Autumn sweater

We haven’t heard the last swansong of summer just yet, but there’s definitely a chill in the air. Last week, I wore a jumper for the first time in months, and I was almost tempted to put the heating on.

The nights may be drawing in, but the sun’s still shining. It’s not quite the weather for comfort food but autumn’s harvest is in abundance. I know it’s a bit basic to quote a certain Keats poem, but it really is a ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’, and I’m trying to make the most of root veg, blackberries, apples and plump plums.

My work-life balance isn’t too healthy at the moment and I haven’t had much time to cook, so I’ve come up with some easy no-cook meals using seasonal ingredients.

There’s a colourful autumn salad with blackberries (if you don’t have time to go picking, or don’t live close to where they grow, just buy them from the supermarket or greengrocer) and a celeriac and white bean dip which makes a tasting topping for toast, sandwiches and baked potatoes.

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Autumnal salad with kale, walnuts and blackberries

 

Serves 3-4

 

Ingredients

1 x 180g bag pre-cut kale (or buy the leaves and roughly chop), rinsed and drained

The juice of 2 lemons

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

A generous pinch of sea salt

2 parsnips, peeled and grated

2 small apples, cored and thinly sliced

1 x 400g can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

100g blackberries

100g walnuts

 

For the blackberry vinaigrette

100g blackberries

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp balsamic or apple cider vinegar

1 tbsp caster sugar

A generous pinch of sea salt

 

Put the kale in a large bowl and add 3 tbsp olive oil, the juice of 1 lemon and some salt. Using your hands, massage the kale until each leaf is covered in the mixture. Add the grated parsnip, the sliced apple and the chickpeas, then cover with 1 tbsp olive oil, the rest of the lemon juice and a little more salt. Massage again to combine all the ingredients. Scatter over the blackberries and walnuts.

Quickly make the vinaigrette by placing all the ingredients in a bowl and blending using a hand-held mixer (or put them in a food processor or blender). Serve the salad and drizzle over the vinaigrette.

 

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Celeriac and white bean dip

 

Makes one large bowl

 

Ingredients

Half a large celeriac (around 200g), peeled and grated

1 x 400g can cannellini beans (chickpeas or butter beans will also work well), rinsed and drained

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1-2 cloves garlic, peeled

The juice of 1 lemon

1 tbsp tahini

1 tsp dried thyme

Salt and pepper

 

Simply put all the ingredients into a bowl and blend using a hand-held mixer – or pop them into a food processor or blender and blitz. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of thyme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Freekeh Friday

I can’t sleep. I suppose I’d better join the club, as it can’t be easy for any of us during this hot, hot heatwave, but in my case, I don’t think the heat is to blame.

I’ve always been a light sleeper and the slightest sound or movement can jerk me awake, and sometimes I struggle to nod off again. I can’t take naps, I’ve never been able to fall asleep on trains, planes or buses (perhaps I’m too highly strung) and it often takes me a long time to fall asleep even though my other half is out like a light as soon as his head hits the pillow. As he snores, I lie awake, worrying about things that I haven’t done or thinking about food – yes, I even dream about it, too.

I wouldn’t mind the late nights, but the early morning sunshine streams through our blinds and wakes me up, so no lie-ins for me. Inspired by Dani Dyer, whose Love Island puppy love with Jack the stationer is warming the nation’s hearts, I’ve turned to an eye mask. While Dani looks cute in hers, I look like I’m nursing a heavy hangover, but hey, it works.

So that problem’s solved, but no, there’s noise, too. I can’t sleep unless there’s complete silence (diva, me?) which means no radio, TV or music in bed – and the sound of traffic, wind or rain, or snoring puts me on edge, too. Unsurprisingly, ear plugs have been a godsend for some time now, but they don’t block out everything.

For the past couple of years, I’ve heard a low, vibrating sound, a bit like a car engine. It’s usually at night, but sometimes during the day, and I hear it more often than not. It drives me mad. My boyfriend can’t hear it and thinks that I have tinnitus but I swear to God: it’s there. Has anyone else experienced this?

