Chocolate porridge

I’m very excited to post about my current favourite breakfast, something I heavily regret having not tried before.

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I’ve posted previously about my beloved porridge ritual, and some of my favourite combinations and toppings; but something I’d yet to try was a simple addition of cocoa powder to my oats.

The best thing I can liken this to is eating thicker, more substantial chocolate mousse: it’s divine. Cocoa powder is obviously unsweetened, so I tried first adding blueberries and banana, but the sweetness of the berries was too tangy. Strawberries were the perfect match to the chocolate and banana; it is literally like having dessert for breakfast.

Quite simply, just add a teaspoon and a half of cocoa powder to your oats, mix it well and let it cook. I added mine after slicing banana into the pan. Once the banana has started to caramelise, add in some halved strawberries, which will add even more natural sweetness. On top, add some almonds and a sprinkling of seeds, along with some more strawberries.

If you think that porridge is too boring and bland – definitely give this a go!

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Take-away or Homemade… Chicken Jalfrezi

I’m not a fan of take-away food. Greasy pizzas, oily curries, and fried chicken of dubious origin never leap out to me as appealing dinner options. If it’s late, and I’m hungry, there are many other routes I would prefer to go down before resorting to the phonebook or nipping down to the chippy.

As a student, I’m quite the deviation in holding this opinion. My flatmates in first-year would regularly order food, typically Dominoes pizza (making use of their attractive discount) or Chinese (complimentary prawn crackers became a permanent fixture on our table), whilst the only time I ever did so was after helping out a lost delivery man, and feeling it would be rude to turn down his offer of a free meal.

I hope I don’t come across as snobby, or thinking myself as in any way superior to my peers because they make different choices to me. I do understand the allure of take-out food: it’s quick, it’s filling, and it satisfies. There is minimal effort involved, and you become an excited child again as the moment of arrival looms closer. Although I don’t find that take-out tastes particularly good, others enjoy it, and everybody has their own tastes.

And believe me, as a normal human being, I am just as susceptible as everybody else to the ease of fast-food. I am partial to fish and chips when at home, and there is simply insufficient resources or time to put together a meal for five hungry people at the end of a long day. For example, after a long country walk, we were exhausted, and starving: so the chippy received a big order. Fish and chips are an easy and not too unhealthy a solution, in comparison to other varieties of takeaways.

However, I don’t think that anyone can deny the superior taste of home-cooked cuisine over that of take-out. Tasting real Indian food at my friend’s house opened my eyes to what I’d been missing out on. Since then, I’ve found that making my own curry not only provides a more flavourful meal, but it’s healthier, and a much more rewarding process.

I put this theory to the test recently, on my dad’s birthday. My mum, being of the ‘take-away is a treat’ mentality, proposed that we order from our local Indian; my dad, not of this mindset, wasn’t much taken with the idea. I offered to make him a curry instead, and he chose chicken jalfrezi. So I turned to a BBC Food recipe I’ve made several times, with some alterations.

You’ll need (to serve five, with a little bit of leftovers):

  • olive or vegetable oil
  • one onion
  • three garlic cloves (as usual, I upped the recipe’s quantity)
  • a green chilli
  • 3 tsp turmeric
  • 3 tsp ground coriander
  • 3 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • salt
  • 750g chicken breasts
  • one and a half tins of chopped tomatoes (the recipe asked for one tin, but I wanted a bit more sauce)
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • one lemon
  • basmati rice (if I’d had it, I would have used brown rice – it’s better for you and I prefer the texture!)
  • 2 naan breads
  • half a bunch of fresh coriander

Start by chopping finely the onion, garlic, and chilli. Heat two tablespoons of oil in a large lidded frying pan, and fry these for four to five minutes. (The recipe wanted 75g of oil – 75g!! Two tbsps weighs 10g. I didn’t want quite so much an oil bath.)

Mix the turmeric and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Chop the chicken breasts into bite-sized chunks, then coat them with the mixture.

Add the chicken to the pan and cook for around fifteen minutes .

Pour in the chopped tomatoes with the ground coriander, cumin, and ginger. Give it a good stir, then put the lid on the pan and cook gently for around twenty-five minutes.

Cook the rice in the meantime. I used to find cooking rice inexplicably tricky, until I flicked through Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course and discovered a fail-safe method: weigh out 5 fluid ounces (150g) of rice for two people. You need double this amount of water – so 10 fl oz for two people. Add this boiling water to the pan, bring it the boil, then put the lid on and bring it down to the gentlest simmer. For fifteen minutes, DON’T TOUCH THE LID. Leave it: don’t be tempted!

(To serve five people, I used the quantities for six – so 15 fl oz of rice to 30 fl oz of water. Simple!)

