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Virtuous Vegan Date & Peanut Butter Cookies

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Virtuous Vegan Date & Peanut Butter Cookies

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If I told you that a vegan, refined sugar-free, protein-rich, wheat-free, ancient-grain (and if you so desire, gluten-free) cookie existed, you’d think it was the stuff of myth and legend or, alternatively, something so disgusting that it couldn’t be deemed edible.

Well, it does exist.

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After an overindulgent stay in NYC, I made these for my birthday. They aren’t overpoweringly sweet, and they aren’t going to be equivalent to the 500 calories a pop thick, fudgy cookies you see in bakeries. However, they are delicious in their own right, soft and just sweet enough. Plus, being vaguely healthy automatically entitles one to devour 5x the quantity. In fact, for a snack to be officially deemed a source of protein, it needs to contain 6g protein. Well, 3 of these cookies contain just that.

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They are extremely quick to conjure up and would be good for that weak-point, late afternoon slump when you crave something sweet, and delicious, too, paired with a (vegan) ice cream for dessert, or even with a wedge of stilton and a dollop of pear compote if you’re going down the non-vegan route. If you want a slightly more savoury option, substitute the dates with figs as in the photos.

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Ingredients (makes 20 medium cookies)

160g pitted medjool dates, roughly chopped (about 10) (if you want a more savoury cookie, substitute dates with figs, as per the photos)

4 tbsp orange juice

4 tbsp water

1 tsp vanilla

½ tsp finely grated orange zest

80g smooth peanut butter

200g spelt flour (or gluten free flour)

½ tsp mixed spice

¼ tsp salt

baking tray lined with baking parchment

4-5cm round cookie cutter

 

Method

1)    Pre-heat oven to 180°C

2)    Place the chopped dates, orange juice, water, vanilla extract and orange zest in a small pan over a medium/high heat and allow to come to a boil. Stir continuously for about 4/5 minutes until all the liquid has evaporated and the dates have turned into a thick, sticky pulp.

3)    Place the date mixture together with the peanut butter in a blender and pulse until smooth. Pour in the spelt flour, mixed spice, and salt and pulse until it comes together to form a slightly sticky dough.

4)    Lightly flour a board and roll out the dough to a 0.5cm thickness. Stamp out cookies with the cutter and place on the baking tray. Bake in the oven for 7-10 minutes until firm and slightly golden. Allow to cool, then devour.

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Mini Feta & Cheddar Spelt Scones

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Mini Feta & Cheddar Spelt Scones

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I feel immense joy when I see canapés floating along the horizon of a wine-soaked room. Salty, crunchy, flavour-filled bites to pop into your mouth and stave off hunger. But in reality, the canapés path is far more obstacle- laden. Here are a few of the typical scenarios that I have endured, or have watched others enduring:

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  • The hidden two- biter: where you hesitate over whether to put the whole thing in your mouth, decide to go for it and then have to find a way to swivel the thing around inside your cheeks until it becomes vaguely chewable, all while trying to hold down a conversation
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  • The crumbler – this one disintegrates before it even reaches your mouth. This doesn’t necessarily result in interrupted conversation, but ends up being problematic when you shake hands with someone and end up leaving a stick, flaky deposit in their palm
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  • The burner – you were warned about the heat but went for it anyway. If you were alone you would probably spit it out, but in the interests of politeness and retaining friends, you endure a scorched oesophagus 
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  • The stringer – this is reserved for molten- cheese filled croquetas.  Delicious, yes, but they leave the unsuspecting devourer s with frills around their lips reminiscent of Futurama’s Zoiburg.
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The following will help you steer clear of the above pitfalls: small, savoury and succulent, these are the perfect canapés.  Indeed, they are suitable for consumption at any time. They are crisp on the outside and soft and light inside, flecked with molted feta and cheddar, and with a hint of the more exotic nigella seeds. This recipe makes 18 but I would urge you to double it as they are so addictive.  They are also ridiculously easy and quick to conjure up.

NB. these can be made gluten-free by simply substituting spelt flour with gluten-free)

Mini Feta & Cheddar Spelt Scones (makes 18)

 

Ingredients

100g sour cream

2 tbsp milk

80g mature cheddar cheese, grated

80g feta, roughly diced into 0.5cm cubes

50g unsalted butter, cold and roughly diced into ¾ cm cubes

200g white spelt flour (can substitute with plain flour or gluten-free)

¼ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

½ tsp nigella seeds

[optional: ½ tsp cayenne pepper]

1 egg, beaten, to glaze

1 large baking tray lined with greaseproof paper

 

Method

1)    Preheat oven to 200°C. In a large bowl by hand, or in a food mixer fitted with a paddle, briefly mix together the sour cream, milk, cheddar, feta and butter. Pour in the flour, baking powder, salt and nigella seeds (and cayenne if using), and mix until just combined into a dough. You may need to knead the dough by hand very slightly for it to come together.

2)    Place dough onto a floured surface, pat into a square and roll it out to roughly 2.5cm thickness. Slice the dough into nine squares, like a noughts and crosses board, and then slice the squares diagonally to form 18 triangles.

3)    Arrange the triangles on the baking tray, leaving at least 3cm between them. Brush them lightly with the beaten egg and place in the oven to bake for 15-20 minutes until golden on the outside. They are best devoured immediately or on the day of baking. 

