Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Home-made Italian BMT

If you ask my boyfriend, he would tell you that I have two vices. No, not drinking or smoking. Not drugs. Not even shopping. My two vices are: 

  • Red Bull
  • Subway

I have a pretty strong addiction to both these things, and I try to limit my intake to 1 per week. I know how bad both of these things are, so I make sure they are treats and not daily habits. However.... if I made the Subway at home it wouldn't be so bad right? Especially if I made the bread rolls myself, right? Right!

Homemade Italian BMT

9 inch whole wheat roll (I made these myself, but you could buy from the supermarket)
Sliced cheese
Shredded iceberg lettuce
Sliced tomato
Sliced cucumber
Sweetcorn kernels
Sliced pitted black olives
Honey mustard dressing

Slice and assemble. Best made on the same day.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Ginger Crunch

Whilst wondering how to use up the last of some ground ginger in my cupboard I remembered a treat which is sold in every bakery in New Zealand, and seemingly no-where else! It's a relic from the legendary Edmond's Cookbook and like all the classic Edmond's recipes it uses simple cupboard ingredients to make something utterly delicious. 

Makes 24 slices

For the dough:
125 g butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups standard plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger

For the icing:
75 g butter
3/4 cup icing sugar
2 tablespoons golden syrup (I didn't have this so I used 2 tablespoons of dark brown soft sugar instead and it worked fine)
3 teaspoons ground ginger (I didn't have this either! So I used 3 teaspoons of chopped fresh ginger. And it was amazing.)

1) Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Sift flour, baking powder and ginger together. Mix into creamed mixture. After mixing thoroughly my "dough" resembled breadcrumbs and would not stick together one bit. So I added 2 tablespoons of cold water, one at a time, until the mixture could hold together.
2) Press dough into a greased 20x30cm sponge roll tin. Bake at 190C (375F) for 20-25 minutes or until light brown.
3) When there are about 5 minutes of cooking time left, combine butter, icing sugar, golden syrup and ginger. Heat until butter is melted, stirring constantly. Pour hot ginger icing over base while hot and allow to cool completely before cutting into squares.

Best enjoyed by eating slice after slice while watching HBO's Girls.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Mum's Banana Birthday Cake

So.... today is my birthday! And even though I'm on the other side of the world, I will follow my family's birthday tradition. Every year mum would ask me the same question, though we both always knew the answer: "What kind of birthday cake would you like Amber?" "Banana cake!" Every year until I left home mum would make me a banana birthday cake filled with whipped cream and sliced bananas, and covered with cream cheese icing.
7 simple ingredients...
My mum's banana cake recipe is the easiest recipe you could imagine. I've been making it for years and have got the prep time down to 30 minutes, so from start until it comes out of the oven is 75 minutes. It's also fool-proof, which makes it a great stress-free cake to make for family and friends.

I use the same cake mixture to make my banana and chocolate chip muffins. When the cake mixture is complete, just add a cup of chocolate chips, and divide into greased muffin tins and bake at 180 degrees for about 10-12 minute, or until medium brown on top. This mixture will make about 16 muffins.

Mum's Banana Birthday Cake
Makes 1x23cm/9inch cake

For the cake:
115 grams (4 oz) butter
170 grams (6 oz) caster sugar
230 grams (8 oz) flour
2 eggs
2 large bananas
1 level teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons hot milk

For the icing:
250grams cream cheese
4 tablespoons icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence

300ml double cream for whipping
1 large banana, sliced

1) In a large mixing bowl microwave butter for 20-30 seconds to soften. Add sugar and beat butter and sugar until white and fluffy. Fold in eggs. Mash bananas thoroughly and add. Mix the baking soda with the warm milk into a froth and beat into mixture. Sieve flour into mixture and mix.
Cream the sugar and butter until white and fluffy...
2) Bake at 180C (350F) for at least half an hour (mine took 45 minutes), or until knife comes out clean. Leave to cool completely, then refrigerate. You can freeze the cake at this point and it will defrost fine.

