The Veg Garden 2017

Just a few shots from the garden – its starting to grow into something really special…. as you can see there are courgettes, potatoes, 2 kinds of kale, some red cabbage and purple Brussels sprouts and a couple of other things we are hoping for a bumper crop this year.

It is exciting to see so many flowers on the squash plants, although i’m not sure if all of them will actually turn into fruit, having spoken to a friend – she said its not always guaranteed if you use supermarket produce seeds. Nonetheless it is going to be an exciting summer watching them grow and picking the results.

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

Kinda Rustic Italian Bread Soup

When you have left over crusty bread there are a number of things which you could do with it. Making breadcrumbs is one and even making it into eggy bread, the Italians make various versions of soup, there are some tomato based ones and others which have stock ingredients such as onion, carrots, celery etc. Having researched the recipes it seems evident that they are open to re-interpretation and in my case matching it to what I had in my cupboard.
So my version of Italian bread soup uses mostly cupboard ingredients although feel free to use fresh tomatoes (roughly 750g of ripe cherry tomatoes) use any kind of crusty loaf but not pre-cut sandwich loaves they will not work.
300g of crusty bread (a couple of days old so a bit stale)
200g of chunky chopped bacon (optional you could use tofu if you preferred)
2 x 400g tins of chopped or plum tomatoes
Half a medium sized green pepper finely chopped
1 tsp of garlic powder or 2 cloves of fresh
1 Handful of green beans trimmed.
1 x vegetable or chicken stock pot
3 x blocks of frozen spinach or about half a bag of fresh
1 tbsp of mixed Italian herbs or 1 large bunch of fresh basil (if available)
Extra virgin olive oil

  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large heavy pan on a medium heat and add the fresh garlic if using.
  2. Add the 2 tins of tomatoes along with the stock pot and bring to the boil.
  3. Add the garlic powder (if using) peppers, beans and herbs (basil leaves ripped and stalks sliced) continuing to cook on a medium heat.
  4. In a small frying pan fry the bacon until crispy or if using tofu heat a small amount of oil and brown on each side.
  5. Add the chopped bread to the frying pan with another slug of oil and turn over until they start to crisp around the edges.
  6. Your tomato base should be reducing nicely and thickening up by now so you can add the bread mix to it and stir it in – don’t be afraid to add some water to adjust the thickness.
  7. Add your spinach now and allow to defrost or wilt as necessary.
  8. At this point you could serve or put it in the slow cooker for later on (I would suggest not longer than 3 hours though). If you are using the slow cooker/crock pot add about a cup of water

Let me know your thoughts on the recipe – if you have your own recipe for this I would love to hear from you too!

Banana & Coconut Cake

The conquest with coconut flour continues, so do the sight teething problems but I am sure with some tweaking we will get there.As you know I happened upon a vegan banana bread recipe (another one of those necessity is the mother of invention moments) a few weeks ago – check out my original post here. Well the bananas were more than ready to be turned into a cake again, but running low on plain flour what was I to do? The coconut flour called from the cupboard – but last time it turned into some kind of dense macaroon- can I afford another minor hiccup? Surely it wont be the same the bananas are really mushy.As I combined the ingredients it came together rather quickly – I panicked – maybe if I put it in the oven it’ll melt….yes that’ll do it….(not registering that the fat in it is vegetable oil not butter or coconut oil and would probably not melt). I threw it in the oven, hoping that it would magically transform like a caterpillar into a butterfly.Well. The results were not surprising (at least to me) At least it didn’t stick to the tin…the chocolate frosting was ready and waiting in the wings to try and save the day. I whipped up a batch and poured it over. Maybe I didnt wait for it to cool enough but that didn’t seem to matter too much as it set it started to crack. Reflecting on this recipe it might have been better to add nuts and fruit – maybe that would have made it more moist, maybe not.The cake itself is protein packed and serves its cakey purpose but it’s fair to say more experimenting must be done.If you have any experience and thoughts you’d like to share please do – I hope you enjoyed this post, let me know in the comments 🙂