Adapted from Honey & Co's "Food From the Middle East" recipe for Bouikos

 

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Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad

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Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad

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Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad  

Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood SaladSuperfood

Line breaks: super|food

Pronunciation: /ˈsuːpəfuːd/

Culina definition: ‘superfoods’ – a marketing ploy term assigned to natural ingredients which have been neglected on shop shelves for a while and could do with a PR boost.  They have nutritional benefits similar to many other natural ingredients and have the potential to reduce the risk of disease if you consume at least your body weight in said superfood in under an hour.

Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad Cauliflower, pomegranate seeds, quinoa and walnuts have all ridden the calculated PR wave to health fame in the last few years, and indeed that is possibly why they have drifted on to my kitchen shelves.

Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad Ignoring their “superfood” status, they are particularly delicious when combined.

Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood SaladThis salad sits at the other end of the spectrum from the straggly, limp green leaf type.

Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood SaladIt is crunchy, sweet, umami, nutty, juicy, and looks resplendent studded with glistening pomegranate jewels.

Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood SaladCauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood SaladIt’s also ridiculously quick to whizz up and can be prepared up to a day in advance (sans dressing, and refrigerated).

Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad

Recipe

Ingredients

100g quinoa

220g cauliflower

180g pomegranate seeds (1 pomegranate approx.)

200g feta, crumbled

100g walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped

50g fresh coriander, finely chopped

 

Dressing

10g garlic, crushed

1 tsp salt

4 tbsp tahini

8 tbsp natural yogurt

6 tbsp lemon juice

 

Method

  1. In a medium sized pan boil 1 litre of water over a high heat. Pour in the quinoa and allow it to simmer for 10-15 minutes until the grains are translucent but still slightly al dente.  Drain the quinoa in a sieve and set it aside to cool.
  2. Chop the cauliflower roughly, and blitz in a blender, pulsing until it resembles coarse couscous. If you don’t have a blender, you can grate the cauliflower by hand to achieve a similar effect.
  3. In a large serving bowl, mix together the quinoa, cauliflower, pomegranate seeds, feta, walnuts and coriander.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together all the dressing ingredients to combine. Pour as much as desired of the dressing over the salad just before serving and mix it through.

Cauliflower & Quinoa Superfood Salad

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Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

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Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

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Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza Pizza is in his DNA.  Five generations of golden, thin, crispiness. One recipe.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

The pizza oven is raging, rapidly devouring its feed of dry wood and spitting out sweet nutty smoke.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

 

 

He comes every summer in his Ape brimming with plump mushrooms of dough.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

A light sprinkle of flour on a wooden board, and he gets to work.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

With wrist flicks and little rotations the round becomes a disc, airborne momentarily to ensure evenness.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

A careful spiral of passata with the back of a spoon,

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

a shower of mozzarella,

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

and a scattering of whatever’s in the garden: fiori di zucchini, melanzane, pepperoncini…

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

The flurry of flour continues into the night.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

The dinner table is a moderation-free zone.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

He only stops when even the strictest of eaters has lost count of the number of pizzas (not slices) he/she has consumed, and physical incapacity is the only limitation.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

He doesn’t even really stop there: a couple more are sent to the table per domani.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

A pizza “hangover” ensues along with the inevitable promises of “never again” “not for another year”.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

But as soon as I hit London soil again I want to relieve that pizza-lover’s fantasy and so I make these.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

They’re crisp, thin, verdant, and fresh.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

I don’t believe in barren crusts or meanness so the ingredients are abundant and go right up to and beyond the edge of the base.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

I use spelt instead of plain flour (as usual) to reduce the GI level and add a nuttier more complex flavour to the dough.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

The added bonus of this recipe is that it is ridiculously quick.  Kneading is kept to a minimum (5 minutes) and the rising time is the shortest you’ll ever find for pizza dough – ½ hour.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

The balsamic-maple reduction is optional but I include it to add extra caramelised sweetness, extra tang and a touch of drama.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

 

Ingredients – makes 4 pizzas

Base

250ml warm water

3 tsp dried yeast (fast active yeast)

500g white spelt flour

1 ½ tsp salt

1 tbsp olive oil

 

Topping

750g asparagus

30g garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tbsp olive oil

1 1/4 tsp salt

Grated zest of ½ lemon

A few grinds of Pepper

400g mozzarella (4 balls), chopped finely into cubes

100g parmesan, grated

3 spring onions, thinly sliced

Small bunch of chives, finely chopped

2 red chillies (optional), finely sliced

 

2 large baking trays or 4 medium baking trays, greased and dusted with flour

 

Maple Balsamic Reduction (optional)

120ml balsamic vinegar

2 tsp maple syrup

 

Method

  1. Heat oven to 120˚C for 5 minutes then switch it off.
  2. In the bowl of a mixer (or large bowl if making by hand) pour in warm water and sprinkle yeast over it. Allow to stand for 5 minutes for the yeast to activate.
  3. Stir in flour, salt and oil. Knead by hand for 5 minutes on a lightly floured surface, or in a machine fitted with a dough hook for 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and when you press your thumb into it, it bounces back up.
  4. Divide dough into two and place each half in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with cling film and place in warmed oven.  Allow to rise for 30 minutes or until doubled, then remove from oven and preheat it to its highest temperature, usually 250˚C.
  5. While the dough is rising, use a vegetable peeler to shave the asparagus: place the asparagus flat on a surface, and holding it at the woody end, shave it from above the woody end to the top of the spear. I sometimes use the ends to make a stock for asparagus risotto.
  6. Place the ribbons in a bowl and mix with garlic, oil, salt, lemon zest and pepper.
  7. Once risen, divide each half into two and roll out each quarter into a 0.5cm thick disc. Place on tray and scatter each disc with mozzarella, parmesan, and shaved asparagus.  Bake in oven for 15-20 minutes until golden and bubbling.
  8. Once baked, scatter with spring onions, chives, and chillies, if using. Drizzle with balsamic reduction, if desired, and serve immediately.

