Tag Archives: spices

A Beautiful Box Of Goodies

Getting a parcel in the post is a surefire way to put a smile on my face. It’s great when its a present from me to me (cookbook, obviously), fabulous when from a friend or relative, but nothing can top the feeling of getting a parcel full of unfamiliar foodie goodies from a complete and utter stranger. Especially when it’s sent by someone who went above and beyond the call of duty and delivered unto me an amazing Foodie Penpal Parcel. Christine (or @Dashinista on Twitter) did a fantastic job and really hit the nail on the head from the guidelines I gave her.

Wrapped up beautifully in a pastel pink box, black tissue paper and pink ribbons, I felt like some spoilt spawn of a multi millionaire on their birthday, itching to get beneath the layers and find out what delights this pretty little package contained. When Christine had asked what foods I liked and my eating habits, I was pretty specific in describing my love for spice and chocolate but that I was also trying to lose a bit of weight at the moment, so I was delighted to see all these in my parcel:


First up were some great spice mixes: You Must Be Jerking, Magnifico Meatballs and A Toast Sensation, from the online shop The Spicery. The jerk seasoning was delicious with a real depth of flavour, and I can’t wait to try the other mixes, especially as I love meatballs and am always looking for new ways of flavouring them. There was also a sample packet of ground star anise which I’m very much hoping to use in a cake once I get hold of an oven ( less than two weeks to go!). Having never heard of The Spicery before, I now have a feeling I’ll be a regular customer of theirs.
I also got a balsamic and oil salad dressing which will come in very handy to dress salads while I’m trying to lose weight, some chocolate coated rice cakes (strangely addictive, must be the chocolate!) for healthy snacking, some white chocolate and raspberry chocolate bites (really tasty and from a Turkish coffee shop near to Christine) and some jasmine tea pearls from Teapigs. I was really looking forward to drinking this tea despite the fact I betray my country by not enjoying tea at all (England I can only apologise) as it smelt so good when stewing in hot water. I guess my tastebuds just don’t fully get tea, as to me it tasted bland but to The Boyfriend it tasted like sherbet. I can’t tell you how gutted I was that I was missing on what he described as healthy liquid sugar, but I guess me and tea just don’t get each other, no matter what shape, form or flavour. Christine also included a voucher for Graze which I’ve now cashed in and received a little box of snacks at work – another lovely little present in the post – and 4 weight watchers recipes that she regularly uses. Combine all this thoughtfulness with ribbons, heart shaped post its, gorgeous ‘eat me’ labels and a pink box and you have Foodie Penpal utopia. Being so overjoyed at this parcel upon receiving it has insured me to up my game on sending out parcels so I can spread the joy. Christine – thank you, a delicious and inspiring parcel that I’m fairly certain I’ll never be able to match, but it will certainly be a lot of fun trying!

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Posted by on April 30, 2013 in Baking, Books, Cooking, Food


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Perfect Snowed In Food

Snow can be a pain for some, but for me, being able to hunker down at home in snuggly clothes with the heating turned up, a cookbook in hand and nowhere to go is sheer perfection. Admittedly, it’s not entirely perfect what with The Boyfriend not being back for a few days, but I’m adaptable and having free rein over the TV all night is the silver lining I’m clinging to. I’m very thankful too that I have a ridiculously well stocked store cupboard, meaning a quick walk round the corner to the local shop to get fresh food was all I needed to cook up the perfect snow day meal. I did nearly fall over approximately 20 times in front of the much more agile children sledding down the slopes while on my travels, but no matter as I had chocolate in my shopping bag! Green and Blacks chocolate to be precise, the good stuff, the ‘you know it’s payday’ stuff. But more on the chocolate later, we’ve got the savoury stuff to deal with first, which just so happened to be divinely delicious. I’ll be honest, today I didn’t really want to do a lot of experimenting as snowy days call for comfort and warmth, so I turned to one of my all time favourite cookbooks that I know I can rely on time after time. If you assumed Nigella then you would be wrong, for it was Gizzi Erskines’ beautiful book Kitchen Magic that provided me with the recipe for a bowlful of satay chicken noodle soup. I’d not made it before, but this book has given me plenty of tasty Asian meals before and I knew Gizzi wouldn’t let me down. It was perfect. Crispy chicken thighs, spicy Thai tasting broth and slippery rice noodles, what could be better on a day like today? It also took barely any time whatsoever to cook, which is no bad thing when everything smells so good whilst cooking that you just want to scarf it all down in one go. The chicken thighs are coated in spices and despite the fact that I de-skinned them (I know, I know, but I couldn’t justify chicken skin and chocolate now could I? I’m trying to lose weight!) they still ended up being crispy on top and moist within as thighs are fairly hard to overcook unlike the breast. The soup itself contained yellow curry paste, peanut butter, coconut milk and chilli oil amongst other Asian ingredients (store cupboard being put to its full potential) and was exactly what I needed to fight off the winter chill – warming, spicy and full of the complex Thai flavours that make me want to book a flight to Bangkok. If we didn’t have to pay for plasterers, paint and roof tiles I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what I’d be doing right now. Damn you house! Topped with my absolute favourites, mint, coriander and red chilli, it was a blinder of a soup. I’d been very tempted to get a chow mein after walking past the Chinese on the way back from the shop but I am so pleased I resisted and went for this instead, it really is very very good and much better for me than an MSG laden takeaway.

