Monday, 13 June 2016

We've moved!

This lovely blog has now been incorporated into a gorgeous new website, so please take a look and follow me here -

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Fun Fermenting!

Over the early May Bank Holiday I was lucky enough to be invited to Bristol Food Connections, a great food festival in Bristol that includes workshops  tastings, talks, plus a lot more.  The whole event is sponsored by Great Western Railway so not only did I get to taste great food, I also travelled down to Bristol in style on the train, something I don't normally do, but really enjoyed relaxing and watching the world go by instead of sitting in traffic and panicking to find parking!
One of the workshops I attended was 'Gather, Ferment, Flame' where Matthew Pennington from The Ethicurean and Gill Mellor from River Cottage cooked some fun dishes using foods they had gathered, or were produced locally.  The great thing was the lack of facilities (they were using a camping stove!) which was perfect for showing just how simple cooking can and should be.
It certainly is a great time for foraging, and on my return I was out in the Chiltern hills, basket in hand and returned home to make a delicious citrus nettle pesto.
But the fermenting demo got me all fired up again, as I love the idea that eating something really tasty is also going to help feed your gut with healthy bacteria.  There are lots of fermented foods you can try and if you need inspiration take a look at 'Fermented' by Charlotte Pike.
The recipe below is for a Korean pickle called kimchi, which is served with almost everything in Korea!  It can be quite spicy and hot, so once you've made it and know how much heat and spice you can stand you can then change it to suit your taste.  Kimchi is made by lacto-fermentation, so no vinegar is used.  


Makes approx 1 kg

1 large Chinese cabbage, thickly sliced
200g radish, thinly sliced
1 banana shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
40g sea salt
50g fresh ginger, peeled 
50g garlic, peeled 
2 tbsp Thai fish sauce
2 tsp chilli flakes (you can add more if wished)
3 tsp sugar

  • Place the cabbage, radish and shallot into a bowl with the salt and rub the salt into the vegetables.
  • Pour in 1-2 litres of water so the vegetables are covered, then leave to stand for 4 hours.
  • Meanwhile, place the ginger and garlic in a small blender and blend until well broken down.  Add the fish sauce, chilli flakes and sugar and blend again.
  • Drain the vegetables, retaining some of the brine.  Pack the vegetables into sterilised jars (you can do this simply by placing them in a cool oven for 20 minutes), then pour in enough brine to cover by about 1 cm.
  • Cover loosely and leave to stand at room temperature for 1-5 days, pressing the vegetables down below the liquid each day with a metal spoon.
  • After this time taste the kimchi and when it's the flavour and strength you like, place it somewhere cold.  It will keep for 4-6 weeks.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

More Questions than Answers?

It appears a lot of the nation were glued to the BBC's Angela Rippon, telling us 'How to Stay Young' - a two part series that delved into physical and mental health as we age.
There were lots of scientific bits, with research that backed up their theories, then lots that had absolutely no scientific evidence to support it at all (such as sitting down on the floor and standing up again with your legs crossed, not using any other part of the body, as a sign that you are likely to live longer), very disappointing.  A yoga instructor called into Radio 4 the following morning when this very item was being discussed, and pointed out that to attempt this was likely to cause injury - ankles and knees not being in line apparently.
Then there were the pieces that related to food - Angela was shocked to find she has visceral fat around her organs, but she was going to get rid of it by taking inulin every day (not a pile of old lentils, but just a teaspoon of powder) - no explanation as to what it is, what is does or how you may be able to get it from other foods?
Inulin is a dietary fiber, a naturally occurring oligosaccharide (several simple sugars linked together) belonging to a group of carbohydrates called fructans. Unlike other carbohydrates, inulin is non-digestible, so it passes through the small intestine, and ferments in the large intestine.  Through this fermentation process it becomes healthy intestinal micro flora and acts as a prebiotic, feeding probiotics (friendly bacteria) in the gut.  In addition to promoting a healthy gastrointestinal tract, inulin may also help with constipation.
Chicory root is the best source of inulin, but there are lots of other foods containing inulin that are easier to include in our everyday diets - leeks, garlic, onions, asparagus, bananas, wheat, Jerusalem artichokes and dandelion root.

For the brain we were told that purple foods would be beneficial, having studied a group of centenarians in the Far East.  Again, there was no mention of other aspects of their lifestyle (they were shown playing croquet and whizzing around on a scooter), or other aspects of their diet.  I expect the supermarkets are now being inundated with requests for purple sweet potatoes!
Anthocyanins are members of the flavonoid family of phytochemicals, found in plant foods.  They provide the bright red-orange to blue-violet colours found in many fruits and vegetables - blackcurrants, blackberries, blueberries, red cabbage, elderberries, cherries, purple grapes, blood oranges and aubergines especially.
Plants produce anthocyanins as a protective mechanism against environmental stressors, such as ultraviolet light, cold temperatures, and drought. This production of anthocyanins in roots, stems, and especially leaf tissues is believed to provide resistance against these environmental hazards, making them a potent antioxidant.  Research has shown anthocyanins may have a beneficial effect against cardiovascular disease, cognitive function and cancer.
To increase your intake of both nutrients, try these delicious low sugar muffins - perfect for a breakfast or brunch snack.  They are also dairy-free.  If you can find purple sweet potatoes great, if not orange ones are also fine in this recipe.

