Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Lunch Box - Quesadilla with red pepper, black beans and cheese

Main: Quesadilla with red pepper, black beans and cheese
Fruit: Sliced apple
Treat: Afghan biscuit cut in half

I can't take the credit for this lunch, as it was made by my man. As you can see he did a pretty good job! We love making quesadillas for lunch, they are particularly good with guacamole so we make them a lot in summer when avocados are in season. But even on their own they are great, a delicious alternative to a sandwich or panini.

Red Pepper and Black Bean Quesadilla

Makes 4 quesadillas

Chop 2 medium sized brown onions and fry in a large pan with 1tbsp oil, 1 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp hot pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp paprika and 1 tsp brown sugar until the onions have caramelised. Add 2 chopped red peppers (capsicums) and cover for 10 minutes, or until the peppers have softened. Tip into a large bowl and clean your pan for the tortillas.

Drain a tin of black beans and wash the gunk off. Add the beans to the onion and pepper mixture.

You'll need 8 tortillas to make your 4 quesadillas. Place one tortilla onto the hot pan and spread 1/4 of the mixture over it, then a handful of grated cheese. Cover with a second tortilla and press flat with your hand. Heat through until the tortilla is just beginning to brown underneath, then carefully flip (you may need to use a plate for this). Heat through on the other side, then flip onto a plate and cut into 4 quarters. Repeat with the rest of the mixture. Serve hot with with guacamole, or put in your lunch box to enjoy later - they will last for two days.

Other great fillings are: cooked chicken, courgette, goat's cheese, mozzarella, eggplant, or chorizo. As long as there are caramelized onions and some sort of melted cheese it will be delicious!

Monday, 30 January 2012

White Rustic

Not my hands - the man practising his carving skills!

Just a quick post today to babble enthusiastically about my new breadmaker. It's AMAZING. On Saturday I was making roasted pumpkin soup and I wanted some buttered toast to go with it. I had the ingredients for a White Rustic loaf - 3 parts white and 1 part wholemeal. We were going out later in the afternoon so I put the machine on the rapid cycle (59 minutes) and crossed my fingers. The bread was ready before the soup was! After cooling it cut just like store-bought bread, and the flavour- oh my! Truly delicious. I always find that things taste better when you make them yourself, and this was no exception. I'm a breadmaker convert, and have plans for a weekly loaf, maybe even using the timer so the bread is ready first thing on a Saturday morning. Imagine that! I know, it's pretty much the most exciting thing I can think of too.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Lunch Box - Homemade bread roll

Main: Homemade bread roll with relish, cheese, tomato, cucumber, beetroot, lettuce and mustard
Fruit: Apple Slices
Sweet: Afghan biscuit, broken in two to fit!

Not a very photogenic lunch today I will admit. I don't often make sandwiches, as they aren't very filling and it's easier to fit in a salad. But over the weekend I made my first attempt at bread rolls with my cheat's Kenwood BM200 Breadmaker so I thought, why not make them lunch-box sized? I started by making a whole wheat dough, following the breadmaker instructions. Then I divided the dough into 6 large flat rolls and let them rise, before glazing, topping with sesame seeds and baking in the oven.

I was never really a fan of sandwiches before I came to London and discovered Pret. Although I don't approve of their sushi, Pret make sandwiches like no-one else. They make sandwiches which you drool over. I've heard the calorie content is not that great, but damn they're tasty. My favourite is the Posh Cheddar and Pickle Artisan Baguette. Mature cheddar, pickle, roasted tomatoes, mayo, red onion and cress. It's amazing. I tried to recreate this using my homemade relish and a few extras like cucumber, tomato and beetroot. I may need a few more attempts before I get it just right, but this wasn't a bad start, tasty and very filling. I mean, look at the size of it!

Incidentally, I was given this breadmaker for free from a work college. It's great, because although I know it's easy to make bread from scratch, I can never actually be bothered. This allows you to throw all your ingredients into the machine and get on with other things while your bread is kneading, rising and baking. And you get to enjoy fresh, additive free bread which you can slice and freeze to stop going stale. I'm going to try a half white/half whole wheat loaf this weekend - exciting!!!

Have you got any favorite sandwich recipes to share?