When Gluten-Free is a Necessity

Gluten free is one of those things – you could call it a fad for some but for others it’s a lifestyle they have to observe. Welcome to the table coeliacs! A coeliac friend once said that you can’t avoid gluten completely and if the package says made in same factory as ‘blah blah blah’ then you cant not try, but as with all allergies there are differing degrees of severity. Nut allergies being another perfect example, some even sensitive to traces left on the lips of their partner as they kiss them and some only allergic to certain nuts. Urring on the side of caution can be perceived as boring – but with the right planning it need not be boring at all.People say to me – what do I do I work shifts – it’ll be really difficult. We know from my previous post on homemade pot noodles are the easiest, most allergy friendly fast food for anyone. Be sure to check your noodles, some rice noodles are bulked out with wheat but after some investigation most of my local supermarkets in the UK have either fresh or quick-cook gluten free noodles. I cant speak for internationally so like I said it is prudent to check these things.Unfortunately all these ancient grains such as spelt are among the foods you cannot eat but it doesn’t mean to say that you have to give up bread if you don’t want to. There are also a wide variety of gluten free flours now available – in all purpose and bread varieties so why not have a go at a soda bread loaf? No rising and you get a lovely crusty loaf or rolls.The free-from section of your local supermarket may yield some surprising rewards with quite a few alternatives to the foods you are used to, cheese sauce, pancake mixes and cake mixes to name but a few. If you are used to preparing most of your meals from scratch it will simply be a case of being more aware of what is in your food. Finding the staple alternatives that suit your tastes, little known gluten free gem buckwheat is an excellent alternative in savoury cooking with it’s nutty flavour.Falafel are a delicious chickpea based snack but check the ingredients as they do sometimes put wheat flour in to bulk it up. If you want a fairly definitive reference list of grains to try and ones to avoid check out the Coeliac Society’s page hereIf you have first hand experience with coeliac disease please do give your thoughts and experiences, I want people to be able to share their experiences and help each other.
Source: When Gluten-Free is a Necessity

Dairy Free Chocolate Fudge Icing

Some recipes are discovered out of laziness, some out of necessity, these two reasons are normally interlinked – i.e. I have run out of something and I can’t be bothered to go to the shops…Or like in this case and I had already been to the shops and got ingredients but discovered I was short of butter when I got back. Coconut oil on the shelf. To Google for a recipe – courtesy of OneGreenPlanetIngredients⅓ cup cocoa powder½ cup water¼ cup maple syrup (you can leave this out if necessary)1 tablespoon granulated sugar1 tablespoon powdered sugar1 tablespoon coconut oilPinch of saltMethod1. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat.2. Whisk together while mixture starts to thicken and slightly bubble, this should take about 4-5 minutes.3. Reduce heat to low and continue whisking for another 2-3 minutes, or until frosting is thick.Let cool slightly before using.I added this particular icing to a standard chocolate sponge i.e. eggs, butter etc and the original recipe is paired with a vegan brownie recipe. It’s a versatile addition to any repertoire. My only advice is that you make sure you allow it to cool a bit before you use it…my sponge melted slightly in the middle – not a huge drama – but something to be noted. So as always I hope you enjoy the recipe and let me know if you have any thoughts.
Source: Dairy Free Chocolate Fudge Icing

Weekend Spinach & Feta Pie

This recipe is taken from the Greek dish Spanakopita, I have made no changes to it as there is simply no need. Now arguably you could adapt this recipe for non-dairy and gluten free – it would merely be a case of finding vegan or gluten free puff pastry which in this day and age is becoming significantly easier. A good cashew cheese could easily replace the feta if required. I have found with this dish that if you whisk the eggs in vigorously you should get a rise/souffle effect – this is not guaranteed and certainly not essential – but just to pre-warn you to make sure you place it in the middle of the oven with plenty of room above.You can also make this with frozen spinach if necessary (I do keep frozen spinach as it is by far the easiest and most economical way of using it) it is of course at its absolute best with fresh picked leaves but this is not always practical.So on with the recipe.You will need a pie dish (mine is rectangular 7″ by 11″) 1 Large bag of freshly wash and dried spinach OR 7 to 8 frozen spinach portions defrosted and drained a little bit (you could steam them to speed this up as it does dry the spinach out as it defrosts)6 large free range eggs (no cheap battery eggs – not only is it not ethical but they do not have the flavour or proper consistency). If you are using egg replacements you can either use a branded one OR use a ratio of 1tbsp of flax seed powder to 3 tbsp water this may give the end result a somewhat nuttier and dense result but I imagine still delicious….I will be researching this further this weekend so will let you know!1 pack of feta/greek salad cheese ensure it is drained well of extra moisture so that it doesn’t transfer to the piesalt & pepper to taste1 sheet of pre-made puff pastry – gluten free or vegan substitute (if necessary)The Method:Pre-heat the oven to 180c/350f/gas mark 4.Line the dish with your pastry, if you have extra pastry cuts you can either use them to decorate the top or you can make them into something else. There is no need to make your own pastry as most professional chefs observe it is a waste of time and effort in the scheme of things.Using a food processor blend up the rest of the ingredients so you have a smooth batter.Add the mixture into the pie dish and decorate with extra pastry if using.Place in middle of the oven for 35 minutes (checking after 25 minutes – if the top is looking a little brown move it down)Once cooked remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before serving with sweet potato wedges and salad.I love making this recipe its so easy, i hope you enjoy it, if you have any thoughts or suggestions please let me know in the comments below!
Source: Weekend Spinach & Feta Pie

