Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Wholesome Good - Autumn Gratin

I recently received a veg box with chard in it.  Chard is interesting because it's so colorful, but other than the color, it's a kind of bitter, dark, leafy green that just doesn't do it for me. 
I mean, it's fine in moderation but I had a big ol' bag of it and didn't know what to do. 

So, I turned to trusty Google and once again Alice Waters was my guide.
You can find the original recipe on seriouseats.com.  I tweaked my version a bit due to a) having a lot of kale still in the garden b) being lazy and c) feeling the need to add cheese and garlic to everything I do. 

Here's what I did:

Get a bunch of chard.  The original recipe called for "three bunches" but unless you're buying in a grocery store and all grocery stores use the same measurements for sale, there's no way to accurately judge what is meant by "three bunches" so I just used what I had and tweaked proportions where necessary.
A bunch of kale - however much you want, or just leave it out.
Breadcrumbs - maybe about a cup.  I ran out to just used what I had.
Butter - the original recipe calls for 5tbsp but do what you want with it.  Use olive oil if you want for cooking the veggies, but I'd recommend sticking with butter to go with the breadcrumbs.
1 onion
2 cloves garlic 
1/3 C pine nuts (toasted)*
4 tsp flour
1 C milk
salt, pepper, parmesan and nutmeg to taste

Start by tossing your breadcrumbs in melted butter and set aside for later.  I didn't toast because I was putting it in the oven and figured that step would be redundant. 
Wash your chard and remove the stems - keep half or so of them and chop them finely.  Wash and de-stem your kale. 
Cook your onion and garlic in butter or olive oil until soft (5-7 minutes)- while this is cooking, toast up your pine nuts.  I usually do this in a frying pan.  Keep the nuts moving so they don't burn and toast until fragrant.  Set them aside when done.

Add your kale, chard and chard stalks in with the onion and garlic and cook for about 3-5 minutes until they're wilted to your liking.

You will see that I didn't pre-cook the greens.  I didn't think it was necessary to cook them three times (boil, fry, bake) but go for it if you really want to. 
Add the flour and cook for 30 seconds or so, and then add the milk and stir until everything is mixed.  Now add in your nutmeg, salt, parmesan and pepper to taste.  I like the addition of parmesan to give this a bit of cheesy-ness, but feel free to leave it out or put in cheddar or whatever you like.
When the seasonings are all to your liking, stir in your pine nuts.

Pop the mixture into a small casserole dish and top with your buttery bread crumbs.  Bake at 180C/350F for about 20 minutes, until the breadcrumbs are golden and it looks super tasty.

I would say this works equally well as a main or a side, but it's up to you. 

* I totally didn't add the pine nuts when I made this, but I served it with a salad that included pine nuts and we both agreed that the flavours went really well together.  Plus it was a good bit of nutty crunch for an interesting texture. 

Friday, 6 December 2013

Wholesome Food - Winter Salad with Pear and Blue Cheese

I keep getting lettuce in my veg boxes.  We really don't eat a lot (read: any) salads in the winter because it's cold and I want to eat things that are warm.  I think that makes total sense, but the veg box people just keep giving us lettuce, expecting us to use it.  

So, use it I am, and if I'm honest it's a handy way to use up a lot of stuff in the house.
The other day I had one pear that needed using up, along with some fabulous crumbly blue cheese, some pine nuts and some pomegranate.  Pomegranate is great for salads because it's colorful, tangy, and lasts in the fridge for aaaaaaaaaaaages.  
Anyway, back to me wanting hot food in the winter - I was sure I read somewhere about caramelized balsamic pears so I decided to give it a go.

I quartered the pear and removed the stock and seeds, and plopped it in a hot frying pan with plenty of butter.  Once I was happy with it's browning, I poured in about 2-3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and whacked up the heat enough to start burning the sugar (not the intention, but it got the job done). 
When I was satisfied with the browning on the pear I took it out of the pan and let it cool enough to let me slice it up without burning myself.
I added it to a mixed salad that included, as I said above, blue cheese, pomegranates and toasted pine nuts.  It made a great sweet (pears)/salty (cheese)/tangy (pomegranate) winter salad.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Wholesome Food - pizza sauce

Remember how I keep going on about tomatoes?  Well, I'm still going on.

In October I stripped all of the reasonably sized green tomatoes from the vines and put them all in a tray in my kitchen window, hoping that at least some would ripen before they started to go off.  I had NO IDEA how long tomatoes keep.  It's now the end of November and I'm pretty sure they're *all* going to ripen and we've been able to continue working our way through our own fresh home grown tomatoes the whole time.

We're kind of old people.  Every Friday we have a pizza night.  Up until a few months ago we would buy frozen pizza and put extra goodies on it.  One night I made pizza from scratch, and we've never looked back.

On our pizza from scratch, I put home made pizza sauce.  As I've waxed poetic in the past, tomato sauce made from roasted home-grown tomatoes is like nothing else.  Seriously.

So, here's how I do it...


Tomatoes - preferably larger ones
Olive oil (optional)
Basil (optional)
Anything else you think would be nice like chili, onion, other herbs (optional)

You see it is obviously a complicated recipe.