Following on from the soup I made chocolate, cherry and walnut brownies from In The Mood For Food by Jo Pratt. This is definitely my most used cookbook, although it had its heyday if you will when I first got into cooking and cookbooks several years ago, and hasn’t been used as much recently. This is a shame as just like Nigella and Gizzi, you can rely on Jo to give you quality food that tastes gorgeous with minimal effort. I think it’s a woman thing, male chefs like Jamie and Gordon want to wow you and cook food under pressure or impossible time limits, whereas women just want to feed you without all the palaver. It’s not about showing off, it’s about delivering tasty food that doesn’t stress you out when cooking it. Yet again my trusty store cupboard came into play, providing me with glacé cherries, walnuts and the usual baking ingredients. All I needed from the shop was chocolate and butter (just hearing those two words together makes me salivate). The best part about baking brownies though is easily the licking of the bowl afterwards once the brownie mixture that actually made it to the oven is cooking away. I have just two rules regarding licking the bowl and they are as follows: 1) always use a teaspoon, never a tablespoon. A teaspoon means it takes longer to clear the bowl out and tricks your mind into thinking you’ve had more as you have to keep going back for more. 2 licks of a tablespoon compared to 4 in a teaspoon, it’s a no brainer, and 2) if someone is in the house with you, only tell them that its bowl licking time (and no, that really isn’t a euphemism) once you yourself have had a few teaspoons of it yourself. You cooked that bad boy brownie, you reap the rewards and don’t let anyone tell you different. If The Boyfriend tries to get in there with his teaspoon before I’ve had my fill, it’s like a scene from a wildlife programme where the lions are fighting over a zebra carcass. Love means never having to share your brownie mix.

Now I’ve never had a bad brownie, they are pretty hard to mess up as all the ingredients are very tasty on their own, let alone combined, and this brownie was no exception. Crunchy walnuts, sweet and sticky cherries combined with dark chocolate, perfect. The brownies are squidgy in the middle with a crisp top and the tiny amount of sea salt added cuts through the intense sweetness of the gooey brownie. I did try to be inventive and added a capful of Baileys to use up the leftover dregs from Christmas, but there was not even the slightest trace of this in the taste and to be honest when the chocolate tastes as good as it does in this brownie who even cares? Keeping on theme, I dusted them with a blizzard of icing sugar for extra presentational effect. I’ve got to trek over to the house tomorrow in these snowy conditions and I’ll be bringing a tin of these brownies with me, chiefly as fuel for our mate doing the electrics, but also as emergency rations if my car gets stuck for hours on the road. I may not have a shovel, torch or spare jumpers in my boot, but at least I’ll have sugary, chocolatey goodness and really, isn’t that what everyone should have to hand in an emergency situation?




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Pears, Pastry and Pain

It’s fair to say it’s not been the most successful of weekends. Looking forward to a quiet weekend in preparation for the busy week that lies ahead of me, I was hoping to spend my time quietly baking, watching films and finally having hours of spare time to finish the book Wicked Girls. While I got the baking side of things dealt with, everything else took a back seat when the migraine struck. Oh how I hate those bastards. Anyone who’s been unfortunate to have them knows they are more than mere headache, and in my case they make me feel like my foreheads been clubbed with a baseball bat and then make me feel nauseous without the relief of actually being sick. There goes the reading and film watching! All I could do was lie under the duvet in the dark, sobbing and desperately wanting The Boyfriend back. I’m not ashamed to say that I have a ridiculously low threshold for pain (The Boyfriend still hasn’t forgotten the time I exclaimed that a napkin had hurt my nose – in my defence, it really had) and when faced with proper pain I’m reduced to crying. Such was the extent of the crying that I couldn’t even venture out to the shops to get painkillers thanks to the puffy red eyes and an alcoholic looking nose. Irresistible! I most certainly wouldn’t hold up under torture. Or being threatened with a napkin with scarily pointy corners. Rather heroically though, throughout the pain I still managed to get my baking done even when standing up meant feeling slightly woozy. This migraine wasn’t going to completely ruin my weekend, damn it.

