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This ‘Foodies Christmas Gift List’ may be a little late in the day, but if you are anything like me you may still need to get some Christmas pressies and would appreciate some inspiration. I could in fact compile endless lists of wonderful edible treats, but I thought I would condense it into a manageable number. Most are perfect little stocking fillers or perhaps you are making up your very own hamper for your loved one? Either way I hope you find some goodies that appeal.

 

 

food ideas 2014

 

1. Merry Go Round Musical Tin  2. Wild Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup  3. Milk Chocolate with Masala Chai 4. Smoked Chilli Paste  5. Black Truffle Salt

 

Food Ideas 2

 

6. Pure Maple Syrup  7. Persiana by Sabrina Ghayour  8. Vegetable Patch Tea Cosy  9. Black Garlic  10. Halva with Cocoa Beans  11. Dried Barberries  12. The Bubble – the world’s smallest bottle of sparkling  13. Golden Shred Marmalade

 

I know I promised you a chutney for this post….don’t worry that will be coming later this week I haven’t forgotten.

 

 

 

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For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed devouring vegetable samosas. They are basically the Indian vegetarian version of the Cornish pasty and are a great all day snack. At university I would regularly eat one for breakfast before heading off to lectures. Filling and wonderfully spicy, they were a great way to warm the belly and the soul.

 

 

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I often make them the ‘traditional’ way with potatoes, peas, carrots, spices and chilli, but sometimes for a change I like to make them with a twist. Beetroot works really well and if you combine it with feta, cumin seeds, chilli and fresh coriander then you have yourself a really tasty little treat. I thought they seemed quite festive and would make the perfect little starter/snack over the Christmas season.

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Making the filo parcels is a lot easier than you would imagine. If you look at the photographs below you will get the picture of how straightforward they really are to prepare.

 

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First you start by placing a tablespoonful of the cooked spiced beetroot and feta in the bottom right hand corner. You then need to glaze gently the sides of the filo pastry with melted butter so that the samosa sticks together well.

 

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By bringing the bottom right hand corner up to the left hand side you create the first triangle. Should it break at all at this stage do not panic as it will all be hidden as you go on folding the triangles.

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Keep folding the triangle over so that it alternates from side, upwards and then side again until you reach the top. Then add a little more melted butter to the top of the filo pastry and fold over one last time.

 

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Viola. Now you need to give the topside a melted butter glaze and then place on a baking tray lined with baking paper.

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After twenty minutes in the oven at 180 degrees you have beautiful bronzed samosas ready for eating. Eat immediately – or once they have cooled slightly.

 

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I often serve them as a starter/snack before serving a curry such as lamb curry, Indian greens and a tasty dal and spiced rice.

 

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They are also an irresistible after school snack (just remember to reduce the chilli if your children are not used to chilli).

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Baked Spiced Beetroot and Feta Samosas

350g beetroot

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1-2 heaped tsp cumin seeds

1 small fresh green chilli, finely sliced (1/2 if you prefer it less hot)

150g feta, diced

1/2 sweet paprika

handful of fresh coriander

8 filo pastry sheets (will make 16 samosas)

butter, for glazing

1. Wash the beetroot and leave the skins on at this stage. Cut the stems so they are short.  Boil in a pan of boiling water for around 20-30 minutes so that they have softened. Test with a sharp knife, if it goes in easily then they are done. The skins will also be able to come away easily when they are ready.

2. Chop into small cubes and place to one side. In a frying pan add the vegetable oil and when it is hot add the cumin seeds and fresh chilli. After 30 seconds add the beetroot and stir well so that they begin to be coated in the cumin seeds and chilli.

3. Add the paprika, fresh coriander and leave on a low heat for 5 minutes.

4. Add the feta and gently fold into the beetroot and spices. Leave for a minute before taking off the heat to cool. Leave to cool for 15 minutes.

5. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.