 

Maple Balsamic reduction

  1. Boil balsamic and maple syrup together over a high heat for about 5 minutes until it thickens slightly to consistency more like that of pure maple syrup. Allow to cool for 1 minute, and drizzle over pizzas.

Quick Asparagus & Parmesan Pizza

Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

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Caramelised White Chocolate Cheesecake

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Caramelised White Chocolate Cheesecake

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  Caramelised White Chocolate Cheesecake with Salty-Sweet Fudgy Biscuit Base & Blackcurrant Glaze

Caramelised White Chocolate Cheesecake

 

I’m at risk of sounding like one of those mindless click-bait buzzfeed articles when I say this, but I mean ever word: you’ve been eating white chocolate incorrectly your whole life.

Caramelised White Chocolate Cheesecake

 

Would you believe me if I told you that the innocent Milky Bar Kid’s saccharine white cocoa butter chocolate has a deeper, darker, more seductive side?

Caramelised White Chocolate Cheesecake

The corruption process is simple.  All you need is:

- heat

- good quality white chocolate

-a tray

Caramelised White Chocolate Cheesecake

After about 20 minutes, the heat will begin to convert the pool of glossy molten cocoa butter into white chocolate’s luscious evil sister.  I dare you to try it.

Caramelised White Chocolate Cheesecake

It’s pretty sublime on its own but, if you can resist eating it all, it works deliciously well in a cheesecake.  I pair it with a fudgy, salted, graham cracker-style base and an astringent blackcurrant glaze to cut through the sweetness.

Caramelised White Chocolate Cheesecake

Often cheesecakes call for a base simply made out of crushed store-bought cookies.  I’m no stranger to doing this myself, but I’m always left with a pang of guilt for cheating.  Not only does homemade biscuit base taste better, it’s chemical-free and you have much more control over the flavour balance – this one’s especially fudgy.

Caramelised White Chocolate Cheesecake

However, if you’re feeling lazy you can make the base using 400g digestive biscuits blitzed into crumbs with the 120g browned melted butter.  If you are a coeliac just use gluten-free digestive biscuits.

Caramelised White Chocolate Cheesecake

You can also use non-caramelised white-chocolate.  It will still taste delicious, just not anywhere near as ambrosial.

Caramelised White Chocolate Cheesecake

If you can’t get hold of any blackcurrants, feel free to use fresh or frozen raspberries or redcurrants instead.

Caramelised White Chocolate Cheesecake

This is best made the day before serving and kept in the fridge overnight.  In fact, the fridge works wonders.

Caramelised White Chocolate CheesecakeCaramelised White Chocolate Cheesecake

Ingredients

Salty-sweet, fudgy biscuit base

200g white spelt flour

60g light muscovado sugar

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp salt

60g unsalted butter, diced

70g clear honey

4 tsp vanilla extract

120g unsalted butter, for melting

Large baking tray, lined with baking parchment

20cm square tin (or round with similar capacity), lined with baking parchment

Caramelised white chocolate filling

300g good quality white chocolate, broken into pieces

180ml double cream

500g full fat cream cheese, at room temperature

100g caster sugar

4 eggs, at room temperature

1 tbsp vanilla bean paste (or the seeds of 1 vanilla pod)

Bone dry baking tray (preferably non-stick)

Sour cream topping

220ml sour cream

40g icing sugar, sifted

Blackcurrant glaze

200g blackcurrants

80g caster sugar

3 tbsp water

100g fresh blackcurrants to decorate (optional)

Method

Salty-sweet fudgy biscuit base

  1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Pour flour, sugar, bicarb, salt and diced butter into a blender and blitz until the mixture resembles damp sand. Alternatively, use your fingers to rub the butter into the other ingredients.
  2. Whisk together the honey, vanilla and milk. Stir this into the dry mixture to combine and form a paste-like dough.
  3. Spread the dough on to the baking tray in an even 0.5cm thick layer. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown and cooked through.  If it doesn’t become dry and brittle after cooling, bake for a further 5 minutes.
  4. Brown the 120g of butter for melting by placing it in a pan over medium heat and allowing it to turn a golden brown before setting it aside to cool.  It should give off a wonderfully nutty aroma.
  5. Crumble the baked biscuit into a blender with the browned melted butter, and pulse until it turns to damp sand-like consistency. Tip this out into the lined cake tin and press down to form an even layer.  Place in freezer to set.

