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I can tell what you’re thinking… ‘Come on Jen, I know you’re trying to find something to blog about every day for NaBloPoMo and all that, but cheese on toast? That smacks of sheer desperation.’

But wait, in my defense, this is lip-smackingly wonderful cheese on toast. Perhaps the best ever. Ever. And when you find out that the recipe comes from the queen of all good eating, Alice Waters, then there really can be no argument.

There’s no curiously plastic day-glow orange cheese or slice of cardboard-like bread involved here. Instead, there’s tangy, soft goat cheese, blended with garlic and thyme to create… well, something that had me salivating from the minute I read the recipe, let alone when it was under the grill. The smell coming from the cooking mixture had me jumping round the kitchen like a small child, checking every few seconds to see if it was done yet.

Yes, when I finally removed the slices from the grill, I managed to burn my tongue. Greedy guts.

Goat cheese croutons/toasts from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison (who cites Alice Waters as the recipe source)

Serves 6

You’ll need:

170g soft white goat cheese
3 tablespoons milk or cream
1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons coarsely chopped thyme leaves, plus extra for garnish
Salt and freshly milled pepper
6 large or 12 small baguette slices

1. Smooth the goat cheese with the milk or cream, then stir in the garlic, thyme and a little pepper.

2. Toast the bread slices under the grill until the tops are lightly coloured. Then spread the cheese mixture thickly over the untoasted side and put under the grill again until the cheese goes golden-brown and bubbly on top.

3. Serve with salads, stews, soups…

Cook’s notes

This lasted two days for me because I used bigger pieces of bread and I made it the main course of my meal, instead of the appetiser/starter that the recipe would suggest.

As you’d expect, the garlicky taste was stronger after the flavours had a chance to mingle overnight in the fridge. Delicious.

Yesterday, I paired the toasts up with salad, today it made a good sharp foil against a lentil stew from Mollie Katzen’s online site.

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The great NaBloPoMo marathon has kicked off and I’ve got to confess that I’m too chicken to sign up. Partly this is because I’m going to be away for a couple of days this month and may not be able to post, but mostly it’s just that I’m a whole barrel-load of lazy. OK, I’ll commit to writing for as many days of the month as I have access to a computer. (I don’t think they have a blogging group set up for the partially committed…) Although, much like Hellojed over at It Had Better Be Good, I’m not sure what I’ll be writing about. Guess that’s all part of the fun!

So here’s the first post of 30(ish).

Something magical happens when you drop kale into a saucepan of boiling water. Almost instantly, the dark green leaves take on a striking emerald hue, becoming a little transparent in the process. In fact, they wouldn’t look out of place in a stained glass window. (Hmmm – a great vegetable window anyone? No?) How can eating in winter be considered dull or a deprivation when you have such wonderful produce to play with? And I love playing with my food 🙂

This dish was my lunch the other day (and the day after – it reheated well). I had to fiddle with the recipe a bit to suit what I had in the house (not enough kale, basically) but I think it worked out ok: the higher bean-to-kale ratio made it more of a main course than a side dish.

Kale with cannellini beans adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

Provides 2 main course portions

You’ll need:

250g kale or mixed greens, stems and ribs removed
Salt and pepper
1 small onion, finely diced
1½ tablespoon olive oil
2 plump cloves garlic, minced
Pinch red chilli flakes
2 teaspoons chopped rosemary
½ cup white wine or water
1 x 400g tin cooked cannellini beans, rinsed well
Freshly grated Parmesan (optional)
Croutons to serve

1. Simmer the kale in salted water until tender – around 7 to 10 minutes. Drain and reserve the cooking water, and chop the kale.

2. In a large pan, sauté the onion in the oil with the garlic, pepper flakes and rosemary for about 3 minutes. Add the wine/water and cook until it’s reduced to a syrupy sauce.

3. Add the beans, kale and enough cooking water to keep the mixture loose. Heat through, taste for salt and season with pepper, and serve with a dusting of Parmesan.

Cook’s notes

Just for interest, Deborah specifies 1½ to 2 pounds of kale, in order to serve 2 to 4 people. The rest of the recipe is exactly the same as shown above.

I didn’t have any white wine around, so I just used water. Sounds dull but worked well. But I’d like to try the wine version at some point – it probably adds an extra savoury note.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, limes.

The other lovely lime-drenched recipe I’ve added to my ‘will make regularly, forever’ list comes from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I was looking for a good wintery lunchtime salad – something that would fill me up without inducing sleepiness, which is kind of a problem for me. That snoozy, cozy feeling that creeps up after too much mid-day starch and when the office heating dial is turned up to 11…

Granted, I’m not working at the moment but hopefully I will be at some point (soon!), so I’m always on the hunt for new, easily transportable lunchbox fare that isn’t just another boring sandwich again. This lentil salad recipe ticks all the boxes and makes enough to last several days. In fact, it’s better after a day in the fridge, soaking in its punchy lime-cumin vinaigrette (which tastes great when you sop it up with a bit of crusty bread). And, it’s easy to keep this dish from getting repetitive if you vary the added extras from day to day.

