Wednesday, January 21

Cauliflower 'rice'

I reckon this is perfect January fodder.
The coldest month offers something of a quandry: the soul yearning for comfort food, warming and hearty (shepherds pie, spag bol, curry), the body yearning for little more than a lettuce leaf after an over-indulged December.
Whether you're mid-way through a 'dry January' or slogging onwards with your detox diet I offer you this, a way to cheat the system. Have your curry and eat it (maybe with yoghurt instead of cream?)  Swap your rice for cauliflower (YES REALLY) and ta da, you're still on track...
(ps I drunk a glass of wine whilst writing this)

Cauliflower pilau 'rice'
Serves 2

1 small cauliflower
1 tsp turmeric
5 cardamom pods
pinch cumin
small handful of sultanas
2 tbsp toasted coconut flakes
25g flaked almonds
Olive oil

1. Start by grating the cauliflower on the course side of a cheese grater
2. Deseed the cardamom pods and crush in a pestle and mortar. Dry roast the spices for a few minutes until they start to smell toasty (but not burnt)
3. Add a tbsp of olive oil to the hot spices pan, stir, and straight away add the cauliflower.
4. Lightly saute for a few minutes (to warm through and combine the spices, but not cook).
5. Finally stir through the almonds, sultanas and coconut flakes.
And of course serve with curry.

cauliflower rice

Wednesday, November 5

Cauliflower Crust Pizza

cauliflower pizza

I've never thought of the cauliflower as a particularly versatile vegetable. My brassica repetoire is far from bold. Cauliflower cheese, maybe a soup (probably not), and er...ooh, what was it... er, no, that's, um, it. What can I say... it's a bijou list (cough).

In my last post I lamented the sad fact that cheap food usually equals unhealthy food. To find grub which is healthy, economical and that tastes good feels as frustrating as a Rubiks Cube: moving the pieces around but never nailing the puzzle.

But I shouldn't be surprised that the humble cauli could come good, that it could provide the answer to my culinary Krypton Factor.

Circa 1990 and we were keen guinea pig owners (we're talking double figure rodents here, so chomping their way through some serious amounts of greenery on a daily basis). You may know that guinea pigs like humans (and unlike most animals) are unable to manufacture their own Vitamin C (good pub quiz fact that). Cue a similar, albeit  guinea pig based, food challenge: the need for plenty of daily fresh veg and a minimal budget to fund this Vitamin C habit. 

The answer: cauliflower leaves. Yes really. You can find (read scavenge) them in market bins, I like to think it's the urban version of foraging.

First forward twenty four years and I'm back where I started (though without, I am pleased to report, men in fingerless gloves booming 'BEST CAULIs A PAAHND' ) but still finding the cauliflower is as quirky as ever. It's not guinea pig fine-dining this time, it's PIZZA! Yes, that's right, I kid ye not, this pizza is made out of a cauliflower. No dough, no flour, no yeast. It's on...

Cauliflower pizza

1 large cauliflower (though not a giant one)
1 egg (beaten)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp parmesan
1 ball of mozzarella
Tomato puree or thick passata for topping

Plus further topping of your choice. I just had mushrooms in my fridge when I made this,  but the possibilities are endless

1. Preheat the oven to 210/Gas 7
2. Cut off your cauliflower leaves (save for guinea pigs?) and tough stalk section. Grate or food process the remaining cauliflower head. You will end up with what looks like a pile of rice.
3. Microwave the cauliflower in a bowl for approx 5 minutes, until the vegetable is cooked and softened.
4. Take the cauiflower out of the bowl, place in a seive and strain out any excess water. Press out as much as you can.
5. In a large bowl mix together the cauliflower, egg, parmesan, garlic powder, oregano and grate in approx one third of your ball of mozzarella. The mixture should come together to form what looks like a dough
6. Once the mixture is formed to a dough-like consistency pull it together into a ball. Place on a lined baking tray (it's important that it is lined) and press into a circle. Maybe you could roll but pressing worked.
7. Bake the cauliflower base in the oven for approx 15-20 minutes until golden and firm.
8. You can then add your topping and bake for a further 8-10 minutes.

cauliflower crust pizza

Wednesday, October 22

Spiced Autumn Soup

spiced autumn soupI didn't start this blog to be earnest. It is unashamedly lightweight. My prose has all the substance of a bowl of angel delight. But as I cook day upon day, doing my best to hit my own KPIs: delivered on time, to budget and with  the added value of being vaguely nutritious, I ponder the following (by the way, I know this is no polemic, it taken a while for the penny to drop)...

Why does it not make economic sense to eat healthily?

