Saturday 29 March 2014

Roasted Veg & Mixed Bean Salad in Lemon Balsamic Dressing

What do you get if you cross some Portobello mushrooms, a large onion, a parsnip, half a butternut squash and 2 red peppers with an oven?....


If you combine that with some sweetcorn, mange tout and a can of mixed beans tossed with a zingy dressing you get a big bowl of tasty fresh loveliness.

Ok, I’ll admit I’m in a bit of strange mood today, but the colour, aroma and flavour of a mountainous pile of hot roasted veg makes me happy.

I decided to use up all the odds and ends from my fridge to create a tasty bean and veg salad. I love roasting the veg first to make them all soft and caramelised. It really intensifies their flavour and you get those wonderful soft sticky caramelised bits too. I roasted them with some garlic and herbs before mixing with some raw salad veg for a bit of extra crunch. This gets tossed together with a can of mixed beans and dressed in lemon zest, juice and balsamic for a zingy finish.

Fresh and oh so bright and colourful it makes me smile just to look at it. I love all the different textures and flavours. From raw and crunchy to soft and caramelised. A delicious mix of sweet, zingy, earthy, juicy, chewy and crisp. Each mouthful is slightly different depending on what your spear on your fork.

Now it’s finally getting a little sunnier its time to embrace salads again, and with only a little effort these can be much more exciting than a limp lettuce leaf and a slice of weeping cucumber. Hurrah for interesting salads!

Roasted Veg & Mixed Bean Salad in Lemon Balsamic Dressing
3 large Portobello mushrooms
2 red peppers
1 parsnip
½ butternut squash
1 large onion
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp dried oregano
Fresh pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
Large handful mange tout
½ mugful of sweetcorn
400g tin mixed beans
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200C.
Chop the mushrooms, peppers, and onion into similar sized slices. Cut the butternut squash and parsnip into slightly smaller chunks than the other veg as they are firmer and will take longer to cook. Don’t peel the parsnip or butternut, the skins will cook and soften in the oven and provide a nice texture later on. (Plus it’s all good fibre)
Place the veg onto a large baking tray and scatter over the oregano, garlic powder and a fresh grinding of pepper. Drizzle over the 1tbsp olive oil and mix together with your hands until everything is evenly coated.
Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Then remove the tray and mix everything together with a spoon. Return to the oven and bake for a further 15-20 minutes until everything is softened.
Leave to cool on the tray until lukewarm.
Scoop the roasted veg into a large bowl, making sure to scrape up any sticky caramelised bits from the base of the tray.
Slice the mange tout into diagonal strips and add to the veg along with the sweetcorn and tin of drained mixed beans.
Grate over the lemon zest, then add the juice, balsamic and extra 1tbsp olive oil. Mix everything together well.
Serve either as a main meal or as an accompaniment to other bits and pieces.
Store in the fridge and make sure you give it a mix whenever you go to eat some, to ensure the dressing doesn’t just sit in the base of the bowl.

Eat and enjoy – preferably in a nice sunny spot, but at your desk tastes good too.

Sunday 16 March 2014

Carrot & Fennel Seed Mash

I had a surplus of carrots in the fridge and decided to turn them into a carrot mash to have in place of mashed potatoes with dinner. I’ve recently been experimenting with the more aromatic spices in my savoury cooking such as fennel, cardamom and cumin and so decided to add some crushed fennel seeds to my carrot mash.

Fennel has an aromatic, slightly aniseed flavour to it and I could imagine it working well with the sweet carrots. To add more flavour and a touch of luxury to my carrot mash, I poached the carrots in fennel infused milk rather than boiling them in water and then used this lightly spiced milk mixture to puree with the carrots.

I decided to make a thick mash, so only used about half the milk mixture when pureeing the cooked carrots. I ate some of it warm with dinner and put the rest in the fridge for later. I intended to reheat it, but on a whim I used it as a spread in a wrap with some falafel and it was delicious! I then ate the rest of it as you would houmous so it works brilliantly hot or cold. I think I almost preferred it cold as the fennel flavour seemed to have developed overnight.

