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Cherry Vanilla Victoria Sponge Cake

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Cherry Vanilla Victoria Sponge Cake

This the perfect non-picnic picnic cake. It’s light with a cloudy vanilla sponge, and laced with fresh cherries which burst in your mouth and whose astringency perfectly cut through the smooth rich vanilla-cream. I keep the cherries fresh and unadulterated so as to keep the cake not too sweet, with a hint of cherry jam just to counter too much acidity.

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The Ultimate Chunky Chewy Triple Chocolate Caramel Cookies

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The Ultimate Chunky Chewy Triple Chocolate Caramel Cookies

In my dictionary definition of cookie, I’m going to be demanding. It needs to be thic(ccc)k so that each mouthful contains some of the promised flavours, be they chocolate, nut, or candy. I want it crisp on the outside so that when broken, it gives way to a chewy cookie-dough goo. If there’s chocolate or caramel, they need to be molten. They also need to have enough salt to balance the sweetness and add depth of flavour. 

And, after years of trials, the quest to create the perfect cookie becoming increasingly Sisyphean, I’ve done it. And you need to make them ASAP.

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Sea Salt & Rosemary Focaccia (vegan)

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Sea Salt & Rosemary Focaccia (vegan)

Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia

Here is a recipe for a focaccia that is not a futon i.e. mean, hard and thin. It’s the emperor of mattresses: the dimples are deep, the texture is soft yet springy, and there is no scratchy dryness that a futon focaccia may have but, rather, a balmy olive oil-enriched crumb.

Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia
Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia

Having had a few scarring experiences with the brittle, mouth-desiccating, hard mats that parade as focacce (even in their Italian heartlands), this recipe is not only sublime but a protest against my negative experiences.

Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia
Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia

And while I’m singing its virtues, I have to stress that it’s ridiculously easy to make. Bread-making has such a bad press in terms of time, effort and skill required, but it is all a conspiracy to get you to buy the overpriced, chemical–laden, factory produced supermarket types. All you need to do is hang around a bit and the yeast does all the work for you. Total contact time with focaccia is only about 15minutes - the rest of the time is just a matter of rising or baking (or eating).

Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia

I make this with spelt which lowers the GI and adds a little nuttiness. You can play around with the toppings: rosemary is traditional, but you can add caramelised onion, parmesan, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, sage…whatever you wish.

I like to make a lot in one go and freeze the loaves sliced, so you can dip into them when you please. But if you want to make fewer, just halve or third the ingredients.

Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia

Recipe  - makes 3 loaves (or mattresses)

Ingredients

14g dried active yeast (2 sachets) or 25g fresh yeast

2 tbsp sugar

675ml lukewarm water

4 tbsp olive oil, for the dough + 3 tbsp for topping

1kg white spelt flour (or plain, if not available)

2 ½ tsp normal salt

1 tbsp coarse sea salt

4 sprigs of rosemary

 

3 x 25cm square cake/bread tins (or tins with the equivalent area), greased with olive oil

 

Method

1)    If using fresh yeast, cream it together in a large bowl with the sugar until it turns to liquid. Then, stir in the water and oil. If using dried active yeast, mix it with the sugar and water, and let it sit in a warm place for five minutes to activate. Then, stir in the oil.

2)    Into the wet ingredients, stir in the flour and salt –it should form a sticky, craggy mass. If you have a stand mixer, fit it with the dough hook and knead the dough for five minutes. If you are making the bread by hand, pour the dough on to a lightly floured board and knead until smooth and springy, so that it bounces back when pressed.  I like to use the dough hook for most of the kneading, take it out when it's almost done and finish by hand. 

3)    Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film and allow to rise for about 1 to 1 ½ hours until doubled in size.

4)    Punch down the dough (so. much. fun.) and divide it into three. Stretch each piece of dough in its tin so that it is even in depth and reaches the sides (you may need to do a bit of pummeling to do this). Then, sprinkle over the rosemary and olive oil and dimple the dough with your fingers, pressing almost to the bottom of the tin. Allow to rise for a further 45 minutes to an hour until almost doubled in size. 

5)    Preheat the oven to 200C.  Then, sprinkle the breads with coarse sea salt, and place in the oven to bake for 12-15 minutes, or until deep golden in colour and crunchy on top. Remove from the oven and place on a baking rack to cool. Best eaten on day of baking (which is usually inevitable as testament to their deliciousness). Or place in an air-tight box and freeze for up to 3 months.

Vegan Rosemary Sea Salt Focaccia

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Vanilla Berry Oatmeal Loaves (refined sugar-free)

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Vanilla Berry Oatmeal Loaves (refined sugar-free)

The ideal combo of oatmeal, pancake and muffin. They’re protein and fibre-full and naturally sweet (no refined sugar), bursting with berries (zero dryness here) and filling. They’re quick to make, and super convenient as they can be made in advance, frozen and defrosted when cravings strike. They also look rather irresistible on any breakfast table, so great for when you have guests.

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Salted Caramel & Peanut Chocolate Tart

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Salted Caramel & Peanut Chocolate Tart

I wanted chocolate. I wanted peanuts. I wanted caramel. And so came together three revered ingredients to make this simple but deeply luscious dessert. I admit to a glimmer of inspiration from the Season 11 contestant of RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant, the drag queen with the moniker Silky Nutmeg Ganache. But apart from that, I attribute this recipe to greed.