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Lunch Box - Sushi

Every now and then I treat myself by going to the really expensive sushi place on the King's Road for lunch. It's difficult to get out of there without spending about £10 (which for a takeaway lunch is pretty hefty I think), but it's always worth it. I love sushi and would happily eat it every day.

I can remember when the first takeaway sushi place opened in Christchurch in the 1990s. Me and mum would sometimes get a box of chicken teriyaki after my jazz class (I would have been about 10 years old). I was apprehensive about the raw fish aspect of it at first, but slowly made my way through the menu and figured out how to use the disposable chopsticks. A few years later we bought a sushi mat so we could make it at home. Although it can be tricky at first, once you've learnt how to make a sushi roll you'll never forget.

The trick to making sushi at home which tastes just as good as store-bought (and a ton better than the Pret variety) lies in the rice. The technique and flavouring of the rice has to be just right, or you end up with a tasteless gloopy mess. Here is my recipe for perfect every time sushi rice:

Sushi rice for 4 large rolls:

2 cups of white short-grain rice (if I can't find sushi rice I buy risotto or arborio rice)
2 1/4 cups of cold water
1/2 cup of white vinegar
2 tablespoons of white sugar
1 teaspoon of powdered fish stock, or 1/4 teaspoon of salt for flavouring

  1. First you need to wash your rice. It's VERY IMPORTANT for the flavour and consistency of the finished product. Place your rice into a large bowl and cover it with water, swirl it around with your hands and strain. Do this 4 or 5 times until the water runs clear.
  2. Place your rice into a pot and cover with water. Leave to soak for at least 30 minutes (but no more that 8 hours or the rice will begin to break down). After soaking, bring the rice to the boil, then cover and turn the heat down to the lowest heat and leave for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat but leave the pot on the hob for an extra 15 minutes.
  3. While your rice is soaking or cooking you can prepare your flavouring. In a small pot gently heat the vinegar, sugar and stock until the sugar and stock is dissolved. Leave to cool.
  4. Using a wooden or plastic spoon, transfer your rice into a large bowl. Mix in the flavouring syrup until well combined. Use a fan to cool the rice as you are mixing it, if you are using it straight away. If you want to use it later, place a wet dishcloth over the bowl so the rice doesn't dry out.

Some great fillings for sushi are: Tinned tuna mixed with mayo, crab, smoked or cooked chicken, fresh salmon or tuna, egg omelet, avocado, cucumber, carrot, red pepper and pickles. You can pick up sushi mats, seaweed paper, pickled ginger and wasabi from most Asian food stores.

Main: Sushi with mayo tuna, cucumber and carrot with pickled ginger and wasabi on the side
Fruit: Yoghurt with tinned peaches (underneath)
Sweet: Carrot and Apple muffin

Tip: If you want to make sushi for a day or two in advance, don't cut it into pieces. Just wrap it in cling film and cut it when you're ready to eat.

It seems like a pain at first, but the more you make sushi the easier it gets. I'm going to be making this a lot more from now on, and spend my £10 on something else!

Monday, 23 January 2012

I'm not a runner but....

...today I ran 5kms around Hyde Park. I know, I'm even more shocked than you are. This has nothing to do with New Years resolutions (of which I made none), really it was just an excuse to get out of the office for an hour and challenge my body to do something new. A girl from my office goes running at lunchtime so she took me along for the ride, despite my many warnings that I would be slower than a snail with a sore foot.

Strangely enough, considering my family and upbringing (my dad is a mountaineer, my uncle is a former squash champion and gym owner, and my grandparents were fitness fanatics who thought a 5 hour walk was "just a stroll") I always came last in the dreaded long-distance running races at school. I've always looked athletic so it was particularly mortifying when even the chubby kids would run past and leave me panting and hobbling behind. Man, I absolutely hated it! So it was with some trepidation that I put on my Reeboks and headed out into the blustery, cold London day for my first run in probably 15 years.

I thought running in London would be horrible with all the pedestrians and traffic, but we are lucky enough to work near(ish) to Hyde Park. We planned on running from our office in Sloane Square through the back streets, into Hyde Park, around the Serpentine and back again. The Serpentine is a long snakelike lake in the middle of Hyde Park which has swans in it, and in the summer there are deckchairs and those little boats with pedals. In winter you can go there and laugh at the tourists who look so cold and miserable as they tick it off their list of things to see (tip: don't visit London in the winter).

