Despite basically being a bitter old hag, I think it’s important to remember that life is great, and there’s often joy in the most unexpected of places.
The most recent unexpected place for me was on a roof top in London Fields last Thursday. I was celebrating one of my clients’ 10th Birthday. As a surprise, the directors had given everyone the following day off. The office was closed, people could party with wild abandon without having to go into the office on Friday morning. It was such a brilliant gift to their hard-working employees.
But I didn’t party. Not because I didn’t want to, but I had something other than a hangover planned for my Friday. I was going to a very close friend’s baby shower on the Saturday and I decided I was going to make my super duper Salted Caramel Brownies to take as an offering.
This week has marked not just the advent of Christmas, but also winter. Remember a few weeks ago when we were smugly talking about how we haven’t even had to turn the heating on yet because it’s just so warm?
Those days are gone, my friends. Winter has come.
So I’ve been doing what ever self-respecting Brit does when it gets cold: hide and hope spring hurrys the fuck up. Part of the ritual British hibernation (there are probably other countries that need to hide too – huge swathes of Scandinavia for example) is to eat shed loads of comfort food in an almost compulsive fashion so come the end of February you’re depressed not just cos you’ve spent four months indoors (hiding) but also you’re now fat because you’ve carb loaded like a marathon runner. Continue reading →
As part of my maintaining blood sugar recipe series (sounds so glamorous when written like that, right?!) I decided to find something suitable for lunch.
When I am meal planning I find planning mid-week lunches the hardest – it has to be portable to take to work, satisfying and not a massive faff to eat. But I think this recipe is perfect. You can make a batch of hummus ahead of time (Sunday arvo, say) and then just chop up some veg (and pitta bread if you’re being naughty) in the morning, whack it all in tupperware and you’re good to go. Continue reading →
Following on from yesterday’s post about adjusting my diet to maintain blood sugar levels, I came up with this dish for baked salmon. It’s full of flavour, is massively satisfying and has a low GI index (which means that it has a low impact on blood sugar levels). Continue reading →
So I’ve been working out. I go to this amazing bootcamp class (I am not on commission, I swear). However, if I am doing burpees at 7am in the pouring rain, I want to be getting the maximum out of my work out. Together with Sybille, my bootcamp instructor, I’ve been looking at modifications to my diet to make sure I am getting all the nutrients necessary to maximise the results from my workouts. Continue reading →
I’ve been craving sushi and seared tuna recently. It got to the point where I was a bit worried, and Andrew told me to stop eating so much sushi because of ~Mercury poisoning~.
My favourite way to eat seared tuna is on a Nicoise salad. I am deeply perturbed by tinned tuna (aka cat food), and won’t touch the stuff, so it always has to be a proper loin steak (I know, get me!). But I’ve found it surprisingly hard to find a decent recipe for it. There’s either whole anchovy fillets in it, which I cannot stomach, or the recipe called for frying the potatoes, which is just plain bad for you. Continue reading →
I’ve been feeling ill recently. Nothing serious, don’t worry (I can sense you were worried) – just a cold. But it’s pretty crap when you have a cold, isn’t it? You feel shocking and you can’t breathe properly and apparently you snore at night (according to Andrew, anyway).
As soon as I feel myself getting a cold I start craving this chicken noodle soup. The recipe is from BBC Good Food, and is really simple and packed full of cold-combating ingredients. It’s also such a comfort food, and has long be believed to cure what ails you by various cultures from European Jewish communities to Korea.
Fresh garlic in this recipe has immune-boosting properties, as well as being an antibacterial and antiviral agent. Fresh ginger helps stimulate perspiration (sexy) which helps cleanse the system and bring down a temperature. The raw spring onion contains organic sulphur compounds and can help combat coughs and phlegm (again, sexy). The red chilli garnish is packed with vitamin C, too. Red chillis actually have more vitamin C than citrus fruits. YEAH! They also unblocked stuffy noses and trigger endorphins to be released into your system, which are the body’s natural pain killer. What’re you waiting for, Fluey Al? Get making this soup now.
