Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The Sweetest of Potatoes

Fancy a slice of the action?

I love sweet potato. It may not be the prettiest of vegetables but its orange flesh pleasantly treads the line between savory and sweet. They're versatile and good for you as they're high in a range of vitamins, complex carbohydrates (which keep you fuller for longer and burn slowly in your belly) and fibre. They have also been rated the highest for nutritional value in a study that surveyed common vegetables. They're delicious whether they're roasted, boiled or mashed but be sure to have a little fat (such as a dressing of olive oil) with your potato to encourage your update of the precious beta-carotene that its naturally bursting with.

So, the sweet potato. An all round winner? Hrm, maybe not. If you head to your local supermarket or grocer, you'll be faced with roots that have winged their way to the shelf from America. The US of A. That means that if your potatoes came from North Carolina (the leading sweet potato growing state), they will have travelled over 3,700 miles to get to your dinner plate. My research shows that sweet potato season runs from September to March so maybe the suppliers see the US as the answer to summer shortages but it still seems crazy to me to be shipping them all that way. I'm no expert but I wonder how much of the nutrients are lost during transportation.

Anyway, The Boy and I got talking about this subject and he (being particularly passionate about these orange beauties) challenged me to grow my own. Baring in mind that we don't have a garden, this is likely to be difficult. I doubt that we have the space to grow potatoes on our window sills and the distict lack of soil makes growing them on our driveway sound a bit far fetched too. Having done some reading, it seems that I'm a bit late of the starting blocks too as tubars need to be started in February to be ready for September. Ho hum!

Still, the dates have been put in my diary and that gives me plenty of time to work out how (and where!) I'm going to grow them. I do love a challenge, don't you?

Friday, 24 June 2011

Israeli Couscous with Roasted Aubergine


As soon as IrvingWashington over at Hunger and Sauce posted her Israeli Cous Cous recipe, I knew I had to give it a try. It looked oh so delish with sweetly roasted figs, toasted hazelnuts and crumbly feta. Majorly droolsome.

I must admit that despite my Middle Eastern roots, I hadn't heard of the stuff before. I've used finer North African couscous since my uni days but had never seen this plumper variety. My first hurdle was to find the elusive carbohydrate; my local Sainsburys didn't stock it and the internet wasn't much help ("How much!?"). Luckily, my dearest Papa happened upon some in trusty Waitrose, marketed as 'Giant' Couscous. Dad's rock.


My meal plan fell to pieces when I managed to forget to buy figs. Oops. Still keen to try out my latest ingredient, I raided our fridge and came across an aubergine. I'd picked it up on a rare trip to Asda where they were selling them for 50p - half the price of Sainsburys where I usually shop. Some were little (half the size of the Sainsburys ones) but I rummaged one out which was a good size. I roasted it while I had one or two other bits in the oven so as to be as thrify as possible with my fuel. If you're turning the oven on for cakes or biscuits, why not pop a tray of aubergines or peppers in too? They'll keep well in a container in your fridge for at least a few days or you could freeze them for when you next need them?

Anyway, here's my Israeli cous cous recipe. I hope you like it! I'm still hoping that I remember to pick up those blasted figs when I'm next at the supermarket so that I can try out IrvingWashington's recipe!


Aubergine Israeli Couscous

Serves 2 as a side dish

1 aubergine
1 red onion, peeled
3 tbsp sunflower oil
100g Israeli or ‘Giant’ couscous
½ tsp vegetable stock powder (or around ¼ of a cube)
½ lemon, juiced and zested
2tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp white wine or cider vinegar
Handful of coriander, chopped
1 tsp chilli, finely chopped
1 clove garlic

- Whip the top off the aubergine, slice in half and cut into 5mm pieces. Do the same with the onion and place in a bowl. Pour 2 tbsp of sunflower oil over and toss until coated.
- Pop on to a baking tray and gently shake from side-to-side to level.
- Put into the oven and roast for 30 minutes at 190C. Remove the aubergine half way through cooking and stir so that it cooks evenly and goes golden on both sides.
- Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 tbsp of sunflower oil in a pan over a medium heat and add the couscous. Gently brown the couscous for a few minutes so that it darkens slightly.
- While it cooks, measure out 200ml of cold water and add the stock powder and the whole garlic glove. Stir until the stock has dissolved.
- Add the water to the couscous and stir. Turn the heat below the pan to low, cover and bring to a simmer.
- After a minute, remove the garlic clove and then continue to simmer for about 15 minutes or until the water has been absorbed and the couscous is tender. Stir every so often so that it doesn’t clump together. You may need a little more water depending on your couscous.
- Mince the garlic and combine it with the olive oil, lemon juice, zest, chilli, cumin, vinegar and coriander in a large bowl. Add the aubergine and couscous and toss with your hands until everything has an even coating of dressing.
- Serve garnished with coriander leaves. Lovely with poached eggs or harissa chicken.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Apple & Blackcurrent Crumble Flapjacks

Blackcurrants and redcurrants freshly picked from Thurloxton's fields

Summertime is on it's way and with it comes the the seasonal glut of glorious fruit and vegetables. One thing to make the most of (apart from the last trickle of British asparagus) is soft fruit. The supermarkets are packed with them - British strawberries and raspberries were both on offer when I last went - but the quality can be a little hit and miss as they are difficult to transport. That's the trouble with soft fruit. It's, well, soft.