Okay, admittedly I only ran about 3/4 of the way. On the way back we half walked/half ran. I was hampered by a stitch, and later blisters. But I found it interesting to observe the way the body repeats this habitual motion. Unlike yoga, which is learnt and to a large extant quite unnatural (for Western bodies at least), running is automatic and instinctive. I played around with placing my attention in different parts of my body - the soles of the feet, the torso or the knee joints and seeing what affect it had on my stride. I guess the ultimate feeling to aim for is weightlessness - to run with a bounce or spring. It's very hard to keep it up! And then there is just the mental attitude, keeping going when you just want to stop. At the beginning of the run, my friend turned to me and said "Your body is capable of this, so do it" and I kept repeating this to myself whenever I wanted to stop (about 35 times a minute!).

I'm back in the office now, and I feel more alert than I normally would at 3pm. Also it was great to break up the monotony of the day - 9 hours in artificial lighting staring at a screen can really get to you. I'm not saying I'll do it again for sure, but I won't rule it out just yet.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Lunch Box - Potato Salad with mayo, chicken, corn and jalapeños

This post should have been written yesterday. However, by the time I remembered to photograph my lunch I had already eaten it.
Luckily I still had one lunch left.

Salad: Potato Salad with mayo, chicken, corn and jalapeños
Fruit: Tinned berries with no-fat yoghurt
Treat: Carrot and Apple muffin

Potato salad is a good option in winter as it's filling and comforting. You can add anything you like - wholegrain mustard, red onions, spring onions, bacon, capers, gherkins or sun-dried tomatoes will all add a lot of flavour to your salad.

For this salad I simply peeled a batch of new potatoes (I measure them out into our lunch boxes first for the right amount), steamed them for 10-15 minutes, then put them in a very large bowl and mixed in the mayo, chopped cooked chicken, 1 drained tin of sweetcorn and a handful of chopped jalapenoes. I also added some left-over cherry tomatoes from our lunch on Monday.

One more note: As healthy and boring the Carrot and Apple muffin looks, it tastes delicious! Exactly like carrot cake. Yum!!

Monday, 16 January 2012

Lunch Box - Couscous alla Panzanella

This is the first of many (I hope!) Lunch Box posts. Taking our lunch into work is a big part of saving money for me and my boyfriend. We estimate that we save about £20-£40 per week by making our own lunches. Each lunch costs less than £2, and best of all you know exactly what's in your food.

I started getting serious about lunch making (yes, I did actually just write that sentence) about a year and a half ago when I changed jobs. My new office a) didn't have a microwave and b) was surrounded by expensive restaurants and a dodgy sandwich shop and not much else. I did a lot of online research (read: Googling) for lunch ideas (because who wants to eat the same boring sandwich every day?) and found some great sites and products. Now that I have my Easy Lunchboxes I create a three-part lunch for me and my man (his workmates have stopped teasing him now) from Monday - Thursday. On Friday we go crazy and BUY our lunch. Well, you have to have some luxuries!

To make things easier (because who wants to spend their lives making lunches?) I make two days lunch at once. So on Sunday I will fill up 4 lunch boxes for me and the man to feed us on Monday and Tuesday. Then on Tuesday evening I will fill up the 4 lunch boxes again for lunches on Wednesday and Thursday. I try to make our lunches predominantly vegetarian (although this has slipped a little lately) and of course they are cold. My usual menu is: a large complex-carbohydrate based salad (like couscous, quinoa or brown rice), fruit (seasonal fresh or canned) and a home-made baked treat (like a muffin or biscuit).

Here is today's box:

Salad: Couscous alla Panzanella
Fruit: Orange segments
Treat: Home-made afghan

Recipe: Coucous alla Panzanella

I tried this recipe for the first time yesterday and I just know I'm going to make it again and again because it's so easy! It's a no-cook recipe - you just throw all the ingredients together, put  it in the fridge for a few hours and let the cous cous soak up all the tomato juice so it's plump and fluffy when you tuck in the next day. Perfect for lunch boxes.

