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.

Matcha, ginger & cucumber iced tea


1/2 cucumber, 1L water, 1/2 ginger root, 1 tsp matcha powder.

Serves: 5 Preparation: 5 minutes (plus 1 hour for chilling and infusing)

Matcha is a super-concentrated green tea powder, packed with antioxidants and nutrients, available from the mighty Teapigs. When they sent me some for #Foodspiration, I wondered whether I could concoct a super-healthy iced tea which didn't need sweetening to combat the slightly bitter taste of green tea. Cucumber water is one of my favourite summer drinks - so refreshing and cleansing - and it really works a treat here. In place of ginger, the juice of half a lemon or lime works beautifully, as does 25ml of apple juice.

1) Peel the cucumber and slice finely, discarding the tapered end.

2) Peel and finely slice the ginger and add, along with the matcha powder to your drinks container.

Transfer the cucumber to your drinks container (I like Kilner bottles because when pouring, the cucumber remains in the bottle, but with a little vigorous shaking and a touch of water, they slide right back out again when it's time to clean the bottle) and top up with water. Shake to disperse the matcha powder and chill in the fridge. Give it a little shake before serving each portion to ensure the powder doesn't settle back to the bottom.

Pear & Matcha sorbet


4 over-ripe pears, 1 tsp matcha, 1 tbsp honey (or agave syrup if you are vegan).

Serves: 6 Preparation: 20 minutes

Matcha is a super-concentrated green tea powder, packed with antioxidants and nutrients, available from the mighty Teapigs. When they sent me some for #Foodspiration, I knew that the first thing I wanted to do was make a glorious green tea sorbet, and the beautiful grainy-sweetness of pears is so wonderful with tea. And lo, this super-food sorbet was born!

1) Peel the pears and slice the fruit away from the core.

2) Puree thoroughly in a blender, adding the honey and matcha when a smooth texture has been achieved.

3) Taste before transferring to the ice-cream maker, remembering that freezing something dulls the taste, so if it isn't sweet enough, it most certainly won't be when it's frozen! Add a little extra honey if necessary, then churn until frozen. 

If you do not have an ice-cream maker, pour into a suitable container and freeze, removing to whisk every 30 minutes to ensure that linear ice-crystals do not form, solidifying the texture.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Sugar-free gingerbread biscuits


250g plain flour, 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 2 tbsp ground ginger, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp allspice, 75g coconut palm sugar, 1 egg, 75g butter, 1 tsp hazelnut honey (optional).
Serves: 30-40 Preparation: 1 hour

Being the mother of an 18-month old starchild and an all-round healthy person myself, I am wicked-keen to replace refined sugar in all of my baking and cooking wherever possible. There are some recipes however where honey, banana or fruit juice just won't cut it - biscuits need sugar. It's science! So this month I am experimenting with *deep breath* Coconut palm sugar, coconut palm blossom syrup, agave syrup, and hazelnut honey which is just about the most delicious caramel-textured substance that I have ever encountered. 

These wonderful crisp gingerbread biscuits are spicy and sweet and will fill your house with the most amazing Christmassy smell.

1) Sift together the dry ingredients - flour, spices, bicarbonate of soda - and add to a food processor along with the butter. Blitz until fine breadcrumbs are formed.

2) Whisk the egg with the hazelnut honey if you're using it and add it, along with the sugar into the food processor and blitz through until the mixture comes together into a stiff dough. Wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes whilst you pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4 (and clean up, if you're anything like me!).

3) LaRoll out the dough onto a lightly floured surface (I like to sprinkle a little extra ground ginger and allspice onto the surface as it not only gives the dough that lovely slightly freckled appearance but is just another excuse for The Tastiness) and roll out the biscuits to about 1/2cm thickness.

4) Cut out the shapes of your choice - stars of course being our preference! - and transfer to a baking tray. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes and transfer to a cooling rack.

5) It is of course traditional to decorate them, but I prefer to dust edible gold rather than ice them.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Mediterranean tart


Pastry: 4oz plain flour, 2oz butter
Filling: 4 eggs, 75g marscapone, 75g sun dried tomatoes, 75g artichokes, 3 bell peppers, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1 tsp dried basil
Serves: 4 Preparation: 1 hour (plus pastry chilling)

I adore tarts. Crammed with vegetables and set in a creamy egg filling with melt in the mouth pastry, they are a meal in themselves or great with salad. This tastes of pure sunshine and is super quick to prepare.

1) To make the shortcrust pastry, cut the butter into small cubes and drop along with the flour into a food processor until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Drip in 2-3 tablespoons of cold water until the mixture quickly forms a ball. Wrap this in clingfilm and put in the fridge for 15 minutes. Once chilled, roll out and press firmly into a buttered pastry case. Bake blind for 10 minutes and set aside to cool.

2) Whisk the eggs and marscapone together, then stir in the oregano and basil.

3) This tart can be made quickly by using sun dried tomatoes and artichokes from a jar, drained well to remove the oil, but I would recommend roasting the peppers yourself as the longer they are marinated, the less sunshine sweetness they tend to have. Slicing around the core to remove the seeds, I roast these for 15-20 minutes and then peel off the blackened skin. 

4) Layer the vegetables in the tart case and pour over the egg and marscapone mix, then bake in a pre-heated oven at gas mark 5 for 30-40 minutes. The tart should be solid, rather than wobbly in the centre with a golden surface just beginning to form.

5) Serve hot or cold.

Baby flapjacks


50ml coconut oil, 1 banana, 150g oats, 75g mixed seeds (I like pumpkin, linseed, poppyseed, sunflower and flax seeds) 1 tsp vanilla essence, 50g dried fruit (I like cranberries & apricots but figs, raisins & dates are also great.)
Makes: 12 Preparation: 45 minutes

I adore flapjacks and granola for the same reason - the smell and flavour of those gorgeous toasted oats. Absolutely mouthwatering.
As a follow on from my baby breakfast muffins, which are sugar free and very low in fat, these flapjacks are also baby friendly in that unlike traditional flapjacks which are full of butter and syrup, these are bound by banana and coconut oil and stuffed full of glorious seeds and dried fruit instead of things that will make your kids hyper and unhealthy. So if you or your kidlets fancy a sweet treat that travels well then these will not disappoint.

1) Culinary coconut oil is usually solid at room temperature, so melt it gently in a pan to return it to liquid form and stir in the vanilla essence.

2) Mash the banana with a fork, or puree in a food processor and whisk into the oil until it has been fully incorporated. If you have an extra sweet tooth you can add a little honey too but it really doesn't need it if your banana is ripe.

3) Stir in the oats, dried fruit and seeds and allow to rest whilst the oven pre-heats to gas mark 5.

4) Rub a little of the coconut oil around your baking tray to grease it, then press the mixture firmly into the tray ensuring that it is packed as tightly as possible to allow it to bind fully in the oven and not fall apart when cut into bars.

5) Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown, then carefully turn out onto a cooling rack (it should just slide off the tray but if you've used a deep one, try putting the cooling rack over the top and just flipping it over) and slice into bars whilst still warm. Once cool they can be eaten or stored for up to a week.

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