If I want to fill up on calories without emptying my purse, then my weekly shopping basket starts to resemble a cross between a school vending machine (if that's not a contradiction in terms in the post-Jamie Oliver world of school food) and Wimpy: sugary, processed, full of refined carbs, fatty.

White bread not brown
Crisps not nuts
Fatty meats not lean
Battered fish not fresh
White pasta not wholemeal

It pays to eat badly. Gulp.

How can we make healthy food make financial sense?
Here's my first shot.

Spiced Autumn Soup
140g red lentils
2 small sweet potatoes, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1litre stock
100ml coconut milk (I used creamed coconut dissolved in water so as not to open a whole can)
Optional: pumpkin seeds to sprinkle on soup

1. Gently fry the onion and garlic until soft.
2. Add the spices and cook for a further couple of minutes until aromas are released.
3. Add lentils, potatoes, stock and coconut and cook for approx 25 minutes until lentils have softened.
4. Blend until smooth and serve with pumpkin seeds or coriander leaves

autumn soup

Monday, September 29


 Like most people I can't afford designer garbs. I experience Calvin Klein et al not through their apparel, but through their au de parfum. A little puff of Armani adds a spring to your step when the label you're wearing today is Primarni. The super-thick cardboard (often gold embossed) box, the ornate bottle an artwork itself, this is all a taste of another world. Not my real world, I don't shop in Bond Street, I shop in Boots on a Saturday afternoon. The high street is my gateway to high end brands, and there's something rather amusing about a bottle of Chanel rattling around a basket with a can of Batiste and a chicken and sweetcorn sandwich. I imagine venturing into a proper designer store must be how truly posh people feel in Argos: completely flummoxed by an alien format. I'll stick with the fragrance counter and collect my Advantage Card points thanks.

Likewise, it's fairly unlikely I shall ever stay at The Ritz: my Mr Ben adventure into a decadent world of gliding waiters, twinkly afternoon piano and chandeliers worthy of the ambassadors ball, comes via the all-too normal experience of drinking a cup of tea (and eating many scones and gulliver-sized sandwiches of course). It is my brief glimpse of this other world, snatched but therefore special.

And my latest experience of this different sphere came last week, when we had oysters. Shucked by the sink, plated and served on the oil-cloth-covered kitchen table and wolfed down with CBeebies providing the muzak.

Lemon juice
White wine

Wednesday, September 10

Quinoa with squash and apricots

quinoa with squash and apricots

Continuing the theme of my ignorance regarding the lexicon of food I've got a real shocker for you...did you know that Quinoa is pronounced 'keen-wa'? No? Me neither.
I've had a vague awareness of this new super cereal, mostly because I've clocked the odd quinoa salad in the M&S 'To Go' section. Elbowing my way through the besuited lunch-hour scrum to the melting middle chocolate puddings thinking Quin-noa (pronouncing it internally as Quinn, as in Dr Quinn, medicine woman)...nah, not for me.
 But after watching Dr Michael Mosley and chums in the recent Horizon programme 'how much meat should we eat?' , (the answer, for various reasons, environmental and health, being very little) along with a panicy pledge to never again eat another bacon sandwich (bacon supposedly being the worst thing ever...ugh, but it tastes so good) I was jolted into seeking protein alternatives for my dinner plate.
I am pro-pulse, loving the lentil, championing the chickpea, but quinoa to date has remained a question mark to me.
Learning the method to cook a new pulse/ grain is such chore: the recipe you're following is guaranteed to be subtlely but crucially different to the packet instructions. How many parts water? lid on or off? bring to the boil or simmer? water absorbed or to drain? and the result, usually on the claggy side and invariably too much cooked. I've had many a pan of bulgar wheat with the consistency of rice pudding. Sieving and fluffing with a fork to no avail.
And quinoa takes from packet to plate 30 minutes to cook, so it's not going to be your new quick-cook-penne-and-pesto-dinner,  but when there is no fish or fowl in your fridge there is a third way.

Quinoa with roasted squash, onion and apricot
Serves 4

150g quinoa
1/2 a large butternut squash
4 small onions
5 dried apricots
small bunch parsley
(optional hazelnuts or other nuts)

(I should state I think this recipe would be particularly nice with the addition of some chopped nuts, probably hazel nuts, but this was serving a baby and a toddler this is a choking hazard-free version)

1. Preheat oven to 200
2. Measure out 150g of quinoa. Add 5 parts boiling water to 1 part quinoa (or whatever your packet says). Stir, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Once the water has been absorbed take off heat and leave for 10 minutes.
3. Whilst the quinoa is cooking chop the squash and onion and roast in the oven for 30 minutes.
4. Chop a bunch of parsley and 6 dried apricots (I would also toast some hazelnuts and chop if possible).
5. Once the quinoa and roasted veg are both ready, combine all ingredients and stir through. Serve warm.

