Friday 17 January 2014

What is your idea of comfort food?

Pizza? Chips? A nice big vat of warming beef stew? Mashed potato? Perhaps a thick slab of bubbling cheese on toast, or maybe a creamy fish pie. It should probably involve carbs of some description, and most likely meat and/or dairy too. Sausages and mash; a hearty steak and kidney pie; a roast chicken.

These things are all well and good, but if you want to make them yourself (and let’s face it, they’ll always be better that way), they take time. You can’t satisfy a roast chicken craving in ten minutes. You might not have the ingredients in the fridge. Even if you do, it’ll take a good couple of hours before you can tuck into that meal of dreams.

I’m lucky, you see, because my ultimate comfort food has none of these problems. I always have the ingredients in the house, and it takes no more than five minutes to prepare. Scrambled eggs on toast soothe my soul like no other food. For some people this is breakfast; for me, it’s the ultimate comfort dinner or lunch for one, the perfect treat after a busy day or week cooking more involved and sophisticated fare. 

The other night I had a scrambled egg craving, but also felt like I needed more vitamins in my life. I decided to solve both problems at once by topping a plate of scrambled eggs on toast with sliced avocado. I had a hunch that the creamy texture of the avocado would work wonderfully with the buttery eggs, and I wasn’t wrong. Although this takes minutes and is ridiculously easy, it’s also a very healthy take on comfort food, eggs and avocados both being very nutritious. Add a little fresh thyme and a generous amount of seasoning, and you have a tasty and super-comforting twist on the classic scrambled eggs.

Avocado scrambled eggs (serves 1):

2 thick slices of sourdough bread
2 large eggs
2 tbsp milk
A few leaves of fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
A large knob of butter, plus extra for the toast
Half a ripe avocado, sliced

Put the bread in the toaster. Beat the eggs in a small bowl with the milk, thyme, and some salt and pepper. In a small non-stick saucepan, heat the knob of butter until foaming. Add the eggs, then cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, until they are just scrambled. Meanwhile, toast the bread.

Butter the bread and spoon the eggs over the top. Top with the slices of avocado, sprinkle with a little extra salt, and serve.

Thursday 10 October 2013

Swordfish with mango, avocado, cucumber and lime salsa

When I’m cooking for myself, I often make this dish. This is for several reasons. Firstly, it takes minutes to put together. Secondly, it is delicious while also being very nutritious, packed with nutrients from those superfood avocados. Thirdly, it looks gorgeous and feels like spoiling myself, which is what you need when you’re eating alone. You can, of course, multiply the recipe below to serve more people – this is a stunning ‘wow factor’ dinner party dish, particularly in the summer when you want something light and fresh.

 You have a delicious thick, meaty swordfish steak (though tuna works well too), griddled over a high heat so the edges are crispy while the inside is just cooked and meltingly tender. You couple this with a gorgeous salsa of chopped crunchy cucumber, juicy sweet mango and creamy avocado, brightened with the zest and juice of a lime, zingy red chilli, and vibrant fresh herbs: basil, mint and coriander. It’s quick but beautiful, the salsa accompanying the rich fish perfectly.

Swordfish with mango, avocado, cucumber and lime salsa (serves 1):

Half a ripe avocado
Half a cucumber, seeds removed
1 small mango
1 medium hot red chilli
Zest of 1 lime
Juice of half a lime
A small handful each of fresh basil, mint and coriander, leaves picked
Salt and pepper
1 swordfish or tuna steak
Sesame oil

Cut the avocado, cucumber and mango into 1cm dice and put into a mixing bowl. Finely chop the chilli and add to the bowl, then add the lime zest and juice, herbs, and salt and pepper. Stir gently to mix.

Get a griddle pan very hot. Rub the fish with a little sesame oil and black pepper on each side, then griddle on each side for 2-3 minutes until just cooked through. Season generously with salt, then serve alongside the salsa.

Friday 4 October 2013

Ultimate avocado sandwich

You know how sometimes you have a guilty food conscience over things left over in the fridge? A sad, wilting bunch of basil; a block of cheddar starting to grow what my mother terms ‘a little furry coat’; a red pepper that is starting to wrinkle…I’m sure I’m not the only one for whom such things are quite traumatic, such is my hatred of wastage.

Here’s a solution for that half avocado sitting in clingfilm in your fridge that is starting to turn brown and unappetising in places (but is, I assure you, still completely edible). I came up with this in an attempt to alleviate the aforementioned guilty conscience, and ended up tucking into one of the best sandwiches I have ever eaten in my life.

It featured a deliciously creamy yet chunky spread of mashed avocado, brightened with salt, lime and a little coriander. Next to this, feisty slices of punchy chorizo, and a huge juicy beef tomato, sliced. The lot was piled into a floury, fluffy ciabatta bun, and the resulting sandwich was completely inappropriate to be eaten in public. I ended up with avocado on my nose.

But don’t let this put you off – it’s ridiculously tasty.

Ultimate avocado sandwich (serves 1):

Half a ripe avocado
A squeeze of lemon or lime juice
A small handful of fresh coriander or basil, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
1 ciabatta roll, or similar
6 thin slices of chorizo
1 large tomato, thinly sliced

In a small bowl, mash the avocado with the citrus juice, coriander or basil, and a generous amount of salt and pepper, to taste (avocados love salt – be kind). Slice the ciabatta in half and spread the avocado on the inside, then fill with the chorizo and tomato. Eat in private.

