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

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Lunch Box - Tuna, avocado and cucumber sushi

Main: Tuna, avocado and cucumber sushi with ginger and wasabi
Fruit salad: Fresh pineapple chunks and red seedless grapes

Oh man. After a marathon weekend of baking and sewing I just didn't have the energy to go up to the shops to buy the sushi rice (or risotto rice) that this lunch required. So I thought I'd chance it with the basmati in the cupboard. BIG MISTAKE. This sushi may look pretty and taste delicious, but it crumbles like a badly-constructed sandcastle with the first bite! Note to self: do not skimp when it comes to sushi making! 

On a more positive note, the brownie is an absolute winner! 

Monday, 27 February 2012

The World's Best Brownie

After a lot of searching and failed attempts, I finally found the perfect brownie recipe. The key is simple: loads of butter, sugar and cocoa and not much else. It's easy, pretty much fool-proof, and best off all it's just made out of 7 basic cupboard ingredients, so you can make it any time (dangerous, I know). I don't actually make this too often, because it's so rich that you need a break in between brownie sessions. Also, terrible blogger that I am, I have forgotten where I got this recipe from! If anyone knows, please let me know and I will give credit where credit's due. Here we go, a delicious brownie coming up!


140 grams butter
1 1/4 cups caster sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

I challenge you to spot the unneeded ingredient...

Pre-heat your oven to 160 degrees C, and line a 24 x 24 cm baking tin with foil. Make sure there is enough foil overlap so that you can lift the brownie out when it is baked.

Place a heatproof bowl over a pot of boiling water. Melt the butter in the bowl, and add the sugar, cocoa and salt and gently heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and let it cool until it is just warm, not hot.

Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well. Add the vanilla and mix. Then add the flour and mix until all the white has disappeared. Give the mixture a strong beat for a couple of minutes until it becomes silky, glossy and very thick.

Put the mixture into your baking tin and put it in the oven for about 20 minutes. A skewer or sharp knife should come out with a little mixture on it to ensure a moist bake.

Let it cool in the tin for an hour, then put the whole thing in the freezer for another hour to get a nice clean cut. Lift the brownie out of the tin and slice into squares - 12 or 24.

I don't think even Man Vs Food could eat this all in one go...

Ready for the lunch box - mmmmm....

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Yoga Update: Headstands

I've been struggling with the practice this week. I had a couple of days off sick, feeling tired, nauseous, just generally off. My sacroiliac joint has been giving me trouble, seizing up my left hip when I'm sitting at work all day and tightening up my left hamstring. I had the most painful practice of my life on Monday, every part of my body was aching before I even got onto the mat. It's difficult to go back after a practice like that, it scares me into thinking that every practice will be awful. And at 6 o'clock on a dark Thursday morning, I'm looking for any excuse to climb back into bed. So it's a miracle I made it into the studio today. I started out feeling pretty low in energy, until my teacher reminded me to push into the floor with my hands in every forward bend, as if I were going to push up into a handstand (as if!). Although I am years away from pushing up into a handstand, the strength needed to push my hands into the ground produced an energy, it was like a reminder of the relationship between the body and the ground - a relationship that is also explored in contemporary dance. Suddenly the dynamic inherent in the practice became apparent, and I remembered something very simple; to have fun. To explore the boundaries of the body, to draw strength from the ground and try something new, even if you fall on your arse in the process. It was with this energy that I finished with a headstand, a posture which is glorious in it's ridiculousness.


Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Lunch Box - Mediterranean Lentil Salad

Main: Mediterranean Lentil Salad
Fruit: Tinned berries with Greek Yoghurt
Treat: Doritos!

When I got home from work last night making lunches was the last thing I wanted to do. My daily Ashtanga yoga practice has been particularly intense this week (like a strange and elaborate form of torture, you might say) so when I get home after a 12 hour day all I want to do is lie on the couch groaning in pain, or take a bath, followed by lying on the couch groaning in pain. Somehow I managed to drag myself from the couch to the kitchen, and I'm sure glad I did, because this salad is a winner. I would even go so far to say it's helping me out of my mid-week slump. The sharp garlic and feta combined with the comforting couscous and protein enriched lentils make for a perfect lunch box filler.

