Malta and Muhammara

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Last month, I went to Malta to visit my friend Paris, who’s recently moved there. I didn’t really know what to expect from the tiny Mediterranean island, as I booked my flights last minute, so there was little time for any pre-holiday research. So I just had to turn up and let it unfold. From cliff-top parties to swimming in azure blue sea, to g&ts on the balcony, there were many memorable moments.

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There was one particular café we frequented for lunch, so much so that the owner would inquire ‘you want some more hummus?!’ every time we entered. But perhaps the most memorable meal was at a Lebanese restaurant. We ordered hummus (of course) and the Syrian roasted red pepper dip and walnut dip, Muhammara. This was unlike anything I’ve had before, so I immediately looked up the recipe and had a bash at recreating it. Of course, this is nothing like the original (especially as I burnt my peppers slightly) but given food is so much about context, it never is.

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Roasted Root Veg with Yoghurt and Parsley

Veg from top

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of yoghurt. Lidl sells thick Greek yoghurt by the 1kg bucket (literally – the pot has a handle), and I’ve been known to devour one in an embarrassingly short amount of time.

Parsley

Veg peelings

Part of yoghurt’s appeal for me is in its versatility – it is equally at home in both sweet and savoury dishes. If I’m going for sweet, my yoghurt toppings often extend to honey (or if I’m feeling extravagant, date syrup) and some sort of nut, usually flaked almonds. Recently, I’ve started experimenting with using yoghurt in more savoury dishes as a topping or sauce, often combined with herbs.

Yoghurt sauce

Veg

This recipe is a shameless knock-off of a meal my friend Heather cooked for me. The earthy root veg, roasted with honey, cumin and fiery harissa, is topped with a thick sauce of natural yoghurt, tahini and parsley. I use flat leaf parsley here, as I have no patience with the curly stuff. The herby yoghurt elevates this dish beyond humble roast veg, giving it a freshness that compliments the spice really well. It’s so good that you’ll be buying yoghurt by the bucketful in no time….

Veg and sauce

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Fig, Comté and Pecan Salad

Fig salad

The wooden board in these photos was made by my friend Rosie Brewer, whose beautiful designs are made out of wood sourced from Devon forests. So, I wanted to make a simple salad to style on the board that wouldn’t take away from its natural beauty.

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Due to an excess of figs, a somewhat middle class crisis, I chose to make them the focal point. I also have a certain affection for the combination of figs and cheese, so chose to add some Comté, one of my favourite cheeses. French, and made from unpasturised cow’s milk, Comté has a pleasant nutty taste, that went well with figs.

Fig on board

I tend to randomly throw things together when making salads, and have a fondness for combining fruit, cheese, nuts and a punchy dressing. But my primary consideration when making this salad was that the colours would work well on the board – I added thin slices of pink radishes purely for artistic reasons, as I don’t actually like them that much.

Salad

Have a browse of Rosie’s Etsy shop here.

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Apple and Almond Flapjacks

Flapjacks

Well hello, 2016. As far as ‘resolutions’ go, I try not to make them. The threat of failure, coupled with the incessant nagging at the back of my mind that I must do whatever it is EVERY day, otherwise there’s no point making them, leaves me feeling downtrodden by the 5th January. Instead, I noted down aims to keep in mind as I set off into the new year, and made a resolution to not beat myself up if I forget about them for a day or two.

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This year, I decided to focus on eating mindfully (i.e. not standing in the kitchen shoving whatever came to hand in my mouth without a second thought), doing one deliberate thing every day to reduce stress (yoga, meditation, turning off all screens by 10pm) and to move more (which, given my desk-bound job, won’t take much). The mindful eating has so far (10 days in) been the most influential, as I have noticed how much of the eating I do is a result of stress or tiredness. Just noticing this pattern and being aware of it has helped massively, and reminding myself that food isn’t always the answer. Usually, a cup of tea and a lie down is.