3) In a bowl beat the cream cheese until it's soft and smooth. Add the icing sugar one tablespoon at a time and keep tasting it to check. Stop adding icing sugar when it's just sweet enough - too much sugar and it will turn into syrup! Add the vanilla essence last. Whip the cream until quite stiff- as it will hold up the top half of the cake.
Finish with whipped cream, sliced banana and cream cheese icing
4) Slice your cake in two horizontally. Onto the bottom layer arrange sliced bananas, then cover evenly with whipped cream. Onto the top half evenly spread the cream cheese icing. Assemble the cake and serve immediately! It will last for 2-3 days in the fridge.
Another slice? Don't mind if I do....
My birthday treats: Recipe for the Ultimate Chocolate Cake coming soon!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Lunch Box - Ham Salad a la Pret

Main: Ham Salad a la Pret
Fruit: Apple slices and blueberries with yogurt

I snapped this photo of our lunch box assembly line last night. I just love all the colours and knowing that everything in our lunch-boxes is fresh and healthy. After the success of the Chicken Salad a la Pret I thought of doing a ham salad. It would be great with a bit of potato salad, but in the interests of expediency I decided to keep all the ingredients fuss-free.

Ham Salad a la Pret
Yeild: 4 lunch boxes

150 grams salad leaves
1/2 cucumber, sliced
4 pickled beetroot, sliced
4 large gherkins, sliced
1 punnet cherry or baby plum tomatoes, halved
8 slices deli ham
4 teaspoons horseradish sauce

1) Evenly divide all ingredients into 4 portions and assemble. 

2) Enjoy, knowing that you're enjoying a delicious healthy lunch without the hefty price tag.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Meringue Disaster (or, Eton Mess)

I've never told anyone this, but I have a problem which is quite embarrassing for a New Zealander. I can't make pavlova. Every time I try, my egg whites bypass the stiff peak phase and turn straight into a sloppy, gloopy mess. I know it can't be a genetic problem, as my mum can make perfect pavlovas* - all wonderfully risen and light. I've tried every solution - I clean the bowl and whisk with vinegar or lemon juice to rid the bowl of grease; I crack each egg with careful precision so as not to get a speck of yolk in the bowl, then I add the sugar a spoonful at a time - but all to no avail. I end up with meringues that are as flat as a pancake.

The only thing to do in such an instance is make an Eton Mess! I believe that the Eton Mess must have been created by someone as unfortunate as myself - after years of trying to perfect the meringue and failing, they thought " Stuff this, I'll just mash it up with some cream and fruit and pretend it was meant to be like that". And so the Eton Mess was born.

Eton Mess
Serves 4-6

You can use any of the following to make your Eton Mess:

1 disastrous meringue
1 perfect meringue (though if you can make this, why not make a pretty pavlova?)
A packet of store bought mini meringues

1 pint of double cream
450 g strawberries, cleaned and halved
1 tablespoons icing sugar

1) Whip your cream until soft peak stage. Place the strawberries and icing sugarplace in a blender. Whiz them into a purée and then pass through a sieve for extra smoothness.

2) Break up the meringue into largish chunks and fold into the whipped cream with the strawberry purée. Do not over-mix, as you want a nice marbled effect.

3) Dollop the mixture into 4-6 serving bowls and finish with the rest of the strawberries on top.

* Incidentally, Wikipedia states that the origin of pavlova is New Zealand! It was created by a hotel chef in Wellington in 1926 to celebrate the ballerina Anna Pavlova's tour of New Zealand and Australia, and the soft white meringue is said to have been inspired by the tutu Pavlova wore in Swan Lake - her most famous role.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Lunch Box - Moroccan Cous cous

Main: Moroccan Cous cous
Fruit: Tinned peaches
Treat: Banana choc chip muffin

The couscous salad made by my eternally patient boyfriend. It's delicious, healthy and vege.

Moroccan Cous cous
Yield: 4 lunch boxes

2 cups uncooked cous cous
1 teaspoons garam masala
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 cup sultanas
2 cups boiling hot vegetable stock
400g can of chickpeas, drained (or 400g cooked chickpeas)
1 red onion, finely diced
2 large carrots, grated
1 can sweetcorn, drained
1 red capsicum, diced
Handful of mint, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil

1) Combine the spices, sultanas and cous cous in a large heatproof bowl and mix well. Pour in your boiling hot vegetable stock and quickly seal with plastic wrap. Leave to absorb for 5 minutes.

2) In a small bowl combine the garlic with the lemon juice and olive oil to make a dressing. When the cous cous is ready, fluff it up with a fork and add dressing. Mix well.

