Friday 29 April 2011

My vegetable patch

I just have to tell you a little bit about my garden, and specifically about the vegetable patch. As a novice gardener, I am excited about every tiny thing that happens there. A few weeks ago I planted peas, broad beans, courgettes, pumpkin, radishes and garlic (I believe that garlic may keep the bugs away). Tiny little seeds went into the ground - have you ever seen a courgette seed? - and now things are sprouting. It feels like a miracle. The thing is, obviously, you know that that's how things grow, but until you experience it, it seems like a far away process with no bearing on your daily life. Now it's happening to me and I am filled with wonder. I realize that I am starting to sound like someone who is having a baby when I talk about it, but I can't help myself

My garden is only small - the size of a large room - but for a first garden it's perfect-sized. Today, I went out there just to put my washing out and ended up staying for an hour. I noticed that the vegetable patch was being overtaken by weeds, so I started taking them out. Then, I realized that a nearby shrub was shading the broad beans from the sun, so I started cutting that back. I can't tell you how good I feel about these small acts. I'm still a bit clumsy - being new to the whole thing, I do sometimes injure a plant by stepping on it or accidentally pulling at the wrong root. Spending years on public transport has made me weirdly over polite, so I apologize to worms and other "good" insects. I must be a bit of a sight, but I don't care, it just feels so good to be in touch with the earth. This is totally bringing out my inner hippy

Saturday 23 April 2011

"Mazurek" - A Polish Easter Cake

We are having the most glorious spring that I can ever remember. The weather in the UK right now makes me deliriously happy all the time - that's the great thing about living in a country where you expect it to rain - it makes you appreciate every single ray of sunshine like it's your last. As usual, I am spending the Easter break down on the south coast - catching up with old friends on the beach, sunbathing in the garden and cooking with my mum. This morning we made a really popular Polish Easter cake - the mazurek - which is also the easiest cake you can ever hope to make
You start off by making some pastry
And some caramel - you do this by completely covering a tin of condensed milk with hot water, and boiling for two to two and a half hours. Allow it to cool before opening
 Then you spread it over the pastry... and get creative with the nuts on top


600g flour
250g sugar
350g butter
3 egg yolks
Pinch of salt

Mix the ingredients together and kneed to make the dough. Put it in the fringe for 1 hour before rolling out into a 1cm thickness, and placing in a backing tin with raised edges. Bake for 15min at 200 degrees, until golden. Decorate.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Minty lamb with herbs and black pepper and carrot and pea curry

I love cooking with other people because you always learn something new, even when the person cooking with you feels like they have nothing to teach you. That down there is a picture of a couple of curries myself and my cooking-partner, Dan, made before the "detox". It's in inverted commas now due to the bottle of rose wine I had on Saturday and the fact that ate half a chocolate bunny in one sitting yesterday - I was only meant to nibble on an ear, but things got out of hand - anyway, back to the curries: the pea and carrot one is similar to a Polish dish my mum makes - the similarity between  cuisines from such different parts of the world never ceases to amaze me. The other one is a really fresh- tasting lamb curry with mint and coriander - and it's something really quite special. Both of them are from "50 Great Curries of India" by Camelia Panjabi

Lamb with herbs and black pepper
(serves 6)

2 cups coriander leaves
1/2 cup mint leaves
1/2 cup fresh grated coconut
About 20 cashews (unroasted)
6 green chillies
Pinch of mustard powder or 1/2 mustard
4 tblsp oil
1.5cm broken cinnamon stick
4 green cardamon pods
3 cloves
2 onions, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves
2.5 x 1.5cm peeled ginger, chopped
1kg bones stewing lamb, cubed
1/2 tsp turmeric
1.5 tsp coriander powder
3/4 tsp cumin powder
100ml yoghurt, whipped
1 tblsp lime or lemon juice
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp garam masala

I know, I know, I just had to write that list so I do realize how long it is, but believe me the recipe couldn't be easier. We blended the fresh mint, coconut and coriander with the nuts, chillies, mustard and a bit of water to a fine paste in the food processor. Then you heat the oil in a frying pan, and add the cinnamon, cardamon and cloves. After 1min add the onions and saute until they're turning brown, before adding the garlic, ginger and lamb. Turn the heat up and saute for 5min. Add the all the spices apart from the garam masala (turmeric, cumin and coriander) and fry for few more minutes. Make sure all the lamb is well-coated, then turn the heat down again and add the yoghurt really slowly, stirring all the time - two people at this point make the job easier, because one can stir continuously while the other one pours. If you are cooking on your own, then take care, maybe even take it off the heat for this bit, because you don't want it to curdle. Now, the green paste and a bit of water go in - it says 400ml, but I just follow my instincts with these things rather than being too precise. Bring it to the boil, then turn it right down and allow to simmer for about 45min. Just before serving, check the seasoning, add the lemon juice, freshly ground black pepper and the garam masala powder

