Saturday, 15 June 2013

Salad Days - Fruit and Nutcase Rice Salad

Today I went to a friend's birthday tea, for which she chose the theme 'Mad Hatter's Tea Party' and encouraged everyone to dress up.  At first, I was a bit doubtful about dressing up, as I couldn't think what to go as.  Then inspiration struck - I love butterflies, why not go as the caterpillar? Okay, I know he probably wasn't at the Mad Hatter's tea party (I can't find my copy of the book to check) but why not, anyway? Without the hookah - I don't smoke - but with a pair of dark turquoise voluminous harem pants, a green satin top, and a couple of green-blue scarves wrapped around my head to hide my bruises, stitches and horrible greasy hair (not allowed to wash it for another few days yet!).

Next question was what to take for the table? Ahha, my salad for today. I'm fairly sure there wasn't salad on the tea table in the book either, but too bad; everyone else was likely to take cakes and my friend and I are supposed to be trying to lose weight. So since this is a bit of a mad tea party, I thought perhaps a rice salad with fruit and nuts.

So, basmati rice, cooked and cooled a bit while I put together the rest of it.  Some pistachios (unsalted) and chopped almonds, and a mix of raisins and sultanas. Some red-purple grapes, a couple of fresh apricots, a  peach and an apple, chopped up. I had a persimmon which was quite hard when I bought it a few days ago, but was melting all over the place, too soft to chop up for salad so I just slurped that up while I looked for something else to add to the salad. Ah, some halved cherry tomatoes! They're sweet and count as fruit. And last but not least, pomegranate seeds and the juice which came out as I was stripping the seeds from the pith.

The party was great, with most others dressed up too. My birthday friend dressed in white, with a white fur hood and her face made up with a pink nose and whiskers as the White Rabbit. Actually, her birthday was the following day, so this was sort of an unbirthday, appropriately. There was a bumble bee and a fairy, the Queen of Hearts, and a dormouse in a leopard print onesie.  We were jam packed around the table under a pop-up gazebo in the small back garden, so no moving around. Thankfully, the rain stopped and it was a sunny afternoon, just lovely!

There was a lot of this salad left over after the party, so that's my Sunday lunch sorted out. Standing while preparing the salad made me realise how much my left knee is now hurting, scarcely able to take my weight properly. It loosened up a little at the party, when I had a little belly dance boogie with one of the other ladies, but seized again driving home.  I now can't bear to stand and prepare food, and don't feel like it as the pain is too intense. I'm only eating so that I can take painkillers, just having a piece of fruit or bowl of cereal. So I'm going to take a break of a few days and continue this series of salads when I feel I want to eat  properly again.  I hope this flare stops soon, as I've got too much to do to be able to lie around resting!

Friday, 14 June 2013

Salad Days - Quick Couscous Salad

One of my favourite quick and simple salads is couscous with lots of bits and bobs in it. Back in my early twenties, I lived and worked in Paris and could not get into couscous and North African food, nor did I much like garlic. The chef at the works canteen did his best to re-educate me and succeeded in persuading me that steak really didn't have to be cooked all the way through, rabbit stew was delicious and garlic was essential. I might not eat meat any more, but I like garlic!
This uses 'instant' couscous - I know it will offend some people. Doing it 'properly' is fine if you are feeding a crowd on a special occasion, but I am not rinsing, steaming, separating grains and so on just for myself. I'm not sure I would know where to find anything other than 'instant' couscous!

I use a half-cup measure to measure out couscous into a bowl and add the same volume of boiling water, or very slightly more - a full cup of water to a scant cup of couscous. Cover the bowl with a plate and leave to stand. While the couscous absorbs the water, dice various salad ingredients, whatever you have to hand, such as tomato, cucumber, apple, celery, sweet pepper and add a few nuts if you like (I like cashews). When the couscous has absorbed the water, stir in a half teaspoon of harissa (or more if you like it really fiery), separating the grains and fluffing it up a bit, then adding the salad ingredients and nuts. As you can see from the pic, this time I added almonds instead of cashews, black grapes instead of apple. I come back to this time after time, because I can just throw it together with whatever I have. It also makes a really good light packed lunch for dance workshop days.

