Recipe: Vegan Chickpea & Coconut Curry

Now, I’m not a vegan, I’m not a vegetarian. I love meat, and I also find I need it in my diet. When I was in my poorest years of university I rarely ate meat and it showed – I was tired, grumpy and I just didn’t function as well. That said, over the last year or so I’ve been pushing myself to cut out meat more. At least one meal a week is veggie, and I try my hardest not to eat meat for weekday breakfast and lunches (unless I’m taking leftovers in a lunchbox).

 photo Vegan Curry_zpsvpescgd7.jpgAnd do you know what? I’ve really enjoyed it. We’ve made some absolutely delicious recipes that have become firm favourites – and this is one of them. I’ve had it sitting in my drafts for a while (hence the slightly over-edited photos, shooting at 8pm in February wasn’t easy!) and yet I’m not sure why. It’s delicious! Creamy and hearty, whilst still being light and healthy.

If you want to up the vitamins even more, you could make with a tin a chopped tomatoes (or add some fresh ones) but for obvious reasons I don’t! It’s also good with sweet potatoes or butternut squash – in the photos here I added a small potato that needed using up. Of course, if you aren’t a vegetarian or vegan it would be delicious with meat. I’ve added some leftover roast chicken with great results! Non-vegans could also replace the coconut milk with a few spoons of natural yoghurt.

 photo Vegan Chickpea Curry 5_zpslc5mxyxl.jpgIngredients (makes 4-5 good-sized servings – enough for a dinner and a few days lunches for the two of us, it freezes well too)

  • 3 white onions
  • 2 sticks celery
  • Ginger (around the size of your thumb, peeled)
  • 1 red/yellow/orange pepper
  • 6 cloves garlic (reduce if you’re not a huge fan!)
  • 1 chilli (taste it to test how hot it is!)
  • Spices – I used 1 large tsp each of mustard seeds, cumin seeds, tumeric, garam masala, ground coriander, and ground fenugreek, but even a few spoons of curry powder will do!
  • 2 tins of chickpeas
  • 50g dried lentils
  • Any veg needing using up – sweet potatoes, squash etc.
  • 500ml vegan-friendly stock
  • 1 tin of coconut milk
  • 1 small bag of spinach, chopped, or 5-6 cubes of frozen spinach (if using frozen spinach, be wary about freezing leftover portions!)
  • 1 pack fresh coriander, roughly chopped

Roughly chop 2 of the onions, the celery, ginger, pepper, garlic and chilli. Fry in a little oil for 5 or so minutes until softened, then tip into a blender and blitz until smooth. Meanwhile finely slice the remaining onion and fry until starting to soften. Add the spices and fry for 2-3 minutes or until aromatic and toasted. Add the puree, along with the chickpeas, lentils, veg and stock before simmering for around 30 minutes. At this point, most of the stock should have evaporated, though if it’s starting to catch add a little more.

Stir through the coconut milk gradually (so it doesn’t split) and warm on a low heat for around 5 minutes. Add the spinach and most of the coriander. Continue cooking until the spinach is wilted, check seasoning, and then served garnish with the remaining coriander and some almonds, if liked.

 photo Vegan Chickpea Curry 1_zpsrxlcuknv.jpgHere I’ve served with cauliflower rice (simply whizz up some raw cauli in a mini-chopped, then fry with a little garlic for around 5 minutes or until cooked), but my favourite is to toss florets of cauliflower with a little oil and some tumeric, then roast for 20 minutes. Yum! If course, you could use normal rice too – and I can never say no to a good naan bread…

What’s your favourite curry recipe? What veggie meals do you recommend?

Recipe: Herby Quinoa Salad with Nuts, Feta & Pomegranate

This is one of my favourite salads at the moment. Quick and fuss-free to make, goes with most things, travels well in a lunchbox. It’s also full of fresh ingredients and pretty damn good for you. No oily dressing, just a spot of feta cheese (which could be removed if you wanted the veganise the recipe – though as a cheese fan I think I’d miss it too much!). Plus it looks super pretty and is really rather Instagrammable – what more could you want in a recipe?!

 photo Quinoa Salad_zpshgf1hlnd.jpgWe quite often serve this with grilled meat (turkey and lamb work particularly well, especially in a harissa-style marinade) or some homemade falafel, but I also love it on it’s own, perhaps with some carrot sticks and hoummous to snack on later in the afternoon. The only thing I will say is it’s best to serve it at room temperature – when fridge cold I find the quinoa can be a little stodgy in texture.