So, may I present a dish with an rather unwieldy title but more than enough zingy flavour and substance to keep you powering through till dinnertime with nary a snooze:

Lentil salad with roasted peppers, vegetable garnishes and lime-cumin vinaigrette adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

Makes enough for 2 to 3 lunchboxes

For the lime-cumin vinaigrette, you’ll need:

1 garlic clove, minced
grated zest of 2 limes
2 to 3 tablespoons of fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons of finely chopped spring onion or shallot
1/2 jalapeno chile, seeded and minced
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander

1. Combine the garlic, lime zest, juice,, spring onion and chile in a bowl.

2. Toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a small frying pan until fragrant, then immediately remove to a plate to cool. Grind to a powder in a spice mill, the add to the juice mixture.

3. Whisk in the oil. Taste and adjust as needed.

4. Let the dressing sit for at least 15 minutes and add the coriander just before using.

For the lentil salad, you’ll need:

1/2 cup of Puy lentils
salt and pepper
2 red or yellow bell peppers, roasted and chopped
lime-cumin vinaigrette (see above)
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped mint
2 ripe tomatoes, deseeded and quartered

Possible extras
: feta, hard-boiled eggs, olives, cucumber

1. Cover the lentils with water in a small saucepan, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until tender but still a little firm – about 25 to 30 minutes.

2. Drain the lentils and toss them while still warm with the peppers, tomatoes, half of the vinaigrette, parsley and mint. Taste and adjust seasoning.

3. Mound the lentils in a platter (or a lovely tupperware box, if taking to work) and garnish with any of the suggested extras above. Or whatever takes your fancy, really!

Cook’s notes

Once again, I prefer to use a higher ratio of herbs and veggies to main salad ingredient. There’s nothing worse than only finding a few measley bits of roasted pepper in a sea of lentils. Why would you want that? So I’ve halved the amount of lentils Deborah suggested but pretty much kept the rest of the recipe the same as hers.

Except for the dill. I left that out because it’s not my favourite and there’s enough herby stuff going on in the recipe that I don’t think anyone would miss it greatly. However, if dill is your thing then add 2 tablespoons at stage 2, along with the parsley and mint.

And, of course, because I only used half the amount of lentils, it follows that I just used half of the vinaigrette. Next time I might reduce the oil content of the dressing a bit more as there was already quite a bit on the roasted peppers. But that’s a small quibble and doesn’t take away from the general tastiness of this dish.

Oh yes – I left out the 1/4 teaspoon of dry mustard specified for the vinaigrette because I didn’t have any. Didn’t miss it.

To say that I’m not a morning person is an understatement. No one in my family is – except perhaps for Mum, who is now hard-wired to rise at about 6am after years of getting up early to cook for ungrateful school kids. But long-suffering family members, previous flatmates and now Mr B. can all attest to my, er, less than ladylike demeanour in the mornings (that’s the polite version).

Of course, it helps to have something you actually want to eat ready and waiting as you stumble bleary-eyed from the comfort of your duvet. But, because of the morning grumps, I’ve always been incredibly bad about eating breakfast – with the inevitable consequence of craving something a little later on, usually when I’m somewhere near a big slice of cake. And so begins the blood sugar rollercoaster…

To try and tackle this, I’ve been looking for a good granola recipe for a while. Sainsburys used to make one I loved but then they messed with perfection and that was the end of that. Besides, I live at least a hundred-odd miles from the nearest Sainsburys these days (perhaps no bad thing), so I headed into the kitchen to create something that would, hopefully, make getting up worthwhile.

What I’ve ended up with is more of a toasted grano-muesli base. Doesn’t sound very exciting does it? But here’s why it works (for me, anyway):

· Many granola recipes call for a lot of honey or sugar, which is going to have the same effect on my blood sugar as that mid-morning slice of cake, whatever my good oat-based intentions. Cutting down on the honey helps combat this but, unfortunately, it means that the granola doesn’t really clump together properly.

· I’m a fickle creature. I very rarely want the same fruit/extra goodies in my cereal from one day to the next. Creating a ‘base’ means I can just add whatever I fancy on any given day (today it was raspberries and yogurt), rather than slowly coming to hate that large jar of, say, coconut and raisin granola that’s lurking on the shelf, casting injured looks in my direction. Yes, granola has feelings too.

So… am I springing out of bed these days, full of excitement about the day ahead? Well, let’s say it’s a slow work in progress but this nutty, lightly-spiced grano-muesli certainly helps!

