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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The sun’s shining – pass the homemade pizza

When the sun comes out, so does lighter fare. In addition to my good old weekday stalwart the pastry sheet veg tart (which I have blogged about previously), I also rely on a homemade pizza to provide a healthy and tasty family meal. 

As I quite often have to cook from a sitting position these days, thanks to my duff back, I definitely don’t go to the trouble of making a dough from scratch. Instead, I pick up a few packets of those brilliant pizza dough mixes from the supermarket. You add a bit of water, do a little light kneading and leave it in a warm place for ten minutes. And you still feel like you’ve done something a bit more than the norm.

The best thing about this concoction is that you can use quite a number of items which might be hanging around your fridge or cupboards – pizza is a friend to many ingredients. You don’t even have to have a tomato base – nice options include a barbecue chicken version with red onions and some red peppers.  

I am also keen on this particular recipe as it’s another way to talk to our chocoholic daughter about vegetables. Sad as that sounds, we are constantly worried about her limited diet (which she prefers despite having been weaned on purees of every fruit and veg under the sun). When we make a pizza, she likes to get up on a chair and place the ingredients on top of the base. She might lick the odd one, but hey, the only people who are going to eat it are herself and her parents.

 

Our pizza this week, strangely shaped as it was, hosted red and yellow peppers, mushrooms, some chorizo and mozzarella on top of a base of tomato puree with a sprinkling of oregano. We added some basil from the windowsill. 

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It doesn’t ever go far wrong – how could it, especially when cheese is involved! And the good thing is, when she’s been involved with preparing it, she’s usually a bit more happy to sample it.

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