I reckon we’re pretty good in the Bangers & Mash house when it comes to snacking healthily. Just as I sat down to write this post, my girls came in with their usual mid-afternoon demand: “Mummy, we’re hungry! Can we have a snack?” They are now happily munching their way through a bowlful each of dried apricots.
Don’t get me wrong. We’re not food saints by any stretch of the imagination. We enjoy our potato crisps and chocolate biscuits as much as the next family, but these are clearly seen as occasional treats rather than everyday snacks.
As well as dried apricots, the girls also love their dried apples, which we dry ourselves above the Aga – perfect in late summer when our apple tree is heaving. Dried apple is a perfect ingredient for our fruit & nut balls and granola, both of which make ideal snacks. Cherry tomatoes, chunks of cheese and cucumber, and carrot sticks are also snacktime favourites with my girls.
But probably the snack the kids ask for most are dips and breadsticks. We always have a pot of chunky hummus or some other dip, such as this deliciously smoky aubergine puree, on the go in the fridge. I used to spend a fortune on the shop bought varieties, until I realised just how cheap and easy they are to make at home. And so much tastier too.
Both recipes are based on ones I found in Leon cookbooks, but I’ve tweaked them slightly for my family’s tastes, in particular by increasing the amount of garlic involved in the proceedings.
Use yoghurt instead of the tahini to turn this dip into babaganoush.
3 large aubergines
juice of 3 lemons
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 220°C / gas mark 7.
Prick the aubergines with a fork and bake in the oven, direct on the rack, for around 20 minutes until the skins have blackened.
Peel off the aubergine skins using a sharp knife while they are still warm.
Whizz up the aubergines in a food processor, together with the tahini, lemon juice and garlic. Taste and season with salt.
Pour into a large bowl to serve, drizzled with olive oil.
1 x 400g tin of chickpeas, drained
juice of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tbsp tahini
70ml extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
½ tsp paprika (optional)
Simply place the chickpeas, lemon juice, garlic, tahini and olive oil into a food processor and blitz until you reach a good consistency. I like mine fairly chunky but you might prefer yours smoother or looser. If it seems to dry, add a little more olive oil and/or lemon juice.
Season to taste and pour into a bowl to serve. Sprinkle with a little paprika if you like.
Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. As my children like to say. Both dips are a good accompaniment to crudités, breadsticks or warm pitta bread, or serve as part of a mezze.
I’m entering these dips into April’s Family Foodies challenge, hosted this month by Louisa at Eat Your Veg. The theme this month is Healthy Snacks. Do pop over there to take a look through the other recipes entered so far – there are some really good ones this month. In particular, I’ve got my eye on the Easy Peasy Mackerel Pate from Casa Costello, which looks delicious and wonderfully simple to make.
Someone once told me that when you start making your own granola, you never go back to eating the shop bought stuff again. And how right they were. I made up my first batch at the start of the summer and I’ve been addicted ever since. Better still, your homemade version will probably contain a lot less sugar and fat.
OK so it’s essentially a sweeter take on muesli but it’s so much tastier. Plus when you make your own you can use all your favourite fruits and nuts. So you don’t like dates? No problem, replace them with apricots or prunes instead!
While my husband’s not a fan, the girls and I like to eat it in the morning with yoghurt and fresh fruit. They call it the crunchy stuff. Whatever you call it, it’s a lovely start to the day I reckon.
My recipe is based loosely on one I found in a Leon cookbook, although it changes every time I make it depending on what I happen to have in the store cupboard. This is how I made my latest stash…
Put the oats and sunflower seeds in a large bowl, pour in the honey and oil and mix together well so the oats and seeds are completely coated. Cover a large baking sheet with greaseproof paper and spread the oat mixture evenly across it. Bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes until the oats are golden.
Meanwhile dry fry the hazelnuts and almonds on the hob until they are ever so slightly browned and leave to one side to cool.
