Friday, 31 August 2012

Foodie Pen Pal Parcel - No added sugar fruit and seed bars

It's foodie pen pal parcel time and as I have been waiting in eager anticipation for my parcel to arrive FPP fever seems to have spread to a number of my colleagues (there may be a few new recruits to the scheme soon!!). In fact I think they may have been more excited than me as I tore in to my parcel to see what my Foodie Pen Pal Sheila sent me this month. Luckily Sheila didn't disappoint....look at what I got!

An Eccles Cake - Sheila lives in Salford and this is a local product. I haven't had an Eccles cake for years so am looking forward to tucking into this (possible as Sheila suggests, smothered in lots of custard!)

Strawberry Chocolate - Another local treat from a shop in Ramsbottom. Not a combination of chocolate I have seen before and a really yummy treat.

Black tea with sunflower blossoms - I love any slightly unusual tea and can't wait to try a cup of this might even make a good accompaniment to the Eccles cake.

Zatar Spice Mix - This  spice mix is full of wonderful little sesame seeds (I think it is fair to say I regularly declare my love for all things sesame on the blog) and smells delightful so can't wait to find an exciting use for this one....the tin has a recipe for spiced flat breads on it that I may have to try!

So thanks Sheila everything in the parcel is really lovely :o)

And now onto the parcel I sent this month. This month I sent my first international parcel to Christien in the Netherlands (check out her blog to see what I sent her). Christien asked for healthy treats that she could eat at work so amongst some of my favourite bars and treats available in the shops over here I decided to make some fruit and seed bars which contain no added sugar or fat to send in the parcel too. I was really pleased with the result and I hope Christien enjoyed them too!


280g of unsweetened apple and pear spread (I used Suma’s spread which is made from concentrated apple and pear juice and nothing else!)
50g dried papaya
50g dried pineapple
50g sunflower seeds
40g pumpkin seeds
3 tablespoons of poppy seeds
100g rolled oats
40g desiccated coconut
100g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs

Pre-heat the oven to 200 deg C /400 deg F

Line a rectangular (28cm x 22cm) baking tin with greaseproof paper

Spoon the fruit spread into a large bowl and add the dried fruit and seeds and mix together until well combined.

Next add the oats, coconut and flour and continue to mix before finally adding the eggs and stirring so that all of the mixture is well combined and the fruit and seeds are evenly distributed throughout the mixture.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and spread out so it is evenly distributed.

Then pop the tin in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before transferring to a cooling rack. Finally cut into bars and enjoy!

This recipe was inspired and adapted from the beautiful recipes at Roxana's Home Baking

Friday, 24 August 2012

Sous vide steak

In the past couple of weeks my post-olympics / pre-paralympics TV void has been nicely filled by the return of Great British Bake Off and Celebrity MasterChef. The kitchen skills employed by the celebrities currently embroiled within the latest series of MC have yet to reach the level of molecular gastronomy but if like me you are a regular viewer of anything that features Gregg Wallace, Michel Roux Jnr or Heston Blumenthal I’m sure you will be familiar with the concepts of making ice cream with liquid nitrogen or the creation of foams with CO2 loaded canisters.

Another technique that seems to have been adopted on TV cookery programmes in the last few years is sous vide cookery. If you don’t know what sous vide cookery is it basically involves cooking food in sealed plastic bags which are placed in a water bath at a specifically set temperature, which allows the food to be cooked for long periods of time without overheating and overcooking. By cooking for a longer period of time at a lower temperature than in an oven or under a grill the core of the food reaches the desired temperature without overcooking the outside and this is meant to help food retain its juices and flavours. Since the rise in popularity of this cooking method (despite it being first described in 1799 by Sir Benjamin Thompson…so Wikipedia informs me!!!) sous-vide machines for the domestic kitchen are now available but with a price tag in excess of £200 they probably aren’t classed as an essential kitchen gadget by the majority of people no matter how foodie obsessed they may be!