Luckily for us, we have a great pick your own place nearby called Thurloxton Growers which grows all sorts from rhubarb and gooseberries to broadbeans and asparagus. They have several fields with lots of produce fresh on the vine, bush or plant to pick at your own pace. It's not cheap but the quality is amazing and they tend to have fruit that is otherwise hard to come by - red gooseberries and loganberries to name just two. Have a look for some fields near you here or type 'Pick your own' and then your location into a search engine. Many places, Thurloxton included, sell other local produce such as fresh cream to go with your freshly picked strawberries!

Otherwise, if you're stuck with the supermarket for your fruit, take a minute to take a close look at the fruit that goes into your basket. If the fruit has darker, soft patches or looks bruised, find another punnet. Alternatively, if you want your berries for jam or will be using them the same day, corner a member of staff and ask for a discount. It might sound embarrassing but if you don't ask, you don't get.


I spent a lovely afternoon picking red and black currants in the fields of Thurloxton. I'm very partial to eating the redcurrants raw if they're sweet enough but the blackcurrants proved a little too tart for snacking on. My Mother-in-Love had suggested jam but I wanted to do some baking with them.

What to make with my hoard? I adore flapjacks. They feel like the less sinful option when you fancy something cakey. They have butter and sugar in like a sponge but they contain oats instead of flour. That makes them healthy, right? Anyway, British Bramley apples are still in season and you know, dear reader, how much I like the them. It seemed apt to pair British Bramleys with British blackcurrants together.

I whipped up a batch using the apples as a base for the flapjack to give it extra flavour and also to make them moist and chewy. I left the skins in for added fibre (and because I couldn't be faffed to peel them!) which I can't say I've noticed in the finished flapjacks so for the convenience, I'd just keep them on. Once the flapjack base is done, just press the currants onto the surface, sprinkle with sugar and then top with more crumbly oats for a satisfying crunch before you pop it in the oven. It might sound like a lot of trouble for a flapjack but it's actually really simple and adds a lot to the finished article. I imagine that this would work well with any seasonal fruit that you've got lying about. You could also use frozen soft fruits from your freezer or from the supermarket outside of season.


Apple & Blackcurrant Crumble Flapjacks
Makes 12 pieces

For the flapjack base
3 large Bramley apples
200g oats
35ml honey
75g butter
60g sugar
100g fresh (or frozen) blackcurrants, washed

For the crumble topping
55g oats
15g butter, cubed
55g flaked almonds

 - Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a 20cm by 20cm baking tin with parchment paper.
 - Wash the apples, core them and chop into roughly 1cm cubes.
 - Put into a saucepan over a low heat with 40g of the sugar. Cover and simmer gently for around 10 - 15 minutes or until the apples start to fall apart.
 - Meanwhile, make the crumble topping by rubbing the butter and oats together with your fingers.
 - Stir the apples to form a smoothish paste. Add the butter and honey and bring to a gentle simmer.
 - Add the oats and stir until they're completely coated.
 - Press into the prepared tin, using a spatula or spoon to level.
 - Press the blackcurrants into the top of the flapjack and sprinkle with the remaining sugar.
 - Top with the crumble topping and scatter with flaked almonds.
 - Bake for 30 minutes until the blackcurrants burst and and the almonds and oats are golden.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Snapshot: Podding Peas

As I've previously mentioned, healthy snacks are rather difficult to come by. Eleven o'clock comes around on a weekday and my office erupts with the rustling of crisp packets and biscuit wrappers. Temptation is rife but today, I am fine. For today, dear reader, I have peas.

Just like my colleagues' convenience foods, they come in their own hygienic wrapping and can be picked on while I'm typing or draughting away. Unlike my workmates fodder, they are low in salt, sugar, preservatives and other nasties. They have a satisfying snap as I pop open the pod, which keeps me entertained (it's the simple things in life...). And as an added bonus, any waste can be composted - you can't say that about your average bag of crisps or biscuits!

