Fish Balls in a Sweet Smoked Paprika and Tomato Sauce

IMG_5401

After spending the whole of the Easter holidays in Asia, both Hong Kong and Vietnam, it is great to finally come home to London;  as the saying goes: ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’. Whilst I loved ever minute of our travels from exploring new environs, cultural sites, the beach (of course) and experiencing the amazing cuisine that both countries have to offer, there is something wonderfully homely and satisfying about preparing your own meals and sourcing your own ingredients. Mark Bittman from ‘The New York Times’ has written a fascinating article on why home cooked food is the way to go. Check it out here.  Crazy as this may sound, I kind of missed not getting stuck into some serious cooking, that said I was very lucky to get a place at ‘The Green Bamboo Cooking School’ in Hoi An, which gave me a wealth of new exciting Vietnamese recipes to cook and share with you all.

Hong Kong is pork crazy and whilst I love my pork, I decided that fish and vegetarian meals were going to be on the menu, certainly for the first week or two once I returned. The very first meal I cooked when I got back were these lovely fish balls, which are so easy to put together. Big A loved getting involved and helping me to prepare them. I made a large batch and then had the leftovers for lunch the following day.

Serve with couscous, rice or pasta and you have yourself a simple and deliciously healthy meal. I did not put any fresh chilli in either the sauce or fish balls, but you could easily pop in a finely chopped one if you are in need of that extra spicy kick!

IMG_5433

Fish Balls in a Sweet Smoked Paprika and Tomato Sauce

adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s recipe ‘Cod Cakes in Tomato Sauce’ in their book Jerusalem.

Serves 4

sauce

glug of olive oil

2 small/medium sized white onions, finely chopped

1/2 (half) tsp of sweet smoked paprika – I use and totally rate this one

1 heaped tsp cumin powder

1 tsp salt

125ml white wine

1 tin of chopped tomatoes, blended

1 tsp caster sugar

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

150ml water

fish balls

600g cod (or any white fish that has been sustainably caught), boned and skin removed

100g white breadcrumbs

2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp salt

2 eggs

1 large handful of flat leaf parsley

1 large handful of fresh coriander

1. First you need to start making the sauce. Place a glug (a little) olive oil into a large frying pan and when it is hot add the onions. Stir and turn the heat down slightly to make sure that they do not burn. As they begin to soften after a few minutes add the sweet paprika, cumin powder and salt and then after a couple more minutes add the garlic and stir together. Leave to cook steadily for a few minutes.

2. Next add the white wine and stir into the spiced onions and let simmer for a couple of minutes before adding the blended tinned tomatoes (it is not essential to blend, but I like having the sauce slightly smoother for this recipe) and caster sugar. Stir together and simmer gently for 20 minutes on a low heat so that the flavours can mature and work together.

3. Meanwhile in a large mixing bowl use your hands to blend all the fish ball ingredients together and then roll in the palm of your hands small, bite sized, round fish balls. I made around 30 with these proportions.

4. In a large frying pan heat a glug of olive oil. When it is hot gently place the fish balls in the pan so that they are lightly bronze. I suggest doing this in stages as it takes no more than a few minutes cooking time – remember to turn them over so that they are bronzed all over.

5. After you have bronzed your first batch place them gently in the sweet smoked paprika and tomato sauce and continue to add the rest of the fish balls until they are all sitting in the sauce. Add a little water – around 150ml, or a little more if needed, so that the fish balls are just covered and then let simmer on a low heat for a further 15 minutes. Add more seasoning if necessary.

6. Serve hot with couscous, rice or pasta.

Good old comfort food. Enjoy. It’s good to be home.


Wintery Warm Lentil and Goats Cheese Salad with a Fresh Basil dressing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We’ve been having some glorious flurries of snow here in the UK, which has been rather exciting for us all. A blanket of snow makes London look magical and the silent, crisp air entices you outside to enjoy what nature has to offer. Whilst it is bitterly cold, returning to the warmth after some jollities in the fresh air is a welcome respite and I for one like nothing more than getting stuck into some cooking and baking. Big A and Little Z set about baking some biscuits, in fact lots of biscuits – I’ll blog this recipe once I have completely perfected it for you. Eating some warming, comforting food is totally necessary in this weather and lentils are the perfect food to tuck into.

The recipe today is great for the winter months, but can also be a fantastic dish in the spring and summer months eaten at room temperature and simply crumble the goats cheese instead of warming it. So if you are reading this in a hotter climate, fear not, you too can also cook the dish and be equally satisfied.

The trick though with this ‘salad’ is in the timing.  So if you are going to eat it warm please read the following.