There are however numerous examples on-line of DIY versions of sous-vide cookery, often involving cool boxes or slow cookers. And so I was inspired to embark on the world of sous-vide cookery without the aid of fancy gadgets or machines but simply a slow cooker, some sandwich bags and a digital thermometer!

I think the obvious choice for sous vide cookery is steak and so after a quick trip to my local butchers I returned with a couple of sirloin steaks all ready to go!


Slow cooker
Digital kitchen thermometer
Large sealable sandwich bags


Begin by choosing the temperature at wish you would like to cook your steak, which will of course depend on how you like to eat steak! The following table should give an indication of the temperature you should be aiming at;

Medium-well done

Now you need to fill the slow cooker with water at the appropriate temperature. I did this by boiling a kettle and half filling the slow cooker with the hot water before adding cold water to achieve the desired temperature using the digital thermometer. Then I set the slow cooker to the ‘Warm’ setting to try and maintain the temperature of the water.

I found that during the cooking process the water temperature in the slow cooker did slowly creep up so I began by setting the temperature of the water at the lower end of the temperature range I required (e.g. for a medium-rare steak begin by getting the water to 55°C).

Next place the steak into a sandwich bag. I cooked 2 steaks at once in my slow cooker but placed each in a separate bag. To expel all of the excess air from the bag take a large bowl filled with cold water and slowly lower the sandwich bag containing the steak into the water until the opening of the bag is just above the water level. This should force the air out of the bag so that the bag can then be sealed up.

Then take the sealed up steak and lower into the slow cooker before placing the temperature probe part of the thermometer into the water and placing on the lid and leaving to cook for 2 hours.

As I explained I did find that the temperature of the water slowly crept up over the cooking period and didn’t remain constant as it would do in a real sous vide machine. So I kept checking the thermometer reading throughout the cooking process and as it began to near the upper limit of the medium-rare cooking range (60°C) I would add a little more cold water to reduce the temperature back down to 55°C. Handily my digital thermometer has an alarm that sounds when the desired temperature is reached so I was quickly alerted to an undesired rise in temperature and was able to adjust the water temperature when needed.

But apart from the odd addition of a cup of cold water you do just leave the steak cooking away for a couple of hours which left me with plenty of time to get on with preparing the all important accompaniment of chunky chips!!!

After 2 hours turn off the slow cooker and remove the steak containing sandwich bags. Take a large frying pan and place over an incredibly high heat and leave until the surface of the pan is volcanically hot. Then remove the steaks from the sandwich bags and place in the pan searing the steaks on each side to produce a nice brown and caramelised finish. This last cooking stage should really only take a matter of seconds on each side and just provides a little extra colour as the steaks are perfectly cooked on removal from the makeshift water bath.

And there you are…a sous vide style steak ready to serve up alongside those chunky chips and perhaps a good dollop of English mustard!!  

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Yoghurt, honey and pistachio lollies

After tales of the child labour imposed on my brother and I during our summer holidays in my last blog post (sorry mum!!) this time I am recounting much happier summertime memories.

My mum taught me how to cook and most of my culinary skills were taken from watching her at work in the kitchen. Another incredibly important skill that I learnt from my mum was how to be resourceful in the kitchen!! One particular example of this culinary resourcefulness occurred on a particularly hot and sunny day back in those days when we actually got proper summers. Our stock of ice pops in the freezer had been depleted and my brother and I were desperate for a lolly! Due to living at the top of quite a big hill the ice cream van never ventured as far as our house and we were limited on alternative ice cream sources. So my mum came up with the ingenious idea of sticking teaspoons into petit filous that were sitting in the fridge and bunging the little yoghurt pots into the freezer for a couple of hours before removing from the freezer and ripping off the yoghurt pot to be left with a frozen yoghurt on a spoon….genius!