Chicken Noodle Soup
- 900ml good-quality chicken stock
– 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
– a thumb-sized amount of ginger, peeled and very finely chopped
– 2 garlic cloves, crushed
– 50g rice noodles
– a small tin of sweetcorn, drained
– 4 mushrooms, thinly sliced
– 2 spring onions, shredded (sliced very thinly lengthways)
– 2 tsp soy sauce (go low-sodium, folks)
– handful of basil leaves
– 1 red chilli, thinly sliced
1. Put the chicken stock in a pan and add in the chicken breast, ginger and garlic. Heat up ’til it boils and then turn the heat down, partly cover and leave to simmer for 20 mins.
2. Remove the chicken from the pan and put on a chopping board. Using two forks, pull the chicken apart so it’s all shredded and nice.
3. Return the chicken to the pan, and add in the noodles, sweetcorn, mushrooms, half the spring onions and soy sauce. Simmer until the noodles are soft and slippy – normally takes about 4 minutes.
4. Divide the soup between two bowls and then scatter with the remaining spring onion, basil and chilli. Eat and feel instantly revitalised.
Ruddy hell, the weather is grim at the moment isn’t it? I will make no secret of the fact that I hate Winter, with the exception of the two weeks before Christmas. I hate the cold, I hate the dark, I hate wearing thick coats and then almost passing out on the tube because my stupid coat has made me too hot. I hate itchy scarves. Just ugh.
And the tendency now is to reach for comfort foods, isn’t it? Mine is at least. Pies, stews, soups, mash. Overcooked, fatty food to coax us into hibernation. And going out in the rain to train? That’s a massive challenge. But luckily I have Sybille sending me emails reminding me to keep active and not let the cold beat me.
But these challenges are sent to try us, and I am determined this winter to combat the blues with action rather than inaction. I won’t shy away.
This salad is perfect for combating winter blues. The nectarines aren’t seasonal, I know – but they taste like pure, unadulterated sunshine. They also contain anti-oxidants and B-complex vitamins, which help to turn food into fuel and keep bodies energised all day long. The warm, poached chicken is an excellent source of high-quality lean protein. Eating the mangetout raw means you get the maximum benefit from them, and they’re packed with Mange Vitamin A and Vitamin C and are a good source of fibre and thiamin (the latter of which aids the body in all its functions).
OK, so it’s basically amazing for you, tastes like sunshine and goodness and will have you karate-chopping the heck out of winter.
Warm oriental chicken & nectarine salad
– 2 skinless chicken breasts
– 2-3 ripe nectarines
– 100g mange tout, finely sliced
– 3 spring onions, finely sliced
– 2 tbsp chopped coriander (if you hate coriander like I do, leave this out – it’s fine)
– zest and juice of 1 lime
– 1 tbsp runny honey
– Thumb-sized portion of ginger, peeled and grated
– 1 tbsp soy sauce
– 3 tbsp raw oil (I used coconut oil)
– 1 dessert spoon toasted sesame oil
– 200g couscous
– 1 tsp vegetable boullion
1. Heat the oven to 200ºC. Put the chicken breast in the centre of a large square of foil. Sprinkle with good-quality salt and freshly cracked black pepper, plus a tiny drizzle of olive oil). Seal the foil into a loose parcel around the chicken, making sure there are no gaps. Pop the parcel on a baking sheet and put the oven for 25 minutes.
2. Remove the chicken from the oven and take out of the parcel. On a chopping board, cut the chicken into thick strips or chunks. Put in a bowl and put aside, covering with foil to keep warm.
3. Slice the nectarine into juicy wedges. Add to the chicken with the mange tout, spring onions and coriander (if you’re using that disgusting stuff).
4. Whisk the lime juice and zest with the honey, ginger, soy sauce and oils.
5. In a separate bowl, add the couscous and the vegetable boullion. Pour over enough boiling water so the couscous is covered by about 5mm of water. Cover with clingflim and leave for about 5 minutes before fluffing up with the fork.
5. Divide the couscous, chicken and salad between two large bowls (or plates, you can use plates). Drizzle over the dressing and serve.
After vowing to try to eat more food raw, I was kind of struggling to think what to eat apart from smoothies (which technically you drink anyway). So I did what any self-respecting independent person does and turned to Google to find out what everyone else is doing. Turns out they’re not eating raw chicken, which is Good News.
One of the first recipes I found that sounded vaguely un-mental was raw courgette noodles. Hey, wait, don’t click away! There’s cheese in this and loads of garlic. It tastes good.
