Sunday, 27 April 2014

Halloumi and Broad Bean Salad

It's been a wee while since my last post - not because I haven't been cooking anything new, but because every time I do, I don't feel I've got it quite right, so I want to work on the recipe before posting it! The weather has definitely improved since I last posted, which is perhaps why I've been making a lot more salads and light meals. Some salads are boring, tired, lifeless things that would put you off lettuce for life, but if they're done right, salads can be just as exciting and interesting as any other meal - sometimes more so. Still, I am sometimes put off ordering a salad when I go out to eat, just in case I get a plate of bagged lettuce with some cheese sprinkled on top and then (to add insult to injury) have to pay for it! That's why it can be better to make your own salads at home. That way you know it's going to be delicious, and you can get as creative as you like.

The salad I'm going to share with you today couldn't be simpler to prepare, but is bursting with flavour, and is really good and filling. It can easily be taken into work/school for a packed lunch, too, which makes it even more of a winner in my book. Of course, it contains one of my all-time favourite ingredients, halloumi, so if you like halloumi as much as I do, I guarantee you'll love this recipe. Broad beans are an ingredient I had never really used much before, but I'm finding that a bag of frozen broad beans can be a great freezer staple to have on hand, so I'm glad that this recipe showcases them. And with the winter frosts all in the past, I have mint growing in my garden again, and I found that it was the perfect addition to this salad to take it from good to great. If you wanted to, you could add some sweetcorn or maybe diced red pepper to this, but really, I haven't felt the need to do this yet, as it's really good just as it is! If you don't have a griddle pan, you can either grill or fry the halloumi; I just like to griddle for the pretty lines it gives the halloumi.

Halloumi and Broad Bean Salad

(serves two as a lunch, or more if served as a side)


250g frozen broad beans
200g halloumi cheese
a little oil, for brushing
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice 
salt and pepper, to taste
a handful of fresh mint, torn


Pre-heat the griddle pan over a high heat. Cook the broad beans in a pan of boiling water for 4-5 minutes, or until tender. Drain and peel off the beans' outer skin, if desired (I can't usually be bothered to do this!) Run cold water over the beans to cool them down, and set aside.

Meanwhile, slice the halloumi length-wise, and brush each strip with a little oil. Place the strips on the griddle pan and cook until the undersides have medium-dark lines from the pan. Turn over and cook on the other side until they also have the same lines (see how nice and professional the cheese looks now?!).

Mix the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper together. Place the broad beans in a serving bowl and add the halloumi. Drizzle over the dressing, toss, and finally garnish with the mint.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Garbanzo Bravas (chickpeas in spicy tomato sauce)

Perhaps inspired by spending a couple of hours in the company of a Spaniard earlier today, I had a bit of a craving for patatas bravas when it came to lunchtime. I was really hungry though, and needed something NOW! Patatas bravas seemed like it would take too long, especially since I had no potatoes, so I decided to create a patatas bravas-inspired lunch: I named it 'garbanzo bravas'. I didn't know the Spanish for chickpeas, but as soon as I saw it, I realised that (unsurprisingly, perhaps) the American English word for chickpeas, garbanzo beans, actually comes from the Spanish. I love how exotic my new dish sounds!

I actually had some leftover homemade tomato sauce from the other night, so the recipe below is a little different to how I made it today, but should give you just the same result. This is quick, easy, and filling - and it makes a nice snack lunch or a side at dinner, or could even be part of a nice salad. Or of course, if you're serving tapas, this could be one of them!

Garbanzo Bravas (chickpeas in spicy tomato sauce)

(serves two)


a little oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
a pinch of salt
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tin chickpeas, drained
1 tsp smoked paprika


Heat a little oil in a pan over medium heat and add the onion. Cook for 5 minutes, or until softened, and add the garlic, salt and red pepper flakes. Stir and cook for a further minute - do not let the garlic brown. Add the tomatoes and bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and leave to simmer for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, add a little oil to another pan over a medium heat, and then add the chickpeas and smoked paprika. Cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes until the chickpeas are heated through. Once the tomato sauce is ready, add the tomato sauce to the chickpea pan, and stir together. 

This could also be served on a bed of cous cous to make it a little bit more substantial, if desired.

As well as being really easy and tasty, I really love that this dish incorporates one of my favourite ingredients - smoked paprika. This is my favourite spice ever, as it just adds so much character and flavour to anything you add it to. I'm always looking for new ways to use it.

I hope you enjoy my recipe, and please let me know if you have any other ideas for how I can use smoked paprika in my cooking; I'd love to be inspired!