1) A few hours before you intend to eat the salad place the tomatoes sliced in the oven and cover with caster sugar, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Put them on a low heat (100 degrees centigrade or less even) to gently slow roast away. You want the tomatoes to shrivel up at the sides and the slow roasting will give them an incredible depth of flavour. Seriously off the charts kind of taste. 

2) Place the sliced red onion rings on a baking tray covered in balsamic vinegar, caster sugar, olive oil, fresh thyme, salt and pepper and roast in the oven (180 degrees centigrade) for 25 minutes. If you do not have a separate oven to do this – as the tomatoes will need a lower heat – cook the onions first and then just heat them up in the low heat oven when the tomatoes are cooking to re-warm them.

3) Wash the lentils thoroughly then add cold water to cover them along with all the ingredients (listed below) and gently let them boil away for around 20 minutes. It is really important not to over cook them as they will become soft and soggy. You want to have them so that they still keep their shape.

4) Blend up the basil oil while the above is cooking away.

5) Plate up and whilst you are doing this place the goats cheese in a warm oven for a minute or two to warm it up then place on top of the lentils and drizzle with basil oil.

Whilst the ingredients length looks rather long…..please do not be put off as it really takes no time at all – bar the slow roasting of the tomatoes, which need to be cooked slowly over time. Everything, except warming the goats cheese in the oven, can be done ahead of time and then simply warmed up for a few minutes in the oven prior to serving.

Wintery Warm Lentil and Goats Cheese Salad with a Fresh Basil Dressing

adapted from Skye Gyngell’s recipe in her book ‘A Year in My Kitchen’

Serves 4-6

roasted tomatoes

6 plum tomatoes, halved

1 tbsp caster sugar

1 tbsp rock salt

liberally ground black pepper

———————————-

roasted red onions

5 red onions, sliced into circles

75g caster sugar

3 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

handful of fresh thyme

salt and pepper

————————————-

flavoursome lentils

400g lentils (I used a combination of green and small darkish green lentils but puy is also good!)

1 white onion, peeled and quartered

handful of fresh flat leaf parsley

2 garlic cloves, peeled

1 carrot, peeled and cut into three parts

2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into a few pieces

1 red chilli, kept whole

2 bay leaves

1 tbsp of fresh coriander stalks

———–

2 tbsp tamari (or soy sauce)

2 tbsp sherry vinegar

1 tbsp sesame oil

—————————————

basil oil

2 bunches of fresh basil

150ml extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, peeled

salt and pepper

————————————

fresh goats cheese

6 slices of fresh goats cheese

—————

1) In the order of the above. Place the halved tomatoes into an oven proof dish and scatter with caster sugar, salt and pepper and place in the oven at a low temperature – 100 degrees centigrade works well – for up to 2 hours.

before slow roasting

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

slow roasted to perfection!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

2) Slice the onions into circles and scatter in a roasting tin along with the balsamic vinegar, caster sugar,olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme and mix together well with your hands. Place in an oven at 180 degrees centigrade for 25 minutes.

before roasting

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

3) Wash the lentils and then cover with cold water. Add the carrot, red chilli, onion, garlic, ginger, fresh parsley, bay leaves, coriander stalks and bring to the boil and then gently simmer for 20 minutes (or what is advised on the packet). Be careful not to over cook the lentils. 

lentils ready for the boil

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

4) Place the fresh basil in a food mixer and blend. Slowly add the olive oil to the chopped basil and add salt and pepper to taste. If you prefer to have more of an oily basil then just add a little more olive oil. I rather like to have it so that you can add little dollops to the plate. (see below)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

5) Drain the lentils and remove the added ingredients as their job to flavour the lentils is now complete. When the lentils are still hot add the tamari, sherry vinegar and sesame oil and mix together.

6) Slice the goats cheese and place on an oven proof dish and place in the oven for a minute or two.

7) Plate up the lentils and add a generous helping of roasted onions, tomatoes and the goats cheese in the middle on the top with some dollops or drizzle of fresh basil oil and leave the rest in a separate bowl for guests to help themselves to more as they see fit.

8) Tuck in and enjoy along with some fresh bread on the side. It is absolutely heavenly. I know I often say that but seriously all the above effort is SO worth it.

Aside from the roasting of the tomatoes, this dish took me 30 mins to cook and plate up.


First impressions of Hong Kong and getting over jet lag

IMG_6478

There is always something rather thrilling about going on a trip or a journey, but when you’ve never visited the destination before there is an added level of excitement and anticipation. The smells, sights, sounds and general fever of the place seize you almost immediately as soon as you step foot on to Hong Kong soil. I always knew that the place would be frenetic with activity but seeing and experiencing it in the flesh is another thing. Hong Kong is buzzing and bustling with people. An initial impression is the sheer number of people who all live here side by side, or perhaps more aptly I should say – on top of, in huge towers reaching to the stars. Vertical living is very a la mode and living in dinky dwellings is standard practice.