I have taken the recipe word for word from which contains some great recipes and amazing photography! One day I may graduate from my BlackBerry phone to a real camera, but until then my photos will be for documentation purposes only. :)

Mediterranean Lentil Salad
Yield: 4 lunch box servings

1 cup puy lentils
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 1/4 cup water
1 cup Couscous
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove (large, minced and mashed into a paste with 1/4 tsp salt)
1/2 cup fresh mint (finely chopped)
1 bunch arugula (rocket) (stems discarded and leaves washed well, spun dry and chopped)
2 cups vine ripened cherry tomatoes (halved)
1/4lb feta (crumbled)

1) In a small saucepan simmer lentils in water to cover by 2 inches until tender but not falling apart, 15 to 20 minutes, and drainwell. Transfer hot lentils to a bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Cool lentils completely, stirring occasionally.

2) In a saucepan bring water to a boil and add couscous and salt. Remove pan from heat and let couscous stand, covered, 5 minutes. Fluff couscous with a fork and transfer to a large bowl. Stir in 1 tablespoon oil and cool completely, stirring occasionally.

£) In a small bowl whisk together garlic paste, remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar, remaining 3 tablespoons oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir lentils and dressing into couscous. Chill salad, covered, at least 3 hours and up to 24.

4) Just before serving, stir in remaining ingredients and season with salt and pepper.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Yoga Update

Photo from the Ashtanga Yoga Palace
First off, a confession: this photo isn't me. But I like to imagine it is. The sturdy legs strongly resemble my own, and when I look at this photo I can feel the burning in the fronts of the thighs and the opening in the chest which combines pain with elation. I could look at this photo all day, so powerful is it's visceral quality. I makes me reflect on my own practice, which has come along, sometimes in leaps and bounds and sometimes in painful hobbling steps since I started daily practice in September last year. I have learnt more then I could have possibly imagined, and have challenged the limits of my body and my willpower (the first test is getting up at 6am every morning - my willpower definitely gets a work out then!). Along with the breakthroughs (of which there have been many, even in such a short space of time) I have re-awakened an old sacroiliac-joint injury from dance school. Strangely it never flared up when I was practising Bikram (possibly because of the heat, or due to Bikram being more focused on the spine rather than the hip opening) but about a month into my Ashtanga practice it made it's presence felt. I learnt to be mindful when working with my left hip or leg, to go extra slow and sometimes only go halfway into the posture, hold and gently release. It's as much about being aware as it is about changing your body. Speaking of injury in yoga is quite topical; it's been in the news a lot this year. It's part of the general trend of yoga becoming more and more ingrained into Western culture. In my office of 45 people there are 3 of us who practice regularly, and several others who have tried a class. It's no longer viewed as a hippy/cultist thing to do, although it's not yet as common as going to the gym. However with this expansion comes criticism, as demonstrated in the article "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body" published in the Times. It suggests that one of the reasons of yoga causing injury can be found in the following:
Indian practitioners of yoga typically squatted and sat cross-legged in daily life, and yoga poses, or asanas, were an outgrowth of these postures. Now urbanites who sit in chairs all day walk into a studio a couple of times a week and strain to twist themselves into ever-more-difficult postures despite their lack of flexibility and other physical problems. 
I agree that in many ways it is incongruous to take postures and anatomical ideas which were conceived of in India hundreds of years ago and apply them to our life today. Not only are we different physically and as a society, but our climate is vastly different, and it's important to remember this on a cold winters morning; the conditions are far from ideal. The article also talks about the danger of having ego in yoga practice, and I think this is the crux of the issue.
Today many schools of yoga are just about pushing people,” Black said. “You can’t believe what’s going on — teachers jumping on people, pushing and pulling and saying, ‘You should be able to do this by now.’ It has to do with their egos.” 

As much as I idolise yoga pros such as Kino MacGregor, I do understand that the practice is always highly personal. At it's core it's about the unison of the mind, body and spirit, and not about looking like a gymnast. That's why I favour self-practice, or mysore style classes rather then led classes, as they allow you to go at your own pace and learn the series for yourself, rather than following a teacher's lead. Each day your body is different, just as every day your mood or the weather changes. It's important to notice these changes and honour them in your practice, only pushing your body when you feel ready, and taking it easy and fostering your inward focus when this is more appropriate. For now I feel that I am living in a split body - my right side is very flexible and pliant, and my left hip and leg are so stiff and sore that I can feel the pain of a first time yoga trainee - the feeling that my body won't do what it's meant to and never will. But I know through experience (10 years!) that this is not the case, it will change, just very slowly! Luckily I'm in no rush.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Lunch Box - Brown Rice Salad

Main: Brown rice with tuna, sweet corn, diced tomatoes and capsicums
Fruit: Tinned peaches
Treat: Carrot and apple muffin

Not a very fancy offering today I'm afraid, but filling and tasty all the same. If the man had his way, we'd be eating this every week. It is quite satisfying, and very simple to make mid-week when your brain is frazzled. I usually add tinned chilli beans for a Mexican flavour, or jalapeƱos are great too. In fact, you could add anything to this - tofu, chicken, boiled egg or avocado would all be fantastic and give a protein boost.