3) Add all other ingredients, mix, and refrigerate before serving.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

To Cook Or Not To Cook?

Last night a familiar scenario played out in our house. I got home from work and started making dinner, which according to the meal plan was risotto. Cursing myself for choosing a dish which involved both extensive prep and standing over a stove for eternity on a week-night, I crushed, diced, sliced, chopped and stirred. Luckily my boyfriend got home pretty soon after me so I got him on lunch box duty - Moroccan Couscous Salad.
Couscous is pretty much the easiest thing to make, however you should never underestimate these things. With a huge list of ingredients it wasn't quick work, and by the time we were both finished it was pretty late and the kitchen looked like a bomb had hit it. We ate our risotto, saving half for tomorrow's dinner (I always make a double portion), packed up our lunch boxes for the next two days, and cleaned up the kitchen before watching an hour of TV and heading to bed.

Was it worth it?

We could have done what the majority of people here in the UK do - bought a freezer meal, or a chilled ready meal, a packet of pre-cut vegetables and a jar of sauce or ordered take-away. Many of the people I work with don't seem to factor cooking into their daily schedule which makes me think "What on earth do they eat?".
A mixture of the above, I can only assume, with a few restaurant meals thrown in. But we can't eat that way, and not just because of the cost. After returning home from a holiday in Europe when we eat out at least twice a day, we are always so glad to be back in our kitchen, eating food we have prepared from scratch. It's the combination of knowing exactly what you're eating, and being able to eat exactly what you want, when you want it which I love. If you are in Barcelona you can't walk into a restaurant or cafe and ask for tuna and sweetcorn soup the way your mum used to make. But in your kitchen you can whip it up in 15 minutes flat.

It feels to me that knowing how to cook, and making the time for it, is going out of fashion. Certainly in London, and I would assume in many large cities, the infrastructure is such that huge trucks can deliver freshly made ready meals and pre-made sandwiches to hundreds of thousands of supermarkets and shops every day, and at a low cost to the customer. Whereas "back home" (in New Zealand) we simply don't have the population to support such an economy. I was shocked when I first arrived in the UK, by the amount of ready-made meals available. And according to Food Market Research (UK)  their popularity continues to grow; "[Ready meal sales have] grown ahead of grocery, driven... by both increases in frequency and weight of purchase." This means that we are buying more ready meals than previously, and buying them more often. Children are being bought up in households where cooking simply isn't a necessity, as you can just buy everything ready-made from the supermarket. 

Although I find this terrifying, I'm not completely against it. After all, if the technology and infrastructure are there to make our lives easier, why not let it? Use the extra time we have saved by not cooking to relax more or spend more time with friends or family. Or just watch more TV, whatever - the point is that certain technologies have saved us a lot of time in the past. Pre-1950s women had to spend hours scrubbing and wringing, rinsing and squeezing every day just to get their family's laundry done. And we hardly bemoan that change. "If only all our laundry were done by pounding it on rocks, it's better for the environment and doesn't use so many chemicals..." is not a refrain you hear often. 

So: to cook or not to cook? Of course I cook for many reasons; I enjoy it, I find it calming (when it goes well) and it satisfies a creative urge in me - the most basic creative urge really, to create something to be enjoyed by your loved ones. Also I'm interested in nutrition and it's important to me that I know what I'm eating, even if it's just a variation on sugar and butter! But I don't want my life to be dominated by food preparation - I already have a full time job and I don't need another one! So that's why Friday night is take-away night. Back in NZ it would be fish and chips, here in South East London it's some jerk pork from our local Caribbean shop. It's a treat, and a time to not worry what's in our food, just enjoy it and enjoy the fact there's no washing up! I still feel that ready meals are an absolute last resort. We make our own by cooking up a huge pot of stew or curry every few weeks and freezing it on single portions, ready for a quick mid week meal.

What do you think? Is cooking going out of fashion? Should we be worried for the new generation of "microwave oven" children? Or should we embrace the ever changing technology of food production and just get on with it? Thoughts, please!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Lunch Box - Summer Pasta Salad

Main: Summer Pasta Salad
Fruit: Apple slices
Treat: World's Best Brownie

Today's lunch is a hasty assortment of whatever was in my fridge and cupboard on the weekend, but I'm quite pleased with how colourful it turned out. I had wanted to buy tropical fruit this week as summer is finally on it's way, but a small cash-flow problem made me settle for boring (cheap!) apples instead.