What’s a woman to do? Should I resign myself to the fact that I’ll forever be sleepless in Swansea? Sadly, I’m not nearly as winsome as Meg Ryan pre-surgery (yes, I know it was Tom Hanks’ character who lived in Seattle because God, I love that film), especially with my lack of beauty sleep, but I’ll survive and anyway, I’ve always loved coffee.

Moving onto food (because why else are you reading this?), I’m very much into my salads at the moment, mainly due to said heatwave. On Monday, I had a lovely afternoon making, eating and taking photos of salads with food photographer extraordinaire, Manon Houston. I’m in love with summer strawberries and they’re delicious paired with avocado and mint, and I made the most of seasonal asparagus by teaming it with giant couscous and pistachios. It was a very good day.

While I was in Beanfreaks in Cardiff, I picked up some freekeh, something I’ve been meaning to cook with for a while. This ‘ancient grain’ (whatever that means) seems almost too good to be true: it’s full of fibre, protein and high in magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron. A 200g packet is just over two quid and it tastes good, too. I made a salad with it using asparagus (again), sweet nectarines and salty green olives. This is light enough for sultry summer evenings but won’t leave you hungry either. Enjoy with a crisp glass of white wine or an ice cold beer.

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Freekeh salad with asparagus, nectarine and green olives

Freekeh salad with asparagus, nectarine and green olives

 Serves 2

Ingredients

For the salad

100g freekeh

Pinch of sea salt

1 tbsp olive oil

8 asparagus spears, sliced lengthways

2 nectarines, thinly sliced

Half a 340g jar pitted green olives

3-4 handfuls spinach leaves

2 handfuls unsalted almonds (optional)

 

For the dressing

The juice of 1 and ½ lemons

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp dried mint (or oregano)

½ tsp chilli flakes

½ tsp sea salt

Place the freekeh and 500ml of water in a saucepan, add the oil and salt, if using, and bring to the boil. Cook for 15-20 minutes until tender, then drain and return to the pan. Pour over the dressing and stir. Meanwhile, bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook the asparagus for 5 minutes or until tender. Divide the freekeh onto two plates and add the spinach, asparagus, nectarine and green olives and scatter over the almonds.

Goodbye to all that

And so it’s over – well almost, anyway. Today’s the last day of what many of think of as the most joyless month of the year, and it’s no wonder, because new beginnings are always difficult. Personally, I haven’t found January to be too depressing, but like anyone I have my ups and downs and I’ve really struggled with the dark, dark nights and the particularly grey days.

The winter months are always hard, especially after the fun and fizz of Christmas but as every day inches closer to longer days and brighter skies, I feel hopeful. I know we’re feeling the cold snap at the moment but the sun is rising just that little bit earlier which means that soon I’ll have no excuse not to jump out of bed – in theory, anyway. Daylight is so important and even thirty minutes a day can make a real difference to your physical and mental wellbeing. My daily walks really help my mood and the light always makes me feel brighter – funny that.

Tomorrow’s the first of February (and the day before my birthday) and two years since I started this blog. I never imagined back then that I’d end up writing a cookery book but here I am. Happy February to you all. It might be short and dark but it’s a step closer to spring and that for me is cause for celebration – plus there are some lovely things to eat right now.

Bittersweet blood oranges aren’t around for long and they’re so prettily perfectly Instagrammable so snap them up while you can. They’re nice as a light dessert, cooked with rhubarb (which is also coming into season), added to salads or even sliced and served in a G&T. Tenderstem broccoli has also made an appearance and is lovely lightly steamed and drizzled with lemon juice and olive oil. Make the most of these winter wonders with a salad that bursts with colour and crunch.