When the oats have cooled, pour into a bowl and combine with the hazelnuts, almonds, dates, sultanas and currants.
Store in a large airtight container – a kilner jar is perfect. The granola will keep for around a month.
It’s the penultimate stop in my culinary world tour and this week we’re heading to the beautiful Spanish city Barcelona. The Catalan capital is one of the most amazing cities in the world, with its stunning architecture, fantastic restaurants and nightlife, and superb shopping.
I haven’t been back to Barcelona since I was 18, towards the end of a month’s inter-railing with my best friend Ruth after our A-levels, but it remains vivid in my memory. We had thoroughly exhausted ourselves trying to pack as many European cities into our four weeks’ travels as possible and by the time we reached Barcelona in our last week we needed to slow down. Barcelona was the perfect place to put down roots for a little while. While Ruth was ensconced in her first romance, I enjoyed wandering the streets of Barcelona simply breathing in the city.
One day I must return. But for now, I’ll imagine I’m there with my family. And what else would we be eating but tapas?
My sister Lottie lives in Toledo with her boyfriend Jose Luis. His mother Reme is a cook and has worked in a number of restaurants, so Lottie volunteered to ask her for suggestions on typical Catalan tapas for me to try out on my brood. The dishes she recommended I try were Pollo a la Catalana (Catalan style chicken with prunes and apricots) and Habas a la Catalana (broad beans with Jamon Iberica and Morcilla, a Spanish black pudding), both of which were absolutely delicious.
I also added some of my own personal favourites to the menu: Garbanzos con Espinacas (chickpeas with spinach), Albondigas (meatballs in tomato sauce), Gambas al Ajillo (garlic prawns), rosemary almonds, Manchego with Membrillo (quince paste or jelly), all of which were served with olives and bread – quite insanely I decided to go the whole hog and bake my own.
Preparing all the above made for a long, long, hot day in the kitchen. I cleared my husband and kids off for a few hours and cranked the music up loud while I cooked, and although I don’t intend on cooking quite so many dishes for one meal again in a hurry, I really rather enjoyed myself in a crazy kind of way.
So let’s get this recipe show on the road…
Makes 4 rolls
500g strong white bread flour
1½tsp salt ½tsp sugar 7g packet fast acting dry yeast
150ml warm water
1 egg, beaten and mixed with a little water
Mix the flour, salt, sugar and yeast in a large bowl. Gradually add the water, combining the ingredients until you get a soft dough. Add a little more water if you find you still have flour left at the bottom of the bowl. Likewise, if the dough is too sticky add a little more flour.
Knead the dough for five to ten minutes, until it is smooth and elastic. Form the dough into a ball and leave in the mixing bowl. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise in a warm, draft-free place for about an hour.
Preheat oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.
When the dough has roughly doubled in size, knead again briefly. Divide into four pieces, form into balls and place on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Allow to rise again for a further 15 minutes.
Bake the rolls for 5 minutes, then remove from the oven and brush the tops with the egg mixture. Return to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the rolls to cool on a wire rack.
This is a favourite party snack, taken from Leon’s ‘Naturally Fast Food’.
250g whole almonds, with skins
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
25ml olive oil
Preheat oven to 170°C/Gas Mark 3.
Spread the almonds on a baking sheet with two of the rosemary sprigs. Remove the leaves from the other sprig and keep to one side.
Toast the almonds in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes, until just beginning to brown.
Toss in the olive oil and salt while still hot. Remove the rosemary sprigs and add the reserved leaves. Return to the oven for 3 more minutes and then serve.
Garbanzos con Espinacas (chickpeas with spinach)
2 tbsp olive oil
½ onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, 1 chopped and 1 left whole
1 tomato, peeled and chopped
½tsp ground cumin
¼tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 x 410g tin chickpeas, liquid reserved
200g frozen spinach
Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion and chopped garlic and fry for a couple of minutes. Add the tomato and cook until slightly reduced. Stir in the paprika, cumin and cayenne.