Saturday, 1 March 2014

COOK Glasgow - Review

The other day, on my way home from work, I decided to make a slight detour in order to check out a brand new addition to Glasgow's food scene. No, I wasn't on my way to some chic new cafe or restaurant, I was about to go and buy a frozen ready meal. Yup, you heard that right! But this was not just any frozen ready meal - oh no, this was a ready meal with a conscience, a ready meal free from preservatives and artificial nasties, and lovingly prepared "at home". This was a ready meal from COOK Glasgow.

COOK opened its Glasgow branch at 498 Great Western Road just last week, but I was surprised to hear that it is actually a very successful chain, with branches across England and Wales, and one as close to home as Edinburgh. I'll admit that I'd never heard of it.

The concept is simple - the meals are prepared using the same ingredients, techniques and equipment that you would if you were preparing these meals yourself, at home. There are no artificial flavourings, colourings or preservatives to be found here, and these are meals made by real people, not a production line of machines in a factory - the name of the cook is even proudly displayed on the packaging. I was lucky enough to speak to David, one of the Glasgow shop's owners, who told me more about the business. He explained that COOK has its kitchen (see, not 'factory'!) in Kent, where all the meals are made. These are then frozen and transported around the country to the various COOK shops. The kitchen, he told me, is as close to a larger version of the one in your home as possible (maybe a restaurant kitchen is a better comparison), and they even offer tours of it to the public. So if you're local to Kent, why not go and have a look for yourself? (And then comment to tell me about it!)

Now, much as I love to cook and therefore don't normally buy frozen ready meals, I found this shop pretty inspirational. Firstly, it made me question my primary reason for not buying ready meals - is it because I enjoy cooking? Well yes, that's definitely part of it. Is it because I worry about the artificial ingredients? Yes, again, that's part of the reason I don't really like ready meals. But perhaps the main reason for me, is that ready meals just don't taste that good! So I was curious - would COOK's ready meals deliver on the taste front? I'll come to that in just a minute.

Secondly, I love the concept. It's a great idea - a ready meal that's just as good for you as a home-cooked one; in fact it's so good, I wish I'd come up with it myself. And the branding is lovely. The shop feels very upmarket, yet friendly. It certainly doesn't feel like you've stepped into Iceland or Farmfoods, that's for sure. It feels like a shop that cares about your health and the pleasure of eating good food. A shop that is enjoyable to visit. And if you can't visit, they do home delivery too.

Look - they do puddings too!
Having read about the concept in advance, I had been concerned that the prices might be ridiculously high, but I was pleased to discover I was wrong. Now I won't lie: that is not to say that this is the shop to go to for a bargain; it's not. But given we are looking at hand-made food that ticks all the right health boxes, I would have expected to potentially pay a higher premium. One-serving ready meals ranged in price from £2.99 to £4.99. Now as far as I could see, for curries and the like, you have to buy your rice separately (or cook your own), but other than that, I think those prices are probably comparable with the higher-end supermarket brands.

The vegetarian section
I did a quick price comparison online for macaroni cheese. COOK's macaroni cheese costs £2.99, which I think represents great value. A quick virtual look around the supermarkets confirmed that prices certainly vary, but also that you can easily pay more than this for a slightly nicer brand of supermarket macaroni cheese, or around about the same for a standard one. Certainly, you can pay less (Asda Smart Price offers a 71p macaroni cheese, for those who are ready meal-shopping on a budget), but that wouldn't really be comparing like with like. And actually, I'd be willing to bet that even the supermarket luxury brands still have the e numbers and strange ingredients that you know you won't find in COOK's products, so even they are not really a like for like comparison. But they're as good as you get.

I found there to be a good range of vegetarian fare, and, not surprisingly, these were mainly at the lower end of the price range. I plumped for an Indonesian Vegetable Curry to take home and try out. I heated it up in the mircowave according to packet instructions (adding a little extra time to allow for the fact that my microwave is a lower wattage model), and served it with cous cous. I have to say, I was very impressed. This is a meal that really tastes fresh and delicious - all the flavours were there, and I'll admit, I would have been extremely pleased with my efforts if I'd just cooked it from scratch. The benefit to not having cooked it from scratch is, of course, less washing up! Which is always a bonus. I was pleased to find that my initial good impressions were right - this is a company that really delivers what it says it will.

In summary then, overall I really loved COOK. I loved the passion that all of the staff showed when talking about their brand (special thanks to David for taking the time to really explain the concept and talk me through the brand in a bit more detail). For me, this is a brand that works, and a great addition to Glasgow's west end. Do I see myself shopping here on a regular basis? Probably not, no, as I really do enjoy cooking, as evidenced by this blog! So I'm rarely looking for ready meals. But would I recommend it? Definitely.