6.Place one sheet of filo pastry on a chopping board and cut it in half lengthwise. Using the first pasty strip, lightly brush the pastry with melted butter around the edges and place a tablespoonful of the filling in the bottom right hand corner. Bring the corner up to the left hand side of the pastry therefore making a triangle shape. Then bring the triangle straight up to create another triangle before folding over once again so that the triangle folds over to the right hand side of the pastry once again. (See photos above)

7. Continue all the way to the top. With the final edge brush with melted butter and fold over neatly. Turn over and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Brush the exposed side of the samosas with melted butter.  Repeat until you have completed the process.

8. Place in the oven for 20 minutes or until the samosas has bronzed nicely. Serve immediately with  a chutney or two on the side.

Come back to my blog in a weeks time to get a fab chutney recipe.

Note: You can prepare them (pre cooking) and then freeze them. When you are ready to eat them simply glaze them with melted butter and place them in the oven for 20-25 mins until bronzed. 

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a rather charming Swiss guard guarding the Vatican

Autumn is a great time to go and visit one of the greatest cities on this planet – Rome. Steeped in history at every turn, wonderful food to reward the hardened traveller and a genuine, welcoming warmth from the locals, it was an obvious choice to take my family for a four day adventure.

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……it also happens to be ‘TRUFFLE’ season. I adore truffles simple as that. If they’re on the menu I’ll be ordering them and as I was to discover, both my daughters share my love of this strong smelling fungus. Result. We had a very memorable feast with local Roman friends at Maccheroni Ristorante, where we gorged on truffle pasta. Restaurant details at the bottom of this post.

Another highlight of this time of year in Rome is fried artichoke, salt-cod fritters and mouth watering burrata mozzarella (well ok… the last two you can get all year round!). To know how to cook your very own fried artichokes at home take a look at this charming vimeo below.

Cookin’ with Ma and Pop: Pop’s Fried Artichokes from Roberto Serrini on Vimeo.

Finding the perfect place to stay when you are travelling in a small group – there was 5 of us – is always tricky. After my sister waxed lyrical about the merits of airbnb I thought I would give it a try. For the uninitiated, it is a service whereby local hosts rent out their apartments to you for the duration of your stay. They meet with you to hand over the keys and show the ropes and then you use the apartment as your home. At the end of the stay you both rate each other online so that others know whether the place to stay is as it is represented online and you are a respectful ‘care-taker’ of the apartment. Before booking the apartment both the host and the lodger can find out a fair amount about each other online so that you have a fair idea of what the person is like.

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I booked a thirteen century medieval tower apartment, which oozed charm and history. It was located in the old Jewish cobbled area of Trastevere, which is away from the hustle and bustle of the touristy piazzas and yet still very walkable to all the main sights.

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We discovered a wonderful cake shop five minutes walk from the apartment. I didn’t catch the name of it, but I will definitely be retracing my steps when we go back.

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Opposite our apartment was a church, with possibly a nunnery attached, as we could hear the nuns practicing their singing.

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Trastevere also happens to be a great location for dining. Within two minutes of our apartment was the Da Enzo and Da Teo – both seriously good restaurants that I would have made the journey to even if I was staying the other side of town. Have a look at the video clip on Da Enzo below….although probably best to watch when you are not hungry!!

 

Between all our feasting we put on some comfortable shoes and walked the streets of Rome. It has over 900 churches and whilst we didn’t see them all, much to my husbands chagrin, we did venture into a good number.

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I love the aura and aroma of holy churches and temples, but also really admire the incredible skills and talents of artisans of bygone years. Frescos adorned many of the walls and ceilings and gold and treasures could be found at every turn.

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The royal blue of this ceiling really caught my eye as it was so original and vivid.

 

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Between churches we visited all the main Roman sites, breathing in the history and imagining what it must have been like to live in Roman times.

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Something I have not done before is climb to the very top of the Vatican and when I mean climb I mean climb the whole way – over 500 steps. I usually hate climbing narrow, winding staircases but for some reason the Vatican did not seem to phase me and we were all afforded wonderful vistas of Rome from the top. We came down part of the way by elevator so next time your are in Rome, give it a try, I really recommend it.

