Vegan Banana Cake or Muffins

Vegan banana loaf 1.0 with lemon drizzle icing

I’d planned to share this recipe in January in case anyone had resolved to do veganuary. I wanted to let you know that this scrummy, flavoursome cake was possible to make and eat. You probably have the ingredients in your cupboard and fridge already, unless you aren’t vegan and possibly don’t already have an alternative dairy free milk in your fridge.

However, I don’t know whether people will have given up on their January resolutions, like dry January (not drinking alcohol in January) and veganuary (going vegan for January) after last week’s announcement about England going into lockdown 2.0. Whoever had been hoping that the stroke of midnight on Hogmanay 2020 was going to herald in a better year had their hopes cruelly dashed. Lockdown was something that I’m guessing most people were hoping would be left behind in 2020.

In the last real lockdown in March 2020, (I’m not counting what happened in November because there were fewer restrictions than what we have now), the internet exploded with stories and images of people baking banana cakes, banana breads, cookies and sourdough breads. Flour and yeast disappeared off the supermarket shelves and a little black market for flour and yeast began. I’ve bought a 25kg bag of flour, who wants to buy some from me? XX bakery is selling yeast. I understood the sourdough bread fascination – more time at home on their hands perhaps, so could feed the starter, watch the starter, turn the dough, bake the bread. I didn’t understand why banana cake or bread held the same fascination. I still don’t. Anyone want to enlighten me?

I created this vegan cake simply because of a combination of reasons. I’ve been wanting to create a good vegan banana cake recipe for a while, one of my colleagues is vegan and on Fridays, it had become a custom to have some sort of sweet treat that one of us would share. That was before Christmas, and the wildfire spread of the new Covid variant when we were able to go into the office.

Previously when I had researched vegan baking, bananas came up as a common, easily accessible substitute for eggs. If you’re interested, the other common substitutes in a cake are applesauce or a mixture of vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. Often they suggest replacing one egg with one banana: it helps to hold the structure of the cake together, which is what an egg does in a cake. I’m still a novice when it comes to vegan baking and I’ve only tried this in a banana cake, so I don’t know how it would affect the flavour of another type of cake.

I mushed together my recipes for vegan chocolate cake and spiced banana cake to come up with this recipe. The addition of boiling water at the end, was the one final comparison test that I did before I wrote up this blog post. In the final taste test when I was paying particular attention to the texture, my taste testers and I noted that the addition of water created a slightly lighter and more moist cake crumb.

Searching for textural differences. The top row: with the addition of hot water and the bottom row: without hot water. Welcome to my world of recipe testing.

You can play around with the filling. In version 1.0 I used purely currants and in 2.0, a mixture of currants and raisins. Both work. I think that walnuts and pecans, or dark chocolate would work too. You can also vary the spices. I chose to go with vanilla so that more of the banana flavour would come out. However, I know that lots of people like to add ground cinnamon or ginger or mixed spice to their banana cakes. I like doing it too. I also vary whether or not I add the icing. I think the addition of the lemon drizzle icing takes the cake up another level. However, if parents are trying to limit refined sugar from their children’s diet (or their own) then you can omit it completely. I think there is enough sweetness from the bananas and the dried fruit. It’s also less messy to transport as muffin snacks if there is no icing.

Edit 30th Jan: yesterday, I added an extra banana because I had one; reduced the sugar slightly to 80g (I think that I could have reduced it further) because overly ripe bananas have their own sweetness; replaced vanilla with ground ginger for a hint of heat and paired it with the lemon icing. It produced a bigger loaf and the house smelt glorious. Half of it disappeared within a day.

Just to add, I’m currently living with 4 other humans.

Perfect on a cold January day

Lastly, I experimented to see how easily this cake could adapt from a banana loaf to muffins. Very easily. This recipe will bake in a 2lb loaf tin (21x11x7cm) or 16 muffin cases.

The verdict? “Moist, scrummy, yummy, amazing, delicious..” – my colleagues, former housemate and the family that I currently live with are fans of this banana cake. Sometimes though, I’m not sure whether they’d say anything negative because they like homemade baked goods. You’ll have to try it for yourself and let me know.

Ingredients for Vegan Banana Cake or Muffins

  • 75ml vegan buttermilk (70ml soy milk or any vegan alternative milk + 1tsp of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice)
  • 85 ml of sunflower oil
  • 3-4 very ripe bananas mashed (about 300g-400g)
  • 80g-90g light brown sugar
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 75g currants + 1/2tsp bicarbonate of soda – soaked in boiling water
  • 225g self raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 3/8 tsp salt
  • 50g boiling water

Ingredients for the lemon drizzle icing

  • 80-100g icing sugar
  • juice of half a lemon, you want between 3-5tsp so it really depends on the size of the lemon.
Measuring out the wet ingredients and the dry ingredients

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mask 4. If you are making a loaf, then oil and line a 2lb loaf tin. If you are making muffins, then line two muffin tray with 16 muffin cases.
  2. Prepare the dried fruit and make the buttermilk. In a cup combine the soymilk with one teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice. Leave to one side for 10 minutes so it curdles. Boil the kettle and in a heatproof cup, measure out the currants and 1/2tsp of bicarbonate of soda. Add in the boiled water and leave it to one side while preparing the other steps.
  3. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together to combine the sugar with the mashed bananas, oil, buttermilk and vanilla extract. There will be white flecks where the buttermilk breaks up (I’ve included a photo below so that you don’t worry when you see this.)
  4. In another small bowl, measure out the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt. Whisk together to combine.
  5. Drain the currants and I rinse them with cold water to wash off any residual bicarbonate of soda.
  6. Add the currants and the flour to the wet mixture and use a spatula to combine together.
  7. Finally carefully add in the boiling water and mix thoroughly.
  8. Pour the mixture into a 1.5lb loaf or measure out into the muffin cases. I used silicone ones and put in 2 tablespoons of mixture in each.
  9. For the loaf: bake in the centre of the oven for 40-50 mins. Check after 30 mins and if it is browning at the top too much then cover with foil and continue baking. For muffins: bake for 15-18mins. To check if they are done, test with a sharp knife and it should come out clean. Leave to cool for at least 10 minutes.
  10. Prepare the lemon drizzle icing by sifting the icing sugar in a bowl and add in the lemon juice one teaspoon at a time until you get a runny consistency that coats the back of a metal spoon. Once the cake/muffins have cooled for 20 minutes poke holes in them and drizzle it over the cake or muffins in whatever shapes you desire.