Wash your tomatoes and remove the stems.
Drizzle with a little olive oil if you want to, pop on a baking sheet and bake at about 180c for about 20 minutes or until the tomato skins have split and started to brown, and some of the liquid has evaporated.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool enough to touch. 
Remove the skins and put the tomatoes into a pot.  Use a potato masher or other to mash them up a bit.  Cook off the liquid until it's the desired consistency.  While it's cooking add your garlic, or onion or chili or whatever else.  If you're using fresh basil I'd recommend putting it in at the end to maintain the fresh flavour.  Salt to taste. 

Et voila, simple, fresh and tasty pizza sauce. 

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Wholesome Food - Lemon and Blueberry Loaf Cake

 I'm totally a chocolate girl.  I'm that person who is totally miffed when going out to eat and there isn't a chocolate option on the menu.  

So, nothing against chocolate, but sometimes there's nothing quite like a citrus cake. 

Adopted from a recipe I found on Tasty Kitchen, here's my lemon blueberry loaf/bread/cake recipe:

For the cake
113g (1/2C) room temperature butter
3tsp lemon juice (the real kind, not that fake squeezy kind)
The zest of 1.5 lemons
150g (3/4C) sugar
1 large egg
1tsp vanilla
256g (2C) flour
2tsp baking powder
1tsp sea salt
118ml(1/2C) buttermilk - I make mine by adding in 1/2 Tbsp to my measuring up and then topping up the milk to the full 1/2C or 118ml.  Allow it to sit for a couple of minutes, and you'll haver a good buttermilk substitute without having to buy a whole container of it.
Fresh blueberries - I eye it but usually add more than one punnet (150g).  The original recipe calls for 2 cups.

For the glaze
Lemon juice
Lemon zest
Powdered sugar 

Preheat oven to 180C/350F.  Butter either two small loaf tins, or one square or rectangle (9x9in or 7x11in) cake tin.  Or be crazy and make it round.  It all tastes the same anyway. 

Measure your sugar into a bowl and zest your lemons into it.  Rub the two together with your (clean!) fingers, mixing all of those tasty lemon oils into the sugar.

Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy, mix in egg and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt.  

Add the dry mixture into the creamed butter mixture, alternating with the buttermilk, until just combined.  Fold in the blueberries carefully, to keep as many whole as possible.

Spoon your batter into your tin(s) and bake for 30-40 minutes, depending on how you've decided to divide the batter.  It took 30 minutes for my two loaves to cook.  

Once the cake has cooled (though you can do this while still a bit warm), mix up your glaze by adding lemon juice and zest to powdered sugar to form a thin, but not watery, mixture that can be either poured/drizzled over the cake, or brushed. 

Mmmmmm... cake. 

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Wholesome Food - Autumn Black Bean and Squash Tacos, with kale and feta and other tasty business

We were recently in the States for my brother's wedding, in DC.   We decided to make a bit of a holiday out of the trip so after the wedding we went north to Boston to visit my friend Katy.  Katy, being world-wise, took one look at us on arrival and asked if we wanted to stay in for a home cooked meal on our first night with her.  

YES PLEASE, we responded.

She then asked if we would be ok with something vegetarian, suggesting black bean and squash enchiladas.  

OMG, we responded.

Katy and her husband Kevin contribute to a CSA (Community Support Agriculture) which means they pay a lump sum in January towards supplies for a local farm, and spend most of the rest of the year picking up weekly (or fortnightly?) boxes of tasty produce.  Very similar to our veg boxes here, except that we pay for each box individually.

Katy and Kevin have become very creative in how they use their glut of produce, treating us to fabulous pickled carrots and showing us a drawer full of jarred tomatoes for future sauces, and inventing brilliant recipes like black bean and squash enchiladas.  

They also mentioned a favourite recipe involving kale and goats cheese tacos.  So, with a glut of kale in the garden, and some gorgeous kabocha squash in the store, I got to thinking.

Up until my eye-opening experience with Katy, I have to admit that my squash adventures were limited to the butternut variety.  Butternut squash is great, but kabocha appealed to me due the description of a less sweet, nutty, almost chestnut flavoured skin.  It seemed ideal as a main component to this dish.  

However, I also knew that roast squash and fried onions are two sweet ingredients, so I thought that feta and sour cream would provide a good bit or salt and sour to balance the sweet.

I purchased whole wheat tortillas because I really wanted corn but couldn't find any - they were a bit on the large side so made these more burrito-ey than taco-ey, but actually the whole wheat was another great flavour addition.

The recipe, serves 2-3 with no sides:

1 kabocha or squash of your choice.  You can eat the skin, so be sure to wash well.  Alternatively, remove the skin before roasting.
1 large red onion   
2-3 leaves of curly, or other thin-leafed kale
1 small tin of black beans
Whole wheat tortillas
Feta, avocado, and sour cream/creme fraiche to taste

Start by quartering your squash and removing the seeds.  If you don't want to eat the skin and it's a thin-skinned variety, remove the skin using a veggie peeler, before cutting.  If you use a thick-skinned variety you can just leave it on during roasting and scoop out the insides when it's done.

Drizzle olive oil over your slices and roast at 180c for about 20-30 minutes, flipping to ensure maximum caramelizaion half way through.    

