My new summer cocktail

A couple of years ago, for once ahead of the curve, Big G and I spent the summer drinking Aperol Spritz. Our then-neighbour, who was Italian, saw us in the garden one evening and roundly mocked us for drinking what he called “an old man’s drink”.

Well, he was wrong, and Aperol got cool.

And now we have a new Italian spirit. And it is tipped to be the next big thing, so remember you heard it here first.

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Rosolio is an Italian liqueur dating back to the 15th century and made with rose petals. The new version, Italicus, blends bergamot, citrus, chamomile and lavender, among others, to create something that tastes like a boozy Earl Grey tea. It smells gorgeous, all citrusy and herby, and taste quite sweet but with a bitter note at the end.

If you like interesting gin, then you’ll like this, I think.

The official way to drink it is half Italicus, half prosecco over ice with olives – like the love child of a gin and tonic and a martini. I have done this. It’s delicious. But I’ve also seen 2 parts Italicus with 1 part fino sherry and two drops of orange bitters, served over ice, which I might try this weekend. Or you could use it in a Negroni Bianco.

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May all the kids go to bed on time. Chin chin!

What are you drinking this summer?

Cheap eats: Shakshuka

This is not a terribly authentic recipe, but it’s quick and veggie and cheap. It’s a great store cupboard recipe and also good for using up the ends of the veg bin – I’ve aways got halves of peppers lying about.

This is also delicious for breakfast the next day, or you can use any leftover pepper mix in wraps or as an omelette filling.

A pack of mixed peppers costs about a quid, let’s say 20p for an onion and 50p for a tin of tomatoes. Up to a pound for 4 eggs, depending on the quality and provenance. So meals for 2 adults plus leftovers = between £2.50 and £3.00. As always, I’m assuming some basic store cupboard ingredients and aromatics. 

What you need

  • 3 or 4 peppers, any colour, sliced
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • Tin of chopped tomatoes
  • Eggs (I serve 2 per person)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Olive oil
  • Teaspoon each of of paprika and cumin (you could leave these out)

What you do

  1. In a frypan with a lid, fry the onion and garlic in the olive oil until soft, then add the peppers and soften these also.
  2. Stir in the tomatoes and spices, and simmer for 5 mins.
  3. Make small wells in the mix and crack an egg into each. Cover the pan with its lid and cook until the egg whites are firm but the yolks are still soft, about 5 mins.
  4. Serve with some bread, or over couscous, if you like, with a splash of hot sauce.

You could, if you wanted to, add sliced mushrooms with the peppers, and/or stir in some baby spinach to wilt, before adding the eggs, but I’ve not costed this.

Add some meat: Some fried chorzo in this woudl be delicious
Make it low-carb: Don’t serve the bread.
Make it child-friendly: Go easy on the spices

Cheap eats: Pork belly and greens 

I absolutely love pork belly. Its fattiness feels decadent but it’s such a doddle to prepare. This is a great Friday night supper, when you want something a bit special because it’s the weekend but you’re also knackered from a week at work and your kids are finally in bed.

You can get 6 or 7 pork belly slices from Aldi for less than £2, which is enough for 2 adult dinners plus a bit of lunch the next day for one of you. Add some pak choi at about £1.50 and some rice or super noodles and that’s about £4.00 for 3 meals, assuming you have the store cupboard bits.

What you need

  • 500g pork belly slices
  • Small knob of ginger, grated
  • 2 garlic gloves, crushed
  • Slug of dark soy sauce
  • Tablespoon of honey
  • 2 star anise or a teaspoon of Chinese 5 spice powder
  • Pack of pak choi
  • Rice or noodles, to serve

What you do

  1. Mix together the ginger, garlic, soy, honey and star anise/5 spice then rub into the pork. I find the best way to do this is to put everything into a freezer bag, tie off the top and mush it together. Then you can throw the bag in the bin when you’re done!
  2. Marinate for as long as you can. If you do this in the morning before work, that’s perfect.
  3. Tip the meat and sauce into a baking dish and cook at 180C for 40-50 mins, turning once.
  4. Meanwhile, cook your rice or noodles and steam the pak choi.
  5. Pour any sauce over the meat and green to serve. That’s it!

