Friday, 9 January 2015

Beetroot brownies


3 eggs, 250g salted butter, 250g dark chocolate, 250g caster sugar, 150g self-raising flour, 250g grated beetroot (approx 2 beetroots).
Serves: 10 Preparation: 1 hour

There is a saying, a very good saying; "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
This is good advice, except to people who are creative. It's just not applicable! Being creative means the desire to explore and perfect an idea will never really be fulfilled, and it is with this in mind that I give you the beetroot brownie. The gungey, squidgy glory of a good brownie is a formula which needs very little tinkering with, but like making chocolate cake without grated beetroot is unthinkable to me now, so it goes with brownies. That added moisture, that depth of flavour, that incredible colour... you absolutely have to try it.

1) To prepare the beetroot, wash them and slice off the stalks and leaves. Then peel and grate into a bowl

Break the chocolate into a heatproof bowl, add the butter and set it on a pan of hot water to form a bain marie. Stir until the butter and chocolate melt completely.

Whisk the eggs and sugar together in a large bowl until combined then beat in the melted chocolate and butter until smooth.

Sift the flour over the chocolate mixture, then gently fold it in. Fold in the grated beetroot, then pour into a greased baking tin and smooth with a spatula.

Bake for 20 – 25 minutes at gas mark 4 until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with sticky crumbs. Remove the tin from the oven and leave on a wire rack to cool before cutting in to squares.

Sunday, 16 November 2014



1 1/2 cups Rachel's Organic Greek yoghurt, 1/2 cup butter,1 cup polenta, 3/4 cup self-raising flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda, 1/4 tsp salt, 2 eggs
2 bell peppers, 100g sweetcorn, 1 small red chilli or 1/2 tsp chilli flakes (optional)

Serves: 5 Preparation: 30 minutes

Cornbread is a fabulous example of mixing the best of both worlds in one dish. Savoury with sweet nuggets of corn and pepper, a little spicy if you like that sort of thing with a fluffy yet grainy texture on the inside and a fabulous toasty crust on the outside. I like this with my Mexican mole soup, or part of a fried breakfast but it can be eaten cool just as a snack on its own. 

1) Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6 and grease a baking tray.

2) Melt the butter in a pan and whisk in the eggs and Greek Yoghurt.

3) Add the polenta, flour, baking powder, bicarb of soda to a bowl and mix thoroughly
. Pour the wet ingredients from the pan into the dry ingredients and mix together until a smooth batter is formed.

4) Dice the bell pepper and add, along with the sweetcorn (frozen is fine) to the batter and transfer to the baking tray.

5) Bake for 20-25 minutes until the top begins to turn golden and a skewer in the centre comes out clean. Cornbread can be eaten when cool, but is best toasted on a griddle.

Sugar-free pina colada muffins


350g spelt flour, 2 eggs, 2 tsp baking powder, 30g desiccated coconut 75g diced pineapple and dried cranberries, 150ml pineapple juice, 100g coconut palm sugar, 1 tbsp coconut oil, 1 tsp honey.

Serves: 6 Preparation: 45 minutes (plus an hour soaking)

When it comes to food critiquing, my husband is a man of few words, and many facial expressions so his reaction to these muffins of "oh my god! mmmmmm!!!" before grabbing a second one, posting a picture on Facebook and then begging me to bake some more for him to take to work with him says it all. These are absolutely luscious and will fill your house with the most incredible tropical scent. Plus they're sugar free and made from "good fat" and healthy flour! Hurrah!

1) Soak the dried pineapple and cranberries in the pineapple juice along with the honey for ideally an hour, then pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4.

2) S
ift together the flour, baking powder, dessicated coconut and set aside.

3) If the coconut oil has solidified, melt it gently, then whisk in the eggs and palm sugar before adding the pineapple and juice.

4) Roughly fold the wet ingredients into the dry - don't overmix it. Muffin batter should never be completely smooth. Spoon into muffin cases and bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes. I like to sprinkle a little extra coconut on the top before baking - the toasted coconut smells and tastes WONDERFUL.

5) Leave to cool, if you have the willpower, then devour. These are good for up to 3 days afterwards if sealed in a tupperware container but benefit from being gently warmed in the oven for a few minutes before serving after that!

Carrot, cardamom & caramelised onion soup


5 carrots, 1 potato, 2 onions, 6 cardamom pods, 1/2 tsp ground ginger, 1/4 tsp allspice, 1 clove garlic, 1 tbsp olive oil.
Serves: 4 Preparation: 30 minutes

I love soup. I find all the chopping, stirring and pureeing very soothing, the warm smells that fill the house comforting, and I love ladling out steamy bowls of soup for people to dunk hot crispy bread into, dressing it with ever more creative croutons or swirls of cream and yoghurt. Some soups, like this spiced bowl of sweet carrotty joy, are so packed full of flavour that they don't even need any vegetable stock. This works just as well with sweet potato but the silkier soup will come from using a good waxy potato.