IMG_6397

Whilst a lot is packed into Hong Kong there are also places to be found where there is an element of calm and serenity and to watch the world go by. One of the first places that I went to visit was the Man Mo temple, which is the oldest temple in Hong Kong, having being built in 1847. I thought it was necessary to experience the old if I was to truly understand and appreciate the new and besides I always enjoy visiting temples and churches when visiting a new country as I find it helps to better understand the underlying fabric of that country.

IMG_6399

The temple did not disappoint and as I strolled around it I particularly enjoyed the heady aromas from the incense coils that hung from the ceiling. From the outside the temple stands surrounded by tall tower blocks, which makes a slightly surreal sight.

IMG_6400

IMG_6395

Near to the temple I came across this wonderfully vibrant street art that really appealed to me; I think Banksy would definitely approve.

IMG_6427

Getting to know a city I like to amble around on foot as this not only helps me get my bearings but also see what the locals are up to. Street food sellers were out in abundance selling all manners of temptingly delicious snacks to feast upon.

IMG_6456

As our body clock is a little confused at the moment, we are eating at rather random times of the day, that said little Z and big A always seem to be hungry around tea time and therefore are ready for a little cake to give them some energy before more sight seeing then supper. We have come across a number of bakeries selling all manner of wonderful tasting cakes. Egg tarts are popular here as well as buns filled with red bean paste.

IMG_6454

We visited a fish market, but it is unlike the fish markets we have in the West as the fish here were not to eat. Oh no, if you want to find fish and meat to eat as well as vegetables and fruit you need to visit a ‘wet market’ which are scattered all over Hong Kong. I hope to take some photos of these over my stay so watch this space for more on this soon.

IMG_6421

Tropical fish for sale at the Fish Market in Mong Kok

Our first evening meal out in Hong Kong was dim sum at the very popular Din Tai Fung, which is in fact a Taiwanese import. It’s famous for it’s Xiao Long Bao, which are steamed pork dumplings filled with broth and dipped into vinegar and ginger – basically little mouthfuls of joy! I liked the way that they had instructions on how to ‘eat’ the little darlings. How very thoughtful!

IMG_6381

The winner on the dim sum stakes so far though comes from Hutong where we ate delicious tasting dumplings filled with pork and fennel – ones I wouldn’t mind attempting to make when back in London. Another favourite at Hutong was the Chicken Pot with Sichuan peppers, addictively delicious and not as ‘hot’ as you would think!

IMG_6491

As I mentioned we have all been experiencing a bit of jet lag so I decided to make a southing, homely broth for our first lunch on Hong Kong soil. After gathering a few ingredients I made the following dish, which seemed to hit the spot after a long journey. I kept ours vegetarian, but it would taste equally good with a bit of salmon or trout thrown in for a couple of minutes. Here is how to make it.

IMG_6378

Jet lag Noodle Broth

Serves 3 (and enough for seconds)

splash of olive oil

3 garlic cloves, sliced

1 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

3 tbsp light soy sauce

1 heaped tsp of vegan Bouillon/vegetable stock

boiling water (to cover veg and noodles)

generous handful of Chinese broccoli (Gai Lan) or regular broccoli/spinach/pat choi

6 small tomatoes, halved

3 eggs, boiled, shell removed and halved

2 packs of udon noodles (or 3 if you are serving just adults)

1. Place the eggs into a pan with cold water and when the water has boiled cook the eggs for 4 minutes, less if you like it soft boiled.

2. Meanwhile place a little oil in a medium sized deep pan and when it is hot add the garlic and ginger and stir for a minute before adding the soy sauce.

3. Next add the boiling water so that it reaches a quarter of the way up the pan – you can add more a little later. Add the Bouillon or vegetable stock that you are using and stir well.

4. Add the Chinese broccoli and after 2 minutes add the udon noodles. You may wish to add a little more boiling water at this stage. Taste to see if it requires a little more soy sauce. Add the tomatoes no more than a minute before serving so that they still hold their shape. If you prefer softer vegetables then cook the Chinese broccoli for a little longer, but I find a couple of minutes is more than enough.

5. Serve with a slice or two of boiled egg.

Warming, delicious and ever so quick, before you collapse and have another little sleep.

Other ingredients that would be great to add: fresh chilli, spring onions, fresh salmon/trout, mushrooms.

IMG_6483


Turkish Delights and Coban Salatasi

I have just returned from two glorious weeks spent exploring Turkey’s ancient Lycian Peninsula, which is in the south west of the country, by the warm azure waters of the Mediterranean.