It occurred to me as I was making this salad that my left knee was so painful, I didn't want to stand at the kitchen worktop to chop the ingredients. My head was buzzing and the stitches from the operation three days ago to remove a cyst from my scalp were pulling and burning a little. I had no appetite, even though I needed to eat to take painkillers.  Although I like salads, I'm craving chilli salmon, new potatoes and piles of broccoli.  I think my body is trying to tell me something, so I may take a break from the salads series and pick up sometime when I'm feeling better and inspired to take it up again.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Salad Days - Warm Potato Salad

What a day! The after-effects of my mini-op caught up with me today. The bruising is coming out, my neck is tender and stiff and I had a niggling headache, probably from sleeping with my head in a strange position in an effort not to lie on the sore bits. I had scheduled the day to catch up on my assignments, but couldn't concentrate or find the resources I needed online.

Just to add insult to injury, I had a frustrating time with the delivery of a swing seat, when it turned out I had been sent a different style to the one I ordered. By the time I had checked this out, I had signed for the package and the delivery men were long gone.  I then had a bit of a time convincing the girl on the helpline that just because the swing seat which I bought and one available through their partner company had the same name, they were not necessarily the same product. If I had wanted the squarer, lighter looking seat offered by the partner company, I would not have ordered the curvier, sturdier-looking one they were selling for £60 more than the other one. The pictures on the two websites were different, so the products should be different. The one I was sent was not the one I ordered! Having explained all this, it seemed another could be sent out and the first taken away, providing all the bits were boxed up.  The earliest they could do the delivery was in just under a fortnight, so for the next 12 days I would have a massive box adding to my usual level of clutter.  In hauling the 30-something kilo box around to repack everything and tape the box shut again, I hurt my left knee.  After sitting down for a bit with a cup of tea, I knew that my low level knee osteoarthritis pain had changed into a full-on flare. Damn and blast it, I don't have time for this.  I should be cleaning and decorating, and gardening too except that it's raining!

Feeling well sorry for myself, I staggered out to pick some mint and chives. I cut up some new potatoes, threw them in a pan to boil with a sprig of mint, and chopped up the chives.  Much as I don't like raw onion, a few chopped up chives are okay as I don't find the flavour too strong. And the little green rings look so pretty, like beads.
Once the potatoes were cooked, I drained them, picked out the mint, and mixed them and the chives with a tablespoon of light mayonnaise to make a warm potato salad.  I was in too much pain to stand and make anything else, so I ate it just as it was, taking painkillers and hoping that I would be able to get through that night's class. Which, it turned out, had to be cancelled anyway. I'm not sure if that was a blessing or not. It would have improved my bad mood. Grumbling to myself, I went out and treated myself to a cream cake and ice cream.
Yes, so much for the diet, but I can take only so much provocation before I comfort eat, and the chocolate mint ice cream certainly helped me to chill out a little!

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Salad Days - Tuna Pasta Salad

For some reason, I really like canned tuna at the moment.  On the basis that if something smells or tastes very good to you, or that you crave it, then it probably contains some nutrient that your body needs, I decided to go with it and make myself a tuna pasta salad.

To some cooked pasta shells I added a drained can of flaked tuna (well, most of one - the cats demanded their share!), a small can of sweetcorn, some halved cherry tomatoes and basil leaves. I think tomato and basil go very well with tuna. I debated adding some cucumber, but decided this was enough. No need for mayonnaise or other dressings, either.

It was delicious!

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Salad Days - Tzatziki

I had a mini-op today to remove a cyst from my scalp.  It's been growing slowly behind my ear since my teens and I'd had enough.  It turned out to be larger than I thought, about the size of a gobstopper or small cherry tomato.  I had it done at my local surgery and the doctor and nurse were wonderful. The worst bit was the local anaesthetic.  Getting it to stop bleeding afterwards was a bit of a challenge. Head wounds bleed a lot anyway, but I tend to bleed quite freely too. Eventually I came away with a fresh dressing and a compression bandage wrapped around my head like a turban. The doctor was working late and called a couple of times to check how I was, and that the wound had stopped bleeding. Bless him, his orders for this evening were to take another painkiller, sit still in front of the TV with a big glass of water, and rest.

