Recipe: One-Pan Cauliflower Salad for my #YearofVeganLunchboxes Challenge [AD – gifted]

One of the main things I’ve learnt so far on my #YearofVeganLunches challenge is that I need to get some decent variety of base carb in. Sure I could eat orzo most weeks, but it’s not the most nutritious of choices. Quinoa is great, but my digestive system doesn’t seem to want it to often. Couscous is just plain boring to have more often than monthly. Right now I have a bit of a thing for bulgur wheat – and this recipe shows it off wonderfully.

 photo Cauliflower Salad_zpsjybqtm09.jpg photo Cauliflower Salad  5_zpsewzuyajs.jpgAnd to be honest the star of the show really is the cauliflower anyway. Roasted to perfection so it’s tender, slightly charred and almost nutty, and basted in plenty of ginger, garlic and za’tar to make it sing. You may think you hate cauliflower but this recipe may make you think again. The best thing, though, is that it’s just so EASY. A few minutes of chopping and then it happily sits in the oven all in one dish, before being drenched in lemon juice. It’s wonderful warm (and if you’re not vegan I highly recommend sprinkling with a spot of feta in that case) but just as good cold with some almonds for additional crunch. Next time I’m going to whip up a quick tahini dressing to serve on the side I think, but it was delicious just as written too. And super easy too…

 photo Cauliflower Salad  12_zpslfxfwnzx.jpg photo Cauliflower Salad  15_zpstcqpk9jx.jpg photo Cauliflower Salad  11_zps2jyj7zdj.jpg photo Cauliflower Salad  13_zpsmqcfntjw.jpgAll-in-one-tin recipes are my thing right now, whether it’s for lunch prep or dinners. I have every single one of Rukmini Iyer’s Roasting Tin books and her latest release, The Quick Roasting Tin, is my favourite. In it is a Thyme & Sesame Cauliflower Tabbouleh which inspired this recipe – but to be honest I can see myself cooking my way through the book. And to make it even easier, Harts of Stur sent me over some of the Pyrex Cook & Go storage range. These make meal prep SO easy, I’m already tempted to order more. We have a couple of the small and medium boxes and they are SO useful. I can cook a batch of a one-pan meal, let it cool then pop the lid on and whack it in the fridge. The smaller ones I’ll then just take to work the next day. For a recipe like this the medium sized box we have is a little too small for the full recipe, so we split the amounts in half and roasted each separately. This worked quite well as we had half for dinner with feta, and then was able to stir the watercress and radishes through the cooled lunch serving before storing overnight. Having said that one of the large boxes is definitely going on my wishlist!

Recipe (serves 4 generously, adapted from The Quick Roasting Tin)

  • 150g bulgur wheat
  • 300-350ml of vegetable stock (suitable for vegans if necessary)
  • 1 large red onion, finely sliced
  • 3cm fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 tbsp za’tar, plus an addtional tsp to sprinkle at the end
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 large cauliflower – leaves roughly chopped, and florets separately (and chopped into small pieces)
  • 2 lemons, zest and juice
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Around 8 radishes, sliced thinly
  • 1 bag of watercress, roughly chopped
  • a few handfuls of baby spinach
  • a handful of blanched almonds
  • Feta to serve (optional)

Tip the bulgur wheat into the roasting tin and pour over the stock. Scatter over the onion and cauliflower leaves. In a bowl, rub the olive oil, ginger, garlic and za’tar over the cauliflower florets, then scatter into the roasting tin. Pop the tin into the oven and roast at 200C for 20-30 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender and the bulgur wheat is cooked – start with only 300ml of stock and add a little more mid-way through cooking if needed. Remove from the oven and stir through the lemon zest and juice, watercress and radishes. Serve scattered with almonds, extra za’tar and feta (if using).

If using for a lunch, allow the roasted mix to cool before stirring through the extras, I recommend adding a little extra olive oil too. I imagine this would also be amazing scattered with some pomegranate seeds too!
 photo Cauliflower Salad  7_zps01vjclvz.jpg

 What is your go-to lunchbox?

Recipe: Popcorn Rocky Road [AD – gifted]

If I had to choose a favourite TV snack it would be popcorn. Bite-sized, not *too* messy and all too easy to eat a big bowlful whilst watching something trashy, to me it’s the perfect ingredient for a girls night-in with Mean Girls, a solo evening with some Disney classics, or a date-night binge-watching our current favourite (right now it’s Blown Away on Netflix – a little like Bake Off, but with Glass Blowing). And of course it’s absolutely obligatory to purchase an extra-large box when you go to the cinema, right?! Given my love for popcorn you can imagine my response when Popcorn Shed got in touch and offered to send me some goodies to use in a recipe.

 photo Popcorn Rocky Road_zpsibsgkcwv.jpgMade to a secret family recipe (and dear me, I’d love that recipe!) their popcorn comes in sharing boxes or snack bags which are perfectly portioned for lunchboxes or to control calories if, like me, you struggle to stop eating the stuff. It’s all natural ingredients and the variety of flavours is pretty good – there’s some cheesy savoury ones (I’m not a huge fan of these personally, but I’m a sweet popcorn gal anyway) and loaddssss of chocolately and nutty ones. My personal favourite is the Berry-licious – dark chocolate and raspberry is SUCH a good combo.