The flavour of the fennel remained quite delicate, while the carrots were sweet with an almost creamy texture in the mouth, despite their slightly rough appearance (they won’t fluff up like mashed potatoes). The subtle aniseed flavour paired brilliantly with the sweet carrot and transformed a standard side dish into something special. The carrots natural orange brightness added colour to anything I served it with.

A quick a delicious way to use up those often overlooked carrots. If you don’t fancy fennel seeds, try coriander or cumin instead. Sorry for the poor photos, it was dark and I was hungry J

Carrot & Fennel Seed Mash
5 large carrots
200-250ml milk
2 tsp fennel seeds
Salt & pepper

Peel and roughly chop the carrots. Lightly crush the fennel seeds to break them slightly. Add the carrots and fennel to a pan with enough milk to nearly cover them.
Bring the mixture to a simmer and then leave to cook for 15-20 minutes until the carrot is completely softened. As there is less liquid, stir occasionally to ensure an even cooking.
Add the softened carrot to a small blender along with half the milk (leave the fennel seeds in). Blitz to form a puree, adding more milk until you have the thickness you desire be it a thick mash/houmous consistency or a thinner style puree.
Season to taste.

Serve warm in place of mashed potatoes or cold as a dip or sandwich filling, as you would houmous.

Sunday 9 March 2014

Tea & Cake with Friends at Steel City Cakes, Sheffield

Yesterday my two best friends from ‘back home’ aka Bedford, came to visit me. I haven’t seen either of them since Christmas and that was only for a couple of hours so it was lovely to catch up with them again and learn all the latest gossip. We had a very enjoyable day shopping in the city centre complete with a delicious lunch at Fusion Organic Café – my favourite lunchtime spot.

I then treated the girls to afternoon tea at Steel City Cakes. I had been once before and was impressed at the variety of cakes on offer. As well as 'normal cakes' they also always have a selection of gluten free, dairy free, vegan or an assortment of all combined! It really is a shop where almost anyone can have their cake and eat it.

I would normally be a little wary of places offering homemade gluten free cakes alongside 'normal' cakes, but on my previous visit I had a chat with the owner who said her daughter is also gluten free and she is the one who bakes their gluten free cakes – result! There is nothing nicer than a gluten free cake baked by someone who truly knows and understands the sheer enjoyment of being able to eat a nice piece of cake along with the rest of their friends/family.

Steel City Cakes is located on Abbeydale Road and its not the easiest place to get to if travelling by car as there is limited parking along the streets outside, but don’t let that put you off. Once inside we were greeted by a vast assortment of layer cakes, most of which where 3 layers tall – now that’s my kind of cake! As well as cakes there were also cheesecakes, brownies, cupcakes and a few tarts on offer.

I decided to treat the girls to the tea and cake combination deal which allows you to have any cake and drink of your choice for £4. My friends chose lemon cheesecake and a white chocolate & fresh raspberry triple layer cake as their cakes. I enquired what was gluten free that day and was offered a choice of chocolate & toffee, coffee & walnut or chocolate & fresh raspberry cakes, as well as chocolate brownie or an apricot and custard tart. Wow what a choice! I went for the chocolate & fresh raspberry cake as I love that combination.

Some of the other 'normal' cake combinations sounded amazing and different from your standard, chocolate and vanilla only cake places. There was a spiced courgette cake, a pistachio one, coffee & walnut, salted caramel and peanut butter & chocolate. Yum.

When the cakes arrived we were amazed at the portions – they were huge! Normally these types of tea and cake offers mean you get a thin sliver of cake, not here these were substantial slices of cake and cheesecake that could almost have fed two people. So make sure you come hungry.

For drinks J and I went for fruit tea which was served in traditional china cups complete with saucers and floral design, which was a lovely touch. My other friend went for hot chocolate with complementary whipped cream on top.