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I noticed that I was getting blood sugar drops around 3pm each day at work, when it would feel like the world was going to end and the only thing that would get me out of this state was something insanely sugary. I spoke to a nutritionist friend, Ellen, about this, who said that the solution was not to let it reach this stage, by keeping my blood sugar level. To do this, she recommended eating every 2 hours or so (hallelujah!). But it was crucial that the snacks I was having didn’t contain sugar, so wouldn’t cause a spike in blood sugar followed by a crash. So, I made these flapjacks sugar free, using stewed prunes as a base (Ellen’s idea) and a bit of honey to help stick everything together.

flapjacks on plate

For more information about Ellen and naturopathic nutrition, click here.

 

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Christmas Chocolate

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I think I have to finally admit that Christmas is actually happening. Soon. Like, in a few days. Pretty soon I’ll be putting the out of office email reply on and heading down to Devon. It’s taken me a while to get in the festive spirit this year. Especially since the weather has been so warm (apparently there were colder days in May than in December – my current favourite weather anecdote). But after consuming more mulled wine than was probably good for me and listening to Annie Lennox’s rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen on repeat, I’ve finally got on board with the whole thing.

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I usually make something edible as Christmas gifts. Last year it was honeycomb, and the year before that, florentines. Both of which featured relatively stressful processes involving sugar thermometers. Last year, I almost reached breaking point when making the honeycomb, covered in bits of glue-like caramel frantically trying to unstick the stubborn buggers from each other. So this year, I opted for something simple. I melted chocolate, spread it out on a tray and and covered it in stuff. Easy.

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Grilled Chicken with Butterbean and Spinach Purée

Chicken and Spinach

It’s been a while since I’ve put a post on here, I know. There have been several things that all happened in a concentrated period recently that led to me feeling not quite at the top of my game. Up until now, the thought of getting it together to make myself a lunch that was anywhere near photograph-worthy, let alone actually photograph it and write about it, seemed a daunting task. But now I’m feeling a bit more myself, I decided to intentionally carve out some time to make a blog post.

Spinach puree

That time came today, a rainy Saturday, where I suddenly found myself with little on the agenda other than some household chores. The idea for lunch came in part from a recipe in Nigel Slater’s most recent cookbook (Kitchen Diaries III), a book so evocative in its descriptions that it sets me off on wild cooking fantasies. I adapted a recipe for grilled lamb steaks with cannellini bean and spinach puree, as I had a hankering for griddled chicken.

Chicken on Plate

I do a lot of food photography for work, but doing photography that is just for me always feels like exercising a different muscle. There’s a lot more freedom involved in taking photographs that don’t have a specific brief, and it’s completely up to me the direction in which they take. I always feel I’m more able to take risks and experiment with composition and angles, and the outcome usually surprises me. I found a day spend gently pottering in the kitchen, then arranging bits of material, deciding on which plate to use (a lengthy process) and photographing the dish, bought a sense of much needed restoration.

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Lemon Polenta Cake with Honey Ricotta and Blueberries

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I have recently decided to jump on the gluten-free bandwagon. Going ‘gf’ seems to be all the rage at the moment. I feel sorry for people who genuinely are coeliac, as there seems to be a surge in people suddenly and miraculously developing a gluten ‘intolerance’ overnight. Consequently, I’ve found that telling people you don’t eat gluten is often met with an eye roll and an accusatory ‘yes but you’re not actually allergic, are you’.

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Anyway, I thought I’d give it a go, as I’ve heard so many positive accounts of what avoiding gluten can do. The first hurdle was baking. I made some relatively successful gluten free (and dairy free, just to give myself a challenge) cookies, using rice flour and coconut oil. So next I thought I’d try a cake. Lemon polenta cake is one of the easiest things to make gluten free, as the polenta acts as a good substitute for the flour, and gives the cake a pleasant grainy texture. I topped the cake with some ricotta whisked with honey, and scattered over some blueberries.

