Category Archives: Dinner

The colours of my food…

Laura’s recent post about eating a rainbow made me realise it’s been far too long since I shared some of my food; colour fills my world, my kitchen cupboards (the spices, the crockery, the vegetables..) my wardrobe, and definitely my plate…

I can’t imagine not eating a variety of colourful flavourful dishes throughout the week. Not only is it good for your health, it’s HAPPY food! Happiness on a plate!!

This summer I decided to follow in the steps of many of my US food blogger family members and invest in a gas grill/BBQ to be able to cook outside when the temperatures rise and not turn on the ovens in my kitchen unless really necessary. Every time we use the BBQ I therefore also ask my husband to grill stocks of vegetables for me to use through the week…

A sea of goodness and possibility on our new grill/BBQ

I love these vegetables freshly cooked, cold, reheated, marinated, turned into dips, in endless ways. Having them already cooked means that they are full of that great chargrilled flavour and immediately ready to use…I like that too!

I think my favourite, which isn’t shown here, are whole grilled aubergines, the flesh becomes meltingly soft and so good for some many salads or dips, or used here as a perfect boat to fill with all sorts of my concoctions – including this one which was made from spinach, fresh coriander and hazelnuts, then drizzled with a nut butter dressing and sprinkled with Aleppo chilli flakes

The red peppers are great for salads, dips, harissa, sauces, like this red pepper homous…

I like nothing more than making up some sort of salsa verde, (which is what the two first pics are below), whether it’s based on chimichurri, chermoula, an Indian coriander chutney, or any mix of fresh herbs, garlic, spring onions, spices, olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice, maybe add some pomegranate molasses, and marinate chopped roasted vegetables with it, and leaving them to develop great flavours together…

Salsa verde always goes well with sweet potato, the sourness from the lemon juice/vinegar/pomegranate molasses is a work of art against the sweetness of the potato

This concoction, as shown at the top of the post, is an example of everything in one bowl: lots of the chargrilled vegetables with a salsa verde of some sort. It got better day after day as the flavours developed.

My Instagram account shows even more of these dishes, and more details of what’s in them, but for now, enjoy the colours of my world…

Enjoy!

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Buttermilk sourdough loaf…

This loaf came about from pure experiment because I had some lovely lively starter and wanted to do something different with it, plus I have always got various cartons of buttermilk to hand nowadays, and so this idea was born.

This recipe produced a lovely silky dough which baked into a crusty loaf with a wonderfully soft interior and a great flavour, and the smell was amazing! Due to the inclusion of plain all purpose flour the crumb is pillow soft rather than the usual chewy sourdough crumb, and the buttermilk only adds to that.

I made this loaf with a ‘sponge’ method…

The evening before you want to bake the loaf mix:

100g of very bubbly lively starter

284ml carton of buttermilk

150g of all purpose flour

Mix it all together really well, get it as smooth as you can, then cover it and leave it out on your kitchen counter overnight. (Top 2 photos below)

Next morning it should have grown and be spongelike. (Bottom 2 photos above – you can see how much it’s grown between the two sets of photos)

Now add:

300g strong white flour

1tsp salt

A splash or two of warm water

Mix it all together roughly, cover again and leave for an hour. (Top 2 photos below)After that hour, bring it into a dough, not too tight, not too sticky, performing some pulls and folds in the bowl to pull it into a smooth dough. (Bottom 2 photos show before and after pulls and folds)

Cover and leave on the counter again.

After a couple of hours you should already see this dough growing happily, the dough may even be starting to grow out of the bowl already; perform just enough pulls and folds to pull it into a ball with a smooth finish, don’t handle it too much.

Place the dough, smooth side down, into a well floured banneton.

Cover with a plastic bag or shower cap and place in the fridge to slow down the proving process and to increase the flavour. You should find that it keeps growing nicely over the next few hours, even in the fridge, as below. This was how the dough looked after only a few hours in the fridge. It grows very fast!

When you’re ready to bake, take the banneton from the fridge and leave the dough to warm up to room temperature whilst your oven warms up.

Heat the oven to 200C fan/230c non fan.

When the oven is ready, place a piece of baking parchment over the top of the banneton, then place the pan you are baking it in over the top and invert it all together to turn the dough out into the pan. You should have a lovely pale dough that holds a good shape.

Slash as you like, then put the lid on the pan and put it in the oven to bake for 50 minutes.

After 50 minutes carefully turn the loaf out onto a rack to cool. Allow the loaf to cool for at least an hour before slicing.