While the squash is roasting, assemble your other ingredients.  

Fry off the onion -I prefer thinly sliced into crescents - for a few minutes, then add your (drained and washed) black beans and torn up kale.  Remember to separate out the tough stalk of the kale before adding it in.  

When your squash is ready, take it out of the oven and allow to cool enough so it's comfortable to handle, then dice up and add to the onion/bean/kale mixture.  At this point you will want to start heating your tortillas as well - either in the microwave, on the stove top, or however you like to do it.

Add your squash/black bean/kale/onion mixture to your warm tortilla and top with avocado, feta and sour cream/creme fraiche.  I decided not to add salsa but that would probably be a nice addition.  You can certainly play around with the ingredients.  

I thought the dish was brilliant, though also found that the creme fraiche addition was absolutely necessary as it would have been rather dry without.  Rab liked it but this is definitely an "Emily meal" more than a "Rab meal" 


Sunday, 17 November 2013

Skin: when I hit 30, went off the pill, and all of a sudden started getting pimples (The Oil Cleansing Method)

I'd been on birth control since I was 16.  I came off the pill now and again for a few months at a time in the 14 year period between then and now, but always went back on because my periods were never regular and there's nothing worse (in my opinion) than not having a clue about when your period is next due.

I went off birth control (for obvious married person reasons) in February of this year.  Beyond all of the mental, hormonal and emotional issues that will prevent me from taking it again, about 5 months after getting off the pill, I started to break out. 

Having been a pill taker for so long, I breezed through high school with great skin.  I didn't know how to deal with the fact that, all of a sudden, I was going to have to come up with a skin care regimen.

My new-found aversion to the bad things they put in lots of products these days had me surfing the 'net to find some alternatives.

I decided to start with the Oil Cleansing Method.  It made sense, and everyone seemed to say that it was the BEST THING EVER.  After a long search (ending with Amazon) I got some castor oil and started giving it a go.  Crunchy Betty has a great bit of info on it including a "Trying and Troubleshooting" guide found here

I *really* like it.  I use about 50/50 castor oil and sweet almond oil, with a few drops of tea tree essential oil thrown in.  I don't have a pre-mixed container so just mix as I go.  Once I get a small empty container I think that will be a better method.  I found that the key is HOT (without burning yourself) water on your steaming cloth.  If the water isn't hot enough, you won't get clean enough.  Some websites suggest steaming in the shower but the one time I did this, I ended up with a super oily face.  I think the shower just doesn't get hot enough. 

It is actually amazing how well this cleans my pores, and my blackheads are greatly reduced.  It also helped the super freaky bizarre extra oil extravaganza that started going on on my face a couple of months ago.  My skin is soft and hydrated without being oily, and it's super clean.  I follow this with a toner.  I have no idea if it's needed but it's my special made-it-myself toner and it's not doing any harm.

If I was less lazy, I would do this every other day.  I agree with Crunchy Betty that it's probably not required every day, but I don't do it enough.  I use OCM once or twice a week, and make extra effort if there is an event coming up.

Some people have reported an adjustment period for their skin, and others broke out and stopped the OCM altogether.  I guess we're all different, though this could be down to not steaming fully and/or using an oil that's maybe not great for your skin.

I would highly recommend giving this a try for a week or two, and would be interested to hear what people think.  

Friday, 15 November 2013

Organic Veg Boxes

The blog has not been as neglected as it seems - I've been filing recipes away in my head but the kitchen was such a dark and horrible place while it was under construction, my head is firmly where most things stayed.  

A few weeks ago we found the light - in that the windows finally went in.  It's astoundingly fantastic and I'll have to try to get a super cool picture of the house at night, with the glass box illuminated.  
We had a woodburner installed at the start of this week and the guy who did it assumed that we were designers because he thought our house "wasn't an ordinary punter's house" - I felt very proud.  

Now that the cooking is back in full force, I am getting pictures in on my proper camera.  Adventures in food to start back up again soon.

In the mean time, I wanted to share my newest excitement: 

We got an organic veg box (in-season veggies delivered to your door by a local producer) for the first time the other day and so far I’m loving it because it’s giving me veggies I’ve never used before – specifically in this case, chard, eggplant and fennel.

I’m going to put the eggplant in a moussaka but for the chard and fennel I took to the internet to find something.  Very interestingly, both times have come up with Alice Waters recipes, which is what I’ve followed. 

The fennel was caramelised and topped a salad.

The chard was combined with kale in a gratin - Alice's recipe with my tweaks to follow soon.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Growing Tomatoes - store bought grow bags or greener self-filled reusable ones?

Look at those tomatoes.  They're all different colours, shapes, sizes and flavours and THAT is why I grow heritage.

In previous years I got my tomato plants from my father in law, but this year I decided to grow my own from seed and compare two different growing methods - using a pre-filled grow bag, and using a self-filled reusable grow bag.  You will see the pre-filled ones in the front in the picture below, and the reusable ones behind them.
I put our own compost in the reusable bags, along with various fertilizers.  The theory was that I would grow the same plants in the back (reusable) and front (pre-filled) and compare their progress.  On the other side of the greenhouse I planted (in reusable bags) my father in law's choice of tomatoes.