Summer Pasta Salad
Makes 4 lunch-box servings

4 cups of uncooked pasta
1 small red onion finely sliced
200 grams Greek feta
Cherry or baby plum tomatoes, halved
8 sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 large roasted red pepper, chopped (I used the jarred variety, but you could roast the pepper or use raw pepper if you wanted)
Pepper to season

Cook the pasta, cool, then mix all ingredients. You can use a little extra oil from the sun-dried tomatoes as a dressing, but with so many flavours going on in this salad that's all you'll need.

*Olives or fresh torn basil would be a wonderful addition if you have it!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Meaty Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie with Pumpkin Mash

Cheesy goodness
When my boyfriend gets home from a weekend away I like to make him a pie...

Meaty Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie with Pumpkin Mash
Serves 4

For the pie filling:
2 small onions or 1 large onion
4 cloves garlic
25 grams butter
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
1/2 small butternut pumpkin, peeled and diced
100 grams mushrooms, diced
1 cup of green lentils
1 teaspoon thyme
2 bay leaves
1 cup of beef (or vegetable) stock
1 cup of boiled water (or red wine if you prefer)
1 teaspoon tomato purée
1 teaspoon of gravy granules (or cornflour if you don't have gravy granules)

For the mash:
4 large potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/2 small butternut pumpkin, peeled and quartered
25 grams butter
1/4 cup milk
Large handful grated cheese
Dinner for the week!
 1) In a large pan melt the butter and gently fry the onions and garlic until soft. Add the carrots and pumpkin and fry for 15 minutes. Add the mushroom and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the lentils and mix well. Add the herbs, then pour in the stock and water, cover and simmer for 25 minutes.

2) Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C.

3) Bring a large pot of water to boil with a big pinch of salt and add the potatoes and pumpkin. Boil for 10-15 minutes or until a fork easily pierces the flesh of the potato. Drain all the water and add the butter and milk. Mash thoroughly until creamy. Add salt to taste.

4) Once the lentils are fully cooked add the tomato purée and gravy granules and mix through. The mixture will quickly thicken. Take out the bay leaf and check for seasoning.

5) To assemble your pie, pour the lentil mixture into a casserole dish, and layer the mash on top. Finish with a generous handful of grated cheese and put in the oven for 25 minutes, or until the cheese starts to brown around the edges.

It's not pretty, but it's delicious!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Meal For One - Pasta Cabonara

When my boyfriend's away I make pasta cabonara. It's easy, quick and delicious.

Pasta Cabonara
Yield: 1 serving

100 grams pasta
1 egg
A small handful of grated parmesan
2 rashers of bacon, chopped into bits

1) Cook the pasta.

2) While pasta is cooking fry the bacon.

3) In a bowl, whisk the egg and add the grated parmesan.

4) When your pasta is done, strain it reserving a little of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the bacon, then take the pan off the heat and quickly add the egg mixture, stirring to evenly coat the pasta with the sauce. If you need to, add some of the pasta water to loosen the mixture. Don't put the pan back onto the heat, as you will scramble your egg (I speak from experience).

5) Eat immediately. Best enjoyed sitting on the couch watching Inspector Morse.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Lunch Box - Chicken Salad A La Pret

Main: Chicken Salad a la Pret
Fruit: Diced mango
Treat: Banana and choc chip muffin
Extras: Ciabatta roll and pot of hummus

I went to Pret the other day for a quick work lunch with a friend and found myself eating one of their Chef's Italian Chicken Salads. It was quite good, and also seemed extremely easy to put together - just whack in all your ingredients and you're done, no fussing about. So I made my own version with a few cheats - bought roasted chicken slices instead of roasting our own, and the jarred variety of roasted red capsicum. Coupled with a fresh ciabatta roll and a pot of (store-bought) hummus this easily beats the Pret version any day, and is a very easy lunchbox idea when you're looking for a quick fix.