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Quinoa and brown rice salad with tendertem broccoli and blood orange

Quinoa and brown rice salad with tenderstem broccoli and blood orange

Serves 2

Ingredients

75g brown rice, rinsed and drained

75g quinoa, rinsed and drained

8-10 stems of tenderstem broccoli (about 125g)

1 and a half blood oranges

1 medium-sized avocado

2 large handfuls of spinach

A handful of fresh dill

25g whole almonds (optional)

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

Salt and pepper

 

For the dressing

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

The juice of half a lime

Salt and pepper

 

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil, then reduce the heat and cook the rice for 15 minutes, then add the quinoa to the same pan and cook for another 10 minutes. Drain and set aside. Meanwhile, heat a large heavy based pan over a medium heat and add the rapeseed oil. Fry the broccoli for 3-4 minutes, turning occasionally, then add the almonds and fry for another 2-3 minutes. Turn off the heat.

Take a large serving dish and add the spinach leaves. Make the dressing by mixing all the ingredients, then spoon half of it over the spinach and massage. Spoon over the rice and quinoa and pour over the rest of the dressing. Add the broccoli and the almonds then peel and segment one of the oranges and remove the skin and stone from the avocado and slices in thin slivers. Add these to the salad, then roughly chop the dill and add that to the bowl. Cut the other orange in half and squeeze over the salad, then season with salt and pepper and serve.

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Season’s eatings

January is far too dark and cold a month to go on a restrictive diet, but I am trying to be a bit more mindful of what and how I eat – and how it makes me feel. Although I didn’t really overindulge over Christmas, my lifestyle changed quite a bit during 2017 and I don’t feel as bien dans ma peau as I did this time last year.

It’s not surprising that I can’t do my up my jeans because writing a cookery book takes no prisoners and I’ve tested a lot of recipes. I want to do something about it so that that means lots of walking (even in this grey weather, getting some daylight is a godsend for my mental wellbeing), the occasional trip to the gym and lots of veggies, pulses and grains. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy a little indulgence once in a while (if you haven’t tried Greazy Vegan yet, you simply must) but I’m choosing my treats more wisely.

There’s more:  I think I might have a food intolerance.  As someone who loves food and writes about it, giving up the gluten seems somewhat sacrilegious, but let’s just say that it’s not really agreeing with me. I’m going to cut back on the bread and biscuits for a while to see if it makes a difference (we’ll see how long I last with that one) so I’ll keep you posted.

Anyway, gluten-free or not, eating well doesn’t have to be time-consuming, bland – or expensive – as you’ll see with my recipes for a simple seasonal salad and a fast and filling curry with cauliflower rice.

 

Jump for joy salad

Let me introduce you to January’s finest: sweet but mellow russet apples, ravishing Romanesco cauliflower, and my favourite, the humble sprout. One of the cheapest ways to get this winter’s veg is at your local market, although you can use any variety depending on what you can find. The sumac in adds a lovely hit of zesty heat but use ground cumin if you don’t have any. Using tinned lentils makes this a really quick and easy dish (I’m lazy, so sue me) but boil up some dried ones if you prefer.

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Serves 2

Ingredients

For the salad

1 head of Romanesco cauliflower, broken into small florets (keep the leaves for cooking, so roughly chop these, too)

12 sprouts, ends and outer leaves removed and chopped finely

4 large handfuls of kale or spinach, roughly chopped

1 russet apple, cut into thin slices

1 x 400g can brown or green lentils, rinsed and drained

2 large handfuls of parsley, chopped

The juice of half a lemon

Salt and pepper

For the dressing

1 ½ tsp sumac

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

Put the cauliflower, sprouts and kale in a large bowl then mix the ingredients for the dressing on a glass or jar. Pour over the vegetables and massage with your hands, then season with salt and pepper.

Heat a large frying pan or wok over a high heat, then stir fry the vegetables for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the lentils and cook for another minute. Remove the pan from the heat and tip everything back into the bowl. Add the apple and parsley and stir though, squeeze over the lemon, then serve.