 photo Popcorn Rocky Road 4_zpsxuzcxqcg.jpg photo Popcorn Rocky Road 9_zpspwsok4tu.jpg photo Popcorn Rocky Road 15_zpsnsrrfjx7.jpgMuch as I wanted to just eat the stuff, I did manage to come up with a “recipe.” And recipe is in inverted commas because this is SO easy I struggle to think of it as a recipe at all. It’s quite a dangerous recipe as it takes no time at all and, after some tortuorous chilling, you have an amazing snack – it’s perfect for work bake sales or taking along to an event. I actually made one for a Youth Group social and it went down *extremely* well. I’m now adored by members as they loved it so much! Easy to make and a crowd pleaser, what’s not to love?!

I prefer a chunkier rocky road, more crumbly with biscuits and other treats but if you prefer a firmer, more chocolately one I’d suggest upping the quantities of chocolate and butter.

 photo Popcorn Rocky Road 8_zpswnlfdbmq.jpg photo Popcorn Rocky Road 12_zpsnirsq5sl.jpg photo Popcorn Rocky Road 14_zps7udxawbm.jpgRecipe – makes 16 generous squares

  • 200g Rich Tea biscuits
  • 150g butter
  • 250g dark chocolate
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 100g mini marshmallows (be sure to find vegetarian ones if needed)
  • 100g popcorn

Place 200g digestive biscuits in a freezer bag and bash with a rolling pin until broken up. You want some dust and some larger pieces, but nothing more than bite-sized.

In a large saucepan melt the butter, dark chocolate and golden syrup over a gentle heat, stirring constantly until there are no lumps of chocolate or butter visible, then remove from the heat and allow to cool. Once cool add the biscuits, marshmallows and popcorn and stir until everything is covered.

Tip the mixture into a 18cm square baking tin (greased and lined), and spread it out to the corners whilst pushing it down. Chill for at least 2 hours then cut in 16 squares.

 photo Popcorn Rocky Road 16_zpsembuc1iu.jpg photo Popcorn Rocky Road 13_zpsatjbsbgo.jpg photo Popcorn Rocky Road 11_zpsknby80oe.jpgThis recipe is so easily adaptable too. Use dairy-free margarine and chocolate (I always use accidentally vegan Bournville anyway), and buy Freedom Mallows and you’ve got a vegan rocky road (without the Popcorn Shed popcorn, as unfortunately that contains dairy). And of course you can adapt to whatever you have… next time I’m going to use the Butterly Nuts flavour and add a little bit of peanut butter to the chocolate when melting – I think this salty-sweet combination will work wonderfully with some pretzels added for extra crunch!

*I was gifted some Popcorn Shed products to come up with a recipe for my blog. There was no payment for this post and all opinions are my own, as always.

Are you are sweet or salted popcorn person?

Recipe: Seasonal Green Vegetable Tart

A few weeks ago a colleague in the office stopped me and asked why I always make my own lunch. This turned into a conversation about how we (as in my husband and I) cook from scratch 99.5% of the time we eat at home, and rarely eat out midweek. Said colleague eats a home cooked meal maybe once a week.

 photo Green Vegetable Tart_zpsewzsyk9m.jpgAnd this made me sad – because for me there is so much joy in both cooking and eating.

In a similar vein, I had a week at work before our holiday where I was just super busy. Working late, but also several evening events. It meant that I didn’t eat at home for 6 nights in a row, and it definitely had a poor impact on my mental health. I was grumpy, I wasn’t sleeping, and I wasn’t finding the time to switch off. I was also spotty, headachey and with a bad stomach due to too much pub food.

Basically, cooking from scratch is 100% necessary for me to function both mentally and physically.

 photo Green Vegetable Tart  5_zpspwcqv2m1.jpg photo Green Vegetable Tart  3_zps62bxym19.jpg photo Green Vegetable Tart  2_zps98xufsu4.jpgAnd this recipe actually really sums that up – making it made me so happy! Taking some beautifully fresh veggies and fancy-ish cheese, then a fairly quick throw together and let then oven take care of it. The result is comforting, but also so full of veg. It feels light, particularly when eating with the herb salsa, but it’s more than filling enough to have without anything else. A definite favourite, making the most of some of this season’s finest British produce.

Inspired by a Waitrose recipe, the finished version of mine was a tad messy but just as delicious!

Recipe (serves 2 for dinner with a side salad)

  • ½ pack puff pastry (we used half of a 320g pack, ready rolled)
  • 1 tbsp milk, for brushing
  • 150g Swiss chard, stalks and leaves separated
  • 75g taleggio cheese, rind removed, sliced
  • 50g frozen peas
  • 150g asparagus, woody ends removed
  • For the salsa: ½ small pack parsley, 1 garlic clove, 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp grated parmesan

Unroll the pastry, lay on a baking tray and, using a sharp knife, score a border about 1cm in from the edge, taking care not to cut all the way through. Prick the central area with a fork and glaze the border with the milk. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes whilst you prep the veg.