Make it veggie: Well, it’s pork belly, so you know…You could use a similar marinade for firm tofu.
Make it low-carb: Remove the noodles/rice or replace with a zero version
Make it child-friendly: Add a little more honey and a squirt of tomato ketchup to the marinade

Cheap eats: Quiche

 

I love a quiche, I do. Quick and cheap. Makes dinner plus lunches the next day. Great for using up the last of the tinned sweetcorn and curling ham slices and a sad half pepper and some tired mushrooms. Easily bulked out with frozen veg. Can be eaten hot or cold, summer or winter. Mum used to make one at least once a fortnight and I understand why.

The pastry for this costs pennies. Cream costs about 75p and you’ll need about 50p of grated cheese, plus 2 eggs. So about £2 plus whatever other ingredients you choose to include.

What you need

  • 225g plain flour
  • 100 butter, diced
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 100ml cream
  • handful of grated cheese
  • Protein fillings: try chopped ham, crispy bacon, smoked salmon
  • Veg fillings: I’ve used tinned sweetcorn, frozen peas, diced peppers, cherry or sundried tomatoes, asparagus tips, broccoli, sliced mushrooms, spring onions, diced courgette, diced butternut squash, artichokes in olive oil, olives. (Blast peppers, courgettes and squash in the microwave to soften first.)

What you do

  1. Make the pastry by sifting the flour into a bowl and adding the butter. Rub with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, add the salt, then chill in the fridge for 20 mins.
  2. Roll the pastry out into a pie dish, prick the bottom and blind bake at 180C for 15-20 mins followed by 5 mins uncovered, until just brown.
  3. Mix together the eggs, cream, cheese and fillings. Pour into the pie crust and bake for 20-25 mins until the filling is just set.
  4. Serve with salad or green beans, if you like.

Make it veggie: Leave out the meat and fish. Add some feat, perhaps
Make it low-carb: You can bake the filling without a crust
Make it child-friendly: Let the kids choose the veg, and make them in muffin tins for child-sized portions

Cheap eats: Sausage and spinach pasta 

I try not to eat too much pasta but it’s definitely a cost effective way of feeding the family. I also got some new pasta bowls for my birthday (not the one pictured which came from a pound shop about 10 years ago) which are just screaming out for a big tangle of linguine or tagliatelle.

I used just two pork sausages for this from a pack of 8, plus half a bag of baby spinach and a few spoons of creme fraiche. It will depend on how good the sausages are, but I estimate this cost about £2.00 for two portions.

What you need

  • 2 pork sausages, skins removed
  • Half a bag of baby spinach
  • A clove of garlic, crushed
  • 2 fat tablespoons of creme fraiche
  • A teaspoon of wholegrain mustard
  • Enough long pasta for two people
  • Splash of olive oil

What you do

  1. Put your pasta on to cook
  2. Fry off the garlic in the olive oil, then crumble in the sausage meat and brown
  3. Add the creme fraiche and mustard to the pan, then add the spinach and cook until it wilts
  4. Add the cooked pasta to the pan with a drop of the cooking water and mix together. Done.

 

Make it veggie: Hmm, probably not worth it. You could try Quorn mince but I wouldn’t bother, frankly
Make it low-carb: LOL. Pasta.
Make it child-friendly: Use a mild mustard.

Kid-friendly meals: Savoury mince and vegetable pie

Big G has very strict rules on what constitutes a pie. It should have both a pastry top and bottom, none of this “casserole with a pastry lid” nonsense. He’s not alone – there was even a petition about this a few years ago.

But time is of the essence, so this pie only has pastry on the top. Sorry, Big G.

This pie is the food of childhood. Your mother probably made one; your grandmother definitely would have done. It’s very plain, using basic mince, but so tasty.

Feeds a family of four with plenty of leftovers.

What you need

  • 500g beef mince
  • 1 brown onion, finely diced
  • 1 cup of diced vegetables
  • 250ml beef stock
  • Tablespoon of flour
  • Tsp tomato puree
  • Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Block of ready-made pastry
  • 1 egg

What you do

  1. In a little oil, soften the onion.
  2. Add the diced veg and cook until soft but still firm. I used sweet potato, carrot and frozen peas. Mushrooms would have been good but Big G doesn’t eat them. I see a lot of recipes suggesting tomatoes and celery; I say, it’s not a bolognese. Once cooked, set the vegetables to one side.
  3. In the same frypan, brown the mince until all moisture has evaporated. Stir in the flour, tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce.
  4. Add the veg back to the pan and pour over the stock. Simmer for 20 mins, until thickened.
  5. Pour the mixture into a pie dish and allow to cool.
  6. Cover with a pastry top. Decorate with pastry shapes, if you like, and make a small slit to allow steam to escape. Brush with beaten egg then bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is brown and crispy and the filling is hot.

