Pear and stilton gnocchi

This recipe sounds ultra-fancy, but it can be knocked up in fifteen minutes, making it a very sociable dish for guests. And it’s cheap – a couple of pears, an onion, garlic, cheese, and some gnocchi comes to about £2 per serving. Pear and stilton is such a complimentary combination – don’t feel alarmed. Here’s some rare pictures of me cooking in my gorgeous student kitchen, curtesy of my wonderful photographer (and friend), James.

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Pear and stilton gnocchi (serves 2; vegetarian)

 Ingredients: 

  • 1 onion (I find brown works best, but shallots would also be banging)
  • 2 ripe pears, peeled and sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
  • 100g stilton
  • 500g gnocchi

Method:

  1. Heat a saucepan with a tablespoon of olive, then fry off the onions for 5 minutes on a gentle heat. Add the sliced pear, followed by garlic and rosemary. Cook for about 10 minutes, while the gnocchi is cooking, stirring occasionally.
  2. Boil a pan of water, add the gnocchi and cook for 3 minutes – be careful to not over cook.
  3. Take the saucepan off the heat, and stir in the drained gnocchi. While still very hot, crumble the stilton over, and mix gently until creamy.

4. Season with pepper, and sprinkle over some nuts for added texture – pine nuts, cashews or walnuts work well.

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happy guests

Painting home comforts

The Open Eye Gallery, an independent and commercial gallery in the heart of Edinburgh, exhibits and sells walls worth of postcard-sized artworks by artists from all corners of Scotland. The delicate and tiny artworks range in subject and style, but when arranged all together they collude to form something beautiful and grand-scale. Though not explicitly intended to be in juxtaposition, somehow it seems that the paintings always intended to be in conversation; when an individual piece is sold, something new will take its place. The experience of cross-examining all these individual pieces is immersive, but I had a certain predilection for the simple still-life artworks which depicted objects from the kitchen, like lemons, pots and pans, and chopping boards.

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From the sight of my food posts and the inside of my kitchen cupboard, it is safe to say that I have a slight obsession with amalgamating pretty and unusual pieces of crockery – thankfully Exeter’s charity shops never fail to intrigue. Since my trip to the Open Eye Gallery, I’ve invested in a heap of 5×7 inch canvas boards, and am busy painting quaint kitchen scenes with acrylic. Using mostly earthy colours, and uneven block shapes, the painting style is not what I’m accustomed too.

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Fish on plate, acrylic paint

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Prawns in pan with lemon, acrylic paint

Rose petal and pistachio cake

Rose petal and pistachio cake vegetarian; serves 10 

Bottled rose water and dried rose are incredibly exciting ingredients. I bought them about a year a go for a mere couple of pounds from an International food supermarket, and they’ve been a little neglected at the back of my cupboard, amongst the things I told myself I’d always get round to using. And once I practised this recipe to perfection, they were all gone. 

Ingredients:

  • 225g baking butter, softened to room temperature (I am forever loyal to stork)
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 2 large free-range eggs
  • 1 tbsp rose water
  • 40g unsalted pistachio kernels, chopped

For the icing:

  • 125g sifted icing sugar
  • 2 tsp rose water
  • 2 tbsp warm water
  • 1/2 tsp pink food colouring
  • 40g unsalted pistachio kernels, chopped
  • Dried rose petals (optional)

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 170°C and prepare a non-stick loaf tin with baking parchment or butter.
  2. In a mixing bowl, cream together the baking butter and caster sugar. Gradually sift in the self-raising flour, add the eggs one at a time, and combine well.
  3. Stir in the rose water and pistachios so the flavours are evenly distributed through the cake mix.
  4. Pour the mix into the loaf tin, and even out the surface with a spatular. Bake in the oven for 50 minutes, or until a knife through the centre comes out clean.
  5. Once cooled take the cake out of the tin. Create the icing by combining the sugar with rose water, warm water and pink food colouring. Smoother the top of the cake with it. Sprinkle on pistachio kernels, and dried rose petals if you’re feeling decadent.

Dry cider and tarragon prawn linguine

Dry cider and tarragon prawn linguine pescatarian; serves 2

marinating prawns in traditional pub flavours, cider and mustard, works surprisingly well…

Ingredients:

  • 150g fresh king prawns
  • 100ml dry cider
  • 1 tsp dried tarragon
  • 1 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp creme fresh
  • 100g long stem broccoli
  • 200g linguine

Method:

  1. In a bowl, pour in 100ml dry cider, dijon mustard and tarragon and stir well. Add in the fresh prawns, and allow to marinate in the fridge for an hour.
  2. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil, and cook the linguine. While this is cooking, drain the marinade from the prawns into a saucepan and reduce on a low heat for 8 minutes.
  3. Heat a frying pan with a glug of olive oil and stir fry the long stem broccoli for 5 minutes. Add the prawns, and continue to fry for a further 2 minutes.
  4. Once the cider marinade is reduced by half its size, stir in 2 tbsp of creme fresh. Stir this sauce into the linguine, topping with the broccoli and prawns.

