Shakshuka

My sister has recently moved in with me. My flat is tiny- it’s just one bedroom, and there’s barely enough room for one person in the kitchen- but she’s working in London for the next six months and so we’ve turned half the living room into a bedroom, and after nearly two years of living alone, I now have a roommate again!

Of course, there are definite pros and cons to our new living situation, but one of the greatest pros has got to be the fact that we now cook and eat together almost every night. We take it in turn to come home laden with ingredients, and invent new and interesting things to eat. This is one of our favourites.

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Okay okay, so I know I’m not the first person to come up with shakshuka, and in fact, maybe I’m a little late to the shakshuka party. But it’s too good not to mention. In case you don’t know, shakshuka is basically eggs baked on top of a (normally tomato) base. It’s the perfect combination of protein, vegetables and, most importantly, flavour.

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We always have shakshuka for supper- it’s become a complete staple in the flat, we probably have a variation on it at least once a week- but you could also have it for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or even an afternoon snack, if you were that way inclined. It’s also super easy to make, and really adaptable. We put in whatever vegetables we have in the fridge- aubergine is a firm favourite- or chickpeas or beans. This is the classic recipe, but feel free to put your own little twist on it and add your own favourite veggies.

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Shakshuka 

(serves 4, or 2 if you’re really hungry!)

olive oil

4 cloves garlic

1/2 a red onion

1/2 a red chilli

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 tin kidney beans

about 6 sundried tomatoes

4 eggs

about 100g of feta cheese

cherry tomatoes, to serve

avocado, to serve

handful of coriander, to serve

Begin by heating a splash of olive oil in a large frying pan. Finely dice your garlic cloves, onion and chilli. Toss these into the frying pan and cook until the onion is just starting to soften. Add in your chopped tomatoes, and mix well, then add the kidney beans. You may also need to add a splash of water at this stage. I normally fill up the tin about halfway with water and add that. Don’t worry if it seems too wet- the water will evaporate!

Cut your sundried tomatoes into thin slices and add these to the pan. (If you’re feeling extra extravagant, add in a tiny splash of the sundried tomato oil, just to boost the flavour!) Let everything simmer for about 7 minutes, until it has started to thicken up. In the meantime, preheat your oven to 180 degrees.

Crack your eggs onto the tomato mixture. They will partially submerge but also sort of stay on the top- that’s exactly what you want! Don’t panic if one disappears completely, it will just be poaching in the tomato sauce ready to be uncovered (and most importantly, eaten!) later! Crumble over the feta.

Put the whole thing in the oven and leave to bake for about 15 minutes. You want the feta to melt and the eggs to bake and get solid. Then, for the last few minutes, put it under the grill, to allow the feta to crisp up and get brown.

When it’s ready, top it with some cherry tomatoes, sliced avocado and chopped coriander leaves, and dig in! Build a bite with a bit of everything- tomato, egg, feta and avocado- bliss!

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xxR

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Cauliflower, Chickpea and Sweet Potato Coconut Curry

One of my favourite things about travelling anywhere is the opportunity to eat something new. I love testing out my tastebuds in foreign lands, and discovering my new favourites (or maybe least favourites!) I have recently come back from travelling around Asia – please excuse my silence for the past few months – where I have been putting my tastebuds to the ultimate test, eating pad thai on the streets of Bangkok, vegetable kottu off a metal plate in a sri Lankan café and drowning in dahl in India.

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The whole experience was absolutely amazing, of course, and so rich that it seems impossible to know where to start with any concise description. And it almost doesn’t feel like it really happened. I touched down in heathrow feeling slightly feverish, unused to and unprepared for the cold in the one jumper I had taken and a huge wool shawl I bought for the equivalent for £2.50, with my backpack absolutely stuffed full of dirty clothes, bags of tea and spices I’d bought and the presents I’d dutifully carried home for my family. And immediately it felt like a dream that I was groggily waking up from and could only half remember. (The grogginess was probably due to the fact I’d been travelling overnight for about fifteen hours!)

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Having now gotten over the initial shellshock, and reacclimatised myself to the cold, I can look back on the amazing experiences I had, and the incredible food I tasted, with nothing but fondness, nostalgia, and a serious desire to hop back on a plane tomorrow and jet off in search of more adventure.

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Last weekend I decided to put what I’d seen and tasted in Kerala, in southern India, to work with my take on a coconut curry. Despite attending a cooking class in Udaipur, Rajasthan, where I learnt how to char a chapatti directly on the flames of a gas grill, and how to fold a perfectly triangular samosa, this recipe is based on nothing more than things I ate- and my attempt to recreate the flavours in my own kitchen.