From the start, the plants in the reusable bags took off.  The soil was deeper so they got better root growth and didn't dry out as quickly.  Over time, though, the pre-filled plants caught up. 

In terms of yield, this is where my experiment fell down.  I couldn't be bothered to weigh out the yields of each method, though I think from eyeing it the pre-filled bags produced more tomatoes.  This could also quite possibly have been down to the fact that they got more TLC due to being easier to access than the reusable row in the back.

*note to self, don't plant two rows of tomato plants

What is MOST interesting is that my father in law's plants didn't produce nearly as much as my heritage plants.  If you go back to the picture at the top of this image you will see quite a few Black Russians (the ones with a bit of green on them), a couple of Brandywine, and some Tigerella.  There may be a few of the FIL's hybrid tomatoes there, but not many.

So, while the jury's still out on which grow bag method to use, I know I'll definitely be sticking to heritage tomatoes in the future. 

Friday, 4 October 2013

DIY wedding reception on the cheap - part 2

In between cleaning and decorating the house, I got on making the food.  We were 22 people in total and I reckon we could hace accomodated 30 with the amount of food we had.  

My girlfriends provided the salads and desserts, and I spent my time baking breads and meats.

I made:
Paul Hollywood's garlic baguette ( so doesn't look like a baguette, but tastes great)
Jamie Oliver's rolled bread (though it was just the inspiration, in one I put salami, basil, cheese, olives and peppers, and in the other I left otu the salami and swapped tomatoes for peppers).  If you only want one bread, or enough food for about 5 decent sized portions, half the recipe.  The first time I made this I used the suggested olive oil and ended up with a greasy mess.  Now, I skip that part.
Smitten Kitchen's brisket - which I cooked for 10 hours in my warming oven, and seved with the reduced sauce.
Finally, I cooked up some pork loin with a marinade recipe that my mom gave me and which people go mental for.  They say it's the best pork they've ever had. 

Pork Loin Marinade
1/4 C soy
2 T red wine ( I used Pinot Noir because it's what I had in the house and it was too thin.  You want a merlot or some other kind of deep flavoured wine)
1 T Br Sugar
1 T honey
1/2 t cinnamon
1 garlic
1 green onion sliced
mix all together - pour over pork loin - turning pork occasionally let sit in sauce for at least 2 - 3 hrs 
This recipe is seriously amazing.  I have no idea where it's from, but it's like omg never need another pork marinade ever again kind of amazing.  

We served homebrew exclusively.  I made 4 brews and we had a friend who made a keg.  Homebrew is a revelation.  It's easy and CHEAP and amazing.  And no, it's not super strong.  Why do people just assume it's super strong?  Most of my brews are betwen 3.5 and 4.5%.  I like to drink my beer, not get wasted from it, thanks.  

I *love* the new Festival range of homebrews, available from several different retailers but I buy from BrewUK because they have sales quite a lot which makes them often the cheapest. 
Trust me, this beer is amazing. 

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

DIY wedding reception on the cheap - part 1

We got married in April of 2012.  We were meant to have our reception in California in December, but then my visa didn't come through in time and we were stuck in the UK over Christmas.  Then we were going to celebrate in the States in September, and my brother went and got himself engaged.  So, we sacked the US celebration idea and focused on the UK.

We decided to plan the reception to coincide with the work on our house being more or less done.  Well, even building in lag time the work was NOT more or less done, but we went ahead anyway because I knew it was now or never.

We lost a lot of money on the failed US reception and honeymoon plan of 2012 so this party was on a pretty tight budget.  We originally talked about marquees, portable toilets and the works but scaled it right back and, honestly, had a better time for it.

I had some decorations that I bought for the US reception that I was able to use for this.  My favourite purchase was fabric flowers from Jane Joss on Etsy - they're not your grannie's fake flowers, they're creative and colourful and look fantastic, and of course the best part is that they can be kept forever.  I got a friend to bring me some of his empty swing top beer bottles, put a bit of sand in the bottle to bring the level up a bit, and voila!  I scattered my funky vases and flowers around the house.
(note how construction-tastic our house is)

Felt balls and felt ball garlands are all the rage these days (on Pinterest and Etsy, anyway) and I thought it looked like a fun project, so got myself an assortment of felt balls on Ebay, some twine, a big needleand a friend and had at it.  Our husbands referred to our crafting as "kids' corner" but we had a blast and created some really pretty super easy to make felt garlands.  As with so many of my pictures these days, ignore the construction going on in the background...

Food and drink coming soon in part 2...

Monday, 30 September 2013

Tomato glut

Between our (much belated) wedding reception this past weekend, and the work on the house, my tomatoes have been pretty neglected.  It has been dry here which means I've not had my usual bucket of rain water to use, and the garage is a disaster zone of building materials meaning the hose is ridiculously difficult to get to (the tap was repositioned into the garage by my husband who said it would be better for washing the car.  Has he washed the car at our house? Not once).

Well, it seems that the neglect has paid off, because yesterday I noticed I had quite a few tomatoes ripe for picking and man did I ever.  How gorgeous do they look?

The sunshine was fantastic as well.  We took a big walk and then sat in the back garden soaking up the rays.  Delicious. 