First up was my very first attempt at a savoury tart. I’m not entirely sure what drove me to so desperately want to cook one but I spent plenty of time leafing through my Delicious magazines to find one, and inspired by Great British Bake Off I really wanted to make some pastry. So I made a cheddar, onion and courgette tart with homemade shortcrust pastry. I used to be intimidated by the idea of making my own pastry, but shortcrust is actually very easy, all you need is plenty of flour and then crumble through half the amount of butter to flour and add a few splashes of water. Easy. I’m not really a big fan of courgettes, having only ever eaten them in big, slimy chunks, but this tart contains grated courgette which I’m much more comfortable eating as the texture is so different. While this tart does take a bit of time to make, the oven does most of the work so you just need to be militant about checking it’s progress in the cooker. My verdict on the tart was that while the filling was cheesy and contained plenty of goodness from the veg, I just wasn’t won over by the pastry. Filo, puff, sweet, all pastries I can happily get on board with and eat plenty of, but shortcrust just seems so bland and dry that it feels completely pointless as something to eat. I know the taste comes from the filling and the pastry is there to hold everything together but even so, it’s nothing to get excited about. However, the topping of melted cheese on this tart does go someway to make up for the shortcrust, so don’t let this put you off. I’m hoping this will be tasty cold as part of my lunch throughout the week. If you want to hunt this recipe down you can find it in the August 2010 edition of Delicious.


Again inspired by Bake Off, I decided to make an upside down cake which was one of the tasks in the competition a few weeks ago. Going with my gorgeous Primrose Bakery book, I made ginger and pear cake which smelt wonderful in the oven. In the book, they say they bring this cake to the bakery counter in the autumn when the nights start drawing in and there’s a chill in the air as its ingredients are just made for chilly nights. You’ve got ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and of course, pears, which I love. This week has definitely seen a shift in the weather, and even though it was actually quite nice yesterday, I wanted to welcome in the autumn by baking this cake. We’ve had such a mediocre summer that I’m actually looking forward to the cold and crispness of autumn and winter. Bring on the jumpers and Ugg boots I say and let’s all hunker down in the kitchen with casseroles and warming roasts. The upside down cake is perfect for cold weather, with the mouth tingling from the ginger and spices, stodgy comfort from the damp cake and then a sweet coating of caramelised pears and stickiness from the melted sugar and better. Bliss. Plus, it means the pears are soft no matter what, which is a blessing as while pears taste gorgeous when just ripe, they have about a day in which they are perfect. If you don’t eat them on that exact day, they will either be too hard or too mushy. Fact, pears are tricky, but I still love them. The most impressive part of me baking this cake is that it doesn’t look all that different to the professional version, which makes me a very happy lady. Especially as while making it I felt like someone was drilling into my head with a Black and Decker. So maybe I wouldn’t hold up under torture, but knocking out a cake and a tart under the circumstances surely makes up for my low pain threshold, right? Luckily right this minute I have Nurofen Express coursing through my veins, a roast chicken in the oven and the Observer Food Monthly to inspire me, so the weekend is finally starting to look right, albeit on the last dregs of it. Happy Sunday everyone!


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Posted by on September 16, 2012 in Baking, Books, Cooking, Food