I am probably not the shop's target demographic - I am not a busy parent, concerned about what my kids are eating; I'm not working such long hours that I don't have time to cook; I don't have a horrible commute that means I get home too late to cook; and I'm not someone who can't cook or doesn't enjoy cooking. And despite thinking that the brand offers good value for money, it will never compare with the value you get when you shop around for bargain ingredients and cook everything from scratch yourself, as I do; it simply can't. But to all of my friends and readers who are pressed for time but care about their health, and want their food to taste good and be of high quality, I say - please check out COOK! Go there and see (and taste) for yourself what it has to offer! Because, even after all I have said about my love of cooking, there are definitely going to be some days when the thought of someone else doing the cooking for me will be too hard to resist. And when those days come around, I know I'll be heading straight to COOK.

Have you tried COOK's meals? What do you think?

Sunday, 23 February 2014


Follow my blog with Bloglovin

If you are looking for a nice, simple way to follow me and all your other favourite blogs, then look no further: Bloglovin' is what you're looking for! I am currently trying to 'claim' my blog on Bloglovin', which I hope means I'll be able to have a proper profile page for Katie in the (Veggie) Kitchen, and this will be another way of people finding my blog.

I always love to know that people are reading and enjoying my blog, so why not follow me (either by email or using Bloglovin') today, and be sure to comment on any of my posts to let me know what you think - I love getting feedback!

Bread, Bread, and More Bread

Completely unexpectedly, I found myself at a bread-making class this week, thanks to my lovely friend, Lynne, who is quite the expert cake-baker, and one of her friends. I jumped at the chance to join them at the last minute, when another friend was no longer able to make it - and I'm so glad I did, as the class was absolutely excellent.

Run by The Cookery School, which is hidden away down Virginia Street in Glasgow city centre, this was an evening class that taught the basics of making your own bread by hand. No fancy gadgets or bread machines here! We were shown how to mix and knead our dough (thinking of the gluten as the 'scaffolding' which would stop our beautifully risen loaves from collapsing), and advised that kneading is not so much about the pummeling and punching of the dough that I somehow always thought it was, but more about stretching it out (building that scaffolding a bit taller!). We then got to work at our stations, and all produced a wholemeal loaf and four white rolls with various delicious toppings by the end of the night. It was brilliantly done - taught in a fun but informative way, and with expert bakers there to help out as you test out your new skills (we had a lot of questions and moments of minor panic - 'is my dough too dry?; 'is this kneaded enough?'; is my water the right temperature?'!).

The Cookery School offers a variety of different courses and cookery demonstrations, ranging from evening cocktail-making classes (might be the next one to try, I think!), to five-day cookery courses, and even classes for children. There are also specialist courses in knife skills, working with herbs, and the like. Prices vary depending on the course you choose, but the bread making one I attended would usually cost £50 (we got vouchers from one of the daily deal sites - though I'm not sure which one - so these are worth looking out for in case they run a similar deal in the future). I would highly recommend this class and The Cookery School (although they don't appear to do any specifically vegetarian cookery courses, which is perhaps something they could consider for the future).

As a result of my dalliance with bread-making, I decided that I had to practise my new-found skills this weekend, and so made a batch of 6 bread rolls last night. These are so easy to make once you are familiar with the basic techniques, and there's something so satisfying about baking your own bread, not to mention the delicious aromas that waft through your home as it's in the oven!
The finished product!

Simple White Bread Rolls

(makes 6)


350g strong white flour
1/2 tsp sugar
a 7g sachet quick-acting yeast
two pinches of salt
250g tepid water (don't worry if you have to use a little more or a little less)
extra flour to prep surface and your hands with
1 egg yolk
a little water
toppings of your choice to sprinkle on top - I personally LOVE pumpkin seeds, or you could try some mixed spices, sesame seeds, or sunflower seeds (optional)


Sift your flour into a mixing bowl. Add sugar and yeast, and mix well. Add the salt and mix again. Add the water, a little at a time, stirring as you go, until the mixture comes away from the sides of the bowl in one ball of dough. It should be a little tacky to the touch without actually sticking to your hands.