Recipe

  • 250g quinoa (I prefer to use a mix of white, black and red quinoa – it seems to have a better flavour and texture)
  • 1 small red onion
  • 50g feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 small pack of pomegranate seeds (I find them cheaper than prepping your own)
  • 50g toasted flaked almonds
  • 50g pistachios (unsalted)
  • 1 pack each of coriander and mint
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 pinch each of sugar and salt

Cook the quinoa, following the instructions on the packet. I tend to pop it into a pan with twice the amount of cold water, bring to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes until the water is all absorbed. Let it cool completely.

Finely chop the onion and the herbs. Mix the citrus juice with sugar and salt. Mix everything together with the quinoa, adding more feta if you’re greedy like me. This keeps for a good 3-4 days in the fridge, in fact I find it tastes better the day after being made.

 photo Herby Pomegranate Quinoa Salad 8_zpsoewoohnx.jpg photo Herby Pomegranate Quinoa Salad 7_zps9e8wr6ui.jpgPS – in the photos on this post I’ve drizzled it in a simple yoghurt dressing (1tbsp yoghurt, black pepper, pinch of salt, pinch of cumin) as we’d miscalculated the amount of lemons we needed to buy and it was a little dry. It’s not entirely necessary so no worries about adding a dressing.

I’ve already earmarked this as my go-to recipe for picnics and barbecues this summer – I can imagine I’ll be making it lots!

What’s your favourite summer salad recipe?

Recipe: Cinnamon Buns

I think Cinnamon Buns are one of my all-time favourite sweet treats. It has to be good though – a flaky supermarket cinnamon swirl won’t cut it. It needs to be soft and bready, heavily spiced, sweet, sticky. There’s a Swedish Cafe in Putney that makes insaneelyyyy good ones (Blabar is also damn Instagrammable!) and quite honestly it’s a good thing we’re moving a teeny bit further away. Longer walk = more room for cake, right?!

 photo Cinnamon Rolls_zpseyjrrgca.jpgOne thing I’ve never done, however, is bake my own. Up until a few weeks ago that is! I’ve always shied away from sweet bread recipes. Enriched doughs tend to be horribly sticky and my slightly intolerant nature means I’m likely to swear and strop at it rather than lovingly knead until smooth. I subscribe to the generally knead-free bread bible written by James Morton, but this approach doesn’t exactly work for sweeter recipes.

 photo IMG_8322_zpsaizebahe.jpgEnter my new Kenwood kMix Stand Mixer.*

The dough hook means I don’t need to get up close and personal with sticky dough, my worksurfaces stay smear-free and I genuinely get to keep me cool. A definite bonus given this last week of heat – kneading dough is the last thing I want to be doing! However if you don’t have the lifesaving mixer, simply knead by hand for 15-20 minutes until smooth…

 photo Cinnamon Buns 19_zpsjkzjxhju.jpg photo Cinnamon Buns 6_zpsish6ndaw.jpgThe end result is a soft, bread-y roll, heavily spiced, sticky-sweet and totally delicious. I enjoyed mine for dessert, for breakfast, as a snack. Warm, cold, alone, with ice-cream, dipped into hot chocolate. All delicious. Very addictive. You have been warned!

Ingredients (Made 8 hugeeee ones)

  • 65g caster sugar
  • 50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 325g plain flour
  • 10g dried instant yeast
  • 1 medium egg
  • 100ml “blue” (full fat) milk
  • 45ml single cream – mix together with the milk
  • Filling: 40g caster sugar, 60g unsalted butter, 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • For glazing: 1 medium egg, 30ml golden syrup, 2 teaspoons caster sugar

Make the dough: beat the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg. Mix the flour, a pinch of salt and the yeast together. Gradually add the milk and cream, and the flour mixture, alternating and mixing well. The dough will be sticky! Then knead until smooth. Cover with a clean tea towel leave to rise for an hour before rolling out to a rectangle (around 1.5cm thick).