I've just started with a new yoga teacher this week, as a result I have been pushing myself quite hard (doing the full Series 1 each day), so I feel quite spaced out today. It's incredible how a new teacher can give you that extra push you need to get your body into a new place.

On another note, I've noticed that the lunches have been very repetitive lately, with the same treats every day. This has been due to having a whole freezer full of baking, which we have steadily eaten our way through and now our freezer is nearly empty! So I need to find some good lunch-box sized snacks to bake this weekend. As it's going to be snowing and minus 5 degrees I expect I'll be very happy to spend a day in the kitchen with the oven on and Fleetwood Mac blaring. Just need to check Tastespotting for some good recipes! 

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Lunch Box - Butternut squash, potato and dill quiche

Main: Butternut squash, potato and dill quiche and side salad of spinach, tomato and roast capsicum
Fruit: Apple slices
Treat: Afghan biscuits

A big slab of carb-filled quiche today to stave off those winter blues. The temperature is still hovering around 0 degrees (although the snow has thankfully melted) and the bank balance is suffering, having paid in advance for all our summer holidays. The only reasonable thing to do is stay inside and bake. I had the perfect weekend; on Saturday I made a pork ragu and a lemon meringue pie and stayed in, all cosy and warm, watching a Michael Haneke film. It wasn't until I checked my phone around 10.30pm and saw all the Facebook posts along the lines of "Snow!!!" that I realised it had been snowing all afternoon! Our garden was covered in 3 inches of the stuff and I was glad to be at home and not stranded at some nightclub wearing ill-advised footwear. Ah, the joys of getting old(er)...

Friday, 3 February 2012

What will you do in 2012?

John Lewis on the King's Road has these suggestions for your life in 2012:

A) Get fit

B) Have a baby

Or you could combine the two and become one of those yummy mummy's who energetically walk their strollers up and down the King's Road while I'm on my lunch break, getting in my way and making me mutter (not very quietly) very bad things under my breath.

Thanks John Lewis!!!

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Lunch Box - Quinoa Salmon Salad

Our mildest winter on record has been broken in this last week by a cold snap with temperatures down to minus 5 degrees! Luckily I have my lunches pre-planned and packed, or I would be stuffing my face with Cornish pasties and sausage rolls. Today's lunch is a favourite of mine, because it's super healthy, super tasty and it's quick and simple enough to throw together on a school night.

Main: Quinoa salmon salad
Fruit: Tinned peaches
Treat: Carrot and Apple muffin

Quinoa Salmon Salad
Yield: 4 lunch box servings

250grams dried quinoa
1 large bunch of flat leaf parsly, chopped
1 large tin (418g) of Alaskan salmon, drained and flaked
1/2 a red onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons of capers
Salt and pepper to season
2 lemons, 1 juiced, 1 quartered

1) Cook your quinoa in boiling water for about 15 minutes, or until the coils start to uncurl. Drain well.

2) Combine all ingredients and season to taste. Garnish with the quartered lemon. If you are having this in a lunch box it's nice to squeeze the lemon quarter over your salad just before eating.

This salad is a great booster in the winter - while it may not be traditional comfort food it has lots of beneficial properties. The quinoa is a complete protein which contains all 9 essential amino acids, and is particularly high in anti-oxidants, which help to protect your immune system. The salmon contains Vitamin D, which is vitally important in the winter, as most of our Vitamin D comes from exposure to the sun (which I am severely lacking this winter!). One serving of this salad will provide your full day's required amount of Vitamin D. The parsley contains Vitamin A and Vitamin C which also protect your immune system. And the capers, onion and lemon? Well they're pretty tasty, I reckon.... and that's good enough for me!

Here's hoping it's enough to protect me from a nasty cold! Fingers crossed. :)