Thursday 28 February 2013

Bento lunch: Pea curry, omelette and red rice

Having partied away the last few days away in Madrid, I'm really very proud to have been motivated enough to make a bento for work on my return. It must be testament of the effectiveness of this little course I've been taking online. And I believe that this book I've been reading on my travels has also helped - it's incredibly inspiring! So here is my second attempt at bento making: pea curry, omelette and red rice
The omelette served as a divider between the two, as last time I spent ages messing around with cardboard to make everything neat -this is by far a better solution. From now on,  I will always try and find something dry and solid to use as a divider in my bentos - perhaps some tofu or fish. The red rice was created by adding Polish borsht soup (in powder form) to the rice as it was cooking. This is super easy to find in supermarkets and gives the rice a sweet-savoury flavour

Pea Curry Ingredients

Frozen peas
Mustard seeds
Fresh coriander
Grapeseed oil
Salt and pepper

Blend the top three ingredients together with some turmeric and a splash of water in an electric blender or crush using a pestle and mortar. Heat the oil and fry the mustard seeds for a couple of minutes, before adding the onion/ginger/garlic mixture. Turn the heat down and fry for a few minutes before adding the frozen peas and cover in hot water. Finally add the coriander, some salt then cover and cook for about an hour. If there is too much water left at the end, crank the heat up and steam it off - we are trying to get a dryish consistency

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Bento lunch with quinoa, carrot-orange salad and aduki beans

I freely admit that neatness and attention to detail are not my strong points. I'm all about rustic food and a laissez-faire attitude. And yet I am fascinated by bento and love the whole concept of a well-presented, home-made lunch. So when the opportunity to learn to make bento came up on a free, do-it-when-you-want-to basis came up, I was first in line. We are on lesson number 2b and not even supposed to be attempting to make bento lunches yet, but I was all geared-up and feeling a bit scared and intimidated, which according to my life philosophy translates as "jump in right now at the deep end before you reconsider". Sometimes it's worth doing something badly, just to dissipate the fear. Now, a quick disclaimer: sometimes this is a really bad idea and I have hurt myself many times (especially while snowboarding) with my impatient run-before-you-can-walk philosophy. Yet in this case, it worked, because while showing me that there's a whole lot of work to be done and many things to be learnt, I also found that I love making bento! And this is despite all the faffing around with cardboard dividers (I made these so that the dishes stayed neatly in place, then took them out at the end) and the impractical sunflower seeds, which produced a sinister-looking smiley face in my quinoa rather than a cute one

Ingredients (for 2)

150g quinoa
Vegetable stock
Pumpkin seeds to decorate (would use something else in the future)

2 carrots, grated
1 teaspoon Russian-Korean spice mix 
(or 1/3 teaspoon cumin, 1/3 teaspoon coriander, 1/3 cayenne pepper)
Juice of 1 orange
Bit of olive oil
Salt and pepper

Tin of aduki beans
Small red onion chopped and fried in oil
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Salt and pepper
Juice of 1 lime

Monday 18 February 2013

My mum's Ukrainian borsht

Last Saturday my brother and I rented a van, loaded it up with unwanted furniture and drove down to Eastbourne, on the South Coast. It was a beautiful, sunny weekend, more Spring than Winter, full of champagne (it was dad's birthday) and delicious food, with intermittent spurts of physical labour, family jokes and those insignificant arguments that our family are so prone to having. My mum cooked one of my favourite Polish soups - the "Ukrainian Borsht". Polish dish naming conventions can be massively confusing, yet I do believe that this particular borsht recipe, rich with meat, potatoes and beans, did in fact originate in the Ukraine. Since the Ukraine is only a few hours' drive east of Warsaw, it is very popular around our parts, and deservedly so. In my (entirely biased) opinion, out of all the borshts out there (and there are many, many), this is the best
We left on Sunday afternoon, feeling uplifted and energized, and drove through the cheerful Sussex countryside discussing the importance of having the right kind of people in your life. The kind that make you feel inspired and optimistic, and those that make you feel calm and content too, and the ultimate importance of being able to say goodbye to those that do the opposite


1 large rump steak
2 carrot, grated
2 parsnips, grated
2 celery stalks, chopped finely
1 leek, chopped finely
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon pimento berries
4 beetroot
1 tin chopped tomatoes
2 tins butter beans
3 potatoes
250ml double cream
Salt, pepper and sugar
Handful chopped parsley
Cup of beetroot juice (optional)

Make the meaty stock first - cook the steak with the pimento berries and bay leaf for about half an hour in a pan of cold water. Then, add the vegetables and potatoes. Cook the beets separately, then peel and cut into thin strips. Chuck them into the mix, along with the tin of tomatoes and butter beans. Remove the steak and chop into bitesize pieces before putting back into the soup. Season with salt, pepper and sugar now. If your soup is not red enough for your liking, you may add some beetroot juice. Allow to simmer for 10min, then add the double cream, parsley and season some more, to your own taste