Toasted grano-muesli adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

(Makes enough for 1 person for about 1-2 weeks, depending on your morning appetite)

You’ll need:

3 cups of rolled oats
½ cup of chopped almonds (or walnuts or pecans or whatever takes your fancy)
½ cup of sunflower seeds
½ cup of wheatgerm
½ teaspoon of nutmeg, grated
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
¼ cup of sunflower oil (or canola)
1/3 cup of honey (or golden syrup or maple syrup)

1. Preheat the oven to 300F/150C/gas mark 3. Toss the dry ingredients together, then add the oil and honey and toss again to coat thoroughly.

2. Spread the mixture on a roasting tin and bake until golden, turning every 10 minutes so that it browns evenly. This should take about 30 minutes.

3. Remove from the oven, allow to cool and then store in an air-tight container.

Garlic, it seems. This time, my favourite member of the allium family makes an appearance in a chickpea salad with roasted peppers. It keeps well in the fridge, it’s a good lunchtime keep-you-going kind of dish, and it’s tastier once it’s had a chance to sit for a while and let the flavours develop.

But this does mean the garlic flavour is pretty prominent (although not overwhelming), so – in the name of love, peace and harmony – make sure that your loved one or all your co-workers eat it too. Unless you’re trying to break up with your loved one or you hate your co-workers, in which case go right ahead and chomp the lot on your own. Then breathe. Heavily.

Chickpea salad with roasted peppers from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

Serves 2 hungry people or 4 as a side dish

You’ll need:

2 large red peppers, roasted
3 cups of cooked chickpeas, rinsed if canned
¼ cup of parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons of chopped mint
3 tablespoons of capers, rinsed
1½ tablespoons of fresh lemon juice or red wine or sherry vinegar
¼ teaspoon of salt
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

1. Cut the peppers into ½-inch wide strips and put them in a large bowl, together with the chickpeas, herbs and the capers.
2. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, salt, garlic and oil. Pour over the chickpea mixture and combine.
3. Serve (or refrigerate and allow flavours to mingle).

Cook’s notes

Despite my resolution to boil all beans from scratch, I just used a 400g can here. Oh the shame. What can I say, I’m just a very impatient person. But I think this meant I only used about half the amount specified. However, I like the ratio of chickpeas to peppers that this produced and would recommend it.

I didn’t have any capers, so I just left them out. But I don’t think they were any great loss, just a ‘nice to have’.

Again, I didn’t use as much oil as specified because recipes always seem to add too much for my taste. In this case, 3 tablespoons of oil worked just fine.

Pretty, isn’t it? It’s a lovely, simple salad of tomatoes, rocket and olives, with some oversized (very) garlicky croutons on the side. The perfect partner to go with the rest of the soup I grouchily posted here the other day.

But it’s not the salad per se that I wanted to write about – it’s the dressing. Only it’s a bit tricky to take interesting pictures of a salad dressing when it’s just kind of brown and liquidy:

See? That’s why the salad picture is at the top instead. Look a little closer and you’ll see the chopped onion component of the dressing. It’s one heck of a lot prettier in conjunction with the salad. More importantly, it tastes delicious and is now officially my new favourite salad dressing.

For a long time, my go-to dressing was a honey-mustard one (Jamie Oliver’s, I think). Many jars of honey and mustard would disappear during the summer months to make large batches of the good stuff and then the jars would later be recycled to store the dressings. But familiarity breeds contempt, or just tired taste buds, and I’ve been on the look out for something else to replace it for a while now.

Enter Llewellyn’s Irish Apple Balsamic Cider Vinegar. We visited the Dún Laoghaire farmers’ market a few weeks ago and I planned to do a proper post about it, I really did – but then moving house got in the way. I promise to write about it another time. What’s important for the purposes of this post is that I staggered away with several full bags of goodies (much to Mr B’s amusement), including a big bottle of cider and this fruity balsamic from David Llewellyn’s stall (he’d just won a Bridgestone Best in Ireland 2007 award, so he was a happy chappie).
We drank the cider (refreshing) and now the balsamic vinegar has found a happy place in my kitchen with this recipe. Although I think I’ll be looking for flimsy excuses to put it on everything for the next wee while, so I could be on the hunt for another new recipe soon…

Balsamic vinaigrette
from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison
4 teaspoons of balsamic, raspberry or other fruit vinegar
2 teaspoons of red wine vinegar
1 shallot, finely diced
5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Combine both vinegars and the chopped shallot with a few pinches of salt and a little pepper in a small bowl.
2. Whisk in the olive oil and taste to make sure the balance is right – adjust as necessary.

Cook’s notes

I didn’t have any shallots but a bit of red onion worked just fine.

Also, I tend to like my salad dressings to be a little sharper than a lot of people, so I just used four tablespoons of oil. Nothing worse than a salad swimming in an oil slick.

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I'm short of stature (a family trait) but big of appetite (also a family trait). If you're reading this then you're probably big of appetite too. Or a member of my family (hello Mum).
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