Cuban Black Beans

After much planning my Dad and his partner finally headed off to Cuba last month. Months of arranging visas and planning which jazz clubs they would visit – as my Dad is now retired he does have more time to spend on these things. Part of me envied him – after resisting offers from my mother to take me to Cuba (as she so desperately wanted to go)  my Dad had ‘beaten me to it’ – you could call it payback for the month I took off travelling across Europe much to his silent jealousy. Just to be clear this not a rivalry situation – just some unfortunate past regrets on my Dads part.
Under no illusions that the communication channels would be somewhat stunted by the lack of WiFi and mobile signal (although it must have been bliss at least for a while) my Dad kept my sister and I updated as much as he could, although really complaining about the weather was not something we were too interested in, they seemed to have a pretty good time, although the beach was somewhat boring for them they moved on to the rest of their holiday with much to explore.
They experienced the local food as much as they could and as with all parents he came back with a new obsession. Black beans were his new thing – I lectured him about being careful when using them (they come predominantly dried in the UK and soaking them for at least 8 hours is important as bean poisoning is no joke) he described a thick soup which they poured over white rice but he wasn’t sure of the recipe. I quickly googled it as to be honest this was not an area I have experience in. Two minutes later a recipe for Cuban bean soup was winging its way by email to him and he was delighted to discover the use of chunky ham or bacon was part of the recipe. I left him to try the recipe himself and he brought over some of the dried beans for us to cook ourselves.
A couple of weekends down the line and truth be told I haven’t tried to make them (partly because of a previous black bean incident), I am having coffee with my dad when he brings me a tub of frozen Cuban black beans which he has previously cooked; he explained that I would need to water it down as it was very thick – fair enough.
That evening and I did as suggested, I also added some frozen mixed vegetables and frozen spinach. The rice was a bit stickier than I had planned but that was due to rinsing it as much as I could have done but frankly that doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things. I found mixing the rice and beans together distributed the flavours nicely but I am not here to tell you how to eat. I added some smoked chorizo and streaky bacon which I had pre-cooked to a delicious crispy texture. As dad only gave me a portion of his version I could understand the principle of the recipe but not knowing the original thickness I couldn’t tell you if my version was any less authentic.
If you want to check out the original recipe the link is below. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
Simply Recipes Black Bean Soup

Homemade Fish Pie

Fish pie is one of my favourite comfort foods, the creamy soft texture of the mashed potatoes and the flaky pieces of fish remind me of happy childhood meal times.It is my no means a low-calorie dish but one I thoroughly recommend trying if you would like to eat more fish. There are several varieties of fish which work well with this dish and it is another dish that lends itself well to budgeting, I would recommend spending as much as you can afford and if possible responsibly sourced. Any firm white fish together with a smoked version (but not monk fish partly because it is expensive and partly because I don’t think its an appropriate dish to use it in) you can also use salmon but I wouldn’t bother using the smoked fish in that case.Ingredients1 medium size fillet of white fish – cod/haddock/pollack1 medium size fillet of smoked fish – similar to above1 pint of whole milk750g of potatoes (not Estima variety)1/2 bag of fresh spinach or 4 blocks of frozen250g of frozen mixed vegetables75g of grated mature cheddar cheese1 tbsp of plain flour28g of butter1 medium sized pie dishMethod1. Peel the potatoes and place in large saucepan to boil.2. Place the fish flat in a large pan and cover with the milk, simmer on a low-medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes.3. Place all the vegetables in the pie dish whilst the fish and potatoes are cooking and preheat your oven to 400f/200c/gas mark 54. Once the fish is cooked strain the milk into a heat proof jug and add the fish to the pie dish.5. To make the cheese sauce melt the butter in a pan on a low heat and whisk in the flour once its melted.6. Slowly add the warm milk whisking constantly.7. When you have used 3/4 of the milk add the grated cheese and continue to whisk.8. Add the last of the milk and whisk for another minute or so.9. Pour the sauce over the fish and vegetables.10. Layer the mashed potato on top and add extra grated cheese if desired.11. Place in the oven for 25 minutes until golden brown on top.Serves 4I hope you enjoy the recipe, let me know if you have your own version of this recipe in the comments!
Source: Homemade Fish Pie