Storage: Store the loaf/muffins in an airtight container. I think it tastes better the second and third day. It keeps well for 5 days and maybe longer, but it has always been all eaten by then.

Mix the wet ingredients together with the sugar
Muffin cases filled with 2 tablespoons of mixture
The vegan banana loaf 2.0 this time as muffins with no icing.

Finally I Mastered Crispy Kale

Kale Crisps Success!

A bag of kale, reduced down to 20p, was the last thing I bought before I received a notification from the Covid-app informing me that I had been in close contact with somebody with Covid-19 and I had to self-isolate for the next 8 days. So at 6.11am that morning I sent a message to cancel a run with my friend that morning, emailed my work to let them know and we did some rescheduling gymnastics so that I could work from home. Isn’t it odd that a bag of kale holds this memory for me now.

To be honest, I didn’t mind staying at home. My housemate didn’t have to self-isolate so she could get groceries for me and update me on what was happening in the realm outside of the front door. That is an odd detail, I know. I don’t fully understand the track and trace system we have in England. We figured out that my phone must have picked up something on my 20 minute train journey to work. Commuters who don’t wear their masks properly or socially distance appropriately stress me out. I was happy to temporarily cut out that bit of stress from my life.

I still had leftover pumpkin, lentil and goats cheese salad in the fridge, so I decided that for dinner that night, I’d crisp up kale and add it to the salad. I had only just mastered it the previous week whilst making a roasted squash risotto with crispy kale.

The goats cheese, pumpkin and lentil salad with crispy kale

I have been trying to make crispy kale for about 8 years and failing each time. Somehow, I had it in my head that I had to bake the kale at a low heat and so each time it would just come out soggy and burnt: an odd combination. This was due to the fact that I had first read about crispy kale in a post by Gwyneth Paltrow that also told me how to make oven dried tomatoes and either the recipe is actually wrong or I got confused between the two recipes. Then it was compounded by other recipes which told me to bake at a low temperature for 15-20 minutes. Instead, this roasted squash risotto with crispy kale recipe told me to preheat the oven to 230°c for the baking of the kale. I read that instruction twice to check and it worked.

Top Tip: the secret to crispy kale is a short baking time in a hot oven and dry kale.

Yes, once you’ve chopped and washed the kale, leave it to dry in a colander, or even better a salad spinner, for a while then spot dry it with a clean tea towel. This saves your tea towel from getting completely soaked. That is, unless you happen to have a bag of already prepped and washed kale.

Ingredients for Oven baked crispy kale, adapted from the Cooks Cook recipe

This will feed between 2-4 people.

  • 160g Kale
  • 1tbsp Sunflower/rapeseed or vegetable oil (depends on how much kale you have)
  • Salt and pepper to season, maybe a 1/4 tsp of each.
  • 1/2 tsp – 1tsp Paprika/Cayenne pepper/Chilli flakes or whatever spices you’d like (optional but highly recommended)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7 and prepare two large baking trays.
  2. Prepare the kale. Cut the kale, 2-3cm long. Remove any particularly tough bits of stalk, nearer the bottom of the kale. As you can see from the photos, I don’t really bother that much with removing the stalks because I don’t mind the extra bite. Wash the kale to remove any dirt. Leave it to dry in a colander or alternatively use a salad spinner. Then use a clean tea towel or paper towel to spot dry the kale so that it is as dry as possible.
  3. Add the kale into a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle over the oil, salt, pepper and any optional spices and massage in to make sure that each leaf has been coated. I prefer to do this part in a bowl because I find it gives a more even coat than when I do it on a baking tray. However, if you want to save on washing up, do this step on a baking tray.
  4. Lay out the kale in a single sheet as much as possible. This prevents steaming and sogginess. There will be a bit of overlap, don’t worry.
  5. Bake between 8-10 minutes so that they crisp up and are a mix of darker green and brown. Some leaves will get browner than others. I think that’s okay but if you want a more even crisp, then halfway through the baking time, move the leaves around.
  6. Leave it out on the baking trays to cool a bit before munching on it. It can be eaten on its own, added to a salad or a risotto for extra texture. Enjoy.
First, cut, wash and dry the kale
Coat with oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper and optional spices. This one has paprika. Then lay out on a baking tray

Roasted Brussels Sprouts: a game changer

Roasted brussels sprouts

Here’s a seasonal recipe for you, perhaps not the sweet one that you were hoping for this Christmas from me. If you like brussels sprouts or are somewhat ambivalent about them, do me a favour and give this recipe a go. I had boiled ones the other week at my work cafe as part of a Christmas lunch, and to be honest, I was a bit disappointed by their lack of imagination with this humble vegetable, given that they teach culinary skills.

I’m obsessed with roasted brussels sprouts. I first made them 3 years ago and they were a game changer. Roasting them brings out a nutty flavour somehow that you do not get when boiling or frying them. And texturally I find it really pleasing: soft but not soggy. Another bonus to roasting is that there is no bad smell when you cook them, although at the other end, I can not promise that the gasses will smell any sweeter.

Since being back in the UK, I have discovered that roasting brassica is my favourite way of cooking and eating them. Bold statement, I know. But so far, it holds true.

Brussels sprouts prepped with the bottoms sliced off and halved.

I have not given you quantities. Sorry. I have never measured out this recipe and now I’ve become that recipe writer who might say to you annoyingly, add a glug of olive oil and if you’re like me, you’d get peeved with them because how many millilitres is there in a glug of oil? Nevertheless, the only thing I can offer by way of excuse is that I have never measured this out because I always vary the amount of brussels sprouts depending on the number of people. I believe I think that 8 brussels sprouts per person is normal, based on the photo at the top, but then again, I do really love brussels sprouts.

Ingredients for roasted brussels sprouts

  • Brussels sprouts (however many that you’d like)
  • Olive oil (enough to coat the brussels sprouts)
  • Salt (to season)
  • Pepper (to season)
  • Chilli flakes (optional)
  • Juice of a lemon (optional)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
  2. Slice the bottoms off and halve them.
  3. Place cut side down on a baking dish.
  4. Sprinkle with olive oil and season with salt, pepper and if you want, chilli flakes.
  5. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Check halfway and shake them around a bit. If you forget this bit, don’t worry, there will be a bit of charring on some, but that tastes alright too.
  6. For a tangy finish, squeeze a bit of lemon juice over them at the end.