Sour cream topping

  1.    Whisk together sour cream and icing sugar until smooth. Store in the fridge until ready to use

Caramelised white chocolate filling

  1. Preheat the oven to 130˚C. Pour broken white chocolate on to the tray and place in the oven. Every 10 minutes remove the chocolate from the oven, stir with a bone dry utensil, and place back in the oven.  After about 30-40 minutes it will have taken on a beautiful honeyed caramel tone.    As ovens vary in character and different chocolate brands vary in ingredient quality, it may take longer.  The chocolate may also seize.  Don’t panic if this happens: just keep going until it turns golden (I’ll explain how to proceed with this in the next step).
  2. Increase the oven temperature to 160˚C. Place the double cream in a small pan over a high heat. Once it begins to boil, remove from the heat and pour into it the caramelised white chocolate.  Stir to combine until smooth. If the chocolate did seize in the oven, it will be lumpy.  If this is the case, pour the lumpy cream and chocolate mixture in a blender and blitz until completely smooth.  If a few recalcitrant lumps remain, simple sieve them out.
  3. Either using a stand mixer fixed with the beater or a hand held whisk, beat the cream cheese together with the caster sugar until completely soft and smooth. Beat in the cream and white chocolate caramel.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and vanilla.  Pour this into the cream cheese mixture and beat until completely smooth and glossy.
  4. Remove the cake tin with the biscuit base from the freezer, and pour into it the filling mixture. Bake in the oven for 1 ½ hours, checking after 45 minutes.  If it begins to go brown, cover with tin foil and continue to bake for the full time.
  5. Keeping the oven on, remove the cheesecake from the oven and allow it to cool for 10 minutes. Spread the sour cream topping in an even layer over the surface of the cake. Place the cheesecake back in the oven, switch off the oven and leave its door slightly ajar while the cheesecake sets inside for a further 1 ½ hours.
  6. When the cheesecake reaches room temperature, remove from the oven, cover the cake tin with cling film, and place it in the fridge to allow it to set over night, or place it in the freezer for a couple of hours.

Blackcurrant glaze

  1. Place 200g blackcurrants, caster sugar and water in a small pan over a high heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. When it begins to boil, reduce heat slightly and allow it to simmer for 5-10 minutes or until it thickens to a viscosity like that of maple syrup.  Strain the mixture through a sieve and place the liquid back in the pan to simmer for a further 3 minutes.
  2. Allow the syrup to cool slightly then carefully pour it over the chilled cheesecake. Scatter with fresh blackcurrants and serve.

Caramelised White Chocolate Cheesecake

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Sticky Glazed Carrot, Pomegranate, Orange, Lentil & Feta Salad

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Sticky Glazed Carrot, Pomegranate, Orange, Lentil & Feta Salad

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I wandered into my favourite greengrocer yesterday in search of inspiration, and came out laden with half the store.  Amongst the wooden crates I found the most beautifully vibrant baby carrots and blushing, freckled pomegranate orb.

Sticky Glazed Carrot, Pomegranate, Orange, Lentil & Feta Salad - Recipe

Although lentils and carrots are usually associated with comfort and winter, I used fresh orange and pomegranate jewels to lift them to a lighter, more summery dish.

The carrots are poached in orange juice and maple syrup until juicy and softened and the liquid has reduced to a golden caramel.  They are then roasted until sticky, slightly charred and a little withered, but dense with succulence and depth of flavour. The caramel is turned into a citrusy dressing to drench the lentils, with the sweetness balanced with the salty kick of feta.

Sticky Glazed Carrot, Pomegranate, Orange, Lentil & Feta Salad - Recipe

Ingredients

200g puy lentils

2 tsp vegetable bouillon stock

1 litre boiling water

400g baby carrots

Juice of 3 oranges (15 tbsp)

5 tbsp maple syrup

¼ tsp salt

2 tbsp olive oil

1 ½ tsp lemon juice

1 tbsp pomegranate molasses

¼ tsp salt

2 large garlic cloves, crushed

2 oranges supremed (i.e. segmented with skin and membrane removed)

100g feta

140g pomegranate seeds (half a pomegranate)

20g fresh coriander, roughly chopped

Method

  1. Place lentils, stock and boiling water in a pan over a high heat and allow to simmer with a lid on for 30-35 minutes until fully cooked. They should be soft and no longer chalky, but definitely not mushy.  Drain them, and set aside in a bowl to cool.
  2. While the lentils are cooking, prepare the carrots: pour the orange juice into a large frying pan over a medium high heat, add the maple syrup and salt, and stir to combine. Carefully arrange the carrots in the pan and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes or until the carrots have softened and the liquid has reduced by about two thirds and become viscous and syrupy.  Remove from the heat.
  3. Preheat the grill to 230˚C. Remove the carrots from the frying pan (while preserving the syrup), arrange them on a baking tray and grill for 5 minutes (checking after 3 minutes) or until they are slightly charred.
  4. Into the pan with the remaining syrup, pour in the olive oil, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, crushed garlic cloves and salt to make the dressing. Stir the mixture over a low heat until fully combined. Pour the warmed dressing over the bowl of lentils.
  5. To serve, carefully spoon the lentils and any non-absorbed dressing on to a platter, and scatter with pomegranate seeds and crumbled feta. Arrange the orange segments and roasted carrots over the top, and sprinkle with the chopped coriander.
Sticky Glazed Carrot, Pomegranate, Orange, Lentil & Feta Salad - Recipe

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Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe

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Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe

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Last week I panic baked.  My usually dependable supply of Dr Karg’s seeded spelt and emmental and pumpkin seed crisp breads had run dry. Only a few sad seeds in the corner of the packet remained, which I ate mournfully, before desperation led me to pulling open drawers in search of the emergency packet I had hidden from myself.

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Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe
Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe

My hunt was rewarded with absolutely no trophies.  I must have found them some time before.

Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe
Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe

Necessity mothered invention: I combined some of my favourite ingredients to make my own version of the crisp breads, and they turned out rather well, perhaps even better than the originals. My family had clearly also been struck by panic, as two batches were devoured in ten minutes…

Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe
Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe

These crisp breads are ridiculously quick to make, healthy (when you don’t eat the whole batch in one sitting – an almost impossible feat), and delicious.  They’re also versatile – the seeds can be eliminated and/or exchanged for other varieties as desired, and they can be served with hummus, red pepper pesto (see my recipe), guacamole etc.  They can also be made dairy-free by eliminating the cheese.

Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe
Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe

Ingredients

115g white spelt flour

100g wholemeal spelt flour

¾ tsp salt

30g sesame seeds

15g poppy seeds

30g pumpkin seeds

50g cheddar, grated

50g parmesan grated, + 5g for sprinkling

1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

125ml water

1 tbsp olive oil

1 baking tray, overturned, greased with oil and dusted with flour

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 220˚C. In a large bowl mix dry ingredients together. Pour in water and oil and stir until mixture clumps together into quite a dry dough.  You may need to knead it slightly with your hands.
  2. Place dough on overturned baking tray and roll it out until it reaches the edges of the tray. It should be about 3mm thick.
  3. Sprinkle with the extra parmesan, prick the dough liberally with a fork, and score it into your preferred geometric shapes. I like 4cm x 10cm rectangles.
  4. Place in oven and bake for 10-15 minutes until golden, and firm to touch. Leave to cool – they will become crisper as they cool.
Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe
Seeded Spelt Crackers - Recipe

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Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

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Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

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Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe I often spend summers in Italy.  In the evenings, when the vine- ripening summer sun begins to soften and the incessant squeak and rattle of the plough eventually dies, I usually clamber up the nearby hill, meandering across the crest.   On one of my walks, I headed towards the nearby palazzo, along the path bordered by Cyprus spears.

 

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

Lizards basking in the heat still held by the pale ochre walls scuttled away at my footsteps, and a green shutter creaked in the mild breeze.

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

The knobbed tree in front stood with its arms filled with waxy green dewdrop-like figs, nodding gently like a recently metamorphosed Ovidian nymph.   I reached to tug at a branch, and a cluster melted softly off it.  The pink juices dripping down my fingers, I gathered two handfuls and made my companion fill his pockets with the good intention of bringing some back for others to try.

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

As so often happens, the thoughtful food gift didn’t reach its destination (I ate it), but I went back the next day, and the next.  I was converted from someone with a slight aversion to figs to an obsessive.

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

This salad combines the earthy lusciousness of figs with caramel to add depth and sticky sweetness to the dish.  This contrasts with the fresh tanginess of oranges – blood oranges are currently in season so are fantastic to use – and the saltiness of the feta and peppery rocket leaves.

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

The dressing is fresh, sweet, salty and savoury, tying all the elements together.

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

 

Ingredients  Serves 2 (or 4, as a side)

8 figs, halved

50g caster sugar

juice of 1 orange

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tsp lemon juice

2 cloves garlic

1 tbsp pomegranate molasses (substitute with balsamic vinegar, if necessary)

¼ tsp salt

2 oranges, peeled and sliced into 1/2 cm discs

100g rocket

100g feta, sliced into ½ cm cubes

 

Method

  1. Place a shallow frying pan over a medium/high heat, pour in sugar and allow to melt, stirring occasionally to prevent it from burning.
  2. Place halved figs face down in the molten sugar and cook in the caramel for 2 minutes. Turn them over to cook for a further 1 minute.  Remove from pan and place on serving plate.
  3. For the dressing, pour the orange juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pomegranate molasses into the caramelised sugar pan and stir until the caramelised sugar has dissolved into the liquid. Remove from stove and stir in lemon juice.
  4. Scatter rocket, orange slices and feta on the serving plate with the figs and drizzle with the dressing.

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

Inspired by Ottolenghi

Caramelised Fig, Feta, Orange & Rocket Salad - Recipe

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Smoky Tomato & Garlic Spelt Risotto with Crumbled Feta - Recipe

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Smoky Tomato & Garlic Spelt Risotto with Crumbled Feta - Recipe

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Smoky tomato and garlic spelt risotto with crumbled feta and pine nuts In MasterChef Australia (I’m not a fan of the British version) risotto is known as the “death dish”.  The judges groan whenever a contestant confesses that he/she will be serving it.  And quite rightly so, as the results are invariably sludgy, glutinous, crunchy, solid, watery, bland, or resembling something a woman in Ancient Rome might have used as a face pack.

Smoky tomato and garlic spelt risotto with crumbled feta and pine nuts

 

It is often also the go-to dish for restaurants under pressure to include a vegetarian dish in their repertoire, and this is often disappointing, too, for two reasons:

1.) All too often it becomes a stodgy double cream and rice porridge. In a traditional risotto recipe there is no cream – the creaminess is achieved through breaking down the starch by stirring the grains with a good quality stock.  And no, this isn’t difficult at all.  Don’t believe the hype surrounding the pitfalls; it is really a very simple dish to perfect.

Smoky tomato and garlic spelt risotto with crumbled feta and pine nuts

2.) In some unwritten chef rulebook there exists the heinous concept that risotto can only be married to butternut squash or mushrooms. It’s not that I dislike either of these, but that I’m just crying out for some more original combination.

