What we eat is unavoidably linked to the seasons, our moods and the situations we find ourselves in, and I am sure this connection adds to our enjoyment of food. Not only can different flavours or dishes evoke memories or emotions, they can bring people together, nourish us physically and spiritually, or add to a sense of celebration.
I remember when weekday lunchtimes involved Andrew, my sister Jo, her boyfriend Hugo and me all gathering at our house to have a break from work. At that time, lunches were pretty much always bread, cheese, meat and salad piled on the table and hearty bowls of soup. We ate outside as often as we could and everyone would get involved, filling water glasses, putting food on the table and getting the plates. Those lunch hours were full of talk, laughter and bustle.
When we moved to Devon, we had a beautifully hot August. My friend Karina was staying and we had a two-week holiday at home together. It was all balmy evenings, light, summery food and cold glasses of wine. She made a meal for us one night of stuffed figs followed by prawn ciabatta skewers.
Then there were my unemployed months, when my morning routine of coffee, omelette, reading and writing felt so important and grounding. It was just Jamie and I in the quiet of the house, but that was fine by me, generally. I used to bake a lot in the afternoons then, too. I perfected a macaron recipe and made bread, cake and biscuits.
Lately I’ve been recuperating at home and comfort foods have played a fairly big role in my life! I thought I would share a few of my favourites. My recipes tend to be simple and homey. In fact they are barely recipes, more lists of ingredients and jotted down directions – but I make no apologies for that!
This has been one of my favourite puddings since I was a child. Being a Devonian, I love it served with clotted cream.
Ingredients: 40z oats or plain flour (or a mixture of both), 2oz sugar, 20z buttery margarine, approx 5 cooking apples.
Directions: Peel and slice the apples and place them in a pot on the hob with a little water and sugar. Simmer until stewed. Meanwhile crumble the oats, butter and sugar together using your fingers. Place the crumble mixture on top of the stewed apple and bake in the oven for approx 25 minutes, until the apple is bubbling and the topping is golden.
If I could only eat one meal for the rest of my life, I would choose Pesto Pasta. I love it! It was a staple of my University diet and remains a firm favourite. You can basically put anything with it: mushrooms, peppers, broccoli, you name it, it works. I like adding a few artichokes from a jar.
Ingredients: Dried or fresh pasta, a jar of homemade or shop-bought pesto, 1 onion, a selection of vegetables. You can also add bacon, chicken or sausage but it really does not need meat.
Directions: Boil your pasta as normal but don’t overcook it! Meanwhile, fry the onion, vegetables (and meat if you are using it) in a separate pan. Drain the pasta leaving a tiny bit of the water in the pan (about a tablespoon, no more) and return it to a low heat, adding the vegetables and two or three generous spoonfuls of pesto. Mix, serve, and grate a little cheese on top.
To make your own pesto, there are varying recipes online, but the basic idea is olive oil + herbs + cheese + nuts. I tried it using ingredients I had to hand and used:
-2-3 large handfuls fresh basil
-4 tbs olive oil
-1 tbs grated parmesan
I whizzed them in a mini food processor. I recommend processing the nuts first so they are very finely chopped, getting a good quality olive oil and not skimping on the basil. Also, the amount I made was only really enough for one portion, so increase the amounts accordingly. I suspect that there are better pesto recipes out there!
I also use pesto on pizzas, salads, on top of a fillet of salmon or chicken and in other sauces.
I would be very sad without carbs in my life (as you can probably tell from the other dishes on this list!) I used to use frozen oven chips far too much as an easy, lazy option for dinner, but now I tend not to buy them. If I do have chips, I usually make my own potato wedges. You can have them with so many different flavourings: salt and vinegar, lemon and herb, Mexican spices – the list goes on.
To make them I simply scrub the potatoes and cut them into wedges with the skin still on.
Then, boil them for around ten minutes so they are part-cooked.
While you are boiling them, preheat the oven at 220 degrees and for the last five minutes put a baking tray in with a little olive oil in it. The secret to getting your wedges nice and crispy is heating the oil first. You don’t need loads of oil, and if you want to watch the fat you can leave this step and spray the wedges with Frylight later.
Drain the potatoes and tip them into the hot baking tray. If you are using Frylight, spray them now. Shake the tray and add your seasoning.
For salt and vinegar wedges, drizzle white wine vinegar over them and sprinkle sea salt.
For lemon and herb wedges, season and then squeeze a little lemon juice over them and sprinkle herbs of your choice. Dried, mixed herbs work fine but fresh rosemary and thyme are even better.
For Mexican flavouring, sprinkle over chilli powder, paprika and cumin.
Bake the wedges for about 30-40 minutes.
*Chicken, avocado and basil sandwich
This is a healthy, delicious sandwich that does what it says on the tin.
Ingredients: Wholegrain bread, mayonnaise, butter, slices of cooked chicken, avocadoes, fresh basil leaves.
Directions: Spread butter and mayonnaise on the bread and fill your sandwich with slices of chicken and avocado and a generous helping of fresh basil.
I used some of Andrew’s delicious home-made bread, which I will share the recipe for another day!