Saturday 17 December 2016

Vegan & Non-Vegan Chocolate Orange Brownies (V)

It's been a while since we added a new recipe, but that doesn't mean we've been idle. Oh no, we have been busy testing out new ideas, and have finally succeeded with a chocolate orange brownie recipe that we really like.

The bonus with this recipe is that there are two versions: one for those who are fine with dairy & eggs, and one which is fine for vegans and people with dairy and egg intolerances and allergies.

The secret to the fab taste is a new-to-us product called Sweet Freedom ® Choc Shot with Orange Spice which we found in our local Tesco. It comes in three flavours: Chocolate, Chocolate with Orange Spice, and Chocolate with Coconut. We went with the Orange Spice version! Some of the great things about Sweet Freedom ® Choc Shot with Orange Spice are that it has no chemical processing, no additives, no preservatives, no GMO’s, no gluten, no dairy, no soya, no eggs, no nuts and no refined sugar. It is also Vegan (Registered with the Vegan Society) and is made in the UK.

For both versions we used a half and half mixture of plain flour and rye flour, which gives a different texture to the brownies than just using all plain flour.

Alex's Chocolate Orange Brownies
Traditional Recipe

4oz soft brown sugar
225g butter or hard margarine
60g cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp orange extract in oil
4 eggs
112g plain flour
113g rye flour
½  tsp baking powder
½  tsp salt
2 tbsp Sweet Freedom ® Choc Shot with Orange Spice

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl in the order in the recipe. Once thoroughly mixed tip the mixture into a lined baking tin approx 20cm x 30cm (8" x 12"). Bake in oven at Gas Mark 4 / 180C for 20-30 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. 

Eat warm with custard, or cold with whipped cream or ice cream for a delicious pudding, or enjoy it just on its own!

Alex's Chocolate Orange Brownies
Vegan Version

4oz soft brown sugar
225g soya spread
60g cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp orange extract in oil
270g apple sauce (we use ALDI own brand)
112g plain flour
113g rye flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 tbsp Sweet Freedom ® Choc Shot with Orange

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl in the order in the recipe. The apple sauce replaces the eggs in the traditional recipe at the rate of 1/4 cup apple sauce = 1 medium egg.  Once thoroughly mixed tip the mixture into a lined baking tin approx 20cm x 30cm (8" x 12"). Bake in oven at Gas Mark 4 / 180C for 20-30 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. 

Wednesday 5 October 2016

Post-midnight Hummus making (V)

A couple of nights ago I had a hankering for hummus. I blame my son for this - he introduced me to hummus and I've been hooked ever since. We've been trying various types from the local supermarkets, but we wanted to try and make our own as our village shopkeeper, who is Greek, told us it was easy to do.

Our first attempt some weeks ago was a bit of a failure. It was too runny and the flavour was all wrong. Then came the hankering and no hummus in the fridge - what to do?

Finding a recipe online - one of those really helpful ones with a video so you can see what it's supposed to look like as you make it - I went raiding the pantry for the needed ingredients. I knew we had chickpeas - tinned ones from ALDI as I use them for stews and bean burgers. Tahini - yes we had that - two jars reduced to £1 a jar in Tesco a few weeks ago and dated late 2017 so still fine to use. Olive oil - yes, it's the only oil we use for cooking. Fresh lemon juice - no, but we usually have a bottle of lemon juice and one of lime juice in the fridge (both from my local ALDI), garlic, cumin and salt from the spice rack and I was ready to experiment again.

I was a bit worried as the recipe said it used a food processor to mix things up, and we don't have one. Initially I used the potato masher on the drained and rinsed chickpeas until they were all nicely mashed and lump-free, but discovered that using the end of a sturdy wooden rolling pin in a large flat-based bowl worked even better for mashing them (think large pestle and mortar!)  The tahini and citrus juice (half lemon, half lime) I mixed using a wooden spoon - it really doesn't need much effort as it goes very quickly after a minute's beating with the spoon. Once the tahini and citrus was mixed, the olive oil and the spices went in, followed by the chick peas, and it was all mixed by hand for a couple of minutes.