The thing that surprised me most is how hungry I was after I came away from the surgery. I went into the Spar, my bandaged head attracting some strange looks, and bought a tuna salad baguette and a danish pastry as a treat and was still peckish, so I needed something salad-like for a TV snack!

How about Tzatziki?  Easy to make and just as well, because in the end, I didn't even have the energy to cut up some carrot, celery and pepper for crudites and just used a few crackers to scoop it up, enjoying the crunchy, creamy texture.
I cut a length of cucumber into small pieces, popped them into a sieve with some salt to drain some of the juice out. A bit of fresh mint, chopped finely, and a crushed clove of garlic, some Greek yoghurt, mix it all together and watch Shirley Valentine on DVD.  Shame about the painkillers, I would have liked a glass of Ouzo ...

It Might Be Summer

We've had a good three weeks of fine weather, but the weather has just changed and the current 5 day forecast gives rain every day. It might be Summer.  I hope that wasn't all we're going to get!

When the weather first turned fine, there was a stiff north wind.  After a week or so, the wind came round and the temperature went from 11 to 21 degrees.  Anything I transplant wilts immediately, despite being watered in. I got too hot to carry on working in the garden at lunchtime, and the cats have been lying, sprawled in the shade.

All the farms seem to have taken their first cut of silage.  The cold wind was good for drying, and the continued good weather meant that more fields can be cut, leaving a patchwork of yellow-green against the darker green grazing.  Lightly grazed fields and hay meadows are now awash with buttercups and ladies' smock, although unfortunately not so awash with butterflies.

Crab apple blossom and pieris
I've loved driving and walking along the local lanes in the glorious sunshine of the last fortnight or so. After a long, cold winter which delayed all the vegetation (the May (Hawthorn) flowers are just out, and it's now June!) it's almost as if everything is growing and flowering as fast as it can, without the normal progression from spring to summer flowers.  All of a sudden, it's all here, and fading almost as quickly. The hedge banks look wonderful, a mass of colours and textures.

Bluebells, red campion and cow parsleyBluebells and red campion add lovely contrast against the greens of grasses, rosebay willowherb and foxgloves, all starting to catch up with ferns which are still busy unfurling their fronds. The white starry flowers of wild garlic, garlic mustard and stitchwort are being crowded out by ox-eye daisies and billowing clouds of cow parsley. The last of the celandines and primroses are being overtaken by buttercups and dandelions.
The rusty spikes of sorrel are starting to show and navelwort gleams green and cream in the shady areas. There are violets and wild strawberries, scarcely visible in the banks and early purple orchids are only just beginning to set seed. In places, a mixture of garden escapees add their beautiful flowers; forget-me-nots, columbine, dame's violet and London pride, where only a few weeks ago there were daffodils still in flower.

In the past few days, since I started this post, a few miles of hedgebanks, starting a mile down the road, have been cut already. I know there are a lot of miles to cover, but it's too soon, when some of the flowers haven't even opened, let alone set seed. It's not as if they were getting in the way of traffic as they do later in the summer, when tall grasses, hogweed and cow parsley start to sag under their own weight and fall out into the road.  In places, cutting the hedgebanks also involves a light trimming of the hedges; with the birds still nesting, I would have thought there would be plenty of conservation reasons to delay cutting on minor roads for a few weeks. Carmarthenshire County Council, what are you thinking? Shame on you!

Monday, 10 June 2013

Salad Days - How Green Was My Salad?

Green is one of my favourite colours and I fancied a green salad. I went with what I had to hand; lettuce, (white) cabbage, cucumber, green pepper, avocado, celery, green apple, pear, grapes.  I could have thrown on some herbs such as basil and parsley, and would have included watercress or cornsalad (my favourite) if I'd had some. I didn't plan ahead! If I had, I might have looked for some Sage Derby, to add a spot of green cheese! Even so, the range of tastes and textures were interesting and satisfying. I'm debating a salad plate of other colours, but there isn't as much variety as there is from green ingredients. If you feel inspired to play too, I'd love to see your pictures!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Salad Days - Coleslaw

I researched this one a bit, because having decided to make it, I wasn't sure that what I had in mind was really coleslaw. I've had lots of different coleslaws, and there seem to be lots of different recipes, but the basis is generally shredded cabbage and carrot. The origin of the name coleslaw is from the Dutch koolsla or cabbage salad.  The last time I bought a pot of commercially made coleslaw, it was swimming in mayonnaise and had chunks of raw onion in it - ugh, disgusting! Then a friend invited me to dinner and made a baked potato with coleslaw and it was wonderful. I was thinking of my friend and remembered what we'd eaten.  Just what I needed for lunch today!