The area is steeped in history with numerous ruins and tombs dating back over 2000 years. I couldn’t help thinking when I was exploring  and clambering all over these ruins (no health and saftey in Turkey!) that our Stonehenge is well, how can I put this delicately, a little underwhelming, if you compare it to all the ancient Lycian ruins. In the cooler months (April and October) guided walks are on offer through Lycia taking in the ruins of lost civilizations, the flora and fauna of the mountain passes and ambling through the charming Turkish villages, many of which seemed to have stood still in time. Perhaps not an adventure to take on with small children but definitely on my to do list for the future.

Ruins of Patara 

We did however, get the chance to soak up the ruins of: Letoon, which was the main religious centre of Lycia, Xanthos – the captial city of Lycia in the late Hellenistic and Roman times, Patara – an ancient city party submerged (ready to be truly discovered) under 12km of sand dunes, Tlos with its spectacular rock tombs carved out of the rock face and Kekova – the sunken city from 2000 years ago. At Kekova you are forbidden to swim and snorkel as the treasures from the old town are there for you to see clearly from a glass bottom boat or canoe. It was quite easy to see the  pots as we sailed gently passed.

Patara’s impressive amphitheatre

Tlos amphitheatre beneath the Taurus mountains

In a bid to absorb ourselves in authentic Turkey as opposed to full on ‘tourist Turkey’, we based ourselves slightly in land, firstly in the Kaya valley and the following week high up in the Taurus mountains. Both locations where a stones thrown from the glorious beaches but far enough away so that we were able to sample another calmer, slower side to Turkey.

Cooler breezes gave us welcome respite from the coast and we enjoyed seeing how the locals pass their days.

our neighbour with her goat

On a couple of days we managed to hire a boat for the day (complete with on-board cook – result!) so that we could see the coast line from the waters and swim in sheltered bays only reachable by boat.

Pretty harbour at Ucagiz

I was amused to see a local selling ice cream from his boat, similar to the one I had seen a few weeks previously on the south coast in England. Clearly all the rage around the world!!

The absolute highlight of our time on the water was when Big A and Little Z both caught rather large fish at the same time. We were all so thrilled by this, even the Captain was impressed as I think he did not think they would catch anything using the hand held real as opposed to a rod. We took them to the local town where they gutted and grilled them for us so that we could have them for lunch. It was great for the girls to see the full cycle of catching a fish and then having it washed, cleaned and gutted before being grilled and then eaten, all within a couple of hours of being caught. Wonderfully fresh and we all agreed, very tasty. We weren’t too sure what the fish were exactly but they tasted delicious and the girls were delighted at being such able fisherwomen. Definitely a life long memory.

The morning’s catch!

When abroad I always enjoy discovering the different local foods and dishes on offer, as well as the spices and herbs that are commonplace.

At the spice market I bought: pink peppercorns, sumac, pul biber  (dried flaked pepper), dried mint tea, a marinade for fish

Turkey is bountiful with wonderful fruit trees bursting with offerings, some ready now – such as figs, grapes, peaches and cactus fruit (prickly pears) and others not quite ready for a month or two – namely pomegranate. I discovered the carob fruit that was completely new to me but I immediately took a liking to its sweet chewy undertones.

Carob fruit in centre of photo – they look like large vanilla pods.

I discovered that it has been cultivated for over 4000 years and that is also known as ‘St John’s bread’ or ‘locust bean’ as the pods were mistaking thought to be the ‘locusts’ eaten by John the Baptiste in the wilderness – although this was proved to be wrong as he ate migratory locusts. It has a honey taste to it and is in fact used as a substitute to sugar. I am certainly going to seek out the powder form and try baking with it this autumn – watch this space. Another interesting fact is that the beans are ground down to make a cocoa substitute, that although slightly different tasting, has a lot less calories and virtually fat free. It is also packed with vitamins (A, B, B2, B3, D). Check out this website which will tell you in more details about the carob fruit’s benefits. I also like John’s youtube summary of the fruit. I would love to grow a carob tree here in the UK, but I fear that our sporadic sun shine may not help it thrive like the ones in the Mediterranean and in California.

The girls discovered a new treat known as ‘gozleme’, which is basically Turkey’s answer to an Italian calzone. The dough is rolled out on a round surface and then half of it is stuffed with a contents of your choice – we liked spinach, feta and potatoes and then folded over to create a crescent. This is then put onto a hot circular surface that is heated underneath by an open fire. The whole process was mesmerizing to watch and the finished snack was polished off in no time at all.

Preparing our gozleme

As the weather was ridiculously hot, salads became a staple at meal times. The most popular salad in Lycia seemed to be ‘Coban Salasti’ otherwise known as ‘Shepherd’s Salad’. It appeared on every menu and is ridiculously easy to make and perfect in hot weather. The trick is to cut the vegetables up  really small – far smaller than I would normally when making a salad.