A taste test showed it needed a bit more seasoning, so my son went rummaging and found a tub of Tesco's Tikka curry powder and a bottle of chipotle sauce, so we added some of each (1 tsp of each approx.) and a small pinch of salt (we use sea salt for preference, but any salt works. Just don't add too much!)

The result was very tasty hummus in less than half an hour, which we spread liberally onto warm seeded paninis and thoroughly enjoyed at two in the morning!

Our final recipe:

1 400g can chickpeas, drained and well-rinsed
¼ cup (60 ml) fresh lemon juice (1 large lemon)
¼ cup (60 ml) well-stirred tahini
2 garlic cloves, minced (use 1 clove if you prefer a milder garlic flavour)
2 tablespoons (30 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of sea salt
1 teaspoon Tikka curry powder *
Dash of ground paprika and a little olive oil, for serving if liked

* If you want to make your own there is a recipe here:


In a bowl mix the tahini and lemon juice for around 1 minute, using a wooden spoon, until mix changes colour and goes lighter and a bit fluffy looking. 

Add the 2 tbsp's olive oil, the minced garlic, cumin, curry powder, chipotle sauce, and the sea salt to the whipped tahini and lemon juice (you can substitute a ½ teaspoon of table salt instead of sea salt if you prefer it.)

In a 2nd bowl put the chickpeas and mash them until there are no whole peas or lumps visible, then add the chickpeas to the tahini mix and combine well until you have a creamy mixture. 

You can eat it immediately, or leave it in the bowl in the fridge for an hour to let the best flavour develop. 

"Tasting of barnyard and goat..." (Adventures in Cheese)

A couple of weeks ago my hubbie went shopping alone as I was busy working. He's quite good at shopping, gets what we need but also keeps an eye open for interesting bargains in the reduced aisles... and so it was that he came home with a huge grin on his face. "I bought you some cheese" he announced, "two chunks from Booth's." My ears pricked up - firstly I adore cheese, and secondly if it came from Booth's then the chances are it's not a common "mousetrap cheese."  

So it transpired...  in the fridge were two cling-filmed packets, each about the size of the palm of my hand, containing a dark skinned aromatic cheese.  The label didn't enlighten me much... Monte Enebro it said, each pack weighed 0.086kg (that's 86g or just over 3 oz for us non-metric folks), and was reduced from £2.58 per pack to 52p per pack. Hubbie stood looking smug, "Did I do well?" he enquired.  

Well it was certainly a good saving, but what is Monte Enebro? It smelled interesting, not too overly pungent but probably a goat's cheese, I thought.  A quick search on Google brought the answer - it is an award-winning goat's cheese made in Spain by one family in Avila. Originally created by the "legendary cheese maker Rafael Baez and his daughter Paloma" at the Quesería del Tietar, it is now made by Paloma and her children (Rafael died in 2012) at the Queseria. 

Regarded by many as the best goat's cheese made anywhere in the world, Monte Enebro was certainly a new experience for me.  It was sharp with the distinctive goat cheese flavour and a hint of lemony-ness, but with a good texture and was strong enough to hold its own and not be drowned out by my favourite Piccalilli. 

A review on Culture, the cheese magazine website, described it as, 
"Flavors in the younger cheeses are mild, bright and tangy, with distinct citrus notes combined with a cellar-like aroma and flavor imparted by the blue rind. As the cheeses mature, the aromas become more pungent and the flavors evolve and strengthen, becoming quite assertive, tasting of barnyard and goat."
If I had read that before buying it might have put me off... cellar-like and barnyard are not attributes that I normally go for in a cheese!  The outer rind was a bit peculiar too - very dark and dusty - apparently it is made using a sprayed on coating of water mixed with a blue mold Penicillium Roqueforti. I assumed I shouldn't eat the rind, and to be honest the outside looked less appetising, unlike the inside which was creamy and enticing!