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Coconut is a huge ingredient in southern Indian cooking, particularly in curries, where it’s used to add both sweetness and creaminess to any veg or fish curry. It’s not only used in cooking however- the fibres are spun into rope and then used to make the silent long boats that patrol the backwaters of kerala. Turmeric is also used in Indian cooking for everything- and it’s also prescribed as a medicine. Seriously, a spoonful of honey mixed with turmeric swallowed right before bed will cure any sore throat or runny nose! This recipe combines these two ingredients that are so central to Indian cooking- as well as a few of my own favourite veg! Coconut curries are served on banana leaves in kerala, which, sadly, are difficult to source in London- so you’ll have to use your imagination for that!

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Cauliflower, Chickpea and Sweet Potato Coconut Curry

serves 4

tablespoon coconut oil
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon garam marsala
2 tins of coconut milk
2 large sweet potatoes
1 cauliflower
2 tins of chickpeas
coriander (to serve)
fresh chillies (to serve)

Finely chop the garlic. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into cubes.
In a large saucepan, heat the coconut oil until it has melted. Add the garlic, and cook for about a minute. Add in the turmeric, cumin and garam marsala and cook for about thirty seconds until they have formed a paste. Add the coconut milk and the sweet potatoes. bring the coconut milk to a gentle simmer.
Cook for about 15 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes have started to soften.
Chop the cauliflower into small florets, and add those to the curry. After two minutes, add the chickpeas.
Allow to cook until the sweet potato is soft enough that it can be easily pierced with a fork.
Dish the curry into bowls, and top with some chopped coriander and finely diced chillies.

xxR

Christmas Mille Feuille

I love Christmas, especially the buildup. London is amazing at this time of year, with lights decorating every high street, and people rushing around, hot chocolate in hand. I get really into the whole thing, and start feeling festive as soon as the calendar reads ‘December.’

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However, come December 26, I am usually over the whole thing. I want no more mention of Christmas, no more festive songs and certainly no more food! I am ready to move on with my life.

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This year, it’s been a bit different. While I was still a student, I would done with uni and home from Christmas no later than mid-December. I would then still have two weeks before Christmas to be at home and start getting properly festive. But now, I have a job, and that meant staying in London, and in the office, until the 22nd. I got home with three days to spare- and to do all the at-home-Christmas things that I consider compulsory. It has also meant that I have been extremely busy, and therefore baking, and unfortunately posting, have somewhat fallen by the wayside.

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So, the few days after Christmas haven’t felt quite the same for me. The celebration has sort of carried on, and I am still feeling quite Christmassy. It is in this spirit of elongating the festivities, that I share this recipe for Christmas mille feuille with you. Deliciously light puff pastry, sandwiched with ‘chai spiced’ whipped cream and pomegranate seeds make it taste just like Christmas. I have to admit, I baked these about a week before Christmas for some friends, but they would still be delicious eaten during this week of post Christmas revelling.

Christmas Mille Feuille

for the pastry:

25og plain flour

pinch of salt

225g cold butter

For the filling:

25oml double cream

5og icing sugar, plus extra to decorate

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus extra to decorate

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

seeds of half a pomegranate

Put the flour and salt in a food processor. Turn it on and steadily pour in 15oml cold water. As soon as the dough comes together, wrap it in cling film and put it in the fridge to rest.

Lightly flour your surface and roll out the dough into a rectangle. Place your butter between two pieces of greaseproof paper, and, using a rolling pin, bash your into a flat rectangle, that is about two thirds of the size of the rolled out dough. Place the flat slab of butter over the bottom two thirds of the dough. Fold the top third of dough down over the butter, then fold the bottom third up. You should now have layers of dough, butter, dough, butter, dough. Pinch the edges of the dough down, to make sure the butter is completely encased.

Roll out to a rectangle and repeat the rolling and folding process. Then, wrap the pastry in cling film and place it in the fridge to rest for at least 2o minutes. This rolling and folding process must then be repeated at least 3 more times, with a 2o minute resting period between each fold.

Preheat the oven to 18o degrees celcius. Once your pastry is suitably rolled and folded, roll it out to a large rectangle. The pastry should be less than 1/4 of an inch thick- it will puff up in the oven! Cut out smaller rectangles of pastry, about 3 inches long and 2 wide, and place them on a greased and lined baking tray.

Bake for about 2o-25 minutes, or until the pastry has puffed up, feels crisp and looks golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

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Meanwhile, whisk the double cream until it is firm. Mix in the icing sugar and spices- do this to taste!

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When the pastry is cool, spread whipped cream over half of the pieces, then sprinkle pomegranate seeds over the cream. Sandwich the other pieces on top, and finish with a dusting of icing sugar and cinnamon.