Fill and shape: beat together the sugar and butter for the filling until light and fluffy. Spread over the dough and sprinkle with cinnamon. Use a knife to cut the dough into strips, around 1.5cm to 2cm wide. We went for 2cm and they were a little big for my liking! Roll up the strips like a snail and place on a baking tray (line with greaseproof!). Leave to rise for around 45-60 minutes, then brush with beaten egg and bake for 15-20 minutes at 200C.

Glaze: mix the golden syrup with an equal amount of water. Brush over the rolls, sprinkle with the sugar and allow to cool slight. Best eaten within a day or so – though they freeze quite well (and make a good on-the-go breakfast…).

 photo Cinnamon Buns 20_zpsircskul6.jpg photo Cinnamon Buns 12_zpsblutyly7.jpgNow, whilst I wish I could take all the credit, this recipe was inspired by The New Nordic (the perfect coffee table book!); I’ve removed the cardamon as I’m not the biggest fan, cut down the sugar a little and of course upped the cinnamon! Yum, yum yum! I’m craving these right now as I sit here typing!

What’s your favourite sweet treat?

Food: When I Was A Vegetarian For A Week

I always swear I could never be a vegetarian. Whilst I don’t eat a huge amount of meat, I do enjoy it. I love a good steak, belly pork is one of my favourites, and bacon is something I’m not quite sure I could live without. I rarely eat meat throughout the day, unless I’m taking leftovers for lunch. Usually at least one dinner a week is veggie, more if W is working late (as then it’s mushroom night). We’ve recently cut down our weekly fortnightly fry-ups to a maximum of once a month.

 photo Veggie Week_zpstswcjvsb.jpgBut I’ve always been curious about how I could get on without meat. I’m a huge animal lover, and I’ve never felt completely comfortable with the meat industry. I try as much as possible to eat free-range meat and if we had a more convenient butcher I’d definitely make more use of them. I will try and use every last scrap of meat I can, including making stock when I get the time. I never buy anything but free-range eggs, and I’d dearly love to give up milk (unfortunately more dairy-free milks don’t agree with me, and I have to buy lactofree so am pretty limited). I also love veggies.

A fresh crunchy salad? Vibrant colourful stir-fry? A comforting and nourishing bowl of lentil stew? These are all some of my favourite meals. With that in mind, and spurred on my an inspiring Instagram feed for National Vegetarian Week, I cut out meat from our diet and fridge for a week. I’ll admit, W cheated. He’s part of a lunch group and some of the guys contributed meat dishes that week. He also went to the pub for a massive Gammon & Eggs. However I stuck to it and, bar one slip-up, didn’t consume a single meat product for a week.

 photo IMG_20170412_133323_278_zpscnepqvam.jpg photo IMG_20170308_213720_196_zpshbwlvzbl.jpg photo IMG_20170223_083803_732_zpswvhkigyi.jpg photo Veggie Squash Stew 6_zpssdhmljya.jpgBreakfasts were as normal. A mix of granola and yoghurt, ricecakes and p-butter, and overnight oats. Snacks were homemade energy balls, though I did find I had a stronger 4pm slump than I normally would. Lunches were again pretty standard. Generally I either take leftovers into work, or make some kind of chunky substantial salad. I also have a lunch allowance in our work canteen, so then to supplement my lunch there with fruit, more salad or a jacket potato. That week I mainly ate a salad of couscous, harissa-roasted butternut squash, feta and spicy crunchy chickpeas.

Dinners were where we had to get inventive. With both of us being pretty busy, recipes need to involve minimal fuss, not too much chopping and as little washing up as possible. We had an absolutely delicious chickea pea curry, served with roasted cauliflower in a tandoori spice blend. I enjoyed a butternut squash risotto. W cooked us a ‘treat’ meal on the Friday of mac-n-cheese, filled with roasted cauliflower and broccoli (pretty much this recipe, sans bacon, with nutmeg in the sauce and blanched broc).

 photo IMG_20170521_094513_zpstngq4oaf.pngMy favourite meal, though, was an Asian-inspired salad. Radishes, onions, Chinese lettuce and carrots all tossed together in a limey-soy-peanut dressing. So light and tasty, though we did end up eating the whole bowl (supposedly serving 4) as we neither of us found it hugely filling. This is where I slipped up, accidentally adding a drop of fish sauce. Oops! Recipe to come…

 photo IMG_20170306_134659_495_zpslmqbuz5a.jpg photo IMG_20170322_121827_316_zpsv1h8qinf.jpgI actually picked quite an easy week to eat veggie. I didn’t eat out, I didn’t have to cope with the canteen’s main meals. I’m not so sure I could sensibly eat out combined both my allergies and being a vegetarian (off the top of my head I’m thinking of only 3 options, two of which are pizza based…). But I did enjoy it. Whilst I won’t be turned a full-time veggie any time soon, we’ve both agreed to start eating more veggie meals throughout the week.