Smoky tomato and garlic spelt risotto with crumbled feta and pine nuts

Risotto doesn’t have to be made with rice either.  I use spelt (or farro) instead for numerous reasons: it has a lower GI, has a nuttier flavour, and has a more interesting texture.  It’s also a hundred times easier to cook well. Obviously, it isn’t strictly ‘risotto’, but the idea is similar.

Smoky tomato and garlic spelt risotto with crumbled feta and pine nuts

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp butter (15g)

2 medium onions, finely chopped

25g (about 8 cloves) garlic, crushed

2 tbsp sundried tomato paste

2 tsp sugar

2 tsp balsamic vinegar

1 tsp thyme (fresh or dried)

½ tsp chilli flakes

Grated zest of ½ lemon

¾ tsp smoked paprika

500g passata

250g pearled spelt (or farro)

750ml boiling water

3 tsp vegetable stock

80g toasted pine nuts

1 tsp lemon juice

100g feta

Handful of coriander, to serve

(Serves 4)

 

Method

  1. In a large pot, melt together the butter and oil. Add in the finely chopped onions and garlic, and cook over medium/high heat until the onions are soft and translucent.
  2. Stir in the sundried tomato paste, sugar, balsamic vinegar, thyme, chilli flakes, lemon zest, smoked paprika and a pinch of salt. Cook ingredients together for a couple of minutes.
  3. In a bowl, dissolve the stock in the boiling water, then pour roughly 250ml of this, together with the passata and spelt into the pot, and stir together on a medium heat.
  4. Stir every now then to prevent the spelt from sticking, and add the rest of the water, a ladleful at a time, at roughly 10 minute intervals.
  5. After 40-50 minutes, remove from the heat, stir in toasted pine nuts and lemon juice and season according to taste. The spelt grains should be soft all the way through with no chalkiness, and with some texture remaining.  Most of the water should have been absorbed or evaporated so the consistency is thicker than that of a soup, without being solid, and not thin enough to pour.
  6. To serve, crumble the feta over the top and scatter with coriander.

Smoky tomato and garlic spelt risotto with crumbled feta and pine nuts

 

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Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

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Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

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Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts  

I’ve unfortunately inherited a trait from my maternal grandfather’s family.  If a type of food appealed particularly to her palate, my great aunt would go all out.  A slender and statuesque woman, she was known to devour eight-egg omelettes.  This was followed by an extended fast.  My grandfather had a particular penchant for icing: no cake was safe.

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts 

My grandmother would often return home to find the once painstakingly iced cake denuded, perfectly, as if the precision of the stripping technique would make up for the action.  An entire crate of guavas went his way in one sitting, and his cupboard of chocolates had to be locked by him against himself.

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

Signs of this inherited characteristic were evident in me early on: for example, when I was seven, the target was a log of Chèvre which my mother had carelessly left unwrapped.  I gorged though the rind, through the crumbly outer ring, right to its buttery heart until the waxy wrapping lay completely bare.

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

The Erysichthon gene (see below) is a curse, and one not to be made light of.  It strikes, making foods seem so ambrosial to the cursed that consuming them becomes his or her sole focus.

 

 

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

But with the pleasure comes pain, because with the claws of the curse firmly embedded, one is forced to keep eating until what was once a source of unparalleled edible pleasure becomes one’s nemesis.  The scent, sometimes the very thought, of the offending food makes bile rise in my throat.  The only cure is time.

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

It has taken me fourteen years and one particularly outstanding meal to normalise my relationship with goat’s cheese.  I went to Rabbit (review to ensue shortly) which won me over with a beetroot crisp, topped with whipped goat’s cheese, honey comb and marjoram.  My knee-jerk reaction was to buy the recipe book of The Shed, Rabbit’s sister restaurant (on Amazon Prime - it was urgent).

 

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

With freshly unearthed enthusiasm for goat’s cheese, I pored over the book and found inspiration for this recipe.  It works wonderfully as a starter or cheese course.

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts  

The pan frying makes the Chèvre golden and crisp on the outside, and gloriously molten on the inside.  The balsamic vinegar and maple syrup caramelise together to form a sweet and sharp treacle which cuts through the saltiness and creaminess of the Chèvre, while the toasted hazelnuts add warmth and texture, and the thyme just leaves you coming back for more…and more…and more…

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts        

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

 

Ovid’s tale of King Erysichthon portrays him hubristically killing a nymph of Ceres, goddess of the harvest. His punishment was insatiable hunger which resulted in exhausting the wealth of his kingdom, selling his own daughter in exchange for food, and eventually devouring himself.  Maybe there’s a lesson here for me. Click here for the whole tale, one of the best in the Metamorphoses (line 741-887).