Peas with carrots and cumin
(serves 2)

3 tblsp oil
2 onions, finely chopped
1 green chilli finely chopped
1 garlic clove
1cm x 1cm piece of ginger, finely chopped
1/4 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1/4 chilli powder
1/2 cumin seeds
1 tomato, chopped
150g peas
2 carrots, diced

Heat the oil in a frying pan and saute the onion until it turns brown (about 25min), then add the chilli, garlic and ginger. Saute for 3min, before adding all the spices. After a couple of minutes add some water (aprox 3 tblsp) and cook for a further 3min. Then the tomato for a couple of minutes, and finally the carrots, peas and salt. Cover and cook until tender - just keep tasting the carrots basically, and when they are soft enough for you, it's ready

Both these curries were great in their own right, but we decided that they are not necessarily meant to be eaten together. In fact, probably not. It's not that they tasted odd together, but they did nothing to compliment one another. One was simple, nice and undeniably good for you (if it was a person, it would be the girl-next-door type), the other one - probably not that great for you, but when something is that tasty, you just don't care: everything else pales by comparison and you think about it for days afterwards. It's unusual, complex, deep and rich - an undiscovered star of the curry world!

Going back for a second to learning things from people through cooking - what I learnt during this session is that I need to slice my onions way more finely than I had ever bothered to - it makes a massive difference to the taste of the curry. I will sharpen my knives and not be so lazy about this in the future, and if you haven't been doing so already I beg you to do the same. They should be as translucent as you can get them, you won't go back i promise you...

Monday 18 April 2011

A few detox meal ideas

So these are the kind of things that I have been eating for the past week

That's some lightly smoked salmon with roast vegetable quinoa up there. I boiled the quinoa, and blanched the purple broccoli while the diced courgette and red pepper were roasting in the oven (with olive oil and chilli), adding the broccoli stalks to the rest of the vegetables for the last couple of minutes on high heat. The salmon was fried in some olive oil and served with a squeeze of lemon. This meal made me wonder why I don't just eat like this all the time - it's so easy and healthy

And here's my kale and mushroom bake. Sorry about the photo - I am still learning the art of taking good food pictures and my styling still clearly leaves much room for improvement. I blanched the kale and fried the mushrooms, then added the kale to the frying pan with a jar of chopped tomatoes, lots of fresh garlic, paprika and some garlic salt (my new BFF), and allowed to simmer for a bit. Finally, I put the whole thing in an oven-proof dish, cracked some eggs on top and baked in the oven until the whites were cooked, and the yolks runny - just how I like them

And here's some pak-choi with brown rice and smoked mackrel, in a tasty, citrusy broth. I stir-fried the pak-choi with garlic, chinese five spice and soya sauce, then added vegetable stock. Meanwhile, I cooked the rice, and grilled the mackrel (mainly the skin side so it would end up lovely and crispy) for about five minutes. I finished the whole lot with a generous squeeze of lemon. Can you see how big that bowl is? I think it may be a mixing bowl or a fruit bowl. It shows how much I can put away on one of my detoxes, and how little they have to do with fasting

And here's a guava, strawberry and oat milk smoothie, sweetened with honey - a nice breakfast idea!

As you can, see the detox has been going really well. That was until Saturday night came round and I got a little too friendly with a bottle, or three, of rose. The headache I had the next day was out of this world - I couldn't figure out if it's always like that, or if the that fact I'd been detoxing made it worse. Nevermind,  I forgave myself, took a paracetamol and put that episode - fun as it was - behind me. Now, I am back to detoxing until Easter