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Wholesome Food - Bean and Chorizo Stew

Several years ago, I ate in a restaurant on a date, and my date ordered a stew that contained beans and chorizo (the stew was amazing, the date was ... well I can't remember and that can't be a good sign).  It's a standard combination, but for whatever reason, no matter how many recipes I tried, nothing really got it right for me... until one day a friend of mine posted this  recipe on Facebook.  It has beans and chorizo, so I used it as the foundation for my stew.

Serves 4 (unless you're feeding my husband)

200-300 grams of chorizo - not the fresh stuff, the normal stuff that you can eat straight from the package (my Tesco sells them in 225 gram packages so that's what I use)
1 large onion
2-3 tins of chopped tomatoes (depending on how meaty you want the stew to be)
1 tin butter beans (or beans of your choosing, but butters are so fabulous in stews)
1 tin berlotti beans (or beans of your choosing)
1-2 bell peppers
Kale (because I like to put it in anything, but this is optional)
Greens (fresh salad greens -not lettuce- like spinach or mustard are great)
As many cloves of garlic as you like - I usually use about 4

Chop the chorizo.  I cut mine small because I tend to go heavier on the veggie ingredients so like to have lots of little pieces of chorizo throughout.  Fry it (I do this without oil because I think it has enough oil in it, you judge what you like) in a stew pot/large heavy pan for a few minutes, to release the oil.  In the meantime, dice the onion and smash/dice the garlic.  Once the chorizo has greased the pan, add in your onion and cook until translucent.

Once the chorizo and onion are all all mellowed together, add in your tins of tomato and your garlic.  At this point I put on the lid and let everything cook together for at least 20 minutes, until the flavours have mellowed out.

Once you're happy it's cooked long enough, drain and wash the beans and add them in.  Simmer, uncovered, until the beans absorb the flavours and the stew thickens up.  This will take about 20-30 minuets.

Finally, when everything is the desired consistency, chop up the bell peppers and add them in, cooking for just a few minutes.  I add these at the end so they heat through but don't go soft.  If you prefer them cooked, then add earlier.  At this point, turn off the heat and add in the kale (stems removed, ripped into bit-sized pieces) and at the last minute, the salad greens.  Gently fold in the salad greens, and serve immediately.  Add more greens to the top of each dish if you like.

Serve with chunky toasty bread rubbed in garlic.  Yum. 

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Under Construction

My house is currently under construction.  This means a number of things:

1. It's cold.  It wasn't so bad a few weeks ago, but now it's getting uncomfortable.  The entire back wall of our house has been removed for an extension, and up until yesterday the only thing between us and the elements was some OSB (plywood to non-timber folk), some hastily tacked up leftover insulation, and black plastic (as seen in the picture).  Yesterday the guys put in a temporary frame (what you see in the pic will eventually be glass) so it should be getting better.

2. It's cramped.  The extension is for our kitchen, and means that as a result of internal framing, our kitchen is missing about 1/4 of its original width and I can't open any of the drawers for the pots and pans, so everything's sitting on the counter.  So, in addition to being cramped, it's messy.

3. It's dark.  Several windows have been removed to make what will ultimately be a really awesome light trap, but without the windows, it's just dark and dreary.

We've had a lot of delays - half of the windows were meant to be going in this week.  We're now being told the end of October for the whole lot.  We've had mishaps - pieces being incorrectly sized.  

At first it was ok, fun, even.  We were planning what the new kitchen space would be, how we wanted to construct our new kitchen island without breaking the bank, the whole lot.  Now, it's less fun.  Our (super belated) wedding reception is next weekend and our house is a building site. 

All of the above aren't really conducive to taking pictures of food (here's a camera phone picture of dimly lit food in a messy kitchen! Enticing!) or being very creative with it.  

I'll add pictures to past recipes as I can take them, and will get back on the wagon in terms of posting as soon as the house is less miserable. 

Friday, 13 September 2013

Wholesome Food - Pan-Roasted Cauliflower with Pasta in a Tomato Sauce

August/September time is when the tomatoes start ripening in my area.  In previous years the weather has been pretty terrible and I haven't ever really had enough ripen at once to do anything really proper with them... other than just eat them as is, of course. 

This year has been an amazing summer.  Hands down the best one since I've been in Scotland, which is 7 (!!) years.  The tomatoes, and the garden in general, have responded happily.

So, this leaves me needing to use up tomatoes at every possible occasion (poor me, right?), and the result has been pretty cool.  I'm either making up dishes or turning to the delights of Google to give me inspiration.  We have eaten very well these past few weeks, and last night was no exception.

In this weekend's shop, I grabbed a cauliflower.  My husband asked why and I told him I'd figure it out later.  I'm so glad I did. 

Yesterday I googled "tomato and cauliflower" and found a few really amazing sounding recipe ideas.  I decided on the Kitchn's Pan-Roasted Cauliflower & Pasta with Tomato-Cream Sauce, with a few modifications.