British peas are in season right now and the supermarkets are stocking them. They're not cheap if you're compare them with the dinner staple frozen variety but we eat them in a very different way; on their own, raw and straight from the shell. They'd be lovely cooked and added to various meals but why over-complicate something that is so delicious on its own?

Monday, 20 June 2011

Grilled Courgette & Halloumi Salad


Father's Day. A another celebration (to add to the list along with Mothers Day and Valentines Day) dreamed up by the ingenious card companies to line their pockets after the card-buying frenzy of Christmas. I love my Dad and I hope that he knows how much I appreciate him but I quite like having an excuse to treat him. I suggesting inviting both The Boy's and my parents over for the day along with my siblings (The Boy’s sister lives too far away, sadly).

We may have stuck a finger up at card-giving commercialism but it did mean that we’d be cooking for eight. Blimey. I decided on a simple menu – a shared lunch of salads with homemade bread and a roast for dinner – but was still faced with tons of preparation in order to get to relax on the day. So, after an hour of aerial hoop and lunch with friends, I got down to some serious prepping. I quickly realised that - after my earlier exertions - once I stopped, I wouldn't be able to start again so I got through as many of many tasks with as much vigour as I could muster. I peeled vegetables for the roast, I soaked pulses for a bean salad, I roasted aubergines for a salad and I melted chocolate for a low(ish) fat cheesecake. Phew!

Sunday dawned and my muscles had locked up into a knot of achey lead. The Boy had helped me to prep a salad of seasonal courgettes and haloumi cheese which I thought would go down well with one and all. As he griddled, his brain was whirring - my recipe idea had sparked some foodie inspiration. He added peppers to my base of courgette, cheese, oregano and olives and topped the whole thing off with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. While the grill pan was still hot, I whacked on a lemon and stuck the grilled, caramalised halves on the plate to dress.

As our visitors arrived bearing various divine dishes - my Mum brought a fantastic homemade polenta based gluten free quiche while my Mum-in-Love brought a broad bean and bacon salad. Eight around our little table was, urm, rather friendly to say the least but it was made bearable by the mountains of food. My batch of green olive foccacia went down a storm but it was the courgette salad that was the real star of the show. The courgettes become sweet and soft when grilled which contrasts nicely with the salty bite of the green olives. The weather (predictably unpredictable) wasn't on our side and we didn't fancy barbecuing on our driveway so we used a grill pan but this could be popped on the barbie for a truly smokey flavour.


Grilled Courgette & Haloumi Salad
Serves 6 - 8 as a side dish

4 medium courgettes
2 peppers
250g halloumi cheese, drained and sliced
100g green olives, sliced
1 lemon
25g sesame seeds
handful of oregano leaves
sunflower oil

 - Put a griddle pan on a high heat to warm up until smoking. Alternatively, prepare your barbeque.
 - Wash the courgettes and cut them lengthways. Try to get them around 5mm thick but don't worry too much if you can't as they're not the easiest of things to cut! Deseed and slice the peppers and pop everything in a bowl with the halloumi cheese.
 - Drizzle the courgettes and pepper with a little oil and mix so that they are well covered. Carefully brush the griddle with a little oil on a heatproof brush or a kitchen towel.
 - Grill the courgette and pepper for a few minutes on each side until they are slightly softened and have charred lines. Remove to a serving dish.
 - Next, grill the halloumi for about 4 minutes, turning each slice so that it crisps up slightly and becomes charred. Add to the serving dish with the other vegetables.
 -  Turn off the heat under the pan and immediately put two lemon halves, cut side down, on to the grill. Leave for a few minutes until they are caramalised and browned.
 - Meanwhile, add the olives and oregano leaves to the dish and toss the salad. Top with sesame seeds and oregano sprigs. Serve with the grilled lemon halves to squeeze over.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Review: Zazu's Kitchen


After an hour of strenuous aerial exercise (my latest passion is aerial hoop), me and two friends found ourselves wandering the Stokes Croft area of Bristol in search of sustenance. You may have heard of this creative and dynamic area in the news of late but don't let recent events put you off; this is a lovely part of Bristol which is well worth exploring.

After some dithering, we decided on Zazu's Kitchen. From the outside, it seems like a small establishment but inside, it's somewhat tardis-like. Our first impression was confusion; they'd been closed in the morning for a private event (the chef later told us that they'd cooked full English breakfasts for thirty people - rather him than me!) and the staff were trying to get the place in order. We were welcomed in to take a seat while we waited for them to ready themselves and soon had hot drinks in front of us. Zazu's is the kind of place that serves tea in a pot and proper frothy, chocolatey cappuccinos. Points there.