So, this coleslaw has the usual white cabbage and carrot, but with an apple grated into it and a small amount of light cheddar cheese, bound with a tablespoon of light mayo.  The cheese melts a little on the hot potato and there is a lovely contrast of hot and cold from the potato with salad on top.

I was amazed at how much you get for so  little by way of ingredients - an eighth of the cabbage (sliced), a single carrot, an apple and a small amount of cheese (all coarse-grated) made quite a large bowlful - enough to eat it just as it was for dinner as well.

Salad Days - Chargrilled Aubergine, Courgette and Pepper

My plans for this lunchtime and today's salad were derailed in a most pleasant way when my next door neighbour popped in to say they were having a barbecue for lunch, and would I like to join them?  Oh, but it's meat, but there will be lots of salads. So I decided to slice up some aubergine, pepper and courgette, briefly marinaded in a mix of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, herbs and finely chopped chilli and take that to chargrill on the barbie.  It was too dark by the time I ate yesterday to get a picture of the fennel and orange salad, so I made another.

Sorry about the pic - it doesn't look all that appetising but I assure you the chargrilled veg were smoky and delicious, with an odd piece here and there of very hot chilli.  They needed some feta, but luckily there was a dish of feta and kalamata olives, and some tomato, mozzarella and basil slices.  With some fennel and orange as well, lunch was a delicious feast! Their souvlakia and pork patties did look and smell great, and as no-one else fancied any chargrilled veg, or liked fennel, I had it all to myself.

Salad Days - Fennel and Orange

A week of salads already! I didn't have much time on Friday as I'd been dashing around and, in this warm weather, only needed a light salad.  So, since we were going all Italian on Thursday, I thought I would continue the theme with the classic Tuscan salad of (bulb) fennel and orange.  I love the aniseed flavour of fennel and the addition of orange makes a crisp, juicy, bright, sparkly salad to wake up and refresh the taste buds! In the end, I didn't get time to eat my light salad until it was nearly dark, so this pic is from one I made the following day ...

... when I discovered that I was the only one at the table who liked fennel. So Sunday brunch will feature this salad as well!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Salad Days - Il Tricolore

I have a pot of basil on the kitchen window ledge and some ripe, red tomatoes.  While tomato and basil is a classic salad, I need something a bit more substantial for lunch, so with a strip of mozzarella slices in the middle of the plate and some lettuce and cucumber, we have the colours of the Italian flag, Il Tricolore!

Buon appetito!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Salad Days - Avocado and Surimi

Surimi is fish which has been processed into sticks.  I've recently had a thing for sushi and was enjoying the combination of avocado and surimi in a sushi roll, so I bought some 'seafood sticks' (pollock pretending to be crab!) and flaked some into avocado halves on a bed of lettuce leaves and cucumber slices.

I think I would have preferred it with some thousand island dressing on the fish, but had none. The cats begged for some of the surimi as I was preparing the salad, so it must have smelled good to them. I wish I had remembered to take a photo of them sitting smartly and attentively, waiting hopefully for their treat.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Salad Days - Pineapple, Mango and Melon Fruit Salad

I was going to see a friend today and was looking forward to meeting a new friend too, and having a good natter over lunch on the balcony.  Unfortunately my friend's poorly and has regretfully postponed our get-together, so I get the fruit salad I was going to take for dessert all to myself!

I bought a rather under-ripe pineapple last week, which is now scenting the kitchen, and have a small honeydew melon as well. There are also a couple of small mangoes which were reduced, but were still under ripe when I bought them. While I was making the salad, a few kiwi fruit found their way in there.  They were rock hard when I bought them, but now are starting to look shrivelled without going soft.  They were pale inside, not the vibrant green I was expecting.

