Vietnamese salad

We spent the half term in Dorset on a huge family holiday. 17 people across 3 generations. The Gs had an absolute blast – spending time with cousins is good for the soul. We had glorious weather for the most part, and the perfect mix of beach, swimming pool, rockpools and Monkey World.

Did you know you can hire a beach hut if you’re a National Trust member? It’s such a great perk. We found the hut was a godsend with kids – if it’s a bit wet or windy you can go inside for a cup of tea; if the kids are over-sunned you can have lunch inside for a bit of respite.

Catering for 17 is no mean feat. You have to factor in small kids who want to eat early and grownups who have a sundowner or two and would be happy with bread, cheese and another G&T. Not to mention a range of likes and dislikes. So we ate delicious but fairly straightforward dishes: chicken pie, lasagne, pizzas. And the requisite BBQs, of course. Proper holiday food!

When we got home, though, I quite fancied some meals to suit a more grown up palate. Plus, the last weekend of the half term had glorious weather, and I didn’t want to cook much in the heat.

This Vietnamese salad was perfect. Cold and juicy, and sour and spicy. It takes just minutes to prepare and there was enough left over for lunch the next day. It was so good I made it again a few days later.

Vietnamese salad

This salad is perfect just as it is, but you could add all kinds of protein: shredded poached chicken breast, grilled prawns, fried tofu or finely sliced rare steak.

You don’t have to deseed the chillis but I didn’t recently and found it quite burn-y…and I love chillis.

What you need

For the salad

  • Big handful of bean sprouts
  • Half a pack of mange tout, julienned
  • 3 or 4 spring onions, finely sliced
  • A carrot, julienned
  • Half a green cabbage, finely sliced
  • Half a cucumber, julienned
    A handful of fresh mint, finely sliced
  • A packet of fine rice noodles, softened in boiling water.

For the dressing

  • Equal parts sesame oil, rice vinegar and fish sauce
  • Juice of a lime
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 red chillis, deseeded and finely chopped (keep some back to garnish)
  • 2 crushed cloves of garlic

To top

  • Crushed peanuts
  • finely sliced red chilli

What you do

  1. Slice all the veg and throw it in a bowl with the noodles. I use one of these julienne peelers for the carrots and cucumber – life’s too short.
  2. Add any protein you fancy, if you’d like
  3. Mix all the ingredients for the dressing together; amend to taste. I like mine quite sour but you may want it a little sweeter.
  4. Toss the salad in the dressing and chill in the fridge for half an hour.
  5. Scatter over peanuts and sliced chillis. That’s it!

What do you like to cook when it’s too hot to cook?

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Mushroom and spinach stronganoff

Last September, when G Major started reception, I dropped my hours at work a bit to enable me to do pick up three days a week. I have always felt very strongly that it’s a good idea, if at all possible, for an adult to be at home after school in the early years, when the kids are knackered and need a decent feed and help with reading and there are playdates and extra curricular activities and not enough hours in the weekend to do everything you want to do together. I’m very fortunate indeed I’ve been able to wrangle the hours I do.

I rather thought it would be a breeze – I’d pootle home after work, have a chat at the school gates, relax with G Major while providing a gently stimulating environment, serve a balanced hot meal, and then collect G Minor from nursery early enough to also spend quality time with her.

LOLs.

I am running ALL THE TIME. I battle Southern Trains to get home; I race up the hill to get to the classroom door on time; we now have swimming and dance after school; reading is fraught when G Major is tired; she doesn’t want to go back out to nursery; G Major wants her sister’s post-nursery snack and G Minor wants her sister’s supper; no one agrees on what TV show to watch and what bedtime story to have; I have to pick up on work in the evening and connect with my US colleagues.

Part time work does not always equal less work.

I am knackered. So to avoid feeling utterly shattered, I’m keeping an eye on my diet. This recipe is a good boost for iron and vitamins B and D. Clearly, one meal is not going to make any difference to your energy levels, but it’s a good recipe to have in rotation. And it’s veggie.

Serves 2, plus a bit left for lunch the next day

What you need

  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms, preferably a mix of different types
  • Half an onion, sliced
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • Half a bag of baby spinach
  • Half a small pot of sour cream
  • 3 tbsp brandy
  • Same of Worcestershire sauce
  • Ground black pepper
  • Pinch of paprika

What you do

  • Fry the onion and garlic in some oil until soft
  • Add the mushrooms, paprika and a good grind of black pepper and fry the mushrooms for about 8 minutes
  • Add the brandy, sour cream and Worcestershire sauce and allow to bubble away for a couple of minutes, then add the spinach and allow to just wilt.

I served this over rice, but you could also have it as a side with steak or a pork chop. It would also be delicious over a baked sweet potato.

Big G won’t eat mushrooms so I cooked this when he was out at a work do, and ate it slumped comatose in front of some bad TV, while I ignored the washing that needed folding.

Living. The. Dream.

What’s your go-to meal when you’re feeling a bit tired and flat?

Old school Aussie rissoles and gravy…in the slow cooker 

G Major starting school has got me thinking about my primary school days. Growing up in Australia, it was pretty different from her experience: starting school in the baking heat of summer; no school dinners, only packed lunches; enforced laps of the playing field every morning.

I’ve also been thinking about the evening meals I ate. 80s suburban Queensland wasn’t known for its adventurous palate, in the main, but Mum served up all sorts – Asian, Middle Eastern, Greek, pastas other than spag bol, Eastern European goulash-type dishes with dumplings, Mexican, mouth-melting Sri Lankan curries for Dad…we were very lucky.

But the traditional meat and three veg still featured, and especially mince, which then, as now, was economical and appealed to small children. Rissoles are a staple of Australian family cooking, so I decided to declare the school year open with these.

Even better, this is a slow cooker version. So make them up in the morning and forget about them until suppertime.

As ever, there is extra veg hidden in these.

What you need

  • 500g beef mince
  • Half an onion, finely grated or blitzed in the food processor
  • Small courgette, ditto
  • Small carrot, ditto
  • (I also threw in the dregs of a cauliflower but you can omit this)
  • An egg
  • Handful of breadcrumbs (I used panko but stale while bread is good too)
  • Teaspoon of mustard or mustard powder
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • Squirt of BBQ sauce
  • Splash of Worcestershire sauce

What you do

  1. Mix the mince, egg, veg, breadcrumbs, mustard and seasoning together
  2. Form into balls (this made 10 for me) and flatten slightly, then put into the slow cooker
  3. Mix together the stock and sauces and pour over the rissoles, then cook on low for 6 hours.

And that is IT! So easy. Big G was drifting about the kitchen muttering darkly about mince turning to soup in the slow cooker but they held together perfectly. The kids ate them and Big G ate his words.

Traditionally these are served with mashed potatoes and peas; I did sweet potato mash, peas, runner beans and carrots. Oven chips would be delicious if you like a bit of dirty chips and gravy, or you could even serve over buttered pasta.

A proper taste of my childhood. What’s yours?

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.