Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Sweet potato and spinach daal

I am by no means a vegetarian- give me a plate full of ribs, a whole fish or a spatchcocked chicken any day (preferably peri-peri) and I will be a very happy bunny- but I quite often eat like one. I don't need meat on my plate for my meal to be satisfying, it's quite nice (with the risk of sounded a bit Hugh FW) to make the most of lovely fruit, vegetables, grains and the like for a change (and it's often a fair bit cheaper to do so). I do tend to gravitate a lot towards cooking and eating quite a lot of what my brother would call 'hippy food'- things like lentils, bran, brown rice and beans. Don't get me wrong, I am rather partial to the odd disgustingly processed McDonald's burger or two, complete with rubbery orange perfectly square 'cheese' and worryingly uniform salty fries (word of warning- never squeeze a Maccy D's chip between your fingers), it's just nice to feel like at least some of the time you are cooking 'real food', making delicious grub from scratch from natural ingredients from the earth. I'm getting a little too zen-like now. Don't worry, I will not be moving to a self sufficient commune anytime soon- I doubt they have skinny toffee nut lattes.
Anyway, back to the point, how could you see this bunch of ingredients and not want to cook something wholesome and delicious, guaranteed to put a halo on your head and no inches on your waist? You can't. Or I can't anyway (ahem, I definitely didn't buy these ingredients to cook with the night before and end up going back to the shop for a frozen pizza because I couldn't be bothered). So I threw together- literally, it's that easy- one of my favourite Indian style dishes to make, which always warms and fills me up properly- a sweet potato and spinach daal. I got the recipe here on the BBC Good Food website (God bless that website), and it is almost unbelievably simple- the only bit of relatively strenuous activity involved is a bit of peeling and chopping. 
Granted, it does sound like a bit of a side dish, and many the meat-eater reading this will be picturing it on the table alongside a large lamb balti, and I imagine it would be delicious as such- but it's absolutely delicious and filling as it is. Served with sliced toasted pittas (wholemeal of course) for dunking in, it leaves you warmed through and satisfied, with a hint of chili tingling your tongue, and, with the amount of vegetables in it (and not a lot else), feeling absolutely guilt free (or with room for pudding- whichever way you want to look at it). 
Right, I had best go, before I give you all a brackets overdose (I would apologise for my brackets addiction- but I refuse to acknowledge that it is a problem, and therefore won't be attending brackets anonymous anytime soon). Yes, I am aware that I am hilarious. Lots of lentilly love,

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Banana pancakes

When you treat yourself to a bit of a lie in on a Friday, but have to be in university for 2pm, it is nigh-on impossible to squeeze in both breakfast and lunch. So there is only one solution- make brunch! Which in other words is me making up an excuse to have a really big breakfast- it really is my favourite meal. I could stretch the truth a little and say that the pancakes were an homage to my American friends in the spirit of Thanksgiving, but I don't really have any American friends, and the idea actually came from watching Jamie's Best Ever Christmas on 4od (no, it is never too early to start watching old Christmas cookery specials all over again), where he made pancakes for his adorable daughters, inevitably giving me pancake cravings (I really am horrific for getting food cravings from TV programmes). So I threw together these fluffy little beauties, topped them with some delicious creamy Greek yogurt and gooey hot bananas and caramel (which decided to turn rock hard as it cooled- anyone know how to stop this?), curled up with a cup of coffee and an episode of River Cottage a very important and canonical piece of literature, and very much enjoyed the start to my day.

1 cup flour
1 cup milk
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1  sliced banana
1 knob of butter
2 tbsp caster sugar
Greek yogurt

Whisk together the flour, milk, egg and b. powder to make a batter. Fry blobs in a frying pan in a little oil or butter (I used Fry Light) for a couple of minutes on each side until golden and pancake-like. In a separate pan melt the butter and sugar together to make caramel and cook the banana for a little on each side until gooey. Serve the pancakes with the yogurt, bananas, and a drizzle of the caramel.

