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Last week’s warm weekend, with its ingratiating mantra and promise of sunnier climes, tricked me into thinking spring had arrived.  One minute I was making daisy chains in the mother-in-law’s garden with two nymphy children running naked circles around me; the next I’m impersonating a drowned rat towing two smaller drowned rats through gale-force winds and bucketing rain.  However, I will not succumb and allow the weather to batter my optimism for the springtide.  Instead I battered some cauliflower, all the while reminding myself that the rain is good for the garden.

I recently revisited Israel with the husband and kids, and was reminded that this crazy, beautiful country has such a wonderful food culture.  Influenced by the many peoples who have passed through, we feasted upon the fruits of their histories and of their land.  We ate spiced chicken liver with secular Israelis in Tel Aviv, the headiest choug from a humble stall in a shouk, hamishe chicken soup with Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, baklava that tasted like liquid gold, and the freshest seafood with Arabs in Jaffa.  And one of my best discoveries was the way they cook cauliflower: charred whole on a grill or fried until golden, it transcends the transgressing British way of boiling the life out of the cauliflower until you are left with nothing more than a pappy and soggy yellowing corpse.

So, allow me to introduce to you my very easy and incredibly moreish recipe for Crispy Cauliflower with Ras el Hanout, Tahini and Date Syrup.  The family went crazy for this dish, with its sweet spiced charms and its crispy and creamy texture.  It takes minutes to make and serves four grown ups as a starter.

Ras el Hanout is an intoxicating blend of spices originating in Morocco and used throughout North Africa.  Like many spice mixes, there isn’t one definitive blend, but the one I have includes rose petals, paprika, cumin seed, coriander seed, salt, chilli, black pepper, cinnamon, fennel seed, turmeric, cardamom, mace, pink peppercorn,  black onion seed, ginger, nutmeg, star anise, and clove.  I particularly like the floral balance of the rose petals and their aphrodisiac suggestiveness: roses in cooking will forever remind me of this wonderful scene from one of my favourite books-to-films, ‘Like Water for Chocolate’, (http://youtu.be/79KNO67c-UM) although don’t expect my cauliflower to have the same sort of effect (especially if your mother-in-law is dining with you).

1 cauliflower
50g gram (chickpea) flour
2 teaspoons of ras el hanout
3 tablespoons of tahini
1 tablespoons of date syrup
1 tablespoon of fresh coriander, finely chopped
Oil for frying (such as coconut, groundnut or sunflower), enough to fill your frying pan 5cm up from the bottom

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Whilst you do this, wash and cut up your cauliflower into chunky florets.

Plunge the florets into the water and blanche for a couple of minutes.  Drain and pat dry.

Mix the ras al hanout spice mix with the gram flour and add the cauliflower whilst still warm.  Using your hands coat all the florets well.

Pour the oil into a heavy-bottomed frying pan, covering so that the oil reaches around 5cm up the side.  Heat over a medium/high heat.  When the oil is hot (but not smoking) add the cauliflower (in batches if your pan isn’t large enough) and fry until golden brown – this will probably take around 5 minutes – ensuring your turn the florets so they colour evenly and do not burn.

Remove from the pan and drain on some paper towel.

Whilst still warm, arrange on either one large serving plate or smaller plates, and dress liberally with the tahini, date syrup and a scattering of coriander.  (I also finished my dish with some deliciously delicate wild garlic flowers from the mother-in-law’s garden.)

Firstly, I’d like to start this message by thanking you for following my blog.  It’s amazing that even one of you (you know who you are, Bubbe) is vaguely interested in my writing and cooking.

Now, I have some exciting news!

I have a new site for The Mother-in-Law’s Kitchen!  I will stop writing here and instead be posting here at themotherinlawskitchen.com

Please start following me there instead.  (For those of you who have signed up via email you won’t need to register again.  But for those bloggers who follow me through WordPress, you will have to do so again if you want to be notified about new posts.)
Thank you again,

The Daughter-in-Law x

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Nettle_soup9

It’s a warm (Eng. translation: not cold), windy Tuesday.  The washing is on the line.  The mother-in-law’s house is quiet, everyone is out.  Everyone except me.  Short of streaking through the house, bosoms flapping like wings, shrieking “I’m freeeeeeeeeeee”, I am enjoying a rare moment of indulgence.  I have no appendages: the husband is on parental duty this afternoon and the mother-in-law is meditating for the Master’s birthday (the Master is not, as you may assume, a pet-name for the on-off psychotherapist boyfriend, he is her Guru).  Because of this, Ian – the mother-in-law’s friend-slash-gardener – did not come on his usual Tuesday round and I do sort of miss the sound of he and the mother-in-law hacking through the wilderness that is the garden, in between breaks for strong coffee, paper-weight heavy tea loaf, and catching up on the Brandon Hill community goss.  So for today, the garden is mine too.