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After all that wandering and climbing we snacked on piping hot chestnuts.

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Do you have any great tips on Rome that you would like to share? If so I would love to hear in the comments section below.

My regular recipe posts will be up at the end of the week so be sure to check back in then.

 

IMG_1993 ….some of the locals clearly take all the Roman ruins for granted!

 

 

 

 Recommended Roman Restaurants:

 Maccheroni Ristorante: Piazza delle coppelle 44

Da Teo: Piazza dei Ponziani 7

Da Enzo: Via dei Vascellari 29

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Oh the humble white (or green for that matter) cabbage. It’s one of those ingredients that cooked with no herbs or spices tastes, to put it simply, bland. It’s kind of like sprouts. Boiling the hell out of the vegetable just does not do it justice. I have a fantastic sprout curry – have you tried making it yet? If not I absolutely urge you to give it a go. I know I am biased but it’s seriously good and will convert even the non sprout lover. Here is the recipe – click here. Go on give it a try. It’s an alternative way to cook sprouts.

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In the meantime may I encourage you to try picking up a regular white cabbage from the market/supermarket/garden (delete as appropriate) and make this ‘Indian Cabbage with Fennel Seed Curry’. Fennel and sultanas gives it a sweetness but combined with the spices, salt and chilli it becomes a very satisfying savoury dish. I often accompany it with a dal and if I am cooking for others I will often do a meat or fish curry as well.

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Indian Cabbage with Fennel Seeds

Serves 4

2 tbsp vegetable/olive oil

1 tsp salt

2 small potatoes, cut roughly into 3cm pieces

2 bay leaves

1tsp heaped fennel seeds

1 tsp ground turmeric

1/2 tsp of chilli powder

1/2 tsp sugar

half a large white or green cabbage, shredded finely

1 handful of sultanas

1. In a large pan add the oil and a pinch of salt and when it is hot add the potatoes and cook on a low heat for 10 minutes so that the potatoes begin to bronze. Remove from the pan and place on some kitchen paper.

2. Wash the cabbage thoroughly under the tap and then drain using a colander. Set to one side.

3.Using the same pan as you cooked the potatoes, add the bay leaves, fennel seeds, turmeric, chilli powder and sugar. Move them around the pan for 30 seconds before adding the finely shredded cabbage and sultanas. Turn the cabbage and sultanas over in the pan so that they are coated in all the spices. Add the fried potatoes, which will begin to soften whilst cooking with the cabbage. Place on a medium to low heat and simmer.

4. As you have washed the cabbage before adding to the pan you probably will not need additional water, however, if it becomes too dry simply add 2/3 tbsp of water to the pan.

5. Simmer for a further 10 minutes or until the cabbage and potatoes have softened.

Easy hey! So what are you waiting for give it a go and let me know how you get on.

 

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When time allows I enjoy getting my weekly fruit and veg from my local market. Thankfully I live a short hop, skip and jump away from a seriously good one in West London, where the stalls are bursting with colourful produce and the stallholders have an infectious energy and enthusiasm for their produce. Bowls of fruit and veg go for £1 and when you buy herbs it’s two large bunches for a £1 – to ask for one just won’t do – so I invariably  end up with rather a huge amount of coriander, mint, parsley and dill.

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Dill, mint and coriander remind me of fond times in Vietnam – the food is so fragrant, largely due to mint and dill being in so many dishes, Cha Ca La Vong being a perfect example – you can see the recipe here. As I ended up with two huge bundles of cos lettuce, I decided to create a Vietnamese inspired chicken salad for our Saturday lunch. Something that could be thrown together quickly and that would appeal to the whole family.

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It was a success and we polished it all off in one sitting. Since then I have cooked it again (I still have lots of herbs to get through) and photographed it for you so that you too can prepare it at home. The dressing I use for the salad is the typical Vietnamese dressing of nuoc cham, which adds zing and sweetness, the perfect combo.