Coban Salatasi – Shepherd’s Salad

Serves 4

2 large tomatoes (or 3 small), finely chopped

3 Turkish green peppers (the long thin ones), finely chopped

2 small cucumbers, finely chopped

1/2 (half) a white onion

1 large handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

1. Finely chop all the ingredients into a large bowl and gently mix together.

2. Add the olive oil and lemon juice and season to taste and serve.

So what have you been up to this summer? Any food foraging or discoveries in foreign lands? Don’t be shy and leave a message below, I’d love to hear from you.

 


Chickpea Curry with Tomatoes, Spinach, Fresh Mint and Coriander

After a full on Monday there is nothing more exhausting than having to cook a long and complicated recipe for supper. So I always try to cook something healthy, tasty and speedy in equal measure. I have always loved the taste of chickpeas and find they compliment so many dishes, but for this dish they feature as the main ingredient. There are so many good chickpea curries I was in a quandary on which to show you first, but settled with this one as it can be prepared and cooked within 15 minutes. Seriously it is so fast you’ll impress even yourself. The fresh mint and coriander, whilst not usually paired together, compliment each other well in this dish as the mint gives a sweet undertone that balances really well with the bold coriander and all the other Indian spices.

I cook this curry using canned chickpeas (shock horror), which will save you having to soak them overnight and boil them for an hour or two. Whilst the curry is perfect to eat on it’s own, if you want to make more of a feast you could cook this delicious salmon curry, which also takes no time at all. I will be eating mine with some wholemeal pitta bread, a dollop of natural yoghurt and squeeze of lemon. Simple and yet satisfying, I hope you agree.

Chickpea Curry with Tomatoes, Spinach, Fresh Mint and Coriander

Serves 2 (as a main meal or up to 4 if having other dishes)

1 tin of drained chickpeas

2 tbsp ghee (or ground nut/mustard oil)

2 green chillies, chopped

1 onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp garam masala

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

2 large tomatoes, chopped

1 handful chopped fresh mint

1 handful chopped fresh coriander

2 handfuls of fresh spinach

1 tsp salt

50ml boiled water

1. Heat the ghee/oil and when it is nicely hot add the chopped onion, garlic and chillies. After a few  minutes, when the onions are beginning to brown slightly, add the ground turmeric, ground cumin, ground coriander, paprika (I use this hot paprika one I mentioned in this blog post) and garam masala and stir into the onions, garlic and chillies. Leave to simmer gently for another minute.

2. Add the chopped tomatoes, mint and coriander and again stir into the other ingredients. The smells coming from your pan will be heavenly!

3. After draining the chickpeas add them to the curry and stir in thoroughly. As the curry will seem a little dry at this stage, add the boiled water and stir into the ingredients. Leave to simmer for a few minutes.

4. Add a couple of handfuls of fresh spinach and stir into the curry. Once it is wilted (this will only take a minute) leave the curry to simmer for a couple more minutes. If you think it is still a little dry just add a little more water. Add the salt and stir into the curry before letting it rest for a short while before eating. Equally you can cook it earlier in the day and simply reheat it when you are ready to eat in the evening, although you will have to add a little boiled water when you re-warm it.


Indian Style Tomato Chutney

I adore condiments with my food no matter what the origin of the food. Chutneys, mustards, jellies, pickles, dressings – you name it, I love to have the option of having them on my plate supporting the meats and/or vegetables and giving the dish that extra added dimension. So you can just imagine how in heaven I was when Mr B’s grandmother, known as Dida, cooked this simple tomato chutney for us when we visited her in Kolkata a while ago. We were all given a little bowl of the chutney to eat alongside our dal and vegetable dishes and it tasted sublime. The combination of hot and spicy with sweet undertones  made the chutney completely addictive.

Tomatoes are to me what I imagine chocolate is to many people. I could give up eating chocolate tomorrow, but tomatoes……well that would be seriously hard. In fact for Easter my parents gave me a tomato plant instead of a chocolate egg, knowing that I would get more enjoyment out of that than a chocolate egg.  I eat tomatoes pretty much everyday and without doubt they are my absolute favourite fruit as they are just so versatile and can completely transform dishes. If you have any tomato recipes that you think I would like please send me an email to chilliandmint@gmail.com as I would love to try them.

With this recipe you can keep it simple and just use tomatoes, but I like to add a little dried fruit so as to blend the flavours. You can add a couple of dried prunes, dates, apricots or mango. Experiment and see which you like to compliment with the tomato.

Dida cooks her chutney without the tomato skins on, however, for speed and because I don’t mind them, I have left the tomato skins on. If you prefer a smoother texture then simply boil the tomatoes in a pan of boiling water for five minutes and then strain them and you will find the tomato skins easily come away from the body of the tomato.