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Mozzarella, Tomato & Basil Crostata

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Mozzarella, Tomato & Basil Crostata

This is my favourite meal and has been since I was three – the precocious (and pretentious, no doubt) answer to my friends’ parents’ question as to my favourite food. Apart from the fact that there really isn’t anything fancy about it, it’s crazily simple to make. Despite being pastry-based and with a molten bed of mozzarella, it is very light, and perfect for a gathering.

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Thick & Chewy Spice Cookies

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Thick & Chewy Spice Cookies

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OK, so I’m going to tell you about a brilliant new diet to ensure you lose all that Christmas flab.

It throws 5:2, Keto, raw food, Mediterranean and intermittent fasting out of the window. If you’re disillusioned with all those malware-laden pop up adverts on illegal streaming sites that you secretly clicked on promising flat belly magic trick, let me right that for you.

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After some hardcore, scientific studies on how people gain weight, which foods trigger fat gain and how we’re rotting our metabolism, my dad had an epiphany and realised that all these diets were ignoring the obvious.

All those Instagram/YouTube stars chronicling the secrets to peachy bums, thigh gaps, hotdog legs and concave stomachs have been holding back their industry secrets. It’s not food groups that need to be cut out, but letters. All the foods (and often drinks) that stand in the way of a lean, rippling bikini bod have something in common: biscuits, cookies, bread, chocolate, cake, bagels, beer, cocktails, champagne, and brownies. Yes. That’s right – you’ve wasted money and/or time logging on to My Fitness Pal, consulting dieticians, and calorie counting when I have just given you the secret to fat loss. Cut out the Bs and Cs and you are on your way to fitfluencer stardom.

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Pregnancy is the benchmark by which weight gain is measured in my household, and my dad came back from India in his second trimester.

Turns out feasting on gulab jamun, breakfast, lunch and dinner dosas, curry upon curry, daily afternoon tea and even straight up jaggery does that to you. This drastic increase from two to five months’ gestation in the space of two weeks, plus a stomach of steel allowing evasion of the revolting bug that had churned up the rest of my family’s insides, meant that a new diet and regime was mandatory. And when my dad commits to something, he is an all-or-nothing person. And let me tell you, cutting out B and C foods is far easier than you might think. In fact, it’s practically seamless. Don’t worry about cheat meals or relapses because this is a diet that works perfectly with whatever lifestyle you were already leading. 

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My dad’s commitment to the diet has been so fervent and admirable that when I offered him a Jerusalem bagel (from last week) he refused.

He heroically turned down the molten chocolate brownies that I brought into work. He didn’t even respond to me when the exotic perfume of these thick, soft and chewy spice cookies wafted round the house (commendable).

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You see the diet works so well that if you’re clever about it, and careful, you don’t really need to sacrifice anything at all.

His resolve has been so strong that cookies are now banned from our house, as are bagels, biscuits, chocolate and brownies. 

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Instead, we have a whole inventory of agels, and iscuits, hocolate and rownies and ookies.

My dad has had five of these spice ookies today and he’s still fully committed to the diet - and so can you. Just like that one calorie that gets left floating in the can when you have diet coke, so all the muffin-top inducing calories are left behind when the B and C’s are seamlessly spliced from your favourite treat.

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This is the diet to be on because these (c)ookies are the ambrosia of the (c)ookie world – they’re a one bowl wonder and can be whizzed up in a matter of minutes.

There’s no freezing, chilling or resting meaning that they can go from flour packet to final product-in–mouth in about half an hour (pausing en route for some of that dough). I know cookies can be a very subjective, personal and emotional topic, but these are undeniably the top tier: slightly crisp on the outside and soft thic(cc)k and chewy. If you fear that the batch may disappear before you get a look in, feel free to double it – the results will be the same.  They can also be stored in an airtight container in a freezer for up to three months which is ideal if you want to whip them out for unexpected occasions (emergencies). 

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Thick & Chewy Spice Cookies - Recipe

Makes 12-14 cookies

Ingredients

220g white spelt flour (or plain white flour, if you prefer)

2 ½ tsp baking powder

60g caster sugar

1 tsp ground ginger

½ tsp ground cloves

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 ½ tsp baking soda

100g unsalted butter, at room temperature, roughly cut into cubes

100g golden syrup

20g treacle

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp mixed spice

 

large baking tray lined with baking parchment

 

Method

1)    Preheat oven to 160°C.

2)    If using a food processor (super quick), pour in all the dry ingredients and whizz to combine. Then add in the butter and pulse until the mixture becomes like damp sand. If making by hand, in a large bowl stir together dry ingredients. Then add in the butter and rub into the dry mixture with your fingertips until it reaches a damp sand-like consistency.

3)    In a small pan over a low heat, pour in the syrup and treacle, and stir until combined and warm. Pour into the sand-like mixture, and pulse until it just about comes together into a dough, taking care not to over mix. If making by hand, pour the treacle into the sand-like mixture, and stir together until it forms a dough.

4)    Make the cookies by breaking off pieces of the dough with your hands and rolling them into a sphere. I make each one 35g to ensure that they bake consistently. Then space the spheres on a baking tray at least 5cm apart. Place in the preheated oven to bake for 8-12 minutes until golden but soft to the touch. They will continue to bake once removed from the oven so taking them out slightly underdone ensures that they have a chewy centre. 

5)    Allow to cool before eating (they will be too friable when straight out of the oven), then devour. Once cool, they can be kept in a sealed airtight box in a freezer for up to 3 months.

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Vegan Sesame Jerusalem Bagels

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Vegan Sesame Jerusalem Bagels

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Do your ears hang low? Well, attached or unattached, furry or fuzzy, chunky or petite, this recipe is an ode to the earlobe.