Chicken Salad a la Pret
Makes 4 lunch-boxes


150grams mixed baby salad leaves, washed
Cherry or baby plum tomatoes
Deli stuffed olives
Roasted red capsicums, sliced
Roasted sliced chicken breast
2 hard boiled eggs, halved
4 pickled beetroot, sliced
1/2 cucumber, sliced

Prepare all ingredients and assemble. You could lightly drizzle with olive oil before serving if you like.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Guest Post - Shrewsburys

Today's post is all the way from my mum in New Zealand! She's a great baker, and we love to compare notes on one of our many phone marathons. When she mentioned that she had made some Shrewsburys for a friend I was so excited as they are a very NZ biscuit - they don't have them in Australia and the UK version is almost unrecognisable to us Kiwis.

Shrewsbury biscuits were originally made in the town of Shrewsbury in Shropshire, England. They were a plain biscuit similar to shortbread, flavoured with lemon zest and sometimes currents or caraway seeds.

In the 1970's New Zealand's confectionery company Griffin's started to produce their version of Shrewburys. Two plain but sweet biscuits with a crinkle cut edge stuck together with strawberry jam and with a star or heart shape cut out of the middle.

A5878 Shrewsbury Twin 3D LR (WEB).jpg
Now, over to mum:

Hi Amber,

Here is the recipe for Shrewsbury biscuits. It comes from the Edmonds cookbook.

    4ozs. butter
    4ozs. sugar
    1 egg
    1 tablespoon grated lemon rind (or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence if no lemons)
    8ozs. flour
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    Raspberry jam

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and lemon rind. Beat well. Add sifted flour and baking powder.
Put onto floury surface and roll out. Cut into rounds making a small hole in the middle of every second biscuit.

Bake 10-15 minutes at 350 F. Watch carefully and take out when biscuits start to colour.
When cold put together with raspberry jam. Overcooked gluey jam works well here.

Makes 15 biscuits. Biscuits without the jam freeze well and stay crunchy. They soften up with jam by the second day.

Mum's Shrewsburys with home-made raspberry jam!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Thai Workshop at Leiths School of Food and Wine

If you live in London and want to buy someone the best present ever, give them a Leiths School of Food and Wine gift voucher! I was lucky enough to be given one as a Christmas gift from my work mates (whom I had strategically gifted with home-made relish a week earlier).

Leiths are known as one of the best (if not the best) cooking school in London, and it certainly lives up to it's reputation. Situated in a leafy residential suburb of West London it's a haven of all things culinary. The range of courses is astounding - from making the perfect macaroon to knife skills, they have it covered. However, perfection doesn't come cheap and a one-day workshop will set you back around £140 upwards!

It took a lot of soul-searching to finally settle on the one-day Thai Workshop. Thai food is probably my favourite food in the world, but I have never been able to master it at home - the few attempts I made have been disastrous and made me lose confidence in my abilities to reproduce this delicious food from my own kitchen. I needed some professional help!

The first thing we learnt about Thai cooking was the enormous range of flavours and ingredients, which when combined together in exactly the right way produce the subtle blend of fresh flavours so special to Thai cuisine. We were then given a demonstration which included Sticky Pork Salad with Green Pawpaw and Chilli Lime Dressing, Phad Thai and Beef Massaman Curry.

We then got to don our aprons and cook up a feast: Chicken Panaeng Curry, Summer rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce, Duck Salad with Citrus and Star Anise Dressing and a Green Curry Paste were all on the menu. The best part of the day (apart from lunch) was leaving with a heavy bag full of delicious food and curry pastes.

The strange and wonderful ingredients in Thai cooking 
L: Sticky Pork Salad with Green Pawpaw and Chilli Lime Dressing
R: The classic Phad Thai
Getting hot in the kitchen: cooking up some Chicken Panaeng Curry 
To take home: Summer Spring Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce
Duck Salad with Citrus and Star Anise Dressing and Deep Fried Noodles

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Monday, 2 April 2012

Raspberry Oat Muffins

I'm back from an unplanned 2 week break - namely a terrible bout of flu. It was so bad that my usual cooking and baking went out of the window and I ate 2-minute noodles for the first time in years. 

I had a brief respite about a week in (I though it was over - I was so wrong) and whipped up these muffins. Muffins are one of the easiest things to make - mix the dry ingredients together, mix the wet together, then mix both together until just moistened and whack in the oven. One small trick I use is to leave a couple of the muffin cups empty, and pour water into them. This creates steam whilst the muffins are baking, which plumps up the muffins beautifully.

