Poached rhubarb with cardamom

This light, healthy, fruity dessert is a simple and delicious way to finish any meal.
Slice 3-4 sticks of rhubarb into 1 inch chunks – if your rhubarb is quite thick, cut a little smaller. Add the rhubarb to a saucepan with 2 tablespoons of caster sugar, the seeds of one cardamom pod and a splash of water.

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The easiest way to get the seeds from a cardamom pod is to gently bash it in a pestle and mortar. The seeds add a subtle aromatic flavour.
Bring the rhubarb to a simmer, then cover and cook until tender.

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This is great served in little bowls with some low-fat Greek yogurt and a couple of crushed amaretti biscuits. If the rhubarb is a bit sharp, add a squeeze of honey to finish it off.

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Recipe from olive magazine, February 2014 issue.

H

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Mini Victoria sponges

It’s the weekend! And no weekend of mine is complete without cake. These mini Victoria sponges are so cute looking and really quick and easy to whip up.

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Preheat your oven to 170⁰C and line a muffin tray with cupcake/muffin cases. Weigh out 6oz each of self-raising flour (sieved), softened butter and caster sugar into a large mixing bowl, along with 3 medium/large eggs, 1 teaspoon of baking powder and 3/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Using electric whisks, mix everything together until well incorporated and light and smooth. Using a tablespoon, spoon the mixture into the cases filling them about half way. Bake for about 12 minutes or until pale golden and a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool on a wire tray.

When cool peel off the paper cases and using a bread knife gently cut the cakes in half. Spread a generous layer of raspberry or strawberry jam on one half and then sandwich the cakes back together. Make a small amount of water icing (icing sugar and water) and drizzle over the cakes with a teaspoon or a piping bag.

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These are best eaten straight away with a cup of tea – I doubt they’ll last very long anyway !

H

Butternut squash and chorizo

Butternut squash and chorizo is one of my favourite flavour combinations. I know in my previous ‘chicken noodle soup’ post I preached about topping up on the good-for-you stuff… Well I know chorizo isn’t the healthiest of ingredients, but it is bloody tasty. The warm spicy flavours have the comfort element too, which is vital at this time of year. Roasting butternut squash and chorizo together with a couple of red onions and a sprinkling of rosemary or thyme brings out the best in the sweet and spicy flavours.
Heat your oven to 200⁰C (fan) and cut a medium butternut squash into even sized chunks. You needn’t peel the skin, it adds a soft sticky chewiness to the squash when roasted. Peel and cut two red onions into eighths and heat a generous drizzle of oil on a large baking tray in the oven for a couple of minutes, then add the chopped squash and onions. Carefully coat in the oil, season well and sprinkle with either the rosemary or thyme. Roast for about 15-20 minutes, or until the squash is beginning to soften.
Slice a chorizo ring into half inch chunks and add to the tray with the squash and onions, roast for a further 10-15 minutes. The squash should be sticky and soft, the onions a little charred and golden, and the chorizo should have released it’s spicy smoky oils.
This simple tray of deliciousness can now be added to a basic risotto or mixed through spaghetti with a little of its cooking water. My favourite is as a risotto.

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The oils from the tray are so flavoursome that you needn’t add anything else but a sprinkling of fresh Parmesan and basil leaves, if you have them.

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You could also serve the butternut squash and chorizo as a warm salad with toasted pecans, balsamic vinegar and a little Parmesan.
Whatever you decide to with this tray of sticky sweet squash and fiery roasted chorizo, I assure you it will leave you feeling warm and satisfied inside. Perfect for when it’s cold outside.

H

Pizza party

Christmas is looming and the nights are getting colder, so to save money and keep warm why not throw a pizza party. It’s easy; one or two of you make pizza dough, which is really simple, and if everyone else brings a pizza topping and of course a bottle of wine, then you’ve got everything you need to ensure a fun but cheap night in!

Myself and the girls did this on Friday night… Maisie and I made A LOT of dough; 300g bread flour makes two pizzas and you can buy a 1.5kg bag of bread flour for less than £1, so it’s very cost effective. Unlike making a loaf of bread, you don’t need to let pizza dough rise so it really is quick. Here’s the recipe I followed: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/4683/pizza-margherita-in-4-easy-steps

The girls bought a selection of toppings; we had tomato purée, prosciutto, chicken, pepperoni, olives, anchovies, ham, mozzarella, cheddar and fresh basil to decorate our pizzas with.

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After a couple of much needed glasses of wine, a production line began as we rolled out the dough,

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placed it on preheated baking trays (it’s important to preheat the trays to ensure a crisp base) and decorated the pizzas with the toppings.

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A couple of the girls managed to make a stuffed crust by folding the dough inwards, stuffed with mozzarella, pepperoni and one random anchovy hidden in there (Rachel you’re so funny).
We then played Russian roulette as to who had the slice with the anchovy in it… We know how to have fun !!!