Homemade Pot Noodle – part 2

In my last post I talked about making my own pot noodles, well I’ve now had a few goes and I think I am getting the hang of it, having tested out a couple of different noodles I continue to try different flavour combinations, some good, some bad. It is by far the easiest thing to do, set your ingredients up and just layer them in a Mason or Kilner jar in fact I use a wide mouthed soup flask. One thing I havent tried is coconut milk or extra soy sauce, partly because I haven’t got round to planning the ingredients to go with them. If you have any suggestions please let me know 🙂 Ingredients1 Tbsp Sauce – Miso/Tom Yum/Umami/any soup type base1 Handful Fresh or frozen vegetables – up to you but do think practically as the veg will not cook in the boiling water, it should however have thawed enough just to warm through. Greens of all kinds work really well as they require little to know cooking and are packed full of good stuff.1 Handful of chopped cooked chicken/pork/sausage/beef – this is totally optional just remember it must be cooked as the boiling water will not cook it for you.1 Serving of Straight to wok/udon/ribbon rice noodles.1 1ltr Mason jar/Kilner Jar or other such heat proof container.Method1. Layer your sauce right at the bottom that way it wont make the noodles soggy.2. Next layer up your vegetables – if you are adding meat be sure to put that layer in between the veg as it keeps it away from the sauce and the noodles.3. Add the noodles on top. Store in the fridge until required (they will keep for up to a week but to be honest they are so quick you could make it fresh everyday like I do.4. When ready add freshly boiled water to the container mixing thoroughly and allow to stand for a minute or two, stir again and enjoy. I’ve added a soft boiled egg to this one to give it the authentic ramen feel.I hope you enjoy my post, if you have any questions please do get in contact or comment below!
Source: Homemade Pot Noodle – part 2

Homemade Pot Noodles & other adventures (original)

I have been aware of the concept of a homemade pot noodle for sometime now, but it is only recently that I have the opportunity to try making them. Indeed I still need to go purchase a few ingredients so that I can actually try making them – more to come later on that – but i’m looking forward to be able to have a go.Yesterday was a cake day. Cake was demanded cake would be made. The lack of eggs caused an initial problem but the sad looking bananas in the fruit bowl told a different story. A recipe for vegan banana bread was duly researched and found, awesomely simple – fat and egg free – what could be better? Well there was also demand for icing – the cupboard bore a measly amount of powdered sugar for such things. It did however yield a half tub of chocolate fudge icing from earlier in the week. Result! The cake came out slightly browner on top than I would have liked but in all honesty with the addition of the icing this was not going to be a problem. Once cooled and iced the cake looks the part – a loaf recipe in an 8″ deep cake tin as my loaf tin is currently out of action. Its a recipe which would lend itself to the addition of a few chocolate chips/nuts/dried fruit, making it a relatively healthy alternative to some of the cakes out there. Although banana is not for everyone it smelt divine as I cut into it – a rush of fresh sweet smell filled my nostrils as I took two slices and wrapped it up to put in the fridge for later.If you are interested in the full recipe check it out via the BBC Good Food website
Source: Homemade Pot Noodles & other adventures