Boil the chard stalks for 1 minute, then add the leaves before draining immediately and rinsing in cold water. Dry on a piece of kitchen towel to ensure excess water is removed. Once the pastry is ready, layer the chard, taleggio, frozen peas and asparagus over the centre. Sprinkle over 1 tbsp water, brush a little more milk around the edges, then bake for 15-20 minutes, until the tart is crisp and golden.

To make the salsa, finely chop the parsley leaves and crush the garlic clove. Mix with the olive oil and grated parmesan. Serve the tart drizzled with the salsa, and alongside a simple side salad for some extra greens. It also goes perfectly with a glass of chilled white!
 photo Green Vegetable Tart  4_zpsgqcslpik.jpg

What makes you love cooking?

Recipe: Tomato-Free Chicken Tikka Masala (made with Nomato Sauce)

One of the things I *really* miss being allergic to tomatoes is a good Indian takeaway. This was a (rare) treat at home growing up, and I do associate the smell and sensation of “I have eaten far too much” with a lot of happy childhood memories. The poppadoms and chutney, the sharing of various curries and sides, the debate about whether garlic or plain naan is best (garlic, always!). I’ve found a good few tomato-free pizza options recently (if you’re in SW London I highly recommend Battersea Pi for eating in, and Dynamo for takeaway) but Indian is definitely one I avoid.

 photo Chicken Tikka Masala_zpsdmddfvcm.jpg photo Tomato Free Chicken Tikka Masala 5_zps30x382jz.jpgAnd so I’ve developed my own recipes. Many are based on coconut milk (this Keralan style curry with chickpeas and pineapple is a favourite) but this one uses my nomato sauce and is more aligned with the takeaway curries I remember. It’s absolutely filled with flavour and is just that little bit heavy and greasy – which is perfect for a cheeky curry night. However if you do want to keep it slightly lighter and healthier omitting the cream is an easy way to do this.

It is, however, a fairly ingredient heavy recipe. I’ve tried a few different recipes, but this is the one that works best. Using just curry powder doesn’t quite cut it and won’t give you that curry house kind-of experience. This is the real deal. It’s not a recipe which needs hours in the kitchen though there is some marinating time. It’s fairly hands off and the sauce could be made ahead and reheated last minute – so I reckon it would be perfect for entertaining too. Add some sides, pile everything in the middle of the table and let everyone help themselves. My idea of a perfect night in!

 photo Tomato Free Chicken Tikka Masala 3_zps1agzry4e.jpg photo Tomato Free Chicken Tikka Masala 4_zpsfhaoxmvb.jpgRecipe (serves 2 with some extra sauce to freeze, easily scaled up)

    • 2 small/1 large chicken breast, cut into large pieces
    • 100ml natural yoghurt
    • Juice 1 lemon
    • Spices for the marinade – 2 tsp garam masala, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp coriander seeds, ½ tsp hot chilli powder, ½ tsp hot paprika, generous pinch of ground turmeric, 3 garlic cloves (crushed), 3cm piece fresh ginger (finely chopped)
    • 1 onion
    • Spices for the sauce – 2 tsp garam masala, ½ tsp ground fenugreek, 1 whole star anise, ½ tsp ground turmeric, 3cm piece fresh ginger (finely chopped), 2 garlic cloves (crushed)
    • 25g ground almonds
    • Around 200g of nomato sauce (or a can of chopped tomatoes, omit the chicken stock if so)
    • 100ml chicken stock, hot
    • 50ml single cream

First up, get the chicken marinating. Add the cumin and coriander seeds to a pestle and mortar and grind until crushed, then simply mix the yoghurt, lemon juice and marinade spices together, then add the chicken and ensure it is all coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours – we’d usually do this in the morning and then cook at around 7pm.

For the sauce, heat a little oil (or ghee if you have any), add the onion and cook for 10 minutes until softened and starting to brown. Add the sauce spices and ginger and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes more. Stir in the nomato sauce (or a tin of chopped tomatoes) and stock, then simmer for ten or so minutes before fishing out the star anise. Whizz the sauce with a stick blender until smooth, then return the pan to the heat and turn it to low. Stir in the ground almonds, and continue to cook whilst stirring often until you have a thick sauce. This can be made ahead – it freezes really well too.

When ready to eat, heat the grill to high. Thread the chicken pieces onto metal skewers and grill for 5 minutes on each side or until cooked through and lightly charred. Return the sauce to the heat, stir in the cream and heat through. Serve the chicken and sauce alongside some rice, naan and whatever other sides you’d like. I can never resist onion bharjis…
 photo Tomato Free Chicken Tikka Masala 1_zpsghf8u1gz.jpg photo Tomato Free Chicken Tikka Masala 2_zpsxpqhoci7.jpg

Are you a curry fan? What’s your go-to Indian takeaway order?

