One of my loveliest memories from my youth is of my parents walking on the coast of our beloved Hampshire, picking samphires from the sea.

“Yukky,” I used to grimace.

“In the war, we used to eat this, and the seaweed called carrageen moss, for the minerals. It saved our health, during the food rationing years,” my mum would say again and again.

On impulse, I decided to forage for samphires but chanced upon lovely beds of glasswort instead, so emerald in the summer sun in Bosham, again, one of the favourite places of my childhood.

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Glassworts are also known as sea beans, and you could eat them raw. But the taste is more ‘acceptable’ to the palate not used to the strong taste.

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Cooking instructions:

First of all, make sure that there is no pollution in the area where the glasswort grows. Anti-foul from boats are poisonous!

Boil for 10 minutes in a large pan of water (this will remove some of the saltiness.

Blanch immediately in cold water to keep its crispness.

Toss in olive oil and toasted sesame oil.

Top with finely grated ginger and lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Serve with avocado to soften the taste.

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Note: what I love is the fact that this tastes like the seaweed dish I once fell in love with in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo….and to think, I can pick it in my backyard, literally!

Eat like a King, cheaply, seasonally

Inspired by Tom Hunt’s article, How to eat like a chef for less than £20 a week, I ventured out to the lively North End Road market to see what bargains I can find:

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Despite my son getting his motorbike stolen by yobs in the market (London is becoming increasingly lawless), I was pleasantly surprised to find a whole array for fruits and vegetables on offer, even exotic ones. This place is such a cultural melting pot – it feels as if the world had arrived at the outer fringes of Fulham:

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I bought:

  • Rhubarb £1.50 for 1 kg
  • Strawberries £2 for a large punnet
  • Raspberries £1 for a small punnet
  • Blackcurrants £1 for a small punnet
  • Red peppers £1 for 4
  • Large Aubergines £1 for 3
  • Button mushrooms £1 per bag
  • Red onions £1 per large bag
  • Avocados £1 for 4
  • Rocket leaves £2 for a very large bag
  • Spinach £2 for a very large bag
  • Garlic £1 for a bag

I popped into the supermarket:

  • to buy Brie (on offer) for £1
  • a loaf of seeded loaf 65p
  • one tin of chopped tomatoes 50p
  • Beetroot 60p

Total cost of shopping: £17.25.

Challenge:  to feed four adults with big appetites who are spoilt when it comes to food (i.e. steak and truffle mash are common fare).

This is what I rustled up:

Breakfast:

Oat porridge with berries (and some stewed rhubarb for that extra kick)

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Lunch:

Brie and rocket sandwich with a large salad bowl

Dinner:

Aubergine and pepper stuffed with garlic mushrooms, onions and aubergine on a bed of creamed spinach.

Dessert:

Stewed rhubarb with leftover strawberries.

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Verdict:  “Yummy, but not everyday please, Mum!!!!”

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So we are back to this (great book, by the way, my all-time favourite, it beats Delia and Nigella hands-down)… but it’s expensive to cook from this book of family favourites.

Conclusion:

I’m still a long way off from being as accomplished as Tom Hunt when it comes to budget cooking 🙂  So here’s my challenge to you: what is the minimum you can spend for a day of healthy and yummy menu for ravenous, growing folks?

 

Sourdough ciabatta

There is nothing quite as satisfying as baking bread by hand (fortunately, my family loves bread, in particular, my focaccia). You can find my recipe for a very simple focaccia here.

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But today I am going to give you my recipe of sourdough ciabatta.  It’s rather different in taste and also in methodology. I prefer the ciabatta, actually, because it’s chewy with that sourdough taste which I love.  It’s just sooooo good!

But warning, don’t attempt this if you get freaked out by sticky dough….it difficult to wash off!

First, you have to make the biga, the starter.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 teaspoon, dry yeast, but make sure that it is still alive, which means it should get frothy after standing in warm water;
  • 1/4 cup warm water;
  • 3/4 cup water at room temperature;
  • 350g unbleached all-purpose flour.

DIRECTIONS for the biga

Mix the yeast in the warm water and let it stand for about 10-15 minutes. It should get frothy and creamy.

Stir in the flour and the remaining water into the yeast mixture. Use a wooden spoon and stir for about 5 minutes until a sticky dough forms.

Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 24 hours (and more!).

Ingredients

  • 500g biga (what you made above yields that);
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast;
  • 5 tablespoons warm milk;
  • 1 cup water at room temperature;
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 500g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • pinch of salt

 

DIRECTIONS for the ciabatta

Mix the yeast and milk together, and let the mixture stand for about 10-15 minutes.

When it is frothy and creamy, mix it with the biga, oil and water.

Add the flour and the salt.  Knead in the mixing bowl. Note: the dough will be sticky, but DO NOT add more flour. Then knead in a floured surface for a few minutes.

Put in an oiled bowl, cover with a warm towel and let it rise for 1 hour 30 minutes or thereabouts.

Then knead again until the dough is elastic (it’s OK if it is still a bit sticky).

Divide into four, knead again and let it rise for another 1 hour 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350degrees.