Adapted from David Rocco

2 cups couscous
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 yellow pepper, chopped
20 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 400g tin of canned plum tomatoes with juices, chopped
1 cup of water
juice of one fresh lemon
bunch of basil leaves, torn
salt and pepper to season

Place olive oil, lemon juice, plum tomatoes and water in a large mixing bowl. Add cous cous and mix thoroughly. Add red onions, red and yellow peppers, cherry tomatoes and fresh torn basil to the bowl. Mix well. Let sit in the refrigerator for a few hours for all the flavours to combine.

Yield: 4 servings

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Carrot and Apple Muffins

This recipe is from The Joy of Baking. It's one of those great recipes that you can make any old time, as you'll probably have most of the ingredients in your cupboard and fridge. Luckily I had some walnuts leftover from the afghans I made yesterday.

Muffins are super easy to make, as they involve no beating or special equipment (save a muffin tray...) In fact, with muffins it's important not to over-mix, as this will result in tough muffins. You just combine your dry ingredients in one bowl, combine your wet ingredients in another, then mix together until just moistened. They are also quite healthy as they contain no butter, just eggs and oil to bind. I even cut down the amount of sugar in this recipe from 1 1/4 cups to 1 cup - which when divided between 21 muffins isn't a lot.

Let's begin:

Look at all those healthy ingredients! I feel healthier just looking at them.

You'll need:

1/2 cup pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped
2 cups grated raw carrot (about 2-3 peeled carrots)
1 large apple, peeled and grated
2 cups flour
1 cup caster sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable or sunflower oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C, and grease your muffin tray with a little butter. Next, prepare your nuts, apples and carrots. Chop the nuts and peel and grate your apple and carrots.

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and ground cinnamon. Stir in the nuts. Set aside.

In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs, oil, and vanilla extract. Fold the wet ingredients, along with the grated carrot and apple, into the flour mixture, stirring just until moistened. Evenly divide the batter between the prepared muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  

Remove from oven and let cool. After about 10 minutes remove the muffins from the pans and cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

I made these muffins quite small to fit into our lunchboxes (geeky lunchbox blog coming soon...) and made 21. However if you made full sized muffins you would get about 15 out of this recipe.

The only downside of muffins is that they don't last very long in the fridge - 3 days max. However you can freeze them and bring them out as and when you want them. You can defrost them by leaving them out for a few hours, or using a microwave.

These muffins would be delicious with cream cheese frosting if you happened to have cream cheese in the fridge! (I don't and it's too cold to go out and buy some!)

Happy eating! x

Saturday, 14 January 2012


For some reason I've been really homesick lately. Probably due to being in the middle of an English winter while everyone back in NZ is having a barbecue or at the beach... for whatever reason I find myself craving the comforts of home. And the best way to relieve this craving (or possibly to indulge it) is to make something that reminds me of home. My mum is a fantastic baker, there would always be home-made biscuits in the biscuit tin and she would even make birthday cakes for school friends of mine who were not so maternally advantaged as myself. I love it when I can recreate something she has made, because as well as being delicious it also gives me that cosy home feeling.

Afghan biscuits are very specific to New Zealand - even my Australian boyfriend had never heard of these before. They are from the Edmond's Cookery Book, of which my mum has an extremely old and battered version, held together with yellowing sellotape, possibly from the 1950's. Wikipedia says:
The book has been described as "as much a part of New Zealand kitchens as a stove and knife", and that at one time it was 'sent unsolicited to every newly engaged couple in New Zealand."
What I love most about the Edmonds Cookery Book is the cover. It shows the old factory on Ferry Road in Linwood, Christchurch, which before being demolished in 1990, sat right next to my high school.

Anyway, enough reminiscing. It's time to bake!


2 small eggs
225g / 8oz butter
2 cups caster sugar
3 cups self-raising flour (or 1 level teaspoon baking powder for each cup of plain flour)
6 tablespoons cocoa
6 weetbix, or 2 cups of cornflakes

For the icing:
200g icing sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
60g butter, melted
2 tablespoons milk


Cream butter and sugar until white. Mix in eggs. Sieve flour (and baking powder if used) and cocoa into mixture. Finally crumble in weetbix and mix into a hard dough.

Scoop into tablespoon sized balls onto greased baking tray and press slightly with a fork.

Bake for 10 minutes per batch at 180 degrees C (350F). 