Serves 4

1 head cauliflower 
Pasta - I used about 4 handfuls of whole wheat fusili
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
Fresh tomatoes - 6 large or more if they're small - or if you can't be bothered, just make it two tins of chopped tomatoes
4 pieces of smoked back bacon - this is UK bacon and it's bigger than bacon in the US.  If you're using streaky/US bacon, I'd probably use 6 pieces.
1 medium/large onion - I used yellow
3 cloves garlic, minced
Red pepper flakes
Fresh basil, to serve

My primary modification to the Kitchn's recipe was the fact that I used fresh, home-grown tomatoes in place of one of the tins of tomatoes. 

I grabbed my ripest tomatoes, tossed them in olive oil, and stuck them on a baking sheet in the (fan assisted) oven at about 150C until the skins split and started to go brown, about 30 minutes.
Once they cooled a bit, I removed the skins and piled them into my mini-blender, before blitzing them smooth.  If you decide to just use two tins of chopped tomatoes, I would still blitz one of them.  It makes the sauce a bit creamier.

Here's another modification - I used bacon instead of pancetta.  I just wanted to use what I had in the house and I pretty much always have bacon in the house.  Pancetta, not so much.

While the tomatoes are roasting, crisp up the bacon in the pan where you're going to assemble everything (this is important).  I needed to add in a little olive oil to get it started, and set it aside once it was ready.

While the bacon's crisping, chop up your cauliflower into smallish bite-sized pieces. 

Here's where it gets amazing/bad - once the bacon is done, whack up the heat on your pan and toss in the cauliflower (be careful of sparking oil when you do this).  You're going to cook your cauliflower in the bacon fat.  Ooh yeah.  Now I should remind you that I'm in the UK so there isn't a HUGE amount of bacon grease in the pan.  It's just a bit more oil then I would use if I was only using olive oil.  Just include however much grease you want to, and if you want to be super healthy, roast the cauliflower in the oven instead.

Leave the cauliflower undisturbed for about a minute, until the bottoms start to brown up.  Stir, and leave again.  Keep doing this for about 5 minutes - I like my veggies pretty firm, so if you prefer yours soft, then cook for about 8-10 minutes.  

The smell of roasting cauliflower is amazing - almost nutty.  Don't write off cauliflower until you've had it roasted, it is NOTHING like steamed.  Seriously.

bacon-cauliflower goodness
Once the cauliflower's done, set it aside to chill out for a minute.

Finally, dice up your onion and put it in the same pan everything's cooked in, with a glug of olive oil if the pan's dry.  Cook until translucent, then add in your pureed roast tomatoes, your tin of tomatoes, your garlic and chilli flakes.  Let these all bubble away and reduce a bit together for a couple of minutes, before you finally get your pasta cooking.   

Shortly before the pasta's ready, tear up your bacon into the sauce, and add in the cauliflower.  Salt if necessary.  Finally add in your cooked pasta and stir to combine. 

Serve topped with cheese and basil.


Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Experimenting with Natural Deodorants - part 2

So in part 1 of this post, I talked about my motivation behind wanting to switch from antiperspirants (ap) to a more natural deodorizing solution.

I tried Tom's of Maine and thought it worked great.  But, because I like concocting things in my kitchen, I decided to try making my own.

If you do a search for home made deodorant you will come up with a LOT of people talking about their experiences.  You will also see a lot of the same ingredients listed:

Coconut oil - if the internet is right, this stuff is basically magic
Baking soda/bicarbonate of soda - have you ever put it in a dish in your fridge to keep it  from         getting smelly?  Same idea.
Cornstarch/arrowroot powder - some people say this is a thickener, but they will also act by absorbing some of the moisture
Essential oils - if you want to scent your concoction

I'm in pretty early stages of experimentation.

I have read a lot about how the baking soda causes irritation - especially if this is put on right after shaving. 

Protip: shave at night.  I shower in the morning but I'll give myself a quick shave at night so my skin has time to heal before putting on the baking soda in the morning.

I used a small empty plastic hand balm container for this, which I put into a pan of boiling water so I could eat and mix everything in its final resting place.  I learned quickly not to use my measuring cup for these type of experiments.

My container fits about 1.8 oz and in it I've put:

1/2 teaspoon of  baking soda 
1 1/2 teaspoon of cornstarch
(about) 15 drops of tea tree essential oil (it's antibacterial so will combat smell)
3 grams shea butter (for a bit more stability than just using coconut oil alone)
2 tablespoons coconut oil 

I melted the oil and shea butter together, took the mixture off the heat and added in the powders and the essential oil. 

So far I've had no irritation, but I find the prescribed "pea sized" amount to be too much, creating a very oily surface, so I use less.  I also find that I do get a bit smelly by the end of the day, but if I don't put my shirt directly into the wash, the smell will be gone by the next day.

Next time I plan to add in a bit more of a stabilizer - maybe some beeswax, and up the amounts of baking soda and cornstarch. 

For now, though, my mixture is totally fine for days I'm not in work but if I'm going to have a bit more of a high-stress day, I'm sticking with the Toms.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Wholesome Food - Quinoa and Chickpea Salad

Recently I was on the lookout for a good, hearty salad.  A salad that included carrots.

I grow carrots, specifically I've chosen to grow (along with the orange ones) purple carrots.  Did you know that carrots were not traditionally orange?  They were bred that way by the Dutch.  Purple carrots have more antioxidants than the orange ones, and generally look cooler anyway.