Chicken stuffed with garlic & herb cheese wrapped in bacon

This dish can be made to any budget, it is of course on the luxurious side but if you shop around for the ingredients you can certainly be frugal.I have taught this dish to several of my inexperienced (in the kitchen) friends – they were looking for something to impress their new/future partners and it has not yet failed to impress.You could make this dish vegetarian or vegan, it’s something I have yet to explore but I would suggest using sliced and pre-roasted aubergine instead of the chicken and wrap with either substitute bacon or some thinly sliced zucchini.Ingredients1 Chicken breast per person2 slices of smoked streaky bacon or pancetta per breast1/2 a French cheese roule (the garlic and herb soft cheese, you could also use Philidelphia if required)To serveSauteed potatoes/Mashed potatoes or riceMixed greens sauteed in butter and garlicMethodPreheat oven to 375f/180c/gas mark 51. Lay chicken breasts flat on a large chopping board and cover with clingfilm and beat with a rolling pin until roughly 3/4 of an inch thick.2. Place bacon/pancetta on a large baking tray side by side in pairs and lay chicken on top.3. Using a large spoon smear the cheese along the breast ensuring that it is evenly distributed.4. Using the bacon as a guide roll the chicken up and pin with a cocktail stick. Repeat for all.5. Roast in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until bubbling around the edges and the bacon is crisp.Serve with suggested accompanimentsIf you do try this recipe let me know in the comments, it is one of my favourite dishes and a great weeknight treat.
Source: Chicken stuffed with garlic & herb cheese wrapped in bacon

Sausage & Sweet Potato Pie

A pie requirement was needing to be fulfilled earlier this week and I decided it would be a savoury one. I already knew where to find the recipe I reached for my copy of ‘Nigel Slater’s Real Food’ – I scanned an eye down the recipe – I already had some puff pastry in the fridge so no need for the short pastry part of the recipe. I had some excellent sausages which I removed the skins and some sweet potato which instead of the normal white ones.I am going to give you my version of the recipe, feel free to check out the original. I believe recipes are there for interpretation so if there is something you think would work better then try it! Let me know in the comments its great to have feedback.Ingredients1 x sheet of Pre-rolled Puff Pastry 1 tbsp coconut oil500g Sweet Potato Sliced 1 Medium sized brown onion sliced finely6 x Good herby sausages from the butchers (Skinned) or 400g Sausage Meat1 x Small Courgette250g of Butternut Squash Sliced1 x Chicken or vegetable stock pot + 400ml boiling water (or roughly 500ml bouillon stock)1 egg beaten1 9” Pie dishMethod Pre-heat the oven to 180c/375f1. In a large heavy based pan melt the coconut oil over a medium heat.2. Add the onions and sauté until soft, once they are golden add the sausage meat and brown lightly.3. Add the sweet potatoes and butternut squash and the stock pot/bouillon, if you are using a stock pot add to the pan and warm in pan before adding boiling water.4. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes until tender, you will want the liquid to reduce and thicken slightly if it doesn’t add half a teaspoon of cornflour to thicken.5. Add mixture to pie dish and lay pastry on top – cutting the pastry to fit the dish (you can freeze the excess pastry or turn into sweet or savoury twists.6. Using a fork make several air holes across the top and brush the beaten egg all over.7. Place the pie in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes until golden brown and the filling is piping hot.Allow the pie to cool slightly before serving with fresh greens.I hope you have enjoyed this recipe, let me know your thoughts.
Source: Sausage & Sweet Potato Pie