Cook the naan breads as according to the packet instructions. Pick the coriander leaves from the stems and put them in a bowl. Before serving, stir in the butter to the jalfrezi along with the juice of the lemon. You might want to check if it’s hot enough, too; I added some chilli flakes to give it a bit more spice.

Dish it up with the rice and naan breads, and garnish with coriander. Eat whilst basking in the pride of having produced something better than what the phonebook would have procured.

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Patatas bravas and harissa roasted vegetables

I have a forever-expanding folder brimming with recipes I’ve cut out from magazines and newspapers. I excitedly anticipate the weekend food supplement in our newspaper, and the monthly magazines from supermarkets, and I’ll happily sit with a pair of scissors and extract whatever I want.

The result is my very own personalised cookbook, organised into categories including vegetables, curry, and chicken. (Don’t ask me where I would put a recipe for a chicken and vegetable curry – I must revise the efficiency of my system.)

When I need some cooking inspiration, I whip out my folder and skim through it. Earlier this week, I found two recipes which seemed to complement each other quite well: patatas bravas (something I’ve been wanting to attempt, since eating tapas), and roasted vegetables with harissa.

Previously, I’d never tried harissa, and knew it only for its hefty price tag of £2 for a small pot. However, I would now highly recommend it: it gives food a smoky taste, like paprika, with a good chilli kick. It’s made from roasted red peppers and chilli peppers, and a little goes a long way.

I’ll start with the vegetables, which can be roasted as you make the patatas bravas. This recipe is from The Times magazine, which does a weekly ‘The Only Four Recipes You’ll Ever Need’ page; this one featured ‘A Jar of Harissa’.

You’ll need (to serve 4):

  • 2 red peppers, sliced
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 fennel bulbs
  • olive oil
  • a jar of harissa
  • a small handful of mint

I was serving five (three of whom have quite large appetites), so I adjusted the recipe by adding two courgettes.

Start by slicing up the peppers and courgettes, and spread into two roasting tins. Cut the grassy tops off the fennel, discard the outer layer and chop into small pieces, then add them to the trays.

Mix three tablespoons of olive oil with three tablespoons of harissa, and drizzle over the vegetables. Stir to coat, and grind over some salt and pepper.

Roast for forty minutes until charred. The recipe then went on to add cooked quinoa and scattering over mint, but I didn’t think the mint would particularly complement the tomatoey potatoes, so left it out. That being said, if I made the veg with quinoa, I’d give the mint a go – it would complement nicely the fennel.

Next, the patatas bravas, a Spanish tapa consisting of fried potatoes in a spicy sauce. I used a recipe also cut out from The Times magazine, which in turn had been extracted from The Tomato Basket, a cookbook. Again, I altered the recipe for my family.

You’ll need (to serve six):

  • 1kg waxy potatoes
  • one onion
  • three garlic cloves
  • chilli flakes
  • sherry vinegar (I didn’t have this, so used red wine vinegar)
  • two 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
  • hot smoked paprika
  • basil

Boil the potatoes until tender. (The recipe wanted me to peel them beforehand, but as I had a bag of baby potatoes, I decided to spare myself this additional labour.) Drain the potatoes off.

Peel and chop the onion and garlic. Heat some olive oil in a deep bottomed pan, then fry for two minutes until fragrant.

Add in two tablespoons of red wine vinegar, cook for a minute, then pour in the tomatoes. Season with salt, pepper, chilli flakes, and paprika. (In the cupboard, my mum had a little box of something Spanish called pimenton. It smelled like paprika, so on a creative whim, I added a generous amount of this instead. Upon later Googling what this mysterious pimenton was, I was disappointed to find that it’s actually just the Spanish for paprika, and it wasn’t of the hot smoked variety. So, I am less of a culinary innovator than I thought.)

Bring to the boil, and cook uncovered, stirring often, for ten to fifteen minutes until thickened.

In another frying pan, heat two tablespoons of olive oil, and add the potatoes to fry until browned. If you’re using the same quantity of potatoes as I did, you’ll want to do this in two batches. Make sure to season with salt.

Once the potatoes are brown, add them to the sauce, and mix them together.

Serve with the roasted vegetables and some basil.

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The tomato sauce was really delicious; I’m not sure what difference using sherry vinegar would have made, but the red wine vinegar gave it such a rich flavour. Leaving the skin on the potatoes proved to be an inspired bit of laziness, as they added crispiness. I really enjoyed this combination, and hope that you will too!

Dark chocolate chip cookies

I love the bakery counter in supermarkets. The fresh bread, hand-decorated muffins, and specialty cakes always catch my eye. I have fond memories of our former Saturday tradition of a fresh baguette from Sainsbury’s, which my brothers and I would hack to pieces and devour with masses of butter and cheese. The rows of packed biscuits will forever have a powerful influence over me, in the ‘Finest’ or ‘Taste the Difference’ range: chocolate and orange shortbread, triple chocolate cookies, salted caramel, oat and raisin… I am a sucker for baked goods.