Wednesday, September 3

Lemon curd and blueberry muffins

blueberry and lemoncurd muffins
As a child you often mishear words in school hymns and the like, resulting in many years of belting out the wrong line at full blast.
It never occurred to me that it might not be "and I am The Lord of the dance settee". 

Similarly my teen years were spent tortuously picking over REM lyrics, doing my best to ensure my fragile teen cred bubble was not pin pricked by mis-singing a Stipe penned line. I developed a method that involved confidently singing a line I was sure of and then affecting a distracted glance as the words got tricky and I could only mumble. 

And this is affliction has not been limited to songs and lyrics. The coffee shop revolution has twice exposed me as a fraud in the cool gang. Perhaps atonement for my inner smugness when tourists in the pub where I worked ordered Brakspeare phonetically. 

The first tale of a coffee shop faux pas came when over the course of some weeks I repeatedly ordered a Chai Latte for a friend who was asking for a Dry Latte (it really does exist!). She was too kind to tell me. I am not sure whether she ever drunk her spiced coffee.

My second experience was chronologically the first. Happening in the early noughties when Starbucks were sophisticated destinations to be sought out and be seen at. I noticed my colleagues, all London-cool and smoother than a Flat White, were asking for their coffees with a prefix. Skimmy (or so I heard). I had no idea what it meant but it seemed de rigeur to ask for your daily coffee as a skimmy version. So I did merrily did this, for a long time, until the penny dropped as a barista self-corrected what they believed they had heard: 'skinny latte'. Cringe.

And alongside the milky frothy coffee this new take on the coffee hosue made an impact on our eating habits too...they made muffins mainstream. A cake on the breakfast menu, no wonder it's a trend that has stayed in fashion. Lemon muffin and skimmy latte please (double shot)

Lemon curd and blueberry muffins
250g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
75g caster sugar
50g flour
175g blueberries
grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsp lemon curd
2 eggs
250ml milk

lemon glaze
a little lemon juice
little icing sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 180 (fan).
2. Measure and mix flour and baking powder into a large bowl.
3. Rub in the softened butter to form fine breadcrumbs.
4. Stir in the sugar, blueberries and lemon zest.
5. Mix together eggs, milk and lemon curd in a separate bowl. Once combined add to the dry ingredients and lighly mix together. The mixture should be quite loose (not combined and uniform like a sponge or biscuit mixture).
6. Spoon the mixture into muffin cases in a 12-hole muffin tray.
7. Bake for 25 minutes (until springy and well risen). Cool on a wire tray.

Once cool brush with a little glaze for a shiny lemony finish.

Tuesday, August 12

Aubergine with roasted vegetables and parmesan

aubergine with roasted vegetables and parmesan
Cooks Block. Must mean it's approaching lunch time.

Breakfast: easy, it's groundhog day. That's how everyone copes with creating and serving a meal pre-9am right?

Dinner: a challenge of course, but one with resources thrown at it. An assigned budget within the weekly grocery shop, and a truth universally acknowledged that dinner-making is worthy of its own time slot. Therefore it is do-able.

Lunch: There are two schools of thought and its a polarised affair: Lunch Is For Wimps Vs The Long Lunch.
Now I am definitely not siding with Gordon Gecko and his cronies, as satisfying as my muesli is, I need a calorie pitstop mid way through the day. Equally impractical is The Long Lunch, of course who wouldn't agree to grazing, drinking and talking their way from 1pm to 4pm, if only those pesky problems such as work, unloading the dishwasher and checking Facebook on your phone didn't get in the way?

But what of the Everyday Lunch? The daily Ready Steady Cook like challenge combining a race against the clock and a fridge of random ingredients. And the answer to that problem is mostly the sandwich. But when you're sandwiched out where do you go?

Baked aubergine topped with roasted vegetables and parmesan

1 aubergine
1 small courgette
1 pepper
1 tomato
small handful of shaved parmesan

1. Preheat oven to 200
2. Slice aubergine in half length ways and place on baking tray.
3. Roughly chop the courgette, pepper and tomato into large pieces. Place on the same baking tray and lightly drizzle with olive oil. Do not put oil on the aubergine.
4. Bake in the oven for approximately 25 minutes or until the aubergine is soft and squidgy, and the vegetables soft and sticky.
5. Once all cooked pile the vegetables on top of the aubergine slices and scatter with the parmesan. Place back in the office for 2-3 minutes until the cheese has melted.

aubergine with roasted vegetables and parmesan