Indian Style Tomato Chutney

Makes 1 bowl, 4-6 servings

300g tomatoes, chopped in half if using cherry and quartered if using larger size

1 inch of ginger, grated or chopped finely

2 dried red chillies

1 tsp black mustard seeds

1 tbsp olive/mustard/nut oil

1/4 (quarter) tsp salt

4 tsp sugar (to taste)

3 slices of Aam Shatwa (dried mango), or dried apricots, dried prunes, dried dates – optional

1. Warm the oil in a pan and when it is hot place the two dried red chillies into the oil. You want to fry them until they turn black, which will take a few minutes. For those of you who have seen or made my homemade mango chutney you will remember that frying the dried chillies will make you cough. My mother-in-law assures me that it helps those with nasal congestion, so if you have any issues in this area get involved at this part of the recipe as it is sure to help your ailment!

2. When the dried red chillies have blackened add the remaining ingredients and stir. The tomatoes will release juice as they warm in the pan. Squash the tomatoes with the back of a fork so that they become limp. Taste the chutney and add extra sugar if required.

3. Leave to simmer for 5 minutes, or until the tomatoes have completely softened and then transfer into a bowl to cool. Serve at room temperature.

SaveSave


Lazy Florida days and a healthy option omelette

We have now returned from 10 blissful days in the Florida Keys and Miami. Nine hours on a plane transported us to the depths of summer where the sun shone and a gently cool breeze drifted off the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, giving us a little respite from its warm rays . I’d been to Key West once before but had flown directly onto the island so had not fully grasped how spectacular the drive from the Everglades to the southern tip of Florida – Key West – actually was. There are over 1700 islands in the coral archipelago that makes up the Florida Keys, but only 43 are inhabited connected by bridges, the most spectacular being the seven mile long bridge. We stayed on the beautiful Islamorada and whiled away the days swimming, snorkeling, sea kayaking, seeing dolphins and fishing from the jetty.

A coral reef stretches to almost as far as the eye can see and this coupled by bath warm still waters provided the perfect sea for the whole family to feel safe from deep swells.

We spent a leisurely day driving up to the tip – Key West – and back to Islamorada. Key West seemed to have expanded  somewhat since I was last there 18 years ago, as you would expect, but step off the touristy Duval Street on to the side streets and you will find the the beautiful weather boarded houses covered with bougainvillaea which have remained the same since the days of Ernest Hemingway. The pace of life is slow and it doesn’t take long to feel the stresses of everyday life lift off you when you spend time in the place.

Being only 90 miles from Cuba, therefore closer to Cuba than Miami, the island definitely has more of a Caribbean than American air to it. Many Cubans moved permanently to Key West from the 1860’s  following the ‘Ten Year War’ and with the Cubans came the arrival of the rooster (due to their love of cockfighting), to the extent that today virtually every street has a rooster wandering down it. Cockfighting was outlawed in 1970 but the roosters have remained free to wander at their will around the streets.

Mr B and I ate one of the most delicious lunches whilst in the US at a place called Mangoes, a ‘Tuna, Crab and Avocado Tower’. It was absolutely divine, seriously off the charts. It consisted of  tuna tartar, blue crab, layered avocado, plum tomato, cucumber, field greens and arugula (or rocket for us Brits!) and finished with a tomato vinaigrette and scallion infused oil.  I am going to have to replicate a similar dish and put it here on my blog in the future. Fresh, healthy and delicious what more could I ask for !

Half way through our holiday we said our goodbyes to the Keys and headed to Miami, a city that none of us had visited before. I had high hopes for the place and was looking forward to seeing its art deco district, sample fresh healthy food and soak up the atmosphere on South Beach. I can honestly say that Miami totally lived up to our high expectations. OK, it’s not going to compare to the likes of Rome or Florence for history and culture, but for flamboyance, flair and basically great fun, it definitely rocks.


The pulse of the place is electric and it’s definitely a place that promotes healthy living. South beach is stunning and stretches for miles and all day there are joggers, cyclists, skate boarders, roller bladders and walkers using the board walk that runs parallel to the beach. The beach is exceptionally wide owing to the fact that the part nearest the board walk has concrete underneath with sand on top, which gives it an easier surface to jog for those who want to run on the beach. It’s appearance however, completely blends in naturally with the rest of the beach. I was rather taken by the stunningly painted (mostly pastel shades) life guard huts that are scattered down the beach. There are 125 life guards covering 8 miles of beach and every couple of hundred meters sits another beautiful hut for them to survey the waters and swimmers within their view.