I'm aware that these instructions aren't very detailed or exciting, but they really are that simple to make (and just heaven to dive into). Treat yourself.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Corned beef hash

Last night I used a very humble, almost controversial ingredient (food snobs look away now), a tin of corned beef. And I'm not even sorry; it was delicious. I made yet another thing that I've never attempted before (I'm not even entirely sure if I've eaten it before), and rustled together a corned beef hash. I remember watching The Hairy Bikers' Twelve Days of Christmas last year, sprawled across the sofa hiding from the cold, most likely haven eaten far too much festive food (Christmas telly-watching is the best), and have vague recollections of seeing the pair cook hash with pretzels for a load of people on some massive building site. I have the feeling it was an important building, but that detail is far less important that the velvety ooziness of the yolks from the poached eggs they served on top- a detail that I ensured was a part of my finished meal. So on yesterday's miserable dark November evening, I recreated their (breakfast) recipe and indulged myself in some proper comfort food, complete with smouldering crispy bits (a million miles away from the 'hash' I've seen some people make- essentially mashed potato mixed with corned beef), a wonderful kick of Worchestershire sauce (definitely the ingredient that made the dish), and served with a buttered  fresh-from-the-oven soda bread roll, which I'll save for another post. Oh I'm a tease- I know.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Ginger flapjack
(Tea Time Treats)

This is my first time entering anything like this, but after seeing the theme for this months Tea Time Treats, hosted by Karen at Lavender and Lovage and Kate at What Kate Baked, I couldn't resist taking part, and made some ginger flapjack.
I've always loved flapjack (along with most people, I can imagine), it's such a childhood treat reminder, bringing back memories of Tupperware boxes, golden syrup tins and country walks in the frost with a flask of tea (or maybe that's just me); I've also always used the same fail safe recipe with just 4 ingredients, passed to me by my mum and guaranteed to produce sticky, yet crunchy, bars of sweet oaty goodness. However, a few weeks ago at Manchester Feast Market I tried a ginger flapjack from a bakery stall and have been wanting to try my own ever since- it was that good. So I messed a round a little with my fail-safe recipe in an attempt to make it a little gingery and a little more sticky and squidgy, and this was my result. Little squares perfect for tea time, with a hint of ginger that just tingles on your tongue. Unfortunately I didn't quite manage the level of squidginess I was going for- I seem to have inherited my Gran's knack of being unable to make flapjack that doesn't put your teeth to the test (I think 5 minutes less in the oven would have done it)- but they were still delicious, and perfect for an Autumn evening when only a comforting childhood favourite sweet treat will do.

6 oz/ 150g butter or marg
6oz/ 150g muscavado sugar
3 tbsp (ish) golden syrup
1 heaped tsp ground ginger
8oz/ 200g oats

In a saucepan, gently heat the butter/marg, sugar and syrup until melted. 
Stir in the ginger and oats and press into a greased baking tray. 
Bake in a pre-heated oven at about 160°C for around 30 minutes or until golden. 
Cut into small squares (I got 24) and allow to cool in the tin (if you can wait that long).

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Leeds Christmas Market

Apologies for not posting for a while, but after a reading week spent lying on the sofa at home gorging myself stupid on my mum's cooking rather than actually doing much reading (I did buy a book- if that counts), I have had a pretty busy catching up week living in the library, with a mountain of books and a plethora (told my mum I was going to get that word in somewhere) of bagels to keep me company. Which inevitably hasn't given me much time to post or anything interesting to post about. But I have managed to escape the clutches of John Ryland this weekend and have fled to Leeds to rest my brain a little.
One thing I'm not sure if I'm mentioned on here yet, but I have definitely mentioned to anybody that will listen to me (or even anybody that won't- I've been getting very strange looks on the bus) is that I am very excited for Christmas. Yes, I am aware that it is only November, but the evenings are really dark, the shops are full of Fair Isle jumpers, and- most importantly- Costa's Christmas coffee menu is out, and it's making me giddy. I am one mince pie away from causing a tinsel-explosion in my bedroom. One thing I have been getting very excited for is the arrival of Manchester's Christmas market; a combination of market and Christmas- are they many better things in life? But as it doesn't start until Thursday, you can only imagine how much like a hyperactive child I was when I realised that the one in Leeds started this weekend. Nice weather, toffee nut latte in hand, the smell of roasting chestnuts, the piped in jolly Christmassy tunes- I was a very happy bunny. I didn't actually buy anything- not even (shockingly for me) a bag of sugar roasted nuts. My boyfriend did buy a marshmallow thing which I've always seen (along with the huge queues at the stall) and imagined to be majorly overrated and overpriced- how exciting can a chocolate covered marshmallow be? But it was like a giant Tunnocks teacake- which it turns out is very exciting. I now cannot wait (even more- if possible) for the Manchester market to open, and then I can roll straight out of the library to a place where counting down the days until Christmas doesn't seem quite so sad, and where I can binge on roasted nuts, pretzels, hot chocolate, crepes, and generally satisfy my Christmas cravings the way I know best- through my stomach.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011


