Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Vibrant summer salad.

First of all, apologies for not updating this blog in a looong time, but finding time to revise for my final university exams and update my cooking has not been easy (plus if I'm honest there have been more than a few late night takeaway pizzas recently...)

The good news is that I am officially finished and graduated and ready to become - gulp - a real adult person, which means I can now find plenty of time for cooking. Hoorah. 

I thought I would start off with one of my go to summer salads, something that's easy to make, looks and tastes delicious, plus is a little more exotic and interesting (both for the eyes and the tongue) than a somewhat overdone caesar salad or chicken club sandwich for when you're feeling like a light meal. I know that, for us Britons at least, the summer really hasn't started, but what the heck - maybe this summertime dish will encourage the weather to finally perk up. 

Quinoa with feta, pomegranate seeds and mint, served with a lemon vinaigrette
75g quinoa
100g feta
1-2 pomegranates 
handful of mint leaves
50ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
50ml good quality olive oil
salt and pepper, to season

1. Cook the quinoa following the instructions on the packet, then drain and rinse thoroughly, setting aside for later. 
2. In the meantime, chop the feta into chunks and chop the mint leaves into shreds. Put in a large bowl with the pomegranate seeds (if you're struggling getting the seeds out, try holding half the pomegranate over the bowl and banging with a wooden spoon, never fails for me).
3. In a measuring jug, measure out the lemon juice (making sure to squeeze the lemon through your fingers, in order to catch any pips) and then add the olive oil, mixing thoroughly until combined. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper to taste (obviously you can play around with the quantities - if you like it really lemony then feel free to add more lemon and vice versa)
4. Tip the quinoa into the bowl with the feta, pomegranate seeds and mint, and stir well. Pour the lemon vinaigrette over the top and serve. 
5. Finish with a handful of mint leaves and a few more pomegranate seeds to make it look beautiful. 

And it's as simple as that. The flavours are super clean and fresh, but mainly I love the fact that the dish ends up looking so vibrant and colourful, just perfect for summer (when it finally arrives...)


Monday, 16 April 2012

Super speedy 10 minute pizza.

I know it's hard to believe (as I almost couldn't believe it myself), but this really is a recipe for a pizza that can be prepared and cooked in a mere ten minutes. Now if that isn't convenience cooking, I don't know what is. 

I don't know about you but I am a diehard fan of pizza - there is something about the crispy crust, the rich ruby red tomato sauce and the gooey chewy mozzarella that means I can always polish of an entire one myself. Easily. Hey, those Italians really knew what they're doing. 

This recipe gains speed from using a tortilla as the pizza base - it means you don't have to worry about making your own dough which is time consuming and labour intensive (kneading produces muscles for a reason, you know), plus it gives the pizza a razor thin crispy crust which I find delicious. 

The following recipe is a super simple classic - mozzarella and basil with a little garlic and black pepper, although obviously you can add whatever toppings you want to this simple foundation; some of my more original favourites include pesto (swirled with the passata) with mushrooms, minced lamb (pre-cooked) with red onion and greek yoghurt spooned over the top once its cooked, or blue cheese and toasted walnuts scattered liberally over the mozzarella.

Super speedy 10 minute pizza
1 plain tortilla
100ml passata
1/2 ball fresh mozzarella
1tbsp garlic powder
handful freshly chopped basil leaves
sprinkling parmasan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 220°c and place a baking tray in there to get hot. 
2. Place the tortilla on a work surface and cover with the passata, leaving a small ring around the outside for the crust. 
3. Sprinkle the garlic powder over the passata evenly. 
4. Tear the mozzarella and scatter over the tortilla. 
5. Bake in the oven for 8 minutes, until the cheese is melted and golden and the tortilla is crisp and brown. 
6. Once out of the oven, scatter the shredded basil over the top and sprinkle liberally with freshly ground black pepper and grated parmesan cheese.

See I told you it only took ten minutes!


Sunday, 8 April 2012

Orange glazed hot cross buns.

Happy Easter everyone! I know (if you are anything like me) that you are probably suffering from a sugar induced coma, but if you fancy shaking off those easter egg shakes and making something really special, then read on for my recipe for the perfect hot cross bun. Doughy in the centre, crusty on the outside, sweet from the juicy bursts of the currants, and tart from the tangy citrus orange glaze, who could ask for more?

Yes, they are labour intensive, and yes, they do take a while to make, but hey, Easter is about lazing around the house during the afternoon, so why not set aside several hours and make these with the love and attention they deserve - a lot of the time is spent waiting for things to rise, and so can be spent employed with other activities, like eating chocolate and watching tv. Sounds like the perfect Sunday afternoon to me...