Recipe: Spring Vegetable Pasta Salad #YearOfVeganLunches

In all honesty? I’m a little surprised I’m still going with this whole ‘year of vegan lunches’ challenge – I was expecting to get fed up/bored/stuck for ideas by now and revert to throwing feta or tzatziki at everything (although I’m determined to find a decent vegan recipe for the latter as it’s a big staple for me during summer). But it’s been a tad easier than I was expecting. Bean stews, chickpea soups, quinoa salad (recipe as linked might need a slight adjustment to be fully vegan). A Deliciously Ella potato and lentil dish.

 photo Vegan Spring Vegetable Salad_zpsgqtcikyi.jpgThe only thing is these recipes all tend to be quite hearty and warming, with the exception of the salad. And when the weather gets slightly warmer I’m not really feeling a comforting stew – and I also need options I can eat at my desk without needing to use the canteen microwaves (because unfortunately there are some times when I can go weeks without leaving my desk at lunchtime). Pasta salads were a go to when I wasn’t eating vegan, so I’ve been working on adapting some of my favourites and creating new ones. And this one is a winner.

 photo Spring Green Pasta Salad  11_zpst3vwhb80.jpg photo Spring Green Pasta Salad  5_zpsgkkzuood.jpg photo Spring Green Pasta Salad  9_zpsuehjl0tv.jpgPlenty of pasta (because carbs), and even more crisp green veggies. Handfuls of whatever summery herb I have lying around. A bright and zippy lemon dressing. Perhaps some crunch from almonds or pistachios. Protein in the form of chickpeas (pictured plate is lacking them due to a storecupboard/shopping list error). It’s carby plant-based goodness,vibrant and can be adapted to (1) whatever is seasonal and (2) whatever is in your fridge. The dressing also keeps beautifully in a jar and has become my go-to dressing whenever plain leaves seem a little boring. So make extra.

I’ve used a combination of lightly cooked peas and other veggies and some raw sugarsnap peas – I just love these raw as the texture and flavor is so fresh. If you prefer them softer just blanch along with the frozen peas.

 photo Spring Green Pasta Salad  13_zpseroyruko.jpg photo Spring Green Pasta Salad  10_zpslquvubib.jpg photo Spring Green Pasta Salad  7_zpszq7len7v.jpgRecipe (makes 2 days worth of generous lunches for the two of us)

  • 200g small-shaped pasta – orzo works particular well
  • 100g frozen peas
  • 100g broad beans, blanched and podded (if you’re not keen then double up the peas)
  • 100g sugarsnap peas, thinly sliced lengthways
  • 1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 bunch of spring onions, finely sliced
  • 100g radishes, finely sliced
  • 1 handful of fresh herbs – mint, parsley, basil and dill all work well, a mixture works best but go with what you have
  • To serve – handful salad leaves (spinach is particularly good), some chopped nuts (almonds or pistachios work super well) or seeds
  • For the dressing – 3 lemons (zest and juice), 75ml oil (I used a roughly half-and-half mixture of olive and vegetable), 1 tsp of maple syrup (or honey depending on how you stand), 1 tsp Dijon mustard, plenty of salt and pepper
  • Other possible additions: grilled courgette slices, roasted broccoli, blanched asparagus

First up, prep the dressing. Simply pop all of the ingredients into a small blender (I used our mini chopper) and whizz until fully combined. If you are doing by hand just whisk really well. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.

Then cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet, adding the frozen peas for the last two minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water, then transfer to a large non-metal bowl or some Tupperware. Add in the dressing, vegetables and herbs and toss together. Serve at room temperature with extra salad leaves and some chopped nuts.

 photo Spring Green Pasta Salad  2_zpsyeybcqgu.jpg photo Spring Green Pasta Salad  6_zps8b7fxlzh.jpgThis is honestly the perfect at-desk lunch – fresh and tasty, light enough to avoid the post-eating slump and can be transferred plate to mouth with one hand (great for super busy days!). Did I mention that its delicious?! I know it will be a regular feature in my lunchbox over the next few months…

Do you have a go-to pasta salad recipe?

Recipe: From-Scratch Pork Belly Bao

Bao is one of the London restaurants that has been on my bucket list for forever. I’ve wanted to go for years and for various reasons I’ve just never made it – and having made my own Bao I now want to go even more because I have an idea about what I’m missing. Pale buns that are slightly sticky to touch, bao are soft and fluffy, almost cloud like. Quite soft and airy and filled with delicious fillings they are a really ‘me’ meal as I love picky bits and customising what I’m eating.

 photo Pork Belly Bao_zpsh9kmlhqf.jpgAnd these bao buns are certainly delicious, stuffed with melt-in-the-mouth glazed pork belly that’s both sticky and slightly crispy, soft and succulent, sweet, salty and spicy. We added freshness in the form of cucumber, spring onions and carrots (you could lightly pickle these) and some crunchiness from some peanuts, but it’s the pork belly that’s the star of the show here. And the buns of course.