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Happy (belated) Christmas!

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xxR

Thanksgiving Leftovers

After Thanksgiving, I was left with so much cheese. I had asked everyone to bring a bottle of wine and a piece of their favourite cheese, and, while the wine had been well and truly demolished on the night itself, I have to admit I overestimated just how much cheese there would be.

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I love cheese, but there was absolutely no way I could ever get through all that, so I roped in my dad to help. Admittedly, even with two people, we struggled to finish it all!

The best thing to do with leftover cheese, I’ve discovered, is simply to throw it all into a ramekin or small oven dish (depending on how many cheese eaters you have!) and bake it. Everyone loves a bit of baked camembert, but this is next level. I filled my ramekin with bits of camembert, as well as few pieces of various blue cheeses. Throw a few peeled garlic cloves on the top and bake for 10-15 minutes, and you’ll be left with the most incredible  dip. Definitely not the healthiest snack ever, but hey, it is Christmas!

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I also had about half a butternut squash left over, which I cubed and roasted at 180 degrees with a drizzle of olive oil, a good pinch of salt and pepper and a few cloves of garlic for about 45 minutes. 1o minutes from the end, when the butternut squash is just starting to feel really soft, throw in a few handfuls of kale, which will go crunchy in the heat of the oven. Crumble some blue cheese over the top, as well as the toasted butternut squash seeds, and you have the perfect winter salad that takes literally no effort to whip up!

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xxR

Roast Beetroot and Carrots with Goats Cheese and Almonds

I love Thanksgiving. I feel like it’s all the best things about Christmas- the feasting, getting together with people you love- without all the stress (and cost!) of buying presents. I’ve lived in England for eleven years now, but I’ve still never failed to celebrate Thanksgiving in some way or another! A few times over the past five years that I have been living away from my parents, I have gone home, often with friends in town, to celebrate with my family (and eat my mum’s food!) Other years, I’ve gone solo, hosting from my student house or flat. This year, I went pretty big.

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Let me first just set the scene. I live by myself in a tiny one bedroom flat. There is a separate living room- but it’s certainly not big, and you struggle to fit more than one person in the kitchen at a time. Despite this, and much to my family’s amusement, I invited fifteen people for Thanksgiving dinner. I have a total of eight chairs- although squeezing eight around my table is a stretch! – and six sets of cutlery. The cutlery was not a problem, and I was able to borrow nine more knives and forks. For seating, I had to get a little more creative (again, much to the huge amusement of my family!)

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I got three large cardboard boxes, arranged them in a row on the floor and threw a table cloth over the top- a makeshift table. I then grabbed all the cushions from my sofa, and tossed them around the boxes for seats- Japanese style (on the floor). I was very impressed with my seating arrangements, although some of my longer legged friends were less so.

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But anyway, on to the food. Regrettably, there was too much sheer chaos in the kitchen when it came to serving for me to remember to photograph anything. This recipe was one of my side dishes- and it was so easy to make and delicious to eat that I decided to recreate it for a light lunch. My other vegetable sides were roast potatoes (compulsory, really) and brussels sprouts, halved and fried with parmesan, all covered with a good helping of mushroom gravy.

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Roast Beetroot and Carrots with Goats Cheese and Almond

to serve 6-8 as a side

6 raw beetroots

10 carrots

splash of olive oil

salt and pepper

half a log of soft goats cheese

handful of almonds

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees. Peel your beetroots. Individually, wrap each one in tin foil (I have been experimenting with roasting beets for a while, and I’ve found that this method is way easier (and cleaner) than attempting to peel them after they’re cooked). Peel your carrots, and cut into sticks, then place in an oven dish. Drizzle a splash of olive oil over the carrots, as well as a pinch of salt and pepper.

Bake the beetroots for about 30-40 minutes, or until they are soft and juicy. The carrots need about 25-35 minutes. You want them softened slightly.

When the vegetables are finished, unwrap the beets and cut into cubes. Arrange the beetroot and carrots on a serving dish, and crumble over the goats cheese. Roughly chop the almonds, then spindle those over too. Finish with a  pinch of salt and pepper, and wait for the compliments to the chef to start flowing!

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xxR

Pistachio and White Chocolate Cake

Before this, I hadn’t baked just a straightforward cake for ages. I was really starting to miss the feel of beating butter and sugar together, of breaking eggs and the hard to describe sound of batter as it’s mixed around the bowl.

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But, most of all, I was missing the taste of cake. Unsurprisingly, I have eaten far less cakes since being gluten free than at the peak of the gluten-ful diet I previously enjoyed. A craving for cake can really only be satisfied by cake, and this one pulls no punches. Full of butter, sugar and white chocolate, this cake is unashamedly unhealthy.