 

Pea and aubergine curry with cauliflower rice

This quick curry is more fragrant than spicy and ready in about 20 minutes. You can find galangal in larger supermarkets but if you come away empty-handed, just leave it out. I’m not suggesting for one second that carbs are bad but if you fancy something a bit lighter – or you just fancy something different – cauliflower rice is rather nice, especially with the tiniest bit of almond extract. I’ve started cooking with rapeseed oil as it contains good cholesterol and omega fats but use any kind you have in the cupboard – although not extra virgin olive oil!

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Serves 3-4

Ingredients

For the curry

1 medium aubergine, cut into small chunks

200g frozen peas

4 large handfuls of kale, roughly chopped into small pieces

1 tsp chopped or grated fresh ginger

1 tsp chopped or grated galangal, fresh or dried

1 tsp ground cumin

½ tsp salt

2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped

1 x 400g can tomatoes, chopped or plum

1 tbsp peanut butter

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 small lime, cut into wedges

For the cauliflower rice

1 large cauliflower

1 tsp coconut oil

1 tsp chopped or grated fresh ginger

A drop of almond essence (optional)

Heat the rapeseed in a large pan over a high heat. Add the chopped aubergine and pour over the salt, then fry for five minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Turn down the heat and add the shallots, ginger, galangal and cumin, then fry for another five minutes. Now, add the tomatoes plus a little water and bring to the boil. Tip in the peas and the kale and add the peanut butter. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan with a lid and cook for 5-10 minutes.

Make the ‘rice’ by grating the cauliflower using a box grater – you can use a food processor but I find that a grater takes less washing up. Heat the oil in a pan over a medium heat, then add the cauliflower and the ginger and cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until lightly browned. Add a drop of almond essence if using.

Serve with the curry and a squeeze of lime

Stranger Things

If, like many a millennial, you spent the weekend devouring season two of Stranger Things, you’ll have seen a lot of pumpkins in the last few days. Even if you don’t watch the cult series (and you really should because even a scaredy cat like me is a fan), you’ve probably passed a windowsill or two with a jagged-toothed jack o’lantern on display.  Whether you heart Halloween or hate it, it’s the time of year to parade those golden globes – and when it’s over, you can turn them into something tasty.

I haven’t had much of a chance to enjoy autumn’s abundance this year because I’ve been too busy recipe testing. Gone are the gorgeous gourds I normally eat during these months as I make room in the kitchen (and my tummy) for lasagne, beetroot bourgignon, cauliflower ‘cheese’, and lots of other lovely things. If you think that sounds delicious, you can pre-order my book here.

In the meantime, pick up a pumpkin (or squash) and try these easy recipes. First up is a bright and sunny salad of roasted swede, pumpkin, broccoli, courgettes, tomatoes and, my favourite, romanesco cauliflower. Then there’s orange and cinnamon roasted pumpkin and sweet potato wedges,  the perfect partner for chilli or a hearty stew. Enjoy.

Autumn salad
All your RDA in one bowl

Autumn salad

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 small pumpkin or squash, peeled and sliced into wedges (remove the pith but keep cook the seeds, if you like)

1 swede, peeled and sliced into wedges

1 head romanesco cauliflower, cut into florets

1 head broccoli, cut into florets

1 punnet cherry or plum tomatoes

Herbs of your choice (fresh or dried)

2-3 tbsp olive oil

½ lemon

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C (gas mark 6). Place the pumpkin and swede in a large ovenproof dish and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle over some herbs (thyme works well here) and season with salt and pepper. Place on the top shelf of the oven and roast for 10-15 minutes. Now, take another dish and add the cauliflower florets, courgettes and broccoli, drizzle with oil, squeeze over some lemon juice, and season. Place on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 15 minutes – in the last five minutes, add the tomatoes. When cooked, divide the vegetables onto plates, drizzle with a bit more oil and eat.