Monday 11 April 2011

A relaxed spring detox plan

I started my Spring detox yesterday. People always tell me that I don't need to do it and that detoxes don't work, but I can feel that my one one does. I feel crap for the first three days -even though I eat loads of good, fresh produce and never starve myself - then, slowly, I start feeling better and better until eventually I am on cloud nine- wholesome, pure with just a little bit of smugness and maybe a vague halo around my head. That's when you know it's worked. This bubble of well-being takes me straight into summer, when, of course, I retox with barbeques that carry on well into the night, picnics washed down with Pimms in the park, beers on beaches, and lazy afternoons in pub gardens.  But first things first - you need to go through the hard times to fully appreciate the good, and springtime is a time for cleaning and preparation before the extravagences of summer, therefore, it seems natural to me to start with my body. I kicked off the "hard times" by swimming and having lunch on the rooftop in Shoreditch House. As the lovely waiter delivered the wrong salad and the one he handed to me looked really tasty, I didn't have the heart to send it back, so my detox began with a chicken and pecorino salad. To be fair, it was delicious, tender chicken - you could taste that it had had a happy life - and there was only a minimal amount of cheese among all the leaves and avocado, so I didn't beat myself up about it too much (read: at all). I also managed not to drink alcohol and opted instead for a protein smoothie with lots of goji berries and other amazing stuff in it. It's not like I get invited to Shoreditch House every day and a heatwave in London is even more rare, so this was a perfect excuse to slightly break the detox rules on the very first day. It kind of shows you how relaxed my approach to detoxing really is - and I think that's the way it should be anyway, I wouldn't advise anyone to become a food bore! That, below, is the detox I am aiming for, obviously I go for one of the options below each meal, not all of them, and sometimes I do break the rules a bit, like today

First week:

Fresh fruit, with bio yoghurt, honey and seeds
Oat and fruit yoghurt pot

Freshly-prepared salads with olive oil and lemon juice dressing
Leftovers (see below)

Quinoa with roast vegetables
Vegetable casserole with pearl barley
Vegetable stir-fry with salmon
Dhaal with brown rice
Vegetable curry (homemade) with brown rice
Grilled mackerel with watercress and brown rice in vegetable broth

Dried fruit and nuts
Crudites with hummus
Oat cakes with guacamole
Fruit smoothies with oat/almond/soya milk

Other drinks: White and green teas, Ginger with honey and fresh lemon squeezed in at the end, peppermint and camomile teas, Moroccan mint tea with honey (fresh mint and white/green tea), lots of water with milk thistle extract

Obviously, all processed foods are categorically out for the whole two weeks. I also aim to avoid red meat (and not eat much of the white variety either), caffeine (argh!), dairy (although goat's milk products are allowed), wheat (but I do allow dark/granary bread in moderation) and alcohol for a week. After a week, I relax a bit on the alcohol rule, because, without sounding like a have a problem, a week is all I can manage. And I have to basically give up my social life too. So in the second week, I allow myself a glass of red wine here and there or a vodka with soda and fresh lime, or two, if I go out. There are moments when it feels hard, especially in the first three days, but I believe that this makes you mentally and physically stronger. Breaking bad habits is hard but it feels right, and when you form new, healthier ones it really improves your quality of life. I didn't manage to do a detox this time last year, as I had just broken up with my ex under really horrible circumstances, and was surviving on a diet of cigarettes and alcohol. This gave me a great figure for the summer but I have also paid for it with health issues, so this year the need to do a detox is even greater. I'm in a good place mentally and spiritually now, having gotten rid of so many issues that were plaguing me throughout that relationship, and no longer feeling like anyone is draining my energy or abusing me, so the time is definitely right. I am actually quite excited, as it signals a new phase of being more self-aware, conscientious and, I won't deny it, looking pretty darn good. Come on, it's a universal fact that everyone wants to look hot for the summer!

Tuesday 5 April 2011

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's Barley Pilaf

Sometimes I feel like I am on a one-woman mission to popularize pearl barley. I go on and on about how cheap it is, how tasty and how good for you. But I won't bore you with that lecture today, because I'm a bit bored of it myself now. But you know what I'm definitely not bored of? Uh-huh - pearl barley. This is another lovely recipe from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall for The Observer. The recipe down there makes four servings


30g dried porcini
40g butter
1 tsp olive oil
2 onions, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, finely sliced
200g pearl barley
250g closed cup mushrooms 
About 600ml chicken, lamb or vegetable stock
2-3 tbsp chopped dill
4-6 tbsp crème fraîche
Salt and pepper

You need to soak the porcini mushrooms first in hot water a few times - so pour some boiling hot water on them, then drain them after twenty minutes or so and do it again. The second time round, I poured the mushroomy water into the stock for extra flavour. Fry the onion and garlic until browned, then tip into a bowl and fry all the mushrooms in the same pan. Cook the barley in the stock until soft, but firm, which takes about half an hour. Then add the onions and mushrooms, and cook together for a bit longer, maybe ten minutes. Finally, add the chopped dill and season. Serve with crème fraîche, and - if, like me, you need your food to be just a little bit spicy - West Indian hot pepper sauce. I changed Hugh's recipe minimally, as I didn't add the white wine which he suggested but used lots of the porcini mushroom juice instead. As I don't want to launch into another tirade of pearl barley glorifying, I will stop right here

The font has come out so small on this post for no apparent reason...