Sybille told me to stay away from processed foods. “If it doesn’t grow or need to be killed to eat it, don’t eat it,” she told me as I sweated my way through one of her unbelievably tough (but good) yoga sessions. “Err, so does that mean no pasta?!” I asked, faintly hysterical at the thought of not eating platefuls of spag bol. Everyone at the yoga class looked at me and then firmly said no. Seems Sybille had got to them too.
I love pasta, but have found these courgette noodles are a perfect substitute. They’re just like al dente spaghetti. I make my noodles using this sprial-maker thing. It’s great fun. When I make them it’s one of the rare opportunities to see Andrew offer to help in the kitchen. It’s basically like those Play-doh machines but it makes something tastier.
Why’re these good for you? Well courgettes are a good source of fibre and they’re low calorie too. They won’t leave you feeling bloated like pasta often does, and they’re really filling and satisfying. Plus the pesto sauce has raw garlic in it, which contains lots of good stuff to help prevent colds and keep your heart healthy. The lemon juice contains pectin, which is proven to aid weight loss. And you know about vitamin C, which is also in those cherry tomatoes. Right, let’s hit the recipe shall we?
Raw courgette noodles with homemade pesto
Serves 2 generously
For the noodles:
– 4 medium-sized courgettes, washed
For the pesto:
– A large handful of basil (I use a whole bag of those ones you get from the supermarket)
– 1 garlic clove, peeled
– Juice of 1 lemon
– A handful of pine nuts
– A large handful of freshly grated parmesan
– 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
For the topping:
– Ball of burrata cheese
– Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
1. Make your noodles by spinning the courgettes round in a spiral-thinger. There’s instructions on the box of the thing, ok? Set them aside in a bowl.
2. Toast the pine nuts by putting them in a frying pan (with no oil). Put them on a high heat and keep an eye on them. Keep shuffling them around until they start looking golden. Don’t let them go black.
3. Put all the pesto ingredients in a blender (or NutriBullet!) and blend until it’s a paste-sauce consistency.
4. Pour the pesto over the noodles and toss until the noodles are all coated in sauce. Then divide the noodles between two plates.
5. Rip apart your burrata and scatter over the noodles along with the cherry tomatoes. Eat and enjoy.
P.S. Thanks so much for the AWESOME support in response to my last post. It has blown me away. I’m excited a few of you are joining me on this journey. Let’s kick health in the head. Or something. Kicking it in the head sounds bad.
A lot of people recently have been saying I’ve gone crazy. For I am normally the girl who tempts people out after work with promises of wine and putting the world to rights, I am the go-to resource among my friends when they’re looking for the best burgers in town and I am also a lazy slug.
But recently a change has happened. I have stopped going to the pub. This is because I am going to interval training instead. I have also stopped eating burgers. I am trying to eat healthily – especially raw foods – instead.
They’re changes I’ve wanted to make for a while, but haven’t because it’s a lot of effort and old habits die hard. But I’ve got a new incentive: Operation Wedding Dress. I want to downsize. I’m not one of those brides who has gone mental and diets because That’s What Brides Do. I’ve been looking for an incentive to get active for ages – my will power and the thought “you just need to go” isn’t enough. The thought of looking like a massive meringue on my wedding day has turned out to be my incentive.
My mission is led by myself and my personal trainer, Sybille Hazward. Sybille runs Freeform Fitness, where I do yoga, yoga fusion, TRX training, tabata training and bootcamp classes – all in Highbury Fields. I cannot tell you how amazing Sybille is. She is tireless in her encouragement of all her clients and is an absolute fount of knowledge. Freeform Fitness isn’t just Sybille’s job, but her passion too. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone more passionate about what they do.
I was struggling with my diet and how to modify it to be healthier without massively overhauling my whole life or feeling hungry all the time. So I spoke to Sybille, and we’ve decided to team up and do a series of posts about healthy eating, complete with recipes and explanations of why these recipes are good for you. A 360-degree approach to healthy living, in blog form. I’m hoping by writing about this it will help me learn and you guys can keep me motivated and away from crappy processed foods.
We’ll be covering lots of different yummy dishes, and have lots in store for you. But to start off, let’s talk about my favourite breakfast at the moment: The Super Green Smoothie.
Sybille told me I should be trying to eat raw foods as much as possible. Sometimes it’s hard to think of how to eat raw food beyond crudités and sushi, but smoothies are great for getting raw foods into my system and I feel pretty bouncy after drinking them.
