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 200ÂșC. 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!