Up until the 1980’s Miami was a no-go zone for tourists, in fact it supposedly had the highest murder rate in the whole of the US. The hit TV series ‘Miami Vice’ played it’s own part at bringing around the change from least desirable city to visit to the happening, tourist magnet it is today. The series put Miami on the map and with the help of the real life cops it cleaned up it’s act. I can honestly say that I was surprised by how safe Miami – well South Beach – actually felt. There was a police presence, but not a threatening in your face kind of presence.

Food wise we ate some delicious meals but there are a few observations I thought it might be interesting to raise here.

1. Portions in the US are SOOOOO BIG. Way bigger than here in the UK. On average I would say they are twice the size. I have a good appetite but even I found the portions to be far too large to be considered healthy for a grown adult. I realise that ‘doggy bags’ are common place in the US, less so here in the UK, and that most people like to take home the food they cannot eat. Just an idea, but why don’t restaurants serve smaller portions, charge less, and then the diners can finish all their plate without having to take home a ‘doggy bag’. Does everyone really like leftover brunch? As far as I could see there must be so much wasted food in the US. Also as the population is growing in girth it might be advisable for restaurants all over the US to join together and serve smaller portions so that the next generation do not have to deal with such first world problems as obesity.

2. Oranges come from Florida right? They even have them on their number plates, so you would expect that a fresh orange juice in a restaurant/diner would be pretty cheap. Oh no think again. Fresh orange and apple juice were so much more expensive than all the fizzy sodas that it is no wonder that people chose the unhealthy option if they are strapped for cash. We went to a few diners and they always seemed to have free refill for coke, lemonade etc, but never the healthy options such as fresh orange or apple juice. I found it rather off putting seeing grown adults drinking pint sized glasses of coke with their breakfast.  Also ordering a fruit salad for breakfast was always so much more expensive than ordering the unhealthy options.

3. Seeing Cops eating in diners was new for us. In the UK you would never see this. It’s not that they don’t eat when on duty – I am sure they do – but you never see a bunch of them chilling out for an hour or so eating a large fry up. I’m not saying this is a good or bad thing, just an observation we made.

4. Average steak size in the UK is 12/14oz. In the US it’s 22 oz. This tells you something right?

5. We had a fun brunch at ‘The Big Pink’ in South Beach, but a 5 egg omelette is just a little too much for one individual. A healthier option and one that was prepared for me when I was staying in Islamorada is the following and is without out doubt the tastiest and healthiest omelette ever. Seriously try it out and let me know what you think.

 Egg White Omelette with Fresh Spinach, Goats Cheese, Red Onion and Tomato

serves 1

3 egg whites, whisked

half a small red onion, chopped

half a medium sized tomato, chopped

small handful of fresh spinach

1 tbsp crumbled goats cheese/feta

olive oil

pinch of salt (optional)

1. Warm a pan/skillet and then add a little oil and the chopped red onion. Fry for 2-3 minutes before adding any other ingredients.

2. Add the tomatoes and spinach and after 10 seconds add the whisked egg whites, goat cheese and pinch of salt (optional).

3. Continue to whisk gently for up to a minute or just before the eggs set so as to make the omelette fluffy. Using a spatula press down lightly so as to bind the omelette together.

4. Gently fold over half the omelette using a spatula to create a half moon shape and again press down lightly for 20 seconds.

5. Tilt the pan/skillet and transfer omelette on to a plate.

6. Eat immediately, with a scattering of fresh spinach leaves on the side.


Middle Eastern Okra and Tomato Stew, with a twist

I used to live close to the Edgware Road in London, which is the Middle Eastern part of town, well as Middle Eastern as it can be in London. It has a fairly chilled atmosphere with people spilling out of the cafes onto the pavements smoking their apple tobacco from their hookahs, when the weather permit and the sun shines.

There are two things however that I really miss most about the Edgware Road.

1) Mandalay Burmese restaurant, which as the name states is not Middle Eastern but a Burmese restaurant run by the affable and learned Burmese brothers Dwight and Gary. The restaurant serves good, honest, home cooked Burmese food (cooked by Dwight and Gary’s female relatives). It tastes divine and the whole experience is very memorable. They have a little library up at the front with a few Burmese books, which you can peruse at your leisure whilst waiting for your dining companion to arrive. Whilst it won’t win awards for decor, it wins hands down on charm and substance. You need to book as it is often packed to the rafters.

2) Green Valley Lebanese mini market, which Mr B and I always referred to as ‘Valley of the Kings’ for some reason. It has a wonderful deli selling a huge array of salads, hot bread, stews, cheeses and a butcher selling good quality halal meat, as well as cuts you may not see at your typical English butcher – sheeps’ tongues anyone? In addition, it also sells a vast array of fresh produce and the best baklava in town, which they put together on platters for you. Basically they stock every interesting food product imaginable and this place is like a tardis in the amount of food that it holds. We would make weekly weekend trips to stock up on goodies.