An Edible Garden 2017

I am fortunate enough to have a communal garden. When I moved into my flat there was only grass and no one was doing anything with it, we talked about guerrilla gardening for a while. Then my friend surprised me on my birthday with two vegetable patches. Ever since they have been growing and maturing into something quite amazing, its now in its third year and we have planted some new things this year such as garlic, purple potatoes and shallots and we are hoping they will do well. Its a first attempt so it’s exciting to see how things are doing. Having all these vegetables will be great and give me an opportunity to cook with fabulously fresh ingredients. There is something very satisfying about using something from the garden rather than going to the shops to buy it.Yes it forces you to eat more seasonally but that in my opinion can only be a good thing. It would be nice to think that we could build the garden so that we dont have to buy veg anymore but that will take time and patience – it is great that we have this much already! As you can see the ‘perpetual spinach’ or ‘rainbow chard’ is thriving I have taken some of the leaves today so it can continue to grow, the same with the ‘purple sprouting’ below. If you let these plants ‘go over’ you increase your chances of them returning next year, as the seeds drop into the ground and hopefully germinate etc. Some advise against doing this but we have found this to be the most effective strategy with the garden, some would call this lazy but i’d say its a time management issue. The results are often a stunning array of flowers then the plants die down over the winter.An edible garden is one of nature’s most sacred gifts, if you are lucky enough to have a space to use then please do…For those who do not have an open space, do you have a window box space? Do not see a window box as a restriction – you can grow plenty in them. If you are not sure where to start there is a plethora of different blogs and websites to help you.It changes your relationship with food when you can see it from seed to plate, I am a firm believer of understanding the processes, I understand the process of animals turning into meat, I prefer to eat free range and well looked after meats and delicious fresh vegetables – I could not become vegan as I simply couldnt give up certain things but I accept other peoples opinions and beliefs.So I hope to be coming back to you with a wealth of recipes for my homegrown produce :-)If you are growing anything unusual let me know in the comments I would love to hear more!
Source: An Edible Garden 2017

Chai Hot Chocolate

I love chai spices, the mixture of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and pepper always comfort me. In winter the cold temperatures draw us to hot drinks, you see a plethora of different options in your local coffee shop or cafe, choosing from gingerbread lattes to spiced hot chocolate to chai lattes. Do you wish you could make these quickly and easily at home? Lets face it the practicality of going out to a coffee shop at 9pm to get a chai hot chocolate is not great not to mention the costs associated with buying such things. As a student we had a tradition of being frugal and of course found cheap ways of making our favourite treats so that even on a skint day we would have something. Using store bought hot chocolate we would make a paste with a little milk and add the hot water on top giving it a good stir to ensure that you have a fairly decent froth on top (not quite Neros but hey it was cheaper than going and getting one).Sometime last year I was in exactly that position, the desire for chai hot chocolate had risen on a Sunday night! Not practical. After giving it some thought I wondered – could I use a chai teabag to make a chai hot chocolate? I couldn’t see why this wouldn’t work it was merely a case of perfecting the technique.So I headed off to the kitchen determined that not only was this a brilliant idea but one I could share with others to inspire them, a nifty little life hack if you will.So you will need the following ingredients:~ Store bought hot chocolate of your choice (The brand is entirely up to you as both taste and budget do play a part in this)~ 2 tablespoons of Milk~ one chai teabag OR one cup of chai tea made with loose leaves, you will need to make the chai quite strong in this case for the flavours to infuse properly.~ Any toppings you might like – mini-marshmallows/cinnamon extra cocoa.Combine 4 tsp of your chosen hot chocolate with the milk, if using the teabag add this now and make sure it is incorporated into the paste. If you are using loose leaf tea then all you will need to do at this stage is add the hot chai stirring vigorously to combine.If you are using a teabag you need to add the hot water at this stage again stirring vigorously to combine and make froth.If you like you can top up with a bit of extra milk at this stage but this is optionalAdd your toppings if you are using.Settle down and enjoy! If you are wondering what the torture type looking contraption is in the picture, it is a mini hand frother – widely available. This is for the times when you don’t have a microwave (I don’t) and you still want proper frothy milk (without using hot water from the kettle) of course you could use this to make traditional milk based hot chocolate but I think it’s a little more hassle than my quick version. I hope you give it a try and enjoy, let me know your thoughts.
Source: Chai Hot Chocolate