Friday 15 February 2013

Malty flapjacks with black and white sesame seeds

You'd be forgiven for thinking that I have deserted my old favourite, the humble flapjack, for more exciting pastures. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth  - I make sugar-free flapjacks at least once a fortnight and have become quite the expert. And as a flapjack expert let me tell you, that these ones are really, really good
I buy the sesame seeds at the Japan Centre whenever I'm in central London, and add them to all sorts of dishes, both sweet and savoury. The crushed, black ones are especially tasty added to porridge and carrots. The malt barley extract is a sweet, gooey substance that tastes like Horlix, if you've ever had the pleasure of tasting that, and has the added bonus of being healthy. Just in case you're not sure how to make flapjacks, let me outline it for you: melt the butter in a pan and add the honey and malt barley, once it's all melted add the dry ingredients and mix well. Transfer the contents of the pan to a buttered baking tin and bake in a pre-heated over at 180 degrees Celsius for about 25min. Score while still warm, then wait until cool before troughing greedily


3 cups oats
1/2 cup black sesame seeds, crushed
1/2 cup white sesame seeds, not crushed
200g butter
1 cup malt barley extract
1/2 cup good quality honey

Monday 11 February 2013

Wintery pasta - trottole with kale pesto and parsnips

When it's cold out, I love to play mad scientist in the kitchen. So this pasta is a kind of a Frankenstein's monster that's actually turned out damn tasty. Though still green, of course - my metaphor is perfect!
I used spinach trottole, that's why it's so very green, although the kale was (obviously) green too. For the kale pesto blend all the top ingredients until mushy, adding the olive oil slowly as they blend. The parsnips need to be chopped finely, not quite julienned, but not far from it - grill them with some olive oil, salt, pepper and nutmeg for about 10 minutes, or until crispy. Fry the pesto for a few minutes, stirring constantly, before adding the cooked pasta. My friend recently explained to me why we should never add oil when cooking pasta - it's because it makes the surface slippery so that the sauce doesn't stick. So make sure you just use loads of salted water instead when cooking the trottole, if that's the pasta you choose to use (I'd recommend it). Add the sizzling parsnips at the end and grate more cheese on top before serving. That down there makes about 3 servings


100g curly kale
4-5 tablespoons mild olive oil
100g pumpkin seeds
2 garlic cloves, chopped
100d Pecorino or grana padano cheese, grated
Salt and pepper

400g Spinach trottole pasta
Nutmeg, grated

Sunday 3 February 2013

Honey and Ginger biscuits and the most enjoyable baking experience ever

I've never been massively into baking, but now I've understood why some people find it therapeutic and enjoyable. Yesterday, I had one of the most pleasurable baking experiences in my whole life while making these honey and ginger biscuits. There was something about the warm dough that made the whole experience... sensual, for want of a better word. No pummeling something as hard as a brick, no stickiness and mess (the bakers out there will know what I'm talking about), just perfect, warm dough that comes together easily and is a pleasure to work with. A child could make these biscuits, and if I ever have a child, she definitely will be making them. I say "she" not because I'm being sexist, but because for some reason I'm convinced that one day I will have a little girl
Ingredients (makes about 50)

250g butter
250g caster sugar
200g good honey
250g plain flour
1 nutmeg seed
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon baking soda 
 Heat the oven to 180 degrees C. Melt the butter on a low heat, add the sugar and honey and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Grate the nutmeg into this and heat for a couple of minutes longer, then take off the heat, and allow to cool slightly. Sieve the flour, baking soda and ground ginger into a bowl and mix together. Now, add this to the pan and blend until you get a soft, warm dough. Now is the fun bit - enjoy. When the dough appears smooth take little bits of it and form into balls, placing each one onto a tray with greased baking paper on it. Flatten each one down and leave plenty of space between them. I fit 7-8 on one tray. Bake in the middle of the oven for 10min. Allow to stand for a few minutes before placing on a rack or plate to cool properly. We ate these washed down with warm, spicy mulled wine

Saturday 2 February 2013

Black garlic hummus (no tahini)

I should have told you about this earlier. I don't know why I didn't - the time never seemed right until now. And black garlic hummus is a dark and seductive thing - sweet yet intense, strange yet familiar,  it definitely lends itself to being kept a secret
But a secret is no fun unless it's shared, so here we are... blend the chickpeas with the lemon juice, paprika and black garlic. While they are blending, slowly add the olive oil, in a trickle. Add some sea salt too while it's blending. Keep doing this until the mixture is mostly smooth with a few cheeky chickpea bits here and there. Serve with more paprika sprinkled on top


Tin of chickpeas
Juice of 1 lemon
1 black garlic bulb
1 heaped teaspoon paprika
Sea salt to taste
About 1 tablespoon mild olive oil