Of course, you could use my bao bun recipe and then fill with whatever takes your fancy. Fried chicken would be wonderful with some spicy sauces, and I think some kind of aubergine version will keep any meat-eater or veggie happy! I’m also really tempted to try a fish finger version in the same vein as my cheat’s fish tacos

Now these pork belly tacos are a bit of a labour of love, and they take a lot of time. They aren’t particularly hands on, but the pork needs to be started the morning before the night you want to eat it – so if you want it for a Saturday dinner you’ll need to start marinating on the Friday morning, before cooking it on the Friday evening and refrigerating overnight. It’s not exactly a quick meal, but its worth it! The buns take around 2.5 hours from start to finish, but again a good part of that is rising time. I was surprised at how easy they actually were to make, so don’t be intimidated – give it a go! This would be perfect for a Bank Holiday cooking project this weekend…

 photo Pork Belly Bao Buns  5_zpsmfgekhmb.jpg photo Pork Belly Bao Buns  3_zpslxtnbnq8.jpgFor the Ginger, Garlic & Soy Marinated Pork Belly (to fill 6 bao buns, serves 2 for dinner)

  • around 400-500g piece of pork belly, skin removed (use it to make crackling if you’re as against food waste as me)
  • 100ml dark soy sauce
  • 50ml mirin
  • 25ml sesame oil
  • 50g brown sugar
  • 1 thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 5 cloves of garlic, crushes
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes

In a bowl that comfortably fits the pork belly, whisk together all the ingredients for the marinade. Add the pork belly, cover with cling-film, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours (ideally 6-8). Turn every hour or so to keep all sides soaking in the marinade. Once ready, wrap the pork tightly in foil and cook at 150C for 2 hours, and reserve the marinade in the fridge. Turn the oven up to 220C and continue cooking for 20-30 minutes until golden and slightly crisp. Allow to cool, and then refridgerate overnight. Bring up to room temperature for around an hour before eating.

To serve, heat the marinade in a small pan under reduced by around half. Slice the pork belly (you want the slices to be around 1cm thick) and add to the marinade until hot and glazed with the sauce. Serve piled into the bao buns with thinly sliced cucumber, spring onions and carrot, and some chopped peanuts.

 photo Pork Belly Bao Buns  4_zps2juvpv0a.jpg photo Pork Belly Bao Buns  6_zpss55dtxbe.jpgFor the Bao Buns (makes 9 buns)

  • 265g plain white flour (unbleached will give you more pure white bao which are more traditional), plus a little extra for dusting
  • pinch of salt
  • 4g dried yeast
  • 20g caster sugar
  • 8g baking powder
  • 25ml milk
  • 100-125ml warm water (start with 100ml and add a splash more if the dough seems dry – we ended up using closer to 130ml)
  • 10g lard, melted (for vegetarian/vegan buns, use butter or vegetable oil)
  • a little vegetable oil, for greasing

Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, and stir the milk, water (use 100ml for now) and the lard/butter/oil together in a jug. Gradually add the wet ingredients to the dry, mixing and kneading together with your hand in a claw shape. Once combined knead well for 5 or so minutes, adding more water if the dough feels overly dry. By the end of the kneading it should be smooth but slightly tacky.

Dust the kneaded dough with around 1 tbsp of flour, then shape into a ball. Coat with a small amount of vegetable oil, then pop into a bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Leave to rise for around 90 minutes, it should double in size.

Once risen, it’s time to shape! There are a few ways to shape bao buns, but we went for the ‘slider’ shape – in my opinion this is both the easiest to shape and probably the most mess-free to eat too! Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until around 0.5cm thick, and cut out circles around 10cm in diameter. The dough is quite difficult to re-roll, so make sure you’re tactical with where you’re placing the cutter! Lightly brush the top of each circle with a little bit of vegetable oil, then place a chopstick across the middle at a slight angle, before folding over the bao to form a semi-circle. Be quite gentle as you don’t want to seal it! Once you’ve shaped all of your dough cover with a damp cloth for around half an hour, before steaming – ours took around 10 minutes in a bamboo steamer. Serve stuffed with delicious fillings and enjoy!

To use a bamboo steamer, I pop the base of mine in a wok over a medium heat, and add boiling water to the wok to just under the middle of the base – and keep an eye on it during cooking to make sure it doesn’t boil dry. Pop each bao onto a square of greaseproof paper to cook. To remove the steamer from the wok use some cooking tongs – I pop the whole thing on a plate and bring to the table to keep the buns fresh and moist (they’ll stay warm for around 20 minutes in the steamer). Whatever you do don’t try to wash your bamboo steamer, simply wipe with a damp cloth, dry fully (I leave it out overnight) then pack away.

As the dough is quite difficult to re-roll, you may find you have spare dough. For this, roll in your hands into small balls (around large marble sized) and steam until cooked. Melt some butter in a frying pan, then dry the cooked dough balls until lightly crisp, before tossing in sugar and cinnamon for bao doughnuts. For the spare buns, they freeze well once cooked and cooled. Simply heat from frozen in the steamer for around 10 minutes. Alternatively have dessert bao – stuff with peanut butter and raspberry jam and thank me later…

 photo Pork Belly Bao Buns  2_zps9e1ypvfo.jpgI’m now dreaming of doing a bao party for a few friends. Imagine that! Loads of bao buns, a couple of different types of filling (I’m thinking this pork belly, some fried chicken and maybe a miso aubergine option…). And dessert bao of course.

Have you ever tried cooking bao? Or have you eaten it out in a restaurant?