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On Sunday, I noticed a huge clump of stinging nettles bursting forth beneath the wonky palm in the garden, and nettle soup came to mind.  It does sound a touch trite and so, well, Second World War but today I thought I’d give it a go (especially as I’m on a bit of a mission to use and grow as much as I can from the mother-in-law’s garden).  I mean, it can’t be that bad – I have at least two recipes for the dish in my cookery book collection.

In their second and most excellent installment about nose-to-tail eating (‘A Kind of British Cooking: Part II‘), Fergus Henderson and Justin Piers Gellatly offer a recipe for ‘Nettle and Snail Soup’.  I utterly respect the nod to tradition, the commitment to sourcing from ye backyard, and that the final aesthetic could resemble a beautiful English garden idyll in a bowl, but these are a crouton-too-far for me; in my head the snails are tiny, inedible lilos, bobbing their way around an algae-green pond.  Should there be another era of rationing I may change my mind but, for now, I just cannot bring myself to eat snails.  I’m sorry.

Henderson and Gellatly’s recipe for the soup itself is full of allium richness – leeks, onions and garlic – and so too is the one I found in my coveted copy of Lindsey Bareham’s ‘A Celebration of Soup’ (a recipe which is adapted from one served in a restaurant in County Cork, Ireland).  Minus the leeks and a couple of other small differences (the addition of snails in one and cream in t’other), there’s a major disparity in that Bareham doesn’t use potatoes (or any starch, for that matter) and the two chaps use a whopping FOUR (although they do pass the soup through a sieve.  Twice.  And I can’t be bothered with that kind of faff.)

In a bid to counter-balance these peculiarities, my recipe uses one large potato and no faffing about, and thus I hope pleases both camps: that supporting watery soup and the other, team baby-food.

Now to the main ingredient: you may question the use and ingestion of stinging nettles (I don’t blame you – the plant’s common name doesn’t bode well for hinting at the pleasure and nutrition within its eating) but I tell you now, these are some of the most pleasant and delightfully subtle greens you can eat, they’re very good for you (a rich source of protein, vitamins A, C, potassium, manganese, calcium, and iron), and they’re free for all in their abundance.

As I’ve said before, it’s lovely to cook using foraged food from the mother-in-law’s garden (see my recent post for Wild Garlic & Hazelnut Pesto) and I encourage you to seek out your own edible goodies but, again, I’ll reiterate the need for common sense; you are picking STINGING nettles after all.  You can find heaps of advice online or use a guide like the one I recently recommended by Richard Mabey, who writes a great deal on the plant.  For example, one should not pick and eat stingers past the month of June (when nettles also begin to flower) because the leaves become coarse in texture and bitter on the tongue, and hugely laxative.  And you probably don’t want this sort of effect from your hors d’oeuvre (unless, of course, you have your mother-in-law coming for dinner.)

There’s something incredibly empowering and wholesome about growing and/or picking one’s own ingredients, and in this case the picking doesn’t have to be the digit-stinging labour you anticipate either.  There’s a secret trick to handling the stinging nettle – especially when picking the young tips, which are the bits you want to use for this recipe – and this video illustrates perfectly how to do so.  Otherwise, don the Marigolds and head out yonder for thee fare…

Now for the foodie bit: like spinach, stinging nettles are incredibly iron-rich (making this a perfect vegetarian alternative to chicken soup) and thus share an affinity with the flavours of garlic and lemon (and nutmeg but I don’t use spices in this recipe).  My recipe also includes cucumber, quickly soused in lemon, to add some crunch to the soup (where regular or animal croutons may ordinarily be used), match the coolness of the nettles, and add a little sharp note.  Cut in ultra-fine ribbons it takes on a sort of loksheny role, even if it does look pretty fancy schmancy (especially atop a dollop of crème fraîche or yogurt).

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This soup is very quick to make and serves 4-6 people, depending on the generosity of the cook/the appetite of the diner.

