Chai Syrup

 

Pepper

I am marginally obsessed with chai syrup. I put it in milk, on porridge, or just drink it neat (cue blush-faced emoji). There is a brand made by a company in Bath called Henny and Joe’s, which was pretty life-changing for me. I first discovered it at my local Sunday market, and, to add to the tantalising excitement of my love affair with this stuff, they weren’t always there every week, meaning that some weeks I was left bereft. So given the unreliability of access to my next fix, I decided that the only thing to do was have a bash at making some myself.

Spices

Recipes seem to include a vast variety of spices, some with star anise, some ginger, some cloves. However, I decided to just make it up as I go along (as per usual), which involved the prominence of the things I love – vanilla and ginger – and the omission of those I don’t – cloves and star anise. Cloves I have a particular aversion to, as they are apparently a home remedy for toothache, so since childhood I have associated the taste with acute dental pain. Recipes vary between using honey and sugar, I used both –  some honey that my Mum bought back from Greece, along with muscovado sugar (my insatiable sweet tooth being the culprit that resulted in the aforementioned trips to the dentist).

In pan

This syrup is less aniseed-y than some would like, so feel free to add a few cloves or a star anise if that’s what floats your boat. I also used loose leaf tea flavoured with chocolate, as that was the only one I had, but any loose leaf tea (or a normal tea-bag) will work fine. Keep tasting it as you go along, and adjust the levels of spices to taste. For me it’s that magical balance between sweet from the honey and cinnamon, and spicy from the pepper or star anise that makes this syrup so addictive. I imagine the syrup would keep in a sealed jar in the fridge for a few weeks, but it’ll never lasts that long if I’ve got anything to do with it.

In glass

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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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Dutch Apple Tart

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My friend Kristel recently came to visit. She’s from the Netherlands, and we met in our first year at university in Sheffield, when we lived a few rooms down from each other. Despite there being countries (and sometimes continents) separating us, we have stayed in touch, and I went to visit Kristel in Boston last year (read more about that here). So then it was her turn to visit me, and we spent an enjoyable week ambling around Bristol. Baking was also inevitably going to be on the agenda, and when trying to decide what to bake on a rainy Sunday, there was only one option.

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This apple tart is always going to provoke incessant bouts of nostalgia for us, since it was one of the things Kristel made during our first year at uni. We were living in a flat with nine people, most of whom had some sort of dietary requirement, from vegan to lactose intolerant. Therefore, as you can imagine, group meals were somewhat difficult. Being committed to the cause of group bonding, however, we managed to rustle something up that would suit everyone.

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Our group meals usually consisted of pasta with some sort of vegetable based sauce, and this apple tart for pudding (because yes, there had to be pudding). The version that Kristel made originally was vegan, involving the genius use of tahini instead of egg to bind the pastry together. This recipe is not vegan, as it uses butter in the pastry and egg yolk to glaze the top, but we retained the tahini for old time’s sake.

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Beetroot Ravioli with Kale Pesto

Ravioli with Fork

Paris and I are back in the kitchen together. This can only mean two things. Beetroot and kale. So here you have it: handmade pasta tinged pink with beetroot juice, stuffed with kale pesto. Kale pesto – hipster, much? But we’re going to embrace it. This is one of the more time-consuming and intricate of mine and Paris’ culinary meanderings, but we’re more grown up now.  We’ve been ‘collaborating’ for over a year now – all the way back to that Quinoa Porridge with, you guessed it, beetroot. Therefore, we thought it was high time we pushed the boat out and did something that could definitely be called a recipe, and not just a random selection of ingredients we cobbled together (which usually involved beetroot and/or kale…).

Kale

Kale & Spoon

Having ‘worked’ together pretty often now, we have got better at anticipating what each other is thinking when we create the recipe, and seeing in a similar way when we style the shots. I was pretty sure we had an almost identical picture of what the finished shot would look like before I took a single picture. And having another pair of eyes when setting up the shots always helps, as they invariably see new ways of viewing the subject that you’d not considered.

Ravioli

So anyway, back to the pasta. I am not a handmade pasta virgin, in fact I have made it before in the early days of this blog, have a look at the recipe here (and please excuse the shockingly bad photography…). So this is fresh pasta mark II: a more complicated recipe, with better photography. When embarking on pasta making, I always start with the thought that it is going to be so much more hassle than it’s worth, and why didn’t I just go to Sainsbury’s like any normal person? But when I get lost in the hypnotic rhythm of rolling out the dough to a paper-like thinness, and carefully folding the dough around the filling, time passes effortlessly. The final result is a pretty special thing, and always tastes better than I remember – especially as I’m usually pretty hungry by this point. Fresh pasta is something that is greater than the sum of its parts: I find it hard to believe that flour, oil, a few eggs, and in this case a bit of beetroot and glorified cabbage, can make something so amazing. #foodblogwin

Ravioli Inside

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Almond Butter

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I have little restraint when it comes to food that I can convince myself is healthy. This includes dates, malt loaf and pistachio nuts. Oh and yoghurt-coated apricots. That’s just yoghurt and fruit, right? I recently realised I’ve been spending a small fortune on tiny jars of cashew nut butter, as I scoff down the calorie-dense paste by the spoonful, straight from the jar. I’ve toured round all the different nut butters, including the slightly bizarre apricot kernel butter, and decided that my top two are definitely almond and cashew. But the fact remains that to buy them is horrendously expensive. So I found a recipe and decided to have a bash at making some.