We were further perplexed when trying to order food. Apparently, they weren't ready to take orders. No, we couldn't place our order in advance for when the kitchen re-opened. Hrmph. We placated our hunger with more drinks. Incidentally, their hot chocolate is ace and they have an impressive selection of Fentiman's traditional soft drinks. While we waited, I had a little look around. There's a small, central, open kitchen which acts as the heart of the place as well as a divide between the front of the café and the more secluded back area. There was fresh pasta strung up to dry on poles all around the place - a nice touch showing that they make their own produce in house.

Eventually, the time came and food was being served. The menu looked fantastic; full of seasonal and local produce mixed with homemade basics. But before we could get up to place an order, a queue formed that trailed out of the door. Poor timing on our part, I suppose but unfortunate nevertheless. After (what felt like) an eternity of queuing, we settled ourselves for a 25 minute wait for our food. This was well spent people watching. Stokes Croft attracts a diverse array of characters but Zazu's seemed to be filled with painfully cool twenty-somethings - boys with silly, indie hair and girls with blank expressions and 'granny' shoes.

Our food arrived and it was certainly worth the wait. We enjoyed a confit of duck with crispy polenta and a gooseberry compote, a risotto of asparagus and preserved lemon and a piece of pan-fried cod on a bed of puy lentils and roasted peppers. The duck was a little dry but it worked well with the acidity of the gooseberry compot, which cut through fattyness of the meat. The polenta had a satisfyingly hard crust but a lovely soft interior - much nicer than my bland attempts at home. The risotto was deliciously fresh in flavour but still thick and creamy. The rice was perfectly cooked and it was interspersed with delicate slices of preserved lemon peel, which lifted the whole dish. The cod was perfectly cooked and the lentils were surprisingly meaty. All in all, a great meal for the food alone.

Zazu's Kitchen is great for a lazy breakfast or lunch when you're not in a hurry. If you have the time to sit back and enjoy watching the world go by (or by writing intense thoughts/ideas for meaningful song lyrics in your journal like many of the clientelle) while nibbling on delicious, seasonal food then this is the place to do it. They serve various teas, coffee any which way and wine, depending on your mood. Food is reasonably priced for the quality but you don't get a huge amount (not a problem for me but this might have left The Boy wanting).

Zazu's Kitchen can be found at 45 Jamaica Street, Bristol, BS2 8JP. Lunch dishes from around £7 - £12.

Friday, 17 June 2011

One Pot Chicken

“Have you taken photo’s of this?” sighed The Boy. This can be roughly translated from Boy-talk as “Am I allowed to eat this yet?”. Poor guy; I have this dreadful habit of taking photos of our food (most of which end up on here!). Worse still, I’ve been reading up and attempting to develop the quality of my photographs which means that I’ll often be heard barking “You’re in my light!”. Not the most gentile of pre-dinner conversation.

My terrible table habits aside, life hasn’t been easy for The Boy in recent weeks so I’d decided to treat him to a relaxing evening. Naturally, this included a hearty, home cooked meal to make his tummy happy (what with the way to a man's heart being through his stomach and all that). I’d wanted something that would be bursting full of flavour but wouldn’t require too much nursing over the stove. Sure, there’s a time and place for complicated recipes but after work, I’d rather keep things simple.

Rewind by a couple of days to when Angela Harnett’s recipe for Hunter’s Pot Roast Chicken caught my eye on the Guardian’s website. Straightforward, undemanding and more of a starting point than a recipe as I could see the potential to swap-out ingredients depending on what was available.

I gave myself a head-start by prepping the marinade and slathering the chicken that morning before leaving it to infuse in the fridge while I was out at work. Five minutes prep was all it took. On my return, I took the chicken out so that it could come up to room temperature before it cooked. I decided to go with seasonal greens – kale and spring green cabbage – and the last of the British asparagus that I could find. Keep your eyes peeled in the supermarkets as the Peruvian stuff is gradually coming back to the shelves in place of the lovely British spears that we’ve been spoilt with recently.

I served it up with The Boy’s favourite lager and some juicy jersey royals but it’s a great adaptable recipe. Use whatever is in season and is in your larder. Very little washing up too!

“Yes, my darling. I’ve taken all the photos I’ll need. Tuck in!”