Ingredients

100g young tips of stinging nettles, washed thoroughly (with gloves on!)
1 large potato, peeled and cut into smallish cubes
2 white onions, peeled and chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 pints cold water
Light olive oil
Juice of a lemon
Half a cucumber, peeled
Sea salt and pepper (I like white here) to taste
Creme fraiche or yoghurt to serve

Method

Having collected your young stinging nettle tips, wash them thoroughly (with gloves on!) and set aside.

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Peel your cucumber and – using the peeler or a mandolin – cut very fine strips until you get to the seeded core (which you should either eat or compost – please don’t throw it away).  Place the strips into a bowl, add half the lemon juice and give it all a good stir.  Refrigerate until serving.

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Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a low heat and add your onions and potatoes.  Sweat them down with a lid on, stirring every now and then to ensure they don’t catch.  (Henderson and Gellatly suggest sweating for this sort of length of time to ensure you get the most flavour from your veg.  I would agree.)

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After about 10 minutes, and when the onions are soft and translucent, add the garlic and soften for a couple more minutes.

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Now add the nettles, stir in the pan for a minute or so, and then pour in the cold water.  Turn up the heat a bit and bring the pan to the boil.

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Once boiling, turn down to a simmer and cook for a further five minutes.  Remove from the heat and cream the soup using a hand- or stand-alone blender.  Add the remaining lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper.

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Serve this soup hot or cold and with or without a spoonful of crème fraîche or yogurt on top, and garnish with the soused cucumber.

Glossary
Soused – a quick way of pickling, commonly using vinegar and a blend of spices and herbs.
Loksheny – my own made-up adjective from the noun, lokshen, meaning Jewish egg noodles.  Use it to describe something as a bit noodly.
Fancy schmancy – with the addition of the Yiddish prefix ‘schm’, this term is somewhat dismissive of the fancy bit.  Sarcasm, Jewish style.
Faffing about – to my surprise this is not a Yiddish term.  But it is just as fun to write and say out loud.


End note

You can wow your little ones with an experiment: steep some nettle leaves in hot water, then squeeze in a bit of lemon juice, and watch the liquid turn from green to pink. It’s all about the pH, man.  Here’s a little clip to illustrate how.

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Oranges and lemons,

Say the bells of St. Clement’s.

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Since arriving back from our trip to Israel, I’ve been hankering for the fresh, warmly-spiced food that this incredible country has to offer.  This is clearly a nicer way of saying that I’ve basically been stuffing my face with tahini and honey on bread for the past two weeks whilst glued to repeats of Yotam Ottolenghi’s excellent ‘Mediterranean Feast’ television series.  The mother-in-law was worrying about my intake of sesame paste.  The husband was worrying about my virtual crush on a television chef.  It was time I did something about it.  So I’ve gone preserving…

Preserving is very easy and lots of fun; and even though I’ve made jars and jars of jams and jellies (and some hideous pickled cucumbers) over the years, I’d yet to make my own preserved lemons.  And what better time to do this with all the middle eastern withdrawal symptoms settling in.

Being an east Londoner, I couldn’t do lemons without oranges.  So today I took the babies back to sleep in the car park of Sunseed Organics, my favourite organic fresh produce store, and bought myself a box of knurled, sunshine-yellow lemons and two handfuls of ruby-red blood oranges.  The only other things I needed were salt (and lots of it), and a herb and spice (which are optional if you decide to make your own.  Traditional preserved lemons often simply consist of the fruit and salt).

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I wanted to preserve my lemons with cinnamon and my oranges with rosemary.  The duet of lemon and cinnamon is an old stalwart – a classic mix that Moroccans have been using in their cooking for, like, ever.  The blend of blood orange and rosemary is one borrowed from Skye Gyngell that I have referred to once before in my Orange and Bay Jelly recipe here.

Luckily for me, I had the remaining ingredients in the mother-in-law’s kitchen: I’d picked up a load of cinnamon sticks from the shuk in Jerusalem; and my mother had recently given me a colossal tub of incredible Bretagne grey sea salt that she discovered in TK Maxx, of all places.  I can safely say that these are probably the world’s first preserved lemons made using ingredients from a shopping centre off the M25 and a spice market in the middle east.