LP and ricotta

 

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Sweet Potato Brownies

Sweet Potato brownies

I am firmly in the camp that believes as much butter and sugar as humanely possible should be shoved into brownies. My favorite brownie recipe – from the one and only Nigel Slater – requires a whole block of butter and an eye-watering amount of sugar. The resulting brownies can only be eaten one at a time (unless things really are getting tough) as they are so rich.

Cocoa

I thought this was my brownie recipe of choice for life, until I stumbled across this these sweet potato brownies. This recipe is from the queen of vegan smugness, Ella Woodward, who writes the blog Deliciously Ella. Once you get past her insufferable writing style, waxing lyrical about how ‘awesome’ quinoa is, the recipes on her blog are actually pretty inspired. This recipe uses sweet potato and dates to give the sweetness to the brownies, and, to add to their virtuousness, they don’t contain any butter. Ella calls them ‘gooey bites of heaven’. But she would.

Brownie

The texture is not quite what you’d expect from a brownie, and they don’t have that melting ooziness that copious amounts of butter provides. But they are pretty convincingly brownie-like in taste, and if you need an excuse to eat a whole batch of brownies in one go, these might just be the ones.

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Blueberry Scones with Coconut Cream

Blueberry Scones

My friend Ruby has recently moved to Australia. One of the things on the to do list before she left England was to have the quintessentially English experience of a cream tea. Unfortunately, this presents a slight problem when you are allergic to dairy. So I took on the challenge of making a dairy-free cream tea.

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The scone part was easy – I just replaced butter with margarine – then added some blueberries to jazz things up a bit. However, trying to make something that vaguely resembles clotted cream without using anything that comes from a cow was more challenging. In the end, after lots of trawling through vegan food blogs, I stumbled upon the suggestion of using coconut milk. This, as it happens, makes relatively successful cream-like substance, when whipped and combined with margarine and more sugar than I would like to admit.

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I ended up making two ‘creams’ – a one flavoured with vanilla, and a chocolate one, in an attempt to mask some of the coconut taste. The chocolate worked well with the blueberries, and with the plain Even though I’m devoted to clotted cream like only a Devonian can be, this cream tea was a much lighter, and I think equally delicious, alternative.

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Apricot and Raspberry Jam

Jam Jar

Although I love my current job as the marketing manager for a chain of cafes in Bristol (just a disclaimer, in case my boss is reading this) I do sometimes get nostalgic for the good old days when I worked in a café. The day to day banter with customers, many of whom were so regular I almost considered them friends, the hiss of the milk steamer and the easy access to coffee (and cake) at all times, made the job very enjoyable. Yes, you get the occasional off day when customers get shirty, or nothing quite goes according to plan, but by and large my most pressing concern was whether I’d ordered enough milk -and if I hadn’t I’d just nip up the road to the local dairy.

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During my year working in this café in a sleepy little Devon town, there were two days that particularly stood out, both of which happen to be days I got to serve coffee to famous people. The first was Katherine Parkinson, a.k.a. Jen from the I.T. Crowd, who I was so shocked to see I almost spilt the tray of drinks I was carrying all over her. The second person is slightly less impressive (although equally exciting if you’re a food nerd like me) – Pam Corbin, the jam lady from River Cottage.

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Pam’s book, Preserves, is one of my all time favourite cookbooks. I always dig it out whenever summer rolls around, so I can set about preserving all manner of fruits and vegetables. There’s no feeling like smugly lining up jars of homemade chutney and jam, knowing that you’ve got enough to last through winter. The recipes in Pam’s book are accompanied by charming little WI anecdotes, such as the time her strawberry jam won first prize at the Uplyme and Lyme Regis Horticultural Show. Well, we can all dream. When I met Pam, I babbled something about how I’ve made her quince jelly recipe several times and how much I love her use of elderflower in gooseberry jam, and just about restrained myself from asking for her autograph. Good times.

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