Orange glazed hot cross buns
For the buns:
600g strong white flour
1tsp salt
3tbsp mixed spice
45g butter
85g sugar
zest 1 lemon
zest 1 orange
2tbsp fast-action yeast
1 egg
275ml warm milk
150g sultanas

For the topping:
3tbsp plain flour
3tbsp water

For the glaze:
100g caster sugar
50ml water
juice 2 oranges

1. Sieve the flour, salt and mixed spice into a large bowl. Rub in the butter with your hands. 
2. Make a well in the flour and add the zest of the lemon and one orange. 
3. Heat the milk and add a beaten egg to it. Pour slowly into the well and mix until all incorporated and a dough is formed. 
4. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for about 5 minutes.
5. Continue kneading, adding in the currants and kneading them into the mixture. Keep kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic.
6. Place into the mixing bowl (you may want to grease the sides with butter), cover with a clean cloth, and place in a warm place to prove for one hour.
7. Tip onto a lightly floured work surface and knead the dough for a further 5-10 minutes. Place back in the bowl and leave to prove for another half an hour.
8. Cut the dough into twelve pieces and shape into buns. Place on a greased baking tray, cover with greaseproof paper all over, and then wrap with clingfilm. 
9. Leave to prove for 40 minutes.
10. Whilst the buns are rising, preheat the oven to 240°c and mix the flour and water into a paste. 
11. When the buns have risen, score crosses into them and place the flour mixture into the grooves to make crosses. 
12. Cook in the oven for 8-10 minutes, until golden brown. 
13. Whilst the buns are cooking, place the sugar and water in a pan on the hob, and heat whilst mixing continuously until the sugar has dissolved. Add the juice of two oranges and continue to mix over the heat for a few minutes. 
14. When the buns are out of the oven and still hot, spoon the sticky orange glaze over them, ensuring that each bun is covered and glossy. 

I know this is a long process, but trust me - the finished product is so, so, so worth it! The buns smell incredible (perfect for if you're expecting visitors, or even if you want to pull a chair up to the oven and enjoy the smell yourself), and, once glazed, they look so shiny and perfect you will almost not want to eat them. Oh, and they taste pretty good too!


Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The chocolate festival, Southbank.

This weekend was something of a religious experience for me, as I was able to visit my spiritual mecca, also known as the chocolate festival. (And yes, it was as good as it sounds). 

As soon as I got off the train at Waterloo and made my way to the festival I was overwhelmed with the sights, sounds, smells, and, most of all, tastes, of the festival promoting only one thing; chocolate. I immediately allowed myself to be swallowed by the hungry crowd as we moved along seemingly in unsion sampling the delights that each stall had to offer. 

I was privy to it all; from the best quality 70% dark chocolate, to chocolate crepes, to macaroons, to cupcakes, to chocolate chilli (!), and I was honestly in heaven. The prices ranged from a mere 70p for truffles (which I stocked up on), to a whopping £8.50 for a box of five macaroons (I had to resit buying them, but couldn't resit photographing them as they were so cute). 

My personal highlights were numerous, although when looking for the most unusual things the festival offered to sample the prize had to go to Cocoa Magic, an initially unassuming stand tucked into a corner, who were selling an awesome array of unusual truffles, including mojito, cardamom & pistachio, marmite, and bacon jam (I did venture to buy these - the first two were delicious, the marmite had a unusual yet enjoyable tangy kick to it, whilst the bacon jam was, unfortunately,disgusting - akin to licking congealed bacon fat off of a greasy pan). 

I think the award for the most eye-catching stall is credited to Crumbs & Doilies, whose cupcakes and mini cupcakes were - at the risk of sounding painfully cliched and girly - so damn cute that I literally couldn't stop staring. I had to purchase one of their mini cupcakes (about the size of my thumbnail) and was not disappointed by the flavour either - my red velvet cake was rich and moist and the cream cheese icing provided a wonderfully soft tang to establish it as a perfect sweet mouthful. 

However the most important award (in my eyes), that of the tastiest thing I devoured on the day, has to go to Outsider Tart, an authentic American bake shop run by two guys from New York, whose cakey offerings were pulling huge crowds, offering classics like the chocolate brownie (with the addition of walnuts or white chocolate chips), combined with their reasonable prices, huge portions, and obvious enthusiasm for what they did - they could clearly do no wrong, and the constant crowd around their stall showed how much they were appreciated. After fighting my way to the front of the queue and purchasing a slab of their home baked goodness, I sunk my teeth into a huge doorstop-sized block of peanut butter chocolate brownie, and I must say, it was one of the richest, fudgiest, most decadent things I have ever tasted, and definitely worth the £2.70 I willingly invested. 

A truly brilliant day out, and, if possible, making my love for all things sweet and chocolatey even stronger.