Specifically, it is a celebration of stretched earlobes, whether those of an 85-year-old glamazon who refuses to compromise on opulence in pursuit of practicality or pain avoidance, and has transformed the once-small piercing pin pricks into gaping chasms by the weight of her bejewelled, solid gold hoops. Or the nonchalant indie who has plugged and gouged and strained their lobes to form human wind tunnels.

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Like stretched lobes, these sesame studded bagels are not your standard chewy round.

They are a rare sight in the UK, only occasionally vaguely mimicked by the odd fougasse dangling in the windows of French bakeries. Though related to those that are more common sighted, Jerusalem bagels are elegantly elongated, less chewy, more fluffy, yet with a crusty exterior (I’m on the topic of bread now, not lobes).  And the Jerusalem bagel is in no way a lesser version – being a rarer breed and a much more fun shape to nibble (yes, still on bagels), I actually prefer them. They are also easier to bake: the absence of the boiling stage means less room for error, and no witch-hunting of wet doughy rounds, bobbing up and down and falling apart in vats of boiling water.

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 If you are intimidated by bread-baking, do not be.

These are extremely simple, and though the process from flour to end-product takes a while, they are very undemanding in terms of action – the sesame seed dipping is, in fact, rather satisfying from a pre-school art class perspective.  Feel free to halve the mixture if you want fewer bagels, though they are so delicious and addictive it’s probably not worth it.... Also, do have a play around with ingredients: you could try poppy, flax, sunflower, or nigella seeds, as well as sprinkling the bagels with cheddar cheese or parmesan if you aren’t vegan.

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Makes 20

Ingredients

750ml warmed, unsweetened almond milk (can substitute with oat, or another neutral-flavoured, unsweetened plant-based milk)

21g active dry instant yeast (3 sachets)

60g caster sugar

500g strong white flour (+ extra flour for dusting surfaces)

500g white spelt flour

4 tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

1 tbsp olive oil

 

100g white sesame seeds

15g black sesame seeds

4 tbsp boiling water

2 tbsp pomegranate molasses

1 tbsp agave syrup (or honey if you’re not vegan)

 

3 baking trays lined with baking parchment

 

Method

1)    In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook, or in a large stand-alone bowl, stir together warmed milk, yeast and sugar. Pour in all the flour (apart from that to be used for dusting the surface), salt and baking powder and stir to combine into dough.  

2)    If using a mixer, knead the dough for about five minutes on a low speed with a dough hook. If making by hand, pour the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and knead by hand until soft, smooth and springy. It may be slightly sticky, but try to avoid adding too much flour as this will make the bagels dry and tough. Even if I use the dough hook, I take the dough out to knead by hand for the last minute. 

3)    Coat the inside of a bowl with the olive oil, place the dough inside and cover with cling film or a tea towel. Allow to rise in a warm place for about an hour, or until it has doubled in size.

4)    When the dough has risen, punch it down and turn it on to a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 20 pieces. You can approximate this by quartering the dough and dividing each quarter into five pieces. Or you can weigh it: each piece should be about 85g. Then gently roll each into a ball. To make the Jerusalem bagel shape, take each ball of dough and press your thumb through the centre to create a hole. Whilst keeping the dough even in diameter, gently stretch the hole into an oval so the bagel is about 11 cm long. Place each back on the floured surface and allow to rest and rise for 15 minutes.

5)    Preheat the oven to 200C. Make the topping by mixing the water, pomegranate molasses and agave/honey in a bowl. Then pour the mixture into a small tray or large flat-based bowl. On another tray, mix together the black and white sesame seeds (or whichever other seeds you are using). Taking each bagel lobe, dip it first (on one side only) into the water molasses mix, then into the sesame, so that one side is coated in sesame seeds. Then place it on the tray lined with baking parchment. If the bagel stretches a bit, that is fine. Repeat with the rest of the bagels, spacing them at least 3 or 4cm apart, and allow them to rest again for a further 10 minutes. 

6)    Place them in the oven to bake for 10-15 minutes until they are deep golden and crusty on the outside. Once baked, transfer the bagels to a baking rack to cool. They are best eaten on the day of baking (and it will be a miracle if they last beyond a day). However, if you want to save them for another time, you can freeze them as soon as they have cooled for up to three months in an airtight container.

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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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Roasted Strawberry & Vanilla Cake

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Roasted Strawberry & Vanilla Cake

...& 14 Thoughts from the Kitchen Sink

From the moronic to the morbid, here’s an insight into what happens when I bake and let my mind wander:

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-      Drowning in a vat of sticky bread dough would probably be the worst way to die.

-      When you sieve icing sugar and it puffs into the air in clouds, how many calories are there in one mouthful of air?

-      Why do so many obscure meats taste like chicken and not beef?

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-      What is the significance of sometimes craving baby food - especially rusks, and pureed apple and banana?

-      Why do we delude ourselves that avocado on toast has been ‘smashed’?  I’ve never seen anyone smash an avocado.  I suppose ‘smeared’ doesn’t have the same ring to it.

-      If I could subsist on one food for the rest of my life it would most likely be oats.

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-      Nandos’ ‘hot’ sauce is anachronistic.  It was created about 20 years ago and people’s (i.e.my brother’s and my) tolerance for heat has gone up.  They should downgrade it to ‘medium’.

-      What was the exact moment when someone decided to put sugar, milk, butter and flour together to make the very first cake?

-      How do you know nigella seeds are nigella seeds and not mouse droppings?