I have been addicted to bagels for as long as I can remember. Whether with smoked salmon and cream cheese, butter and jam, chicken salad and mayo, scrambled egg and bacon... I'm not fussy really. My ultimate bagel, however, is one I fell in love with on a family trip to Florida when I was eleven, and give or take the odd hour, haven't been able to stop thinking about ever since. Breakfast is my absolute favourite meal- it just has all the best food- and on this holiday the breakfasts we had were worth skipping Disneyland for. Massive juicy watermelons (which only ever seem to taste right in hot countries when you know that your skin is going to see some sun at some point- it's just not quite as tasty in the miserable English drizzle), followed by one of the best breakfast foods- actually, scrap that, just general foods- I've ever eaten. Blueberry bagels. Simply toasted with butter, they were incredible. But it turns out they're an endangered species back in this country. 
 After reading a couple of bloggers' posts about making their own bagels, something that for some reason I've just never even considered an option, I decided to give it a go, with the view that if they were successful, I would be able to make my very own blueberry ones and stockpile them in the freezer. I used this recipe from the trusty BBC Good Food website, and they worked quite well. I kept them plain with a few poppy seeds sprinkled on top of half of them (I didn't want to be too adventurous on my first go, I'm far too afraid of failure for that), and having just eaten one warm from the oven with lashings of cream cheese, I was rather impressed with my efforts. They are a little bit fat and round (they remind me a little of hot cross buns, which in turn is making me crave hot cross buns- not entirely appropriate in November), but they taste... well, like bagels. Chewy, doughy, delicious bagels. Which means that I'm that little bit closer to having my very own taste of American blueberry breakfast yumminess baking in my oven. Which is far more excting than it should be.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Bonfire night

Last night was bonfire night! Which in true English tradition meant trudging into a muddy field wrapped in layers of woolly clothes to look up into the sky and omit a few 'oohs' and 'ahhs'. And it was wonderful. The fireworks were stunning, the bonfire was huge, it wasn't raining (a first for me- a dry bonfire night!), and there was even a little funfair. Which for me only meant one thing. Doughnuts. We're not talking your average squidgy, glazed, topped, Krispy Kreme- type, but proper, deep fried, covered in sugar, burn your hand and stick to your thighs doughnuts. I am a sucker for them. And they are only ever right when they come fresh from the fryer of a slightly questionable looking van at a funfair in a field. I kept the boyfriend happy with a bright red, sticky toffee apple (very bonfire night-esque but something I've never taken to), and stood ankle deep in mud, bag-full of greasy, fried, sweet goodness in one hand, sparkler in the other (ok I'm taking artistic liberties here, I didn't have a sparkler- my other hand clearly had a doughnut in it- but doesn't it make a nice image?), and we watched the sky light up with beautiful fireworks. All in all, a lovely evening. And we definitely didn't get ice cream on the way home...

[firework photo from]

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Toad in the hole

I have been craving Yorkshire pudding for a good 3 weeks. And after a conversation with my mum and gran about roast dinners, and watching Jamie Oliver tuck into them on Tuesday night (the best mouthful of food he'd ever eaten- apparently), it had reached a new level of craving. So last night I made toad in the hole. A visit from the boyfriend was the perfect excuse to cook and tuck into a big homely dish (it seems a bit sad to make it just for one- although with two sausages left and a perfect one person-sized pot, I may have to be a bit sad), and it didn't disappoint. I used the only sausages that should ever be used- Cumberland, and Jamie Oliver's method of making Yorkshire puddings that he used on Tuesday's Jamie's Great Britain, in which you measure your eggs and use the same amount of milk and flour. Served with lashings of onion gravy, it went down very nicely. Granted my onion gravy did look a little like apple sauce as I realised too late that the only stock I had was chicken, but for my first gravy-making attempt it tasted pretty damn good (better than it looked anyway). And the toad in the hole was just perfect- nice meaty spicy sausages, crispy Yorkshire with a little bit of squidgy in the middle, and a hint of thyme (any excuse for me to use thyme). Very suitable for a cosy dark night in hiding from the Manchester weather (rain- lots and lots of rain).
 Look what I got yesterday! After my whinging about not being able to afford pretty new cookbooks (which he didn't even read, he was just surprising me), my boyfriend landed with a copy of Jamie's Great Britain, all for me! Massive boyfriend points were obviously awarded (in the form of most of the aforementioned toad in the hole), and now I have a shiny new book to cook from! Satisfied Yorkshire pudding cravings, and a beautiful new book- what more does a girl need ey?

