Halloumi Salad

Quite a few years ago, J and I had holiday flights that transited in Qatar. On the way back we had quite a few hours in Qatar airport, which was quite an experience as, at the time, the airport was undergoing a massive renovation project. The airport (at the time) was rather small with few shops and only a small handful of places to eat and drink (thankfully we had books to keep us occupied!). One shop offered a large selection of ice-cream and milkshake flavours, which appealed to us hugely as two hot and weary travellers. My milkshake choice was quickly narrowed down to strawberry (one of my favourite flavours) or date (something I had not tried in milkshake form but loved in the fruit form) and, with a long queue building up behind us, I chose strawberry. Whilst that milkshake was very nice, as I drank it I kept wondering what a date-flavoured milkshake would taste like, and harbouring slight regrets that I had not plumbed for the more adventurous choice. Those thoughts continued as we boarded our flight not long afterwards and then carried on into the following weeks, ultimately leading to me making a rather disastrous attempt at a date milkshake (dried dates blended with plain ice-cream and milk anyone…?). That incident challenged me to be more adventurous in my eating-and-drinking-out-consumption-choices and I resolved to try (with flexibility) from then on to choose the more adventurous option on a menu if there was one (except when gammon steaks are on offer, but that is a whole different love story). Whilst not always consistently applied, that resolve has lead to some delicious dish-tasting experiences that I might not have had otherwise.

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One of those choices, in a pub one lunchtime last year, was a grilled halloumi salad – a choice influenced partly by a longstanding but unfulfilled desire to try halloumi (yes, I realise halloumi isn’t necessarily quite as ‘different’ as the story above might imply my choice should be, but we are talking a regular pub menu here not a gourmet dining experience).  This simple salad does not completely replicate that salad, but it comes close, and, along with some crusty bread (which didn’t make it into my photos as I ate it before then), makes for a very tasty and easy weekday meal. If you you’ve never tried halloumi before, I would encourage you to give it a go – it is a sheep and goat’s (and sometimes cow’s) milk cheese with a relatively high melting point, meaning that you can brown it and it will keep its shape. Please excuse the poor and weird light – I blame it firstly on the rapidly fading daylight and secondly on needing to use artificial light halfway through this process as a result of that rapidly fading daylight. This makes a large salad for one person.

What you’ll need:

A handful of mixed salad greens

About a quarter of a long cucumber, washed and diced

Half a red pepper, diced

5-7 cherry tomatoes, halved

About 10 black olives

3-4 slices of halloumi (about 1/2 cm thick – and don’t worry if they fall apart a bit – as you can see from the photos below, that happened to me too)

Extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, crushed or diced small

Juice of half a lemon

Pinch dried oregano

Freshly ground pepper

Salt (optional – I preferred not to have any as the cheese is pretty salty already)

What to do:

1. Put the salad greens, diced cucumber and pepper, tomatoes and black olives into a bowl and set aside.

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2. Heat up a generous glug of olive oil in a frying pan and then carefully place the slices of halloumi in the pan when the oil is hot.

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3. Cook the halloumi in the hot oil for a couple of minutes until brown on the underside, and then flip over to brown on the other side (the second side will be quicker than the first).

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4. When the halloumi has browned (not browned not blackened as I did), put it on some crumpled kitchen towel to drain whilst you make the dressing for the salad.

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5. For the dressing, fry the crushed or diced garlic in the leftover hot oil in the pan for a couple of minutes until just starting to go a golden brown colour. Remove the pan from the heat and add the lemon juice, oregano, pepper and (if using) salt to the pan and stir together.

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6. Pour the dressing over the salad vegetables and toss together. Drizzle a bit more olive oil into the bowl, if it is needed.

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7. Artistically arrange the salad and fried halloumi slices on a plate (or at least that’s what I’m telling myself I did…). Drizzle a tiny bit more olive oil over the top of the halloumi and enjoy!

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Crispy Chocolate Chunk Cookies

These cookies were inspired by the cereal bars that have called my name every lunchtime for the last couple of weeks. They weren’t just any cereal bars, but the type that cuts through the health claims of cereal bars in general with a thick chocolate or yogurt coating that makes all the difference to my eating pleasure – the type that is really a chocolate bar with ‘cereal’ in the title and a handful of nuts and dried fruit thrown in to appease guilty health consciences. These cookies certainly do not tick the ‘healthy’ box but I’d like to hope that they do tick a ‘happy’ box. I was certainly happy when they turned out very close in reality to the way I’d imagined them when the idea was conceived. This makes about 14 cookies (or more, depending on how much raw batter, which I actually prefer to the baked version, you eat). All the cup measurements below are based on a 250 ml mug as equal to one cup.
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What you’ll need:
1/2 cup butter
1 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla essence
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
Pinch salt
1 cup crisped rice
100 grams milk chocolate
What to do:
1. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4 (180ºC or 350ºF).
2. Cream together the butter and sugar.
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3. Add the eggs and vanilla essence to the butter and sugar and beat together well with an electric beater.
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4. Sift the flour and salt into the bowl and fold into the butter/sugar/egg mixture (please imagine a photo with all of the flour incorporated into the mixture – I appear to have forgotten to take one…).
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5. Roughly chop the chocolate.
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6. Add the chopped chocolate and crisped rice to the bowl and fold into the flour/butter/sugar/egg mixture until the chocolate and crisped rice are well-distributed throughout the mixture.
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7. Place dessertspoonfuls of the mixture on a greased tray, at least 1 inch apart and flatten (or rather smush down) with the back of a fork.
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8. Bake the cookies in the middle of the pre-heated oven for about 20 minutes or until they are a golden brown colour.
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9. Remove the cookies from the oven and either cool on a cooling rack or (my preferred option) eat straight away whilst warm and filled with pockets of melty chocolate.
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Date and Walnut Loaf

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There is something very comforting about old family recipes – the kind that you ate as a child, learnt to make as you got older, and then take into your own home to continue the tradition. This recipe is an old recipe from my family, and possibly one of my Dad’s favourite baked things. The walnuts are optional, but I much prefer to add them. All the cup measurements below are based on a 250 ml mug as equal to one cup (yes, that is an old family tradition too…!). Unfortunately, I don’t know the dimensions of the loaf tin that should be used, but a normalish-sized one should do (mine is too small and so I end up making a handful of muffins with the leftover mixture each time I make this).

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What you need:

250 gram pack dates, roughly chopped

1 cup walnuts (whole or roughly chopped)

1 tablespoon butter or margarine

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 cup boiling water

1 cup brown sugar

2 cups plain flour

1 teaspoon dried ginger

1 egg, beaten

What to do:

1. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 5 (190º C or 375º F).

2. Put the chopped dates, walnuts, butter or margarine and bicarb into a large bowl. Add the boiling water to the bowl, mix everything together and let it stand for a few minutes, stirring a couple of times to ensure that everything is well mixed and the butter/margarine fully melted.

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3. When the butter/margarine has melted and the mixture has stood for a few minutes, add the sugar to the bowl and then sift in the flour and ginger before adding the beaten egg and mixing everything together thoroughly with a whisk.

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4. Pour the mixture into a greased loaf tin and bake in the middle of the pre-heated oven for about 40-60 minutes (depending on the size of the tin) until done.

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5. Tip the loaf out of the tin and try to resist immediately cutting off a slice and spreading it thickly with butter before eating it leave to cool on a cooling rack.

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