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-      If 2017 was the year of slime porn, why can’t 2018 be the year of dough porn? 

-      Earlier this year some pig farmers tried to halt the use of pig terminology as connotative of greed.  Imagine if other farmers were to do the same: we couldn’t exclaim something was cheesy, or call people ugly cows, or ask people with whom we’re angry if they want beef, or complain that bland people are vanilla, or exclaim that someone is mutton dressed up as lamb, or taunt cowards as being chicken…

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-      How many times in my life has a waiter spat in my food on purpose?

-      Why do I have six jars of preserved lemons in my cupboard when I only use a small shaving of one once a year?

-      The smell of freshly baked bread should be a perfume.

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That’s enough musing for one day.

Here’s the recipe for an exceedingly luscious cake. It is succulent, and filled with roasted strawberries so that there is at least one deliquescing in every bite. The berries on the surface turn almost jam-like in the oven.  Absurdly quick and easy to make, it is totally moreish. 

NB. This cake can be made gluten-free by substituting the flour for gluten free. 

Luscious Strawberry cake  

Serves 6-8 (depending on level of greed)

Ingredients

85g unsalted butter, at room temperature

160g caster sugar + 2 tbsp for the topping

1 large egg

120ml milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

190g white spelt flour (or gluten-free equivalent)

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

400g strawberries, after having been hulled and halved

20cm diameter round springform cake tin, either totally lined with baking parchment (if you’re feeling lazy and you don’t mind crinkly cake sides), or thoroughly greased with butter and the base lined with a circle of baking parchment

 

Method

1)   Preheat the oven to 180°C. 

2)   Either by hand or in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter and sugar together until soft, light and fluffy (which should take about three minutes).  Then pour in the egg, milk and vanilla extract and beat to combine. It may look slightly curdled but that is not a problem.

3)   Into the wet ingredients sieve the flour, baking powder and salt. Gently fold the dry ingredients through until the batter is smooth and fully combined.  Pour into the prepared cake tin.

4)   Arrange the strawberries cut side down in the batter. You make need to overlap some or push some down to fit them all in. Sprinkle the 2 tbsp of caster sugar over the top and place in the oven. 

5)   Bake for 45-55 minutes (depending on oven), checking after 30 minutes. You may need to cover the top with aluminium foil if the surface looks at risk of becoming too dark. When ready, the top should be a deep gold and a cake tester should come out batterless (moisture from the strawberries will prevent it from coming out totally clean).

6)   Allow to cool on a wire rack and devour on the day, or within two days, of baking.

(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

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Spring Pea, Spinach & Mint Soup

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Spring Pea, Spinach & Mint Soup

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Nowadays we have the fired-up drama, programmes that are lurid, sweary, and sweaty: Iron Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, the straw-haired, backward-sunglass wearing entity that is Guy Fieri. I still find myself sucked into the carefully contrived vortex of dramatics, where someone burns their hand off or the climax is a grotesquely-sized burger oozing with cellulite-whispering cheese.

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But I have an enduring appreciation for the most simple of concepts that were the foundation for many of today’s cooking programmes: green peppers, red tomato; Ainsley Harriet, metre long streams of oil with one arm tucked behind his back; clotted nests of finely spun sugar; dishes named with achingly tenuous puns. Sometimes I long for those days of Ready Steady Cook in its original format. Particularly captivating was the down to earth “quickie bag” challenge: a handful of seasonal ingredients, an on-the-spot declaration of the dish to be conjured up, followed by a frenzied 10 minutes to make good on the promise. 

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It was raw, unedited, unscripted and exposed – a rare combination these days. And that challenge which has now mutated into the MasterChef mystery box challenge is one that I try to set myself every time the contents of the fridge begin to look pitiful. One man’s debris can be another’s feast. All it requires is a little creativity and imagination (unless your fridge stocks only alcohol, like that of several people I know…).

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This soup is so simple that it could almost have been formulated from one of these challenges. The ingredients are few, but their freshness and the way they are only lightly cooked, enhances the flavours. In the UK, we have been starved of spring, but this soup will help compensate in its exuberant and zingy viridity.

Although they are to be enjoyed alongside the soup, the Parmesan spelt crackers featured in the photos are by no means a sideshow, and I shall follow up with the recipe for them. They are frighteningly addictive – I unwittingly crunched through half a batch in one hour.

NB: this can be made vegan by substituting olive oil for butter.

 

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Ingredients (serves 4)

50g butter (substitute with 3 tablespoons olive oil if making vegan)

1 large potato, scrubbed but not peeled, and diced

3 cloves garlic

4 sticks celery, roughly chopped

30g sugar

Large sprig fresh thyme

100ml white wine

1 litre vegetable stock.  (I use Marigold, which is also available as vegan recipe)

500g frozen peas

20g fresh mint, leaves stripped from stalks

100g fresh baby spinach leaves, washed

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp ground black pepper

Method

1. Melt butter over medium heat, or gently heat the olive oil

2. Add potato, garlic, celery, sugar, thyme and pinch salt and pepper, and sweat together for about 10 minutes or until the potato is soft, stirring from time to time

3. Add the wine, and cook until the liquid has reduced by roughly one third

4. Add the stock, and bring the mixture to the boil. Keep boiling for 4 minutes

5. Remove the thyme, add the mint leaves, spinach and peas to the boiling mixture, and remove the pot from the heat immediately

6. Blitz in the liquidizer. Adjust the seasoning, and serve warm. 

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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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Raspberry & Orange Financiers

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Raspberry & Orange Financiers

Entremets, soufflés, macarons, choux buns - even making ciabatta, a two day process, which culminates in a dough whose tenacious elasticity has been known to reduce some people to tears - I’ve generally met their challenges.