The reason raw food is so awesome for you? Well it’s the food in it’s most natural form, so therefore all the nutrients are still in tact. Heating food breaks down the natural goodness in food, so the more you cook it the less of the goodness reaches your system. I’m not saying eat raw chicken, but trying to keep food as close to its natural form as possible is the best way to make sure you’re getting the maximum out of it, e.g. steaming chicken or fish is much better than frying or roasting it.
As for smoothies? OK, a blitzed fruit is pretty different to a solid one, but smoothies have the whole fruit and/or veg in there. Unlike juices, smoothies don’t remove the natural fibre from the fruit. The fibre in smoothies helps the body absorb the nutrients from the veg and fruit, whereas juices normally are packed with fruit sugars with none of the fibre. This will make your blood sugar spike and increase sugar cravings. Boo.
The Super Green Smoothie
I make my smoothies with a NutriBullet. These are amazing, but any blender will do; you might just need more patience for it to blend. I recommend a top-loading blender rather than a stick kind. A stick kind won’t work.
- A large handful of chopped kale
- 3-4 florets of broccoli
- 1/2 pear, cored
- 250ml coconut water (the more liquid you put in the juice, the easier is it to drink and the less lumpy it’ll be)
- 1 tsp baobab powder (you can get this from any health food store or online. Don’t be intimidated – it’s delicious)
How to Make
1. Whack everything into the blender, starting with the kale. Layer them in in order of the ingredients list.
2. Blend until it looks very green and there are no obvious ‘bits’. The NutriBullet takes about 3-5 minutes to do this.
3. Pour into a glass, Instagram the hell out of it and then drink.
I think I fall into a trap a lot of people do when you’re busy and feeling uninspired: I cook a lot of the same meals with semi-regularity. I mean I am a self-confessed foodie, as this blog shows, but I do have a few fall-back meals that I cook over and over because they’re easy and after a hard day at work, plus a commute and maybe a gym session: I just can’t find the energy to whip something new up.
My favourite fall-backs are chicken zorba (a really easy Greek-style meal that I’ll post up here some time), extra spicy fajitas and good ol’ spag bol. But I do plan meals a bit better now thanks to my goal of being more organised in 2014. And I’m really enjoying trying new things and adding them to my repertoire along with the old stalwarts.
And I’m a sucker for a recipe book. I pour over the pages, oooh-ing and ahhh-ing over the photography and getting all excited about the new food I’m going to cook. Quite often I read them late at night, when I have no intention of starting to cook. I just love feeling excited by possibilities. Having said that, I much prefer a functional recipe book to one that’s style over substance. I want the recipe to be clear, the ingredients to not involve getting a rocket to the moon to source some space dust and also written in a friendly yet informative way.
So I thought I’d share my top 5 go-to recipe books at the moment (they’re liable to change as I’m always buying new ones to add to our already-overflowing bookcase)…
I wouldn’t be an Islingtonite if I didn’t bow to the foodie might that is Ottolenghi. Israeli-born Yottam Ottolenghi owns a small chain of self-titled restaurants in London, as well as NOPI. His style of cooking is a wonderful fusion of anything that captures his attention, but mainly lies in North African, Lebanese and Italian cuisine. The result is lots of delicious salads, perfectly marinated and cooked meats and veggies done in lots of surprising and delicious ways. His cookbook reflect this, as one would hope, and have lots of Ottolenghi favourites that you can make from home.
This 70s beauty is iconic within my family. For us, it’s one of those recipe books you hear people mention sometimes: it’s got all our the meals of my childhood inside it and just hearing the spine crack as I open my copy takes me back to helping my Mum make brownies when I was little. And I am sure it can’t just be a nostalgic hit for my family (me and my siblings all have our own copies now) – there’s so many delightful and forgotten gems in there. And also the best flapjack recipe there its.
I bought this book relatively recently, but I already know it’s going to be a much-used and often-turned to book in my library. It has a wonderful section at the front that goes through a lot of different foods (fruit, veggies, pulses, meats etc) and lists why they’re good and healthy for you, what they do to your insides and all that good hippy stuff. The back section is crammed with recipes and even has a day’s menu of meals for targeting particular aliments. Although I am a self-confessed “foodie”, I have to admit that I don’t know enough about nutrition, and it’s something I am really enjoying learning about from this bible.