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Making my own almond butter wouldn’t be financially viable without Scoop Away, which is an amazing wholefood shop where you literally scoop everything into bags, which is then priced by weight. When I first discovered the shop, I went a bit over the top, buying lots of random things that I had never seen before, such as yoghurt coated honeycomb, in industrial quantities. Even now I visit the shop weekly, and have to reign myself in when faced with the yoghurt- coated section. So I scooped what seemed like a reasonable amount of almonds into a bag, later realising that I had bought over double the quantity needed for the nut butter, having lost all sense of proportion when scooping.

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Making almond butter is ludicrously simple. You need a powerful food processor to get the creamy consistency, and simply roast the nuts in the oven for a few minutes, then put them in the food processor and leave them to it. I was convinced that it wasn’t going to work at first, as I just had ground almonds whizzing round the processor bowl for the first ten minutes. But then, suddenly, the oil is released and the almond powder mushes together to form the butter. One of my favourite things to do with the butter (other than eat it straight from the jar) is to stuff pitted Medjool dates with a spoonful, then put them in the fridge to set. In my experience, it’s impossible to eat less than five of these in one sitting.

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Preserved Lemons

Lemons

Even though I’ve almost lived in Bristol for a year now, I’ve only recently discovered that I live a mere 10 minutes’ drive away from Ikea. I used to make pilgrimages up from Devon to visit this place. I would always come back with a car-load of stuff that I didn’t really need and couldn’t quite remember buying, but that somehow felt completely necessary at the time. Upon hearing that my friend Nicola had never been to Ikea, I was dumbfounded. What, like, never? No. So the fact was that we had to go, and soon. I was trying to describe to her what was so good about it, using a series of vague gestures and half sentences. It’s a shop, yes. But so much more. You can buy furniture. And carpets and plants and photo frames. And then there’s the meatballs.

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When visiting Ikea, I always endeavor to make a list and stick to it, but usually completely fail in the latter, and that’s if I remember to bring my list in the first place. I’m completely swayed by the cute Swedish names – it may be a boring curtain ring, but it’s called ‘Syrlig’, so naturally I have to buy it. The item at the top of my list was ‘clip-top jars’. I was shoving about ten into the (appropriately massive) trolley, to incredulous looks from Nicola, mumbling the words ‘dacanting’, ‘lentils’ and ‘useful’ as vague excuses. And they’re only 80p each – I think I sneaked in an extra two at the end for this reason alone. When I got my haul of jars home, I discovered that, despite stocking up on cashew nuts and cous-cous to have something to decant into my new jars, I still had a few spare. So, preserved lemons it is.

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Preserved lemons are a staple ingredient in Moroccan cooking, especially in tagines and fish dishes. I was always a bit skeptical about their necessity (surely fresh lemons would do the trick just as well, right?) but once I tried the preserved variety I could see what all the fuss was about. The lemons are salted then packed into jars, covered with olive oil and left to do their thing for a few weeks. This renders the outer skin soft, and mutes the sharp acidic tang. They can be eaten, if you wish, straight from the jar. Whilst the lemons are preserving away for a week or so, Paris and I will be busy dreaming up ways to use them. Watch this space!

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Honeycomb Toffee

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I always try and make edible Christmas gifts. This decision, made in November, always seems like the easy, simple and relaxing option. Instead of braving the hordes of Christmas shoppers, I envision that I will be smugly ensconced at home, effortlessly whipping up batch after batch of delicacies. The reality, however, is always far from this. I end up leaving it until the last minute, then spend a couple of days covered in smudges of chocolate, trying to hold back the stress-induced tears.

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This year was no exception. I chose to make honeycomb, having read several recipes that insist it’s a piece of cake, only requiring three ingredients and a casual fifteen minutes. Having seen the process on Masterchef, including the rather showy moment when the bicarbonate of soda is whisked into the caramel and froths up spectacularly, I thought that this would provide the elusive balance of ease and impressiveness.

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Oh how wrong I was. I ended up trying several different recipes, no one of which quite provided the desired effect of crisp, crackling honeycomb. One batch made nowhere near the quantity I had expected, requiring a dash to Sainsbury’s midway through to replenish my stocks of golden syrup and sugar. Another batch set too soft, rendering a hasty re-labelling of the finished product as ‘burnt sugar toffee’ (so you’ll know if you’re a recipient of batch one). Finally I found a recipe that seemed to set close to the imagined crispness, but still took a fraught three hours to firm up, in which I couldn’t resist wandering over and prodding it every five minutes.

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The resultant stickiness of the soft, toffee-like honeycomb was slightly maddening, as it stuck to the kitchen cabinets, my socks, hair and pretty much everything else. I was prising bits out from between the sofa for the rest of the day. I slathered the end product, hastily titled ‘honeycomb toffee’ to account for said stickiness, in a generous amount of dark chocolate, the tied it up in cellophane bags. Finally, I sat down with a cup of tea, surveying the carnage that covered every surface of the kitchen, and wondering, as I do every year, whether simply ambling around the shops would be all that bad.

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