Saag paneer

paneer is a fresh, unsalted white cheese – it requires no ageing so it can be made in no time at home. It’s a staple vegetarian Indian ingredient which holds its form well and is flavoured beautifully with turmeric and garam masala.

Saag paneer vegetarian & gluten free; serves 4

Ingredients:

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For the paneer: 

  • 1.5 litres whole milk
  • 1 lemon, juiced

For the saag: 

  • 1 medium sized brown onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 5cm of fresh ginger
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 vine tomatoes
  • 2 heaped tbsp coconut cream
  • 500g spinach
  • Salt and pepper

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Method:

  1. In preparation for the paneer, line a sieve with a large piece of muslin cloth over a bowl.
  2. In a heavy based saucepan, bring the whole milk to the boil and then leave to simmer on a low heat.
  3. Stir the simmering milk continuously with a wooden spoon while dropping in the lemon juice in a tablespoon at a time. Continue stirring until the curds and whey separate.
  4. Take off the heat and carefully pour into the sieve, so that the curds gather in the muslin. Gently rinse under cold running water. Squeeze the curd bundle to remove any excess moisture.
  5. Place the bundle back in the sieve, over the bowl, and place a 1kg weight on the cheese. Leave in the fridge for at least an hour to set.
  6. Once firmed, cut the cheese into 2cm chunks. Fry on a medium heat in chilli infused oil (if to hand) for 5 minutes. Add more oil if necessary, and ensure that the cheese retains its shape by only stirring occasionally. Remove from the pan and leave on kitchen roll whilst you cook the saag.
  7. In the same pan, add the chopped onion with cumin seeds and cook on a low to medium heat until softened. Stir in the crushed garlic, peeled and chopped ginger, garam masala and turmeric. Then add finely chopped tomatoes and cook for a further 8 minutes.
  8. Lower the heat, add the coconut cream and the spinach and cover with a lid to wilt the spinach. Add a splash of water if needed. Once a creamy consistency, serve immediately.

Sloe gin

sloe gin…and an incredibly sloe process (three months to be exact). Sloe gin makes a thoughtful Christmas gift, accompanied by homemade jams and chutneys in a hamper.

Do not worry about purchasing an expensive bottle of gin, a supermarket own will suffice.

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Sloe gin produces 1 bottle; vegan 

Ingredients:

  • 350g handpicked sloes
  • 250g sugar
  • 35cl gin of your choice

Method:

  1. Forage your sloes when they are in season (beginning to ripen in late August). Clean them thoroughly, throwing away any unripe, squashed or rotting.
  2. Using a sterilised needle, prick the sloes all over so that the juice of the fruit can seep through and flavour the gin.
  3. Sterilise a large kilner jar by placing it in an oven at 160°c for 20 minutes. Once cooled, add the fruit, followed by the sugar and gin. Seal and shake well.
  4. Store your jar in a cool, dark cupboard for 3 months. Make sure to shake every few days, or as often as you remember.
  5. After 3 months, strain the gin through muslin and bottle.

Berlin reflections

pretzels, bagels, bratwurst, currywurst…and erm, more currywurst

To make my flight €100 cheaper, I stopped off in Berlin for a few days before heading back to London. I found that Berlin had few concrete, fundamental dishes and ingredients that sets it aside from the rest of Europe. The capital certainly has the rest of Germany’s predilection for meat, particularly sausages. But, I was disappointed I couldn’t try the dish most ranted and raved about – that is bratwurst sausage with curry toppings, or ‘currywurst’ – because of dietary requirements. There’s even a museum dedicated to the phenomenon that is ‘currywurst’.

I fell in love with the city; it lives to reflect and learn from its controversial past, with the effect that it now exists as a liberal and lively hub. In the process, it has accumulated a vast array of multicultural cuisines. I ate in authentic Turkish, Italian and Asian restaurants (and many modern vegan eateries that are dispersed throughout the city).

The German bakeries are the city’s redemption. Think pretzels galore. Here’s a ‘streuseltaler’ – a fine yeast dough pastry with a refined butter crumble. It’s essentially an excuse to eat cake for breakfast.

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In East Side Berlin, there was a substantial selection of vegan eateries, to match the cool and hip ambience of this side of the city. Just past the East Side gallery, I came across a building hosting Veganz (a supermarket), Goodies (a vegan café dedicated to great coffee), The Bowl (a clean eating restaurant for the best, beautiful bowls of goodness), and a vegan shoe shop.