Recipe: A Classic Lemon Drizzle Cake

If I had to choose a favourite cake, it would be a toss up between a really good carrot cake (no raisins, plenty of orange, covered in a cream cheese frosting) or a lemon drizzle. Soft and almost soggy with lemon and a good crystallised top. The lemon drizzle cake is also one of my favourite to bake – it’s super quick and easy, smells amazing in the oven and doesn’t need fancy decorating or piping.

 photo Lemon Drizzle Cake_zpsydshechd.jpg photo Lemon Drizzle Loaf Cake 5_zps3zsgblsw.jpg photo Lemon Drizzle Loaf Cake 8_zpsubcu8nhv.jpgI like my lemon drizzle cakes to be super citrussy and zingy – something sharp that will make you suck your cheeks in on first bite, but still sweet from the glaze. I also don’t stop at just adding lemons. The photographed version switched out one of the lemons for a lime, and I’ve also added oranges to the mix before. Anything citrus goes in my opinion! I’ve also added a spot of gin to the drizzle mix before which may or may not have gone down rather well…

The point is, once you’ve got the basic sponge mixture down (the unzested mix could also be used for some delicious cupcakes, just add a spot of vanilla essence and cover in buttercream) you add the zest of 2 citrus fruits. Once baked, poke with a skewer and pour over a mix of sugar and the juice of those two fruits.

 photo Lemon Drizzle Loaf Cake 16_zpsolkwo115.jpg photo Lemon Drizzle Loaf Cake 17_zpsc8yeshyy.jpg photo Lemon Drizzle Loaf Cake 18_zps6dgg2xdm.jpg photo Lemon Drizzle Loaf Cake  9_zpshnaek7pv.jpgRecipe – 8-10 generous slices

Using a loaf tin makes it perfect for sharing in the office too, thin slices cut in half means I’d get a good 20 servings out of this recipe which is enough to keep my team happy!

  • 225g unsalted butter, softened
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • finely grated zest 2 lemons (or 1 lemon + one other citrus fruit)
  • for the drizzle topping – juice 2 lemons (or 1 lemon + one other citrus fruit and 125g caster sugar

Beat together the butter and sugar until pale and creamy (top tip – beat the butter on it’s own first to make sure it is soft enough), then gradually beat in the eggs. Sift in 225g self-raising flour, then add the lemon zest and mix until well combined. Pour the mixture into a greased and lined 900g loaf time, and level the top. Bake for 50-55 mins at 180C until a skewer comes out clean.

While the cake is cooling in its tin, mix together the ingredients for the drizzle.  Prick the warm cake all over with a skewer (go most of the way through the cake but try to avoid going through to the tin entirely) then pour over the drizzle – the juice will sink in and the sugar will form a lovely, crisp topping. Make sure all of the cake is covered. Leave in the tin until completely cool, then remove and serve.

 photo Lemon Drizzle Loaf Cake  13_zpsd70rasl5.jpgAnd that’s it. My favourite cake, in all it’s glory!

What is your go-to cake choice?

Food: Cooking with Comté and a Cheese, Onion, Bacon & Apple Tart [invited event]

I love cheese. It’s a fact I often use when asked to describe myself (along with wine, walking and dogs – I’m a right party animal me). But anyway, cheese. I’ve not always been a lover of the stuff, and up until a few years ago my limit was some mature cheddar and a grating of Parmesan in a risotto. Fortunately I’ve seen the error of my ways and now aim to fuel my cheese habit as often as possible.

 photo Cooking with Comte_zps8tszsko0.jpgOf course, I jumped at the chance of attending an evening cookery class entirely based on cheese. Comté to be exact. We started the night learning a bit more about this French cheese, and I now know that no two batches will ever taste the same. It’s an unpasteurised cheese made with milk from grass-fed cows and so each batch will be subtly flavoured with what the cows have been eating, as well as slightly differently coloured over the year. It can also be aged for different lengths of time, with older cheeses being stronger, crumblier and with a grainy texture not dissimilar to a good Parmigiano Reggiano – yum! I have to say if I was eating the cheese as-is I’d go for an older Comté, but the younger cheeses melt beautifully and work wonderfully in cooking.

 photo Cooking with Comte Cheese 5_zps9iucvwlg.jpg photo Cooking with Comte Cheese 3_zpswcbkhwj3.jpg photo Cooking with Comte Cheese 1_zps0xcwjhxj.jpgTake these little parcels for example. Filled with a good amount of cheese, some prosciutto and some sage before being baked to a crisp finish, they really are as irresistible as they sound. I know, I ate 5! Perfect with a glass or two of fizz…

Throughout the evening we made two dishes, trying not to eat handfuls of cheese as we went. The first was a really simple (yet really not photogenic!) baked asparagus dish. Asparagus was blanched, a cheese sauce mixed up (and flavoured with Worcestershire sauce and mustard before being enriched with an egg yolk) and poured over the veg. It was then covered in Comté before being baked-then-grilled to bubbling golden perfection. Not only did this convert me to asparagus a little more, it was bloody delish! I have no shame in admitting that I mopped up some of the cheesy sauce with baguette after all the greens had gone.

 photo Cooking with Comte Cheese 8_zpsgou1bbuc.jpg photo Cooking with Comte Cheese 17_zpspbxok1a4.jpg photo Cooking with Comte Cheese 16_zpsrtngibha.jpgFortunately for my waist line our second course was a little lighter and fresher. A salad made of broad beans (which has taught me I’m too lazy, and podded ones are SO much better), prosciutto, hazelnuts, mixed salad leaves and some more of that lovely Comté. Covered in a light lemony vinaigrette it would make the perfect Saturday lunch. Sadly I had to leave the event before attempting to make my own version, but I stole a forkful of the chef’s and it was lovely – a glorious mix and flavours and textures.