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Hangover Breakfast

This week I seem to have turned into an all singing, all dancing version of myself. I spring out of bed in the morning, twirl the cat around and hum some delightful made up songs (“I don’t like tea, so I will make coffee” being just one of many examples) while boiling the kettle and pouring some fruit juice. My cameo in Glee is surely inevitable now, Hollywood- call me! You thought Gene Kelly could sing in the rain, well you ain’t seen nothing yet. Have I lost what little sanity I had left? Realised my true calling as a musical star? These could all very well be true, despite the fact my voice is a little rough around the edges, but in actual fact it’s because The Boyfriend is finally coming home and I only have 4 more sleeps to go until we are reunited! Very good reason to act like a cast member of One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest without actually being sectioned. So yes, naturally I am very excited and impatient for Thursday to roll around. Being apart for so long is obviously very hard and not ideal, but it’s worth it to feel this happy and excited to see him in person and to act like a child in the week before Christmas. When your boyfriend coming home from work makes you this giddy, you know it’s meant to be. I’ve been telling everyone approximately every 20 minutes that he’ll be home soon, which must be very irritating, especially when I’ve had a few drinks and tell everyone every 5 minutes instead. So I’d like to apologise to the friends who had to put up with me acting like a lovesick puppy all night.
Speaking of last night, I decided I’d make myself a nice, filling breakfast to help recover from my hangover. Any normal person would have some bacon in the fridge and some fresh bread on the side to calm the hangover, but not me. Believe me, at times while making breakfast I was thinking why oh why hadn’t I just made a bacon sarnie like a normal, non cookbook obsessed person would? Apparently though, I don’t like to make my life any easier, but in the interests of new tastes and mixing things up a bit I persevered. Breakfast was haddock kedgeree from my cook book of the moment, Jamie’s Great Britain. It starts with boiling some rice and eggs, which is effortless, and chopping some garlic and onion, whose fragrance is a comforting way to clear the head of alcohol fuzziness. To be fair to the recipe, nothing in it is hard or taxing, but you need several pots and pans and the whole thing takes an hour to put together, which is a considerable nuisance when your tummies rumbling and your eyes are drooping with the lack of sleep. But ever the professional, I got it finished and impressively, cleaned some of the kitchen while waiting for the fish to poach. My favourite part of making the kedgeree involved peeling the shells off the hard boiled eggs, something about removing the crisp shell from the wobbly but firm eggs is very satisfying in a stress relieving way. I’m not sure what a psychiatrist would make of that, so let’s not ponder on that for too long, shall we? Although it was a faff to make first thing this morning, eating it really did the trick and was restorative and filling. Only the English would come up with a breakfast whose ingredients include curry spices, boiled eggs and smoked fish, but bless us for inventing it as its warming and tastes great. It also looks very pretty, with the bright yellow of the turmeric stained rice and near fluorescent orange from the egg yolks. In typical fashion, I made way too much so it looks like I’ll be having this for breakfast for the rest of the week. Life’s hard sometimes!


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Posted by on July 22, 2012 in Books, Cooking, Fish, Food


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Tandoori Chicken

I bloody love Indian food, but it is to my utmost dismay that I cannot for the life of me cook it. Many a curry recipe has been tried and tested, but yet I cannot master the art of Indian curries. I know, how can I possibly show my face in civilised, culinary company again? Anyway, my self esteem couldn’t take any more failed curries so I decided to try a new Indian dish, that of Tandoori chicken, from Simon Hopkinson’s book ‘The Good Cook’. I saw the cookery show he did last year and loved it, so naturally I did what any cookbook nut would do and bought the accompanying book. Man was I disappointed. While the lovely meals shown on TV were all there , the rest of the recipes seemed dull, uninspiring and definitely not my cup of tea. That Simon, he’s nothing but a big tease, putting all the goods out on show first thing, and nothing to back it up later on. But he does have a cracking recipe for tandoori chicken, so it’s not all bad. Obviously not having a tandoori oven means its impossible to replicate the authentic taste you’d get in a restaurant, but making it at home means you can’t also have a dhansak, keema rice, Bombay potatoes and popadoms on the side. So it’s much more bikini friendly! It’s very simple, you just marinate some chicken legs in yoghurt and tandoori spices (I used a pot that I brought from Borough Market aeons ago), leave them in the fridge overnight and then chuck them in a hot oven for 20 minutes. Easy! Also, if like me you have a well stocked freezer and cupboards then this recipe is very economical, all I had missing was the yoghurt. Very handy in the week before payday let me tell you. Anyway, the chicken skin is crisp and bright red, the meat nice and juicy thanks to the marinating. I served it with pitta bread (a bit unconventional I know, Indian meat and Greek bread, but like I said, it’s the week before payday and there were no naan breads in my freezer) and some mango chutney and it was very tasty indeed. Chuck some salad on the side and you’ve got a perfect easy meal after a long day at work. Just don’t buy The Good Cook, if you’re anything like me at all, you will be sorely let down. Sorry Simon, I’m out.