Err, yeah, it’s a Weight Watchers book but WAIT! Bear with me! I only bought this book after my lovely sister-in-law cooked something for me out of it – and she wasn’t on WW either, she just liked the recipes. And most recipes are a winner. So much so, my Mum also bought the book after I cooked her a few meals out of it. My copy has the hallmarks of a well-loved cookbook: split spine (ugh, I know), splashes of food all over it, warped pages from being propped up in a steamy kitchen. Even though I am not on WW and pay no attention to the Points values, the recipes are WINNER. I love the maple chicken traybake and the citrus-crusted salmon. Seriously, none of the recipes I’ve made from it have tasted like “diet food”.
This is Delia’s comprehensive guide to, well, how to cook. From boiled eggs, rice, making a white sauce and how you should be cooking fish, this book is surely a fixture in every keen cook’s kitchen. Sure it has the basics of how to make things, and then it gives you recipes where you can apply the skill and maybe take it up a notch to the next level. It has loads of my meal staples in here, but the out and out winner for me is the Toad in the Hole recipe (renamed Huskies in the Drift by Andrew’s Scandinavian side of the family) with caramelised onion gravy. It’s a winner every single Goddamn time.
When we first moved to London we lived in a huge houseshare. People used to say to me, “Do you still live in that crazy house with 15 Australians?” I used to always have stories for people about the pass agg notes, the arguments over what the communal funds were being spent on and we always had incredible houseparties.
There were actually eight of us in total, in a huge Victorian terrace in Highbury, and not everyone was Aussie. I can safely say it was the best of times and it was the worst of times.
When we lived there – for Andrew and I lived there together and became the reluctant “parents” of the house, until the “kids” became too unruly and we flew the nest – we couldn’t have friends over for dinner really. Not without either feeling like you were denying six other people use of the dining table, or having to cook for your guests plus whoever was about so they didn’t feel excluded. And it wasn’t anyone’s fault – it was just the situation. If you live in an eight-person houseshare you can’t really live an adult life.
Since we’ve moved to our own place we’ve enjoyed having people over. Gone are the 200-person fancy dress houseparties (much to most people’s disappointment) and here are more intimate gatherings. This doesn’t so much reflect the fact that we’re too old for houseparties, but more the fact our flat is sadly not a five-storey Victorian terrace and also we have new cream carpet that isn’t conducive to people slopping snakebite everywhere.
However, now we can have gatherings without feeling guilty, and I’ve been really enjoying cooking for people and having them over for drinks. And one thing I made recently, which went down a treat with Andrew’s siblings (one of whom is the devil pictured above!) is my chocolate and amaretto mouse. So I thought I’d share the recipe with you…
Chocolate and Amaretto Mouse
Serves 8 | Time: 30mins plus chilling time (1 hr minimum)
You will need…
6 eggs, separated
200ml double cream
100g caster sugar
2 shots of amaretto
200g dark chocolate (at least 70% dark cocoa solids)
16 small amaretti biscuits
3 tbsp Nutella spread
How to make…
1. Break the chocolate up and melt in a heatproof bowl over simmering water. You don’t need to watch this happening – just check every now and then that it’s not burning. It should take about 10 mins max.
2. With the egg whites in a very clean and fairly large bowl, whip them until they form stiff peaks. This is to say that when you lift the beaters out of the mix, the mix will have stiff trails that you have left behind. This is what will make the mousse light and fluffy, so make sure you get them eggs nice ‘n’ whipped.
3. In another bowl, mix the egg yolks with the sugar and amaretto so it’s all combined.
4. In yet another bowl, whip the cream until it’s thick but not as thick as the egg whites. Soft peaks it’s called.
5. In whichever bowl in the largest, mix in the egg yolk mixture with the chocolate and the cream, so it’s all combined.
6. Then really gently fold in the egg whites. Take your time with this as you don’t want to knock out the air you just spent all your time getting in there by whisking them so well. Fold until it’s all combined.
7. Spoon into whatever receptacle you liked. I used tea cups, but ramekins would work just as well.
8. Cover with clingfilm and put in the fridge to chill for at least 1hr.
9. Before serving, use Nutella to sandwich together two ameretti biscuits together, then pop them at the side of the desert. Enjoy!