Honey – Something Amazing from Something so Small

Many vegans argue that honey is produced by bees and as its an ‘animal’ product they cannot eat it. Personally I think that is taking it a step too far. Everyone by now must agree that bees are an important part of our ecosystem whether they bee in a ‘bee keeping’ capacity or whether they are out in the wild. Yes they can make nests in inconvenient places and we might be eating ‘their only source of food in difficult winter months’ but what about all the pollination of plants to produce the vegetables and fruits we eat? Surely that makes the vegetables ‘a product of animal labour’.Now I could launch into a rant about the politics of this issue but I would prefer to spread joy than dissent but I will say one thing, the vegan society’s suggestion that golden syrup is an acceptable substitute whilst technically true is far more damaging to your health, all that processed sugar is just boosting your body’s addiction and has equal ‘carbon emissions issues’. Yes we should moderate the production of honey and create standards for the care of bees as this can only be beneficial to them and to us. If 90% of the honey consumed in the UK is important I think it would be beneficial that we localise production rather than importing it from all over the world, that way emissions are reduced rather than encouraged and boosting local economies. We should be caring for the bees and supporting them not using them and abusing them, whether we like it or not they are the key to great gardens and awesome fruit and veg, so think carefully, would you prefer to eat processed sugars or would you prefer to support an initiative which benefits are ecosystems?
Source: Honey – Something Amazing from Something so Small

Vegan cakes – as good as 'normal' ones?

The concept of a vegan cake is a contentious one and I have witnessed many discussions in work kitchens and other places claiming that they don’t taste of anything, the texture is wrong/rubbery and I always smile to myself knowing that the carrot cake I brought in for them to try is a vegan recipe. Now I often tell them after they have tried it for two reasons one they try it without prejudice and two because the look on their faces is priceless because in their mind they have just eaten the best carrot cake ever. It tastes no different than a traditional cake which is why most people won’t believe me until I show them the recipe.All jokes aside though they are becoming more popular and readily available with most coffee shops now offering various alternative options – gluten free, vegan, dairy free and I am not averse to trying new things as and when I come across them. I was out for coffee with a friend the other day and we were wanting to share a cake, they had an excellent spread as usual but one caught our eye partly because of its frosting but also because it was coffee, walnut and cardamom vegan cake. Well we had to try it of course. It was delicious, it was more of a moist tea-bread than a cake but a very nice balance with the addition of banana to bring the cake together, it took a very pretty picture as you can see 🙂
Source: Vegan cakes – as good as ‘normal’ ones?

The Humble Custard Cream

If you were buying biscuits or cookies for a party you would buy the more exotic chocolate and mixed fruit granola cookies or whatever looks nicest. Before such luxuries and witcheries were available we had the humble custard cream, it’s chocolate brother the bourbon and if you were lucky some coconut ‘nice’ biscuits which are still a great treat to me to this day. Nowadays this classic combination is confined to the cheap ‘party pack’ end of the shelves. Making occasional comebacks through the bakery as ‘giant’ biscuits of course not a patch on the original prepackaged version. I was at a friend’s house recently and they had custard creams as their biscuit of choice and coming home today I realise that we are also working our way through a packet of the local supermarkets ‘chosen’ range. It’s strange to think what we eat ourselves and what we give to other people to eat are two completely different things. So next time it’s your turn to bring the biscuits remember the old classics!
Source: The Humble Custard Cream

The Baked Camembert

When I was first introduced to baked camembert, being a lover of cheese, I felt it was a normal progression from the underripe versions which plague most cheeseboards outside of France. Now you can argue that there are other places which make perfectly good camembert but it would not be camembert under the rules of ‘terroir’ in France which states that a product can only be called such if it is produced in that area or ‘terroir’ other examples include Roquefort and Champagne.The rich fondue type gooiness which you get from dipping your breadstick into the top of a baked camembert is incredible. Its not a dish for the faint hearted though as the richness of the cheese will soon let itself be known as you slip into a feeling of comfortably full.If you try it and you like it, I thoroughly recommend buying a camembert baker – which are now quite widely available and save a lot of mess. Top with a drizzle of olive oil, fresh rosemary and a dab of garlic clove – bake at 200c for 20 – 25 minutes. Picture from Pixabay
Source: The Baked Camembert