One Pot Chicken
Serves 2

For the marinade
½ chilli, sliced
2 cloves of garlic
2cm fresh ginger, chopped
Juice and zest of ½ lemon

4 chicken thighs and/or drumsticks
170ml white wine, vermouth or stock
½ onion, sliced
2 large leaves of spring greens, washed and finely sliced
Large handful of curly kale, washed
1 bunch of asparagus
Sunflower oil

- Pound the ingredients for the marinade with a pestle and mortar or whizz up in a food processor. If you don’t have either, finely chop the chilli, garlic, ginger and lemon zest together on a chopping board and then mash together with the lemon juice.
- Slash the chicken a few times with a knife and then rub with the marinade. Leave on one side while the flavours infuse for as long as possible.
- Steam the greens and kale by rinsing them and putting them into a microwaveable dish. Put a lid or plate over (or cover with cling film) and microwave for 5 minutes or so.
- Heat a little sunflower oil in a saucepan or casserole dish. Brown the chicken skin side down and then turn over.
- Drain away any fat and then deglaze the pan with wine/vermouth/stock. Do this by pouring in the liquid and gently stirring, pushing any the browned bits that have cooked on to the bottom of the pan.
- Sprinkle the onion over the chicken and stir. Simmer gently, turning the chicken to ensure that it cooks evenly, for 15 – 20 minutes.
- When the juices run clear, remove the chicken from the pan and add the steamed greens and asparagus with any cooking juices from steaming the veg. Put the lid on the pan and cook for a few minutes until the asparagus is as you like it. We like it al dente (and The Boy will happily eat it raw) so this didn’t take long.
- Return the chicken to the pan. Serve with jersey royals, par-boiled and then fried in the chicken fat, or crusty bread.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Chinese-Style Noodle Soup


After a long day at work followed by a strenuous dance lesson, I had to practically crawled up the stairs to our first floor flat and into our little kitchen. When it’s just me to feed, I sometimes loose motivation for food at the end of the day and dinner can be just a bowl of cereal or fried egg on toast. Determined not to be lazy and to find something that would be nutritious and filling for my post-workout body, I rummaged through our fridge and threw together this quick Chinese-style soup.

I was feeling patient enough to chop and slice everything, which is the most time consuming part of the whole meal. Then again, the neat-and-tidy part of me finds slicing vegetables into incredibly thin, itsy witsy pieces rather therapeutic. It's quite nice to do something quiet and controlled after heaving myself around a pole for an hour. Once you're done with the chopping board, you're only ten minutes away from a tasty low-fat meal. I figure it's low fat - there's no oil involved and nothing else except water and vegetables...

This is a great way to use up the crunched up, broken noodles at the bottom of the packet. All of the vegetables - spring greens, carrots, courgette and spring onions - came from the UK so, despite its far Eastern influences and flavour, it's a seasonal dish. Naturally, you can swap the veggies around however you wish depending your own tastes and the seasons. It would be lovely with some poached chicken or prawns but I just had it straight up - it's quicker that way!


Chinese-Style Noodle Soup
Serves two

1 tsp finely grated ginger
1 clove garlic, finely sliced
1 star anise
1 tsp (or ½ cube) vegetable or chicken stock powder
2 large leaves of Spring Green cabbage, finely sliced
50g dried egg noodles
Handful of finely sliced or julienne cut carrot and courgette
Handful of fresh coriander
1 tbsp soy sauce (or to taste)
1 tsp chilli, finely sliced (or to taste)
2 tbsp spring onion, finely sliced

- Put the stock powder, garlic, star anise and grated ginger in a jug and top up with boiling water to 600ml. Stir until the powder has dissolved.
- Pour into a wok or large saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer. Add the spring greens and cook for 3 minutes.
- Separate the coriander leaves from the stems. Chop the stems if you like but I like to leave them whole.
- Add the egg noodles to the soup and stir, ensuring that they are completely submerged in the stock. Cook for 2 minutes then add the coriander stems, carrots and courgettes.
- Cook for a further 2 minutes or until the noodles are tender.
- Add the soy and stir well. Remove the star anise. Taste and adjust the flavours accordingly.
- Garnish with coriander leaves and a scattering of spring onion and chilli before serving. Eat with chop sticks and slurp the soupy liquid straight from the bowl!

Monday, 13 June 2011

Simple Home-baked Scones


 When a few friends came over to visit this weekend, the last thing that I was expecting was for one of my male friends to bring his craving for cream teas all the way over from Hampshire. This is a guy who likes mountain biking and sailing. And fast cars. And shoot-em-up pew-pew-pew computer games. He’s no less macho than your average man and yet he craves little cakes with cups of tea. Not that I’m suggesting anything, of course.

Anyway, a rainy post-mojito Sunday morning dawned and it was clear that no one wanted to leave the warm and dry of our flat in search of tea and cake. Instead, I got out my trusty scone recipe and threw together a batch. They’re so simple to make – preparation takes about 10 minutes or so and they don’t take much longer to bake. Within half an hour, you can be munching on warm scones.

Please don’t bother with the supermarket versions that are available; I’ve always found them to be a tremendous disappointment. Dry, crumbly and tasteless. Homemade scones are amazingly easy and so worthwhile for the flavour alone. Serve with clotted cream and strawberry jam for an authentic feel or go for whipped cream if the divine clotted kind isn't available. Just as lovely with butter, of course, though not quite as decadent. Top with a few British strawberries if you're feeling fancy (or if they were going cheap at the supermarket, like us!)


