Monday, 24 June 2013

Spicy Prawn Noodle Soup

Who knew there are calories in ground cumin?

I watched Michael Mosley's Horizon documentary, Eat, Fast and Live Longer, on BBC2 last year with interest.  Michael Mosley set himself the challenge to live longer, stay younger and lose weight. Goals that many of us can identify with.  His research concluded that intermittent fasting could help achieve those goals and settled upon the 5:2 way of eating.  That is 5 days of normal eating and 2 days of fasting (when you limit the calories you eat to 500 calories for women or 600 calories for men) each week.  I'm no scientist, but the potential (not yet proven in humans) health benefits seem to make sense and, for that reason, I decided I was willing to take a punt and give it a go for a little while.

I have never counted calories before in my life.  A little naive maybe, but I had no idea that foods like cucumbers actually contained much in the way of calories. Aren't cucumbers about 90% water?  Don't get me wrong, it's not that I've never had to reign it in to lose the pounds that have crept on, but I've done that by reducing portion sizes, cutting out snacks, limiting my monstrous cheese intake and laying off the booze (...well, just a little).  Never has the way I've eaten been so scientific.  And believe me, for someone who abhors maths, all the calculating and counting had my head in a bit of a spin at the beginning.

I love food. I love cooking. I love creating new recipes. So I saw this as a challenge. Making nutritious food that is both delicious and low in calories.  After eating the 5:2 way on and off since Christmas (with a big break thanks to pneumonia) I've found that the best way of approaching fast days (for me) is to abstain from food all day and then have a decent sized main meal in the evening, which means that sometimes I can even have carbs.

This is one of the tastiest, most satisfying fast day dinners I've had so far.  A huge bowl of comforting, spicy soup.

Serves: 1
Prep time: 15 minutes (excluding making the stock)
Cook time: 10 minutes
Calories per portion (approx): 360


100g king prawns (peeled weight - approx 4 large unpeeled prawns), peeled & deveined
100g pak choi, sliced
50g mange tout
50g beansprouts
30g oyster mushrooms, sliced
2 spring onions, sliced
1-2 bird's eye chillies, finely sliced
2-3cm piece fresh ginger, finely sliced
300ml good vegetarian stock (see more below)
1/2 tsp brown miso paste
1 tsp fish sauce (or soy sauce)
fresh coriander
50g glass noodles (cooked according to packet instructions)


Put the stock in a pan with the miso paste and fish sauce and heat through.  Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil.  Blanch the pak choi, mange tout and oyster mushrooms for 1-2 minutes, remove from the water and set aside.  Then cook the prawns in the same water until pink and cooked through and set aside (again 1-2 minutes depending on the size of your prawns).

Put the glass noodles, vegetables, prawns, spring onions, chillies and ginger in a big bowl and pour over the stock.  Add some roughly chopped coriander to serve.

Good vegetarian stock:

I use this recipe from Kellie's blog Food to Glow to make vast quantities of vegetarian stock which I then freeze in 1 person portions so that I have some to hand whenever I fancy noodle soup.  I then add in whatever other flavours  and seasoning I want before I use it.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Spanish Mackerel with Chickpeas & Pearled Spelt

There are times when I wander into the fishmonger with not the foggiest idea what I'm going to buy.  Although probably a little frustrating for everyone queued up behind me as I um and ah, it does mean I'm not constrained by a recipe or an idea.  I can pick whatever looks the best or comes recommended.  Last week it was the shiny, bright eyed Spanish mackerel which caught my eye at Moxons

A rare glimpse of sunshine meant I was craving salads and summery, holiday food.  Warm, sunny days are the perfect time for lazy family lunches and big platters of simple salads...

Pearled spelt (or farro) is one of those ingredients that I bought on impulse, after seeing a photo on Instagram of a gorgeous salad which Elly Curshen made for Pear Cafe.  These grains of spelt with the outer husk removed have a nutty flavour and work well in place of rice, bulgur or couscous in salads.  

Serves 2 adults and 1 hungry toddler for lunch.


1 large mackerel or 2 small mackerel, filleted
50g pearled spelt
200g cooked chickpeas (or 1 tin good quality chickpeas)
2 spring onions, finely sliced on the diagonal
2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
150g small ripe tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 dessert spoon sherry vinegar
2 dessert spoons olive oil (plus extra to cook the mackerel)
salt & black pepper
freshly squeezed lemon juice (to serve)


Cook the spelt according to the packet instructions, then drain.