Using a pestle and mortar, crush the saffron and peppercorns with the remaining clove of garlic. Dissolve the spices in 3 tablespoons of water and add to the pan with the chickpeas and their liquid from the tin, along with the spinach and salt to taste. Cover and simmer over a low heat for 20 minutes, adding more water if it looks a little dry. The mixture should be saucy, but not sloppy. Serve warm.
Albondigas (Spanish meatballs in tomato sauce)
The meatballs I’ve eaten in Spain are normally a little spicier than this recipe but I wanted to keep it mild for my children. Feel free to add some chilli, paprika or cayenne to the recipe.
3-4 cloves garlic
white wine, just over half a glass
300g pork mince
2 slices stale bread
1 egg (beaten)
salt and pepper
1 onion, finely chopped
4 tomatoes, roughly chopped
Preheat the oven to 190C/Gas 5.
Crush 2 of the garlic cloves with the parsley and mix with a dash of white wine. Add this mixture to the minced pork in a large bowl and combine well. Leave to stand for half an hour.
Place the bread in a dish and cover with the milk. Leave to soak for a few minutes and then squeeze out most of the milk.
Add the bread, egg, salt and pepper to the mince and knead until all the ingredients are mixed well together. Roll the mince mixture into small balls and roll each one in flour.
Fry in plenty of hot oil until they turn golden brown, drain and place in a casserole dish.
To make the sauce, heat a little oil in a frying pan. Add the onion and remaining clove of garlic and gently fry until golden.
Add the chopped tomatoes and about half a glass of white wine. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes
Pour the sauce over the meatballs and place in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes. Serve warm.
Pollo a la Catalana (Catalan style chicken with prunes and apricots)
handful each of prunes and dried apricots white wine
4 chicken thighs
2 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
2tbsp runny honey
handful of pine nuts
1tbsp corn flour
dash of red wine vinegar
knob of butter
Place the prunes and apricots in a bowl and cover with white wine. Leave to soak overnight.
Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6.
In a frying pan heat the oil and brown the chicken thighs. Remove the chicken to a roasting tin, along with the garlic, bay leaves and cinnamon stick. Roast in the oven for 25 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.
While the chicken is roasting, prepare the sauce. Add the honey to the frying pan in which you browned the chicken and heat. Add the fruit, the wine in which they have been soaking and pine nuts.
When the chicken is cooked, remove to a serving plate and keep warm. Place the roasting tin over a medium heat, and stir in the corn flour to absorb the juices. Add a cupful of water and a dash of red wine vinegar to deglaze the tin and stir in the butter. Pour in the fruity sauce, mix together and then pour over the chicken and serve.
Habas a la Catalana (broad beans with Jamon Iberica and black pudding)
This is one of the recipes from Reme, my sister Lottie’s boyfriend’s mother. I couldn’t get hold of Morcilla, a Spanish black pudding, so I went with Bury Market black pudding instead!
120g shelled broad beans
3 rashers smoked streaky bacon, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
½ onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
bunch fresh mint, chopped
glass of white wine
100g Jamon Iberica, chopped
100g Morcilla or black pudding
salt and pepper
Blanch the broad beans in boiling, salted water for a few minutes until tender. Double shell the beans to reveal the beautifully bright green innards. It’s a bit of a palaver I know, but it’s really worth it.
Heat the oil in a pan and fry the bacon, garlic, onion and bay leaf for about 5 minutes. Add the mint and paprika, broad beans, white wine and black pudding. Stir and cook for a few minutes before adding the jamon. Season to taste and serve warm.
Gambas al Ajillo (garlic prawns)
I based this dish on a simple recipe I found in ‘Tapas’ by Louise Pickford.
12 raw tiger prawns
2 tbsp olive oil
knob of butter
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp fresh basil, torn
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper
aioli (garlic mayonnaise) to serve – again I cheated and bought a jar!