But that’s not the end of the Comté talk. At the end of the evening I was lucky enough to be given a goody bag containing a big block of the stuff – and so I’ve been spending the last week coming up with the best ways to use it. I know, a hard job but someone’s gotta do it! My favourite so far has been this open tart with soft onions, sliced apple, lightly crisp bacon and plenty of cheese. It’s super easy and makes for an impressive looking dish – a big portion is photographed here but you could also do some dainty circles of pastry for a smart starter. Served with a salad (dressing should be something sharp to counteract the richness of the tart) it’s been a go-to during the slightly cold start to May.

 photo Cooking with Comte Cheese 24_zpslzfmelnw.jpg photo Cooking with Comte Cheese  22_zps3m9p1q6g.jpgRecipe: Makes 2 Large Tarts (enough for dinner for 2) or 4-6 Small Ones (for starters)

  • 2 onions (3 if they are small), finely sliced
  • a knob of butter
  • 1 garlic clove
  • a pinch of dried thyme
  • 1 apple, thinly sliced (we used a mandoline to do this)
  • 2 rashes of bacon, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dijon mustard
  • 50g Comté, sliced thinly (or more, if you’re a big cheese fan!)
  • 1/2 pack of ready-rolled puff pastry
  • 1 tsp milk

First, melt your butter in a frying pan and fry the onions until soft, adding a pinch of salt, and the garlic and thyme. Once done transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool slightly, whilst frying your bacon in the same pan.

Pop the pastry on a sheet of greaseproof paper, and thinly spread the mustard over the top, leaving a border of around 1cm at each edge. Spread the onions over the mustard, followed by the bacon. Top with the apple slices, and finish with the cheese and a good grinding of black pepper. Brush the milk around the edges of the pastry, and then bake at 190C for around 20 minutes.

Serve hot/warm with a freshly dressed salad and a glass of chilled white – if you made this kind of lunch for me of a weekend I’d love you forever!
 photo Cooking with Comte Cheese 21_zps63sf15ex.jpg

* I was invited to attend a cookery class with Comté Cheese and received a goody bag with some cheese on the night. I wasn’t paid, or asked to write a blog post/pop anything up on social media, but I have done because I love cheese!

Are you a cheese fan? Do you go for the piles of cheese-and-biscuits approach or do you look for interesting recipes to use it in?

Cooking From: Stewed Spinach Eggs from The Little Swedish Kitchen (Rachel Khoo)

This is the recipe that, having seen on Instagram, made me buy this book. I’m a sucker for a good egg recipe that isn’t a tomato-ey shakshuka and this is basically my dream brunch dish. Lots of green veg, indulgently creamy, runny egg yolks and a hint of heat and sharp from the pickle. Perfect with a big stack of hot buttered sourdough and a cuppa for a lazy Sunday morning.

 photo Spinach Eggs_zpsytsyfkxn.jpgThe entire book is basically perfect for lazy weekend reading. It’s not really a book I’d pick up for meal planning inspiration for weekday nights (with the exception of the Smoked Sausage Stroganoff), but it’s something I’d dip in and out of for weekend cooking. I’m desperate to try out Rachel’s recipe for Swedish Meatballs (she has both a regular and a vegan version in the book, both looking and sounding delicious). The Chocolate Cake The Dog Ate is another vegan recipe in the book which I’ll be making soon – and don’t worry, the dog suffered no ill effects.

The whole book is full of delicious sounding recipes, nothing is overly complex, but it does feel like this is one to take your time over. What really pulls me in is the photography. It’s not fussy, there’s no fancy plating, but it’s beautiful and rustic, and there’s plenty of landscapes and non-food photographs too. It really is a beautiful book, worthy of any coffee table for sure!

And that brings me onto this recipe. It’s no surprise it has been used by many foodie magazines highlighting the book, it’s visually stunning! The vibrant green and pinks and the golden egg yolks just make an attractive dish. And it tastes as good as it looks. I will say I am tempted to add some plain flour to thicken the mix when I next make it, as despite some fairly long simmering ours was still a little watery. But there will definitely be a next time! I loved the sharp pickle with the eggs, and loved getting a good portion of green leafy vegetables into my first meal of the day. Whilst the book serves 4, we scaled the recipe by two-thirds-ish and still used four eggs and this was perfect for a late breakfast. I rather think one egg per person is a tad stingy!

 photo IMG_1655_zpsksznqrqb.jpg photo IMG_1659_zpsvmojjwyq.jpgRecipe (serves 2 for breakfast)

  • 350g frozen spinach, we used a mix of wholeleaf and chopped
  • 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • large knob of butter
  • 100ml single cream
  • 100ml milk
  • whole nutmeg
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 packet of fresh dill (and the same of chives, though we didn’t have any)
  • for the pickle: 1 small fresh red chilli (deseeded and thinly sliced), 1 small red onion (peeled and finely chopped), 1 tbsp white wine vinegar and a pinch of sugar

First make the pickle. Put the chilli and red onion into a glass or ceramic bowl with the vinegar, 2 tablespoons of water, a pinch of salt and the sugar. Mix well and leave to sit whilst you cook the rest of the dish.