However, hubris met nemesis a couple of weeks ago. I came home to the nutty toasted perfume of a new recipe my mom had tried out: ridiculously simple, five ingredient coconut wafers so thin you could see the sunset through them, so tender that they crumbled in anticipation of hitting one’s tongue, and so light and moreish that a second batch was immediately required in order to satisfy my family’s greed.

I duly crumbed, clumped, chilled, and sliced.  “Make them thinner,” my mom said. And I did, each slice crumbling into thousands of buttery coconut crumbs. I pressed them together and started again. And again. Unfortunately, it was only my patience that turned out thin, and the petulant three year old in me ended up scooping together the entire mixture and, from a height, throwing it down onto the tray.

Finally, I managed to get the fragments to coagulate by adding water. Things went more smoothly, but the biscuits, when baked, were slightly tougher, less flaky and less moreish than the original batch. Nevertheless, my brother took them to university. One of his friends, suffering from tonsillitis, reached into the box of biscuits, and in taking out one, touched many. The rest were binned, mostly due to the possibility of their having being infected with tonsillitis, but clearly not delicious enough to warrant risking it – a failure in my book.

After nursing my crumbled confidence for several days I swerved off the rocky path of coconut wafers to try my hand at financiers. I have always admired them - perfectly bite sized and innocent- looking with the flush of raspberry in the centre. They are also simple to make, requiring few ingredients, and turning out both delicious and delicate.

The history is much debated, but some say they were create by nuns of the Order of the Visitation and then adapted by a French baker, Lasne, to sell in the Parisian financial district where their almond content allowed them to keep well in the pockets of bankers. 

They are elegant and dainty, slightly crunchy on the outside, the tender blond crumb perfumed with a slight orange tang and moistened by the burst of raspberry.  They do keep rather well and would bless a summer’s picnic.

Recipe:

Makes 30 (approx)

50g unsalted butter

50g plain flour

160g icing sugar

140g ground almonds

1/2 tsp salt

200g egg whites (6 large eggs)

1/4 tsp almond extract

zest of 1/4 orange 

60g raspberries (minimum of 30 raspberries i.e. 1 per financier)

 Very well-greased and flour- dusted 3 x 12 hole mini cupcake tins (with 2.5cm diameter circles)  OR 1 to be used 3 times

Method:

  1. Melt the butter in a small pan over a medium heat. When completely melted, stir the bottom of the pan continuously until the butter turns a deep gold colour and nutty in aroma. Set aside to cool.
  2. Sieve the flour and icing sugar into large bowl. Stir in the ground almonds and salt. Once combined, pour in the egg whites, almond extract, zest and slightly cooled butter and stir to fully combine. Cover the bowl and allow the mixture to chill in the fridge for 2 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  4. Spoon the batter into the holes until each is two thirds full. Press a raspberry into the centre of each - the batter should rise to all the way to the top. 
  5. Place in the oven to bake for 10-12 minutes or until light gold in colour. Transfer to a wire rack to cool (to avoid them becoming soggy) or devour immediately. 

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MINI CHOCOLATE & RASPBERRY MERINGUES

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MINI CHOCOLATE & RASPBERRY MERINGUES

Mini Chocolate & Raspberry Meringues

According to most newspapers, January should be the month of indulgence deprivation. With the weather cold, grey and bleak, we’re being told that now is the time to eliminate everything that affords even a hint of pleasure. I admit that it may be time for me to cut down on the panettone habit: I caught myself tearing off fleecy chunks of the ambrosial, yellow, sultana-studded fluff and crowding my mouth until it overflowed. 

Mini chocolate & raspberry meringue

My brother actually created a time-saving method which anticipated the bolus of food that would develop in the gullet by compressing the panettone in his hands first before devouring. I was impressed.

Mini chocolate & raspberry meringue
Mini chocolate & raspberry meringue

Fortunately, but lamentably, my mother prevented me from importing from Italy to England the 5 kg of panettone that I’d bought (with the pretence of giving as gifts). To cope with the withdrawal symptoms, I made these instead.  

Mini chocolate & raspberry meringue
Mini chocolate & raspberry meringue

I refuse to deprive myself of pleasure - these can be a happy halfway house. So numerous that they can be popped into the mouth in one without anyone noticing that the supply has been reduced, so light that they can be enjoyed without having to loosen waistbands to accommodate them, and so small that they make gorgeous bejewelled petit fours at dinner parties without the guilt attached, in my case, to eating an entire pavlova.  

Mini chocolate & raspberry meringue
Mini Chocolate & Raspberry Meringues
Mini Chocolate & Raspberry Meringues

The dark chocolate base adds a touch of sophistication and slight bitterness to undercut the sweetness, and the raspberry provides that much needed astringency to cut through it. Crunch, creaminess, chocolate and tang, all in one mouthful – who needs 5kg of panettone? 

Mini Chocolate & Raspberry Meringues
Mini Chocolate & Raspberry Meringues
Mini Chocolate & Raspberry Meringues

Ingredients

(makes 70 mini meringues - halve the recipe if you would like fewer)

90g egg white (the whites of 3 large eggs)

175g caster sugar

150g good quality dark chocolate (70%)

200ml double cream

350g raspberries (approximately 1 per meringue)

30g icing sugar (optional)

2 large baking sheets lined with baking parchment

A piping bag fitted with a round 1cm nozzle to be used twice: first to pipe the meringue, and then the cream.  It can be marginally larger or smaller than 1cm. If you lack a piping bag, you can use a freezer bag and cut off a corner to replicate a 1 cm sized nozzle.