As the bloggers scream for ice cream challenge set by Kavey at Kavey Eats this month is lollies I thought I would take inspiration from my mum and those glorious summer days and have made a slightly more grown up version of the original frozen yoghurt lollies. And the great thing about these is that you don’t need any specialist lolly making equipment or moulds….just some empty yoghurt pots, some tea spoons and some cling film.


The exact quantity of ingredients needed will depend on the size of the yoghurt pots used as moulds but this recipe is based on used 125g yoghurt pots.

Makes 4

4 125g empty yoghurt pots
4 teaspoons
Cling film
500g Greek yoghurt
4 tablespoons honey
80g pistachios
½ teaspoon of orange blossom water or rose water (depending on taste)

Place the yoghurt and honey into a bowl and mix until well combined.

Add the orange blossom water or rose water to the yoghurt mixture and stir together (I thought that traditionally rose water combines best with the pistachio and yoghurt combination of this lolly but I sometimes find rose water a little overpowering so I also tried the recipe out with orange blossom water as an alternative and it worked really well too…so the choice of flavouring is up to you!).

Put the pistachios into a food processor and pulse until the nuts are chopped into small chunks then fold the nuts into the yoghurt mixture until they are evenly distributed throughout the mix.

Distribute the mixture evenly between each of the yoghurt pots and place a teaspoon in each pot.

When we made these as children we always left the lids on the yoghurts and inserted the spoons through the lids to help keep the spoons in place while the lollies are freezing. In this instance because empty yogurt pots are being used as moulds once the spoons have been placed into the pots cover each pot with cling film carefully pushing the end of the spoon though the cling film. Tightly wrap the cling film around the top of the pot so that the spoon is held up vertically. Then place the yoghurt pots in the freezer.

Leave overnight and then remove from the freezer. Remove the cling film from the top of the pots and then with the aid or a pair of kitchen scissors cut away the yogurt pot (I did try to remove the lollies from the yogurt pot moulds without damaging the pots but found it really difficult so ended up just cutting away the pots…but seeing as these are already recycled items I didn’t think it mattered too much!).

Then tuck in and enjoy!

This recipe was inspired by my mum!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Broad Bean Hummus

As a child I really wasn’t a big fan of broad beans. I think some of the aversion I felt towards this vegetable stemmed from family camping holidays where my brother and I would be forced to sit down outside of the tent and pod what seemed like 1000’s of the things for hours before then sitting down and reluctantly munching through them during dinner. I should probably state that my memories may be a little distorted and my mum would probably argue that we were nicely asked to assist in dinner preparation and no real child labour was forced upon us during these summer holidays (but that’s not how I remember it!!!).

But anyway I seem to have overcome this dislike for broad beans and they are now one of my favourite summer vegetables. As soon as locally grown beans start appearing in the greengrocers I start to get excited. I think it is best to keep recipes with fresh vegetables as simple as possible and I usually through a handful of broad beans into a salad or risotto but another of my favourite broad bean recipes is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s broad bean hummus.  I’m not sure what the actual definition of hummus is but unlike the traditional chick pea dip this simple recipe has none of the typical ingredients such as tahini but this really allows the summery freshness of the broad beans to shine through.


400g shelled broad beans (if you can’t get fresh broad beans frozen are fine)
1 clove of garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to season

Put the broad beans into a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat and allow to simmer for about 15 minutes until the beans are tender. Remove from the heat and drain. Once cooled slip the beans out of their rubbery skins.

Put the beans along with the rest of the ingredients into a food processor and whizz to produce a thick puree like consistency. If you find it a little too thick at this stage add a little more oil or lemon juice to thin out slightly.

For a slight twist add some freshly torn up mint leaves to the food processor with the rest of the ingredients.

Then transfer to a serving dish and enjoy with crudités, flat breads and crackers.

This will keep in the fridge for a couple of days and after making a very large batch of this recently I also successfully froze smaller portions in sandwich bags.