My recipes for Preserved Lemons and Preserved Oranges reveal me at my laziest: I offer no measurements, I’m afraid.  But I think that’s ok.  Instead I proffer you use your wily kitchen head and just go for it.  Once ready to use – in about a month or so, but the longer you leave these the better the flavour – the pulp and peel of the fruits can be cut up to season and add flavour to a variety of dishes and drinks: from tagines, rice, vegetables and chicken soups to bloody Marys (cannot wait!), fish and seafood, and desserts.  And if you’ve ever got a sore belly, eat a little preserved lemon – it’s given to treat stomach ailments in Ayurvedic medicine.

I made these jars of preserved lemons and oranges in one short evening during a small window of opportunity – when the children had gone to bed and the sun was still high enough in the sky to photograph the process.  That’s how quick and easy this is.

Note: Always use organic, unwaxed fruit as you will be eating the exterior.  And David Lebovitz recommends using the smallest fruits possible – I imagine this is for flavour.

Ingredients

Preserved Lemons
A sterilised preserving jar
As many lemons as you can squeeze into the jar, plus more for juicing later
A stick of cinnamon
Loads of coarse sea salt

Preserved Oranges
A sterilised preserving jar
As many blood oranges as you can squeeze into the jar, plus more for juicing later (ideally use blood as their slight sharpness is more resembling of the lemon)
A couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary
Loads of coarse sea salt

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Method

To sterilise the preserving jar(s): wash thoroughly with warm soapy water, then fill up with freshly boiled water, and seal for five minutes.  Empty the water, then leave to dry completely (resisting the urge to put your dirty mitts inside!).

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Wash and dry your fruit.  Remove any stalks and the little knobbly bit (I call it the belly button!) at the end of the fruit.

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Using a sharp knife, cut down length-ways through the fruit twice (forming a cross), going almost all the way down until just a inch from the bottom.

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Grab a generous handful of salt and stuff the fruit with it, packing it down firmly.  Then put the fruit into the jar with the opening facing upward.  Continue doing this with the rest of the fruit, pushing each piece firmly down to try to squeeze as many pieces of fruit in as possible.

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Once you have stuffed the jar, feed your herb or spice in (if using), and finally seal.

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Leave for a couple of days until the salt draws out some of the fruits’ liquid.  Then open up the jar and firmly press all the fruit down to release the juices so that the fruit is covered with the liquid.  If there isn’t enough squeeze extra fruit and add this juice to the jar.

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Continue to do this process – of pressing down and covering with juice – twice more, every two days.  Then leave for a month (or longer) until the lemons are soft and ready to use.  Once opened, refrigerate and use within 6 months.

Glossary
The Shuk – the nickname for the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem
Oranges and Lemons‘ – is an English nursery rhyme and children’s game about the bells of various churches within the City of London, say the bells of St. Clements…

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.

You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.

When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.

When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.

When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.

I do not know,
Says the great bell of Bow.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!

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Wild_Garlic_Pesto2

The thing I love about this rain, this totally, completely prolific rain, is that it carpets the mother-in-law’s garden with a lush verdant cover of edible treasure – namely wild garlic. This year it’s been bountiful: tiny fountains of pungent foliage, with their paper-like white buds, have scattered themselves all over the vegetable patch, filling the air with a sweet tang.

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Wild garlic – also known as ransoms, buckrams, wood garlic, and bear’s garlic or bear leek (for which it’s Latin name, Allium ursine, is given as brown bears just can’t get enough) – is a wild member of the chive family, and native to Europe and Asia.  Historically, it has been used in various ways and I was most interested to discover its juice can be used as a moth repellent and disinfectant, and that in Switzerland, in the 19th century, cows were fed the stuff to produce garlic-flavoured butter, which was in favour at the time.  Now, sadly, farmers view wild garlic as a pest because it adds flavour to meat and dairy, which is a great shame as its natural antiviral properties could be of great benefit to livestock.

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Saying this, wild garlic offers many health-giving properties when used regularly, and may relieve a variety of digestive problems (colic, indigestion, wind, diarrhoea), chest conditions (asthma, bronchitis, emphysema), and circulatory diseases, and reduce cholesterol levels and blood pressure.  In fact, recent studies in Germany show wild garlic is a cut above the common garlic (Allium sativum) we all use in our kitchens, containing more magnesium, manganese and iron, and four and a half times more sulfur.  Sulfur is known to balance blood cholesterol and prevent heart disease, strokes and other arteriosclerosis disorders.  Like common garlic it has antiviral properties, however, unlike its poorer relation, which leaves an odour after it’s eaten because its sulfur is bound to protein, wild garlic’s sulfur compounds are free form… so snogging is definitely in order.