Sweet, tart, juicy, refreshing.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Salad Days - Greek Salad

Possibly my favourite, I think I may have raved a little about Greek Salad elsewhere on this blog. I love it, but it really doesn't go with grey, cold, rainy weather.  However, our sunny, dry spell is continuing, so I did some work in the garden yesterday (the pieris has been heavily pruned!), and hungrily whacked together and devoured a stir fry for lunch.  Knowing that I would be teaching later, I decided on a salad to deal with my post-teaching munchies.

As far as I can see, there isn't really a definitive Greek Salad - it seems to differ between islands and regions.  Some include raw onion, which I don't much like although a little, sliced very finely, can add a bit of zing.  Some include herbs like thyme, oregano, dill or fennel. Some include olives, capers or sweet peppers. Some are dressed with a little extra virgin olive oil.

In a bowl, layer lettuce, cucumber and tomato (chunks or slices, you choose!) and feta cheese (crumbled, cubes or slices, however the fancy takes you). In mine, I've included Kalamata olives and a few strips of red sweet pepper.

Suddenly, I am transported from my kitchen in West Wales back to the Greek Islands!

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Salad Days - Avocado, Pear and Blue Cheese

What have I got which needs using up today? One very ripe avocado, an extremely ripe pear, a bit of blue Wensleydale cheese, sliced and placed on some gem lettuce with a couple of crispbreads.

I've seen blue cheese and pear mentioned often enough, but never done it.  I've also seen a variation of this recipe elsewhere, with candied pecans and a mustard vinaigrette dressing, but I don't think it needs either of those (and I don't need the additional calories!). I enjoyed this mix of textures and flavours and the toning colours of the various ingredients. A super-quick and tasty lunch!

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Salad Days - Asparagus, Beetroot, Potato and Egg

When I restarted my diet a few weeks ago, I planned to eat more salads. However, it wasn't really salad weather. When it's cold and grey outside, I instinctively want something warm and filling. The weather has been quite bright this past week, but with a cold north wind.  Now it's June; surely that means Summer, and time for some salads?

While I was thinking about it, I started to wonder, what is a salad? If it's just a mixture of ingredients, are there a minimum number?  Does it have to be cold? Looking around at the many recipes available online, it seems to me that a salad consists of two of more ingredients which have been prepared separately (chopped up, perhaps cooked) and then are mixed together, with or without some sort of dressing, as opposed to ingredients which are prepared separately and then not mixed (eg fish, chips and peas), or ingredients which are cooked together (eg a stew). Some cultures also describe dishes with ingredients which have been mixed and mashed together as salads.  I found hundreds of recipes, some classic, some rather novel with ingredients which would not normally be in season at the same time. One site had some sort of dressing on every salad. Many of the recipes served four or six and it would have been tricky to divide some of the ingredients to make a single serving.

In the end, I rather think that a salad is whatever you make with the ingredients you have to hand.  Some combinations may go better together than others, but it's down to personal taste.  I don't like a lot of dressing or raw onion, and prefer not to have some vegetables raw, either.

So, here's my first salad.  I picked up some asparagus from the reduced section at the supermarket, have a pack of beetroot open, some new potatoes and lots of eggs.  I've been to a choreography workshop today so I am ravenous ...

Halve and boil a few small new potatoes in the in their skins, in salted water. Trim the asparagus and steam on top of the potatoes. Boil an egg.  Let all this cool a little.  Roughly chunk one or two beetroot to a size you like and slosh a tablespoon of cider vinegar over them. Shred some lettuce onto a plate. Peel the egg and quarter, putting it with the potatoes, asparagus and beetroot on top of the lettuce without mixing, unless you want to dye everything pink! Drizzle some of the beetroot coloured cider vinegar on top and admire the colours briefly before eating.

I have to say, the asparagus was a bit past its best and might have been better for soup, but it was quite a satisfying plateful with a mixture of tastes. And yes, my free-ranging hens really do lay eggs with yolks that colour, bless them!

I wonder what tomorrow's salad will be?