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The Bowl boasts a 100% plant-based kitchen, producing gluten and sugar free bowls for a little over €10. I tried went for the ‘California’ bowl from the menu; this was lemon quinoa, deep fried sweet potato sticks, sesame tamari leaf spinach, raw apple carrot salad, avocado slices, tomato coriander salsa and teriyaki hibiscus sauce. (But I also pinched a spoonful of the ‘Buddha’ bowl too from my travel buddy). The ingredients are simple, but the sauces and dressings bring the ingredients to life.

This restaurant refreshed me from a 3 hour urban art walking tour of the East Side gallery and beyond. And it has given me inspiration for new healthy, filling and vegan recipes.

 

 

Rosemary & dark chocolate buttons

Rosemary & dark chocolate buttons makes 1 gift; vegan

feeling inspired by the ultra-fancy chocolatiers ‘Rausch Schokoladenhausin’ the heart of Berlin. This is a simple, yet beautiful gift to give to someone special. The rosemary is freshly picked – no need for cooking

Ingredients:

  • 100g fine dark chocolate
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder (if needed)
  • 1 long sprig of rosemary, trimmed

Method:

  1. On a sheet of baking parchment, use a circular stencil to draw the outline of 9 circles, evenly spaced apart.
  2. Break the dark chocolate into pieces and melt over
    a pot of boiling water.
  3. If the cocoa percentage is low, stir in some cocoa powder for extra richness.
  4. Leave for 1 minute to cool slightly. Using a desert spoon, fill the circles with chocolate. Place trimmed rosemary sprigs in the middle before they begin to set.
  5. Set in the fridge for at least an hour. Snap off the baking parchment and gift in a small cardboard box, with ribbon.

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Carob and fig ice cream

Carob and fig ice cream serves 4; vegetarian 

making use of the carob powder and syrup I brought home from Cyprus, I thought I’d try combining some awesome Cypriot flavours into this indulgent dessert. These ingredients are easily found in all well-stocked Turkish food shops. 

Ingredients:

  • 2 large free range eggs, whites and yolks separated
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 200ml double cream
  • 2 figs, peel removed
  • 1 heaped tsp carob powder
  • 1 tsp carob syrup

Method:

  1. figggg.jpegWhisk the egg whites with an electric whisk until stiff peaks are formed.
  2. Slowly whisk in the caster sugar, continuing until the egg whites are stiff and glossy.
  3. Whisk the cream in a separate bowl until soft peaks are formed – be sure to not whisk too much otherwise it’ll curdle.
  4. Fold in the cream, egg yolks, the inside flesh of 2 figs, carob powder and syrup into the mixture until well combined.
  5. Pour into a plastic container and freeze for at least 2 hours. Serve with more fresh fig, and carob syrup, according to taste.

 

Chewing over Cyprus

rose, pistachio, almonds, vine leaves, tahini, baklava, halva, olive oil, carob, figs

Embarrassingly, I had to increase my baggage allowance to bring Cypriot delicacies home for recipe testing. I was looking forward to the trip for the stuffed vine leaves, but I underestimated how a 4 hour plane journey would reveal a whole new world of cuisine.

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The goodies I managed to accumulate from the trip and fly back home included carob syrup, carob powder, tahini, black and green olive paste, Cypriot delight and traditional coffee.

Staying with my Cypriot friend and her welcoming family, I luckily experienced the cuisine the traditional way, through bustling family meals. I arrived on the Greek nameday for Maria, 15th August, and we celebrated with a kolokasi (a vegetable only grown in Cyprus) stew and fresh pitta smothered in tahini, hummus and olive paste.

Something amazing about Cyprus: I was able to sample the fresh produce by picking it off the trees.

Another amazing thing I found out: olive paste is the paste of Gods. This black olive paste was enveloped in a thick fresh pastry evenly smothered in sesame seeds. We bought a huge package of bite-sized pastries from a bakery in Limassol, in preparation for a day trip crossing the border into the North of Cyprus, the Turkish side.

Further fillings found in the pick ‘n’ mix pastry bag:

  • Creamy almond paste
  • Spinach
  • Halloumi
  • Feta and roasted pepper

Crossing the border was a surreal experience in the sense of the very sudden, dramatic change of culture and living circumstances; a change that occurred in a matter of minutes, once our passports were checked and the day car insurance purchased in order to pass the barrier. The food changed too. Food became territorial. Stemming from the tension from the country’s divide in 1974, when Turkey invaded the North. Cypriot delight became Turkish delight, Cypriot coffee became Turkish coffee…

The most momentous meal I had was made by Natasa’s grandma, which was stuffed vine leaves and courgette flowers. I’ll be experimenting with flavours and fillings in an upcoming recipe for stuffed vine leaves.