As a teenager, I spent two weeks on a work experience placement in Sainsbury’s, working mainly in the bakery, which I believe helped to ignite my biscuit fetish. I had the opportunity to fill cream cakes and pack warm, newly-baked biscuits from the huge ovens. Although some of the goods were pre-frozen, the bakers still knew their stuff, and I would watch as they kneaded out dough with capable hands to bake bread. Proper bread is one of life’s greatest pleasures, in my opinion; at home we have a breadmaker, and the smell of a fresh loaf in the morning is possibly one of the best things in the world to wake up to. (Ok, so our loaves aren’t strictly proper, not being baked in an oven – but they’re certainly so much better than shop-bought, preservative-ridden loaves, which limit the greatness of a truly tasty sandwich.)

I’m rambling. I just love baking, so naturally I indulge in it quite frequently. My latest endeavour, however, cast into direct opposition the supermarket cookies I so greatly adore, with my own home-baked, humbler biscuits.

I followed a recipe for dark chocolate chip cookies from ‘Kitchen Know-How’, a Sainsbury’s cookbook I found in a charity shop. As with almost every recipe under the sun, I adapted it to suit my own tastes and ingredients.

I tried one of these alongside a Tesco Finest dark chocolate cookie. The latter, in comparison, was overwhelmingly sweet, and not really of a biscuit consistency at all – it was more, well, doughy. Home-baked triumphs over shop-bought! (Unless, perhaps, you buy something from an expensive artisan bakery.)

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You’ll need:

  • 200g good quality dark chocolate (I did actually use Sainsbury’s. Shamelessly promoting)
  • 125g butter, softened to room temperature (the recipe called for unsalted, but I find the salt in salted butter complements the dark chocolate well)
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 125g porridge oats (don’t use ready-cook oats!)
  • 150g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder

Start by preheating the oven to 180° F, or gas mark 4. Line two baking trays with baking paper.

Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl until pale. You can use an electric hand mixer, but a whisk worked just fine for me.

Crack in the eggs, then add the vanilla extract and the oats. Chop up the dark chocolate into small pieces – the recipe recommended 1cm chunks. (You could use chocolate chips, but chunks are nicer to bite into, I find, and taste better too. If you’ve got a really sweet tooth, add white chocolate as well – the original recipe asked for 125g dark and 125g white.) Mix until well combined.

Take blobs of dough the size of an apricot, and place fairly spread apart on the trays. I made 18 altogether.

Bake for about 15 minutes in the oven, until golden brown around the edges. If your oven isn’t particularly great (like mine), you might want to swap the trays round halfway through.

Leave to cool for as long as you can bear before eating. Store the remainders in an airtight container.

Enjoy!

Egg-fried rice with mushrooms and peas

At home, there’s inevitably less freedom with what I can choose to eat. Although the quality (and quantity) of the produce my family buys is so much better than I can afford as a student, I’ve been rather missing making my own meals. Although my mum cooks, I offer to make dinner once a week to make her life easier; I’d do it more often, if she only trusted my culinary abilities a little more.

Last night’s dinner was a leftovers / freezer meal affair. So, I seized the opportunity to dust off my wok and cook something for myself – without having to worry about catering to the tastes of my family.

There are several ingredients I am expressly forbidden to cook with, including mushrooms and soy sauce. My poor bottle of soy sauce has been sadly neglected since my return from uni, so it seemed only right to bring it out: I opted for a stir fry, and threw in an egg for a little more protein. In the absence of mangetout or beansprouts, I added peas (no less inferior, in their defense).

I love the silky texture of egg-fried rice, and the flavour added by the ginger and the chilli is great. You could also add in some ready-cooked prawns to bulk it out a little more.

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Here’s what I used.

  • 80g rice
  • olive oil
  • a spring onion
  • knob of peeled ginger
  • two cloves of garlic
  • half a red chilli
  • seven small mushrooms (around 90g)
  • three tablespoons of frozen peas
  • an egg
  • soy sauce

First, finely chop the garlic, ginger, chilli and spring onion.

Measure out double the volume of boiling water to your amount of rice. Get it simmering gently on the stove with the lid on.

Put the peas in a bowl with a few tablespoons of water and pop in the microwave for around three minutes. (You can boil them, if you’re feeling less lazy than I was.)

Heat the wok for around 30 seconds on the stove, then warm up a tablespoon of olive oil. You don’t want the oil to get too hot, or the garlic will toast to a crisp when it hits the bottom. Flick a drop of water into the wok – if it crackles slightly, it’s time to add the garlic, chilli, ginger and spring onion.