The carrots above were still pretty young when I took this picture, but you get the idea (see the two less-cool looking orange ones hiding in there too).  They're purple on the outside, and orange on the inside, and a friend of mine commented randomly one day that they must look really cook when you shave them - orange and purple stripey.

That comment became the basis for this "recipe" if you can call a salad a recipe.

I like to use:

Kale (curly and as fresh as possible)
Cherry tomatoes
Sharp cheddar
Balsamic vinegar

The first few times I made this I used fresh peas as well, but those are past their season now and I really just threw them in to use up the last few pods.

I'm pretty bad with giving people amounts to use, but here's a rough guide that you can fiddle with as you please:

For 4-6 side salads, or one main with 3 lunches

1 tin of Chickpeas -  drained and washed
1/2 -1 cup (uncooked) quinoa -  I like to cook it in chicken broth
4 strips of smoked bacon - cooked crispy and crumbled into the salad
1-2 large leaves of kale - remove the stems and tear the leaves into small to medium sized pieces
3-4 carrots, with their tops (depending on size and just how much carrot you want to use) - wash them well and then use a vegetable peeler to peel strips off the carrot into the salad.  The carrot tops are useful when doing this because it gives you something to hold onto, but it's not imperative.

Toss these all together, add in avocado, tomatoes and cucumber until it looks good to you.  At this point I add in a small amount of finely grated sharp cheddar.  It gives it a good zing which compliments the sweetness of the carrots.  Glug in balsamic to suit.  No oil is needed, and while you could use other vinegar, I think balsamic really suits the flavours.

This salad is crazy good.  I made it for a friend who is obsessed with salads and makes them constantly, and she told me it was the best salad she had ever had.  No joke.  It's earthy, and sweet, and a little salty, and tangy, and super healthy and filling.  Crazy yum.  

The first time I made this I thought it was gorgeous - greens, reds, purples, white/yellow - a true rainbow on a plate.  I took a picture and, frankly, the picture looks awful.  I tried playing with Picassa to make it look cool and arty but there's no saving it.  I'll upload one when I can get a good shot. 

Experimenting with Natural Deodorants - part 1

 When my mom was receiving radiation for her breast cancer, her doctor told her to stop wearing antiperspirant and to only wear cornflower.  I had heard a number of times that the aluminum (or aluminium, depending on what audience I'm speaking to) in antiperspirant wasn't good for us, and the fact that a doctor told a cancer patient to stop using it spent my spidey senses tingling.

In subsequent trawling of the internet, I read that the aluminum can interfere with radiation (something about the beam, I believe?) so the advice that my mom got was theoretically not based on health, just on the basic workings of the radiation she was receiving.

It seems that there have been loads of studies looking for a link between breast cancer and antiperspirant and, thus far, no clear link has been defined.

I've pulled up a couple of articles here and here.

Then a friend of mine with kidney problems posted in Facebook saying that HER doc had advised her to stop wearing antiperspirant.  Now to be fair, I haven't read up on this at all and haven't asked her why.  But, these two instances got me reading.

We're meant to sweat.  Sweating cools us off and is part of how the body releases toxins.  Why are some people more sweaty than others?  I don't know.  What I DO know is that the kind of antiperspirant that most of us use hasn't really been used by people long enough for scientists to really have a completely accurate view on whether it's 100% safe for us.

I'm starting to come to the realization that there are a *lot* of chemicals in our daily lives that even our parents' generation didn't have around, and ultimately it's not going to do us any harm to take steps towards reducing the number of chemicals that we come in contact with daily.  

So I started experimenting.

I started off by buying Tom's of Maine Calendula deodorant.  Interestingly, I sweated buckets for the first couple of days off the antiperspirant but then my sweating died down.  I've always been pretty sweaty -even wearing ap I would sweat through tops- so this was a pleasant surprise.
I also smelled less.  With ap, I would wear a shirt once and then throw it in the wash, I could smell the ap but also the undertone of stinky sweat.  On the Toms, I could smell a little swear but it wasn't stinky and it was really just a slight undertone to the lovely smell of the deodorant.


From Tom's, I moved onto home made stuff where I could have complete control over what was going on my skin.  More on that in part 2.  

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Carrots and Baths

Did you know that carrot fly can only fly at a certain height?

I have no idea what height that is, but basically the theory is that carrots are best put into raised containers to that they're protected from carrot fly.  Plus, then you have better control over the type of soil they're grown in.

So, in the spirit of upcyling and preserving some of the history of our house, when we ripped out the old bathroom, we kept the old cast iron bath:

We even kept the taps!
It makes a really awesome planter for anything because it also keeps out the slugs and snails.

For drainage, and so we didn't have to use a huge amount of topsoil to fill it, we put broken bricks in the bottom of the bath, covered them with sand, and then filled up with topsoil.  In the first year we split it between salad greens and carrots, and the salad survived the Great Slug and Snail Massacre of 2012 completely untouched.  But, we loved the carrots so much it's all carrots now. 

Now, this thing is HEAVY.  It's cast iron, filled with bricks, sand and soil.  There was NO moving this thing.  Until we realised that it was in the way of the forklift for our extension...