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts   

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts                  

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

Ingredients

300g log of Chevre goat’s cheese

2/3 tbsp Rapeseed oil (or enough to coat the bottom of a medium-sized non-stick frying pan)

100g hazelnuts (blanched if possible)

180ml balsamic vinegar

120ml maple syrup

60g unsalted butter

½ tsp salt

3 sprigs fresh thyme + 3 to sprinkle + 6 to serve

Serves 6 as a starter or cheese course

Method

  1. Preheat an oven to 200˚C. Gently crush the hazelnuts into halves either in a pestle and mortar or place in a bag and whack with a rolling pin.
  2. Place crushed hazelnuts on a baking tray and allow them to toast in the oven for 5 minutes or until golden.
  3. Set a small pan over a high heat and pour in balsamic, maple syrup, butter, salt, the leaves of the 3 sprigs of thyme and the toasted hazelnuts. Once it begins to boil reduce heat to a low temperature and allow to simmer while you cook the goat’s cheese.
  4. Place a medium sized non-stick frying pan over a high heat and pour in the rapeseed oil and allow it to heat for half a minute. Cut off the rind covered ends of the goat’s cheese and slice the log into 12 discs. Place these carefully into the pan and fry on medium-high heat for 2 minutes on each side or until crisp and golden.  Remove from heat and place two slices on each plate to serve.
  5. After 5 minutes simmering, the sauce ingredients should now have emulsified and turned more viscose (it will thicken further as it begins to cool). If it hasn’t reached this stage, turn up the heat and stir until glossy.  Beware of over boiling it as it will turn to a jam like texture.  You can retrieve it from this stage by thinning it with a few drops of balsamic.
  6. Drizzle the warm sauce over the hot goat’s cheese. Sprinkle with the leaves of the other 3 sprigs of thyme and then place one whole sprig over each portion to decorate.

Crispy molten goat’s cheese with caramelised, thyme-infused maple balsamic and toasted hazelnuts

 

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Beware Gluten-free + Recipe for Moroccan Style Chickpea Salad

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Beware Gluten-free + Recipe for Moroccan Style Chickpea Salad

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Moroccan Chickpea Salad
Moroccan Chickpea Salad

Yesterday, with cupboards almost bare, I resorted to the very strange assortment of ingredients remaining & concocted this salad.  It's low GI, wholesome, healthy, super quick to make, involves minimal cooking and is addictively flavoursome.

Moroccan Chickpea Salad
Moroccan Chickpea Salad
Moroccan Chickpea Salad
Moroccan Chickpea Salad

Ingredients

250g halloumi cheese cut into 1 cm cubes

1 tbsp. olive oil

400g chickpeas, drained

1 red onion, finely sliced

50g drained, sundried tomatoes, cut into narrow strips

150g cherry tomatoes, halved

40g fresh coriander, including stalks, finely chopped, plus a few sprigs extra for garnish

½ green chilli, finely sliced (optional)

Dressing

3 tbsp. lemon juice

2 tbsp. harissa

3 tsp. sundried tomato paste

2 cloves garlic, crushed

Freshly ground black pepper

Method

  1. Fry the cubes of halloumi in the olive oil until they are golden brown.
  2. Combine all the salad ingredients apart from the dressing, the chilli (if using), and the extra coriander for garnish.
  3. Mix the dressing ingredients until well combined.
  4. Shortly before serving the salad, mix the salad with the dressing, and sprinkle with the coriander and chilli.

(Serves 4 as an accompaniment)

BEWARE GLUTEN-FREE!

1 in 100 people in UK is coeliac .  1 in 20 people in UK is diabetic (http://www.diabetes.org.uk/Documents/Reports/Diabetes-in-the-UK-2012.pdf).

According to the Telegraph, 1 in 5 people is buying gluten-free products, but only 5% of these are buying the products due to coeliac disease.  The most common reasons for a non-coeliac buying the gluten-free products are listed as: “digestive health”, “nutritional value” and “to help me lose weight”.  These consumers are misguided. Everyone who can is cynically taking advantage by jumping aboard the gluten-free bandwagon: the British gluten-free market is worth £238 million annually (Food Standards Agency) and grew by more than 15 per cent last year. In the US, it is worth around $2.6 billion, a growth of 36 per cent since 2006, with predictions that it may double in size in the next two years.

It’s great that the gluten-free options are increasing for those who have coeliac disease, but the products that are tailored specifically to exclude gluten (bread, biscuits, pastas etc.) and targeted at non-coeliac sufferers are actually detrimental to one’s health.

Gluten-free does not mean that a product is ‘virtuous’ or in any way superior to its glutenous counterpart.

Unless you are coeliac, your body needs the vitamin B, iron and folates that are in gluten-containing grains such as barley, spelt and kamut. That is not to say that these should be had in excess, but they should not be entirely avoided.

Gluten-free products which have been made to substitute for the real bread, pasta, biscuits etc. may be worse for you than what they purport to replace: in order to imitate the gluten contained in their counterparts, the products have to be messed around with a lot more, often resulting in a significantly higher level of fat than their “normal” equivalents. For example, the gluten in bread allows it to maintain its shape and softness; to achieve the gluten-free equivalent, manufacturers often use additives like xanthan gum and hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose or corn starch. In addition, extra sugar and fat are often also added to make products more flavoursome.

It is not just the shops that are propagating the gluten-free message, taking advantage of people’s ignorance, but food bloggers and recipe websites are doing it too. The internet is saturated with gluten-free recipes, and more and more cooks are incorporating gluten-free recipes into their books.  Clearly, not a bad thing for coeliac sufferers.  There is, however, no transparency.  The breads that are made in imitation of the glutenous equivalent use a combination of flours.  For example, the Doves Farm’s gluten-free brown flour, with muted-tone, paper bag packaging promoting a wholesome brand image – consists of potato, rice, tapioca buckwheat, carob, sugar beet fibre, and xanthan gum.  Doesn’t sound too bad, you might think.  In fact, these combined ingredients create a product much higher on the Glycaemic Index (GI) than white flour.  The GI is not a fad diet but a measure of the rise in a person's blood sugar level following consumption of a carbohydrate.  The NHS recommends diabetics to have a low GI diet as low GI foods break down more slowly and are less likely to cause a rapid increase in blood sugar levels in contrast with high GI foods.  A low GI lifestyle is not solely beneficial for diabetics but for everyone.    Carbohydrates with high GI cause glucose and insulin levels to surge.  The body releases the hormone insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. If sugar is not quickly used for energy, insulin removes it from the blood, and it is then converted into triglycerides in the liver. These triglycerides can then be stored as body fat.  Standard white bread has a high GI of 71 on average.  Gluten-free white bread has a higher GI of 79.  Clearly, GI isn’t always a measure of other benefits that are derived from a product, but the fact that shops, companies, bakeries and bloggers are promoting gluten-free products as a virtuous substitute is deeply misleading – they are, in fact, pushing a product that spikes the levels of glucose in a consumer’s blood, causing fat gain, aiding the onset of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