"Was it worth buying?" hubbie wanted to know. Yes indeed at 52p/pack!  Would I have paid £2.58 for such a small amount?  Probably not - I am such a frugal shopper that I would feel guilty doing so - and if you translate the per pack price before the reduction it would equate to £30 per kilo! Yes I know it's rare and special, and so for me it will probably remain the one and only time I get to try this amazing goat's cheese! 

Monday 5 September 2016

Vegetable spaghetti - make your own!

Hubbie and I love courgettes but my son isn't keen on the texture. The taste is fine, just the texture makes him gurn. So, we've been experimenting with different ways of using courgettes to try and alter how they taste. Sliced, cubed, boiled, stir fried: nothing quite did the trick, until we found courgette spaghetti!

Occasionally we saw pots of various vegetables spaghettified on the reduced to clear rack at the end of the day, and if they were 20-25p a pot max then we'd pick them up to try. Luckily they do freeze well so it's worth doing, and we found that the spaghettification didn't make son and heir pull faces!

But then we got to wondering about the cost of them if bought at full price, e.g. Tesco's courgette spaghetti is £1 for a 250g tub. So how does 250g compare to a whole courgette?

We buy our whole courgettes in ALDI in packs of three for around 79p normally, but this week they are on special offer at 49p for three. So we bought 2 packs, and they are nice sized ones too!  A quick check on the scales informed us that each courgette averages just over 300g, so that's 20% more than in the ready spaghettified pot from Tesco, even allowing for taking off the stalk bit and the flower tip. A whole £1 for less than one spaghettified courgette - sheesh!

Ahhh, I can hear you thinking, but yours is whole and the Tesco one is spaghettified, and it's probably faffy, takes a while and needs an expensive gadget to make courgetti...  but you'd be wrong! It's incredibly simple and takes less than 5 minutes to spaghettify a whole courgette - yes, less than 5 minutes... and the gadget isn't expensive either.

Well it could be if you wanted one of the posh spiralisers especially if it has a name endorsing it, but you can pick them up in cookware shops for under a tenner still. Meanwhile, I found my gadget whilst rummaging in the kitchen drawer for something else.  I'd picked it up somewhere way back when, and I thought it was a fancy kind of potato peeler, but soon found out it wasn't. Not able to work out what to do with it, I tossed it in the bits and bobs drawer and forgot all about it... until recently!

Now if you are a Lancashire woman like me, you'll be familiar with a Lancashire peeler for vegetables, which is nothing like those funny Y-peelers used across the Pennines in Yorkshire or elsewhere in the world. Using my forgotten gadget was simplicity itself!

It's a wee French thing, stamped  INOX fabrication l'avare depose le rap legumes around its rippled cutting blade. It works just like a Lancashire peeler but instead of having a straight slit to scrape off the peel, it has a wavy edged slit to make narrow strips: you scrape it along the courgette to make lengths of courgetti. I find it easier to cut the courgette in half across the middle as that way it's easier to hold them and the lengths aren't too lengthy, if you get my drift! One courgette takes only a few minutes to spaghettify (less than five) and costs a lot less than £1!  In true "Blue Peter" fashion, here's one I made earlier.

My INOX gadget is probably no longer made, but if you do happen across one, pick it up and add it to your kitchen toolbox, it's a really neat and simple to use piece of kit!

Monday 23 May 2016

Fats... are they the baddies or the innocent victims of government hype?

It's only Monday and already there is a difference of opinion about the health effects of fats in foods:

"Official advice on low-fat diet and cholesterol is wrong, says health charity" in a Guardian headline, where the article goes on to claim, 
"In a damning report that accuses major public health bodies of colluding with the food industry, the National Obesity Forum and the Public Health Collaboration call for a “major overhaul” of current dietary guidelines."
Meanwhile, over on the BBC, their headline says, "Advice to eat more fat is irresponsible and potentially deadly, Public Health England's chief nutritionist has said" and goes on to say, 
"Dr Alison Tedstone was responding to a report by the National Obesity Forum, which suggests eating fat could help cut obesity and type 2 diabetes. The charity said promoting low-fat food had had "disastrous health consequences" and should be reversed."
So, at the risk of being shot down in flames by either side (or both of them!) here's my take on the issue...