Lightly sprinkle some flour onto a clean work surface and put the dough onto it. Lightly flour your hands. Now comes the fun part! To knead your dough, use the very back of your palm to stretch the dough out - first one way, then bring it together in a ball again, then stretch a different side of the dough, then bring it back. Like I say, it is more about stretching every part of the dough to make it really supple than it is about beating and pressing it, which is what I'd always thought you were supposed to do! Knead it this way for approximately 10 minutes, or until your dough is lovely and soft and supple. Place it back in the mixing bowl and cover with cling film. Leave in a warm area to prove for about half an hour or until doubled in size.

Proving for the first time

Once it has doubled in size, gently punch (see, I knew there was punching involved somewhere!) the ball so it collapses. Take it out of the bowl and knead for a further 10 minutes. Roll it out into a long sausage shape and divide into 6 even pieces. Form each piece into a little ball, and place on a lightly floured baking tray. Mix your egg yolk with a little water and, using a pastry brush, brush this glaze over each of the balls. Make sure you don't use too much, or the yolk will run onto the baking tray and you will end up with baked egg attached to your rolls - not so appetising. Once you have glazed the rolls, you can add toppings if you wish, or just leave plain. Leave to prove a second time, for about half an hour. Towards the end of that half hour, switch on your oven at 200ºC to pre-heat.
Proving for the second time

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the rolls sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Ta-dah! You have just baked your own rolls! These are delicious fresh out of the oven, or can be kept tightly wrapped in tin foil for a day or two - or frozen, if you want to keep them for longer.

Do you bake your own bread - and if you do, do you have any delicious toppings or flavours you'd recommend I try? Or have you been tempted by this post to try your hand at this for the first time? Let me know how you get on!

Homemade pumpkin seed roll with brie

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Cake Challenge: Eggless Victoria Sponge

Eggless Victoria Sponge
Last week at work, we had a mini bake-off. When I say mini, I mean it was only between me and my manager, and we only baked one thing each: lemon drizzle cake. It was a fun challenge! Neither of us had every made lemon drizzle cake before, so it was a learning experience - especially since we both struggled to get the thing to cook the full way through! And that was with two different recipes. But, ever the professionals, we both managed to turn out a pretty delicious cake for the competition, and we both got plenty of compliments for our creations. However, my cake was voted the winner, so I was really pleased and surprised (my manager is an excellent baker)!
The winning lemon drizzle cake!

However, one person in the office was not able to enjoy either of the cakes, as I found out that he has an egg allergy. Not satisfied with just having completed and won the bake-off challenge, I decided to set myself another challenge - to bake an eggless sponge cake! I think because I'm vegetarian and sometimes people have to make an extra effort to accommodate my dietary requirements, I like to be able to help out other people when they have dietary requirements of their own. So this was the perfect challenge.

I spent the following few days researching different egg-free recipes and tips. Some people suggested straight substitutions - fruit purees and juices in place of the eggs - some simply altered the quantities of other ingredients in the sponge recipe. I would like to try a few different versions, to find which I like best, but today I started with a simple but effective recipe from Jude's blog, No Eggs. This recipe didn't call for any unusual additions, so looked like it would come out tasting closest to an 'ordinary' Victoria sponge. I very slightly tweaked the recipe (I almost never buy caster sugar, for example, so all of my cakes are baked with granulated sugar, and I omitted the vanilla extract from the icing, as I felt it was tasty enough as it was), so I have included my version below.

Eggless Victoria Sponge


For the cake:
280g self-raising flour
170g granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
300 ml milk
150 ml vegetable oil
3 tbsp golden syrup
1 tsp vanilla paste

For the filling:
100g butter, slightly softened (but not melting!)
140g icing sugar
a drop of milk
5 tbsp raspberry jam


Preheat the oven to 180ºC, and grease and line two 7-inch cake tins. Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add the sugar and salt, and mix well. Make a well in the middle of the bowl by stirring all ingredients to the side. Mix one tablespoon of the milk together with the bicarbonate of soda and then add this to the well. Next, add the remaining milk, oil, syrup and vanilla pasted. Using an electric mixer, if you have one, beat the ingredients together until they form a batter. (If you don't have an electric mixer, simply use a wooden spoon - this will still work perfectly well, but will just take a bit longer and will require a bit more effort.) Divide your batter between the two prepared tins and put in the oven for 25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Looking good...other than the imprinted lines!

Once the cakes are cooked, place the tins on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then take the cakes out of the tins and place directly onto the wire racks to cool completely. TIP: Don't be silly like me, and put your cakes face down to cool on the rack - this will leave you with the pattern of the rack imprinted into the top of your cake! Not a problem if you're going to cover it with icing, but we're not. So put at least one of the cakes face up on the rack.