Sultana Scones
Makes 8 - 10

225g self raising flour
40g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ½ tbsp caster sugar
Pinch of salt
125ml semi-skimmed milk
50g sultanas

- Preheat oven to 220C
- Sift the flour over the butter in a large mixing bowl. Rub the two ingredients rapidly between your fingers to bring it together, taking care to break down any lumps. The mixture will have an almost sandy texture once you’re done.
- Add the raisins, sugar and salt and stir in with a table knife.
- Pour the milk into the bowl, a little at a time, mixing it in with the knife. The mixture will come together as you add the milk. You might not need to add all of the milk if the pastry is coming together nicely. If it looks a little dry, add a splash more milk.
- Flour a pastry board or (in my case) a clean worktop and roll out with a floured rolling pin. The pastry should be about ¾ inch thick. Cut your desired shapes – I used a floured glass but you can go as wild as you like with your pastry cutters.
- Pop the scones onto a parchment covered baking tray and bake for 12 – 15 minutes until golden brown.
- Allow to cool for a few minutes and serve warm with cream or butter and jam.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Spicy Roasted Chickpeas - A delicious and healthy snack!


My current office is a snack paradise. There are biscuits and sweeties galore, which is dangerous if you don’t have much will power (ie. me). I’ve realised, since I’ve worked here, that hunger can be psychological. I’m not necessarily hungry until I see the biscuit tin or until I hear one of my colleagues crunching through some crisps. Of course, writing about food regularly adds to my appetite too.

I’ve developed an arsenal of healthy snacks to keep me on the straight and narrow. Rice cakes are on hand for their satisfying crunch rather than flavour (as they don’t really have any of the latter but tons of the former). Rye crisp breads with dried fruit come in handy when I have a biscuit craving and I always have fresh seasonal fruit too. Sometimes I have a clamouring for something savory to pick at and my normal (thoroughly addictive) go to is cashew nuts but though they are choc ful of great things like protein, they are relatively high in fat. So when I saw healthy snack chat on BBC Good Food's facebook page, I had to see what everyone was nibbling on. Karolina from lovely Senses in the Kitchen blog put forward an amazing recipe for roasted chickpeas, which I just had to try out.

Chickpeas are a great source of protein without the fat that's associated with nuts. They also have iron, folic acid and fibre tucked away under their skins. I think this would work with any fresh or dried herbs and spices that you might have. I used chilli and paprika as the main flavours but you could use harissa for a Morrocan vibe or go sweet with cinnamon, nutmeg and a little honey. Change it up with different oils as a base - I used olive oil but sunflower, rapeseed or walnut would also work well. Chickpeas are a fantasticly versatile base for flavour plus they're part of a deal at Sainsburys at the moment where you can get 3 cans for £1 - a saving of 80p (more than a whole can free!). Everyone might be talking about kale crisps but we know where the real flavour is at...


Spicy Roasted Chickpeas

1 can (410g) ready to eat cooked chickpeas

1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp hot chilli powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cumin
Pinch of ground mace
Ground black pepper to taste

- Preheat the oven to 180C.
- Drain the chickpeas and rinse well in a colander, picking out any skins or green/grey chickpeas.
- Put into a large bowl and add the oil and spices.
- Stir thoroughly so that each pea is coated in oil and spices.
- Taste and adjust the seasoning depending on your preferences.
- Spread the chickpeas on a baking tray. Gently shake the tray from side to side so that the chickpeas lie in one layer.
- Roast for 30 – 40 minutes until the peas are slightly crunchy.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Silver Spoon Plant Markers


So there I was, enthusing about herbs when I happened across this amazing how-to for character-full plant markers. I love the idea of using old utensils to mark out plants that will eventually end up in the kitchen and then on your plate.

I’m something of a hoarder by nature, which probably drives The Boy crazy. I do my best to keep it under control and I’m much better than I used to be. I think this is something to do with the terror of moving in with someone and realising that they’re going to see how many boxes you bring through the front door. They have to live with your junk (as well as any emotional baggage you’re carting around) and you with theirs. It might also be something to do with the fact that I’ve moved at least four times in the last five years and lived out of a suitcase for around six months of that. It certainly teaches you something about travelling and living light...

Anyway, on seeing this, my hoarder tendencies have been whispering to me; encouraging me to buy up antique spoons from ebay and to make a little trip to our local charity shops in search of unusual cutlery. Surely one or two spoons or a funky spork wouldn’t hurt, says the little voice. But no. I’ll be good (I can hear The Boy breathing a sigh of relief).