Pumpkin and sweet potato wedges
Golden globes

Pumpkin and sweet potato wedges with orange and cinnamon

Serves 3-4

1 small pumpkin or squash, peeled and sliced into wedges (remove the pith but keep cook the seeds, if you like)

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into wedges

1 orange

2 tsp cinnamon

2-3 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C (gas mark 6). Place the pumpkin and sweet potato wedges in a large ovenproof dish and drizzle with olive oil, then squeeze over the orange juice and sprinkle over the cinnamon. Season, then place on the top shelf of the oven and roast for 30-35 minutes.

 

 

Seeing red

I’m an impatient bugger. It’s mid-September and there’s still no sign of those ravishingly red leaves. Get a move on, autumn; these grey skies are making me grumpy. Admittedly, I’m not too excited about the approaching drop in temperature (I’ve been told that the heating doesn’t come on until October – we’ll see about that…) but I do hope those colours come out soon. If not, an Indian summer would suit me just fine but this in-between stage is rather getting on my nerves.

Luckily, I don’t have that much time to be distracted by the weather. Work is picking up and I have the not so small task of writing a cookery book – when I’m not testing recipes, that is. It’s a good thing I’ve joined a gym because at the moment, I feel like I’m eating for two (sometimes three or four), minus the pregnancy bit. When I’m not making cauliflower cheese, crumble, and tofish and chips (heavenly on the lips and the hips) I’m rusting up some healthy but hearty meals – just for a bit of balance, you know?

This sweet little salad is light but warming and the orange and tomato (British toms are still around so grab ‘em while you can) are a match made in heaven. I’ve used white kale, which I found at Swansea Market, but any sort of green leaves will do. When it gets colder (or if you’re really hungry) you can bulk it up with autumnal squash or pumpkin – or sweet potato. It would also be nice with rice.

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Indian summer salad

Serves 2

 

Ingredients

Head of cauliflower, broken into florets

1 leek or two spring onions, finely sliced

1 punnet cherry or plum tomatoes, whole

2 tbsp olive oil

3 big handfuls of kale or spinach, roughly chopped

1 tsp ground cumin

1 orange, peeled and in segments

Juice from 1 lemon

2 tsp capers

2 tbsp ground almonds

Flatleaf parsley or coriander to garnish (optional)

 

Method

Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the leeks, cauliflower, cumin and lemon juice and cook for five minutes, stirring frequently. Stir through the kale and tomatoes and cook for two minutes then add the orange segments and the capers, plus a little of brine from the jar, if you like. Season with salt and pepper and cook for another two minutes.

Serve with the almonds scattered over, plus the parsley or coriander if using.

You had me at halloumi

Boy, have I eaten well over the last few days. Steak, chicken, cheese, ham, chocolate doughnuts – I could go on. Before you ask, I haven’t fallen off the wagon; it’s all as fake as Donald Trump’s newsfeed. Yup, plant-based eating has moved on a lot in the two years that I’ve been vegan.

When I first ditched the meat, eggs and dairy two years ago I would never have dreamed of eating substitutes. I kind of fell into the trap of ‘clean eating’ (bleeurgh) and although it was just a phase, I still turned my nose up at processed foods, even if they were vegan. Eventually though, curiosity (and Instagram) got the better of me and in the last six months, I’ve relaxed a bit and eaten a lot of vegan ‘junk’ food. When I’m not scoffing fishless fingers and ‘chicken’ nuggets (thank you, Quorn), you’ll find me in the biscuit aisle – damn you, Oreos. Sure, my jeans are tighter, but it’s nice that I no longer feel like I’m missing out.

And so I move on to the subject of vegan halloumi – yes, you read that correctly. Demand for plant-based cheeses is higher than ever and Violife has a new range, which includes a Wensleydale-type cheese with cranberries or blueberries – and a much-hyped halloumi.

I dabble in a bit of dairy-free cheese now and then but it’s halloumi, in all its salty squeakiness, that I really crave. I’m not going to lie to you: this doesn’t taste like the real thing. It’s tasty and keeps its shape when fried or grilled but it’s more sticky than squeaky and needs a good bit of seasoning to really sing. I’d eat it again though.