As you will see, the crumb is closer than a standard sourdough, which is perfect for making my son’s school sandwiches. In fact, the interior of the loaf was softer than any bread of any type I’ve ever baked. I’ll definitely be baking loaves like this again and again.

And I have now made 3 loaves the same way, this was the third one, and again, the interior is beautifully soft…

I’ve also made a loaf with whole milk this week, but I’ll share that next time…in the meantime, I’ll take my loaves to this week’s Fiesta Friday and wish you a happy weekend!

NOTE: please always keep in mind that flours differ around the world, yours may need more or less liquid than mine, just as your oven may behave differently from mine.

The foods of our past…

I have recently been reading a lot about English food history. It started with an interest in the Victorian era and has developed on from there, and I have now finished my second book about English food history from medieval times to modern day. I find it truly fascinating and I am reminded time and again that nothing is new; no recipe is ever 100% original: we may revise, remodel, recreate, we may update, rediscover old recipes, forgotten ingredients and lost methods, and we apply new methods, modern appliances and ideas, but nothing is ever truly brand new. Food’s been around for too long.

I am loving making these ‘new’ discoveries and learning about our food heritage, so I’d like to share a few fascinating facts in amongst my posts and I hope you enjoy them.

For example, as you know, I love Middle Eastern cuisine and in the UK the recent boom in interest in Middle Eastern cuisine may be responsible for introducing many people to having pomegranate seeds being strewn across salads and savoury dishes, above is an example of one of my past dishes doing just that, as opposed to merely eating them as fruit or in a sweet recipe; I had no idea that we actually grew pomegranates in the UK in medieval times. Likewise, Middle Eastern fare has also introduced many people to the delights of dried barberries, like below, and again, we grew barberries in the UK in medieval times and they were used widely in recipes.

Sweet potatoes have been riding a huge wave in recent years, we’ve baked them, made them into fries and wedges, they’ve been put into cakes and breads and desserts, slices have been toasted, anything that can be done to a potato has been, but the reality is that they’re not new. The methods are new, but not the potatoes. Sweet potatoes are actually the first potatoes that we ate in the UK in the late 1500’s, (and even then they were being cooked with spices and added sugar), white potatoes were introduced soon after but their full popularity didn’t catch on until the early years of the 17th century.

Almond flour, almond paste, almond milk, almond butter – so much the remit of healthy eating these days – again, nothing new here; in medieval times all of these were used widely in cooking, not for boosting health, but for ease. Almond flour was used widely to thicken sauces or in place of breadcrumbs; almond milk was a safer bet than some dairy milk, it also kept for longer, and was sometimes more easily accessible; likewise with almond butter, instead of dairy butter during a period when storing fresh foodstuffs for any period of time was impossible.

For this post, I’d like to focus a bit more on bread…anyone who knows me, or reads my blog, or follows me on Instagram, will know that I am an avid and regular sourdough baker so the ‘rise and fall’ of bread in our food history always interests me…

Bread has featured heavily in every era of British food history, in various forms, as with most cultures and their food histories. In England in medieval times, and for several centuries following, white bread was considered king. The best loaves were considered to be white ‘manchet’ loaves and would have been readily enjoyed by the gentry and aristocracy, and aspired to by those with less means. To achieve this though, bread was often being whitened by unscrupulous bakers for centuries, adding lime, chalk and particularly alum as a bleach. And as industrial knowledge grew and milling capabilities advanced, the wheat germ was being milled out of the grain to make it even whiter, but therefore vastly reducing the breads nutritional value at a time when bread was a key staple of the nations diet.

Down the social scale, breads were often made up of a mix of wheats and grains, depending on what was available, and when their availability was limited, loaves could be boosted by pea powders. When wheat and grain harvests were very poor, whole loaves might be made from peas and beans, so whilst white bread was considered the height of sophistication, it lacked the nutrition, and I imagine flavour, that the bread that the poorer people were being given.

When you think of the rise of artisan bread makers we currently have, and the supposedly experimental breads that are being made with ancient grains, you realise again, that nothing is new. The mixed grain loaves that were considered as breads for the poor would now be considered the better choice by many – I know I’d happily choose a brown or mixed grain loaf over a straight white one. And the use of pea powders is very interesting – current interest for pea protein powders, and beans being used to bake cakes and breads seems so innovative, but they’re not. Which makes you realise just how creative cooks were all those hundreds of years ago.

What I also loved learning about, is the use of ‘trenchers’: these are basically bread plates.