I was back there the other day buying some baklava (it’s worth the trip trust me), when I decided to buy a few little savoury edibles from the deli counter to munch in the car on the way home. Whilst making my selection my eyes rested for a while on the delicious looking okra and tomato stew. Whilst it isn’t so easy to transport and eat in the car, I decided to make some of my own when I got home and add my own little twist to the dish – butter beans. I do love my lentils and pulses and couldn’t resist adding them to the dish – for true purists amongst you simply skip the bit about adding butter beans.

The dish tastes great warm or at room temperature with Middle Eastern flat bread. It takes no time to make and am sure can convert even those who are a little reluctant about eating okra (or lady’s fingers as it is also known).

Middle Eastern Okra, Tomato and Butter Bean Stew

2 onions, chopped

3 garlic cloves,  roughly chopped

400 g of frozen okra (or fresh if you have it to hand)

1 tin of tomatoes, blended

splash of olive oil

1 tin of butter beans (they tend to be around 240g)

half a lemon, juice only

2 tsp of ground coriander

1 tbsp tomato puree

salt and pepper, to season

1. Add a splash of olive oil to a deep pan and when it is hot add the chopped onion and garlic and stir a little until they soften and becomes translucent. This should take around 6 minutes.

2. Whilst the onions and garlic are softening, blend a tin of tomatoes with a hand blender until smooth. Before adding the blended tomatoes, add the ground coriander and seasoning and stir into the onions and garlic.

3. Add the blended tomatoes to the pan along with the tomato puree and lemon juice. Stir thoroughly and let simmer for a few minutes.

4.  Add the butter beans and frozen okra and add a little boiling water so that the okra is fully submerged. Leave to gently simmer for 25 30 minutes, stiring gently, occasionally.

5. Taste and add more seasoning as required and serve with warm Middle Eastern flat bread. It could also be served with cous cous or steamed rice.


Beat this Borscht

I hadn’t planned on posting this Borscht recipe on my blog. I’ve cooked Borscht numerous times in the past and it’s always been…well…..fine…but never really much more than that. I then found a new recipe in my soup bible called ‘500 Soup Recipes’, ok my secret’s out, I AM A BIG SOUP FAN, but those who follow me I think you kind of already new that, right?

Anyway, this Borscht recipe is different from all the other Borscht recipes I’ve cooked in the past, namely that it is not smooth. Instead the beetroot are cut into thick strips, rather like chips in fact, along with the carrots and celery and because of this and the muslin bag full of herbs and spices, gives the soup an added dimension that really makes it a winner. I have followed the recipe loosely but the end result got the definite thumbs up from both myself and Mr B.

Beetroot is easy to find at this time of year and since I had just over half a dozen in my fridge that were beginning to look a little bit sorry for themselves, I decided to dedicate a recipe solely to them, well almost solely! The colour is a brilliant deep crimson and stains like crazy, so unless you like living on the edge, definitely don’t wear white when eating or cooking this dish.

As its January Mr B and I are on a bit of a health drive so we didn’t bother with the sour cream, with scattered dill or chives on top. It would have probably made a prettier photograph, but hey my waist line is thanking me for it.

Give it a try and please let me know how you get on, I’d love to hear what you think. Do you prefer it to the smooth variety that is more ubiquitous?

Borscht

Adapted from 500 Soup Recipes by Tim Smart and Bridget Jones

Serves 4-6

7 medium/small uncooked beetroot, peeled

2 carrots, peeled

2 celery sticks

2 tbsp butter

2 onions, sliced

2 garlic cloves, sliced

4 tomatoes, chopped

1 bay leaf

1 large handful of fresh parsley

2 cloves

4 whole peppercorns

2 pints of vegetable stock

75 ml cider vinegar, or to taste

sugar, to taste

salt and pepper, to taste

1 muslin

1. Peel the beetroot and carrots and cut into fairly thick strips. Also cut the celery into bit sized pieces. Heat the butter in a large pan and when it is melted add the sliced onion and stir on a low heat for 5 minutes.

2. Now add the beetroot, carrots and celery and cook for a further 5 minutes before adding the garlic and chopped tomatoes. Stir into the other vegetables and leave to simmer for a further 2 minutes.

3. Using a large piece of muslin, place the bay leaf, fresh parsley, cloves and peppercorns into the centre and tie the four corners together with a piece of string. Place the muslin  into the pan with the end of the four corners sticking out over the top of the pan slightly. Add the stock and make sure that all the vegetables and muslin pouch are submerged as much as possible. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 1 hour 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

4. Discard the muslin pouch and add the cider vinegar. Pour in a little at a time and taste so that it creates the right balance of sweet and sour. Add a sprinkling of sugar if necessary. Season, stir and then ladle into bowls. Add a dollop of sour cream on top with either dill or chives.