Banana and Blueberry Muffins

Makes 12

1 banana, peeled and chopped
4 eggs
100g light muscovado sugar
150ml olive oil
200g wholemeal self-raising flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
175g carrots, peeled and grated
160g sweet potato, peeled and grated
150g blueberries

  • Pre-heat the oven to 190°C / Gas mark 5.  Line a muffin tin with 12 paper cases.
  • Mash the banana in a large bowl then whisk in the eggs and sugar.
  • Slowly whisk in the oil.
  • Fold in the remaining ingredients (do not over-mix).
  • Divide between the paper cases and bake for 30-35 minutes, until risen and golden.
  • Cool on a rack and store in a air-tight container - these also freeze well.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Cycling Curious Cuba

I was warned when I mentioned to others that I intended to cycle around Cuba that I would struggle to find good food.  I thought, how bad can it be?  And the answer is, pretty bad!  If you eat meat (lots of pork) and are only staying for one week in an all-inclusive resort, then maybe you will survive, but as a non meat-eater and one who likes to snack throughout the day whilst cycling, I was relieved that I had taken a stash of snacks with me.
In Havana we hunted down what was reported to be the best supermarket in the city (and reported by Lonely Planet as stocking everything from fresh pastries to babies nappies) - when we visited there was only spam (found everywhere in Cuba!), mayonnaise, shampoo and obviously, rum!
So not only can you not get a variety of food in hotels or restaurants, it's also impossible to buy it to cook for yourself.
I had assumed that when we reached the countryside we would see more of local people growing their own vegetables and fruits, but this was not the case either, although people we spoke to who were staying in local homes said they had experienced some great food.
One thing that the Cubans do very well is Pina Colada!  The best we had was from a shack (known as the service station!) on a main road - we stopped there around 10.30am and instantly joined the long queue.  I had intended to have mine without rum, but when they hand you the Pina Colada in one hand and a bottle of rum in the other, it seemed rude not to mix the two!
Another drink that became a favourite when we were cycling long distances on hot days was homemade lemonade - served ice cold, with a layer of honey in the bottom of the glass to be stirred in or not, depending on your likeness for sweetness.  I've had this a few times since my return - once while I was suffering with flu (but without the ice!), as I love the mix of sharpness and sweetness that it gives.

Cuban Lemonade

1 lemon, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp sugar
2-3 tsp good flavoured honey

Place the lemon and sugar in a small blender and blend with 100ml water.
Strain into a jug of ice and then strain again into another jug and top up with another 100ml water.
Spoon the honey into a glass and then pour the lemonade on top.
Stir as you drink!

PS.  I haven't actually tried it, but I suspect rum would also work quite well in this!

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

A New Grain?

It's taken me a while to recover from my recent trip to Ethiopia, for so many reasons!
Firstly, it was pretty tough from the point of being at a higher altitude than normal (Gondar is at an altitude of 7,300 ft - and from there we climbed higher) then, having decided to climb to the fourth highest peak in Africa (Ras Dashen at 14,928 ft) we also camped along the way, so no home comforts (or anything close!).  But the most difficult thing for me was coming to terms with the poverty that we came across along the way - it was worse than anything I have experienced in any other place I've visited (and I've been to a lot of third world countries), but still the people are smiling - how do they do that?  For anybody that is not satisfied with their life back here in the UK, go and spend a few weeks in Ethiopia, and realise how lucky you are.
Apart from the poverty, the area I spent time in was stunningly beautiful - the Simien Mountains are a UNESCO World Heritage site and it's easy to see why - you can sit on the top of a mountain, surrounded by beautiful tame baboons, watch ibex grazing (the only place in the world where you will find this amazing animal) and listen to the black kites making their calls as they fly overhead.  All this, and just mountains as far as the eye can see.
As usual, for me it was also a chance to see what food the Ethiopians live on, and it turns out that they have a fantastic crop that they have been growing for years - a grain that is gluten-free and richer in nutrients than most other grains.  
Tef, which is available in the UK but at the moment doesn't seem to be that well known, is rich in protein, calcium and fibre, along with many other important minerals and vitamins.
In Ethiopia the main food tef flour is used for is injera, a kind of fermented flat bread that is used as the plate before eating it.  It was an interesting texture (a bit like the top of a crumpet), and the sourness quite odd, but when eaten with the lovely spicy lentil dishes and vegetables it did seem to work!
I didn't take much into the mountains with me, but still I had more clothes than most, so eventually I gave them all away.  Which meant I had plenty of room in my suitcase to bring back 8kg of tef flour!!  The market sellers were not happy at selling such a small amount (?) and amazingly I wasn't stopped at the airport for having 8kg of white powder in my case!
So now have enough tef flour to experiment with for the next few weeks - keep looking for the new recipes coming your way.  And obviously if you don't want to buy tef flour you can use other gluten-free flours in the recipes.