Growing up, my family were obsessed with Sunday lunch. That is to say a roast. Some of my strongest “home” memories is of The Archers being on in the kitchen as my Mum created the most delicious roasts known to man, the windows all steamed up, my two teenage brothers raiding the larder and my Dad outside in the garden doing whatever it is gardeners do… on one of those damp, grey Sundays that seem to be a permanent fixture in autumn.
My Mum makes the best roasts. People other than me have said this. And no, I don’t mean my Dad. As I grew up I enjoyed helping her out in the kitchen here and there – she’s really where my love of cooking stems from. So over the years she has shared some tips and tricks with me, which is sometime in time – if I’m lucky – I hope to pass on to my children.
The other day I made Andrew and I roast chicken. I find this an excellent economical choice for a Sunday meal – leftover roast chicken is surely one of the perks of Mondays? Indeed, the leftover meat is perfect for packed lunch sandwiches, stir fries, curries or even making some kind of special fried rice for the Monday evening. I often end up getting not just one delicious meal out of my chicken, but maybe two or three more.
So, without further ado, here is how I make my standard roast chicken, which is stuffed with lemon, garlic and herbs. It’s super easy.
Perfect lemon, garlic and herb roast chicken
You will need:
For the chicken
1 medium-sized chicken. If your budget stretches, go for free-range. Happy meat tastes better!
1 brown onion
2 sticks of celery
2 cloves of garlic
1 large knob of slightly salted butter at room temp
A handful of woody herbs – I used rosemary and thyme
For the gravy
1-2 tbsp plain flour
250ml of good-quality chicken stock
1 large glass of white wine
1. Wash the celery and carrots under cold running water, then chop them into chunks – 5cm lengths is perfect. Pop them in the bottom of a large roasting tray.
2. Peel your onion and then slice from top to bottom through the middle. Cut into chunky wedges. Pop this into your roasting tray and mix with the celery and carrots. You’re going to use the veg as the trivet to keep the chicken off the bottom of the roasting tray, so that’s why you want to make it chunky. They will also help make your gravy corking.
3. Take the chicken out of the packet, but before you throw it away reading the cooking instructions. It tends to calculate as 45mins per kg (so look at the weight of the bird, which will be printed on the packaging) plus 20mins. So for a 1kg bird you’d cook it for 65mins.
4. Some people wash their chicken under running water. I don’t bother and I haven’t died yet. Pop your chicken on a clean chopping board.
5. In a small bowl, zest your lemon. You can do this with a zester, or by using a regular vegetable peeler and then chopping the peel up into thin strips. Then add your garlic cloves (crushed) and some chopped up herbs. Add the butter and use the back of a fork to mash all this up, so it’s combined.
6. Back to the chicken. Use one finger to gently poke a pocket between the skin and the breast meat. You just want to create a gap there so you can stuff in the buttery mixture between the skin and the meat. It sounds ickier and harder than it is. Be brave.
7. Chop the lemon into quarters and then push it into the cavity. Pop the chicken onto the veg in the roasting tray and cover with tin foil. Put the whole lot in the middle of a 190C oven. Check it at regular intervals, and use a spoon to scoop up any liquid in the pan and pour it over the chicken to keep it moist. About 20 mins before it’s due to come out, take the tin foil off to crisp up the skin.
For the gravy
1. Once the chicken is out, take it out of the roasting tin and pop on a warmed plate. Cover it in tin foil and then cover that with a clean tea towel and leave it to rest.
2. Put the roasting tray with the veg on the hob and turn the heat on. Sprinkle over the plain flour and then mix it with the veg until it creates a paste.
3. After you’ve made the paste (this is actually called a roux, factfans), slowly add the stock bit by bit, stirring the veg and roux until the liquid is absorbed. Gradually the paste with loosen until it turns into fairly thick gravy. Splash in the wine and leave to warm for a while – the alcohol will steam off fairly quickly, but it will make a nice, sharp-flavoured gravy that goes well with the lemons.
4. At this point I strain off the veg, leaving a few onion bits in there as Andrew likes those. But you can leave the veg in if you like – they’re completely cooked, but this does make for a rather “unrefined” and chunky gravy.
At the moment, one of my favourite things to do at the weekend – after a long lie-in, of course – is make a lazy brunch. After rushing around in the morning every week day (early starts aren’t my talent in this life), it feels like a real treat to shuffle around the kitchen, rustling up something more decadent than bran flakes. I think it makes the perfect start to a weekend day.