My Favourite Vegetarian Recipes

3-Bean Chilli, Beetroot Risotto, Blue Cheese & Pear Salad, Mushroom Risotto,Oven-Baked Falafel, Spring Vegetable Carbonara (sans bacon/ham). I’m also working on a cauliflower salad recipe, and I’m itching to share my pomegranate quinoa soon.

The next step though? Find a good value seasonal veg box…

What’s your favourite meat-free recipe?

Recipe: Blue Cheese & Pear Salad

Hands up who is fed up of the weather we’ve been having lately? Humid, very wet days alternating with very sunny days. Coupled with my office air-con being set to Arctic mode (I genuinely took a scarf in last week!) it’s left me confused about what to wear and, more importantly, what to eat.

 photo Blue Cheese Pear Salad_zpsjeu2m2q4.jpgTypically in warmer weather I crave lighter food. Salads, zingy flavours. Less of the carb heavy meals I love in winter. But the grey skies together with coming home dripping wet (because BBC Weather told me I didn’t need an umbrella) have got me craving comfort food. I’ve been turning to warm salads recently – the perfect combination of comforting and lightness – and this one is one of my favourites.

The pear provides a subtle freshness to the dish that, as long as it’s no over-ripe, just avoids being too sweet. The toasted walnuts give crunch. Fresh peppery leaves (I like a combo of spinach, rocket and watercress but most generic bags of salad work well). A punchy balsamic dressing. And lots and lots of blue cheese. We went for dolcelatte – it’s both strong and creamy which just the right amount of smelliness for me. AKA it tastes good and strong, but doesn’t make my fridge stink to high heaven. I also have a major love for slightly softer cheese in my salads. All the ingredients come together to make a big bowlful that’s heavy, light and fresh, but with enough cheese to be comforting. If I’m being naughty I love this served with some really good bread, lightly toasted, and a glass of chilled white wine.

Oh, and it you’re not a veggie, I highly recommend a rasher of bacon, finely chopped, and fried until really crispy. Blue cheese and bacon is another of my favourite combos…

 photo Pear Blue Cheese amp Walnut Salad 9_zpstlok4l3x.jpg photo Pear Blue Cheese amp Walnut Salad 11_zps6aakhlb7.jpgIngredients (Enough for 1)

  • For the dressing – olive oil, salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard
  • 1 large pear – I found blush pears to work best
  • A knob of butter – goat’s butter* works really well
  • A bowl of salad leaves
  • A good handful of crumbled blue cheese
  • Another good handful of walnuts

Pop the walnuts on a baking tray and toast in the oven for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile throw the leaves in a bowl and season with a little black pepper. Mix up the dressing – add the ingredients to a small jar and beat. Taste and adjust as you go to make it to your liking. I’m a massive balsamic fan but W’s not so keen so I’ve deliberately not given any qualities. The only thing I will say is you really do only want a tiny, tiny bit of mustard. And don’t use English mustard here, I speak from experience when I say it really doesn’t go well!

Slice the pear (no need to peel). Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the pear. Fry for 30 seconds before adding the dressing and warming through – you want the pears to be in the pan for no longer than around 90 seconds or they will go too soft. Add the pears to the salad bowl, and scatter over the walnuts and cheese. Enjoy!

 photo Pear Blue Cheese amp Walnut Salad 12_zpsqnuup0kq.jpgAlthough I haven’t tried it, I’m also told that this works just as well with cold sliced pears as part of a lunch box. One I’ll be giving a go very soon…

What’s your favourite salad recipe?

