatoes, beetroot and nectarine salad
Dinner: salad wraps

F = from freezer