Whilst the cakes are cooling, make your buttercream. Beat the softened butter with a wooden spoon until it's smooth. Gradually sift the icing sugar in, beating as you go, until fully combined. Add just a drop or two of milk to loosen the mixture and make it more of a whipped cream consistency (but not too much - you don't want the icing dripping off the cake!). Spread the buttercream over one of the cakes, then spread the jam on top of the icing. Place the second cake on top, and sprinkle a little icing sugar over the top to decorate. Finished!

David and I have both tried a bit, and although I think it does taste a bit different to a 'normal' sponge cake, we both like it! I will reserve full judgement until my colleague tastes it tomorrow though - as he must be the true expert on how a good eggless sponge should taste. 

I'd love to hear your ideas for eggless cakes, or how you like this recipe. 


Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Baked Polenta Cake with Roasted Vegetables and Onion and Sage Gravy

A couple of weeks ago, I enjoyed a lovely meal at one of my favourite local eateries, Cafezique on Hyndland Street. This cute cafe/restaurant is a local gem, serving some delicious and often creative food in relaxing yet atmospheric surroundings. Old school blackboards and plastic seats combine with fairy lights and a shelf full of cookery books to form something really magical (more magical than I can describe - if you live in Glasgow, or are visiting, this is one place definitely worth checking out). It is not cheap, but whenever I walk past it (which I do pretty often), I always smell the delicious aromas wafting out of it and get excited thinking about the next time I will go there.

On this particular night, I was so impressed with my main course that I decided immediately that I would have to try to recreate it - or at least create something extremely delicious based on it - once I was back home and in the kitchen. You may remember that I blogged about my visit to Whole Foods a few weeks ago - well, that visit came in very handy, since I bought my very first polenta there, and that is the base of this recipe! If you haven't tried making polenta before, believe me, it is very easy, and totally worth the effort. I had never made it until a few weeks ago, but it really is simple, and so much cheaper than buying the ready-made stuff.

I won't lie - this is not one of the quickest meals you will make, but it really is delicious, and would be very impressive to serve up to guests. Or, you can just do what I do and make it for yourself as a special weeknight treat. I felt it looked a bit too fancy on my plate as I was eating it tonight for dinner - just me, alone - but then I thought, who cares? As long as I'm enjoying it - and I really was. And I'm sure you will too if you give this a go. I made the polenta base in advance, at the weekend, which cut down on the amount of time/effort needed in the kitchen when I got home from work today.

Baked Polenta Cake with Roasted Vegetables and Onion and Sage Gravy

(serves 4)


For the polenta cake:
650 ml water
1 tsp salt
320g uncooked polenta
100g goats cheese, roughly chopped
approx. 10g chopped chives
a little butter

For the roast vegetables:
4 large parsnips, halved or quartered (depending on size) lengthwise
4 large carrots, halved or quartered (depending on size) lengthwise
4 cooked beetroots*, quartered
a glug of olive oil
a glug of balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

For the onion and sage gravy:
a little oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp dried sage
60g flour
60 ml soy sauce
200g water
salt and pepper

* I opted for pre-cooked beetroot in this recipe, mainly because it was what I could find in the supermarket, but it also cuts down on the roasting time. If you wanted to use fresh beetroot, I'm sure that would be really delicious, but you'd have to start roasting it in advance of the other vegetables, rather than adding it in nearer the end as indicated in the method below.


First, add the salt to the water in a large pan, and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to a simmer (DO THIS or your polenta will spit all over the kitchen....I speak from experience!). Gently stir in the polenta. Keep stirring for a minute or two, until the water has been absorbed and the polenta is just beginning to clump together. At this point, add the chopped chives and goats cheese, and keep stirring. Stir for 5 to 10 minutes (or until your arm gets too sore to continue stirring - at this point, the polenta should have fully clumped together, and you are not so much stirring, as pushing the mass of polenta around the pan with the spoon). Transfer the polenta mix to a greased loaf tin and leave to cool for 10 minutes. After the 10 minutes are over, pop some cling film over the tin and refrigerate.

Everything else:
Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC. 

Take the loaf tin with the polenta in it, and turn upside down over a plate, to gently push the polenta out. Slice it in half, first lengthwise (so that you have a bottom layer and a top layer that you could put a filling in between), then half again across the width of the oblong. Lay out the slices on an oven tray.

Lay out your parsnips and carrots in a roasting tin. Drizzle over the olive oil and balsamic vinegar, then season with salt and pepper. Pop in the oven to roast. While they are roasting, you can make the gravy.