Put the spinach, onion and butter into a large frying pan. Place on a very gentle heat and cook, covered, for 5 minutes. Uncover, stir and continue to fry for another 5–10 minutes, until the water from the spinach has evaporated. Add the cream, milk, a generous grating of nutmeg and some freshly ground pepper. Cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring at intervals. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking. Make four wells for the eggs. Crack in the eggs and continue to cook for 5 minutes or until the egg whites have just set.

Just before serving, toss the dill (and chives) with the chilli and red onion. Sprinkle over the spinach and eggs and serve immediately.

 photo IMG_1658_zps3zbmpwgg.jpgAs I said, I do think this is an absolutely delicious brunch recipe – I especially loved the spicy pickle, although next time I’d take charge of the chopping as I felt my husband left it a tad chunky given the short pickling time! The herbs added so much vibrance-y and freshness to the flavour, and of course you can never, ever go wrong with some runny eggs!

What’s your favourite at-home brunch recipe?

Recipe: Vegan Chocolate Cake

This year was the year that I planned to do *all* the Easter baking. The first Easter weekend in four years that wasn’t immediately before an exam period, the first time I could actually enjoy the bank holiday without feeling guilty. I wanted to make Hot Cross Buns, bread, fancy-pants lamb dishes, and I had a real desire to make Lemon-y cookies. I managed to do exactly none of that.

 photo Vegan Chocolate Cake_zpsjipcyg4w.jpgI could make excuses (and to be fair, it was too hot to be inside baking over the Bank Holiday weekend!) but in all honesty? I couldn’t be bothered. It was the first time in what felt like a long time that I could truly relax, and I just wanted to sit. To read a book without feeling guilty. Have a bath without taking study notes with me. To binge watch something anything (Fleabag was the series of choice, SO good!). Baking was quite far down on the list, and so this was the only thing that I made.

A birthday cake for my dad, veganised so my sister could enjoy it. Chocolate-y because it was Easter after all. If it hadn’t have been a birthday cake I probably would have decorated with mini-eggs. And, y’ano, vegan.

As far as vegan cakes go, this one is pretty “normal” – there’s no weird substitute ingredients, no flaxseed pretending to be egg. I don’t have anything against those ingredients, but I also don’t tend to find that they necessarily work in the way they are intending, and I find getting them evenly incorporated in to get an even rise quite tricky. So this is pretty basic. Milk and butter swapped out for plant-milk (we used Oatly) and Flora spread. It works. It rises (to the point we did have to prise one layer off the over rack above). It’s light and airy and tasty. The buttercream is rich and chocolately and indulgent. Even better was this stayed fresh (covered with an upturned salad bowl…) for a good few days, which I was quite impressed by. My only criticism is that it was super-crumbly and so virtually impossible to slice neatly.

 photo Vegan Chocolate Cake 18_zpspwtpjlky.jpg photo Vegan Chocolate Cake 13_zpsc3boeqhz.jpgIngredients (makes an 8 inch sponge, giving 10 generous slices)

  • 300ml vegan milk
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar (we used apple cider as that’s what was lying around)
  • 150g vegan spread (we used Flora)
  • 60g golden syrup
  • 1 tsp instant coffee
  • 275g plain flour
  • 170g sugar
  • 4 tbsp cocoa powder (we used raw cacao powder)
  • 2.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • For enough frosting for the middle/top – 75g vegan spread (again, Flora worked fine), 180g icing sugar, 4 tbsp cocoa powder, 2 tbsp vegan milk

Stir the vinegar into the milk and set aside, stirring every so often. Some plant milks will thicken and slightly curdle which is fine (this is the same as turning dairy milk into buttermilk) however oat milk is unlikely to do this! In a pan over a low heat, melt the spread, golden syrup and coffee granules together. I added a tiny splash of boiling water to encourage the coffee to dissolve. Along to cool slightly, then stir in the milk mixture.

Weigh the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) into a large mixing bowl and whisk together – whisking will incorporate some air without the need for sifting.  Gradually pour the milk and melted margarine mixture over the flour mixture and stir well until it becomes a smooth batter.

Divide the mixture between two greased and line sandwich tins (8 inches in diameter) and bake for around 30 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. I found that these did crack a little, but as you’re piling on the buttercream it doesn’t matter!

Allow the cakes to cool completely on a wire rack before making the buttercream. Beat the spread in a bowl until soft and creamy, then add in half of the icing sugar and beat until smooth. Add the rest of the icing sugar and the cocoa powder and beat until smooth and thick, then gradually beat in up to 2 tbsp of milk (you may not need it all) until the icing is a soft and spreadable consistency. Spread over the top of one cake, sandwich the other on top, and spread the rest of the icing on top. If you want to add icing on the sides, I’d multiply all of the buttercream ingredients by 1.5(ish).
 photo Vegan Chocolate Cake 3_zpsatde0rhb.jpg

Did you do any baking over the Bank Holiday weekend? Are there any other vegan bakes you’d like to see?