Fortunately, the guys doing our extension are awesome.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Hippy Questing

So, I've started a hippy quest. 

The irony of this is the fact that I'm from Berkeley, CA (aka, in contention for being the hippy capital of the world) and as a result I've always talked about "dirty hippies" with a bad taste in my mouth.
I now now that what I wasn't keen on was the 'tude, and not the lifestyle.

I dig the lifestyle.

It started when we bought our house.

We have a big garden in which we're growing fruit a vegetables, and every year we're learning new things about what we want to eat, what we grow well, and what's more trouble than it's worth (sorry, onions).

We have a greenhouse, though we soon plan to upgrade (or downgrade, if you're my in laws) to a polytunnel.  The polytunnel will be much less likely to explode due to an errant football/baseball/anything that our as yet non-existent children will decide to throw. 

Greenhouse!  It's full of tomatoes.  Also, kale and poppies!
We want chickens.  A lot.  We will absolutely get chickens once we are a bit more established and once the garden is a bit more setup.

We want bees.  Save the bees, man!  I am much more interested in growing stuff I can eat than stuff that just looks pretty, but I also really like bees.  Fortunately for me the bees really like the stuff that's easiest to grow and I have plans for a wildflower meadow at the back of the garden, around the fruit trees.  As a hay fever sufferer, I love the health benefits of local honey, and I also use beeswax in a number of my hippy potions, so I'd really like to find out more about beekeeping. 

We also have a house, obviously.  We bought it from a woman in her 90s who had lived there for 30+ years, and you had better believe it was decorated exactly how you're picturing it.  We ripped out a lot of psychedelic carpeting, steamed a lot of crazy wallpaper, knocked down walls, built other walls, rewired, replumbed, moved rooms, painted, sanded, varnished, insulated and found ourselves with a pretty cool home.

We put solar panels on the roof.  We've only had them one summer, but so far so green.

We bought a woodburning stove, with a view towards putting in a masonry stove in a few years when a) they become DEFRA approved (it's a no-go on smoke where we live)
b) we can work out how to integrate the masonry stove in with solar panels for year-round green water heating.  Of course by "we" I totally mean my guy, because he's the engineer in this family.

We make beer.  Well, I make beer.  Husband helps drink it.  

We make bread.  Again, this is more or a royal we.

I think I could get used to this whole "hippy lifestyle" business. 

Healthy eating on the cheap - this week's revelation

I hate wasting food.  I hate buying something and then either not using all of it before it goes off or, more commonly in my household, the fridge freezes it (we really need to get a refrigerator that doesn't freeze produce and yet somehow manage to leave the drinks warm).

In order to combat that, we used to make a list of meals for the week and do a big "weekly shop" at our nearest big grocery store.  Then we discovered the the Lidl nearest to our house is actually really quite good.  The problem with Lidl is that you can't walk in with a list and expect to be able to buy everything on it, they just don't have that kind of selection and a lot of the freshest food changes often. 

This week we did a version of the weekly shop in Lidl.  I still had a list of a few essentials that we were out of, but didn't have a weekly meal plan so concocted food plans as we walked through the aisles. 

I always thought that you could limit waste live more economically if you plan meals.  The problem with planning meals is that you have to think days in advance of what you might want to eat and, if you're me, you often end up making the same types of foods week on week.  These foods are good but it's nice to mix it up a bit.  

Amazingly this week's shop in Lidl, topped up with a few mid-week items from Tesco, came to about £35.  This covered the two of us for lunches and dinners and (due to us often buying lunches at work) ended up being nearly half of what we would normally spend on food in a week. 

Now, we did eat a lot of produce from the garden, but veggies tend to be the cheapest part of a weekly shop anyway so even if we had purchased everything I can't see it being that much more expensive.

This week saw me creating two new dishes that were super easy and healthy, which I'll post on here. 

Thumbs up to the Lidl shop. 

Thursday, 5 September 2013

This year, 2013, has been pretty full on in terms of health/body type stuff (and it's not even over yet):

I went off birth control
My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer
I got pregnant
I miscarried
I gained weight
I got acne for the first time since I was a teenager.
My mom got a really awesome doctor and breezed through her operation and radiation

All of the above got my brain ticking.

I was already into food.  I love food passionately and will never ever be able to diet because, in my (not so) humble opinion, I'm actually pretty darn good at making food and really really enjoy eating it too.  Lots of eating of the food.

Along with this love of food came a garden, a big garden.  Have you ever eaten a carrot out of someone's garden?  It's insane.  You have no idea what a carrot tastes like if you've never picked and eaten one.  Peas too. Wow.  These things are so sweet and amazing that I almost can't bear to cook them. 

I had never eaten kale until I grew it.  I grew it because my father in law brought me a bunch of seedlings he didn't have space for, and it was one of the only brassicas that survived the caterpillar and slug onslaught of 2012.  I now do my best to work kale into as much of my cooking a possible.

I've totally digressed from my point.  My point is that I was already into healthy living and eating, but the events from the start of 2013 shook me into starting to look at other ways I could live a more healthy and wholesome life.   

So, because the world obviously needs another blog about food/life/healthy living, here I am.  In case you're interested.