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Posted by on June 12, 2012 in Books, Chicken, Cooking, Food, Indian


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Goan prawn curry with hard boiled egg – Everyday Indian

Friends have called me a food snob. Personally I don’t know what they mean, I just like to shop in Waitrose, eat at nice places and only buy cookbooks by either famous chefs or acclaimed food writers. So maybe I’m a bit of a food snob. But before you judge me you should also know that I love McDonalds and fairground doughnuts, so how much of a snob can I really be?! Anyway, the cookbook for todays recipe is not by a chef or acclaimed food writer, indeed has no author at all apparently judging by the front cover. It’s from Everyday Indian, a book I admittedly would never have bought myself in a million years. I always feel that if there is no one who wants to put a name to this book, what is it that they don’t want to take credit for? If you’re proud of something then you put your name on it. Plus, while I am  a huge fan of good Indian food, I have never been able to replicate a good Indian curry at home. It always tastes either of onions or tomatoes and the reaction it tends to get is ‘meh’. Doesn’t matter how many recipes I try, the curry will always end up being bland, too watery and nowhere near the deliciousness of a proper Indian curry, I just don’t have the skills. Anyway this book was given to me by someone as a stocking filler present, and it went onto the bookcase on Boxing Day and has remained there for over 2 years, until today.

So, would this cookbook be the one that gave me the recipe, nay, the secret to an amazing, authentic, tasty, spicy, complex flavoured curry? Well, no. Sadly it did not. I’d like to say I give up on cooking Indian at home, but unfortunately I have another Indian cookbook to cook from as well as two more from the authorless book to complete the challenge. Bummer. The curry was alright, it tasted a little bit like the spices (ground fennel, ground coriander, turmeric and chilli powder), the egg surprisingly went well with the curry (probably because the egg had more flavour than the sauce), and the prawns were nicely cooked. But there was really nothing there to make me want to cook it again, and a few hours after eating I’ve completely forgotten what it tastes like. The boyfriend commented that the nicest bit of the curry was the coriander sprinkled on top. It tells you something about a curry when the condiment / garnish tastes better than the curry (although we really do love coriander, I used to eat leaves by the fistful when I was first introduced to the herb!). Whether this is the books fault or is down to my incompetence as a curry cook, I cant really know. But because I’m a food snob, I’m going to place the blame with the non-author of this book. No name  = not proud.


Posted by on February 10, 2012 in Books, Cooking, Indian


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Trouble already…

Today was going to be the day I started my challenge. Unfortunately today was also the day my oven bulb decided to blow. So instead of a nice hot oven to cook in, I ended up with a vaguely lukewarm oven – great! I’d spent the earlier part of the week going through all 45 of my cookbooks, making a lovely list (i love lists, you’re probably going to see a lot of those over the coming months), typing it up, getting excited at the idea of testing myself and finally putting all those books to good use.

Maybe it was a ‘sign’, fates way of telling me that the first recipe I’d chosen to cook for my Neglected Cookbook challenge (keyword here is ‘neglected’) was not the right one, not getting into the spirit of the challenge and so on. Because for my first recipe I’d chosen my brand new cookbook, Jamies Great Britain, which couldn’t be further from neglected as I am absolutely itching to cook everything in it! There is nothing like a brand new cookbook that you’ve wanted for ages (in my little world anyway), and every time I get one I promise myself that i will make the most of this one, not use it a few times in the honeymoon period and then mug it off a month in. However, promises were made to be broken, and thats why I have a lot of cookbooks that have been used and then abused. I thought my first recipe for this challenge would be from a dusty book that time  – and myself –  forgot. But no, it’s from the new one, and it is Empire Chicken, with Bombay roast spuds and Indian gravy. And no way could that be cooked in a pitifully warm oven. I saw Jamie cook this on his programme last year and it looked bloody delicious, so fingers crossed it lives up to Mr Olivers hype, when we finally get round to cooking it.

Or maybe the bulb went because this week has been the week Lightbulbs Conspired Against Us. The bathroom and hallway spotlights all went, both the headlights on the car, and then the indicator light. It was inevitable that the oven bulb would go, all I’m waiting for now is fridge light to go and then we’ve had a full set!

So me and the boyfriend had to resort to chicken kebabs from a takeaway, not exactly the great start to this that I imagined, but when life hands you lemons, f**k ’em. The challenge will now officially start tomorrow, luckily for me my chicken, potatoes and gravy are all prepped and just need chucking in the oven when we get in from work tomorrow.

Speaking of the list, I’ve chosen 3 or 4 recipes from each book that I’ve never cooked before and plan to tick maybe 3 off each week. There’s some amazing looking recipes that I can’t wait to try, and some unusual ones that I’m a little intimidated by but curious enough to overcome these trifling feelings! Be prepared for a fair few cheesecakes popping up, I love them and see this as a perfect opportunity to buy up England’s supply of Philly cheese.

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Posted by on February 2, 2012 in Uncategorized


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