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Shop Smart, Cook Smart, Eat Smart

MonthofMeals

I run a ‘Kitchen Detox’ programme for people whereby I give their meal times and menus a make over. I compile a folder of recipes, menu plans, shopping lists, Pantry Pals and Freezer Friends based on a seasonal menu. With a little time and effort, you can do the same thing and save time and money while eating healthy meals.

Menu Planning I recommend doing this at least every three months so you are using more seasonal produce. If you aren’t sure what fruit and vegetables are in season, visit www.bordbia.ie. Decide how many dinners a week you cook at home, I normally work off five dinners as people go out or visit family etc. Collate at least ten recipes from your existing favourites and others you may find in cookbooks, newspapers and websites. These ten recipes you can run as a two week cycle that you repeat, fifteen recipes will give you a three week cycle. I would recommend a fish dish, an egg based dinner (eg frittata), red meat recipe, chicken dinner, and a vegetarian meal (especially using beans, lentils and chickpeas). The recipes should include lots of vegetables for nutrition and easier cooking. Keep a copy of all the recipes in a folder, even if you know them off by heart. You might even get family members to share the cooking that way! If you like experimenting, try a new recipe each week that isn’t in the cycle.

Pantry Pals and Freezer Friends Take your recipe folder and make a list of all the dried ingredients including condiments and cooking oils. These are items you should have in your cupboard at all times. Keep an eye on this so that you don’t end up with three bottles of the same thing as you’re not sure what you have. I believe in stocking my freezer with useful ingredients rather than frozen meals. These can then be used to make delicious dinners. Currently in my freezer I have chorizo sausage, tiger prawns, salmon fillets, parma ham, bacon lardons, smoked salmon, part baked bread, bags of breadcrumbs, peas and raspberries. I never freeze minced beef as it should be used within 24 hours of purchase. It also freezes into a horrible grey lump. Your butcher can be very useful in vacuum packing your favourite cuts of meat in the right portions.

Shopping Go armed with a list of what you need, this is vital. Top up the storecupboard items if needed. This is the time to take advantage of special offers, but only on items you know you use such as tinned tomatoes. The same goes for meat and other foods that can be frozen. Portion out the meat before freezing if the pack is too big. This prevents wastage and also eating more than we need to as you’ve defrosted the whole pack and you need to cook it then. Only buy the exact numbers of vegetables you need. The three pack of peppers is the classic example, where you may only need two. Don’t be afraid to swop a vegetable in a recipe, but don’t buy extra. Only buy fruit that you know your family will eat. My personal favourites are mandarins, grapes and bananas, so I know if it’s a mistake if I buy loads of other fruit. I am a firm believer in buying from your local butcher, fishmonger and greengrocer.

Cooking Aim to cook the right quantity for a meal, not loads extra. I think most leftovers hang around in fridges growing things. Or else we overeat and that’s not good for our pockets or waistlines. Unless you bring a portion into work for lunch which is a great idea. I do recommend cooking your own ham for sandwiches though, much cheaper and much nicer. A steamer pot is one of the best investments you can make as you can steam all your veggies and even fish. You retain much more of the nutritional value and it is very easy and less washing up! And please clean as you go, leaving everything to pile up will take you longer in the end to clean. Or some poor family will get that nasty job!

Why not book the Month of Meals cookery course?

Mexican Bean and Corn Burgers

Mexican_Bean_and_Corn_Burge 600r

 

Serves 4

 

1 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, diced

1 garlic clove, crushed

3 cups (or 2 x 400g tins) cooked black beans, divided

1 1/2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp chilli powder

1 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

black pepper or red pepper flakes, to taste

2/3 cup quick oats or breadcrumbs, plus extra as needed

3/4 cup frozen or tinned sweetcorn, thawed or drained

 

Tomato salsa:

4 ripe tomatoes, diced

1/2 red onion, finely diced

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

lime juice, to taste

salt and pepper

 

To serve:

4–6 wholewheat or seeded burger buns

crispy lettuce

avocado slices

lime wedges

Tabasco or hot sauce

 

Method:

  • To make the salsa, combine all the ingredients in a bowl and set aside to allow the flavours to marry together.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over a medium heat. Sauté the onion and garlic for 8–10 minutes, or until golden, soft and fragrant.
  • Add 2 cups of the beans along with all the spices. Stir in the sauté pan until everything is warmed through.
  • Preheat your oven grill.
  • Add the oats to the bowl of a food processor and pulse them a few times. Add the onion, garlic and bean mixture. Process everything together until it’s well combined but still has some texture.
  • Transfer to a mixing bowl. Add the rest of the black beans and the corn and mix well with your hands. Check for seasoning. If the mixture is too mushy to form into patties, add a little more oats or breadcrumbs.
  • Lightly oil a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper. Shape the mixture into 4 large or 6 smaller patties. Transfer the burgers to the sheet and grill for 8–10 minutes per side, until golden. You can also pan-fry them in light olive oil until golden on each side.
  • Serve on a bun with the tomato salsa and any topping of your choice.