One of my friends recommended adding a drizzle of honey with chilli on them before baking them for additional flavour. That is a new twist that I’ll try this season.

Incidentally, I have also discovered whilst writing up this post that I’ve been spelling brussels sprouts incorrectly all my life, as brussel sprouts. Well, now I know.

What is your favourite way of cooking and eating brussels sprouts?

Delia’s Pancakes for Shrove Tuesday

Whenever Pancake Day comes around, I remember my friend Sarah of the chocolate macarons and the white chocolate, cardamon and rosewater cake. We cooked and hosted many a pancake evening for friends, church small group, and parties. She’d make the pancake batter. I would cook the pancakes. We were the pancake dream team.  So you’d understand why, for years, I had no need for a pancake recipe.  This was compounded because Sarah never used measurements. “You just mix flour, milk and eggs until it’s just the right consistency.”

Then when I moved to Cambodia five years ago, French Esther was the resident pancake/crepe queen.  She followed a recipe of sorts and shared it with me once. I wrote it on the tiles of my kitchen, but when I moved the recipe was wiped away.

Just so that we’re clear.  I’m talking about English pancakes here.  Not the fluffy North American variety or the Scottish drop scone cousin, Scotch pancakes.  On Shrove Tuesday, I’m a fan of the traditional thin, light, slightly crispy, English pancake, drizzled with lemon juice and sprinkled with brown sugar.

Pancakes with lime juice and palm sugar: a Cambodian twist.

Then, last year, after decades of cooking pancakes, suddenly I realised that I did not know how to make the pancake batter and the traditionalist in me wasn’t going to intuitively make them as the others had.  So, I looked up Delia and we had pancakes.

Except I chose to use my bamix mixer to make them.  Why not?  If you have a food processor, it’s much quicker to put all the ingredients into one and process it until you have a smooth batter.  It takes a bit longer if you want to do it by hand, using a whisk.  I’ve included the instructions, having followed both methods.

In Delia’s original recipe she adds 2 tablespoons of melted butter to the batter.  I’ve looked up why one should add butter to the pancake batter. (Sarah nor Esther ever did.)  Felicity Cloake tried it and says it gives a better tasting pancake but in the end decided to cook the pancakes in the melted butter rather than adding it to the batter.  I have a theory that it’s to use up/add more fat, as Shrove Tuesday is the day to use up fat before the start of Lent.  Rather than add butter to the batter, I prefer to use whole milk to add richness.  And controversially, perhaps, I eschew cooking the pancakes in any fat.  I like to use a small good non-stick frying pan, set it on a moderate heat, swirl in just enough of my batter so that it covers the frying pan and gently cook my pancakes on it until there are bubbles forming on the bottom and it comes away easily from the pan.  Flip it over, anyway that you like, cook it on the other side for another minute or two and you’ll have good, thin, crispy English style pancakes.  I find by cooking it like this, I rarely have that dud first pancake that has to be thrown away.

Then all you have left to do is choose your favourite toppings, et voila.  Munch away.

Here are the pancakes, adapted from Delia, this will make about 14-16 pancakes.

Ingredients

  • 110g plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 275ml whole milk

Method

  1. Put all the ingredients into a food processor or a blender.  Blitz up until smooth.  Alternatively to make them with a whisk, put the flour and salt in a medium sized bowl.  Add in the eggs, as you whisk them in the flour, slowly add the milk until you get a smooth mixture, the consistency of cream.  It’s ready to use immediately, or you can leave it to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.  This also means that you could make the mixture beforehand so that it’s ready for a pancake party.
  2. Using a small non-stick frying pan, use a moderate to high heat and pour just enough batter into the pan, swirling it around so that it covers the pan.  (I’ve linked this to a video but it takes some time to load up.) Gently cook the pancake until small bubbles form on the bottom and it comes away easily from the pan.  Flip it over, anyway that you like, cook it on the other side for another minute or two and serve.
  3. If you want to get started on pancakes before your eating companions arrive, then keep them warm in the oven.  I stack them on a plate and cover with foil before putting them in a warm oven, which is set at a low temperature.

See the bubbles forming, at this stage it’s just about ready to flip over



Dark Chocolate Cashew Almond Butter Cookies

I meant to publish this recipe a few months ago, but I didn’t have the photos ready.  I still don’t have the perfect photo sequence for how to make these cookies.  But it’s the middle of the Open and these cookies were thought up between a few crossfitters so better like this than never, right?  Besides, what better timing than the middle of the CrossFit Open Games to tell you how I got started on CrossFit and baking paleo cookies.

The ingredients for the cookies minus the bicarbonate of soda

I started CrossFit in February last year.  I had been given a tough teaching schedule at my school and they weren’t letting me push back on it.  As I despaired, I felt God say to me, “Han-Na, you’re stronger than you think you are.” Since I often experience God in physical activities, I decided to also translate that into trying out CrossFit to see how strong I was.  This was after months of pushing back on my coaches because I was very happy in the Bootcamp classes and not interested in getting stronger.

Pretty soon, it was clear to my coaches, that I had the potential to lift heavy weights.   I, on the other hand, intimidated by lifting anything vaguely heavy and the technicalities of the lifts, really did not enjoy the barbell work for the first few months.  Not long ago, one of them encouraged me, as I was going for my 1 rep front squat max, that I had the ideal physique of a squatter.  I’m not entirely sure what he means by that, do you?  Still, I managed 72kg that day, which I was delighted with.

Then one day, one of my coaches asked me when I was going to bake some paleo cookies for her.  I told her that Christina (of Joyfully Nutty) and I had just been talking about how to use cashew almond nut butter in baked goods and so why not try them in a cookie.

So, thank you Minna and the CrossFit community for pushing us into trying to make these paleo cookies.

I use the Dazed and Cashewed, cashew almond nut butter from Joyfully Nutty.  You could make these with a cashew nut butter or an almond nut butter, it comes down to preference.  I went off the back of Julie Wampler’s recipe from Table for Two, and experimented with reducing and changing the sugar to make it suitably paleo.  I was also baffled as to whether palm sugar is paleo or not.  It would appear that the paleo community embrace coconut sugar but differ on palm sugar.  The little personal research that I’ve done suggests that palm sugar is produced in the same way as coconut sugar, and therefore is paleo.