From birth our first food is milk, which contains natural fats which are needed for an infant to develop healthily. As a species we are omnivores and as such eat meat and animal products, and vegetables/fruits, which contains natural fats. Therefore fats are a normal part of our diet which our bodies are adapted to cope with and process, in moderation. By that I mean that if we eat foods which contain small amounts of fats that's fine. If we lived only on fatty foods then we'd have a problem!

Fats are necessary for good health, as explained on the NHS website,
Not all fat is bad
A small amount of fat is an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet. Fat is a source of essential fatty acids such as omega-3 – "essential" because the body can't make them itself.
Fat helps the body absorb vitamins A, D and E. These vitamins are fat-soluble, meaning they can only be absorbed with the help of fats.
The key message in this appears to be, eat fats but not to excess. Some fats are required to ensure that your body does what it is supposed to do with vitamins, and to provide you with the energy you need to be able to function.

So why is there all this fuss about fats? Well, it seems to be because there are natural fats, e.g. animal products such as milk, butter, cheese, nuts, coconut, olives, fish, and there are processed fats, e.g. margarines, butter substitutes, shortening, etc...  and the latter are highly processed products rather than simply natural fats.  If you want to know how margarines are made, there is a fascinating (if somewhat off-putting) explanation of the process on The Real Food Guide website.

The real bad guys seem to be trans fats, described in an article on the Harvard University website as,
"a byproduct of a process called hydrogenation that is used to turn healthy oils into solids and to prevent them from becoming rancid."
Now I am sure that none of us want rancid fats in our diet, but the important bit in the above sentence is the word solids...  as by changing the nature of fats from oil into solid we are setting up the environment for blocked arteries, cholesterol, and suchlike nasties.  Fats need to be absorbed into the body to do their job, and it seems that oils absorb easily, solids are more problematical, Harvard explains,
Eating foods rich in trans fats increases the amount of harmful LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream and reduces the amount of beneficial HDL cholesterol. Trans fats create inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. They contribute to insulin resistance, which increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Research from the Harvard School of Public Health and elsewhere indicates that trans fats can harm health in even small amounts: for every 2% of calories from trans fat consumed daily, the risk of heart disease rises by 23%.
By their very nature, such highly processed foods are harder for our bodies to process properly and so can cause problems. Our personal experience is that margarines cause hubbie and me to endure terrible heartburn / acid reflux, something which simply does not happen with butter. A story in the Dail Mail on 7th February 2013 claimed that, "
At last, the truth: Butter is GOOD for you - and margarine is chemical gunk" 
Saturated fats are not as bad as trans fats but still come in for a hard time from the folks at Harvard, who describe saturated fats as,
... solid at room temperature — think cooled bacon grease. Common sources of saturated fat include red meat, whole milk and other whole-milk dairy foods, cheese, coconut oil, and many commercially prepared baked goods and other foods.
The fact that they are solid at room temperature gives us a clue that they are probably not great to be eating in large quantities, and indeed Harvard says,
For that reason, most nutrition experts recommend limiting saturated fat to under 10% of calories a day.
So what are the good fats? Again Harvard has the answer,
Good fats come mainly from vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish.
But even amongst the good fats there are two types... monounsaturated (e.g. olive oil, avocados, peanut oil, nuts) and polyunsaturated (e.g. safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil) both of which are considered to be better for your health than trans and saturated fats. Confusing, isn't it?!

One of the biggest issues for anyone following a low-fat diet is the level of essential fatty acids in their system will be reduced. Omega-3 and Omega-6 types are essential for good physical health, and the inclusion of Omega 3-6-9 in the diet also has benefits with brain development.

So, how much fats should we be consuming?  For us the key phrase is in moderation as hubbie and I use butter not margarine, but only use a small amount on certain foods, e.g. on a slice of toast or a scone, and neither of us use dairy milk. Fats from nuts are a no-no due to my allergies, along with my intolerance of coconut and avocado, and my son's dairy intolerance so he uses soya milk and spread, and we have to think about what we eat and how we avoid bad fatty foods and eat good fatty foods whilst coping with the allergies and intolerances. It makes cooking far more interesting and creative!