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 130°C. Pour egg whites into an electric mixer fitted with a whisk and whisk on high speed until soft peaks form.  It should be foamy in appearance.
  2. Switch the speed to medium-high and pour in caster sugar one tablespoon at a time. Once each tablespoon has dissolved into the mass of egg white, add the next. Keep whisking until the meringue forms hard peaks and is glossy i.e. the meringue should hold its shape when drawn into peaks with a spoon and the tracks of the whisk are visible in its surface.
  3. Spoon the meringue mixture into the piping bag.  Holding the nozzle at a right angle to the baking parchment, pipe 3cm diameter sized meringue peaks onto the parchment in rows, leaving 3cm between each one (they expand slightly as they bake). Place in the oven and cook for 45 minutes, checking after 30 minutes. Once cooked, switch the oven off and allow to sit for another 15 minutes in the oven. They should remain pale and be crisp on the outside and slightly soft in the centre. Remove cooled meringues from the oven, and set them aside.
  4. Break the chocolate into pieces and place in a bowl over a pot of simmering water. Don't allow the water to touch the base of the chocolate bowl. Don't melt the chocolate directly in a pan on the stove as this causes it to seize. Allow to melt, stirring occasionally until glossy and smooth. Remove from the heat. Lightly holding the meringues at the sides with thumb and forefinger, dip the base of each meringue into the molten chocolate so that it coats the base and up to 1cm on the sides of the meringue. Place the dipped meringues back on to the baking parchment. Once the whole batch is coated, place the tray in the freezer for 10 minutes to allow them to set.
  5. In an electric mixer fitted with a whisk (or by hand if you’re feeling strong), whisk the cream until thickened. The tracks of the whisk should be visible and it should hold light peaks. Spoon the cream into a piping bag and pipe about a teaspoon of cream on to each meringue. Place a raspberry on each cream peak, face down. Sieve icing sugar over, if desired, and serve. 
  6. Best eaten on the day but the meringues without topping can be kept in an airtight container for a couple of weeks in a cool dry cupboard, and for a month in the freezer.
Mini Chocolate & Raspberry Meringues

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Cinnamon Apple Crumble Pies

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Cinnamon Apple Crumble Pies

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This is the cinnamon apple crumble pie 2.0. Tried, tested, and enhanced...Cinnamon Apple Crumble Pies Soft, crunchy, crumbly, fresh, sweet, and on the cusp of sour – the Gail’s Bakery apple crumble cake is what I crave.  It’s the ultimate winter treat, although I gaze longingly through the bakery window at them year-round.

Cinnamon Apple Crumble Pies

 

 

Cinnamon Apple Crumble PiesI bought the Gail’s Artisan Bakery Cookbook a few months ago in the hope that they had divulged the secret of their signature apple crumble cake. They hadn’t.

Cinnamon Apple Crumble PiesCinnamon Apple Crumble Pies

As a result I’ve just had to develop my own recipe – more wholesome, with more cinnamon and less sugar, I’ve heard they may even be superior…

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Cinnamon Apple Crumble Pies

Cinnamon Apple Crumble Pies

Cinnamon Apple Crumble Pies

 

Ingredients

(Makes 15)

Pastry

320g (11.3 oz) wholegrain spelt flour

110g (3.9oz) icing sugar

2 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp salt

165g (5.8oz) butter, roughly chopped into cubes

1 large egg, beaten

Apple Filling

700 (1lb 5oz) grams of peeled, cored and coarsely grated Bramley apples (about 3 large apples)

70g (2.5oz) caster sugar

Crumble topping

80g (2.8oz) wholegrain spelt flour

45g (1.6oz) oats

45g (1.6oz) caster sugar

50g (1.7oz)  butter

2 tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp salt

15 hole muffin/cupcake tin, greased (usually they come in 12s, in which case you will need 2 x muffin trays

 

Method

Pastry

  1. In a blender, blitz together dry ingredients. Then add in the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles damp sand. Pour in the egg and continue to pulse until the mixture clumps together into a dough. Avoid mixing it more than necessary.
  2. Flatten the dough roughly into a disc and wrap in cling film or baking parchment. Chill in the freezer while you make the other elements.

Apple Filling

  • Place all ingredients in a pan and stir over a high heat for about 5 minutes until the apple turns soft but some texture still remains.  Strain the mixture using a sieve, pressing down to get rid of excess liquid (about 250ml, which incidentally tastes like a delicious mulled cider).  Set aside to cool.

Crumble

  • Place all ingredients in a blender and pulse until the mixture resembles damp sand.

Assembly

  1. Preheat an oven to 180˚C.
  2. On a floured surface, roll out the chilled pasty to a thickness of 0.5cm. Cut the pastry into circles with an area similar to that of the muffin tin holes (about 8-10cm), and press each circle in the holes. You may need to patchwork the pieces together.
  3. Prick the pastry lining the muffin holes with a fork, and bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes, or cooked through and beginning to golden slightly.
  4. Take the tin out of the oven and spoon 2tbsp of the cooked apple into each pastry shells. Top the cakes by spooning a few tablespoons of the crumb topping over each cake, patting it down and then sprinkling the rest of the mixture over.  I like to clump some of it together before scattering it over in order to add further texture and rustic appeal.
  5. Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes until the crumble topping is golden and crisp. Serve hot or cold.