There is enough in the pie that you could serve it alone, but I served it with mash and creamed spinach.

Make it veggie: Quorn would be the obvious substitute here, but with enough ‘meaty’ veg you could omit it. Try lots of mushrooms, kidney beans and finely diced sweet potato and swede.

10 little acts of self care you can do right now

Sunday blues. I still get them, even with a new job to look forward to and a lovely weekend with the family behind me.

It’s a feeling of unnamed dread, the sense that something terrible is looming, it’s all moving too fast, and I won’t be able to cope. Perhaps you’re going back to a job that makes you anxious, perhaps it’s the thought of five days without your partner to help with the kids, perhaps you’ve seen your friends this weekend but the week ahead is long and lonely. But while our brains are going flat out, there are things we can do to calm them, and still our bodies, and ground us.

Whatever makes you anxious and stressed, here are a few quick things you can do to manage you situation and how you feel.

 

Tidy up It could be as simple as making your bed (which you can then lie in) or folding the washing (which can be done sitting in front of the TV). Or you could sort your spice rack, or pair the tupperware with their respective lids, or arrange a bookshelf, or throw out some grotty old pants. You don’t have to go all Marie Kondo, just bring a tiny bit of oder into your environment, which a feverish brain will appreciate.

Have a bath I know, this a terrible cliche, like people suggesting you ‘book a spa day’ as revenge for your partner going out on the lash, but there’s science behind the suggestion. Specifically, if you have trouble falling asleep, have a hot bath before bedtime. Your body temperature naturally drops before you fall asleep, so forcing the change will help you drop off.

Ring your mum There’s something comforting about ringing your mum. You don’t have to talk about what’s troubling you if you don’t want. She’ll tell you all about the neighbour’s new conservatory and what the dog did and a bargain she got at the supermarket, and you can pretend you’re at school again and that you’re going to wash your hair and watch Top of the Pops.

Eat a salad As tempting as it is to mainline cheese, try to put something nourishing into your body. A good salad is fresh and interesting and has the right ratio of time to prepare vs time to eat. I made three suggestions of salads to eat when you are sad last week. Conversely,

Eat a cake You could make one, or better still you could go to a coffee shop and order something stupendous. Have a decent cup of tea, and use a fork. Make it an occasion. Cake is delicious.

Read a comfort book It’s nice to regress. And a book from your teens with which you are familiar will keep your mind occupied but not require too much brain power to keep up with the narrative. My go-to is the Dark is Rising series, but consider Anne of Green Gables, Charlotte’s Web, Pippi Longstocking, Adrian Mole, some Austen or some cheeky Chalet School.

Get creative It might making be an elaborate meal, knitting a pair of socks, doing some colouring, or building with lego. Give yourself a shit hot manicure. Fold some origami. Or even a paper plane. Write some rude limericks. It doesn’t matter what you do, or how complex it is or isn’t – the act of creating will be satisfying.

Do some exercise Yeah, this is one you’ll have heard a lot. The trick is to find the right exercise. I can’t take long walks or do yoga, because my brain recognises the silence and starts making lists and harrassing me.  I prefer a class at the gym, something very fast and complex, so I have no time to think about anything. But walk the kids to the park, do some gardening, cycle to the pub in the next village – just move a little bit. On the other hand, if circumstances allow,

Have a duvet day Do it properly: clean sheets, clean jammies, a good box set. Eat cereal and scrambled egg on toast and drinks many cups of tea. Snooze and read in between.

Give back Acts of altruism have a positive impact on our own mental health. Donate to a charity, knit something for an organisation  that needs knitters, clean out your wardrobe and take stuff to a charity shop, see if your elderly neighbour needs anything from the shop.

Above all, be kind to yourself. We all have good days, and bad days, and on the days when we are feeling fragile it’s ok to retreat from the world. But take care of yourself, too, and please talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Self care will help day to day, but you should seek help if you need it longer term.

What do you do to look after yourself?