The game isn’t played on paper.

Some things just don’t look right on paper.  Some partnerships shouldn’t work, but they do.  Unlikely pairings and new combinations keep cooking interesting.  In life, however, we can find surprises in the people we meet.

Take my wife.  Heehee!  Joking aside, we are so different.  So different that it’s scary sometimes.  My spontaneity balanced by her need to plan ahead.  My love of the summer heat.  Her joy in the cosiness of winter.  My love of dark chocolate and her taste for white chocolate.  It’s all there.  The differences stack up whenever I think about our personalities and tastes.  Of course, balance is everything and many a sentimental word has been written about the complimentary nature of opposites.

You’ll be glad to hear that I’m not too sentimental and that my train of thought is actually chugging towards nothing soppier than a salad dressing.

When I buy a butternut squash, I always plan two dishes.  One of the dishes I’d decided to make recently was a roasted butternut squash and rocket salad.  For someone who insists they aren’t into salad, I sure am making enough of them.  This is one that I tried before, but I made a dressing with far too much vinegar and I wasn’t happy with it.  This recipe is my attempt to right that earlier wrong.  You didn’t taste it, but believe me, I need to make things right and share the outcome with you.

Butternut squash adds beautiful colour to dishes and though some criticise it for being on the bland side, I think it lends itself well to dishes with bigger flavours.  This salad is so easy to make.  You may not have thought to pair squash with rocket, but in fact, my dressing for the salad is what I find most unusual.  It’s an odd combination of ingredients.  It just doesn’t look right on paper; on screen.  It shouldn’t work, but it does.

Roasted butternut squash & rocket salad 

Half of a butternut squash (cubed)

70g rocket (arugula)

1 sweet pointed pepper (sliced)

1 red onion (quartered)

1 tspoon dried chilli flakes

sea salt

black pepper

(For the dressing)

3 tblspoons olive oil

2 tblspoons cider vinegar

1 tblspoon light soy sauce

1 tblspoon balsamic cream (or balsamic vinegar)

To roast the squash.  Spread it out on a baking tray with the onion and drizzle olive oil over.  Sprinkle plenty of sea salt on and add the chilli flakes and toss to coat the cubes.  Roast in the centre of the oven on the highest heat until the squash is beginning to colour and soften.  This may be about fifteen minutes, but keep checking on it and tossing the squash to ensure even cooking.  The squash should maintain its shape.  We don’t want it to turn to mush.

Meanwhile, prepare the dressing.  Put all the ingredients in a small bowl stir continuously until emulsified.  Adjust to taste.  It shouldn’t be too sharp.  When the squash is out of the oven and has cooled slightly, add to the rocket with the sweet pepper and toss.  Dress the salad, add more seasoning to taste and toss gently before serving.  Try not to break the cubes of squash when you are mixing the salad leaves.  A nice touch would be to serve this with some toasted pine nuts thrown in.  It works!

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The slower, the better.

Our best intentions are challenged daily and we often find ourselves making choices we thought we wouldn’t.  This applies to food too.  When I’m tired, grumpy, or both, what sort of food do I crave?  What sort of meals do I end up preparing?  Certainly not the kind that will benefit my family or my heart.  That’s why planning meals is useful.  Shopping for specific ingredients rather than random items that may or may not make a meal or two is definitely wisest.  Even so, there are times when unplanned meals come together with the ingredients in the fridge.  That’s what happened today and the results were tasty, filling and chalked up some brownie points with my wife.  She loves it when we, “use things up”, although, if we shopped smarter, we wouldn’t need to do so!  The temptation to resort to frozen pizzas or take away is not always easy to resist when you’re exhausted.  That’s one of the battles being fought by food lovers the world over, particularly the Slow Food movement.  Today, quality food prevailed.  I wanted to sit down and eat some cake, but you’ll be glad to hear that I chose instead to fight the good fight.

I decided to make an omelette with lots of my favourite things in it.  This is a fantastic opportunity to use up various bits and bobs.  It was also a good way of getting a variety of healthy ingredients into my body without resorting to making a salad.  Nice as they can be, I’m just not a salad fan, and listening to the rain hit the windows didn’t inspire any urges for a leafy dinner.  The variations on this recipe are too numerous to list, but I definitely would have use more herbs from the garden (thyme, Greek oregano, parsley, mint, marjoram) if the rain hadn’t been bouncing off the ground.  Use what’s in and try to keep it colourful.

Mediterranean Omelette

3 or 4 large eggs

2 ripe tomatoes (sliced)

1 courgette (diced)

1 red onion (sliced)

1 onion (sliced)

2 garlic cloves (sliced)

1 handful Kalamata olives (pitted & halved)

2 tblspoons fresh basil (sliced)

1 tblspoon dried oregano

olive oil

sea salt

pepper

Use a high heat to stop the courgette becoming soggy.