Prior to the ceramic plates that we know today, our ancestors used pewter plates; before that, in Tudor times they used thin wooden boards to eat off…but before ALL of them, in Medieval times, people ate off bread trenchers. These were slices of bread cut especially to be used to eat off. Four-day-old coarse wholemeal bread was cut into 2-3 inch thick slices, about 6 inches wide, and diners placed their meat on the trencher. Alternatively, the trenchers could be hollowed out loaves, much like we sometimes see creative people using to serve soup nowadays.

In grander homes, if the trencher became saturated it was replaced with a new one and the sodden one was thrown to the dogs, or they were collected and given as alms to the poor. In poorer homes the diner ate the trencher as well as part of their meal.

Can you imagine how good that bread must have tasted with the juices of the food soaked into them?

Which is why this fascinates me in particular because in the Middle East if you eat in a Lebanese restaurant, for example, you will often be served your food choice sitting atop pieces of thin round Arabic bread. Only last week, my husband was served his chicken shish (kebab) sitting on a piece of lovely thin bread in our local Turkish restaurant. Throughout the Middle East, marinated meat dishes, lovely salads, even chips, will be served on top of a slice of khobez bread. This means that whatever juices, flavours, dressings and/or oils are on/in the food, soak down into the bread and that piece of bread ends up tasting AMAZING and often the best bit of the meal! Just like bruschetta covered in tomatoes roasted in garlic & olive oil, or a slice of sourdough with runny egg oozing into the holes….hmmmmmm….so good! Is there anything that isn’t good on a slice of bread?

I guess that’s what pizza basically is after all…

So, with this in mind, next time you serve up a salad, maybe tabbouleh, or fattoush, or some tasty marinated spiced meat kebabs or vegetables, especially if they are barbecued, lay a thin bread like khobez or open pitta bread underneath them, or, go the whole hog and ditch the ceramics completely – bring back trenchers I say and enjoy all those lovely flavours soaked into tasty bread! AND save on waste and washing up – what’s not to love?!

I hope you’ve enjoyed these little snippets and that you don’t mind me sharing more in the future 🙂

Happy Easter to those celebrating it, and happy Fiesta Friday to all those bloggers taking part, this week we are co hosted by our wonderful FF founder, Angie, ably assisted by Abbey.

**The information in these books has been collated by historians from letters, diaries and books as well as records, inventories, orders and receipts found or kept from large, grand and royal households, and from the businesses that supplied them. Consequently, much of the information can only be traced back to medieval times, which in the U.K. denotes the period of the mid 1100’s to the late 1400’s, before we entered the reign of Elizabeth I.

EDIT: I’ve been asked by a few people what books I’ve been reading so here is my list so far…

The Art of Dining – A History of Cooking and Eating by Sara Paston-Williams

A History of English Food by Clarissa Dickson Wright

The Greedy Queen: Eating with Victoria by Annie Gray

How to be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman

The Victorian House: Life from Childbirth to Deathbed by Judith Flanders

If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley

A very useful masala curry paste…

I’ve made this curry paste several times recently, it adds great flavour to any dish, plus it’s packed full of goodness and immunity boosting ingredients for this time of year.

I’ve used it to make masala sauces, added it to soups, and vegetable curries…

I’ve baked eggs into the sauce…

And I’ve made chicken curries for my boys with it.

I highly recommend making a huge amount of it and use it lavishly!

I have used lots of spices from the lovely Spice Kitchen UK and you’ll find the full recipe on their blog…I hope you like it!

How to eat as a vegetarian…

A friend of ours has recently decided to stop eating meat. That sounds simple, but if you’ve always eaten meat, it’s not as simple as it sounds. If you’ve never really thought too hard about what you eat, it could be a complete shock to the system. Our friend is definitely finding that to be the case.

Knowing that I am vegetarian, he has picked my brain a few times, and it has made me think that it could be an interesting post for anyone making the same change to their diet.