Adapted from the always entertaining Joy the Baker:

Raspberry Oat Muffins

Makes 12-15 muffins
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 1/4 cups oats
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup applesauce
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil 
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup raspberries (fresh or frozen)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Grease a 12 cup muffin tin.
In a large bowl combine flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. In a medium bowl combine applesauce, milk, sugar, oil and egg. Make a well in dry ingredients and add applesauce mixture. Stir until just moist. Fold in raspberries. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full.
Bake for 16-18 minutes.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Meal For One - Sausage Lentil Casserole

Cooking for one is hard. When contemplating a one off dish I usually end up reaching for the cereal packet as it just doesn't seem worth the effort. Tonight me and the man were invited to a party that I had been looking forward to all week, alas I was struck down by flu, so I kissed my man goodbye and settled in for a night of atrocious Saturday night television and Shreddies. However the Shreddies weren't cutting it, so I went searching the cupboards for something more satisfying. I wanted a no-fuss one-pot wonder with plenty of flavor.  

Adapted from Channel4.com

Sausage Lentil Casserole


  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 sausages
  • 2 medium shallots, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 carrots, cut into chunks
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
  • A pinch of dried chilli flakes
  • A sprig of rosemary
  • A sprig of thyme
  • 1/2 tsp tomato puree
  • 75g Puy or green lentils
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tsp redcurrant jelly (optional)
  • Parsley to garnish (optional)

1) Heat the oil in a large casserole pan. Throw the sausages in and brown them all over. Remove from the pan then throw in the shallots, carrots and garlic. Fry for about 5 minutes or until the shallots, carrots and garlic cloves have some color. For the last minute of cooking add in the chilli flakes and herbs. Add the tomato puree and cook for a further minute.
2) Pour in the lentils so they can infuse in all of the flavours, then cover with the stock. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer. Add the sausages back to the pan cover with a lid and let it simmer away for 35 minutes or until the lentils are cooked through. Stir in the redcurrant jelly and serve sprinkled with parsley.
Best enjoyed whilst loudly criticizing the contestants of "Come Dine With Me".

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Lunch Box- Quinoa Avocado Salad

Main: Quinoa avocado salad
Fruit: Some kind of fancy pear from M&S
Treat: The last of the brownie!

I arrived home on Sunday after a week skiing in the Swiss Alps, thankfully still in one piece. However, I'd eaten enough cheese to last me a life-time, so this week's menu has been quite vegetable and wholegrain based, to diminish the considerable cheese hangover.

Quinoa Avocado Salad

Yield: 4 lunch box servings

1 1/2 cups quinoa
2 avocados, diced
2 red capsicums, diced
1 red onion, finely diced
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons vinegar
Salt and pepper to season

Cook your quinoa for 20 minutes in a large pot of boiling water, or until the seeds begin to unravel. Cool, and add the chopped vege. Thin down the mayo with the vinegar and add. Mix well, season liberally and chill before serving.

You could easily substitute brown rice for the quinoa, and add any vege to hand - some chopped parsley or coriander would work well too.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Lunch Box - Chickpea and Lentil Salad

Main: Chickpea and Lentil Salad
Fruit: Fresh mango
Treat: Brownie

I found this recipe via Tastespotting on The Galley Gourmet and have been looking forward to making it all week. Sun-dried tomato, parmesan, garlic and balsamic vinegar - could you get a better tasting dressing? You could cover wood chippings with this dressing and it would taste delicious. You could add just about any salad ingredients you have to hand - I will try it with tomato and avocado next time too - yum.   

Chickpea and Lentil Salad with Sun-Dried Tomato Dressing
Yield: 4 lunch box servings

For the dressing
8 oil packed sun-dried tomatoes
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to season
1/4 cup olive oil

For the salad
4 cups cold water
1 cup French green lentils, picked through and rinsed
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 medium red onion, finely diced
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1 cucumber, diced
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped

In a food processor, puree the sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, vinegar, Parmesan, salt and pepper to a thick paste.  With the motor running, add the oil slowly through the feed tube until the dressing is emulsified. Taste for seasoning; set aside.