As well as its medicinal qualities, wild garlic is incredibly delicious and the whole plant is useful in the kitchen – from the white bulbs so enjoyed by bears and wild boar (chopped up like spring onion in stir fries and soups for us humans), to the green leaves (in salads and omelettes), and buds and flowers within (scattered through salads and on pasta).  Which leads me to my recipe…

Pesto is a beloved way of using wild garlic by many a cook, and my recipe favours roasted hazelnuts (in their skins) to the more traditional pine nuts that one would use when making Italian pesto Genoese.  In her wonderful book, ‘The Flavour Thesaurus‘, Niki Segnit points out that, “research has shown that the key hazelnut flavour compound increases tenfold when the nuts are roasted“, and here roasted hazelnuts harmoniously balance the mildly fiery wild garlic with their nutty, buttery sweetness.

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Stirred into freshly cooked pasta, it offers the taste of a just rained-upon woodland in spring with all the financial perks that foraging offers.  I mean, there’s nothing quite like digging through the undergrowth and picking your own food, especially if it means avoiding the supermarket and its expensive, plastic-wrapped flaccid bunches of basil.

Wild garlic is an excellent ingredient with which to start your foray into foraging as it colonises in woodlands and is not difficult to spot.  Children love exploring and as wild garlic so often grows near bluebells, you’ll have your wee ones enraptured by the offerings of the great outdoors.  You just have to make sure you’re picking the right plant (and not the deadly Lily of the Valley or similar, whose leaves are not unlike wild garlic), however, snapping a leaf and smelling it helps, as does a pocket guide like the excellent ‘Food for Free’ by the formidable Richard Mabey.

My children adore this pesto on spaghetti and it gives me great pleasure to see them scoff a bowl, with some steamed broccoli thrown in, what with the proliferation of snot we have seen in recent months.

This is an incredibly easy and delicious recipe, and can be made in advance as it stores well.

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Ingredients

250g wild garlic leaves (I also pick the buds and flowers, which are delicious and look beautiful scattered through pasta)
125g roasted hazelnuts with skins on (walnuts also work beautifully or a mix of the two, and you can use peeled blanched nuts but you’ll get a subtler flavour)
50g parmigiano-reggiano or pecorino, grated
50ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra
Sea salt and freshly milled black pepper to taste

Makes enough to fill a 250g jar and will store in the fridge for a week or so

Method

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Pick, wash and dry your wild garlic.  Remove the primary veins and stalks, and keep the leaves.  (Remove the primary veins and stalks by splitting apart the leaves – I do this to achieve a smooth pesto without any stringy bits.)

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Put the wild garlic leaves into a mixer, along with the roasted hazelnuts and grated parmesan cheese.

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Blend until you have a smooth but still slightly coarse paste and then, whilst blending, pour in the olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Use immediately, stirred into freshly cooked linguine, spaghetti or other pasta…

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… and if there’s any left over store in the fridge for up to a week in a air-tight container covered with a splash more oil.

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Food_Gawk_RicePud

Kind readers, you must forgive me my virtual disappearance of recent weeks (or is it months?); you could call it a sort of hibernation. It was, alas, against my will: two sickly children (BOGIES ALL WINTER) and a partner who’s maniacal deadlines meant that he was unable to afford me our usual duet of tag-team parenting, whereby I could grab an hour here or there to cook, snap and write. So the goings-on in the mother-in-law’s kitchen have – although still a pleasure – gone unrecorded, and simply now exist in our bellies and memories. And like you, I’m sure, I would not have chosen to weather this unkindly cold climate that seems to be forever encircling our British Isles, as if we’d so utterly transgressed that the gods had hatched some depraved plan to deny us the spring we’re so longing for.

In an attempt to bring some sunshine to your tables and your bodies, I gift an offering (which I’m clandestinely anticipating those peeved gods accept in good will) that will lift your soul, tickle your tums, and at least, momentarily, draw back the cold, cold curtains of winter and let the rays in. My Masala Rice Pudding is gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free (unless you add a little date syrup, which isn’t so bad) and a cinch to make, which makes it (like many of my dishes) a family-friendly pud and the perfect conclusion to a dinner with friends. And as it’s served chilled (okay, so it’s not completely ‘warming’ but you’ll pine for it, I promise), you can make it well in advance of a feast.