Make the dressing in a large bowl by mixing together the sherry vinegar and olive oil with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Add the cooked spelt, chickpeas, spring onions, tomatoes and parsley and mix well.  Check seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Heat a frying pan over a moderate heat.  Wash and dry the mackerel fillets, rub a little olive oil on each side of the fillets and season with a little salt.  Cook the mackerel fillets, skin side down, for 3-4 minutes, then turn and cook for a further minute or two until just cooked.

Spoon the salad onto a large serving plate and put the mackerel fillets on top, skin side up.  Squeeze over a little lemon juice and serve immediately.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Earl Grey Fruit Loaf with Lemon & Lavender Icing

The best cakes are sometimes the simplest.  A classic tea loaf has to be one of the easiest cakes to bake.  Whether it's Yorkshire Tea Loaf, Bara Brith, Irish Tea Brack or one of the many other regional specialities, it's just a case of soaking fruit and sugar in tea and then mixing in the egg and flour before baking.

It's pretty perfect just spread with butter and accompanied by a cup of tea.  But in this version I've swapped strong tea, for the lighter, more fragrant earl grey from Flint & Co and I've added some icing made with lemon juice and a very small amount of edible lavender (you don't need much as it is a flavour which can quickly overpower everything else).


For the cake:

350g mixed vine fruit
225g light soft brown sugar
300ml earl grey tea
275g self raising flour
1 medium egg, beaten

For the icing:

juice of half a lemon
100g icing sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp edible lavender


For the cake:

Put the vine fruit, sugar and brewed tea into a bowl, stir and leave to soak for 12-24 hours.

Prepare a 2lb loaf tin (one which measures approximately [ ]l / [ ]w / [ ]d) by greasing and lining with baking parchment.

Stir the beaten egg into the fruit mixture and then sift in the flour. Stir until well combined.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake at 150C for 11/2 hours. Leave the cake to cool in the tin and then turn out onto a cooling rack.

For the icing:

Mix the icing sugar into the lemon juice bit by bit (you may not need it all, but you may need more depending on how juicy your lemon is). You are looking for a pouring consistency, but not so thin that it all runs straight off the cake!

Once the cake is cool, drizzle the icing across the the cake widthways, using as much or as little as you like. Finish by sprinkling the lavender on top of the cake.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Asparagus, Brie & New Potato Tart

Asparagus is probably in my top 3 favourite vegetables. It definitely comes after aubergines though. They have to be my all time favourite (although technically, aren't they fruit..?). I usually eat my asparagus as simple as it comes, plenty of salt and pepper and a big pot of melted butter to dip each spear in (several times).

I decided to do something a bit different for my Tea Room at the Sunday Art Salon last Sunday, to showcase this wonderful British seasonal vegetable. The brie can easily be substituted if you're not fond of it. A soft cheese or goat's cheese would work well.


For the pastry:

225g plain flour
60g unsalted butter
50g vegetable shortening (eg Trex)
pinch salt
125ml cold water

For the filling:

4 medium new potatoes
16-18 thin asparagus spears
100g brie, sliced
300ml double cream
2 medium eggs
salt & black pepper


Start by making the pastry. Put the flour, salt and butter in a mixing bowl and rub together with your finger tips until they resemble breadcrumbs. Add the cold water, a little at a time, and bring together to form a ball (you may not need it all), handling the pastry lightly and as little as possible. Flatten into a patty, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Whilst the pastry is chilling (or in advance if you're super organised), boil the potatoes in their skins for approximately 20 minutes until just cooked, set aside to cool and then slice. For the asparagus, bring a pan of water to the boil, add the asparagus and cook for 1 minute. Drain the asparagus and plunge into ice cold water to stop the cooking process.

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Roll the pastry out to about 3mm thick and line a greased 23cm fluted, loose based tart tin. Prick the surface of the pastry on the base of the tin gently all over with a fork, taking care not to push through to the tin. Chill again for 10 minutes. Line with foil or baking parchment and fill with baking beans. Bake blind for 15 minutes, then remove the beans and foil / parchment and bake for another 5-10 minutes until the pastry has dried out and the base is cooked.

Reduce the temperature of the oven to 180C.

Cover the base of the pastry case with the sliced potatoes then arrange the asparagus and brie on top, ensuring that it is evenly distributed. Whisk the eggs and cream together and season with a little salt and plenty black pepper. Pour over the asparagus, potatoes and brie until it nearly reaches the top of the pastry.

Cook the tart in the middle of the oven for 15-20 minutes until set and the pastry cooked through. If the pastry around the edge is cooking too quickly you can cover it with foil.

Serve at room temperature or leave to cool in the tin before removing to serve cold.