In a large saucepan, bring the water and lentils to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes or until the lentils are tender, but not losing their skins.  Thoroughly drain them in a colander then spread them out on a large rimmed baking sheet to cool slightly; transfer to a large bowl.

Add the chickpeas, red onion, bell pepper, and cucumber to the lentils; toss to combine.  Pour the vinaigrette over the mixture and toss until the legumes and vegetables are evenly coated.  Sprinkle the basil over the salad and toss gently to avoid bruising the basil.  Taste for seasoning.

Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour for the flavours to develop. Serve chilled or at room temperature with a drizzle of additional balsamic vinegar if needed.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Lunch Box - Spinach, red pepper and gruyere quiche

Main: Spinach, red pepper and gruyere quiche
Fruit: Green seedless grapes
Treat: Banana and choc chip muffin

Monday, 5 March 2012

Spinach, red pepper and gruyere quiche

Adapted from http://shabbottshabits.com/.


For the dough:
150 grams all purpose flour
Salt to season
75 grams cold butter, diced
3 tablespoons iced water

For the filling:
Olive oil to drizzel
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 large handfuls of spinach, roughly chopped
2 roasted red peppers, chopped (I used the jarred variety)
5 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
100 grams gruyere or any kind of strongly flavored cheese, grated
Salt and pepper to season


To begin make your dough. It's a good idea to run your hands under cold water beforehand, to get them as cold as possible so they don't melt the butter. In a bowl mix the flour and salt, then add the diced cold butter and rub together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the iced water in one tablespoon at a time until you have a soft but not sticky dough. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 15-30 minutes.

Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees. On a floured surface roll out your dough to roughly a 32 cm circle. Transfer your circle of dough to a 22 cm pie dish and gently press into shape. Beware that the dough will shrink when baked, so make sure you have enough to cover the sides of the dish. Prick the base with a fork and bake for 10 minutes.

While the crust is baking, in a pan heat the olive oil then saute the garlic and onion until soft. Add the spinach and gently saute until wilted. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs and milk and season with salt and pepper. Add 3/4 of the grated cheese, the chopped red peppers and the spinach mixture. Mix, then pour into your pie crust. Bake for 30 minutes, then take out and cover with the remaining cheese. Bake for a further 10-15 minutes until the cheese is golden and the pie is well cooked.

Best eaten in front of your work-mates who are all on diets. Enjoy!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Creamy Curried Carrot Soup

So we're going on holiday next week and I'm determined to get rid of all the perishable goods in my fridge before we go. I'm a bit OCD like that. Anyway, we had an enormous bag of carrots languishing in the vege drawer, so the only answer was to make carrot soup. I'm normally more of a pumpkin soup girl, in fact I've never made carrot soup before, so I was determined to make it really spicy and flavorsome.


700 grams of carrots (about 7 large carrots)
2 brown onions
2 cloves garlic
25 grams butter
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Large pinch of red pepper flakes
1 litre vege or chicken stock
1 cup milk
Salt and pepper to season


Dice the onions and finely chop the garlic. Saute in a large pot with the butter until soft. Add the spices and mix well. Add the carrots (roughly chopped) and saute for about 10 minutes. Add the stock, milk and season as required. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 20 minutes, or  until the carrots are cooked through. Leave to cool if you can, otherwise  blend carefully so as not to splash yourself with burning hot soup. It will take about 10 minutes to blend into a smooth creamy consistency. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if necessary.

Best served with buttered soldiers while listening to UB40 on a Sunday afternoon. Enjoy!

Friday, 2 March 2012

Lunch Box - Focaccia with ham, mustard, cheese and gherkin

Main: Focaccia with ham, mustard, cheese and gherkin
Fruit: Fresh pineapple chunks and seedless red grapes
Treat: Brownie

Amazing yoga session this morning. I found some extra space in my back bends that I swear wasn't there before! Why is it that just as I'm getting into the swing of the week it's over? Happens every time. Never mind, I'm looking forward to some good sleep-ins and general lying about.

Have a great weekend everyone!


Thursday, 1 March 2012

Menu 05-03-12

Some people give me a strange look when I mention that I make a weekly menu plan. Did I say some? I meant all. It's a habit which is born out of necessity, rather than a desire to be insanely over-organised. I work 9 hours a day. Combined with daily yoga practice and my commute I'm out of the house for 12 hours per day minimum, so when I get home I don't have the time or energy to ponder what I'm going to make for dinner or go to the supermarket. What I need is a piece of paper which tells me what I'm going to eat, and the ingredients in my cupboard and fridge to make it right away. Did I mention? I get really grumpy when I'm hungry, which R can testify!