Still, if you have the space, time and ability, why not make a few of these beautiful markers? A treat for the eyes and reusable too. And while you’re at it, be a doll and make me some too?

If you don’t have the space, time or ability (or maybe you don’t have the equipment or inclination), you can recycle your old butter or ice cream tubs that aren’t being used for growing herb seedlings. They can easily be turned into simple but effective plant markers that can be cut, labelled and put to good use in less than five minutes flat.


Simply wash out your old tub with warm soapy water and dry. Then cut out as many long strips of plastic as you need – I’d recommend making them at least 1cm wide so that they’re easy to write on but go as creative as you like. The top moulded edge makes an ideal top to the marker as the cut plastic can sometimes be a little sharp. Don’t forget to cut a point into the bottom of the strip for easy insertion into the soil.

One side will have the butter or ice cream branding or packaging colours on but if you turn it over and voila! You’ll have a nice white or cream blank canvas to write on. Use a permanent marker to mark on your plant names then just place in your pot and get growing. You can even reuse your marker when you’ve planted out your seedlings or eaten your herbs by removing the writing with a plastic scouring pad. Super thrifty recycling!

Monday, 6 June 2011

Potter's Tea Party


I have been missing Oxford lately. I’m not sure whether it’s the recent warm weather (perfect for lazing around in the Parks or for punting) or the multitude of celebratory post-exam/hand-in Facebook activity that’s got me reminiscing. Despite the stress, my university days were pretty awesome and Oxford is a fantastic city to be a student in.


This weekend, I was handed an excuse (well, two actually) to hop in my battered little car, turn up my music and pay a long overdue visit to the dreaming spires. I had been invited by the lovely Lamadrian of The Sprouting Teapot blog to spend a relaxing afternoon painting pottery and drinking tea. Needless to say, the combination of painting and hot beverages is cloud nine in my book. Shamelessly girlie, I know.

Despite high-hopes for the day, I was truly treated. Homemade chocolate hazelnut éclairs on arrival followed by kumquats (just keep chewing!) dipped in left over melted chocolate. Both were just as delicious as they sound and I’m very inspired by the homemade choux pastry. I will have to give it a go in the near future!

Next, we ambled to St Ebbe's in Headington where the church had been transformed into a pottery studio complete with paints, ceramic pens and plenty of naked crockery crying out to be decorated. Naturally, it wouldn't be a tea party without suitable refreshments and we were spoilt for choice. With ten different types of tea and a whole table laden with sweet goodies, I knew that I was going to be getting my tea and cake quota for the week.
 
For a mere £10, I was presented with a mug, bowl, jug and cake stand to paint with a selection of ceramic paints and pens plus all the homemadecake I could munch. What a lovely way to spend an afternoon!

Friday, 3 June 2011

Bakers and Shakers

Are you a baker? Or a shaker?

We went to see the hilarious Dylan Moran of Black Books fame last night. He posed an interesting question: Are you a baker or a shaker? Namely, do you bottle things up that annoy you (a 'baker') or do you react to anything and everything (a 'shaker'). He generalised that most Britons were bakers; revolution in England, he claimed, would take thousands of years. The first few hundred years would be marked by putting your coffee cup hard on your desk and would culminated with an angry outburst of "You know, he really gets on my wick!" Italians and Arabs, for example, are shakers says Moran. Passionate, expressive, unpredictable and hyperactive people. I found this very funny. Being raised by an English rose of a mother and an Arab camel of a father, what mixture am I?

When you consider our traditional foods, you can see where he's coming from. Comparing, say, Britain's classic toad in the hole with a Moroccan tagine is quite a contrast. Both great in their own way but two ends of the spectrum flavour-wise. Cosy, comforting-if-a-little-bland stodge on one hand and fragrant, spicy juicyness on the other.

Foodwise, I love to bake in the literal sense. I'm not sure why as I'm not a huge fan of sticking to recipes or measuring things out accurately (prefering the more slap-dash, bung-it-in-and-see-what-happens approach), both things that are required of baking as, at the end of the day, the successful rising of a cake seems to come down to chemistry. I do love sweet things though and I think that this is the key to my love affair with the oven.

In terms of flavour, I'd like to be a shaker. I like to try new combinations of spices and am pretty confident when it comes to adding them to meals though I often come back to similar flavours. I love how cocktails (shaken, not stirred naturally!) taste but I'm not such a fan of their effects. Maybe it's a taste thing... Or maybe I'm just boring!

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Scrumptious Coffee & Walnut Cake


Today is a colleague’s birthday so I’ve decided to go against the normal traditions (link) and make her cake instead of her bringing in her own. The consensus in our office was that coffee cake was one of the best cakes around so I dug out a recipe and decided to give it a go.