We all tucked in somehow managed to polish off the lot. All the cakes were fresh and light and I loved the addition of the fresh raspberries with my chocolate cake. That little bit of fresh tartness really cut through the sweet buttercream. My cake was actually vegan and gluten free, I’ve no idea who they made it so rich and chocolaty without dairy, eggs or gluten. I was very impressed. My other friend described the lemon cheesecake as one of the nicest she’s had and I must admit it did look divine (please make some GF versions too!).

We all left full, happy and in a bit of a sugar coma. The shop is a bit out of the way but don’t let that put you off. I’ve been twice now and both times the cakes have been delicious and the variety excellent. This is clearly a shop run by cake lovers for cake lovers and well worth a visit.

Note: This review is my own. I went of my own accord and have received no incentive for writing this review.

Sunday 2 March 2014

Lemon & Poppy Seed Pancakes with Hot Stewed Plums

It’s pancake day, or to give it its proper name, Shrove Tuesday this coming Tuesday. This is the day before Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, when people are meant to use up their eggs, milk and sugar before refraining from them for Lent. Giving up the foods is not something many people adhere to nowadays, but the act of making and eating pancakes is a much loved and followed tradition, certainly in my house.

Growing up we always had the thin crepe style pancakes, served with freshly squeezed lemon juice and a sprinkling of caster sugar. I still love these, but decided to experiment with a thicker style pancake this year. I wanted to stick with the lemon theme, so added lemon zest to the batter rather than squeezing it over at the end. To accompany the lemon I decided to add some poppy seeds. Lemon and poppy seed is a classic combination and I liked the slightly crunch and appearance they added to the pancakes.

The pancakes were thicker than crepes, but not quite as thick or fluffy as the American style pancakes. I ate these for lunch so rather than dousing them in syrup I served them with some hot stewed plums, which kept them less sweet and more suitable for lunch.

I loved the deep glossy red colour the plums turned after stewing. Their freshness and natural juice added a lovely fruity syrupy flavour. I added a little yellow cornmeal to the batter to help give them a bit of texture and also lend a subtle yellow colour to the pancakes. Cornmeal can something makes things a bit dry, but the fruity juices from the plums soaked into the pancakes and helped keep them soft and moist.

The lemon flavour really came through and worked wonderfully with the fruity plums. The poppy seeds added a slight crunch but they were more for appearance than flavour. Overall a very tasty lunch and a nice change to the usual crepe style lemon and sugar pancakes, although I’m not saying I won’t enjoy a few of those on Tuesday too!

Pancakes, how do you enjoy yours?

Lemon & Poppy Seed Pancakes with Hot Stewed Plums
100g gluten free plain flour
25g yellow fine ground cornmeal
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp baking powder
3 tsp poppy seeds
4 tsp caster sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
1 egg
70-80ml milk
Oil for frying

6 ripe plums
1 tbsp caster sugar (optional)
1 tbsp water
½ tsp vanilla extract

Half the plums and remove the stones. Slice into segments and place into a pan along with the water.
Heat gently, stirring occasionally until the plums are softened and have released their red glossy juices. Taste and add a little sugar if they are too tart for your liking.
Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Set aside while you make the pancakes.

Heat the oven to 50C and place 2 plates into the oven to warm.
Add all the pancake ingredients expect the egg, milk and oil into a bowl and mix together. Make a well in the centre and crack in the egg. Mix gently until the mixture starts to form a batter. Add the milk gradually until you have a smooth, thick, pourable batter.
Brush a pan with a little oil and heat until hot. Add 1 tablespoon of the pancake batter, letting the mix spread and find its own shape.
Leave to cook for 15-20 seconds before flipping over and leaving to cook for a further 15 seconds until lightly golden.
Remove the pancake from the pan and transfer to the plates in the oven to keep warm.
Repeat with the remaining batter. You should get 8-10 small pancakes from the mix.
Divide the pancakes between the two plates. Top with the warm stewed plums and serve.
Serve with a scoop of ice cream or Greek yoghurt if desired.
Makes 8-10 small pancakes, serves 2