I’ve been back in work for two weeks after a three week break and I’ve already fallen into my annoying old habits and routines. Actually, it only took a couple of days to lose that lovely, ‘pretend I’m self-employed’ feeling. Most noticeably, my enthusiasm for cooking interesting lunches has waned. It has nothing to do with laziness or lack of time in the morning. It’s more to do with the fact that in work I have nothing but a fridge growing its own brand of penicillin and a microwave so spattered with soup and baked bean juice it could be mistaken for a piece of contemporary art. Considering I work with such intellectually sound people, it’s amazing how difficult some of them find it to empty a used coffee filter or wipe down the spilt milk in the fridge!
I’ve suddenly realised why I lost weight while I was home. I was making some amazing lunches and only snacking when I really fancied some crisps or biscuits or disgustingly caramel laden puddings and ice cream. In work I eat a piddling little sandwich, leftovers or microwave-killed noodles and spend the rest of the day filling the hole they leave with crackers, pretzels and peanuts. I’m being given more and more reasons to go self-employed every day, aren’t I? In memoriam of the three weeks where I ate like a queen, here are a few of my favourite lunches, which took almost no time at all and were stupidly tasty.
Grilled Aubergine with Olive Oil, Garlic, Parsley and Feta Cheese
This is a Simon Hopkinson recipe. When I watched him cook it on his new television programme (The Good Cook) a few weeks ago, I scoffed at how much he gushed about how incredible it was. I wasn’t convinced that aubergine, which generally tastes like a bathroom sponge soaked in oil, was worth such ceremony. I was wrong. It was surprisingly brilliant. I adapted the recipe slightly by putting the whole thing back under the grill after adding the oil, parsley, garlic and feta. Salty cheese is always slightly nicer when scorched and I figured the garlic would mellow with some heat. Even if you’re not usually keen on aubergines, give it a try. That plate of squidgy Mediterranean goodness converted me.
I made these peppers years ago from a Delia Smith recipe but they didn’t go down that well. This was before I had really learnt how to cook and before I knew how to eat good food. I think there are some foods you grow into and while I gag a little bit at using the phrase ‘an educated palette’ (bleurgh) it’s kind of true that mine is a little more mature now. The more you cook and eat, the more you learn about and appreciate food. Anyway, this was another Simon Hopkinson recipe, although from what I can remember it’s pretty identical to the Delia recipe.
Red peppers are cored and sliced in half, then filled with garlic and skinned tomatoes. I used baby plum tomatoes for guaranteed flavour. They then get snuggled up together in an ovenproof dish, covered in olive oil and flung into a hot oven. When they’re suitably soft and charred, they’re crisscrossed with a couple of anchovies and cooked through until the anchovies start picking up some colour. The recipe doesn’t call for extra anchovy cooking, but they’re kind of slimy without. I put some Greek basil on top to finish off, which is my new favourite herb - all the flavour of regular basil but in conveniently little leaves. This is seriously the most lovely lunch. I’m really making myself hungry now.
Lettuce, Anchovy and Egg Salad with Creamy Vinaigrette
From Greece and Italy to Spain with Rick Stein. The only ‘recipe’ here is the vinaigrette. The rest is just an assembly of salad, but it was still far superior to any salad I’ve taken to work in a plastic box. I have to admit I didn’t enjoy this one too much, but mainly because I was in a beastly mood. I decided to enhance the dressing by adding vinegar, only to smash a full bottle of vinegar on the tiled floor. I was so hungry by the time I sat down to eat after mopping the nose-stinging vinegar and picking up all the tiny shards of glass that my grumbling overshadowed the enjoyment of eating a delicious salad outside in the sunshine. There were anchovies over the top and, yes, they were a little too fishy for my already annoyed temper. But I was hungry enough that I ate them nonetheless. One to be made again on a less frustrating day, I think.