Wash and dry the prawns.
Heat the oil and butter in a frying pan, add the prawns and garlic and fry for 3 to 4 minutes until the prawns are pink.
Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the basil and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm with a dish of aioli for dipping.
Manchego and Membrillo
Manchego is a tasty Spanish cheese made from sheep’s milk, which has a natural affinity with quinces. The idea of making my own membrillo really was a step too far, so I cheated and bought a jar of quince jelly instead. If you wanted to make your own, I reckon this recipe looks rather good.
So there you have it. My Barcelona tapas menu. I made way too much food for my family of four, but the leftovers were all gobbled up over the course of the next few days. The Catalan-style chicken in particular was very popular, and I’ll be making this dish again on its own for dinner, served simply with rice and salad.
I’ve almost completed my Around the World in Six Suppers adventure – can you believe the school holidays are nearing their end already? So where will the last dish come from next week? Watch this space to find out!
My family is rather partial to the odd sausage or two. Or three. In fact, we eat rather a lot of them in our house. And now that I’m trying to be a bit more creative with our food, I’m always on the look out for new ways to present the humble banger. This sausage, carrot and fennel bake, which first started life as a Leon vegetarian side dish, is a great meal.
I love Leon. I love their style, their ethos, their food. If I lived in London and had rather more money, I’d be eating there all the time. But as I don’t on either count, I have to make do with their cookery books. Leon’s focus is on fabulous ingredients:
When we first started Leon… we tried to imagine what a high-street fast food joint might be like in heaven: a place where fresh unprocessed, satisfying meals are served with pride. (From ‘Naturally Fast Food’)
That says it all. Leon’s approach to food is definitely the Bangers & Mash approach. My food might not always hit the same culinary heights but I’m aiming in the same direction at least.
In Leon’s Naturally Fast Food, there’s a delicious recipe for roast carrots and fennel in parmesan breadcrumbs. I discovered it on one of those common occassions when an item arrives in the veg box and I desperately needed ideas on what on earth to do with it. The item this time was a fennel. Obviously any proper foodie worth their salt would be going wild with excitement at all the possibilities presented by a fennel. I just needed to find something that the kids might actually eat. And this recipe worked a treat.
After making this dish a few times, it occurred to me that with the simple addition of a few sausages, this side dish could become an easy one-pan main meal. I tried it and it worked. One of my more successful experiments. So here it is. My sausage, carrot and fennel bake, with a little help from the kind people at Leon.
Sausage, carrot and fennel bake
8 good quality pork sausages
500g carrots, peeled and cut into diagonal chunks
500g fennel, trimmed and cut into wedges
4 tbsp olive oil
a handful of fresh rosemary, leaves picked
100g stale white bread (if you only have fresh, bake a couple of slices in a low oven for 1o minutes)
4 cloves of garlic
salt and pepper
50g parmesan cheese, grated
Preheat the oven to 220ºC/gas mark 7.
Put 2 tbsp olive oil and the sausages into a large roasting tin and bake in the oven for 10 minutes.
In a bowl, toss the carrots and fennel in the remaining oil. Turn the sausages and then add the carrots and fennel to the roasting tin along with 75ml of hot water.
Put back in the oven for 15 minutes, then turn the vegetables and sausages and return again for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the carrots and fennel are tender and the sausages are browning.
Into a food processor, place the stale bread, rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper and blitz until you have fine, herby breadcrumbs.
Once the sausages and vegetables are cooked, sprinkle over the breadcrumbs and then scatter over the parmesan. Return to the oven for a further 10-15 minutes until the topping is golden and crispy. And serve.
For a slightly different take on the same dish, head over to Emma’s Kitchen. The lovely Emma saw a picture of my sausage and fennel bake on this blog a couple of weeks ago and rustled up her own version. It’s quite similar but she uses ciabatta for the topping and also parsnip and onion. I’ll definitely be giving it a try sometime soon!