Friday, 4 November 2011

Birthday fairy cakes

I have come to the conclusion that I have no money. It didn't take me long to reach this conclusion. I'm a student, which by definition means my bank account doesn't look very well, and on top of that I'm a postgraduate student, which means I don't even get a student loan to help fund my Topshop and Costa addiction. But it's all good, I quite like having to budget, challenging myself to cook as cheaply as possible and taking food and a flask with me to the library and such, to avoid the meltdown moment when I've had enough of James Joyce and run to the nearest coffee shop for a vanilla latte and blueberry muffin. One thing I do love doing that costs money however, is giving presents. I really love giving presents, and with Christmas coming up (yes, I am excited already), this means a lot of presents. So I have decided (and fore-warned everybody) that I'm going to get my country-fair on and make everybody's pressies. And it's me, so they're all obviously going to be edible. And with my imagination not stretching very far, I'm really going to have to learn how to make jam...
I started my edible-presents adventure this week with my cousins birthday and made her some cute little cupcakes. Except that my mum didn't have any muffin cases (I probably stole them) so they were more fairy cakes. I used the trusty vanilla cupcake recipe from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook (so easy and oh so very yummy) and decorated them with pretty coloured frosting and sprinkles. They looked very cute, and so my first homemade gift was a success. It may not have taken as much money, but it took more effort and time, and I enjoyed doing it (and I'm sure my cousin enjoyed eating them). So all in all, a good decision. Bring on the jam jar collecting.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Lamb and apricot tagine

Back in Manchester and the land where internet moves quicker than a glacier. I had a wonderful time at home but being cut off from the world of high-speed broadband did make me feel a little like a quarantined mouse (I am a student after all- I don't know how to function without it), and it also meant I haven't posted on here as much as I wanted to, so I'll have to do a bit of catch up over the next few days.
 I think one thing that everybody loves about visiting home is the familiarity- it's comforting when things aren't too different. However, one thing that I arrived home to find different this week was the appearance of a brand new purple tagine in the kitchen. I know I'm a loser to be excited by this but it was beautiful. And as I realised that smuggling it in my suitcase back to Manchester (like I do with a large quantity of the cupboard contents) would be rather difficult, I decided that the next best thing would be to use it whilst I was home. Some scouring through cookbooks in WHSmith later (yes I'm too broke to actually be buying new cookbooks, no matter how pretty they are and how much I want to), I found a recipe in Jamie Oliver's Jamie Does... (which I've just realised is only a fiver with free delivery on Amazon... hmmmm...). The original, which is online here, is for a beef and prune tagine, but I swapped in lamb and apricots (purely for personal preference) and it worked really well. The recipe in general worked really well. All the ingredients were easy to get hold of, although the lamb neck was labled shoulder (to quote my mum- it had never been shoulder in it's life), and there was an almost unsuccessful search for ras el hanout in the wonderful supermarkets of Whitehaven. I really didn't want to have to make my own- the last time I attempted it it just ended up tasting of cloves, which wasn''t really the vibe I was going for- but lucky for my parent's tastebuds I was saved by Morrisons (boo to you Tesco). 
The recipe was also really easy to follow, and it turned out really well. I don't mean to sound suprised, I have every faith in Jamie's recipes, it's just that slow-cook dishes aren't usually a strength of mine (mainly because I am far too impatient with anything that requires me to leave it alone for any amount of time), but with a combitation of Sky TV to distract me away from the kitchen and a mother to shout at me anytime I tried to go back in, my tagine was a delicious success. Served with some simple cous cous dressed with lemon and coriander, it was the perfect combination of spice, perfume, succulent meat and juicy fruit and vegetables- and for a dish that was supposed to serve 4-6 people, there wasn't an awful lot left after the 3 of us got stuck in, which is always a good sign.