 

The Ish Factor:Smoked paprikais one of my favourite Pantry Pals. It is the deeper, smokier Spanish cousin of sweet Hungarian paprika. The pimento peppers are dried, smoked over an oak fire, then ground to a fine powder. Smoked paprika is extremely versatile: add a sprinkle to Marie Rose sauce, scrambled eggs, stews and marinades. Smoked paprika packs quite a punch, so when trying a new brand, start sparingly to gauge the intensity.

Mango Chutney Lime Salmon

Mango_Chutney_Lime_Salmon 600

 

Serves 4

 

1/2 jar mango chutney

2 tbsp light soy sauce

juice of 1 lime

1/2 tsp ground ginger

black pepper

4 salmon fillets, skinned and pin boned

3 limes, thinly sliced

 

Method:

  • Preheat your oven to 200°C.
  • Mix together the mango chutney, soy sauce, lime juice and ginger and season with black pepper. Pour this marinade over the salmon, cover and refrigerate for 10–20 minutes.
  • Cover the bottom of a baking dish with the thin slices of lime. Place the salmon fillets on top of the limes and pour over the marinade.
  • Bake the salmon for 12 minutes, until firm, opaque and just cooked through.

 

The Ish Factor:Ground ginger tastes completely different to fresh ginger. It is quite punchy and hot, so it’s ideal to add to homemade chutneys, pickles and preserves. I use it in basting sauces and marinades for pork, in homemade ketchup and BBQ sauce as well as baking. Ground ginger isn’t just for Christmas baking and mulled wine – it’s essential for old-fashioned steamed puddings, as a partner to rhubarb desserts and of course ginger cookies and gingerbread loaves and cakes.

Strawberry Basil Quinoa Salad

Creamy_Mustard_Caper_Cod_600

 

Serves 4

 

1 cup quinoa

2 cups water

250g strawberries, sliced

100g feta cheese, crumbled

70g baby spinach leaves

2 tbsp flaked almonds, lightly toasted

2 tbsp torn or chiffonade fresh basil leaves

 

Salad dressing:

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp Dijon mustard

salt and pepper

 

Method:

  • Combine the quinoa and water in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes, until the quinoa starts to unravel and all the water has been soaked up. Fluff up with a fork and allow to cool to room temperature.
  • To make the dressing, combine all the ingredients in a clean jam jar and shake well to emulsify. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Gently toss together the cooled quinoa, sliced strawberries, feta cheese, spinach leaves, flaked almonds and the fresh basil.
  • Drizzle over the dressing and season the salad with salt and pepper. Serve as a side dish for chicken or salmon.

 

The Ish Factor:Quinoa is the seed of a South American herb. For culinary purposes, we treat it like a grain because it cooks like one. This gluten-free seed is super special, as it is a perfect protein, which is unusual in the plant kingdom. It’s so easy to cook, with a slightly chewy, nutty texture and taste. It makes a great base for a substantial salad or as a hot dish and it partners well with almost any cuisine. I cook quinoa at least once a week and use it in several ways over 2 to 3 days.

Nacho-crusted Chicken Dippers with Avocado Dipping Sauce

Nachos_Crusted_Chicken_Dippers 600

 

Serves 4

 

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, sliced into 6 pieces each

2 tbsp Cajun spice

2 tbsp sour cream

90g nachos, coarsely crushed (I like the chilli flavour ones, but low-salt is also an option)

lime wedges, to serve

cherry tomatoes, to serve

 

Avocado dipping sauce:

2 avocados, mashed

juice of 1 lime

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

1 tbsp sour cream

1 tbsp chopped jalapeño pepper (optional)

salt and pepper

 

Method:

  • Coat the chicken pieces evenly in the Cajun spice. Dip into the sour cream and lightly coat. Finally, roll the chicken dippers in the nacho crumbs.
  • Line a baking tray with foil or parchment paper and rest the dippers in the fridge for at least 10 minutes to allow the crumbs to set.
  • Preheat the oven to 220°C. Bake the chicken dippers for 10 minutes.
  • Mix together all the ingredients for the avocado dip and season with salt and pepper to taste. I love lime, so I often add an extra squeeze.
  • Serve the dippers hot with the avocado dipping sauce, lime wedges and cherry tomatoes.