Once cooled, ice and decorate. For the icing sieve the icing sugar and cocoa together, then pour in the melted butter and milk and beat until smooth. Ice each biscuit and top with a walnut half.

Makes 34.

Monday, 9 January 2012

How to make a yoga bag

I've been practising daily Ashtanga yoga now for 4 months, and I am truly addicted. Until now I have been using the studio mats for my practice, just trying to ignore the fact that other people have practised, and sweated, on the same mat. After a particularly sweaty and slippery practice I decided that I needed to invest in a good yoga mat of my own. After talking to a few teachers and looking around on-line and in the shops, I settled on a PurEarth II Eco Travel Mat. At just 3mm it's quite thin, but this means it's light enough for me to take wherever I go. Also, for extra padding I can layer it with a studio mat, while still getting better grip and hygiene than the studio mats can offer. At £40 it's more than I would normally pay, but given I will spend 5 days a week on it, I think it's a worthwhile investment. However, the accompanying yoga bag for £35? I don't think so! To me that's just throwing money away. So when I got home I looked through some scraps of material I had and made my own. It took about an hour from start to finish, looks great, and best of all I will never get it mixed up with anyone else's yoga bag at the studio!

To make your own yoga bag you will need:

4 x rectangles of fabric 75cm x 14cm - A medium to heavy non-stretch cotton would be best

1 x square of fabric 14cm x 14cm 

1 x rectangle of fabric 100cm x 9cm 

1 x draw-string cord


1. Sew together your 4 rectangles of fabric lengthways, (good sides together) leaving a 1.5cm seam allowance at the side and also at both ends. You will end up with a tube with two openings, one at each end. Keep the seams on the outside whilst following the next step.

2. Take the end that will be the base of the bag and fold it open so that each side panel is visible, as above. 

3. Take the square of fabric and pin it onto the edges of the opening.

4. Carefully sew around the edges, leaving 1.5cm seam allowance, making sure you do not catch any of the rest of the fabric. 

5. You should now have a tube with one end closed. You can now pull the tube "inside out" so that the seams are now inside.

6. To create the drawstring closure, fold the remaining open end 4cm inside the tube. Sew around the circumference, making sure to leave a 2.5cm gap for your cord strip. If you want to make button holes to secure your cord string, do this before sewing the circumference. I didn't bother with button holes, so after sewing the circumference I simply cut two small holes on the outside and threaded the cord-string through with a safety pin.

7. To finish, sew your final rectangle into a shoulder strap. Fold in three lengthways and sew to secure. Sew one end close to (but not through) your drawstring closure, and the other end to the base of the bag.

And there you have it! Your very own yoga bag, and made for just a few pounds. 

Wednesday, 4 January 2012


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pikelet may refer to:
  • Pikelet, an alternative name for a crumpet
  • Pikelet, a type of pancake found in Australia and New Zealand
  • Pikelet, stage name of Australian musician Evelyn Morris
Today I discovered that English people don't know what a pikelet is. In the same way that my boyfriend confounded everyone at his work by calling a children's slide a "slippery-dip", today the word "pikelet" came out of my mouth to looks of blank incomprehension. How people can live without pikelets is beyond me. Like a scone, but quicker and more melt-in-your-mouth, pikelets are the perfect afternoon snack topped with jam and cream. They are also ridiculously easy.

You'll need:

1 cup of flour
1 cup of milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg
1 tablespoon sugar
50 grams of butter

To serve: jam and butter or cream

Place the flour, sugar and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Instead of sieving the flour, I usually give it a quick whisk, which has the same effect.

Drop in the egg.

Add the milk.

Whisk together into a thick batter. Don't worry if there are lumps.

If the batter is very thick, add a little more milk until it is of a good pouring consistency.

Take the 50 grams of butter and melt in a large frying pan. Pour the melted butter into the mixture, whisking all the time. Re-heat the pan, and pour about 1/2 a cup of the mixture onto the pan - a soup ladle is useful for this. I used a pikelet shaper for mine (thanks Sylvia!).

Wait until you see the air little holes appear, then flip.

Serve warm with jam and butter, or cream if you have it. The batter can be kept in the fridge for a day or two.

This batter can of course be used for American-style pancakes as well, great for brunch with fried bacon, bananas and maple syrup.