Naturally in the first blog of January I’d normally be wishing you all a very happy new year, but very happy seems almost too much to ask for. What can I say? Like everyone else, the most I dare to hope for is that it’s better than the last one. Thanks to the brilliance of science and medicine, we do at least have the method to get over the worst of the virus, and, all being well, I’m hoping that every blog I write in these coming months will be just that bit more optimistic.
Meanwhile, I can’t let 2020 go without extending my sympathy and love to all those who suffered the most during that ghastly year. I count myself lucky to have friends and family who, though they caught it, lived through it and suffered relatively little (although even that little has proved to be ongoing and unpleasant).
The other traditional subject in every new year is health: specifically thinking about eating and drinking a bit less and trying to stick to a better diet. As usual I’ve over-indulged myself over Christmas, and despite all my good intentions, I don’t seem to have begun a dry January… (maybe next week…) Meanwhile, I’ve decided to give you a simple, extremely ‘healthy’ dish as one of my recipes to start the year. A dish created by my son Alex, with whom, together with his wife Charity, we’ve been lucky enough to share the lockdowns while some work is done on their house. He makes it at lunchtime regularly for all of us, including my lovely granddaughter Ava. Great for both children and adults and quick and easy to make: what more could you want? And, as I had a couple of jars of mincemeat left over and a few of my choc chip muffin mixes in the cupboard, I’ve combined them in a second simple recipe if you’re in the mood for a tasty treat for tea-time.
I’ll be back in February, and in the meantime I send all of you very good wishes for a healthy, happy start to 2021.
Love Jane x
Alexander’s Couscous Salad
This is the way Alex, my son, makes this simple salad, varying the ingredients by using what is at hand, from fresh vegetables to fruits, and from tinned sweetcorn to frozen peas. He uses the wholewheat version of couscous - not especially for health reasons, although it does have more fibre than the plain version, but we prefer the taste too. And for us, the sharp dressing is what makes it: we all, including 2 year old Ava, share a love of tastes like vinegar and pickles, but you could always tone it down a bit by adding more oil or even a pinch or two of sugar.
Usually, I’d add some chopped fresh parsley or coriander to this kind of dish, but as Ava is at the stage of despising ‘green bits’, it doesn’t figure in this recipe…
- 250g wholewheat couscous
- 1 chicken or vegetable stock cube, dissolved in about 350ml of boiling water
- 2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
- 1 red pepper (Romaine if possible)
- 1 large carrot
- ½ large fennel bulb
- 100g Feta cheese
- 1 large celery stick
- 2 tsps capers
- 4 tbsps gherkins, chopped (we love the sweet, crinkle cut ones)
- 75g pitted black olives (tinned ones make it easy)
For the dressing:
- Olive oil (extra virgin if possible)
- White wine vinegar
- Balsamic vinegar
- Worcestershire Sauce
- Low-salt Soy sauce
Add the couscous to a large bowl and pour over the hot stock, leaving it to soak for a few minutes before adding the olive oil and fluffing it up with a fork. Allow to cool completely.
Meanwhile, wash the vegetables, peeling the carrot if it has a tough skin, and then, together with the Feta and pickles, chop into small dice, and the olives in halves.
Add everything to the cold couscous and fold together gently, before splashing in the dressing ingredients - using about 2-3 tablespoons of each (except the Soy sauce - 1 spoonful is plenty), or to taste. Stir again gently and serve.
Any left-overs will keep well for a couple of days, covered in the fridge.
I used half shop-bought and half home-made mincemeat this Christmas, and found I had a couple of jars of the home-made one left over. Surprisingly - and happily as we turn to look forward in this new year - the result of mixing it with my muffin mix to make some buns, didn’t taste in the least ‘Christmassy’ - more like the fruit buns my mother used to make when I was a child, with the choc chips adding a little luxury. And the suet in the mincemeat made them deliciously moist: an unexpected bonus…
Of course, you could add some mincemeat to any decent basic muffin mix whether in a packet or from scratch and get the same result, but it’s good to know that if you kept a few packets of mix and a couple of jars of mincemeat in the cupboard, you could throw this together very quickly if unexpected visitors arrive for tea….
- 1 packet Jane Asher Choc Chip Muffin mix
- 2 medium eggs
- 75ml oil
- 50ml milk
- 150g mincemeat
Pre-heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas mark 4. Put 9 paper muffin cases into a muffin tin.
Make up the cake mix as directed on the packet and stir in the mincemeat until well blended.
Spoon into the muffin cases (I used an ice cream scoop).
Bake for 10 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 150C/130C fan/gas mark 2 for another 10-15 minutes until the muffins are risen and golden, and a knife inserted into the centre of one comes out clean
Enjoy them warm, straight from the oven, or place on a rack to cool.