Then I discovered this delightful nugget.  With the addition of different spices, I could halve the sugar or omit the sugar completely and they would still result in tasty ‘sweet’ morsels, that are soft yet chewy.  Curious, I tried a sugar free version, which admittedly, is more delicate and will thus crumble more easily, but because there’s a lot of dark chocolate, you hardly notice that the sugar is gone.

Top tip: by adding spices, you can reduce or omit the sugar.

I believe that you could make these vegan by replacing the egg with flaxseed or chia seed but I’ve yet to try it.

Baking these is a cinch (read the method below), which is another reason why I like them.  You want to satisfy that cookie craving but don’t have to wait 24 hours to rest the cookie dough.  From start to finish, you could be sitting down with a cookie (or twelve) in 30 minutes, or less.

So here is the Dark Chocolate Cashew Almond Butter Cookies, adapted from Table for Two.

Makes between 12-14 cookies

  • 1 large egg
  • 60g palm sugar (*optional)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 250g cashew almond nut butter
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 100g dark chocolate*, broken into chunks. Or you could use dark chocolate chips. I use small round discs of chocolate.
  • *use one that is at least 65%.

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF or gas mark 4.  Line a large baking tray (or two depending on size) with baking paper.
  2. Whisk the egg, sugar, salt, cinnamon and turmeric together in a small mixing bowl.
  3. Add in the cashew almond nut butter and the bicarbonate of soda and mix until it is all combined.
  4. Stir in the dark chocolate.
  5. Place generous tablespoon dollops (sort of ping pong ball sized) of the cookies on the baking tray.  I use a 1½tbsp cookie scoop for the sake of ease now.
  6. Bake in the middle rack of the oven for 12-15 mins, or 10-12 mins in a fan oven.
  7. They will have puffed up a bit and be lightly golden brown in colour.  As they cool they will collapse slightly into themselves.  At this point, I like to place a chocolate disc on top of each cookie because I like how it looks.  Allow them to cool completely on the baking tray and then store them in an airtight container.
  8. In Cambodia’s humid climate, they’ll keep outside the fridge for about 3-4 days.  I normally store them in the fridge and they’ll happily chill out there for 2 weeks.  Or they freeze well.  But you know, they’re pretty tasty straight out of the freezer too.

The verdict?  You’d never know that this was a gluten free, dairy free cookie.  Soft  in texture and rich in flavour.  I get orders for these, with sugar, without sugar, without chocolate… hehe.  So you know that they’re customisable.  I like them as a pre-workout snack.  I also like them because it’s such an easy recipe.

(not really) Pumpkin risotto

IMG_8837

I have a confession to make.

When I first arrived, I couldn’t afford to buy arborio rice here.  So, in that first year, I didn’t make any risotto, one of my customary meals back in the UK.  Thereafter I got so desperate for the comfort of cooking and eating risotto, I managed to convince myself that it didn’t matter if I used jasmine or ginger flower rice (a Cambodian medium grain rice) instead of arborio, carnaroli or any different type of risotto rice.  I’ve merrily been making and feeding this pumpkin ‘risotto’ to many of my friends, using whatever rice I had at hand.  Believe me, there were no complaints.  Spicy, and gloriously ochre with the sweetness of fresh coriander.  Who would turn down this dish?IMG_8847

However, a few months ago it all changed.  My friend Robert gave me some of his delicious bacon, mushroom and spinach risotto (which I need to try cooking myself!) made with arborio rice.   And the realisation of the error of my ways overwhelmed me.  It just ain’t a risotto without risotto rice! How had I duped myself into thinking that this chewier, creamier textured rice could be replaceable?

IMG_8519

So, yes.  You can make this not-really-risotto, pumpkin risotto (what am I supposed to call it now?) with any grain of rice that you have.  But don’t call it risotto.

It’s really simple to make.  I make it a lot as pumpkins are pretty much available all year round in Cambodia, but not always strictly as a risotto.  I really appreciate the fact that here you can buy however much of the pumpkin that you’re planning on cooking with: you just ask the market seller to cut off however much you need.  In contrast, I don’t think that I would have made this in the UK because I didn’t really buy pumpkins.  I didn’t really know what to do with a whole big pumpkin and I didn’t shop in those places that sold different varieties of smaller ones.

I adapted the original recipe to add in a bit more spice, with extra cumin, chilli and coriander.  Lastly, there’s the grown-up version with the added white wine.

IMG_8733

Recipe for Pumpkin Risotto, adapted from BBC Good Food

Ingredients

  • 400g pumpkin, seedless and peeled
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 5 garlic cloves (but garlic isn’t as strong here, so perhaps 2 if your garlic is strong)
  • 1 onion
  • 200g risotto rice
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 litre of hot vegetable/chicken stock
  • 125-250ml (or more) dry white wine
  • 25g cold butter
  • 50g parmesan cheese, grated (for vegetarians, choose an alternative or omit altogether)
  • generous bunch of coriander, roughly chopped up
  • spring onion, chopped up (optional)
  • 2 red chilli peppers
  • salt and pepper
  • optional lime wedges to serve

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4/Cut the pumpkin into fairly even 1inch/2.5cm cubes.  As you can see from the photo, I don’t worry too much about being precise.  Coat it with 1tbsp of vegetable oil and season with salt and pepper.  Bake in the oven for about 30 mins.
  2. Meanwhile get started on the risotto.  Crush the garlic and chop up the onion.   If using spring onions, then finely chop up the whites of the spring onions, reserving the green part as a garnish for later.
  3. Heat the rest of the oil on a gentle heat in a medium sized pan and fry the onions, garlic and spring onion until the onions are soft.
  4. Now add the cumin and rice, being careful not to let it catch on the bottom of the pan.  Stir so that every grain of rice is coated in the spice.
  5. Add the wine and let it deglaze the pan, by stirring it around the bottom of the pan.
  6. Next, adding the stock about a ladleful at a time is the accepted wisdom but I’m pretty imprecise about this.  I think that add however much you need so that it just covers the rice and the rice won’t burn at the bottom of the pan.  Stir and stir until the stock has disappeared this helps release the starch from the rice).  Then add in a bit more stock.   *As you’re doing this, multi-task with step 7.*  Continue until the rice is cooked but still has a wee bit of bite – this is al dente.  Add another generous ladleful of stock, this helps to create a sauce,  and the butter.   Cover with the lid to help the butter melt.
  7. Check on the pumpkin and remove from the oven once they’ve been baked.  Grate the cheese, roughly chop up the coriander, finely slice the chilli peppers and the greens of the spring onions (if using).
  8. Once the rice has been cooked, add the pumpkin, cheese, coriander, spring onions and the chilli peppers. And stir through to mix well.  If you’d like a bit of zest, sprinkle some lime juice on top.  Et voila – enjoy.

