Turkey, lemon, thyme and quinoa meatballs

May 12, 2014

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We all like to think we are completely in control of all of our decisions, but you’d be a fool to think that we’re not influenced by the surge of information free-flowing towards us every day. Advertisers and the like have known that for decades, but even everyday occurrences will alter your behaviour – noticing a workmate wearing a certain shade of lipstick might mean your make-up is subconsciously altered or you may find yourself differing your bar order depending on who you’re with.

I’ve always fancied myself as a healthy eater. I love a plate of Tayyabs lamb chops and a pile of rice smothered in their truly otherworldly grilled aubergine dhal more than life itself, but a body type that hangs onto fat like an enthusiastic shopper clutching a cut-price Celine bag in a sample sale means that I’ve always embraced the other end of the food spectrum too. And do you know what, I like lentils, so it’s hardly even a chore. That said, with the recent increased influx of clean eating seeping into my Instagram feed this year, opening the online rabbit hole to beautifully photographed meals with not a complex carb in sight, I’ve felt the need to up my game a bit. There’s nothing like all your internet friends going bananas for courgette noodles and green juice to make you think that white rice, roast chicken, spinach and soy sauce isn’t the saintly dinner you’ve been kidding yourself it is all this time. I’ve bought the Gwyneth book! I’m serious about this shit!

Turkey meatballs seem to be a much loved food of the feel-good set – low fat, easily flavoured, and easy to make yet fancy-enough looking to give you good Instagram boast-fodder, so I had a bash at my own version, since I’m now a self-appointed member of this smug-club. Initiation through meatballs.

The reasonably bland turkey took on the flavours of the lemon and thyme in these meatballs beautifully to create bites that were both fresh and richly herby, while the added quinoa not only made the meat go further (I got two portions out of just a third of a packet of mince) but made them nutty and wholesome. The tomato sauce here was just quick and basic, so I’d say just it however you usually would make it, or use a simple bit of passata or something, but I’ll throw in the details of my version anyway.

I just had them with some steamed greens, since there was grain in the balls, but you could have them with some spiralised courgette, if you really want to up your likes.

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Avocado hummus

April 28, 2014

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My friend Iso outright refuses to eat what she considers to be 90s foods. Cous cous, sunblush tomatoes, tortilla wraps, pasta salad – she’s as reluctant to eat as a five-year-old with a plateful of broccoli if you present her with any of those. When telling her about this blog post, she responded, ‘you can add balsamic vinegar to my 90s shitlist too’, rather than dismissing this decade-based aversion.

Why? Who knows. Everyone has their beefs don’t they? Try and get me to eat a Muller Light or one of those Belvita breakfast biscuits, tasty as they may be, and I’ll be having none of it either. Nothing gets my goat like processed food in pseudo-healthy packaging. Or idiot food, as I think of it. There’s nothing good for you about something that’s only low in fat because it’s laced with sugar and E-numbers. Natural yoghurt and fruit is good for you. Or a couple of oatcakes and peanut butter – especially because they come without a patronising dose of ‘hey wimminz, let’s be good and stay thin’ marketing. This is nothing to do with food snobbery, I must add. I’ve got a lot of time for a Pot Noodle and Batchelors chicken and mushroom pasta n’ sauce would make my top ten foods – at least they’re honest about their shitness.

But back to the 90s. Hummus is a defining food of the middle class 90s (and my mother’s second favourite food after spaghetti bolognese). It was as much of a symbol of trendy bourgeoise eating as kale and quinoa are now. It’d be used in jokes as shorthand for ‘they’ve gone posh now they’ve moved down that London’.

So how can we update it this for century and get it past the lips of that particular Isabelle and other 90s haterz? Wang in an avocado, that’s how! Avocados in everything will be as much of a marker of our generation as vol au vonts are to our parents’. If Gwyneth Paltrow were to be made a saint (seems possible) then there’d be a bounty of avocados on her saintly crest (or whatever those lovely pictures of saints on the side of spanish buildings are called).

I suppose this recipe is like a cross between guacamole and hummus, the two top dogs of the dip world if you ask me, so a chopped chilli and a squeeze of lime instead of the lemon would probably be quite nice, but I kept this one on the side of a trad hummus – tahini, garlic, lemon- and I liked its simplicity, with a creamy hint of avocado, slathered on an oatcake and with some pepper for dipping.