Whether you’re trying the Violife version or just eating the regular stuff, halloumi goes really, really well with fruit. In this salad, I’ve paired it with watermelon but nectarine or blueberries would work just as well. I used D’aucy lentils (one of the best canned version around in my opinion) but own-brand green or brown ones will do. Obviously, you can cook them from scratch but using canned saves a bit of time.

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Halloumi, lentil and watermelon salad

Serves 2

Takes 15-20 minutes to make

 

Ingredients

1 packet halloumi (vegan or dairy), cut into long slices

1 can (400g) lentils, drained

2 small courgettes, cut into wedges

1 bag watercress

As much watermelon as you like

1 large handful pine nuts

1 large lemon

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 handful flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

Salt and pepper

 

Method

Place two large pans on a medium heat and add a tablespoon of olive oil to each one. In one pan, add the courgettes and a good squeeze of lemon juice and cook for five minutes until brown, then remove from the pan and set aside. In the other pan, fry the halloumi slices with a squeeze of lemon for around ten minutes, turning frequently – they’ll be ready when they’re brown on both sides. Meanwhile, add the drained lentils and watercress to the other pan with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and warm for five minutes. Return the cooked courgettes to the pan and heat for another minute. Remove the halloumi from the pan and lightly toast the pine nuts for a minute or so. Serve the lentils with the halloumi and watermelon and scatter over the pine nuts and parsley with a squeeze of lemon and some salt and pepper.

Too hot to handle

Blimey, it’s warm. It’s not quite heatwave hot but I’m not built for this weather. Pale-skinned English rose that I am, I’ve long learned to shun the sun. It’s not that I dislike it but I prefer it in small doses, as does my colouring. Extreme temperatures do me no good (I’m useless in the winter, too) so it’s no wonder that I prefer the milder months of the spring and autumn. I’ve just finished reading Maggie O’Farrell’s unputdownable Instructions for a Heatwave (timely, eh?), which is set in the summer of 1976, the hottest on record for more than 350 years. It’s hard to imagine that, for two weeks, temperatures reached 32 degrees Celsius and the government had to appoint a Minister for Drought. Take note, climate change deniers.

In the novel, people do odd things, things that they normally wouldn’t. Heat gets to us in ways that we can’t explain and can make us act completely out of character. That’s what some people must be thinking about Nigella Lawson, who was criticised last week for posting a recipe of sliced tomatoes topped with homemade salad cream. Leave the poor woman alone. Sometimes the simplest things are the most delicious. And it’s far too hot to think properly at the moment. No one wants to be cooking, do they?

In that vein, I’m sharing my ‘recipe’ for a very simple salad which is light enough for a warm summer evening but also full of flavour. I made it one lunchtime last month when I was gripped by what I call freelancer fear – yeah, that’s a thing. It didn’t completely quell my anxiety but I think it did me some good. This salad’s colourful, crunchy and quick to make, and the dressing’s pretty dreamy, too. You can always add rice, quinoa or boiled new potatoes if you want a heartier meal.

Too hot to handle

Cheerful chickpea salad with nectarine and avocado

Serves 2

Ingredients

For the salad

1 can of chickpeas (400g), rinsed and drained

2 carrots, peeled and sliced into thin strips

2 small nectarines, sliced

1 large avocado, sliced

Half a cucumber, halved and cut into thin slices

For the dressing

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 lemon (juice)

1 tsp maple syrup

½ tsp cumin powder

A few leaves of fresh mint, finely slice

A pinch of salt

 

Method

This is so simple you could almost make it with your eyes shut – please don’t. Once you’ve sliced all the fruit and vegetables, assemble them on a plate. Make the dressing by mixing all the ingredients together in a bowl, mug or glass. Put the chickpeas in a bowl and mix through half of the dressing, then add to the rest of the salad. Pour over the remainder of the dressing and serve.