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I have been experimenting with replacing wheat flour in various recipes over the past six or months, with, admittedly, varying degrees of success. My preferred substitute is rice flour, which I think has a really delicious flavour. The one downside of rice is, however, it’s tendency to suck all moisture out of anything. I have it on extremely good authority that the whole putting your phone in a bowl of rise after you drop it in the toilet thing actually does work, and I can totally vouch for the dryness of rice. I’ve been battling against dry gluten free cakes for month, and then I had this revelation.

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This cake was perfectly moist and soft all thanks to the addition of some chopped pistachios. Turns out that not only are nuts a delicious cake ingredient, but their oil really helps to combat the dryness issue. A cake miracle. I would highly, highly recommend the combination of white chocolate and pistachio. I can’t resist putting dried rose petals on top of anything (must have something to do with my name…!) but how you decorate is completely up to you! Gluten free or not, this is a cake you don’t want to not eat!

Pistachio and White Chocolate Cake

220g unsalted butter softened
220g caster sugar
4 large eggs
250g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
100ml milk
50g coarsely chopped pistachios
50g white chocolate, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.

Begin by creaming together your butter and sugar, then add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the flour, baking powder and milk and mix well before adding the pistachios and white chocolate (easy!)

Spoon the mixture into a greased and lined cake tin, and bake for about 30 minutes, or until it is slightly golden and crisp on top. A skewer inserted into the centre of the cake should come out clean.

For the icing:
150g white chocolate
150g butter, slightly softened
150g icing sugar
pistachios, to decorate
rose petals, optional

Begin by melting your white chocolate in a bowl over a pan of gently simmering water. Be careful- white chocolate can burn more easily than normal chocolate, so make sure the water is only just simmering.
Beat your butter and sugar together until the mixture is light and fluffy, then add your melted, cooled chocolate and mix well.
Cut the cake in half, and spread half the icing over the bottom layer, then sandwich the other half on top. Spread the rest of the icing over the top of the cake and decorate. Perfect with a big cup of (green) tea!

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xxR

Red Lentil Dahl with Grilled Aubergines

Isn’t it depressing to look out of the window at 7 o’clock in the evening and see, well, nothing? Getting home in the dark is one of the worst things about the winter in London. Second only to leaving the house in the morning in the dark.

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At this time of year, all I really want to do is throw on my PJs and my slippers (I have some Ugg ones- pure bliss!) and snuggle down with a big bowl of something warm and comforting.

This dahl really is the ultimate comfort food. It is a big huge bowl of steaming hot, somewhat stodgy, super delicious goodness. Really what’s not to love?! Plus- it is simply excellent for you! Lentils are an amazing source of iron, and for a lifelong vegetarian, iron can sometimes be a little hard to come by. Whenever I’m feeling a big run down, I erve myself up a big ol’ helping of lentils, usually with some kale thrown in for good measure too. Practically as irony as a steak!

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I must confess, I am absolutely not an expert of Indian food. I mean, I am an expert of eating Indian food, but that is about as far as my expertise stretch. There is one secret weapon that I always use- garam marsala. A good tablespoon of that, along with some mustard seeds and turmeric, and it will taste like you really know your Indian stuff! Eat this dahl as a side to your favourite curry- I love sweet potato and chickpea- or just have a big bowl of it as the main event.

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Red Lentil Dahl with Grilled Aubergines

1 small onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

2 teaspoons garam marsala

4oog red lentils

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 aubergine

handful coriander, optional

In a large saucepan, heat a splash of olive oil. Add your onion to the pan, and turn the heat down to low. Cook the onion for a few minutes until it starts to soften, the add your garlic. Cook for about another minute, then add your mustard seeds and garam marsala. Cook for about 3o seconds- the mustard seeds should start to pop.

Add your lentils to the pan. Pour water into the pan until it is about two inches about the lentils. Bring it to the boil. Reduce the heat and leave your lentils to simmer for about 2o minutes. They might absorb all the water, so keep an eye on them and add more if necessary. Stir in your ground turmeric.

Slice your aubergine into thin strips, and heat a splash of olive oil in a griddle pan. Fry the aubergine slices on each side for about 5 minutes, or until it is soft and starting to char.

When your lentils are about the consistency of porridge- they will sort of turn to mush (for want of a better word!), and you won’t be able to see individual lentils anymore- they are done! Season with salt and pepper to taste, then spoon a big dollop into a bowl, and top with a few strips of aubergine and a pinch of chopped coriander, if using.

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Enjoy!

xxR