In the run up to Christmas, my lazy weekends seemed to get jam-packed with weddings, present-buying missions and birthdays. Lazy brunches were out of the window in favour of manically trying to wrap presents while directing Andrew in where to put up pictures in our new flat. It was hectic and I felt strung out. I missed our lazy lie-ins and brunches.
As part of my aims for 2014, I’m trying to not let my schedule get so out of control. And this has meant I have been able to get back some time for brunchtime pottering. To celebrate I made buttermilk pancakes, which were so crazily light and fluffy I just had to share them with you. They are quite a lot of faff, but well worth it.
Buttermilk pancakes with caramelised apple, pecan and maple syrup sauce
Serves 4 | 50 mins
– 3 eating apples
– 25g butter
– 85g pecans, cut in half lengthways
– 175ml maple syrup
– 100g plain flour
– 2 tsp baking powder
– 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
– 1 tbsp golden caster sugar
– 2 large eggs, separated
– 284ml buttermilk (if you can’t find buttermilk, plain natural yogurt with a squeeze of lemon juice in will do)
– 25g butter, melted
How to make these chaps:
1. Peel, core and cut the apples into quarters. Now slice the quarters into four (that’s eighths, if you please).
2. Pop the butter in a large frying pan and heat until melted. Tip in your apple slices and fry them until they start going golden (or slightly black if you leave Andrew in charge). Don’t let them get to the stage where they get crumbly and broken down. You want them to hold their shape. Stir in the pecans and maple syrup and let it heat through and combine. Remove this frying pan from the direct heat, but keep the apple mixture warm (put foil over it, essentially).
3. Sieve the flour, baking powder and bicarb into a large bowl.
4. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. They will look white and glossy, and when you lift the whisk out of the eggs they’ll retain a stiff peak in the surface.
5. In yet another bowl, mix the yolks, butter and buttermilk together. Then tip this into the bowl with the flour in and mix until combine.
6. Gently add the egg whites to the mixture, folding in slowly until it’s all combined and you have a nice airy batter. Go slow – you don’t want to knock out the air, this is what gives the pancakes their fluffiness.
7. Heat a large frying pan and melt some butter in the pan – just a bit. Then drop puddles of batter into the pan using a large spoon. Wait until the puddles loose their glossy look and bubbles start to form in the top, then get a spatula or whatevs and flip them over. This can be messy, but do NOT panic. They will taste the same (so long as you don’t burn them) and will look nicely homemade. Or that’s what I told myself.
8. Remove pancakes from pan after a minute or so after you’ve flipped them. Create a stack of them on a plate, then spoon over some of that apple mixture you made.
Every year I make the ladies in my life something homemade for Christmas. This has seen me making caramel-filled truffles, a world of chutney and industrial amounts (well, not quite!) of sugar body butter scrub.
Nearly every time I take on my Christmas project I have an near-on emotional break down, get fed up half way through and wish I hadn’t started the project. But it’s always worth it when my friends and family open their homemade gifts and – at least to my face – seem to truly love them.
This year I decided to make bath tea bags. These are like tea bags, but you put them in the bath and they infuse the water with lovely scents and some goodness too. All the recipients had to do was run a bath, chuck one in and then relax in their own little spa.
I got a recipe from a website and then sort of made it up. I knew I wanted them to be lavender-based, mostly because I find it headily relaxing and hoped they would too. And I also wanted them to be nourishing and help muscles relax, so they did some good instead of just smelling fancy.
This resulted in me putting in rolled porridge oats and Epsom salts. The oats make the water soft and moisturise the skin while Epsom salts are great for aching muscles as they draw toxins from the body.
This is what I ended up putting in, in full:
4 parts dried lavender
1 part dried hibscus (I would leave this out if doing it again, as I don’t think it added much)
2 parts rolled oats
2 parts epsom salts
1 part lavender essential oil
I bought sealable tea bags from Soap Posh, where you can also get a range of dried flowers and Epsom salts.
1. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl.
2. Fill bags about half to 3/4 full.
3. Iron the bags shut, if you’re using the kind I did. Otherwise you can sew them shut or you can get draw string ones too, which is pretty self-explanatory.
