Chicken Caesar Salad with ‘heel’ croutons

Being strapped for cash, I try whenever possible to cook with what’s in front of me in our fridge and cupboards. Even if what I’m cooking demands a certain something, I might try instead to think of a way to replace / omit it rather than have to dash to the shop or re-plan the whole meal completely.

Cooking like this is, I’m sure, pretty common, and it’s also a good way to come up with something a little bit different. And so it was last week, when I optimistically found myself with salad ingredients including romaine lettuce (the weather betrayed me, yet again) and some cooked chicken. I took a glance around, spotting parmesan, olive oil and white wine vinegar and thought, yup, a sorta chicken caesar it is.

Then I came upon my stash of loaf heels in the freezer, you know, the thick ends which no-one in our house will eat. I tend to keep them for making breadcrumbs and I end up with quite a few as we go through a lot of sliced bread. And I thought, croutons? Yup. Why on earth had I gone this long without making my own? Surely it couldn’t be hard.

It turned out to be brilliantly simple, and I will never buy croutons again. I simply preheated the oven to 180 degrees C and took out 3 frozen heels and left them for about 20 mins on the side to defrost. I removed their crusts with a v sharp knife, gave the birds the crust crumbs, and then cubed the bread – about 2/3 cm. I tossed the cubes (quickly, otherwise the bottom ones end up saturated) in approx one tbsp of olive oil per 50g. I’d added some crushed garlic and a little bit of dried thyme, too, and obv the possibilities are endless: you could add crushed chillies, dried herbs, whatever would croutonly complement your recipe.

After 10-15 mins, they were ready, so I left them on the side to cool while I assembled everything else.

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Next up, the romaine lettuce, which I cut into long thin-ish strips with a sharp knife…

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followed by lots of nice big chunks of cooked chicken (I’m a real fan of Asda’s £5 extra tasty bagged roasts) which I scattered liberally under and on top of the leaves.

Then it was time for something super-tasty, some smoked pancetta slices, which I had dry-fried and crisped up on the griddle.

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For the dressing, I got a suitable bottle and shook together olive oil, a clove or two of crushed garlic, two anchovies (I mash them in my pestle and mortar), 2 tbsps grated parmesan, black pepper and some white wine vinegar. A liberal casting of the croutons and a generous drizzling of the dressing later and it was all done. Very simple and very tasty.

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Now all I need is the sunshine so I can sit outside eating it, accompanied by a nice glass of vino…

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Consuming Pimm’s on a hot day – as a drink and in a cake

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The weather round these parts has been scorching recently – definitely Pimm’s o’clock. We have also had the usual glut of mint extending en masse from one corner of the garden, the presence of which has been a constant reminder to me to use it in my summer cooking as much as possible.

Of course, mint goes perfectly in Pimm’s, joined by strawberries, cucumber and orange, and I was keen to christen my new jug – which was, incidentally, free at Asda with any purchase of Pimm’s.

But I also remembered cutting out a recipe for Pimm’s cake from a magazine way back when. Luckily enough, I was able to locate said recipe, when though my recipe books have bits of paper pouring out of them – I always seem to fall behind with getting them organised and stuck into their proper sections.

The recipe itself was very simple: a basic loaf tin cake, with 50ml of Pimm’s added, in addition to a handful of chopped mint and the zest of one orange and one lemon.

After it came out of the oven, I drizzled over lemon and orange juice, with a little more Pimm’s too. Now, writing after we have eaten it, i think I might have added a little sugar to this drizzle. There’s always next time.

Bud Light Lime hits UK supermarkets – thank you ASDA

I have many happy memories of the four consecutive summers I spent in America as a youth leader.

And yes, many of the memories are of events which occurred when we’d clocked off and were supping beers in the heat after hours. We gathered around and downed countless bottles of Bud Light which I know many people dismiss as a weak and less than wonderful beverage. But I’ve always been a Bud drinker, and so it was the slurp of choice for me.

I have never understood why it hasn’t ever been on sale in the UK. The husband once treated me to a shipment from a company who imports and sells it, but it cost a king’s ransom. So I was over the moon to read a snippet in this month’s ASDA magazine that the lime version – a little bit of lime/fruit etc being the current ‘big thing’ as far as bottled beer marketing is concerned – was going to be in store at the beginning of August.

The other half couldn’t resist popping in on just the specified date to pick up a sixer and we could barely resist diving in, but retrained ourselves, recognising the essential need to wait for it to cool down in the fridge.

And the first gulp? Weak and wonderful, just as I knew it would be. I closed my eyes and dreamed of heady, responsibility free nights in good company.

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My new Cathrineholm pot plus some speedy family dinner heroes

There’s nothing as exciting as post, especially a nice parcel containing a coveted Cathrineholm enamel pot that you’ve purchased from eBay.

I had my eye on one for a long time, but was always priced out of the market for the orange ones. And, now that it’s mine, I think I prefer the blue. I have positioned it on top of the piano so I can see it all the time. It was a small price to pay for such kitchenalia-related happiness!

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It has been a very busy week work wise, so I have had some very testing brief periods in which I’ve dashed home to get the evening meal ready, whilst also sorting out my daughter, before leaving for work again. It’s been really sunny, too, so we needed relatively light meals.

One fun thing to try was the new Veetee range of pasta and rice, a few samples of which were kindly sent to me to try. It comes in various flavours and all you need to do is pop it in the microwave for 2 minutes.

I ‘made’ the black pepper and garlic pasta one to accompany some pizza and was really pleasantly surprised. The pasta when cooked was just the right texture – not horribly rubbery or overcooked – and you could really taste both of its key seasonings. There was more than enough for the husband and me in just one pack, so it’s something I will definitely be turning to when I need a fast and tasty portion of rice or pasta. 

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The other family dinner hero is something that I regularly serve to guests and they always say that it’s delicious and ask where it came from. It’s a ranch salad pack from ASDA which costs £1 and regularly sells out, especially in hot weather because it’s the perfect accompaniment to summer eating.

The salad is composed of thin strips of carrot, red cabbage and other coleslaw type ingredients. All you do is tip its contents into a bowl, pour over the dressing, mix it well, then pour on the croutons and mix them in too. Honestly, it is moreish and tastes like it’s good for you, too. Plus, kids love it. 

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