Using a heavenly blend of aromatic spices, faithful to the Indian Karha mix that captured my breath when I supped a paper cup of masala chai on a train through Kerala some years ago, this pudding recipe isn’t unlike its drinkable muse: it’s a one-pot wonder. Except you get to add delicious toppings, as if you were some sort of exotic dessertwalla beckoning your patrons to whip off their dogged-eared wooly hats and over-used body-warmers, and enter Arcadia. Even if it is only for the short time it takes to gobble up paradise.

The Karha spice mix is an easy one to make and you probably have some, if not all (for those of you who are more culinarily adventurous or au fait with Asian cooking), of the ingredients in your kitchen. You can use a blend of spices including ground ginger, green cardamon pods, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon and vanilla (I’ve also read that cocoa can be used too but I’ve yet to try this), although I substitute the ground ginger with fresh, and add nutmeg instead of pepper as it imparts slightly less-pungent peppery notes.

Returning to one of my favourite kitchen staples, I use coconut milk, which gives this traditional nursery dish a creamy (yet dairy-free!), exotic flavour with health benefits to boot (coconuts have antiviral and antibacterial properties, and help to promote weight maintenance without raising blood cholesterol levels). And whilst I’m waxing evangelical, I want to share with you this interesting research, advice and article I’ve recently come across highlighting, amongst other things, the potential risks of neurodevelopmental damage to children linked to the ingestion of BPA found in canned food. So it’s cartons all the way for me now. That is until the next bit of research tells me otherwise… and we ain’t gonna be picking coconuts in the west country.

Masala Rice Pudding

Serves 4

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Pudding

80g pudding rice
400ml tin of coconut milk, plus one refill of 400ml of water (I sometimes substitute the water for almond milk as I like the additional flavour and ‘milkiness’)
1 vanilla pod
1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg (I use freshly grated)
Small stick of cinnamon or 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 green cardamon pods

Topping

2 tablespoons of desiccated coconut
1 unwaxed lime
1 ripe mango
100% pure date syrup (or honey if unavailable)

Method

Preheat your oven to 170c / 325f / gas mark 3

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Put the rice, coconut milk and water (or almond milk, if using) into a baking dish.

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Add the grated ginger, ground nutmeg and cinnamon.

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Slice the vanilla pod in half length-ways, scrape out the tiny black seeds with a knife, and put both the seeds and the two empty pods in the dish.

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Then bruise the cardamon pods (I use a pestle and mortar but you can use a rolling pin in a heavy-bottomed bowl), and remove and discard the husks before crushing the seeds within to a grainy powder.

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(A friendly little helper <3 )

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Add this to the pudding mix too and give everything a good stir.

Rice_pud4Put the dish in the oven for around an hour and a quarter, stirring every twenty minutes or so, so as not to form a skin on top of the pudding. Whilst it cooks, you can prepare some of your toppings.

Firstly, take a heavy-bottomed or non-stick frying pan and warm over a medium heat. Lightly toast the coconut in the pan, constantly moving the coconut around the pan and keeping a watchful eye so not as to burn it, which can happen quickly as it’s full of natural oils. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool in a dish.

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Take your lime and grate the zest finely into another dish. Before juicing, use this tip: roll the whole lime back and forth on a surface using the palm of your hand, so as to soften the fruit and release the juice from the fruit’s cells, which makes juicing easier and more effective. Next cut the lime in half and squeeze the juice into a small jug or container.

Once your pudding is cooked it should look thick and creamy, smell deliciously aromatic, and the rice will have absorbed all the liquid. Allow to cool and chill in the fridge before serving.

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Just before serving peel and cube your mango. Spoon the pudding into individual dishes and add a swirl of date syrup (or honey) to taste, a splash of lime juice, some mango, and a sprinkling of both the lime zest and the toasted coconut.

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Eat with your eyes closed and your mind’s eye meditating on a golden beach with turquoise waters lapping at your toes.

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Popcorn2

For the last two months, the mother-in-law’s psychotherapist boyfriend has been living with us.  Until now.  It was only ever going to be temporary but he moved out early one morning after a late-night bust-up.  (If you could call arguing with a psychotherapist a bust-up.)