Removing meat means losing vital nutrients in your diet, all of which are easily replaceable as long as you know what you’re doing. The main one is obviously protein, but also vitamin B12, vitamin D, zinc, iron, calcium and omega 3 fatty acids. These can all be easily found in vegetarian food choices. Eggs, dairy, nuts and seeds are your friends, along with other ingredients that you wouldn’t necessarily think of like beans, legumes/pulses, some grains, lentils, oats which all contain protein. Other sources are listed below:

Vitamin B12: eggs and dairy are the best options

Vitamin D: is very difficult to find as a food source; I take cod liver oil tablets which give me omega 3 fatty acids, as well as much needed vitamin D

Iron: try legumes, nuts, seeds, prunes, raisins, kale, broccoli, spinach – eat with a source of vitamin C for maximum effect as it aids absorption of the iron (sweet potato is a great option for this, as it’s packed with vitamin C)

Zinc: whole grains, nuts, seeds, eggs, dairy, lentils

Omega 3 fatty acids: flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, also walnuts, soybeans, olive oil, hemp oil

*Many of these tips can also be applied to a vegan diet, removing the eggs and dairy

If you’ve always eaten meat, a typical meal would have no doubt been built around the meat portion: you start with the meat, and then add the extras, vegetables, potatoes, pasta, rice etc. When you don’t eat meat, or fish, or both, you have to think differently, unless you choose meat replacement products like quorn or tofu of course. I don’t eat those things so my meals are created differently. And you can’t just replace a portion of meat with a similar size portion of cheese: imagine a chicken breast sized piece of cheese?! Heart stopping stuff!!

Vegetarian proteins are not always lean proteins like some meat, you need to be aware of portion sizes. Nuts and seeds are great and provide so much goodness, but you can’t eat great piles of them any more than you can full fat cheese without it starting to affect your waistline.

If you are suddenly introducing your digestion to more vegetables, and legumes, than it’s used to, it may cause bloating and wind. In fact, I would suggest that you expect it, then it won’t be a surprise! All that extra fibre will take a bit of getting used to.

A lack of some of the key nutrients might make you feel achey, and it may be worth at some point requesting a blood test to see if you do have any deficiencies, or low levels, of any nutrients to help you understand what you need to boost.

People think that vegetarianism, or veganism, is a way to lose weight; the opposite can often be the case. It’s very easy to end up with very carbohydrate heavy meals. Think about how you filled your plate when you ate meat and keep the amounts of carbohydrate to a similar amount and fill up on salad and less heavy vegetables. I’m told that meat protein is very filling, so your meal now needs to include different filling foods without it being all carbs.

Becoming vegetarian just takes a bit of planning and understanding until it becomes second nature, which to me is all part of the fun of it, but to others may be new and daunting. Do lots of reading and research and read great blogs (like mine!) and other people’s experiences. Our bodies are all different, but the basics will be the same.

I make everything that I eat, but that’s my choice because I have the time, the inclination, and I love it! I love knowing exactly what is in the food that I eat, and I can manage exactly what my body needs. If that is not your inclination, or you don’t have the time, there are a lot of vegetarian choices available in supermarkets and restaurants nowadays. I have no interest in eating ‘meat replacement’ foods, they’re just not my thing, but if you do want to try them, I believe they are often fortified with helpful nutrients for vegetarians.

Becoming vegetarian really doesn’t have to be hard work.

If you are worried that you’re going to be hungry without meat, or fish, it really isn’t the case. You may feel a different kind of fullness, you may even notice that you don’t feel as ‘heavy’ or sluggish after meals because your body is no longer working hard to process the meat protein. But hungry, no, I never go hungry, ever!!!

That may all seem a lot to take in, so let me give you some ideas of what I do…

*I pack out my morning porridge with flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chopped nuts as well as the oats and lots of spices

*I ensure that I include a source of protein in every meal, whether I top dishes with cheese, low fat cream cheese, goats cheese, chopped nuts, seeds or a swirl of plain yoghurt – I eat a lot of natural yoghurt because I love it which helps – whether I include quinoa, a magic grain packed with protein, whether I add dollops of homous or other dips

*I use ground almonds/almond flour in place of breadcrumbs where I can (I also prefer the flavour), or as a thickener in sauces or curries

*Tahini is wonderful! Tahini is a sesame seed paste packed full of goodness. Use it to make homous (another winner in the nutrition stakes), use it in place of cream, swirl it through soup, eat it from the pot! (Sparingly though!!)

*Homous really is your friend, it provides so much in one perfect dip. And you can eat it in so many ways, not just with carrots stick or pieces of pita bread

*Nut butters are great, again you can add them to so many recipes; for example, make a batch of bean chilli and add a spoonful of peanut butter

*Eggs baked in tomato sauces are a godsend – the perfect fast food

*Or eggs cooked in vegetable hashes (top right)

*Another idea that I’ve read but haven’t tried yet, it using chopped walnuts as a mince replacement in things like bolognese sauce or ragu

*Portobello mushrooms are noted for a having meaty texture and often provide a satisfying feel in the mouth for those missing meat

*Bacon alternatives can be made with slices of sweet potato, or indeed aubergine

*Chorizo flavours can be created with spices, particularly smoked paprika and chilli powder

If you are deciding to remove meat, and maybe fish, from your diet, I would definitely recommend to phase it out, going ‘cold turkey’ could put your body into shock and create discomfort. Maybe start by removing red meats, then poultry and white meats, then fish etc.