Recipe: Chocolate Beetroot Loaf Cake

This is my all-time favourite chocolate cake recipe. I find most chocolate cakes too cakey, too dry, not chocolate-y enough. And whilst I love brownies, sometimes I want something lighter. This is the perfect in-between. Rich with a deep chocolate flavour, moist, but light enough to eat with a cuppa.

 photo Beetroot Loaf_zpsfuiuq3of.jpgPlus the fact that it contains beetroot makes me feel a little healthier. Sure, it’s still just oil, sugar, chocolate and a bit of veg – but at least it’s got the veg right?! Having said that, I just it as an excuse to demolish most of the loaf in just two days so perhaps not the best way of thinking…

It’s super-simple to whip up – just a case of blitz-ing the beetroot, melting some butter, mixing it all together and throwing in a tin with some chocolate chips. However I’m lazy, the mix is super-thick and it can split if you don’t add the oil gradually. Rather than give up, I just shove it in my new Kenwood Stand Mixer* which means I can literally have this in the oven in under ten minutes. Washing up included. It’s rather dangerous on study days when I’m bored and peckish!

 photo Chocolate Beetroot Loaf Cake 4_zpsnzk1kzub.jpg photo Chocolate Beetroot Loaf Cake 6_zpsf4lbb2f7.jpgIngredients

  • 1/2 vac-pack of beetroot (around 150g), roughly chopped. Use the rest to make a risotto or delicious salad!
  • 200g plain flour
  • 100g cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 250g sugar
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 175ml sunflower oil
  • 100g dark chocolate – either a bar chopped roughly, or chips

Blitz the beetroot in a food processor until you have a rough puree, then tip into a mixing bowl with a pinch of salt. Add rest of the ingredients, except the oil and chocolate, and mix. When combined (it’s a thick mixture, so using a stand mixture makes it easier – though doing it by hand = extra calories burnt = more cake), add the oil gradually whilst continually stirring. Once the oil has been added, stir through the chocolate and tip into a lined 900g loaf tin. Pop in the oven and bake for around 50 minutes at 190C (stick a skewer in – if it comes out gooey the cake needs a little longer!). Leave the loaf to cool on a rack before slicing.

 photo Chocolate Beetroot Loaf Cake 3_zps6ghbw5yy.jpgI like to serve it with a spoon of natural yoghurt and some raspberries (it makes the perfect lazy brunch!), but it’s also so, so good just on it’s own. Bonus if it’s slightly warm and melty too…

*I was gifted a kMix Stand Mixer as part of a baking collaboration with Kenwood. All opinions are my own – I really love cake, and I really love things that make baking cake easier!

What’s your favourite chocolate cake recipe?

Recipe: Super-Easy Homemade Falafel

Falafel are one of my absolute favourite things to eat, yet I’m supremely fussy about them. I have eaten some truly, truly dreadful falafel in the last few years (including one that had big chunks of apricot in – why?!). However the absolute worst falafel I’ve tried? It’s the ones I’ve made myself. They’ve always been overly mushy, never coming together, never crispy and just horribly bland.

 photo Falafel_zpsmxeqopix.jpgThat is, until now. This is inspired by a John Torode recipe from BBC Good Food. I’d made it a couple of times now, adapting as I go and now I’ve pretty much got it down to a fine art. Not only are these delicious, they are ridiculously easy to make. Sure, they take a bit of time (i.e. you need to remember to soak the chickpeas – tinned ones absolutely do not work and that is exactly why my attempts had always failed!), but once that’s done you can pretty much get them made in under half an hour. And if you want the process to be a little less hands on, along with a little healthier, you can even baked these instead of frying. Frying gives the best crispy texture, but the flavour is pretty much unaffected so if you’ve making these ahead for lunches I’d bake (and use the spare calories on chocolate).

Now, the flavour. It’s so much better than other falafel recipes I’ve made. The added vegetables add to the complex flavours, and I’ve added a spice mix which I love (though feel free to customise it). These are moist, but not mushy, they hold together without crumbling and have a slightly crispy outer. Pretty much my perfect falafel!

 photo Roots Collective Blends 3_zpsioqo0b5n.jpg photo Homemade Falafel 4_zpsqh8bwbqn.jpgIngredients

  • 125g dried chickpeas or dried split broad beans
  • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 small onion
  • 1/2 leek
  • 1/2 celery stick, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • a tiny pinch of cinnamon
  • good handful chopped coriander
  • 25g plain flour

Soak the chickpeas for at least 8 hours, or overnight (or do as I do if making them on a weeknight – soak them during the day.