1) Peel and finely slice the onions, then slice the rings in half before adding the slices to a hot pan with the olive oil. Stir them well, breaking the strips of onion up, then leave to completely caramelise, stirring only when you see them begin to turn brown.

Crush one clove of garlic and add to the pan, along with the freshly ground cardamom seeds, ginger and allspice. Stir well and leave to sizzle for a few minutes.

Peel and dice the carrots and potato, then add to the pan. I like to stir them for a minute or two to add a little colour before adding the water.

4) Allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes until the carrots and potato are soft, then add to a blender to puree thoroughly before serving.

Protein pesto salad


1 can cannellini beans, 250g red & white quinoa (Merchant Gourmet), 250g beluga lentils (also Merchant Gourmet), 100g fresh basil, 1 clove garlic, 50ml basil oil, parmigiano, 1/2 lemon, 50g pine nuts.
Serves: 4 Preparation: 5 minutes (+ 20 if using dried lentils and quinoa)

I always have a kilner jar of pesto on the go in the fridge so that in a rush for a quick meal I can chuck some pasta or gnocchi or buschetta together in about 5 minutes flat. I was recently asked for a recipe for a healthy, satisfying salad packed with protein and this is one of my favourite picnic staples. Merchant Gourmet make fabulous little pouches of cereals and grains which seriously cut down on prep time, but Quinoa and lentils are quick enough to cook from scratch using the instructions below.

1) If using raw quinoa and lentils: Soak for 5 minutes and rinse thoroughly in a sieve before transferring to a pan. Depending on where you buy it, quinoa naturally has an acrid coating called saponin which you don't want flavouring your food! Cover with lightly salted water and bring to the boil for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently as it soaks up the water and fluffs up, then remove from the heat, add the drained and rinsed cannellini beans and set aside to cool.

2) To make pesto: add the fresh basil leaves to a mortar bowl and grind to a fine pulp. Sautee 1 crushed clove of garlic in the basil oil and add to the mortar bowl along with a pinch of salt and a handful of pine nuts. Grind thoroughly, adding lemon juice, basil oil and parmeggian to taste.

3) Stir 2 tablespoons of the pesto into the quinoa, beluga lentils and beans and either serve or refrigerate for up to 5 days for lunch. If you want to vary this a little from day to day (I liked to make a batch on a Sunday and portion it out for the week) it's nice to sprinkle pomegranate jewels though it, or add some salad leaves, or chopped cherry tomatoes or bell peppers (raw or roasted) and I especially love blitzing up some spinach or kale in the blender and stirring that through)

Spinach & avocado soup


800g spinach, 1/2 nutmeg, 1 onion, 1 avocado, 1 potato, 1 tsp avocado oil.
Serves: 4 Preparation: 20 minutes

I love soup. I find all the chopping, stirring and pureeing very soothing, the warm smells that fill the house comforting, and I love ladling out steamy bowls of soup for people to dunk hot crispy bread into, dressing it with ever more creative croutons or swirls of cream and yoghurt. This soup is so thick and glossy and brimming with super-healthy spinach and avocado to keep those winter colds at bay.

1) Peel and finely dice the onion and the potato. Add the onion and avocado oil to a pan and allow to soften (about 5 minutes if you've chopped it finely enough) before adding the potato and enough water just to cover them (ideally about 1/4 pint)

2) When the potatoes are soft (about 10 minutes), add the spinach to the pan in installments, stirring well as it wilts down. Remove from the heat and strain the liquid away from the other ingredients (do not discard).

3) Halve the avocado around the stone and twist it apart. Remove the stone and scoop the avocado flesh from the shell. Add to a blender and blitz thoroughly. Add the contents of the pan and puree, adding a little of the liquid at a time until the desired consistency is reached. I like a good, thick soup but this is entirely your preference.

4) Stir in about half of a freshly grated nutmeg (don't ever bother with the powdered stuff - it tastes and smells of nothing!) with half a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper (and salt if you wish, though I never do) to season, and serve.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Caramelised onion & aduki bean soup


2 white onions, 5 shallots, 1 can aduki beans, 1 tablespoon of butter or olive oil.
Serves: 2 Preparation: 20 minutes

This soup is RIDICULOUSLY simple. It seems impossible that something can taste so delicious without stocks, herbs, spices, seasoning or more than two ingredients... but it's true, with just onions and beans and twenty minutes, you too can have this velvety thick, satisfying soup which is packed with flavour.

1) Peel and finely slice the onions and shallots. Pop the rings from the onion slices with your fingers and add to a pan with a knob of butter, stirring only when the onions begin to brown in order for them to caramelise evenly.

2) When the onions are soft and caramelised (about 15 minutes) add the aduki beans and a cup of water. Bring to the boil and transfer to a blender to puree before serving.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Chestnut hummus


400g chickpeas (dried or canned), 1 bulb garlic, olive oil, 1/2 can chestnut puree plus lemon juice, sesame seeds/tahini and paprika to taste.