Whatever you choose to do, I wish you great luck, and I am always available if I can assist with any ideas…

*If you know someone who might find this useful, please do pass it on. Thank you 🙂

I am sharing my tips with everyone at this week’s Fiesta Friday, co hosted this week by Lily and Alisa

Little bread ‘fantails’…

I had never heard of fantails before this week when I saw an image of an amazing little bread creation on Instagram; of course, I immediately searched it to see what it was and how to make my own and found this method using a muffin tin. I then made two batches two days running this week, of course, you wouldn’t expect anything else would you?! I made a cheesy version and a garlic butter version. They look so cool and are incredibly simple to make, and got a big thumbs up from my master bread taster 🙂

You could also use mini loaf tins to make them with a smarter finished edge if you have them.

You can really use any basic bread recipe, it’s the assembly that’s the key, but I’ll let you know how I made my dough too. I only used a small quantity of dough, it can easily be doubled.

My basic dough recipe:

250g strong bread flour

150g warm water

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 tsp salt

1tsp dried yeast (can be quick or easy bake yeast)

Measure out the flour into a large bowl, sprinkle the salt and yeast over the flour and pour in the water and oil.

Bring it together with your hands and knead in the bowl for a few minutes until smoothish.

Cover the bowl with a plastic bag and leave the dough to rise for 2-3 hours, depending on the warmth of your kitchen, until it has doubled in size.

Line a muffin tin with baking parchment squares.

Once you have proved your bread dough, punch it done if necessary, remove from the bowl and place onto a floured surface.

*At this point you can fold in some grated cheese, herbs, aromatics, whatever you like.

Roll the dough out to as close to a rectangle as possible, to a thickness of a couple of millimetres.

Cut the dough into even strips. I used a pizza cutter to do this.

Brush the dough strips with melted butter then stack them on top of one another. For the garlic butter version I brushed the layers with homemade garlic butter.

Cut into even sized mini stacks.

Place the stacks cut size down into your lined muffin tin and spread the leaves apart a little bit if possible.

Hopefully these photos will help…

Cover the whole muffin pan with a plastic bag and let the dough prove once more for up to an hour.

Brush them with melted butter and bake in the oven at 200C for 15-18 minutes until golden and cooked through.

I brushed more garlic butter over mine whilst they were warm.

They are lovely fresh from the oven, they were also good the next day, and reheated well in the oven for 5 mins.

Great fun to make and eat really! I’m sure they’d be fun to make with kids.

I hope everyone at this week’s Fiesta Friday enjoys my fantails!

My idea of ‘fast food’…

I don’t eat what is typically called ‘fast food’. I don’t buy or eat any ready made foods, I make everything I eat. I therefore make sure that my fridge contains things that I’ve made, various dishes, sauces, dips, prepared vegetables, cooked grains, at all times, so that I always have choices of my own food readily available. On the very rare occasion that I haven’t got anything immediately and readily available, and I’m hungry and want something NOW, I reach for the eggs…

Eggs cooked in a tomato sauce is my ‘fast food’.

I’ve always got eggs, and I’ve always got a jar of passata (sieved tomatoes), so that becomes my starting point, and then I add whatever takes my fancy from my fridge or kitchen cupboards. This can include any leftover vegetables, as below, any veg that needs using up (like the spinach included above), herbs, spices, chilli sauces, whatever takes my fancy…

And then I make holes in the mix and crack eggs into them and cook them through.

I usually then also add grated or chunks of cheese (as you can see on all three concoctions), sometimes I sprinkle over seeds or nuts, and very quickly, and simply, I’ve got a filling, tasty, healthy, colourful meal….

This can also be a perfect way to top up on protein for a vegetarian like me, particularly after exercise.

If you already make similar dishes, or fancy giving one a go, just grab some passata or tinned tomatoes and start building a sauce; look around your kitchen and take inspiration from what your fridge or cupboards have to offer, and add some texture and flavour and substance; then once you’re happy with it, make wells in the mixture and break eggs into them and cook.

Then, do as I do, and eat it straight from the pan! Perfect!!! That’s your meal right there – fast and fabulous 🙂