The verdict?  A satisfying meat-free meal, which my friends, khmer and western, enjoy eating.  I especially like this paired with kimchi.

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Oh so yummy, festive, orange, cranberry and chocolate bread

oh so yummy, festive orange, cranberry and chocolate bread

Merry (belated) Christmas everyone!

It’s funny the foods that you crave.  I keep surprising myself with what my tastebuds hanker after.  My latest three cravings are mature cheddar cheese and milk chocolate digestives.  Those two cravings kicked in a year after I moved and as I didn’t buy or eat a lot of cheese in the UK, can you see why I surprised myself?!

My friend Hannah came to spend Christmas in Cambodia this year.  I asked whether she’d like to bring out a selection of cheeses out with her so that we could have a cheese and wine evening.  And she did!  She had an unexpected 24 hour delay in Doha, and amazingly the cheese survived!  I don’t think that I’ve ever relished the flavours of each of those cheeses, as much as I did that evening!  Thank you, Hannah.

A selection of beautiful english cheeses, trying to disguise themselves as pac men. Thank you Hannah!
A selection of beautiful english cheeses, trying to disguise themselves as pac men.  The camembert is baking in the oven. Thank you Hannah!

Hannah and Esther waiting patiently for me to take this photo and finding it very funny!
Hannah and Esther waiting patiently for me to take this photo and finding it very funny!

I said three, right.  Well, there’s this bread…

I’m pretty sure that Sainsburys does an AMAZING chocolate, cranberry and orange bread at Christmas time.  I’ve eaten it pretty much every year since discovering it.  Except last year.  Last year, was my first Christmas in Cambodia and I couldn’t find any cranberries, frozen, fresh or dried in the whole of Phnom Penh.  Not that I could search very far and wide because of my poorly left knee.

orange, cranberry, chocolate bread

I’ve been thinking about this eating this bread for a couple of months now.  So in November, I bought a bag of dried cranberries whilst I was in Australia to bake it as my festive loaf.

dark chocolate chunks dried cranberries

I couldn’t find a recipe for this bread online.  So, I modified Richard Bertinet’s cranberry and pecan bread recipe from Dough to recreate one of Sainsbury’s festive bread creations.  I loved it.  Hannah loved it.  (She’d never heard of or eaten it before – WHAT?!?!? and she lives in the UK!)  It smells intoxicating and the flavours balance and complement each other perfectly.  We were happy to eat it, just as it was.  No spread, it doesn’t need one.  If you want to, you could try eating it with cheese, like we did.   Surprisingly it works.

Three things:

  1. Make sure that you use chocolate chunks and not chocolate chips.  Chocolate chunks are bigger and taste more satisfying than chocolate chips.
  2. Make it a white loaf.  It’s meant to be a festive treat.  Don’t spoil it by adding more fiber to it.
  3. The chocolate makes it a messy bread to cut and eat.   That could be because it’s just a wee bit warmer in Cambodia than the UK at this time of year… But I dare you to resist eating it when it’s fresh out of the oven!

Finally, finally (and this isn’t late!).  Hope that you have a wonderful New Year’s Day celebration and wishing you all the best for 2015.

orange zest

orange, cranberry and chocolate dough

Ingredients for my oh so yummy, festive Orange, Cranberry and Chocolate Bread.

  • 500g strong white flour
  • 7g fast action yeast
  • 10g salt
  • 350g water – you can do 350ml but weighing it is always more accurate I think.
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 100g dark chocolate cut roughly into chunks
  • 100g dried cranberries

Method

1. Put the dark chocolate, cranberries and orange zest in a small bowl and give it a good mix.  I discovered that the orange zest actually starts plumping up the cranberries while you’re making the dough – cool!

2. In another medium sized bowl, weigh out the flour, add in the yeast and give it a quick stir to mix it into the flour.  By mixing the yeast with flour first, I don’t worry about the salt touching the yeast and thus deactivating the yeast.

3. Now add in the salt, give it a stir.  Then add in the water.   Use a dough scraper, or your hands to combine the water and flour together as much as possible before turning the mixture out onto your work surface.  It is quite a wet dough to begin with, so don’t worry.

4.  Knead until the dough is springy and smooth.  This probably takes about 10 minutes but it depends on what method you use and how wet the dough was to begin with.  I use Richard Bertinet’s slap and fold method.

5.  Now transfer the orange zest, cranberries and chocolate into the medium sized bowl you used for the dough mixture.  Then, lay the dough on top and spread it out so that it envelops the entire surface.  What you’re going to attempt to do next is wrap the dough around the chocolate and the cranberries and mix it so that you can combine them with the dough.  Doing it this way in the bowl makes it a much neater, efficient process, than if you were to do it on a work surface.

6. Once the chocolate and cranberries are combined with the dough, turn it out from the bowl briefly.  Add a little bit (about a tablespoon) of vegetable oil to the bowl to prevent the dough from stick to it as the dough rises.  Cover with cling film or a wet tea towel and leave it rise.  I leave mine to rise in the fridge for a couple of hours so that the flavours have longer to mature.  You could leave it at this stage, in the fridge, for a couple of hours to 2 days.

7.  Prepare a baking tray by lining it with baking paper, or covering it with a layer of semolina so that it doesn’t stick to the tray.  Once the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto your work surface.  Push your fingers firmly into the dough to leave dents.  This is a much gentler way of knocking the air out.  While you’re doing that try to shape it roughly into a rectangle.

8. Next, strengthen the dough.  Mentally divide the dough into three sections.  Take a third of the dough to the centre and push it down firmly in the middle with the heel of your hand.  Then take the other third of the dough to the centre and push it down firmly with the heel of your hand.  Finally fold the mixture in half and again push it down firmly with the heel of your hand.

9.  This next bit is up to you.  I cut my dough into two halves and shaped one into a circle and the other into a square-ish loaf.  You can shape it into one or as many loaves as you wish.    Cover with damp tea towel or oiled cling film.  Let them rest until they have doubled in size again.  In the meantime, preheat the oven to 250°C/480°F/Gas Mark 9.

10.  When the dough is ready, cut deep, clean incisions in it to help create shape and release gas.  I made a hash (#) sign on one loaf and cut three slices on the other.  I then sprayed the tops of them with water to create a bit of steam as they bake.  (My new electric oven doesn’t like it when you spray the inside of the oven with water.)