Tef Berry Pancakes

Serves 4

125g teff (I used red tef)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp gluten-free baking powder
1 egg
175ml dairy-free milk
25g unsalted butter, melted
50g blueberries
50g raspberries
1 tbsp olive oil
maple syrup to serve (optional)

  • In a large bowl mix together the flour, cinnamon and baking powder.
  • Whisk together the egg and milk and then whisk into the flour until smooth - the mixture should be the consistency of thick double cream - add a little more milk if needed.
  • Stir in the butter and half the blueberries and raspberries.
  • Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, then spoon tablespoons of the mixture into the pan.  Cook for 3-4 minutes until golden underneath then flip over and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.  Repeat with the remaining batter.
  • Serve with the remaining berries and a drizzle of maple syrup if wished.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Mountain Bikes and Garlic

I did once own a mountain bike. I'm not sure why I had it as I never rode it off-road, just potted around country lanes, wondering why it was such hard work.  The nearest I've got to serious downhill mountain bike stuff was when I worked as a chalet girl in Chatel, France, we didn't have any snow for the first few weeks and one of the team thought it would be a great idea to take mountain bikes up in the cable car and then ride them back down.  I opted for sitting in the sun at the top of the mountain writing postcards, I was the only one injury-free at the end of the day!
But since moving back to the country I decided to join the local cycling club, not realising initially that mountain bikes were the bikes of choice (I turned up on my thin-tyred hybrid and was sent on my way!).
Luckily I have been loaned a rather gorgeous bike so now take part in the ride around The Chilterns each week - and what a great way to explore, albeit I am focused on the ground more than the surroundings as, watching out for tree stumps, mud, holes and the like is pretty crucial.
But what I didi spot as we were storming through a woodland this week, was a carpet of beautiful wild garlic.  Asking if everyone could stop whilst I pick a bunch of garlic was not really an option - trying to keep sixteen cyclists together all evening is already a big enough task, so today I retraced our route, this time on foot and with a big bag!

One of the tastiest things to make with wild garlic is this delicious pesto - rich, pungent and very moreish!

Wild Garlic and Hazelnut Pesto

100g wild garlic (flowers and leaves)
100g hazelnuts, toasted and chopped
30g parmesan, grated
juice of 1/2 lemon
100ml-200ml extra virgin olive oil

- Place the garlic and hazelnuts in a food processor and process until completed broken down.
- Add the parmesan and lemon juice and blitz again.
- With the machine running slowly pour in the oil, adding more if you like a looser consistency.
- Spoon into a jar, cover with a little oil and store in the fridge.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Walking the Camino

What an amazing experience - one I would wholeheartedly recommend to anybody who loves a bit of a walk!
The Camino Frances is the most popular of all the Camino routes to Santiago de Compostela in North West Spain, and I can understand why.  It starts in St Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees and finishes around 780 km later in Santiago.   This was a test run for us, so with only one week to spare we managed to cover 102 miles.
Day one is a bit of a shock to the system, with a huge mountain to climb and over 17 miles to walk to the next hostel.  We were told we couldn't climb the mountain as there was deep snow at the top and it would be too dangerous.  Some of the party were relieved, others disappointed, but for those that thought we would be having an easier day, they were in for a bit of a shock!  We still had to climb to 1057 metres to reach our dinner and beds for the night!
Apart from the walking, the next best thing about the camino is the people you meet.  Everyone has a different story to tell as to why they are there, and there were lots of stories that certainly made me feel very humble, including a robust 74 year old woman who had walked the route 7 times and this time had started in Austria!
I had anticipated returning home a little slimmer, but fortunately the food was far too good for that to be the case - lots of great almond dishes, roasted peppers, surprisingly good fish, perfect paella, and great garlic soup! And of course we were walking through the Navarre and Rioja wine areas, so it would have been rude not to sample a little each night to help us sleep!

Quick and Easy Paella

Serves 4

 1 tbsp olive oil
 1 red onion, peeled and diced
 1 garlic clove, crushed
 pinch saffron
 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
 300 g long grain rice
 1 x 400 g can chopped tomatoes
 900 ml fish or vegetable stock
 400 g mixed seafood (frozen is fine)
 100 g peas
 handful chopped parsley
  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan and saute the onion for 4-5 minutes then stir in the garlic, saffron and paprika and cook for 1 minute.
  • Stir in the rice to coat with the spices, then pour in the chopped tomatoes and stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 15-18 minutes, stirring from time to time, until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
  • Stir in the seafood and peas, cover the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes.
  • Check for seasoning, scatter with parsley and serve.

Happy eating!

Joy x