4. Parcel up and gift to those you love.
I popped about 3 tea bags into lovely paper bags, which I bought from a seller on Not on the High Street, but you can pack them up however you want. I also included a list in each paper bag of what was in the tea bags and how to use.
So far the feedback I’ve had is good on the teabags, but no one is going to be rude are they?! However, I have used them myself as I made more than I needed and they are really lovely. I like squishing them in the water so all the oaty moisturising goodness some out.
Oh, and if you squeeze them out then leave them to dry then you can use them two or three times more.
Yeah, I’m obsessed with brunch, OK? Sometimes I even cook it myself instead of going out. I know – big whoop. When I got my Love Food Market hamper I went on the hunt for good meals to eat chilli jam with. I was more interested in the chilli jam really, the meal was the accompaniment. I found this recipe, which is ideal for a lazy weekend brunch meal, or even a weekday supper. Whatever, just eat it as your mouth will be pleased about it.
Corn Fritters with Bacon & Avocado
Serves 4 | Prep: 10mins, Cook 10mins
2 tbsp olive oil
1 red pepper, diced quite small
1 fresh red chilli, diced really small (seeds removed, duh)
50g self-raising flour
1 egg, beaten thoroughly. Go on, get in there.
3 tbsp milk
1 + 1/2 large cans of sweetcorn (actually, I just whomp in as much as looks right)
Handful of fresh basil leaves
8 rashers of smoked, streaky bacon (it being smoked is very important. Don’t settle)
Juice 1/2 lemon
2 avocados (give ‘em a squeeze to make sure they’re ripe, yeah?)
1. Heat 1tbsp of the oil in a large frying pan for about 2 mins. Then whack in the peppers and stir them around for about 5 minutes, until they’re a bit soft and smelling GOOD.
2. Add in the chilli to the peppers and fry for a bit longer – 2 mins. Tip out the peppers and chilli into a little bowl and put to one side. Turn the heat off.
3. Sieve the flour into a largish bowl and make a well in the middle with the back of a spoon. Chuck your beaten egg in the well and stir it in slowly (I tend to use a balloon whisk for this. I like my balloon whisk). Then add the milk until it’s all combined with no (or very few, none of us are heroes here) lumps.
4. Drain the sweetcorn well. Then whack it into the batter you’ve just made in the bowl, along with the chilli and the pepper from your little bowl. Chop up all your basil and add that too. Give it a good old stir so all the veg is covered in the batter.
5. Put the grill in your oven on to high and stick your bacon under the grill. Keep checking on it – you’re going to have to multitask from now on. Be brave. If I can do it, you can. You want your bacon to be crispy but not black. Flip it over from time to time. It won’t take long – 10 mins?
6. While your bacon is grilling (we’re multitasking, remember?), heat about 2 tsps of oil in your frying pan (doesn’t have to be clean from the peppers). Don’t let it get searingly hot – just medium/high heat. Then use a tablespoon to drop spoonfuls of batter into the frying pan. Try to put them in so they make puddles away from each other (I do three at one) – 1 spoonful a puddle. They spread, so watch out. Let them cook for about 2 mins, then use a fish slice to flip ‘em over and cook on the other side.
7. Get a plate out and put your pancakes on it. Pop them in the oven (you can check on the bacon now too) and then make another batch. This means everyone can eat together in harmony.
8. Once all your mixture is gone, pop all the pancakes in the oven for a bit (check the bloody bacon will you?). Now to make the side bits.
9. Chop up and peel an avocado anyway you can. Make the dressing by mixing the rest of the olive oil (look, a small glug if you’re having trouble keeping track) and the lemon juice together in a jug or bowl.
10. Arrange your pancakes and bacon on the plate with the avocado too. Drizzle over the dressing. Serve with Tracklement’s Chilli Jam – no other jam will do, trust me, we’ve tried.
When I received some delicious Cumberland sausages from Love Food Market, I wanted to do something a bit different with them to really enjoy the flavour. I had a little look on my go-to website for recipes, BBC Good Food, and that’s where I found this recipe…
Sticky Pan-Roasted Sausages with Grapes
Serves 4 | Prep 10mins, Cook 25mins
This dish is perfect for some light comfort food. You can have it on its own or bulk it up with some buttery light mash or polenta and veg. I made mash, steamed green beans and corn-on-the-cob for my sides. Gotta get your five-a-day, guys!