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Vietnamese Chicken Herbed Salad

Serves 4

450g chicken breasts

1 tbsp olive oil

black pepper

large cos/romaine lettuce, 6 leaves

handful of fresh coriander

handful of fresh mint leaves

handful of fresh dill

1 red chilli, finely sliced

2 spring onions, cut on the diagonal

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Nuoc Cham Sauce

1 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp rice vinegar

1 lime, juice only

1 garlic, finely chopped

3 tbsp water

1.5 tbsp white sugar

1. Cover the chicken breasts in the olive oil and season with a little black pepper. Meanwhile heat a griddle/cast iron pan and when it is hot place the breasts into the pan and bronze on each side for just under 2 minutes a side. Place on a baking tray in a preheated oven 180 degrees for 20 minutes.

2. Break off the lettuce leaves and cut into mouth size chunks and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the dill, mint and coriander leaves along with the finely sliced red onion, spring onions. If serving to children as well slice the red chilli and place in a separate side dish. Mix together gently using your hands.

3. Prepare the nuoc cham sauce by mixing all the ingredients together. If it needs to be a little sweeter add some more sugar, if you prefer it more sour add more lime.

4. Pour half the dressing over the salad and gently toss. Pour the remaining dressing in a small jug so that you can add more dressing over the individual salad portions as needed.

Spiced Pilau Rice

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As winter is officially here and the nights are drawing in so our diet begins to crave more hearty filling food. Stew and warming curries get given centre stage during the winter months, well at least they do in my household. I realise that I have never posted a pilau rice dish, which would be a great accompaniment with a wide range of curries. Plain basmati rice is all very well but if you delicately spice it and accompany it with some nuts or fruit, it just adds a lovely new fragrant dimension to the meal and really only takes a couple of extra minutes to prepare.

I find my spiced pilau rice is really versatile as it works equally well with Middle Eastern dishes as well as Indian curries.

 

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The three C’s are wonderful spices: cardamom, cloves and cinnamon stick and give a warming aroma to any dish. I also have a particular weakness for cardamom in sweet dishes, but that’s for another post. Star anise not only looks inviting but also has a delicate aniseed smell and taste and is used a lot in Vietnamese and Chinese dishes. The queen of spices is saffron – one of the most expensive so it is used sparingly, hence only a pinch used in this dish. If you do not have saffron you could use a generous pinch of ground turmeric instead, which will give a yellow hue.

 

 

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I used blanched almonds this time, but depending on what is in my cupboard I may use cashew nuts or even unsalted peanuts. If you are serving a more Middle Eastern dish then pistachio nuts would also work really well.

Let me know how you get on. Send me a photo of your dish and accompanying curry to my twitter account and I will retweet it to all my followers. Is there any particular pilau rice that you make at home? How does if differ to my spiced pilau?

 

 

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Spiced Pilau Rice

serves 4

1/2 tbsp ghee/butter

7cm cinnamon stick, broken in two

2 star anise

4 cardamom pods, slightly opened

3 cloves

190g basmati rice (Approx one handful per person)

350ml cold water

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp hot milk

1 large pinch of saffron (or ground turmeric)

1 tsbp rose water

2 tbsp blanched almonds or cashew nuts

1. First rinse the rice a couple of times with cold water so that the water runs clear and not cloudy. Drain and set aside. If you have time then soak the rice in cold water for 10 minutes then drain.

2. Heat the milk and then place the saffron in the milk. Give a good stir. Leave to soak whilst you prepare the rice.

3. In a pan heat the ghee or butter and when it is melted add the star anise, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon stick. Let them sizzle away for half a minute, before adding the drained rice and salt and stirring together. Add the cold water. As a rule I always make sure that the water is about 1/3 of your smallest finger above the rice. Stir and then let the rice come to the boil which will take a couple of minutes.

4. Once it has come to the boil, turn the heat down and place the lid on the pan. Let the rice gently cook and steam away for 8 minutes. By this time small holes will have appeared in the top of the rice. Turn the heat off and leave the lid on the rice so that it can steam for a further 10 minutes.

5. In a small frying pan dry roast the blanched almonds or cashew nuts for a couple of minutes so that they begin to bronze.