Drain the chickpeas and pulse with the bicarbonate in a food processor (I use my mini food processor) until roughly chopped. Remove around half of the mixture and pop into a large bowl. Add the garlic, vegetables, spices and herbs to the remaining mixture in the processor and purée to a paste. Stir the paste into the rough purée of chickpeas, add the flour, season (these take plenty of salt) and mix well. I find it best to give the mixture a quick knead with my hands to make sure it’s all incorporated.

Take tablespoons of the mixture and form into balls before flattening – I tend to get 12-13 out of this quantity as I like my falafel slightly smaller.

If you’re frying the falafel, heat a large, non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and add some of the oil. Fry for 2-3 mins each side until crisp. Keep warm in a low oven while you fry the remainder of the mixture, continuing to add a little oil to the pan with each batch. Alternatively, place the falafel on greaseproof paper, spray with a little oil and bake at 180C for half an hour, turning once.

 photo Homemade Falafel 6_zpse4mmgjg6.jpgI like to serve mine with couscous and salad, but they are also reallllyyy good served as part of a meze platter (particularly with beetroot houmous!) or in homemade pitta bread. The perfect filling lunchbox!

Are you a fan of falafel? Have you ever made your own before?

Recipe: Oven-Baked Crumpets for an At-Home Brunch

Now, I love me a good brunch. Whether it’s a delicious black-pudding benedict at The Dynamo, or something more sweet and stack-like in the form of pancakes, there’s nothing better than a lazy start to the weekend filled with delicious food.

 photo Crumpets_zpsuwngwxie.jpgBut, ya’no, I’ve got a wedding to pay for. Savings to build up for eventual house purchases. Coats I’m lusting after in M&S. I’ve also got study to be doing approximately 90% of the year. Unfortunately weekly brunch trips aren’t in my budget – time or money wise. But no matter, because we’ve started trying to make time, just every couple of weeks, to do brunch-at-home.

Stay at home brunching could ever be considered better. I mean, you get to stay in your PJs, don’t have to remove the smudges of yesterday’s make-up, and there’s no one (bar your fiancé) to judge quite how many cups of tea you drink. Win all round me thinks!

This recipe has become one of my favourites. It’s quick and easy. The batter can be whipped whilst the kettle boils, then left to rest whilst you snuggle in bed with your first cuppa and the papers. It can be thrown into the oven whilst you shower, or have your second cuppa. Served with a full table of toppings, you’ve got an effortless brunch to be proud of. And (bonus point!) any leftovers freezer extremely well, ready for reheating in the microwave for mid-week breakfasts.

 photo Oven Baked Crumpets 17_zps6gimqjb6.jpgIngredients (recipe adapted from Jamie’s Breakfast Crumpies)

  • 250g strong bread flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon caster sugar (if you’re definitely going with sweet toppings, possibly up this slightly to a 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 5g yeast
  • 1 large pinch of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to 200°C and grease 6 holes of a muffin tin with a little butter. Pop the ingredients in a bowl and add 300ml of water (it should be the temperate of a warm, not too hot, bath). Whisk everything together quickly, then leave to rest for around 15 minutes.

After resting, the batter will have thickened and be sticky to the touch. Spoon until the greased muffin tips (almost to the top) and level it. Bake for 25-30 minutes – they will be risen, golden and slightly crisp on top. Cool slightly, before splitting and topping with your favourite fillings.

 photo Oven Baked Crumpets 10_zpsdahw23u5.jpg photo Oven Baked Crumpets 14_zpsd948a3rd.jpgFillings. The fun part. I’ve tried lots and, whilst nutella is bloody yum when these crumpets are still warm, I don’t think anything can beat a good salty butter. My current favourite is actually a goat butter. Not only are goat’s one of my favourite animals (seriously, they’re so cute!) they also make pretty fab alternative dairy products. It’s pretty obvious I’m a fan of goat’s cheese (particularly with beetroot), but I was pleasantly surprised by the milk and yoghurts from St Helen’s Farm* too. For me, though, it was this butter that stole the show. Salty, rich, and it melted into an almost creamy consistency. Lathered onto my crumpets along with a touch of honey and an extra sprinkling of salt – that’s my perfect brunch right there…

What’s your favourite brunch treat? What would you prefer to top crumpets with?