Heat the oil in a small pan over medium heat, and gently saute the onion and garlic with the sage for about  5 minutes, or until the onion is soft. Stir in the flour and soy sauce, and stir until a paste is formed. Little by little, add the water, whisking as you go. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer until thickened (about 5 minutes). (If the gravy already seems thick enough before simmering, add a little water before reducing the heat.) Season with salt and pepper. If you want a smooth gravy, with no onion bits, you can push it through a sieve at this stage, but I enjoy the onion pieces in mine.

After the vegetables have been roasting for 20 minutes, add the beetroots to the roasting tin, and also put the oven tray with the polenta slices on it in the oven, for everything to cook for a further 10 minutes. You are now ready to assemble your polenta cakes! 

The unadorned polenta cake

Put one slice of polenta on each plate. Arrange the vegetables over the top, as artistically as you please (I like to alternate the vegetables, so you have one slice carrot, one slice beetroot, one slice parsnip). Drizzle (or pour) some gravy over the top of each cake (drizzle if you're going for the arty look, to impress, but I like to pour a good amount of gravy on if I'm not trying to show off!).

Serve with a side salad (or just extra roasted vegetables if, like me, you can't get enough of them!).

Before the gravy was added

I know that what with the extra step of making the polenta, this is a little more time-consuming than most of my other recipes, but I really think it's worth the effort for something a little different. I also am pleased that I now know how easy it is to make polenta, as I'm sure that would have put me off trying this recipe if I'd seen it myself a few months ago! So don't be put off by that, please!

On a totally different note, I was trying out a new photo app for my phone (VSCO Cam), which is sort of like Instagram but you don't have to share all the photos you take. The photos in this post were taken using this app, but I'm not sure if I'm that impressed...then again, maybe it's just my lack of skills as a photographer. A bad workman always blames his tools, and all that! But if anyone has any tips for getting better/nicer photos of my kitchen creations (without spending a fortune), please let me know in the comments.

And, as always, let me know what you think of the recipe!

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Home-Made Houmous*

Tonight I tried my hand at making humous. Or houmous. Or even humus. Or however you want to spell it. (Or pronounce it.) I had tried making this a couple of times before, from a recipe I found in the Lebanese cook book I mentioned in an earlier post, but wasn't completely satisfied with it. I tried tweaking and still wasn't sure what was wrong, but it just wasn't quite right. The final time I tried that recipe, my hand blender broke in the middle of blending the chickpeas. That was the only sign I needed that me and houmous-making were not a match made in Heaven, and I should give up.

Until today. Today, I decided to ditch the old recipe and usher in a new one. My recipe of choice came from Inspired Taste, and I was sold the minute I read that it was supposed to be better than store-bought houmous. Wow! Also, I now have a food processor, which I reasoned should make the process that much simpler. I was pretty pleased with the results, though I suspect a little more salt or maybe garlic wouldn't go amiss - but this is definitely closer to what I expect from my houmous.

The finished product!
My only concern was that the ingredients weren't blending together too well until I added the chickpeas. And sure enough, when I scraped the finished product out of the food processor bowl, I found some un-mixed tahini. I am pretty certain that this is due to my food processor not being one of the more expensive, snazzy ones, and it probably just couldn't cope with the very small quantity of food I was wanting it to process at first. This is a minor gripe, but probably worth bearing in mind if you are going to attempt this one.

I used my houmous as a baked sweet potato topping, along with some griddled vegetables - yum!

*Side note: every time I talk about 'home-made' anything, I think of the cafe I spotted once in Berlin, which, in an attempt to demonstrate its exotic/multilingual credentials, had a sign outside, proudly proclaiming 'Cake Made Home'. Always made me chuckle!

Baked sweet potato with houmous and vegetables

My dinner :-)

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Lentils with Caramelised Onion and Mushrooms

I love lentils. Yes, I know it's a bit of a stereotype, a lentil-loving vegetarian, but if you are vegetarian and don't already love these pulses, then I would suggest that you get out there and start to love them! In all seriousness though, vegetarian or not, lentils are a great food - they are packed with protein, very filling, and really tasty. They are also versatile, though many people instantly associate them with lentil soup, and then can't think of anything else they could make with them.

I mainly use red and brown lentils, but puy lentils are another type that I mean to try (whenever I see a recipe calling for puy lentils, I tend to substitute brown ones - but I should really get out of this habit!). There are plenty more types to discover, but the main thing I find you should bear in mind, is whether the recipe you are planning to make calls for lentils that will go mushy when cooked (like red lentils) or hold their shape a bit better (like brown and puy lentils) - then if you want/need to, it's easy to substitute another lentil that will cook in the same way.