11. Whack them in the oven.  After 10 minutes turn the oven down to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7 and bake for 40-50 minutes.  Check that the bread is ready – it should sound hollow when you tap it’s bottom.  If not, set the timer for another 5 minutes and check again.  Let them rest for at least 5 minutes before you enjoy and devour it.

orange, cranberry, chocolate bread

 

Multi-seeded Wholemeal Bread

Multi-seed wholemeal bread

Multi-seeded wholemeal bread is by far the best thing that I bake here in Cambodia.  It’s better than any cake, biscuit or pie that I’ve made and any macaron that I’ll attempt to make in this humid heat.  I’ll give you three reasons why.

  1. It tastes nuttily wholesome and super-yummy.
  2. I love wholemeal bread and I’ve yet to be able to buy wholemeal bread that tastes like proper British wholemeal bread, anywhere in Phnom Penh.
  3. You can’t go wrong with it.  When your oven has no temperature gauge (like mine), you know that you’ll be safe whacking the oven on the highest heat and leaving the dough to bake in the oven without fear of sinking, like you’d get in a cake.

Ingredients for Multi-seed wholemeal bread

It took me a few months to find wholemeal flour, mind.  I came across farine du blé noir and wholewheat flour on the shelves in Lucky Supermarket and stood scratching my head as to whether either of them was wholemeal flour.  I was pretty sure that wholewheat flour was the american name for wholemeal, but farine du blé noir?  As I discovered later with the help of google search – that’s french for buckwheat flour.  Not exactly what I was looking for.

Then it took another few weeks before I could bake the bread.   My left knee twisted one November evening as I was lying in bed and I was in excruciating pain.  I couldn’t walk, straighten my knee or put any pressure on it.  Visits to multiple doctors, an X-ray and  MRI scan later revealed severe inflammation and fluid caused by a fall off a motorbike several months beforehand.  Walking on Phnom Penh’s uneven surfaces, hopping on and off tuk tuks and motos had served to aggravate the injury.  My mum advised me not to do any baking that required standing up, and have you tried to hand knead dough sitting down?  Not worth the effort if you’re as short as me.  So, I was pretty much laid up on a sofa with an ice-pack on my knee for the best part of a month and a half.

ingredients for wholemeal breadrough looking dough

2 weeks in, I was pretty bored.  So I hobbled out on my moto to buy some wholewheat flour from Lucky and made my first wholemeal loaf.  It was overproved and underbaked.  But when I tore off that first piece of bread and bit into it, I was the happiest little baker in the whole of Cambodia.  I’m pretty sure no-one rivalled my happiness.

Then my tastebuds started hankering after a multi-seeded loaf, like Warburtons Seeded Batch.  I was reading Richard Bertinet’s Dough and realised that I could just experiment by putting some seeds into my bread recipe.  And that’s how I came up with my multi-seeded wholemeal bread recipe, which as you know, is the BEST thing that I bake in Cambodia.

combine the ingredientsadd the dough to the seeds

I think that part of the reason for why the bread tastes so good is that I’ve always allowed this bread to have a slow rise in the fridge to give the flavours a longer time to mature.  However, I don’t think that it’ll ruin the flavour of the bread too much if you a) don’t have enough room in your fridge or b) want to biting into it within 3 hours from start to finish.  

dough ready to pop into the fridge

I find that I can’t eat a whole loaf in time before the humidity causes the mould to break out on my bread 🙁 !  Thus, I’ve taken to making two smaller loaves and freezing one loaf once I’ve baked it.

So, here’s the scrumptious, nuttily, wholesome Multi-seeded Wholemeal Bread recipe, with it’s foundations in Richard Bertinet’s Dough.

Ingredients

  • 250g wholemeal flour – use strong bread flour if you can.
  • 250g strong white bread flour
  • 7g fast action yeast
  • 10g salt
  • 350g tepid water
  • 30g extra-virgin olive oil – but normal olive oil will also work too
  • 100g various seeds – I used equal measures of pumpkin, sunflower, chia and sesame seeds

Method

1. Measure out both flours and yeast in a medium-large bowl and mix.  Then mix in the salt.  I’m in the habit of adding the salt at this point so that it won’t touch the yeast.

2. Add the water and oil and stir to combine.  I use a scraper at this point to combine the ingredients, but you can use just your hands. It’ll make a wet dough but don’t be scared by it. The wetness of the dough should ensure that it’s a soft texture. Turn it out onto your work surface and knead. If you’re like me and a bit slow at kneading, it’ll take about 15-20 minutes. Of course, you could use a machine fitted with a dough hook. In which case, put all ingredients for the dough into a large bowl, ensuring that the yeast and salt are added to opposite sides of the bowl. Mix on a slow speed until it all combines and then move it onto a medium-high speed for about 10-15 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.

3. Measure out the seeds into the same mixing bowl that you used for the bread dough.  Add the kneaded bread dough to the same bowl and work the seeds into the dough in the bowl.  Sometimes, for the last few minutes, I’ll finish combining the seeds into the dough out of the bowl .

Top Tip: Work the seeds into the dough in the mixing bowl to prevent the seeds from escaping everywhere.

4. Pour a little bit of vegetable oil into the bowl and lightly cover the dough with oil. This helps the dough not to stick as it rises. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave it for an overnight prove in the refrigerator.  Alternatively you could leave in a warm place for at least 1 hour and doubled in size.

5. Prepare your baking tray or loaf tine.  Once the dough has doubled in size, gently place it on the work surface and gently press down on the dough with your fingers to release the gas.  Do this into a rectangular shape.  I find this works just as well as punching the dough – a tip I learned from Richard Bertinet.  Strengthen the dough by folding the dough a third of the way down into the middle, press down with the heel of your hand.  Repeat with the other side, then fold over the middle and press firmly with the heel of your hand.  The dough should feel firmer and stronger.

6. Lightly flour the surface to shape the dough.  For a round loaf, like in the photos, I tuck the ends into the middle of the bread, turn it over so that the tucks are on the bottom, keep one hand as still as I can partly under the cob and then use my other hand to turn and shape the dough into a tight, round shape.  Here’s a link to The Fresh Loaf on shaping dough, as a visual aid.

7.  Transfer onto a baking tray/loaf tine (depending on the shape of your loaf), cover loosely with cling film or a tea towel, until doubled in size.  This might take 40 mins – 1.5 hour.

8. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 250°C/480°F/Gas Mark 9.

9.  When the dough is ready.  Cut deep, clean incisions to help create shape and to help release gas.  On this loaf, I made a big hash sign (#) but made the mistake of not flouring my knife beforehand, so the dough stuck to the blade.  Lightly flour the top of the bread.

10.  Spray the inside of the oven with water to create steam and put the dough into the oven.  Bake for 10-15 minutes at 250°C/480°F/Gas Mark 9 then reduce it to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7 for another 40 minutes.  Check whether the bread is ready – it should make a hollow sound when you tap it’s bottom.  If not, set the timer for another 10 minutes and check again.

multi-seed wholemeal bread

p.s. Oh and what happened to my left knee?

I’m delighted to report that it’s on the mend.  Have I told you that Claire (of the white chocolate, oat and raspberry cookie fame) is also a physiotherapist?  She gave me some physio advice and taped up my knee while I was in New Zealand. I’ve faithfully been doing my exercises twice a day and resting it up lots.  However, I reacted to the tape so progress has been slower than I’d have liked.  I’ve not been able to dance or jump or walk for 10 minutes without regretting it the next day.  Last week, I went to a conference in Singapore called Kingdom Invasion, where they prayed for healing for my knee.  Whilst I was in Singapore, my knee got a lot better.  Good enough that I can jump, dance and swim breast-stroke without pain.  I’m still doing my physio and not overdoing physical activity – but the knee is definitely on course for a complete healing.  I can’t wait for the day when I start running again.  Praise God!

Pip and me leaping off the ledge for my photo of the day
Pip and me leaping off the ledge for my photo of the day at Adventure Cove, Sentosa

A pre-intermediate lesson on Panzanella

Panzanella 1

The English language and lesson plans.

I think that those are the best two phrases which sum up my life at present.

During this month of July, I’m training to be an English Language teacher, so that I can take this new skill and (hopefully) qualification with me to Cambodia.  I’m doing the intensive 4-week CELTA course and we’ve just passed the halfway mark.  In our most recent tutorials, my teaching practice group had been encouraged to try out materials in the classroom, outside of our coursebooks.  On Monday we had a lesson on using ‘authentic’ texts.  Texts, which are not created for the sole purpose of teaching.  I felt inspired to try it out in my next lesson… which just happened to be the next day.

Step 1: tear up the bread

Me, being me, wanted to try using a recipe as authentic text.  We teach in pairs.  Each person has 45 mins to do half of the lesson.  On Tuesday, I was teaching with Rachel.  We divvied out the skills and the language.  I had listening and vocabulary, Rachel had writing and grammar.

H (imagine it with lots of enthusiasm): “I was thinking that we could do food as a topic and use a recipe to teach it.”

R: Ooh.  Yes.  There’s lots of imperatives and vocabulary that we could be teaching.  I could get them to write a recipe to follow on.

Tomatoes and Panzanella bread

And as I had the enviable task of teaching the skill of listening, I thought that a short video from someone like Nigella would be good as they’re easily accessible on the BBC Good Food or youtube.

Half an hour into drafting out the two parts of our lesson, our teacher tells us that recipes are notoriously tricky to teach because the extensive vocabulary, and more importantly, she reminds us that it is Ramadan and half of the group are muslims.  Perhaps we are being a bit culturally insensitive to teach on the topic of food?  “But,” she tells us, “it’s too late to change the topic of the lesson.”  So, Rachel and I continue with our plans, with a tinge of apprehension.  Enlightened, I wondered aloud, whether Nigella was really the best fit for our group of learners.  “I wonder whether she’s too flirtatious on screen?”  Rachel points out, “the ingredients in her recipes aren’t always normal ones either.”

And this is how I came to be teaching 14 students, a recipe on how to make a Tuscan Bread Salad called Panzanella – i mean, it’s not even an English dish!  However, importantly for our group of pre-intermerdiate learners, the ingredients are few and commonly available and the method is simple.

I had never heard of Panzanella until I watched Simon Hopkinson’s, A Good Cook, a few years back.  I’ve raved about him before to you, haven’t I.  I love his recipes and they have been really doable to recreate.  Panzanella has become my favourite taste the summer salad: the one that I make when I want to taste a bit of sunshine, regardless of the weather outside.  The difference in flavour imparted by sun-ripened tomatoes and good extra virgin olive oil sets it apart.  It’s also simple to make, healthy, easily adaptable to other ingredients and filling because of the bread.  Have I sold it to you yet?  I’ll continue.  How about, it’s a great way to use up any stale bread and it uses ingredients that you’re likely to have knocking around in your fridge and cupboards?

onions, tomatoes, bread, panzanella

Simon Hopkinson’s Panzanella recipe, as I presented it to the class. (The italicised parts are what I’ve edited in since, for your benefit.)

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 5 handfuls of sourdough bread (think of a slice of thick bread as being a handful)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 7 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 cucumber
  • 1 red onion
  • 6 vine tomatoes – you want about 200-250g.  Try substituting cherry tomatoes (see step 5)
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • handful of basil leaves

Cucumber, tomatoes, onions, bread, panzanella

Method

  1. Tear the bread into small pieces and put it into a bowl.  The best bread to use is sourdough bread, but you can use any stale bread.
  2. Season with salt and pepper.  You can always add more seasoning later on.
  3. Add the olive oil and red wine to the bowl.  You don’t have to add in all the olive oil, if you want to be a bit healthier.
  4. Put the tomatoes into another bowl and pour boiling water over them.  This helps the skin to come off.
  5. Remove the tomatoes from the water.  Peel off the tomato skins and cut the tomatoes before adding it to the bread.  If you want to be simplify this step, then you can get away with not removing the tomato skins or use the equivalent weight in cherry tomatoes.  I like removing the tomato skins, not just for the therapeutic value but also, because it softens the feel of it in your mouth when you eat it.
  6. Peel a cucumber and cut it into small pieces.  Add it to the bread and tomatoes.
  7. Cut the onion into thin slices and add it to the bread. Try using red onions or shallots because they are milder in flavour.
  8. Finely cut or crush the garlic cloves before you add them to the salad.  You could reduce the number of garlic cloves if you don’t want such a strong flavour.
  9. Tear up the basil leaves.  This is essential and you must not miss them out!
  10. Finally, mix up the ingredients.  I’d suggest mixing them up with your hands because it always tastes better when you do.
  11. You could serve this on a hot summer’s day for lunch with friends, or on any day that you want a taste of summer.
  12. Don’t forget to pair it with a fruity red wine.