One thing I will say though – blending up those chick peas was the straw that broke the camel’s back for my already ailing blender, and I had to finish it off with a potato masher. That worked quite well tbh, so unless you’re the proud owner of a swish and sturdy processor, I’d go 100% masher from the start.

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Sausage and roasted fennel penne

April 27, 2014

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So that winter pasta binge I mentioned – what a glorious time it was. Slithery snakes of spaghetti, gallons of creme fraiche, snowy mountains of parmesan and ragu galore. But alas, all good things must come to an end, and it least while I’m professionally required to look nice in clothes, there’ll be no more scoffing bowls-full of pasta-dreams three times a week. Plus, while I don’t want to get all #eatclean dick head on you, it does make you feel like shit if you go bananas on the carbs all the time. It’s just one of life’s great injustices, like hangovers and the fact that I won’t be able to up my goth ante in this Dolce & Gabbana dress when me and Harriet tear the Scottish highlands a new arsehole this summer.

I wouldn’t want to advocate giving anything up entirely though, and this sausage and fennel creation is definitely one worth resurrecting when the pasta mood takes you. It’s especially easy to make because you just roast the sausage, which I like to squeeze out of the skin to make little meatballs, and fennel and the juice that creates is all you need for your pasta sauce. If you did want to lube it up further a spoon of creme fraiche wouldn’t go amiss, because when does creme fraiche ever make something worse, but there’s something quite nice about the almost gravy-like coating the pasta gets just by adding a ladle of starchy, emulsifying pasta water.

The best thing about this dish is the double fennel whammy you get from roasting the bulb and then adding the chopped up fine leaves at the end like a herb. It’s really worth doing that because it adds a really good green freshness, so you might have to stray from the supermarket, who seem to always remove this bit for some reason, into a Whole Foods or other fancy-dan vegetable shop.

I love how fennel has a fresh but earthy taste about it, like the smell after it’s rained, and this dish would be great eaten outside in the summer with a cold glass of dry white wine, most likely in this country, after it had just rained.

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Pickled carrot and smoked tofu quinoa salad

April 27, 2014

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Now that my diet is consisting less of Prosecco and Supernoodles again, I’m bringing this bad-boy of a blog back to life, because a) I’m finding myself coming up with a lot of new recipe ideas lately, and b) you all seem to like my smug healthy Instagrams, so who I am to prevent you the privilege of re-creating them yourself? Expect shit iPhone photography! Sporadic posting! And of course loads of tasty things. What more could you want from a food blog?

I’m on a bit of a Gwyneth tip following a winter pasta binge (is there anything better than a massive steaming bowl of spaghetti and a warming red wine to wash it down with, is there???) and this salad was something I came up with when thinking up a reasonably hearty-but-healthy way of using up my ever expanding stock of carrots. If you’re a Riverford vegetable box subscriber, you’ll know what I’m saying – carrots galore with those lads.

I found the smoked tofu in a health food shop in Dulwich, and I’m sure you can buy it everywhere, and it’s brilliant. It’s nice and firm and is flecked with little bits of cashew and sesame. The smoky taste meant it reminded me of those wonderfully filthy hot dogs from a jar. In fact, you could totally sub the tofu for the dogs if that kind of thing floats your boat. I friend my tofu cubes, because YOLO, and I like hot food, but you could do it raw.

The lightly pickled carrots, and a sweet and sour vietnamese dressing that Uyen Luu taught me how to make at her fantastic Vietnamese cooking class, counter the nutty quinoa and rich smoky tofu with a nice amount of sharp zest. I used some pickle juice out of a pickle-free pickle jar when I made it, just because it was lying around, which I reckon did add some flavour, though any light vinegar – white wine, cider, rice – would do.

Click on through for the recipe.

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Vietnamese spicy lemongrass beef with rice noodles

July 17, 2012

I once did a brilliant cooking class with Vietnamese food extraordinaire Uyen Luu, who showed me that even the most elaborate-seeming dishes can be very easy to make if you follow one basic principal: sweet, sour and salt. Balance these three elements, usually with simple ingredients such as fish sauce, vinegar and sugar, and it doesn’t take much to turn a bit of meat and some noodles into something mega.

This dish is based on something I once had in Mien Tay on Kingsland Road, and is essentially just a load of lemongrass and chilli fried up with some beef mince (a banging combo), thrown on top of some noodles with fresh herbs and vegetables and then dressed in the aforementioned sweet/sour/salt game-changer. Don’t be put off by the long ingredients list – it was very quick and easy to make, and was a proper treat on a gloomy Monday night.