When David and I moved into our first flat, the previous tenant had left behind a few books, including a Lebanese cook book (the Australian Women's Weekly Lebanese Cooking). Of course, I added it to my collection immediately! One of the meals that I discovered from the book was Megadarra, which, although it sounds like some sort of dinosaur or maybe some sort of robotic monster in a Hollywood blockbuster ("Oh no, it's....Megadarra - RUUUUN!!!!") is actually a lentil-based dish. I have altered it a wee bit to my own tastes, but a few years on, it is still very much part of my kitchen repertoire, and so I thought I would share it with you.

It is an easy recipe, but you need to focus on your timings, as you have to monitor two different pans at the same time. If you don't want to do this, you can make your onion and mushroom mix in advance, then make the lentil mix and combine the two at the end - just make sure you properly heat the whole thing through at that stage. This is a lovely dinner (you can serve it with a side salad of your choice) or a satisfying lunch (especially good since it can be eaten cold if you don't have a microwave to heat it up).

Lentils with Caramelised Onion and Mushrooms

(serves 2)


100g brown lentils
650ml water (plus 2 tbsp water)
2tbsp oil
1 onion, sliced
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
100g mushrooms
100g mushrooms, finely sliced
50g long-grain rice
1/2 tsp ground allspice*
1/2 tsp ground dried coriander leaf
1/2 tsp salt 
1/2 tsp black pepper

*Confession: when I first looked for this, I accidentally bought something called 'all spices', which is a kind of spice mix - but you actually want a spice (not spice mix) called allspice. Confusing, I know! If you can't find allspice, try using cinnamon and/or nutmeg in its place.


Combine lentils and 350ml water in a pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the lentils are just tender (do not overcook - the lentils will continue cooking after this stage!). 

As soon as you have your lentils on, start frying your onions: heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat, then add the onions and sugar and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Next, add the balsamic vinegar and one tablespoon of water. Cook, stirring, for 10 minutes. Add another tablespoon of water and cook, stirring, for a further 5 minutes or until onions are caramelised. At this point, add the mushrooms and cook until they are nicely browned. Take off the heat and place to one side.

When the lentils have been cooking for their initial 20 minutes, add the rice, 300ml water, the allspice, coriander, salt and pepper to the lentils and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the rice is tender and the liquid has gone. 

Add the onion and mushroom mixture to the lentil and rice mixture, heat through, and serve either warm or cold.
Mushrooms just added to the pan
Mushrooms browning nicely!
Aim for a nice reddish-brown mushroom colour

Friday, 3 January 2014

The Perfect Snack or Side: Delicious, Nutritious, and Soooo Easy Sweet Potato Chips

Sweet potato chips as a side, with a lovely risotto

Ok, I have now had too many compliments and requests for the 'recipe' for this one not to blog about it - the incredibly simple, yet impressive AND delicious sweet potato chips! I have heard a lot of people talking about sweet potatoes being better for you than 'normal' potatoes, but a little research (read: Googling*), I found this to be not completely true - both potatoes and sweet potatoes have great nutritional value, but sweet potatoes have a lower GI index, so won't spike your blood sugar levels as much as ordinary potatoes. They are also a good source of vitamins A and C, and fibre. (I should point out that I am no doctor or nutritionist, but I have tried to get my information from as reputable sources as the internet will allow.) So they may not be better than regular potatoes, but there is no getting away from the fact that sweet potatoes are really pretty good for you.

* Unrelated thought: should the 'g' of Google still be capitalised when you're using it as a verb rather than a proper noun? Being a language geek is my other interest, outside of the kitchen!

If I had to list some reasons I love these sweet potato chips, these would be my reasons:

1. They are healthy (see above - plus, only a little oil or low-cal oil spray is needed, so even better!)
2. They are so, so easy. Really, I can't think of much that tastes this good and takes so little effort.
3. They make a great side dish, or a snack in their own right. If one more person than expected turns up for dinner, you can quickly make some sweet potato chips as a side dish, and bingo! - your meal for four just became a meal for five. But they are also great as finger food when the girls are over for a glass of wine.
4. If you aren't so bothered about being healthy, they are great paired with a nice dip - even just mayonnaise. Or you could mix a crushed garlic clove into the mayo to turn it into garlic mayonnaise - yum!
5. They are quick. Half an hour in the oven, during which you can be cooking your main meal or chilling with your guests/family.
6. They are impressive - despite being about the simplest thing I can rustle up (oops, my secret's out now), these always go down really well with friends and family, and the number of compliments and request for the recipe just prove this.