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We could have opened a Pizza Hut we had so much pizza! We did have a great salad made by Char, to make it a little healthier (!)
More importantly it was a fun, sociable, cheap way of spending a night in.

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H

Healthy and cosy chicken noodle soup

It’s that time of year where we are slowly adjusting to the colder weather and shorter days. Winter colds are rife so it’s important to keep topped up with healthy, good-for-you food. There’s nothing more comforting than a steaming bowl of soup and this chicken noodle soul is perfect; it’s quick, easy and really healthy. It has fresh ginger in it too which is great for fighting a cold. It is also a good way to use up leftover roast chicken from the weekend.

The recipe is from BBC Good Food: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1869/chicken-noodle-soup

I adapted it slightly by doubling the quantities, using leftover chicken thigh meat we had from Sunday dinner and adding half a fresh red chilli and half a red onion finely chopped, because I didn’t have any spring onions! I also added 1 stick of lemongrass, outer bit removed and finely sliced. I finished the soup with torn basil leaves and the juice of half a lime, stirred in just before serving. The kitchen smelt very aromatic!

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You could add a couple large handfuls of kale or spinach also. I will try that next time. It’s the sort of recipe which you can adapt depending on what you have in the fridge.

An easy, comforting, healthy bowl of goodness, great if in need of a detox after an indulgent weekend, which is often in my case !

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Enjoy.

H

Thame Food Festival

Food festivals are popping up everywhere these days. Even my hometown of Thame has succumbed to foodie fever and has just hosted it’s 6th food festival. Up until now I am sad to say I have not been to its previous food festivals as I was always back at uni by the time they were held, but I had always heard good things about them. Needless to say I was eager to see what all the excitement was about.
Stalls lined the high street selling everything imaginable – cakes, cheeses, chutneys, curry, champagne, cordial, slow roast lamb, pulled pork, pizza, scotch eggs, the list was endless.

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I have never seen the town so packed with such a buzz to it.

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After meandering from stall to stall, checking out what was on offer and tasting chunks of cheese and shots of champagne, the question came down as to what to eat? When there was so much to choose from? After snacking on a chilli, coriander and lime scotch egg, my friend Maisie and I settled on the slow roast pulled lamb and salsa verde bap served by Ross and Ross food.

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We couldn’t resist the smell, you could smell the lamb long before you were near the stall, and the queue was one of the longest, always a good sign!

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And it didn’t disappoint, it tasted delicious!!! The look on Maisie’s face says it all! The sharp vinegar tang of the salsa verde complimented the melt-in-the-mouth lamb perfectly.

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Norfolk cordial sold us three of their gorgeous, bejewelled bottles of cordial. After tasting the majority of the flavours we settled on the redcurrant and grapefruit which we were told tastes fantastic in a gin and tonic, and the rhubarb, orange and ginger which is lovely in a glass of prosecco. Of course they taste great just made up with water as a refreshing, fruity drink but it was definitely the idea of mixing them with alcohol that sold it us !

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Amongst the stalls were two theatre tents where local and well known chefs did cookery demos.

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The most popular, it has to be said, was Raymond Blanc from Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons who charmed the large crowd as he demonstrated some French classics; moules marinières, steak and sauté potatoes and his twist on a crumble. The above picture shows the number of people milling around waiting to see the famous Frenchman do what he does best!

The day was brilliantly organised, it was a fun, free day out for all! I came home with a few goodies and a very satisfied tummy! Bravo Thame!

H

Griddled pineapple with warm salted caramel sauce

This dessert is quick and easy to rustle up with only a small number of ingredients. The recipe for the salted caramel sauce come from Lorraine Pascale’s book ‘Fast, Fresh and Easy Food’ and can be made in advance. The quantities are as follows:
200g butter
175g soft light brown sugar
3 tablespoons golden syrup
1/2 – 1 teaspoon sea salt town
(Makes 600ml of sauce)

You simply melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan on a medium heat until the sugar dissolves and the butter melts. Next, stir in the cream and warm the sauce through. Then add enough salt to taste. Lorraine Pascale’s recipe states 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of sea salt, but I used about 1 and a half teaspoons of Maldon sea salt. I like it quite salty sweet. It’s preference though, so go steady to start with, you can always add more if need be. Set aside until needed

Cut a fresh pineapple into rings or wedges and dust liberally with icing sugar.

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Heat a non-stick frying pan and melt a small knob of butter, add the pineapple and cook on a medium to high heat for about 3-4 minutes or until the pineapple begins to go golden and caramelise.

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Heat the salted caramel sauce and serve in a little jug with the warm pineapple and scoops of vanilla ice cream.

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This simple dessert is sweet ‘n’ salty, fruity deliciousness!