And how was the lesson? (I don’t normally ask that at the end of a blog post on food!  Told you my life is about the English Language and lessons plans at the moment.)  The panzanella video with Simon Hopkinson went down really well with the learners, they learned some new words but then I got unexpectedly bogged down for 5 minutes trying to explain basil to the group.  I learned that asking, “What is basil?” is relating noise to notion (there’s some TEFL jargon for you!), and that is not the way to do teach new vocabulary!  I ran out of time to do all the planned activities because of my basil moment, so I wasn’t too sure how it had gone when I finished my part.  The group did appear to be enjoying the subject matter, even with it being Ramadan.  Then in Rachel’s part of the lesson, I was delighted when the learners reproduced the vocabulary in the recipes and produced some really detailed, high quality writing in their recipes.  In fact, our observer really praised Rachel and me on our learners’ outputs.

Well done, pre-intermediate class in room 118!

This weekend I have an assignment to write and a lesson to plans, so I’d better get back to it.  I leave you with this one question – how would you describe/define basil to english as a foreign language learners?

Panzanella

A very pink (in fact, it’s fuschia) beetroot risotto!

Very pink risotto

The photo Emily took on Sunday of our colourful meal.

My sister gave me 1kg of homegrown beetroot at the end of July and I have almost used them all up. Beetroot ticks the box of ‘unfamiliar ingredient’ that normally puts me off making a recipe. I’ve experimented with sweet and savoury recipes provided by BBC good food and delicious magazine and it’s taken away some of my unease about cooking with beetroot. My learning points:

  1. Always wear an apron. Beetroot stains are devilish to get out!
  2. Kitchen gloves are a godsend when you need to grate beetroot. It prevents a) bits of fingernail or thumb grated in and b) very pink stained hands.

Sadly, however, my main discovery has been… I really don’t like the taste of beetroot. It makes me purse my lips in a funny way as I eat it because I’m not keen on the flavour. Then, it sits rather uneasily in my stomach. So, there you go. I’ve finally admitted it. In fact, if I was the b-list celebrity being interviewed by James Martin on Saturday Morning Kitchen, I would say that my food hate is beetroot. It has even trumped my previous food hate of congealed cheese.

Which is a bit sad really, because I’d like to like this vegetable. It is so very interesting and colourful. I love how it adds a bright fuschia colour to the dish. Besides, everyone seems to like eating beetroot. In fact, I’ve only ever come across one other person who doesn’t like the taste of it.

You’ll notice I’ve written italicised notes to myself next to parts in the method, with my ideas of how I could adapt this recipe so that it will suit my palate. The thing is, this has had lots of rave reviews on the BBC good food website. I bet they all liked beetroot to start off with. I mean, which silly person, who doesn’t really like beetroot, chooses to make a dish that’s all about beetroot?

Anyway, that is just me and my tastebuds. My friends, Emily and JCT came round to help finish off the beetroot risotto the next day. They liked the flavour and especially the colour. And you know what? I’d love to serve it as a prima plata at a dinner party, because it would serve as such a great conversation starter! So for all of your beetroot lovers, let me tell you about how I made beetroot risotto, adapted from BBC Good Food.

List of Ingredients

  • 500g raw beetroot, washed peeled and cut into quarters. 500g is about 5 or 6 small-medium sized beetroots.
  • 25g butter
  • 1 onion
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 250g risotto rice
  • a large glass of white wine
  • 750ml hot vegetable stock (or chicken stock, you’re not vegetarian)
  • 2 handfuls of parmesan (about 75g).
  • To serve: natural yoghurt or creme fraiche and sprigs of dill, or a slice of goats cheese, balsamic syrup and a scattering of fresh thyme leaves.

Method

1. Prepare your beetroot to roast in the oven. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a large baking pan with foil. I guess this prevents the beetroot staining the tin. Clean, peel (wear the kitchen gloves!) and quarter the beetroot. Coat with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Put them in the oven to bake for 45 mins.* I’d like to bring out more of the beetroot’s sweetness. So, next time, I think I’ll add balsamic vinegar or honey and maybe some sprigs of thyme.

*I roasted these at lunchtime, so that I could use some beetroot for a lunchtime roasted beetroot and goats cheese salad. The recipe recommended it as a ‘you could also do…’, so I did. But, if you wanted to save on time, you could choose to start on the risotto.

2. Melt the butter in an large oven proof pan that has a lid (if it doesn’t have a lid, then use cover with tin foil). I decided to test out the oven-proofness of my largest sized Judge saucepan for this recipe. (It passed the test.)

3. Chop the onions and garlic and fry them at a moderate heat until soft. Add the rice and give it a good stir so that every bit of rice is coated.

4. Now, my favourite bit – add that glass of wine. Mmmm… Stir the rice some more. Once most of the wine has disappered in the pan, add ALL of that hot stock. Bring to boil for 5 mins, stir, cover with a lid and then pop it into the oven for about 15 mins. Or until the rice is cooked, but slightly al dente.

add all the stock to the pantrying to puree the beetrootunsuccessful puree

5. When the beetroot is done, take a quarter of them and puree them. I put them in a blender and they failed to puree. Hmmm…. Cut the remainder of the roasted beetroot into small chunks. Okay, so a few options here. Next time, cut the remaining beetroot into very small chunks, say the size of a 1cm cube. Better still, if I can figure it out, puree the whole lot!

6. Grate the parmesan.

7. Take the risotto out of the oven, once the rice is ready. There should still be a bit of liquid in there. Stir in a handful of the parmesan and the beetroot puree and chunks. Watch the risotto gradually transform into a vibrant shade of PINK, as you stir and the beetroot colour bleeds into the rice. I loved watching this bit.

Fuschia Beetroot Risotto

8. Serve immediately with more parmesan cheese and a contrasting white colour. The first time, I had a dollop of yoghurt, as I didn’t have any creme fraiche, and a scattering of dill. Sadly, I only had dried dill but I could taste the life that herb brought to the dish. I’d definitely use the fresh stuff next time though. I love fresh dill. The second day, I had a hunk of goats cheese and a squirt of balsamic syrup. Definitely use fresh dill another time but if I’ve used thyme in the roasting process, then how about a few fresh thyme leaves instead of the dill?

beetroot risotto and yoghurt