Recipe: Nomato Sauce & My Ultimate (Tomato-Free!) Bolognese

Since becoming allergic to tomatoes, one of the biggest things I’ve missed has been spaghetti bolognese and lasagne. I love pizza as much as the next person, but white pizzas are pretty damn good. Sure, I can’t eat regular curries any more but I’ve developed a love for tandoori chicken instead. But Bolognese? Try finding a tomato-free version and you’ll see what I mean!

 photo Nomato Sauce_zpsxouvsbyd.jpgBut then I used the excuse of W being away to get a bit creative in the kitchen (i.e. make a shit tonne of mess). I’d been eyeing up various ‘nomato’ and ‘nightshade-free’ red sauces for a few years, but I’d always been scared to make them. Actually, I tried once but it was overly carrot-y and not a success. This time I did a lot of research, then ignored everything, combined a few recipes and hoped for the best…

And it worked.

 photo Nomato Sauce and Ultimate Bolognese 17_zpsblvxht2k.jpgMy God, is this red sauce a wonderful thing! Apparently it doesn’t taste exactly like tomatoes (I don’t remember) but it is pretty damn close. It’s amazingly versatile and works in all kinds of recipes – including on a pizza to make the best pepporoni one I’ve had in years (sure, I love white pizzas, but there’s something about a greasy pepporoni one that I hadn’t realised I was missing out on!).

The tomato-free Bolognese, though, is where this nomato sauce really shines. The Bolognese is rich, almost creamy. The meat is soft and tender, the sauce is silky. You would never guess it’s lacking what is supposedly a vital ingredient! Everyone has their own secrets to a good Bolognese. Katy adds HP Brown sauce, and both soy and Worcestershire sauces to hers. I have seen many people add chicken livers, something I’m determined to try the next time I get control of the shopping trolley.  And of course, there is Marcella Hazan’s recipe, often described as the Holy Grail of Bolognese. All I can say is that we love this recipe; full of flavour and just damn delicious. I’m now craving it as I type!

 photo Nomato Sauce and Ultimate Bolognese 12_zpshvewulti.jpg photo Nomato Sauce and Ultimate Bolognese 7_zpsmahrrmdy.jpgOh, and if you’re feeling more virtuous? I can highly recommend this Bolognese served over courgetti and boodles (softened in a little garlic olive oil for 2 mins). Just don’t skip the parmesan!

Ingredients (Nomato Sauce – generally makes 4 big portions and 1 smaller one)

  • 2 red peppers
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 white onions (big-ish ones if possibly, if yours are smaller chuck another one in)
  • 5 sticks of celery
  • 6 carrots
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 dried bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 litre of vegetable stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 3/4 of a vacuum pack of beetroot

I’m afraid there’s a lot of chopping here (though you could definitely use a food chopper to save time!).

Slice your peppers and pop in a baking dish. Roast for 20-30 minutes until the skin is blackened. Transfer to a bowl, over with sling-film and leave to cool before removing and discarding the skins.

Finely chop your onions, celery and carrots. Pop into a large pan with a little olive oil and a pinch of salt, and saute over a low heat for a good twenty minutes. You want them to soften and sweeten, but not brown. Add the garlic and bay leaves and increase the heat; fry for two minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and let it bubble away, before adding the stock and the cooled roasted peppers. Bring to the boil, then allow to simmer for half an hour, or until the vegetables are soft. Top up with more water if necessary.

Slice the beetroot into smaller pieces, then add to the pan along with the soy sauce. Cook for around 10 more minutes, then leave to cool before pureeing until smooth. Portion up and freeze. I find this works amazingly well in my Bolognese recipe (below), but I’ve also used it in curries, tagines and to top a pizza. It’s a great way of adding extra vegetables in too!

 photo Nomato Sauce and Ultimate Bolognese 16_zpsydavykal.jpg photo Nomato Sauce and Ultimate Bolognese 10_zpsgnwpmn5p.jpgIngredients (Ultimate Bolognese, for two greedy people, or two normal people with leftovers for lunch)

  • 250g beef mince
  • 1 white onion
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 small glass of red wine
  • 50ml full-fat milk
  • 1 portion of nomato sauce (around 3 ladelfuls)
  • 1/2 beef stock cube
  • Dried herbs – I usually go for a pinch each of basil, oregano and thyme

This isn’t a quick Monday-night dinner, I’ll admit. This is a lazy Saturday evening meal, or a Friday night treat. I’ll usually crack open a bottle of red and stand stirring, wine glass in hand. However, for a quicker version: omit the celery, carrot and milk, only simmer for as long as you have time for. It’s definitely worth trying the full recipe though…

Finely chop the vegetables. Pop a fry pan onto a medium head and add the mince (no added oil!) – fry until browned all over, then tip into a bowl. Add a little olive oil to the pan, then add the vegetables and fry until soft and the onion is slightly golden. Add the garlic and herbs, along with the mince. Fry for a few more minutes, then tip in the glass of wine. Allow to bubble away, turn the heat down, then add the milk. Cook, stirring, until the milk has almost evaporated away before adding the nomato sauce and the stock cube.