6. Place the saffron milk and rose water over the rice and then gently fluff it up with a fork.

7. Scatter over a platter with the nuts over the top.

Serve with any Indian dal, vegetable, meat or fish curry. It also works really well with Middle Eastern meat or fish dishes.

 

 

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Larb originates from Lao but is also eaten in North Eastern Thailand where many of the Thai people are of Laotian decent. It is, put simply, a meat mince salad (pork, chicken, turkey or duck) that is placed in a lettuce ‘cup’ and then eaten in a couple of delicious bites. They have a similar lettuce wrap recipe in Korea known as ‘Ssambap’ – ssam meaning ‘wrap’ and bap meaning ‘rice’.

 

 

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My version has replaced the rice, (which is traditionally toasted then roughly ground (Khao Khua) and sprinkled on the top of the mince when serving to help soak up any of the juices) with roughly ground shelled and oven roasted unsalted peanuts. I like the crunch and taste of the nut combining with the minced meat and fresh herbs. If you want to stay true to the original recipe then just add ground toasted rice in place of peanuts. Try both and see which works for you.

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The combination of fresh crunchy salad leaves, fragrantly spiced mince meat and fresh mint and thai basil (or coriander, but I had run out otherwise I would have thrown that in too) is satisfyingly tasty that one, or three in fact, is never quite enough. It is perfect as a canapé, or as a starter whereby guests can put together their own wraps before popping them in their mouths. Personally I love eating with my hands so any excuse to get everyone to throw themselves into this enjoyable pursuit gets the thumbs up in my books.

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If you tone done on the chilli this dish is also a hit with kids (although my 8 yr old has it as is) as it is a little bit different, packed full of flavours and quite simply good fun to eat, which bottom line is what food and eating should all be about. My dish is more Laotian in style and substance, minus the rice sprinkle. The north east Thailand variety varies again omitting fish sauce and lime juice and instead uses a wide range of spices including cinnamon, star anise, long pepper, cumin, cloves amongst others. I’ll post this version in the future.

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Throw yourself into it, try something different. I can assure you that you one wrap is never enough. This will become a firm family favourite I can guarantee.

Pork Larb 

Serves 15 as a canapé or 6-8 as a starter

2 tbsp sunflower oil (or peanut oil if you have it)

2 banana shallots, finely sliced

1 tsp grated ginger

1 tsp grated garlic

1 tsp lemongrass paste

2 small red chillies, finely chopped (take the seeds out if you like it less hot)

1 kg pork mince

2 limes, juice only

5 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp light soy sauce

2 tbsp caster

1/2 tsp red chilli flakes

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30g shelled and oven roasted unsalted peanuts, roughly chopped

5 little gem lettuces or similar lettuce

handful of fresh thai basil

handful of fresh mint leaves

handful of coriander leaves

limes wedges to serve

1. In a large pan heat the oil on a medium heat and then add the shallots and fry gently. (Equally 1 large red onion also works well if you cannot get hold of shallots).

2. When the shallots have softened add the garlic, ginger, lemongrass and fresh red chilli and stir together gently.

3. Add the pork mince and move around the pan until all the pink meat has become brown. This will take around 8-10 minutes.

4. Add the fish sauce, light soy sauce, lime juice, caster sugar and red chilli flakes and stir into the mince. Leave to cook on a low heat for a further 5 minutes. Just before serving throw in a few fresh herbs and give a good stir.

5. To serve place a tablespoonful of the mince onto the lettuce cup followed by a couple of mint, Thai basil and coriander leaves and a sprinkling of peanuts (or rice if you want to stay totally traditional). Add a splash of lime juice as required.

It can be eaten at room temperature or slightly warm.

* If your mince has juice, cook it for a little longer with the lid off the pan. That should do the trick. If there continues to be some juice, it is best to strain the mince as it is easier to eat on the lettuce cups if there is no juice. 

you can replace the pork mince, with chicken, turkey, duck or I reckon even tofu would work well.

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