Cinnamon Apple Crumble Pies

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Morroccan Spiced Linzer Jam Cookies

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Morroccan Spiced Linzer Jam Cookies

Afternoon tea.  What do you think of when someone says those words? Tiers of fluffy isosceles sandwiches, miniature entremets layered with fruit, caramel, and chocolate, and maybe a scone glistening with strawberries.  Crisp napkins, high ceilings, the tinkling of fine bone china…

Near where I live there is an Austrian tea room.  The window is filled with garish glace cherry- adorned, deflated pastries, crusted squiggles of festering cream, and opera cake melding into a brown sludge. It opened 60 years ago, and the décor and pastries appear not to have been refreshed since.

Morroccan Spiced Linzer Jam Cookies

Inside, it is dark and cramped, and the airless atmosphere is thickened with hot breath and the oversweet smell of fat and sugar.

Their Linzer biscuits, however, remind me of Jammie Dodgers – those jam-filled, shortbread biscuits of my childhood that only other people’s mothers allowed – and inspired me to re- interpret them. 

These have a slight Moroccan edge: spiced, delicate with a slight chewiness, filled with the tangy conserve of your choice.

I like marmalade for the tart/bitter contrast against the sweetness of the pastry, but strawberry also works well.  Of course, you can go for any shape, but I am rather taken by the cog-like –quirky take on a Jammie Dodger look.

Ingredients

290g (10.125 ounces) white spelt flour (or plain flour if unavailable)

140g (5 ounces) ground almonds

100g (3.5 ounces) caster sugar

¼ tsp salt

2 ½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp ground cloves

¼ tsp almond extract

1 tsp grated lemon zest (about ½ lemon)

1 tsp grated orange zest (about ½ medium orange)

225g (8 ounces) unsalted butter

200g (7 ounces) marmalade or jam of choice (I used marmalade and strawberry)

30g (1 ounce) icing sugar

Large and small cookie cutters (I used 7cm and 3.5cm diameter rings)

2 large baking sheets, lined with baking parhcment

Method

  1. Pour flour, ground almonds, caster sugar, salt cinnoman, cloves,orange and lemons zest, and almond extract into a food processor and pulse until fully combined.  Add in the chopped butter and pulse again until the mixture forms a damp sand-like texture.  Keep pulsing until it clumps tighter to form a dough.
  2. Divide the dough into two rounds and flatten both onto sheets of baking parchment, wrap them and place them in the freezer for about 20 minutes or the fridge for an hour.
  3. Preheat the oven to 160˚C (325˚F). Remove the disks of dough from the freezer/fridge – if they are too firm to roll, let them sit for a few minutes.  Ona thoroughly floured board, roll one disk out to a 3mm (1/8 inch) thickness. Cut out as many cookies as possible and set aside the scraps.  Space the disks out on the baking trays as you go. Repeat with the second disk and use the smaller cutter to cut out small holes from the rounds.  Press together the accumulated scraps and roll out again.  Make sure there are an equal number of whole circles to circles with a cut out circle.  A tip to avoid the cutter sticking in the dough is to dip it in flour first.
  4. Place the trays in the oven and bake for 12- 15 minutes until the cookies are golden but still soft to the touch – they will continue to cook as they cool. When cool, for aesthetic effect, sieve the icing sugar onto the rounds with the circles cut out of them. Then spread a teaspoon of the jam/marmalade onto the complete circles, and lightly press the cut-out layer on top.  Devour, delicately, of course…
Morroccan Spiced Linzer Jam Cookies
Morroccan Spiced Linzer Jam Cookies

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Strawberry Crumble Bars

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Strawberry Crumble Bars

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Strawberry Crumble Bars What’s your crumble-to-fruit ratio?  If you’re the kind who favours a preponderance of stewed fruit with an insubstantial fairy dusting of oaty-flour, turn away now.  If you lean towards the lavish when it comes to crumble proportion - good.  Read on…

Strawberry Crumble Bars

Strawberry Crumble Bars Strawberry Crumble Bars

I have experienced many a crumble: from damson to mulberry to cherry to apple, from autumn to winter to spring to summer. But regardless of the lusciousness of the interior, the crumbles that garner the most attention, that leave people scratching way at the remaining crumbs that have become forged to the side of the pan in yearning for more, are the ones with a superabundance of crumble topping.

Strawberry Crumble Bars

Crunchy, nutty, warming and eminently comforting – this is what a good crumble should be.  Enough so that you don’t worry about rationing the crumble in your bowl to suit the amount of fruit – enough so that every mouthful has a good proportion of both.

IMG_5024A good crumble, as with so many things, should leave you wanting more.

Strawberry Crumble Bars

But what if you don’t want to have to face the risk of eating the whole pot by mistake – or at least you if do want to be able to eat the whole lot, do so in a more measured way?

Strawberry Crumble Bars

What if you want to extend the experience beyond the comfort of your kitchen i.e. a portable crumble?