H

Onion bhaji’s

These days I can’t have a curry without some kind if Indian snack to accompany it and mop up the sauce, my favourites being naan bread and onion bhaji’s.

I discovered that naan bread is actually very easy to make (blog to follow soon) so I thought I’d have a go at making onion bhaji’s to go with our weekly Friday night curry feast. I used the following recipe: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/335606/red-onion-and-chilli-bhajis-with-mint-and-garlic-r and adapted it slightly. The recipe uses red onions, however I used white as that’s all I had. Similarly I used chilli powder as I did not have a fresh chilli, and I used plain flour instead of chickpea flour and I also added a sprinkling of chopped fresh coriander.

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I have not made onion bhaji’s before so I wasn’t sure if the mixture was a bit too gloopy and thick, but I just went with it. These bhaji’s are cooked in oil, I used sunflower oil and heated it in a large wok. I was surprised at how easy these were to make, as soon as the spoonful of onion batter hit the oil it glues everything together and they’re easy to turn over.

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I think the problem with making such things as onion bhaji’s is that, yes, they do take a little more effort than simply sticking a pack of shop bought bhaji’s in the oven but the difference in taste is huge! Homemade onion bhaji’s taste amazing, absolutely delicious!

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I am normally put off by deep fried food, but these were surprisingly light and not greasy at all (make sure to drain on kitchen roll). They were great dunked in the raita that the recipe also provides and mango chutney is always a must!

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So you have no excuse not to try making your own bhaji’s; the ingredients are mostly those which you would have in your fridge and cupboards and they are simple and cheap to make.

They will be starring in any curry night I have in the future!

H

Something healthy… Aubergine and pomegranate couscous with buttermilk dressing

This tasty vegetarian couscous dish is a feast for the eyes; it is vibrant in colour and texture, and can be enjoyed warm for dinner or cold as a lunchtime salad.
It’s quick and healthy to make and is bought to life by the fiery Harissa that the couscous is mixed with. Harissa paste gives the couscous a Moroccan twist which is tamed by the creamy, garlicky buttermilk dressing that you drizzle over the aubergines and couscous before serving. A sprinkling of mint leaves and pomegranate seeds freshen the dish and make it look like a bejewelled feast.
Harissa paste can be found in all good supermarkets and is great for spicing up chicken, roasted new potatoes or mix a little in houmous to give it a kick.
The aubergines are sliced into chunky strips and tossed in a little oil, half a teaspoon of ground cumin and a teaspoon of nigella seeds and roasted until soft.

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This recipe is from the July 2013 copy of ‘Olive’ food magazine.

H

Foodies Festival, Oxford

Yesterday I went along to the Foodies Festival in Oxford which was a great food-filled day out. There were stalls adorned with chutney’s in every flavour possible, infused oils, meats, cheese, macaroons in every colour of the rainbow, wine, gin, cider, beer, everything you could imagine and more.

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The stalls serving food catered for every cuisine possible. The pad Thai was very popular with an incredibly long queue, as they served noodles out if the back of a Thai tuk-tuk.

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There was a Gaucho tent serving rump of beef in a roll with a sauce similar to salsa verde. Another stall was serving slow roast lamb in a ciabatta roll, there was a hog roast, curry, wood fired pizzas, the choice was endless. And you can probably just imagine how great everything smelt! After much debate we settled for something French; Poellée Comtoise – smoked sausage and potatoes topped with Comté cheese… It was delicious. Smokey sausage, strong French cheese and potatoes mmm mm!

We sampled almost the entire fleet of stalls and what they had to offer. We bought three different flavoured macaroons – salted caramel, Nutella and French 70% chocolate – which were nutty, chewy and lovely.

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We also had a glass of pink ‘Pinkster’ gin, which was my favourite. I don’t think it really mattered how it tasted I just loved the fact it was pink!

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But seriously it tasted amazing. The pink hue comes from the raspberries that the gin is infused with. It makes for a pretty gin and tonic and would be great for a party.

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There were chefs doing demonstrations in the bigger theatre tents. We sat in and watched Bini Ludlow, an Indian lady who starred in ‘Food Glorious Food’ and who cooked a paneer and pea curry with chapati’s. She also demonstrated how to cook perfect basmati rice; the trick is to always soak and rinse the rice before cooking it in order to remove as much of its starch as possible. You should also use double the quantities of water to rice and resist temptation to stir the rice whilst it’s cooking. Her dish smelt incredible, it was such a shame we couldn’t try it. The aromas of the Indian spices and garlic and onions had our mouths watering!

We ended the day with a pot of Spanish churros.

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Churros is Spain’s equivalent to the donut, often served with a pot of warm chocolate sauce to dunk them in. We opted for a sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon as by then we were simply over-indulging just because everything looked and smelt divine.

What a great day out with so much great food and drink! Thame food festival is my next port of call on Saturday 28th September. Put it in your diaries!

H