So the question is why is “low GI” not trending? Why is #glutenfree posted on almost 3,000,000 photos on Instagram, and #lowGI only 18,000? Gluten-free products are not necessarily beneficial for your health. Surely there should be greater focus on the GI factor as well as greater transparency in relation to gluten-free products.

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Red Pepper Pesto & The Ultimate Sandwich: Mediterranean style

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Red Pepper Pesto & The Ultimate Sandwich: Mediterranean style

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focaccia2 (2) It started in exam term in my first year when everyone’s eyes were bloodshot and their eyelids quivering with panic and fear. The cool, white-lit aisles of M&S became a solace – I didn’t even need to buy anything. Drawn inexorably to my oasis, my first trip one day led me to a jar of red pepper pesto. I plunged a spoon into the glistening depths as soon as I made it back to my room, and in the grip of revision lunacy, it made sense to finish the jar - straight, without any interfering bread or cracker-like vehicle, and as fast as possible. It was savoury and creamy, but when the jar was empty and I stopped to analyse what I had just consumed, it was clear to me that the pesto was way too oily. I began to experiment with my own version, and I concluded that adding oil is entirely unnecessary. I think my version tastes fresh, summery, and light, with a hint of smokiness from the char grilled peppers. You can, of course, grill your own, but there are ready-made grilled peppers in jars that are remarkably good. It is incredibly easy to make: just one step, especially if you’re not going to the trouble of grilling your own peppers. It’s also versatile, and can be swirled into soups, couscous, quinoa, salads and pasta, and can be used as a mezze dip.

red pepper pesto The Mediterranean focaccia sandwich is the perfect platform for the red pepper pesto – it expands and rounds out the flavours of the filling ingredients, adding depth to the sandwich.

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Of course, freshly baked, homemade bread is a superior breed to most shop-bought equivalents, and really isn’t difficult to make. It’s not even time-consuming as it gets on with its own activities while you get on with yours. A little bit of punching down (of the dough) now and then is really not that onerous, and the smell of baking bread is well-documented.

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You can fill it with whatever Mediterranean, or indeed other, ingredients you wish.

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I loaded mine with roasted tomatoes, olives, mozzarella and torn basil, and of course the red pepper pesto. This is not just a sandwich…this is a meal.

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Red pepper pesto

Ingredients

10g garlic (4 cloves) peeled and crushed 40g pine nuts 40g basil (leaves & stalks) 40g parmesan, grated 3 roasted red peppers from a jar (200g) 2 tbsp sun dried tomato paste 1 tsp lemon juice ¼ tsp salt

Method

In a blender, whizz all the pesto ingredients together until combined but there is still some texture.

 

Focaccia (Adapted from Gail’s Artisan Bakery Cookbook)

Ingredients

Dough:

500g strong white bread flour 330ml room temperature water 50ml extra virgin olive oil 2 tsp salt 1 tsp caster sugar 10g fresh yeast or 5g dried active yeast 45g clear honey Extra oil and flour for greasing and dusting tin

Topping:

150ml olive oil 8 garlic cloves, crushed 3 sprigs fresh rosemary ½ tsp salt

1 tin 5cm x 24cm x 34cm, lined with baking parchment

Method

1. If using fresh yeast, cream it together with caster sugar in a bowl. It should turn creamy. If using dry yeast, add it in with rest of ingredients. 2. Sift flour into bowl of stand mixer fixed with dough hook attachment. Add rest of ingredients including the yeast. 3. Knead on slow speed for approximately 8 minutes, until dough is smooth, soft and springy. 4. Swirl the dough in an oiled bowl until coated. Cover with cling film and leave to rise in a warm place. 5. In the meantime, make the topping by mixing the oil with the salt and garlic, and allow it to steep. 6. After 45 minutes of rising, knock the dough down and cover it again with cling film. 7. Leave for another 45 minutes. Knock down, and leave for another 45 minutes. Knock down again. 8. Leave it to rise for a further 45 minutes, then stretch the dough to fit the tin and make dimples in the dough with your forefinger. Paint the dough with the garlic-infused oil, and sprinkle with rosemary needles. 9. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Leave the dough to rise for 20 minutes. 10. Bake for ten minutes, then reduce the heat to 180°C and bake for a further 10-15 minutes until golden and the bread is soft and springy. Remove the bread from the tin to check that the base of the bread is crisp and golden. If it isn’t, bake for a further five minutes or so. 11. Once the bread is baked, paint it again with the remainder of the garlic-infused olive oil and sprinkle with salt. 12. Place on wire rack to cool, or serve immediately.

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