Strawberry Crumble Bars

Try these – fruity, nutty, fresh, and summery, with a subtle tang and not overly-sweet.  They are extremely quick and easy to make and, more importantly, the crumble–to-fruit ratio is verging on perfect…

Strawberry Crumble Bars

 

Ingredients

Base

115g sugar

½ tsp baking powder

210g white spelt flour (substitute any flour of your choice: plain, gluten-free or otherwise)

115g unsalted butter, roughly chopped

½ egg

¼ tsp salt

Finely grated zest of 1/2 orange

Juice of ½ orange

2 generous cups of strawberries, quartered

1 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp cornstarch

1 tsp vanilla bean paste (substitute with 1 tsp of vanilla bean extract if unavailable)

 

Crumble topping

20g unsalted butter

40g sugar

70g oats

30g finely chopped walnuts (remove if allergic)

50g white spelt flour (substitute with any flour of your choice, plain, gluten-free or otherwise)

Pinch of salt

20cm x 20cm tin lined with baking parchment (or a pan of similar area)

 

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 190˚C. Pour sugar, baking powder, flour, salt, and zest in a blender and pulse to combine.  Add butter and egg, and pulse until fully combined and has reached a slightly clumpy, damp sand consistency.  Pour this into the lined baking pan, and press down to create an even base layer.
  2. In a bowl, stir together chopped strawberries, orange juice, orange zest and cornstarch. Sprinkle evenly over the base layer (including the fruit juices.)
  3. Make the topping by pulsing together the butter, sugar, oats, flour and salt until fully combined and sand-like in texture. Stir in the walnuts, then sprinkle the mixture over the strawberries.
  4. Bake in oven for 30 – 40 minutes until the top is golden brown and the base is cooked through. Make sure to check after 20 minutes - you may need to cover the crumble with tin foil to prevent the top from catching (depending on your oven’s temperament). Once cooked, remove from the oven and slice into squares.  Eat immediately or later.

Strawberry Crumble Bars

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The Best Bircher Muesli

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The Best Bircher Muesli

'Oats: a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people’ Samuel Johnson, The Dictionary of the English Language, 1755

If I were the type of person that leafed (ironically) through Cosmo, and stumbled across one of those lazy, page-filling content, tree diagrams which happened to ask “what is your spirit animal?”, I know what mine would be. A horse.  Well, at least that’s what it would have been during the second year of my time at university in terms of comestibles…

Essay crises necessitate fuel in order to feed the adrenaline and, for me, that fuel came in the form of oats.

When you have a 9 am deadline approaching, and there is only one hour remaining, every minute is precious - so there is no time to spare for cooking oats over the hob until they break down into a creamy mulch.

The Best Bircher Muesli

That’s the excuse I gave myself.  Instead, I developed the rather grotesque habit of eating oats straight from the packet, raw and desiccated. In my maddened and pressured state, I savoured the clagginess of the oats, where you can’t quite conjure up enough saliva to swallow them.  Ideal.

I have since moved on from this stage (with the very occasional relapse) to a more acceptable way of dealing with my love of oats: Bircher muesli, invented by Bircher Benner, a pioneer of raw foodism, in the late 19th century as a way of curing his jaundice.  It worked.

I feel, somewhat justifiably, that it runs in my blood (thick & creamy): my great-great-uncle was a frequent patient at Benner’s rather avant garde  Swiss raw food clinic and, one sunny day, he stepped down from a plane on an impromptu visit from Scotland to South Africa with no clothes besides the ones on his back, a vegetable juicing contraption which he trailed behind him on a rickety little cart, and a proselytising passion for Bircher muesli.

The Best Bircher Muesli

I have tried many a Bircher muesli, from Swiss versions to Vietnamese attempts, but I feel I have concocted the ultimate version (excuse my arrogance).  Creamy, healthy, juicy, and exotic, it’s effectively manna, and I would happily have it for every meal of the day (jaundiced or not).

The Best Bircher Muesli  (Serves 5)

Ingredients

2 Braeburn apples, grated

Juice of 1/2 lemon

200ml orange juice

200g natural yogurt

200g almond and coconut milk (can be substituted with dairy or non-dairy alternatives)

3 tbsp maple syrup

1 tsp vanilla bean paste (if you can’t get hold of this, omit it, or substitute with ½ tsp vanilla extract)

50g desiccated coconut, lightly toasted in a pan on a low heat until pale gold)

200g porridge oats

Pinch of salt

200g of fresh fruit of your choice (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, figs, sliced banana work well)

40g coconut chips (optional but adds great texture)

Method

  1. In a large bowl mix together all the ingredients apart from the fresh fruit and optional coconut chips. If you are making this the night before, cover the bowl with cling film and place in the fridge overnight to let the oats soak up the flavours.  If you are serving the muesli immediately, stir the mixture for a couple of minutes to break down the oats until they are creamy.
  2. If you are leaving the muesli overnight, allow it to come to room temperature before serving. Scatter mixed berries and fruits and coconut chips over the top and serve.

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Spiced Blueberry Tart

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Spiced Blueberry Tart

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Is it just me, or is anyone else sick of logging on to Facebook, innocently hoping to drain away half an hour of one’s day (minimum) by looking at pictures of people one may or may not have half met once trying to prove how much fun they are having by posting pictures of themselves with friends/family, strained smiles stretched across their faces, and who are clearly not that immersed in the fun as they have had to spend half an hour trying to get one decent picture out of the hundred they’ve taken to emblazon it across their Facebook wall and maybe, just maybe, turn it into a cover photo?

And then – BAM - your gaze is diverted,

and you are staring down into the depths of a garishly coloured plastic bowl filled with some unidentifiable artificial gunk, pink fleshy hands massaging some other substance into it to form some putty-like emulsion which is then mushed and squeezed and squidged into a plastic mould, whizzed up, and extruded through a bag and…… oh look, it’s that Gooey Oreo, Jellied Eel and Green Marshmallow Mini Coffee Cup that “you’ve always wanted to make for your slumber party with the gals”.