He’s gone to stay with another therapist.  I’m sure they’ll talk a lot.  But he’s left Sid – the goldfish – here, swimming melancholically and forgetfully around his chipped glass world.  The children are curious; overzealous, really.  Zippy recently told Sid that she’d like to eat him.  She had just fed him, so I suppose she’s working her way up to a small-holding.  I informed her that Sid, like the fish in the mother-in-law’s pond, are ornamental – “only for looking at and talking to” – although if I had it my way, I’d free them all, as there’s nothing more disconcerting than watching a majestic, shimmering creature traveling aimlessly around a very, very small circle.

It rained this afternoon, so to busy myself and the kids we painted a pillowcase (we’re making a flag, not auspiciously decorating the psychotherapist’s ex-bed linen) and then made some kick-ass popcorn.  This is a family-friendly snack to end all snacks: moreish beyond belief and not unhealthy.  In fact, it’s actually nutritious if you have the right ingredients (by which I mean no added salt or sugar).  Here’s why…

Popping corn is a 100% wholegrain meaning it’s naturally high is dietary fibre.  It’s also low in fat, sugar- and salt-free, and high in calcium, iron, phosphorous, zinc, niacin, riboflavin and polyphenols (antioxidants that help prevent heart disease and some cancers).  Peanut butter (and other nut butters) add to the nutritional benefits as it provides protein, vitamins B3 and E, magnesium, folate and another antioxidant in the shape of p-coumaric acid.  And Walter C. Willet, the Professor of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, has this to say about the brown, sticky stuff: “Unsalted peanut butter, with 5 milligrams of sodium, has a terrific potassium-to-sodium ratio… Over the years, numerous studies have shown that people who regularly include nuts or peanut butter in their diets are less likely to develop heart disease or type 2 diabetes than those who rarely eat nuts.

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Maple syrup is just scrummy.  Absolutely the best thing that trees have produced since oxygen, wood, paper, coal, fruit and homes for small creatures.  Gosh, trees are fricking awesome.  Anyway, back to maple syrup… Yes, it consists primarily of sucrose but it also contains lots of potassium, zinc and manganese, and compared to honey, has 15 times more calcium and a tenth of the sodium.  And again, like popping corn, scientists have recently discovered that maple syrup consists of natural antioxidants phenol compounds that block two carbohydrate-hydrolyzing enzymes that contribute to type 2 diabetes.  This included five new compounds that have never before been detected in nature.  In your face, table sugar!

Unlike the highly-saturated fatty coconut oil used in commercial food processes, raw virgin coconut oil is composed mainly of medium-chain triglycerides and is naturally saturated and free from trans-fatty acids.  Made using fresh coconuts that have had their oil pressed out of them and then simply filtered, it is unbleached and unpasteurised.  It’s incredibly heat-stable, meaning that it suits frying and other methods of cooking at high temperatures.

This recipe takes about 10 minutes to prepare from start to finish, and makes a big enough bowl of popcorn for a family of 4

Ingredients

75g popping corn
3 tablespoons smooth or crunchy peanut butter (allowing a little more for crunchy) or other nut butter, no added salt or sugar ideally
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons raw virgin coconut oil
1/4-3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (depending on how hot you like your munchies)
A sprinkling of sea-salt if required

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Method

Heat a heavy-bottomed pan and add 1 tablespoon of the coconut oil.  Add the corn kernels and cover tightly with a lid.  Shake the pan continuously – holding the handle on the lid as you do so – as this helps to prevent the kernels from catching at the bottom and encourages popping.   You will start to hear the corn pop and then eventually slow down to a halt.  This process takes about 5 minutes.

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Transfer your popcorn into a mixing bowl and remove any unpopped kernels.

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Using the same pan, heat your peanut butter and remaining tablespoon of coconut oil over a low heat until it melts down a little.  Add the maple syrup and cayenne pepper, stirring off the heat, so that it forms a paste.  Immediately pour the mix onto your popcorn, working through carefully with a spatula or wooden spoon until it’s all coated.

Tip the popcorn onto a non-stick baking tray and spread out the pieces to separate them using your fingers.  Sprinkle on some good quality sea salt, like Maldon, if you’re using.  Allow to cool and enjoy immediately!

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This popcorn will store for a good few days in an airtight container, if it survives that long!

Alternative flavour: Za’atar & Olive Oil Popcorn
Make your popcorn in very much the same way but drizzle on some extra virgin olive oil and a good sprinkle of za’atar and sea salt before serving.

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