Turn the heat to the lowest setting and allow to simmer away for at least an hour, stirring every now and then, adding a touch of hot water if it’s starting to catch. The end result will be melt-in-the-mouth, super savoury and almost creamy. A proper bowl of comfort food served over spaghetti – and even better added to homemade cheesy bechamel in a lasagne!
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What’s your secret to a good Bolognese sauce?

Recipe: Homemade Focaccia, Two Ways (Rosemary & Seasalt and Red Onion & Feta)

When exam season rolls round, one of my favourite things to do is bake bread.

 photo Homemade Focaccia_zpsfflgjlps.jpgFirst up, there’s the procrastination aspect. Everyone loves a good way to get out of studying – and why not make something yummy in the process? But there’s other slightly more sensible reasons to. It forces me to take regular breaks. Almost like the pomodoro approach, I can concentrate for forty minutes whilst the dough rises, have a quick break whilst I knead it, then get back to work. But then best thing for me? Kneading really helps with with my RSI. So exams = lots of homemade bread in this house. And right now my ultimate favourite is focaccia.

 photo Homemade Focaccia30_zpsiydr3nif.jpg photo Homemade Focaccia31_zpspcxgppw8.jpg photo Homemade Focaccia34_zpstn8i4uwy.jpgIt’s super easy, doesn’t require too much shaping, can be eaten hot from the oven (priorities!) and it is damn delicious. I like it on it’s own, dipped into balsamic vinegar, made into a sandwich (sliced lengthways and filled with pesto and salami – it’s amazingly good), as part of a meze board or even dipped into soup. I can imagine it would with great with my tomato-free bolognese too!

As with most of my bread recipes, I’ve adapted this from James Morten’s Brilliant Bread. I just love his approach to baking bread, how simple his recipes are, and the amount of explanation he gives to the science behind it. By far the best bread book I’ve tried, though I’m still yet to be successful with sourdough!

 photo Homemade Focaccia8_zps7jd1br8n.jpg photo Homemade Focaccia7_zpsfiyjzawb.jpgIngredients

  • 500g bread flour
  • 7g salt
  • 7g yeast
  • 400g water (around the temperature of a warm bath, nothing too hot!)
  • 40g olive oil
  • Toppings – either sea salt, extra oil and half a packet of fresh rosemary, or use some of my red onion chutney and a sprinkling of feta).

Mix the water and olive oil together. Weight out the flour, salt and yeast into a large bowl. Rub them together, then quickly add the water-oil mixture and stir to combine. James gives a health warning here, and I agree – the mixture is very wet (particularly compared to the bagel dough). Don’t add any extra flour. Instead, wet your hands slightly and give it a little knead. Cover the bowl with cling-film and leave to rise for an hour.

Drizzle one hand with a little olive oil, then use this to separate the dough from the bowl. Knead for a few minutes (I keep it in the bowl, saves me making too much mess!) – you want the dough to be able to support itself, and it should also feel a lot smoother when you are done. It doesn’t need to be perfect though! Re-cover and rest for another hour – or if you’re not studying, you could throw it in the fridge for 8-12 hours instead.

Add around a tablespoon of olive oil to a baking tray, and make sure the base is fully covered. Tip your dough into the tin and flatten it out – you want to try and fill the whole tray, so you might need to give it a quick knead first. Leave to prove for a final half hour (or again, throw in the fridge for 8-12 hours).

Once proved, make indentations in the dough by pressing all the way down to the tray. Sprinkle with your chosen toppings, drizzle over a little more olive oil, then bake at 220C for around 20 minutes, until golden and crisp on top. Try to let it cool a little before tucking in!
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Do you make your own bread? What’s your favourite procrastination method?