Wednesday 18 May 2016

Easy party food: Chickpea Swirls (V)

It's been such a busy few weeks that we've not been able to do much cooking, but today I decided I wanted to try something out.  We've been thinking up easy party food recipes and this is another of them...

Chickpea Swirls

1 sheet ready made puff pastry
1 tin drained and rinsed chickpeas, mashed
8-10 green olives, mashed
1 green Oxo
1 tbsp mixed herbs
½ tube tomato puree
2 tsp curry powder
beaten egg for glazing (or soya milk if you want to avoid egg)

Mix all together as a thick paste, spread across pastry sheet and roll from long edge. Cut into 15 sections, glaze pastry on each with egg or soya milk. Bake in oven for approx 30 mins. at Gas 6.  Leave to cool before eating.

How easy was that?! :)

Wednesday 6 April 2016

Chinese pork & mango with noodles

I've been experimenting again... I love Chinese pork and I love fresh mango, so having both in the fridge I decided to try a recipe using them. This was the result...

500g Diced pork, marinaded in Flava-It Chinese Marinade for an hour
Olive oil for cooking
3 cloves garlic crushed
1 dessert spoonful of mixed herbs
1 large carrot grated
1 red onion, sliced finely
1/2 pint (or a large handful if it's easier!) sliced green beans
1/2 diced skinned mango
up to 1/2 pint boiling water
1 green Oxo
1 chicken Oxo

Egg noodles - 1 portion per diner, heated through in boiling water until soft but not sticky, then drained

Heat oil with garlic and herbs in a wok. Add Chinese pork and brown all round, adding just enough boiling water to prevent it sticking, add both crumbled Oxos. Cook for 5 minutes until cooked through. Add carrot, onion, beans and mango and heat through. Add more water to prevent sticking as needed.

Cook until hot through but not too long or the vegetables will be soggy.

Serve on drained hot egg noodles.

Serves 4. Preparation and cooking time is around 30-35 minutes.

Wednesday 23 March 2016

Vegan scones! (V)

We've been quiet for a few weeks but that's not because we've gone off experimenting! No, it is because we have been trying out some new ideas but didn't want to share them until we'd got them right. This is the first one that we can bring you.

The problem is that we all, in this house, love scones, but that commercial scones (the ones we buy in the supermarket) always give us problems. Mum gets heartburn from them and Son has a problem with dairy intolerance.  So, we set out to produce scones that would avoid both issues and still taste good.  The result is a vegan recipe scone which taste amazing and doesn't upset anyone's digestive system!

Here's the recipe:

Vegan Scones

1 lb of plain flour
5 tsp of baking powder
4 oz of PURE soya spread or PURE sunflower spread or non-dairy hard margarine
4 oz of brown sugar or white sugar / molasses mix
4 oz of mixed dried fruit or fruit heavy vegan mincemeat
1/4 pint of soya milk

Place flour, sugar and margarine into a bowl and rub the margarine into the sugar and flour until it's an even, breadcrumb-like consistency.

Add fruit / mincemeat into the mix. If using mincemeat then mix the mincemeat in so that any moisture in it is taken up into the flour mix.

Slowly add the soya milk until you have a good dough mixture (depending on the flour absorbency you may need more or less soya milk).

Roll out the mixture onto a floured surface so it's about 3/4" to 1" thick and cut into rounds (I suggest about 3 to 4 inches across, experiment to find your preference).

Place scones onto a lined baking tray and glaze with a little soya milk. Bake for around 25mins at gas mark 5 or until golden (time will depend on your oven).

Lift the scones onto a wire rack and let them cool, then pig out on delicious scones!

Handy hint: 
As Son wanted big scones he used a metal fried egg ring as a cutter, which gave 7 good sized scones from the recipe. If you want to make more scones use a smaller cutter!