Stir fry for around five minutes, breathing in the lovely aromatic smell. Lift up the wok from the heat every now and then if you’re afraid of the spices burning.

Drain the peas and check on the rice – you may need to add a little more water, or to drain some off.

Throw in the mushrooms and fry. (Most recipes tell me to stir fry these for only a couple of minutes, but I like mine softer, so I fry them for about five minutes.)

Mix in the cooked rice and peas, and stir until heated through.

Beat an egg into a mug, then make a well in the rice and pour it in. Stir constantly for two minutes, or until the egg is cooked.

Splash with soy sauce, mix it up, and serve. Enjoy!

Mildred’s and Basil mayonnaise

A few weeks ago, my friend and I visited a vegetarian restaurant in London called Mildred’s. It’s a quirky little place with a brightly-lit dining space, a bar to sip cocktails in whilst you wait for a table, and a friendly team of staff.

I’m not a vegetarian, but I’m an advocate of reducing society’s meat consumption for a more sustainable way of living. If we all ate meat only two or three times a week, then fewer animals would be slaughtered; deforestation for land to both feed and graze cattle would reduce; and the production of CO2 and waste products would dramatically decline.

So, I was excited by the prospect of a veggie meal. My friend and I each ordered the classic burger, consisting of smoked tofu, lentils, pepper, red onion and rocket, and a choice of monterey jack or vegan cheese. These burgers were incredible – flavourful, filling, and just as satisfying as any form of meat. I chose sweet potato wedges as a side, which were crisped to perfection.

Veggie burger

Veggie burger

After popping to the loo down a veritable maze of stairs – and almost walking into the stock room – we left, extremely satisfied. In total I spent £8 on the burger and £4 on the fries, which for a London restaurant, was rather cheap – and well worth it.
Now, I haven’t yet mentioned the basil mayo which came with my fries. This mayo was so good that I just had to recreate it myself. Its creaminess and balancing flavours of basil and lemon make it the perfect dip for just about anything: I’ve also had it with cucumber and carrot batons. It is simply perfect.
I used this recipe as a guideline, but have adapted it to my own tastes.
You’ll need:
  • 65ml mayo (can be egg-free if you wish)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • two cloves of crushed garlic
  • juice of half a lemon
  • two handfuls of fresh basil
  • pinch of salt

Put everything into a food processor and blend for short intervals, making sure to scrape around the sides to mix everything together. Taste it as you go, and feel free to add a little more of any of the ingredients! It won’t take long to blend, but the smell and flavour released by the basil will be lovely.

There you have it. I do reccommend Mildred’s if you’re in and about London, although it’s a little tricky to find. If you can’t visit, this mayo is good enough to be enjoyed at home.

Homemade banana ice cream

I scream for ice cream. Except I don’t, really. Being an almost permanently cold person, I’m not the biggest fan of cold foods, and tend to opt instead for warmer sweet treats and snacks.

That being said, ice cream features strongly in my fond memories of childhood summers. The well-known ice cream van anthems – typically the Cornetto advert song – far in the distance would activate my conditioned tastebuds, and I’d begin salivating for a chunky Magnum or a double 99. I remember counting out my collection of pennies to pay for a milk lolly at the van, much to the impatience of the driver; and I will never forget the pleasure of coming home after school, digging in the freezer for a Fab, and slowly scraping the chocolate sprinkles off with my teeth. Holidays in France saw us most days buying ice cream from the men who ran along the beach with their cooler boxes, or at the magnificent little parlours offering a huge variety of flavours, from Toblerone to pistachio.

I believe my tastes in ice cream have matured a little since the days of Calippo Shots, Feasts, and whopping bowls of Neopolitan drenched in strawberry sauce. I prefer a scoop of vanilla ice cream alongside a warm chocolate brownie, or strawberries. But what recently knocked my socks off was this incredibly simple banana and chocolate ice cream, made for me by a friend.

Banana ice cream

Banana ice cream

The recipe couldn’t be any simpler. Simply break three bananas into bite-sized pieces and put in the freezer (touching as little as possible, or they’ll freeze in clumps.) After at least four or five hours, take them out and pop them in a food processor with half a tablespoon of cacao powder. (You can use cocoa powder – but as the former is much stronger, you’ll need to at least double the quantity.) Blend it up until it’s got the consistency of ice cream, occasionally removing the lid to scrape along the sides to make sure it’s all well-incorporated. Don’t over-blend, or it’ll be too smooth. Then scoop out into two bowls (or into cones), sit in the sun, and enjoy.

And there you have it! It’s absolutely delicious, and probably the healthiest ice cream out there. You could throw in some berries or a squirt of maple syrup for some extra sweetness, but by itself this ice cream rivals any standard supermarket tub. Look out, ice cream van drivers.