So, every week I look online for new meal ideas and recipes (Tastespotting is my favourite site for this). By Friday I have a bunch of recipes to try. I organise them into a menu (as below) then make a shopping list with every ingredient I'm going to need. I then go one step further (this is where it gets crazy, be warned) and organise the shopping list into the order of the supermarket - fruit and vege first, then meat, dairy, and dried foods at the end. It makes our supermarket trip go smoothly and as quickly as possible, and we're not constantly doubling back to get something we forgot, or getting lured into the junk food aisle by mistake.

Lunches Monday-Tuesday

Gruyère, red pepper and spinach quiche
Fruit salad

Lunches Thursday-Friday
Chick-pea and lentil salad with sun-dried tomato vinaigrette
Banana and chocolate chip muffin (home-baked)*
Fresh berries

Dinner Saturday
Caribbean chicken and rice (freeze left overs for emergency meals!)

Dinner Sunday-Monday
Baked penne with eggplant, zuccini and tomato

Dinner Tuesday-Wednesday
Marinated tofu with vegetable stir-fry and noodles

Dinner Thursday - out

Dinner Friday
Home-made burgers with hand cut spicy potato wedges (no recipe - I just make it up as I go along!)

Banana split with vanilla ice-cream and warm Mars bar sauce (melt a chopped-up Mars bar in a small pot with a splash of milk... that's it!)

*A note on the baked goods. Every time I do any baking I make a large batch - 24 or so biscuits, slices or muffins. I leave a few out for the coming week and freeze the rest for lunches. This way one batch of baking can easily last for three weeks worth of lunches.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Oh my god, I made focaccia!

Focaccia with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and home-made red pepper hummus
As you can see, I had a pretty exciting weekend. My work mates gave me the "Great British Bake Off: How to Bake: The Perfect Victoria Sponge and Other Baking Secrets" book for Christmas, and I often browse it for weekend baking ideas. It's a beautiful book with step by step photo illustrations for technical challenges, which helps to minimise disasters! I decided to make this focaccia simply to go with the hummus, which I made to finish off a jar of tahini that wasn't going to last much longer. Quite a lot of effort to go to, but oh my goodness, it was worth it! Soft, springy, chewy and flavoursome, this was the best focaccia I had ever tasted! My only downfall was to use greaseproof paper without greasing it first - which had the unfortunate consequence of gluing the paper to the underside of the loaf. Luckily R was there to calm me down and help me carefully cut the paper off (which took off a bit of the lovely crust too, but oh well, I think we salvaged 95% of it). Next time I will just liberally oil my two baking trays and bake the loaves directly on them. Also, my olive, rosemary and sea salt topping was a total success, but the sun-dried tomatoes burnt to a crisp, so stay clear of them.

I have taken the recipe here word for word from the BBC Food website.


500g/1lb 2oz strong white bread flour
2 tsp salt
2 sachets dried easy blend yeast
2 tbsp olive oil
400ml/14fl oz cold water
olive oil, for drizzling
fine sea salt

Preparation method

1. Place the flour, salt, yeast, olive oil and 300ml/10½fl oz of the water
into a large bowl. Gently stir with your hand or a wooden spoon to
form a dough then knead the dough in the bowl for five minutes,
gradually adding the remaining water.

2. Stretch the dough by hand in the bowl, tuck the sides into the centre,
turn the bowl 80 degrees and repeat the process for about five

3. Tip the dough onto an oiled work surface and continue kneading for
five more minutes. Return the dough to the bowl, cover and leave to
rise until doubled in size.

4. Line two large baking sheets with greaseproof paper. Tip the dough
out of the bowl and divide into two portions. Flatten each portion onto
a baking sheet, pushing to the corners, then leave to prove for one

Ready for the oven
5. Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. Drizzle the loaves with oil,
sprinkle with fine sea salt then bake in the oven for 20 minutes.
When cooked, drizzle with a little more olive oil and serve hot or

Fresh from the oven

Cut to lunch-box size for super delicious sandwiches