 

The Ish Factor:Cajun spice is a traditional spice blend from Creole cuisine. This mildly hot spice is very versatile and great for jazzing up sweet potato wedges, tuna salad and jambalaya. You can make your own spice mix by combining 2 1/2 teaspoons paprika, 2 teaspoons each of garlic powder and salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons each of dried oregano and dried thyme and 1 teaspoon each of onion powder, cayenne pepper and ground black pepper. Stored in an airtight jar, it will keep for up to 6 months

Tomato Bacon Mac ’n’ Cheese

Tomato_Bacon_Mac_'n_Cheese 600

 

Serves 4

 

300g dried macaroni

250g bacon lardons, preferably smoked

500ml passata

250g fresh cherry tomatoes, halved (optional)

salt and pepper

1 jar shop-bought pesto

100g grated white cheddar cheese

 

Cheese sauce:

1 litre milk

1/2 onion, peeled and studded with 3 cloves

2 bay leaves

50g butter

50g plain flour

1 tsp English mustard

freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

salt and pepper

100g grated white cheddar cheese

 

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C.
  • To cook the macaroni, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add in the pasta and stir well for the first minute to prevent clumping. Cook for the length of time recommended on the packet, until al dente, or firm to the bite. Drain well in a colander, drizzle with olive oil and shake to prevent clumping.
  • To make the cheese sauce, gently heat the milk, onion and bay leaves in a pot. Do not boil.
  • In another pot, gently melt the butter before adding in the flour to form a thick paste called a roux. Stir well for a minute before gradually ladling in the warm milk.
  • Allow the sauce to barely come to the boil before taking it off the heat and adding the mustard, a grating of nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the cheese and mix quickly while the sauce is still hot to melt the cheese, then stir in the cooked, drained pasta.
  • Cook the bacon lardons in a frying pan until crispy and golden. Drain on some kitchen paper.
  • In a large baking dish or small individual dishes, layer up the macaroni cheese. Begin with half of the cheesy macaroni, then pour over half of the passata and add half of the cherry tomato halves, if using, and season. Blob on half the pesto and spread it out. Repeat. Scatter over the crispy bacon and the grated cheese.
  • Bake for 15–20 minutes, until golden and bubbling. Leave it to stand for 5 or 10 minutes before serving.

 

The Ish Factor:Passata is a traditional Italian ingredient that is usually sold in tall glass bottles. Passata is uncooked tomatoes that have been sieved, so there are no chunky tomato bits, like in tinned tomatoes. You can also buy versions where garlic and herbs have been added. I use passata as a pizza base sauce, in soups and stews or anywhere I don’t want pieces of tomato in the sauce. Traditionally, better-quality tomatoes are used to make passata and it is considered a superior product.

Creamy Mustard and Caper Cod

Creamy_Mustard_Caper_Cod 600

 

Serves 4

 

4 chunky cod fillets (or any firm white fish), fresh or frozen

450g frozen spinach

2 tbsp capers, to garnish

1/3 cup fresh dill, leaves plucked, to garnish

 

Reduced fat creamy sauce:

400ml low-fat milk

1/2 onion, peeled and studded with 3 cloves

6 black peppercorns

2 bay leaves

50g butter

50g flour

125ml lemon juice

2 tbsp reduced fat cooking cream (optional for extra creaminess)

1 tsp Dijon mustard

salt and paper

 

Method:

  • Allow the spinach to defrost overnight in the fridge or quickly defrost it in the microwave. Squeeze out some of the excess water.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line a baking dish with parchment paper.
  • To make the sauce, gently heat the milk, onion, peppercorns and bay leaves in a pot. Do not boil.
  • In another pot, gently melt the butter before adding in the flour to form a thick paste called a roux. Stir well to mix. Slowly start pouring in the warm milk, stirring constantly. Add the lemon juice, cream and mustard and season well.
  • Spread out the spinach in the baking dish. Place the cod on top and season well, then pour over the creamy sauce. Bake for 12–15 minutes, until the cod is opaque and cooked through.
  • Garnish with the fresh dill and capers and serve.

 

The Ish Factor:Capers are the fruit of the Flinders rose. I love the tiny non pareil capers, which are salty and delicate and go extremely well with fish, in salads and even on pizza. The larger caper berries on the stem look very attractive in a dish and aren’t as salty. Capers come pickled in brine, so they’re a long-lasting Pantry Pal to have on hand to jazz up your recipes.