Pull dough into rectangular shapes (shown below).

 

Bake in a heavy baking try lined with parchment paper.

Bake for about 30 minutes, opening the door after 10 minutes to spray the oven with cold water. Do this a couple of times.

You may wish to add chopped olives, sun-dried tomatoes and/or pesto to make a really delicious Italian bread.

Quinoa and dates energy balls

Quinoa is one of those amazing food that is gluten-free, high in protein and is also one of the few plant foods that contain all nine essential amino acids. I normally cook a pot and use it as salad base.

Photo: quinoa with sugarsnap peas and garlic roasted courgettes in a light balsamic dressing.

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But last week, I decided to make energy balls with my red quinoa.

Ingredients:

1 cup cooked quinoa (cook according to packet instructions)
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup sliced almonds and 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
5 teaspoons honey
10 pitted dates
¼ cup almond butter
1 tablespoon virgin coconut oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon sea salt
A handful of raisins
1 tablespoon chia seeds

Method:

Heat the oven to 350°. Mix together the quinoa, oats and sunflower seeds with the honey, coating them evenly. Pour into a baking tray lined with parchment paper and bake until brown and crunchy (around 20 minutes), stirring once or twice so that they brown all over.  Cool.

Toast the almonds.

Combine the dates, almond butter, coconut oil, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into a large bowl. Add the almonds, chia seeds, and toasted quinoa and oats. Mix well with your hands and shape into balls (this recipe makes about 24).

Store in an airtight container for up to one week.

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Note: they are also tasty as granola.

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Adaptogens: for your body’s maintenance

I turned 50 last year and people often ask me what I do and eat to keep my youthfulness. Actually, I am quite a naughty girl: I am partial to dairy (milk and cheese!) and to the odd bottle of wine. And though I live an active and healthy lifestyle, my body does need additional nutritional support (especially in the last two months, where I have been stressed out – and in the next few months, when I go back to work!).  Here’s what I take:

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Our body needs so many things, especially if you live a busy, stressful lifestyle in a polluted city.  You’ve heard of co-enzymes, but what about adaptogens? These herbs and mushrooms have been used for centuries in Ayurveda and Chinese medicine.

Though it is not “hard science” yet, there is increasing evidence that these group of nutrients have the effect of normalising the body’s imbalances (adverse effect of stress, pollution and poor nutrition)  and slowing down ageing effects.

Personally, I incorporate adaptogens into my diet to balance out inflammation caused by dairy, alcohol, sugar and stress. I also use very little products on my skin, choosing instead to nourish it from the inside.

The most well-known adaptogen is of course, ginseng.

For women, these are particularly good:

  • Ashwagandha: Soothing.
  • Rhodiola: Calming.
  • Holy Basil: For vitality.
  • Shatavari: The Hormonal Harmoniser, Queen of Women’s Adaptogens.
  • Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng): For brain alertness and stamina.
  • Reishi Mushroom and astragalus: For the immune system.

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Photo: astragalus, licorice root, ginseng and holy basil stems.

I just throw the roots and barks (of what I need) into a slow cooker and boil overnight with some organic chicken carcass and vegetables. Seen here: fresh stalks from the holy basil.

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Living in Asia at the moment, I can get hold of these roots and barks very easily from traditional herbal shops.

Whilst home in the UK, I use the powder form.

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But it doesn’t have to be that complicated. For example, holy basil, which I put in my green smoothies and raw on my spaghetti, is a powerful adaptogen. Turmeric is another powerful one, which functions as an anti-inflammatory.

If you are not feeling 100% but can’t quite put your finger on why, then perhaps adaptogens might be what you need to bring your body back into balance. That’s what people in the olden days do to maintain wellness, instead of pill-popping. So do your research, speak with a few specialists and maybe try this.

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Almond cake with sunflower seed pralines

Wheat forms such a large part of our lives. Once, I had to care for someone who has IBS/coeliac disease and it literally took me a whole day to plan, research and cook the meals.  I didn’t mind actually, as I love spending time with food. Here’s my forays into making something nice for my friend who is trying to adhere to a keto diet:

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My friend Rona likes her sweet treats and she is supposed to be on a keto diet. As my daughter had been staying at her place for the past few days, I feel obliged to try my hand at keto baking (note: I am not an expert baker).

The first few efforts bite the dust. They taste like something from the bottom of a bird cage. Anyway, this one sort of works (thank you, sour cream) and not too bad. Sorry, there is sugar in it, though reduced….. the coffee, nutty bits make it more-ish. But still a long way to go, very amateurish but with lots of heart!

To make a coffee pralines:

  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon coffee granules (NOT instant coffee, or they would dissolve)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Mix all together and put aside.

For the cake:

  • 1 1/2 cups ground almond
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached cake flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cups butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla essence.

Sieve together the almond meal, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Slowly add the powder mix into the butter-and-sugar mix, alternating with eggs and sour cream.

In a grease-proof baking tray, alternate 1/3 of the cake mix with the pralines.

Bake in a preheated oven (around 350F) for an hour or until firm.