Preparation: 30 minutes (canned) 1hr 45 plus overnight soaking (dried)

I love Merchant Gourmet's chestnut puree. I use it to thicken my vegetarian gravy, soups and stews but it wasn't until recently that I ever had leftovers to decide what to do with. And lo, yet another variation on hummus! This also works beautifully as a vegetarian pate if you pack down into a container and allow to chill in the fridge.

1) Roast the entire bulb of garlic at 200 degrees for 20 minutes. Squeeze the garlic puree gently from the cloves and add to your food processor.

2) If you are using dried chickpeas leave them to soak in cold water for a minimum of 6 hours (ideally 10-12) and cook them for 1 1/2 hours, changing the water frequently to avoid a bitter aftertaste.

3) If using canned chickpeas drain them and rinse well. It's entirely your choice whether you shell the chickpeas first - personally I prefer the texture with them shelled and find the process (pinching gently then shucking) very soothing! To avoid shelling them you can add a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda to the water and boil them for 5 minutes - the shells will be so soft that you won't even notice them when pureed.

4) Place the chickpeas and the chestnut puree into your blender and pulse thoroughly, drizzling olive oil through until the desired texture has been reached

5) Flavour to taste with lemon juice, tahini/sesame oil/sesame seeds and season with salt and a pinch of smoked paprika. Stir through and serve or store in the fridge.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Pumpkin Mac & Cheese

1/2 can pumpkin puree, 1 clove garlic, 1/4 leek, 250g macaroni, 1 pint vegetable stock, 1 tsp truffle oil, 100g cheese, 1/4 tsp allspice, 1/4 tsp sage, 1/4 tsp thyme, 1/4 tsp smoked paprika, 1/4 sweet potato.

Serves: 4 Preparation: 30 minutes

I absolutely adore mac and cheese. So much so that despite it's obvious perfection, I am constantly re-inventing it in order to have it more often, without being bored. This version is about as far as the traditional roux-based cheese sauce as you can get, but it's healthy, can be made lactose intolerant or vegan-friendly by u
sing a wheat-free pasta or substituting the layer of cheese with a dairy-free alternative respectively. As Autumn rolls in, I go pumpkin crazy and this truly is an out-of-this world dish.
Check out some of my other favourite versions: avocado mac and cheese using my roast garlic and avocado puree, cauliflower mac and cheesebroccoli mac and cheese and of course mac and peas.

1) Use 3/4 of the vegetable stock to put the macaroni on to boil, reserving the remaining 1/4 for the sauce.

2) Slice and dice the leek finely (discarding the root and leafy ends) and add to a pan with the truffle oil. Sautee gently, adding the garlic (crushed) once it begins to soften.

3) By the time 
the garlic begins to sizzle the macaroni should be ready - drain and set aside, reserving a ladle of the vegetable stock to add to the leek and garlic. Reduce this by about 50% and add the pumpkin puree, herbs and spices.

4) If the sauce is too thick, add a little more vegetable stock to thin it out (or cream if you want to be REALLY decadent), then stir in the drained macaroni.

5) Transfer to an oven-proof dish and grate the sweet potato and cheese onto the top. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes (until the cheese is gooey and golden and the sweet potato is just beginning to crisp) and serve hot.    

I very rarely add salt as standard to a dish, advising only to season to taste, but in this case I found a tiny bit of salt and black pepper to be a nice touch once I'd removed a portion for my toddler.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Mango sorbet


2 mangoes, 1 tsp honey (or agave syrup if you are vegan).
Serves: 6 Preparation: 20 minutes

It has been sorbet central over here in the Lavender Kitchen. At this time of year the fruit in my bowl ripens so fast in the last of the summer heat, so I find myself making smoothies, jams and chutneys and baking puddings and pies and tarts galore so as not to waste any fruit. Mango sorbet is a particular favourite of mine because the buttery, silky texture of mango feels like it MUST be sinfully bad for you - and yet this sorbet contains nothing naughty at all!

1) Peel and slice the mango. There are many methods for doing so, from hedgehogging it to simply hacking away until you find the thick, rough core that stretches the full length of the fruit. Personally, I approach it like an avocado, slicing it towards the middle but not completely in half, then rotating it until it comes apart, revealing the core which can then be sliced away.

2) Transfer the fruit to a food processor (y
ou'll want to save every single drop of the gorgeous juice as you're slicing it - I scrape it from the peel, from the chopping board etc) and puree thoroughly.

3) Add the honey and taste - remembering that freezing something dulls the flavour, so if it isn't sweet enough, it most certainly won't be when it's frozen! Add extra honey if necessary, but a ripe mango should certainly be sweet enough

4) Transfer to your ice-cream maker and churn until frozen. If you don't have an ice-cream maker, transfer to a suitable container and freeze, removing every 30 minutes to whisk it to ensure that linear ice crystals do not form, solidifying the texture.

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