Find out more about Uyen’s Vietnamese cooking class here, and if you’re less inclined to feed than be fed, check out her infamous supper club instead, where Vietnamese delights are always on offer.

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Purple slaw

July 1, 2012

Who doesn’t love slaw (weirdos)? From the mayo-slicked shit you get in Nandos to Spuntino’s incredible slaw, they’re all amazing, especially the all-spice laced one that comes with a Jerk chicken special in Nu-Spice in Brockley, hands down my favourite slaw in the city.

I made this purple extravaganza of red cabbage, beetroot, carrot, mint, mustard seed and red-wine vinegar macerated red onions for an American picnic this weekend. The mustard seeds were thrown in on a whim, but omit them not, as they actually really made it in the end – especially when piled onto a forkful of the shit-hot salt beef that was also present at said picnic.

Recipe after the jump…

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Caribbean roast vegetables

March 11, 2012

Plain roast vegetables need tarting up when you’ve eaten nothing but carrots and swede et al all winter. There’s a recipe in the book, Spice it Up called ‘Levi’s Roots’ by the author of the same name, in which he fries sweet potatoes with caribbean classics, all spice and nutmeg, a combo which I have nicked for this recipe.

As is the case with the Reggae Reggae man’s version, sweet roots such as carrots, parsnip, jerusalem artichokes and swede, which I roasted rather than fried for ease, go perfectly with warming spice, which powers right through any seasonal food monotony. Add some lime-soaked onion and fresh coriander and you’ve got yourself a fresh, crunchy side dish to pep up a bit of grilled meat and salad.

Click through for recipe

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‘Thai’ smoked mackerel pate

March 11, 2012

What to do when you need to knock up a quick canape at the last minute (LOL)? This! All it really involves is a bit of chopping and mixing, and everyone has mackerels, creme fraiche and spices knocking around all the time, right? I actually do, so there. I imagine this would work just as well with soft cheese too.

It’s Thai because it has coriander, chilli, fish sauce and lime in it, obviously.

Bottom line, it was well easy, cheap and quick, and the aforementioned Thai flavours are nice with strong fish, so it is a good alternative to a more usual shallot/parley mix in this kind of recipe.

I served the pate on classy little triangles of toast, but it would be good on any crackery thing or bread, or even a baked potato.

Click through for recipe

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Spiced roasted cauliflower

March 11, 2012

Cauliflower is for sure one of those vegetables that everyone thinks is shit, but is actually really good. While not a big player in the flavour stakes, its relative blandness makes it a brilliant vehicle for other delicious things. Obviously this is why it has long been used to relieve the guilt of simply eating melted cheese off a spoon.

Roasting it with fragrant spices such as cumin and coriander is a nice alternative to cooking it in a sauce such as cheese or curry, as it goes all crispy and retains a nice al dente bite. Breadcrumbs add extra crunch to this recipe, which would be nice eaten with a citrussy roast chicken, some harissa marinated lamb-chops, or even, as I had it, on its own with a dollop of sumac creme fraiche (couple of tablespoons of creme fraiche mixed with one teaspoon of sumac powder) for a healthy lunch.

Click through for recipe

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Coconut pancakes with rum bananas

February 13, 2012

Next week only includes one of the best days of the year; pancake day – the annual Tuesday when we all fry up batter, declare we should do it all the time, then not touch a homemade crepe again until the following February.

So, you may as well make the ones you cook good, and by gum is this tropical bonanza a treat. Coconut! Butter! Sugar! Rum! Mmmmm.

The batter uses desiccated coconut as opposed to coconut milk, as I reckon they’d end up too heavy then, and you need them to be light alongside the rich banaynays.  You could add a load more butter and sugar when you’re cooking the fruit to create more of a caramel sauce, but let’s not get carried away now – this version actually remains (relatively) healthy, and the bananas are moist enough on their own. Just add a dollop of creme fraiche if you’d like it a little wetter.

It’s important to use a good, heavy-bottomed non-stick frying pan when cooking pancakes, for two reasons: firstly, a thick base allows even heat and prevents them easily burning before they’re cooked through, and secondly, a good non-stick coating allows you to add little to no fat for frying, resulting in a much less greasy final dish. The same applies to the banana mix as cooked sugar sticks like chewing gum trodden into carpet. Who wants that? This Marks & Spencer one that I use is good for the price, and of course it’s important to use a non-metal spatula to avoid scratching it.

Recipe after the jump

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