The variation in colour on the scones is due to the oddity of our oven's hot and cooler spots. We dream of having one which doesn't have such peculiarities, but in the meantime, we turn the tray round in the oven mid-way through baking if/when we remember.  This time we forgot!

Saturday 6 February 2016

"It's like a puff pastry pizza!"

"It's like a puff pastry pizza!" was the verdict on our latest experiment in the kitchen. We cannot take the credit for it, having spotted the recipe video link by Tasty on the Facebook wall of a friend in the USA. It looked simple and tasty, so we wanted to try it.

Seriously tasty cheese and tomato twist

Put simply, it is 2 matching circles of puff pastry, some tomato puree, some grated cheese, and a bit of beaten egg to glaze the top... sounds easy eh!

For simplicity we opted to use ALDI's chilled puff pastry sheets. They come in a box, ready rolled with a sheet of baking parchment to stop the roll sticking together. We also used ALDI's own brand tomato puree in a tube (like dark orange toothpaste!), and a bag of their ready grated cheese.

To cut the circles the video used a dinner plate and a knife, but as we have a large stewpan with a glass lid, which has a handy metal rim, it made a snazzy circle cutter and was easy to lift off the pastry as it has a knob - unlike the plate which tends to suction itself to the pastry. Fortunately the pan lid was the same diameter as the width of the pastry sheet - handy eh! So we cut (or perhaps stamped is a better word) a circle out of each sheet. As the sheets are oblong there were bits left over - cut your circle near a short edge and you can use the bits to make something else.... bonus!

Once you have your circles, put one aside until you have done the next bit.

HINT: It is easier to create this on a baking tray rather than on a worktop and then try moving it onto a tray.  

Spread a layer of tomato puree on the other pastry circle and then add a layer of grated cheese. Put the second circle on the top so they match up exactly. Now find the centre of the circle and place a small upside-down tumbler over the centre part. This forms the part you leave uncut. Then cut through from the tumbler to the edge of the ring - make sure you cut right through both pastry layers, making like the spokes of a wheel. On a dinner plate size circle you should be able to make 15 cuts, to give you 16 segments. Carefully lift each segment and twist it twice, don't let it break away from the centre part, you just want to give it a wee spiral effect.  Work your way round the circle, twisting each segment the same way until you have done them all.  Then brush the pastry top with a little beaten egg to glaze it, pop the tray into the oven at 400F/Gas Mark 6  and bake for around 30-35 minutes, or until crispy and golden.

Once cooked, remove from oven. Leave it to cool for half an hour, and then pull a segment off with your fingers and eat it. Mmmm! Enjoy!

Straight from the oven!  

Although we used ordinary grated cheddar cheese, it would be even better with Mozzarella, so next time we will try that. It makes a great share and tear or a party dish, as people can just pull off a chunk and eat it. 

If you would rather follow the video instructions you can find it on Facebook here:

The Leftovers...

Ah yes, now we had some bits left over, so rather than waste them we made some cheese puffs. Using the tumbler we'd used for the centre of the twisted ring for some of them, and a wide tea cup for the bigger ones, we cut pairs of circles from the leftover pastry and added a layer of tomato puree and some grated cheese to each of the small ones. For the larger ones we used a layer of puree topped with a slice of cooked meat (we used chopped pork as we had some handy, but you could use any type of cooked meat), and added some grated cheese. Popping a second circle on top of each base's cheese layer, then we crimped the edges together using the prongs of a fork laid flat and pressed into the pastry all round the edge of each circle. We also had a long bit left over, so made a small square-ish one. Then with the last bit we rolled the pastry into some grated cheese until it all mixed together, then hand-rolled it until it made a long thin column of cheese pastry, which we cut into three parts and then gently twisted to make simple cheese spirals.  All these were popped onto a flat baking tray (actually it was a chip/pizza tray with holes in!) and brushed with the egg glaze, and again baked in the oven at 400F/Gas Mark 6  for around 20-30 minutes, or until crispy and golden. Yum! 

The leftover collection: large cheese and chopped pork puffs, small cheese puffs, cheesy twists.