Shock horror when The Boy returned after a day of promoting his trade at The Bath & West Show (baring foodie goodies!) to find our kitchen filled with the scent of coffee. He is a tea drinker and can’t stand the strength or bitterness of coffee. His resolve did crumble slightly when I gave him a taste – he confessed that it wasn’t all that terrible.

I tried out another of Angela Nilsen’s Ultimate Makeover series – a low calorie, low fat cake does limit my food guilt even though it’s only an occasional treat. It was a pretty simple recipe to follow. A lot of the ‘good for you’ cake recipes of the sponge ilk that I’ve come across need you to whisk up egg whites and other faff but this one, thankfully, has none of that. The filling, which I also used as a topping in the place of icing, involves making a syrup from water, coffee and sugar which takes a little care and patience but is worth it.

Angela’s original recipe can be found here. She managed to cut hers into three and filled it in with the filling then topped with icing. Mine didn’t rise enough so I was only able to cut it in half but it did mean that I didn’t need to make icing. Less bowls to wash up. Bonus! I also substituted low fat mascarpone with light cream cheese and a little yoghurt which worked well.

Coffee & Walnut Cake
Makes 12 servings

225g self raising flour
50g ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp instant coffee granules
85g light brown muscovado sugar
50g golden caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
250ml low fat natural yoghurt
75ml walnut oil
25g chopped walnuts

For the coffee cream to fill and top the cake
140g icing sugar, sifted
140g Quark
100g low fat cream cheese
3 tbsp low fat natural yoghurt
2 tsp instant coffee granules
2 tbsp golden caster sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
Handful of walnut halves to decorate

- Preheat the oven to 180C and line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper.
- Mix the coffee granules with 2 tbsp of warm water and stir until dissolved.
- Mix the flour, sugars (Angela suggests rubbing the muscovado sugar through your fingers to get rid of the lumps which I did and it really helped), walnuts, ground almonds and baking powder into a bowl and mix well.
- Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the eggs, coffee mixture, yoghurt and oil into it. Stir thoroughly until combined.
- Scrape into the prepared tin and bake for 40 – 45 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.
- Leave on one side to cool.
- Meanwhile, make the coffee cream. In a saucepan, mix the coffee granules and caster sugar with 2 tbsp of warm water. Put the saucepan on a low heat and stir until the sugar and coffee are dissolved into the water.
- Turn the heat up under the saucepan and gently simmer the mixture, stirring occasionally, for around 2 ½ minutes until it is thicker and darker then leave to cool. As Angela states in her original recipe, when cooled, the mixture has the consistency of treacle or golden syrup.
- While the mixture is cooling, whisk the other ingredients together. Add the cooled coffee syrup and fold through.
- Cut the cooled cake in half (or more if it’s risen well and you can manage it) and fill with half of the coffee cream.
- Assemble the cake, top with the rest of the coffee cream and decorate with walnut halves. Serve with a cup of Joe or even a cup of tea!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Desert Island Herbs

I was perusing my usual culinary sources today and came across this lovely article by Alys Fowler. In it, she ponders what she would grow if she didn't have a garden - her desert island plants, as it were. This sparked my interest as I've had to come at it from the opposite angle - namely, "I don't have a garden so what can I grow?"

Both of us, it seems, have decided that we can't live without the wonders that are herbs. For Alys, the essentials are mint, coriander and lemon thyme. These are a great resource when it comes to Mediterranean and Eastern cooking; the scent of lemon thyme and mint remind me of Greek holidays while fresh and dried coriander feature in all of my Indian curries and oriental dishes.

My driveway garden lives in pots and includes a motley crew of rosemary, sage and thyme as well as a tub of lemongrass (transplanted from a colleagues garden for tea) and a few sprigs of parsley that have lived on through the winter. My window sills are currently home to basil and oregano seedlings as well as some baby lettuces (another present from a colleague). Next on my list are:

- mint: wonderful in a warm aubergine salad, a perfect pairing with roasted lamb and essential in tzaziki.

- coriander: fantastic on chilli con carne, brilliant blitzed into guacamole and delicious in dhal.

- tarragon: tasty in a sauce for chicken, marvellous when paired with mushrooms and a scrumptious flavour with salmon.

- dill: fabulous with fish, rather lovely in ratatouille and stirred into a herb mayonnaise.

With herbs on my mind, I happened upon an advert in a cookery magazine which hit the mark. The image above is from a Lurpak advert. "Kings of the Kitchen", how apt! Turns out that Lurpak are giving away seeds with packs of Lurpak spreadable. Whether you like their margarine or not, their website gives some great information on growing and cooking herbs. How about keeping your old margarine or yoghurt tubs, popping a few holes in the bottom and filling it with compost to grow your herbs in?
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