Monday 5 August 2013

Tortellini, summer vegetable and avocado salad

Here's our fifth guest blog post from Elly McCausland: 

Sometimes, you want the comforting starchiness of a bowl of pasta, but you also want that virtuous, nourished feeling that comes with eating a whole bowl of salad. The solution, I find, is to use stuffed pasta (like ravioli or tortellini) as an ingredient in a salad full of vibrant green vegetables, rather than simply eating it on its own. That way, you get the best of both worlds: deliciously squidgy, bolstering carbohydrate, and the fresh crunch of healthy greenery. It’s also a far more interesting plateful to eat than a bowl of tortellini on its own, which can be somewhat monotonous.

Here, I’ve used smoked ham and cheese tortellini. I’ve surrounded these delicate little parcels with delicious stalks of tenderstem broccoli, bright sweet peas, lovely fresh herbs, and some toasted pine nuts for crunch and depth of flavour. What really makes this salad complete, though, is the delicious creamy texture of cubes of ripe avocado, scattered throughout. The combination of the smooth avocado flesh with the smoky flavours of the ham and cheese in the tortellini is a beautiful thing, all the more so when tossed together in a simple but flavoursome dressing of crushed garlic, lemon juice and good-quality olive oil. 

This salad is very adaptable. You can use whatever flavour stuffed pasta you like, and whatever vegetables. Try a vegetarian version with spinach and ricotta tortellini, or in the autumn, mix it up with pumpkin ravioli, sage and fried mushrooms. It’s very quick to put together, and keeps well in the fridge, making it perfect for lunchboxes. And, of course, it’s another great and interesting way to sneak nourishing avocados into your diet: combine them with pasta, and who could say no?

Tortellini, summer vegetable and avocado salad (serves 2):

1 clove garlic, crushed
50ml good-quality olive oil
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
½ tsp salt
180g tenderstem broccoli or asparagus, sliced into 1-inch lengths
A couple of handfuls of frozen peas
300g tortellini of your choice
3 tbsp pine nuts, toasted in a dry pan
1 avocado, diced
A small bunch of mint, finely shredded
A small bunch of basil, torn
Freshly ground black pepper

First, make the dressing. In a small jug, whisk together the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Taste – you might want more lemon juice or salt depending on your preference.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add the broccoli and peas and cook for one minute, then add the tortellini and cook for another minute (or as long as it suggests on the packet instructions). Drain well, then return to the pan. Toss together with the dressing, then add the pine nuts, avocado and herbs, and season with black pepper. Mix gently and serve immediately.


Tuesday 30 July 2013

Mango and avocado salad

Here's our fourth guest blog post from Elly McCausland:

Avocados have a wonderful affinity with mangoes. There’s something about the combination of golden, juicy, sweet mango flesh with the muted jade creaminess of avocados that just works, on multiple levels: it tastes great, but, just as importantly, it looks great too.

Furthermore, this combination of ingredients makes a versatile salad that can accompany all sorts of grilled or roasted meats or fish. It’s delicious with tangy, Mexican-style pulled pork (wrapped in a tortilla with rice and beans and some fresh tomato salsa, as in the picture), or with a glazed, crispy roast chicken; with chargrilled salmon fillets, or maybe some seared mackerel. Serve it with steak, or even burgers. It makes a perfect barbecue side dish because it is so adaptable, and will work well with almost anything, or even on its own – fruity yet luxuriantly creamy at the same time, it’s incredibly moreish, but in a nourishing, wholesome, nutritious way – the kind of salad you’ll want to eat by the bowlful, and will probably take the starring role and overshadow whatever you decide to serve it with.

This is a very simple salad to put together. Toss some cubed mango and avocado with spinach leaves, and some kind of crunchy green veg – I use mange tout here, but green beans would work well, or cucumber (or both). The dressing is a delicious zingy mixture of coriander, lime juice, olive oil and a generous pinch of salt, which really brings all the flavours alive. Finally, some delicious nutty toasted seeds are scattered over the top, for crunch and a delicious earthy flavour.

Mango and avocado salad (serves 4-6):

2 ripe avocados
2 ripe mangoes
A bag of baby spinach leaves
250g mange tout or green beans
A large bunch of coriander
Juice of 1-2 limes
A pinch of ground cumin
6 tbsp olive oil
1-2 tsp sea salt
Black pepper
4 tbsp pumpkin and/or sunflower seeds, toasted in a dry pan

Scoop the flesh from the avocados and cut into chunks. Peel the mangoes and cut the flesh into small cubes. Place in a big salad bowl with the spinach. Steam or boil the mange tout/beans briefly so they retain some bite, then refresh in cold water, drain and add to the spinach.

If you have a mini chopper or food processor, blitz the coriander and cumin with the lime juice, olive oil and salt – keep tasting to determine if you need more salt or lime juice. If you don’t have a chopper, just finely chop the coriander and whisk together with the oil, lime juice, cumin and salt. Season with a little black pepper, then toss together with the salad. Scatter over the seeds just before serving.