Delicious with coffee 🙂

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Asian steamed rice cakes

In the midst of clearing my kitchen out, I came across a full bag of rice flour. So I googled and experimented, coming up with this simple cake that is familiar in South East Asia, especially Malaysia where I used to live. And to be honest, I got nostalgic about this as this is part of Malaysia that is disappearing….not to soon, I hope!

 

Do watch this video to see what I mean:

To make yeast mixture:

Make sure your yeast is fresh, ie. they make lots of bubbles within 10 minutes. Dissolve 3/4 tsp yeast in 1 TBSP warm water. Leave in a warm place whilst you make the rest of the stuff.

And then, just before use, add 1 TBSP sunflower oil to the mix. Don’t forget!

To make the pandan syrup:

Boil 6 pandan leaves in 150mls water and 100gms sugar for around 10 minutes or until fragrant. Discard the leaves. Make sure you have about 150mls of fluid left.

To make the cake:

  • 140gms rice flour, sieved (make sure there is no lumps!)
  • 150gms water
  • 1/2 tsp salt.

Mix everything together, including the yeast mixture and pandan syrup. Allow to rise in a warm place for 3 hours.

Grease a stainless steel plate. Pour the mixture in. Cover with aluminium foil and steam for 30 minutes. Allow to cool before cutting. I love the texture! (note: I added steamed banana slices for variation.)

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Beetroot brownie from Pinch & Swirl

Two confessions. First, I would never have thought of combining BEETROOT with chocolate. Second, I could never make brownies. They’ve alway gone wrong. I never liked them anyway.

But a few weeks ago, my dear friend Jane Varley (also my partner-in-crime) baked the most heavenly beetroot, walnut and chocolate brownies for the IWA Phuket Bake Off.

Sadly, we didn’t win. Er, we didn’t even get a single vote from the tasters, but don’t let this fool you….this is the best brownies I have ever tasted, and it is so full of goodness, too (yeah, half a pound of beetroots).  Its from the Pinch & Swirl website, and you can access it here.

Note re the recipe: I used more beetroot and less sugar, and added raisins.

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Momofuku Compost Cookies

The name certainly sparked a lot of interesting (and sometimes rude) comments! But truly, Momofuku is a cult restaurant chain, especially its Milk Bar.

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This is my version of its Compost Cookies (because its ingredients are everything you have in your kitchen), using stuff that I can easily get. You have to make the Graham cracker mix first, then just put everything in a blender on slow. Be pleasantly surprised how crisps and chocolate chips go oh so well together!!!

Graham Cracker Mix: (I used Jacob’s Cream Crackers but I think any salty crackers would work)

50 grams cracker crumbs
1 tablespoon milk powder (I used coffee creamer, as I wasn’t going to buy something I don’t generally use)
1½ teaspoons granulated sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon heavy cream

Cookie Dough

225 grams unbleached bread flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
225 grams butter
300 grams brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey (original recipe uses glucose syrup)
1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
200 grams mini chocolate chips (I used Hersheys – best if you can mix different flavours of chocolate chips)
40 grams rolled oats (not instant oats! I also added some rolled barley)
2½ teaspoons ground coffee (not instant coffee! You want the granules in the cookies)
50 grams crisps (I actually used a bag of Walkers) – bashed up slightly.
50 grams mini pretzels – bashed up slightly.

  • I also threw in a handful of nuts and seeds.

Method:

Make the cracker mixture.

Separately cream the butter with sugar in the blender.

Sieve the flour in with the baking powder and baking soda.

Add everything together in a mixing bowl. Chill for at least an hour in the fridge (OK for 1 week).

Bake in a preheated oven (375 degrees) for about 20 minutes until cooked, but still soft and chewy on the inside.

Store in an airtight container and it should last a few days…..if you haven’t eaten them up, that is 🙂 They are so more-ish! (Probably because I love crisps and chocolates!)

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Photo on 4-24-18 at 18.51

 

TKG – Japanese fast food power breakfast

The old adage, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper” is definitely true. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day because it sets you up for the rest of your day. I love preparing breakfast for my loved ones because I see it as another way of saying ‘I love you’ first thing in the morning (amongst others 🙂 ) but when I wake up in an empty house this is what I normally have for breakfast. Overnight oats and a big pitcher of green smoothie:

On some days, I put in a little more effort:

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And on decadent days, I do this for myself:

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Recently, my non-foodie partner (who dislikes the stuff I eat) told me about this fast-food Japanese power breakfast called TKG (tamago kake gohan).  Hmm. I decided to give it a try.  It’s simple enough:

  1. Cook rice with a strip of kombu seaweed.
  2. Add one egg to a portion of hot rice.
  3. Douse with soy sauce.

Really?

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I experimented a bit. On my first try, it turned out horrible because the egg white was still slimy. The second attempt (without the egg white) was almost right, but I used too much rice so that it was literally just white rice.

Still not convinced.

I added other bits in: lots of freshly ground pepper, spring onions, fried garlic, sweetcorn kernels and sliced red chilli.

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Verdict: not to my taste, but you might like it. It’s certainly nutritious and filling.  Here’s TKG on wikipedia. Check it out, who knows, you might love it! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamago_kake_gohan