Heat some oil in a frying pan or wok and fry the courgette on a high heat.  Courgettes have a high water content and low temperatures will simply allow the courgette to release that water and go soggy.  Once it begins to brown, take it off the heat and set it aside in a bowl.  Next gently fry the onion and garlic until soft and just cooked.  Don’t brown them.  Set these aside too.

Beat the eggs and season with salt, pepper and oregano.  Heat a large frying pan and add a little oil before pouring the eggs in.  Quickly add the courgette, tomatoes, basil, onion and garlic and Kalamata olives.

Do they need to be from Kalamata?  Nope.  A huge variety of olives are available.  Spanish olives are the most common, though these tend to be poor quality unless you’re willing to spend more.  Be careful.  Some companies are well aware of the desirability of Greek olives and package their Spanish produce cleverly, going as far as displaying a small Greek flag on their jars.  The easiest way to spot dodgy olives is by looking out for phrases like Greek-style olives.  Like all things, paying a little more will give you a completely different product that is worth your time.  Simple dishes rely on the quality of the ingredients.  Perhaps I’m a little too passionate about olives.  Let’s get back to the omelette.

The simpler the dish, the better the ingredients need to be.

Cook the omelette on a low heat so that it can cook through without needing to be turned over.  I’ve included red onion in the recipe for colour and because I like the fresh, sweet taste.  It doesn’t really need to be cooked.  The white onion and garlic would be overpowering if left uncooked, hence the quick fry.  Add the red onion last and grind some pepper over the omelette as it is cooking.  Once the egg has cooked through and is no longer runny on top, slide it onto a plate and season again if necessary.  I think this is a great summer meal that could be shared and eaten with salad (if you want to live your life like that).  A little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil helps it go down a treat!

Eating colourful food makes you feel good!

Meatless Mexican munchables.

Are you sure this is vegetarian?

If there’s one thing that my little brother loves to eat, it’s meat.  There are few things that he would prefer to have on his plate and to have a meal without it is not something he relishes.  Therefore, my invitations have usually contained a reference to an exciting meat dish that we can share while we catch up on what’s been going on in our lives and have a laugh.  It was with some trepidation, then, that I arranged to cook a meal for him that did not contain the magic ingredient.  My anxiety was heightened because I had only decided at the last minute to cook a vegetarian meal and I wasn’t sure how he would react.

My wife is a vegetarian and  loves Mexican food.  I’ve managed to cook up some Mexican style stuff on a regular basis using veggie ingredients and even I don’t miss the meat because there’s always lots going on flavour-wise.  I make sure that I’ve got lots of fresh coriander, red chillies and tomato salsa to keep things interesting.  If we’re having fajitas, I use Quorn chicken pieces.  If we are in the mood for chilli, I use Quorn mince or something similar from other supermarkets.  At first, I found it disappointing and slightly strange, but I’ve stopped thinking of Quorn as a replacement for meat and just use it like an ingredient.  The taste is good.  It’s the texture that doesn’t always work in certain dishes.  I’m very confident when cooking with Quorn now because I’ve used trial and error to learn how to use it best.  Mexican food is perfect for it because the cooking methods stay the same as with meat and the results are very good indeed.

For my bro, I served up two dishes hoping to hit the mark with at least one of them.  Chilli beef tacos made with Quorn mince and chicken quesadillas made with Quorn chicken style pieces.  He loved the quesadillas, so that’s the recipe I’ve included below.  I’m slightly embarrassed because as you’ll see, it’s hardly a recipe at all.  However, it is a very quick meal to prepare and they’re surprisingly filling.  Quesadillas are also about as versatile as it gets so they’re great for using up ingredients or just experimenting.  My carnivorous sibling certainly ate his fill!

Veggie quesadillas (made with Quorn pieces)

300g Quorn chicken style pieces

6 flour tortillas

1 red chilli (sliced)

handful of fresh coriander (chopped)

1 bunch spring onions (sliced)

1 red pepper (sliced)

1 tspoon smoked paprika

1 tspoon dried oregano

300g Cheddar cheese (grated)

vegetable oil

salt & pepper

Heat a little oil in a wok or frying pan until almost smoking and then add the Quorn pieces, paprika and oregano.  Toss until the pieces are coated and season with salt and pepper.  Heat a large frying pan and place a tortilla in it without any oil.  Sprinkle large amounts of grated cheese onto the tortilla and top with the remaining ingredients.  Add more cheese on top and press another tortilla onto this to make something resembling a pizza-sandwich.  When the cheese has melted and the bottom is golden, turn the quesadilla over and continue to heat it gently.

These are great with the usual suspects: guacamole, sour cream and salsa.  Cut them into quarters and serve immediately.

Summer is definitely here!