So, to share my secret with you, here is what to do!

Sweet Potato Chips


2 sweet potatoes
a little olive oil or low-cal oil spray
1 1/2 tsps smoked paprika
1/2 tsp salt


Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC. Wash the sweet potatoes. There's no need to peel them, but you can if you like. I prefer them with the skins on, as they go crunchier, I think. Next, chop the sweet potatoes into chips or wedges, however you prefer them. I normally make mine a bit thinner than a potato wedge. Place into a roasting tin and drizzle with the oil (or spray a couple of times with the spray). Toss the chips around the tin a bit to coat them in oil, and if you feel it needs it (especially if using spray), add a tiny little bit extra oil/spray. You don't want to be able to see puddles of oil lying in the roasting tin, but you are aiming to get as much of the surface area of the chips covered with a thin layer of oil. Ensure the chips are lying in one layer and not on top of one another (see the picture below).

Ensure the chips are laid out in one layer
Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, checking on them halfway through and tossing them to ensure they cook evenly on both sides. You can leave them in for longer if you want them crispier, but they will be nicely cooked and a little crispy after 30 minutes. While they are cooking, mix the smoked paprika and salt in a small bowl or ramekin. Once you have removed the chips from the oven, slowly pour the paprika and salt mixture over the chips as evenly as possible, then toss the chips to try and ensure each chip is coated in the paprika and salt mixture. Your sweet potato chips are now ready!

You can, of course, experiment with the spices or other toppings you use. Let me know if you have any other good ideas for amazing sweet potato chips!

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Happy New Year!

Happy new year! I hope that you had a great time bringing in 2014, and wish all my readers all the very best for the year ahead. Perhaps one of your resolutions is to cook more, or to reduce your meat intake, or even to go vegetarian - if so, I can help! One of my resolutions is to continue to post regularly on this blog, and to continue to improve it in any way I can. I really enjoy writing it, and hope that you enjoy reading it and maybe trying out some of my recipes. Another, non-food related resolution for this year, is to conquer my fear of motorway driving - and my goal is to drive to a friend's wedding which is about 250 miles away, in the summer. I think it's always good to have a goal in mind along with your resolutions, so you can judge whether you have achieved what you set out to do.

Last year's resolutions included getting fitter, and I think I have kept to this one, as I am (fairly) good at going to one Body Attack class per week and going swimming once a week. And now I have changed jobs and walk to and from work every day, that is a help! 2014 should be even better for fitness, as one of my Christmas presents was the 10 Minute Solution Pilates for Beginners DVD, which I am loving so far. Just need to get into the habit of using it regularly. I love pilates (have been to a few classes in the past) but find it expensive and the teacher I really loved taught pretty far away from me....and then moved to another city altogether. So I think this DVD might be the way forward for me!

What new year's resolutions do you have, and how do you plan to keep to them? Do you have anything you would like me to blog about to help you? (Like maybe recipes that are suitable for allergy sufferers, or recipes containing your favourite veggie ingredient, to help inspire you?) If so, please do let me know!

I thought I would just finish my first post of the year by telling you about my last meal of 2013 (wow, sounds very final and dramatic when I put it like that!). My family and I went to The Lansdowne Bar and Kitchen,  a local west end bar with restaurant area, where we had a meal, then celebrated the new year with a few drinks. I have to say, it was one of the most delicious meals I have had in a long time (and I've had some really excellent ones recently, with all the Christmas dos I've been at). To start, I had vegetarian haggis, neeps and tatties. For those of you unfamiliar with Scottish cuisine, the neeps are mashed turnips and the tatties are mashed potatoes. The 'haggis' was really delicious and the portion size was large (I almost could have had this as a main and been full....though I do have a fairly small appetite). My main course was a mushroom wellington, and it was a-MAZ-ing! Every mouthful brought a new burst of flavour, and it was accompanied by some really tasty vegetables. For dessert I chose a sticky toffee pudding. This was tasty, but to me, the wellington was definitely the star of the meal, and even for someone with as sweet a tooth as me, no dessert could top it. The meal came with a lovely glass of prosecco, and was served by friendly waiting staff.

My only minor quibble about the whole night was that there was no countdown to the bells at midnight - music was playing, and more music, and then suddenly with no announcement, the music cut and we realised it was new year! So a slight disappointment in that respect. But food-wise, I would give The Lansdowne top marks. I have always loved it in the past, but last night really proved that even at busy times like Hogmanay (that's Scottish New Year's Eve), this place can really impress.

As I don't have any photos of the food last night, here is my parents' dog, Molly!