Yogurt, lemon curd and autumn fruit – better than ice cream

Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge that this is barely a recipe. Please do not see it as a patronising guide on how you should consume your bounty of seasonal blackberries.

Rather, realise that I am so sheltered that this idea never occurred to me until now.

In my house, when I was growing up, we didn’t eat healthy desserts. But we did have a ‘goody bag’ (which, in hindsight, sounds terribly sinister), which would be dragged out on to the living room carpet.

Almost as good as sticky toffee pudding. Almost.

Almost as good as sticky toffee pudding. Almost.

Inside would be Penguins, Clubs, Rocky bars, mini-Twix fingers – and, most importantly, it was always bursting at the seams (not hard, it was an old Tesco plazzy one). Occasionally mum would invest in a large tub of Triple Chocolate Carte D’Or, or we would microwave little bowls of ‘rocky road’ things which were basically chocolate sponge, with chocolate sauce, with chocolate drops on top.

I can’t work out why I was such a fatty, either.

Anyway, apart from passing on such terrible habits bound to earn me diabetes, it did mean that I was a bit clueless when it came to serving up anything other than decadent stodge.

But now I am doing pilates, and trying to erase the damage of my trip to America’s mid-West, I decided it was time to embrace – sigh – healthy puddings.

I would normally sniff at yogurt for afters – shriek abuse at the telly whenever anyone pretends it’s as delicious as sticky toffee pudding – but this was actually incredibly satisfying.

SO:

Big chunk of blackberries/ figs/ soft seasonal fruit (I don’t think apple or pear would work particularly well here) in a bowl, chuck a load of no-fat Greek yogurt on top for creaminess and substance, then swirl a small dollop of curd (lemon, orange, lime, whatever you please) for a sugary tang.

Then sit back, eat and chuckle at your devious way of getting pudding even though you’re being really, REALLY, healthy.


Meats and treats in mid-west America

I’ve been on holiday.

Not that you’d know by my tan – I haven’t got one.

I have, however, got about half a stone extra of pasty podge around my middle. This will happen if you head to Canada and America and see food as a challenge; something to be ploughed through, devoured, beaten.

I won’t bore you with too much detail – because, honestly, unless the stories are truly humiliating/ awful, not many people like hearing how ‘dreamy’ your break was – they’re really only interested in the disasters. Like how your tent was washed away, or how you nearly drove into a bear (unfortunately, true story in the latter example – I was in Montana).

How do you say no to this? This was Mick Duff's Brewery Bar burger. I had two in three days.

How do you say no to this? This was Mick Duff’s Brewery Bar burger. I had two in three days.

But the food! Oh, all gods and beasts, the food. Montana and Idaho know how to feed you.

Everything looked like it came of a film set – brightly coloured ‘Vacancies’ on neon motel boards, old wooden signs with ‘Betty-Lou’s Huckleberry Pie this way!’, porches with rocking chairs and American flags everywhere .

And when I wasn’t too busy squealing with delight over how quaint everything looked, I was busy eating, or fretting about what I would eat next.

This was a 'light starter' of chicken thighs in spicy sauce. Because wings would have been too scrawny.

This was a ‘light starter’ of chicken thighs in spicy sauce. Because wings would have been too scrawny.

Juicy burgers stacked with avocado and bacon jam, peach and huckleberry pie, eggs benedict with wild salmon with hash browns that draped over the plate… reader, I ate it all.

And inevitably that will end up swiftly passing the lips and cementing itself on my hips.

Yup - two eggs for their eggs benedict. On a dish of plate browns. With a paprika sauce. With wild smoked trout. And avocado. Finished it in about 7 minutes.

Yup – two eggs for their eggs benedict. On a dish of plate browns. With a paprika sauce. With wild smoked trout. And avocado. Finished it in about 7 minutes.

Now, there’s only one way to diet, in my chubby opinion. And that’s to not let your mind or body properly realise that it’s on a diet.

I mean, part of you brain will know (you have to do the shop and cooking, obviously), but if you’re sneaky about it, you can convince yourself that ‘this tastes so good I’m not even hungry/ missing the cheese!’

My sides were waffle fries and mac 'n' cheese to go with my steak bernaise. There was an option of salad - but I was already in a  handcart heading to hell.

My sides were waffle fries and mac ‘n’ cheese to go with my steak béarnaise. There was an option of salad – but I was already in a handcart heading to hell.

So, over the next few posts I’ll be posting sneaky recipes that are healthy – but you wouldn’t know it by the taste. There’s no need for gruel just because you might want to wriggle off an inch of two.

Until then, I’ll be squeezing into smocks and shuffling around the house, cursing my greed.


Harissa hummus and fried halloumi fingers – How to easily serve snacks

In my head, I am a brilliant hostess.

You come round and in my mind I’ll have a fresh batch of herby bread rolls, some complex handmade chutney and a variety of cheeses to offer you – all washed down with something sophisticated from my wine cellar.

But there is only so much delusion a person can wrap themselves in, and my mirage was shattered the other week when my friend and I were so drunk that I insisted she follow me to my house ‘because I am the most streetwise out of both of us and know where we’re going’ (I didn’t).

Anyway, we got back and I attempted to force feed her uncooked halloumi and stale cake. Then I draped a ratty old blanket over her because she passed out on my sofa (by me, I mean my boyfriend, who feared the friend would catch pneumonia after I rather unceremoniously passed out on the bedroom floor).

Fry them up to soak up a hangover the next day

Fry them up to soak up a hangover the next day

The next day, as friend woke up with crumbs all over her face, I was plunged into a shame spiral. I was a dreadful, dreadful, person to visit.

Things needed to change. I needed to be able to serve half-decent snacks when utterly trashed.

And this is where these came in. Fried halloumi fingers with a harissa hummus. I pinched them from Lorraine Pascale but made them even more idiot proof than hers – and she makes them sound easy peasy. I bet she never ends up losing her jacket and glasses on a night out.

Serves 2 drunk or sober people.

Easy enough to whip up, easier to scoff

Easy enough to whip up, easier to scoff

Ingredients

Block of halloumi – cut it lengthwise into four fingers, then cut those in half lengthwise – so you have eight ‘sticks’ or ‘fingers’
Dust of flour and black pepper
Oilive oil for frying
Half a lime
Tub of shop bought hummus – Pascale says to make your own, but her version omits tahini which automatically makes me shout ‘sacre bleu!’ – so I’d suggest shop bought if you haven’t made your own
Harissa paste
Coriander leaves (optional)
Tortilla chips to scoop up any leftover hummus

Method

Dust the halloumi sticks in the flour and black pepper. Because it is so salty, you don’t need to add any salt.
Heat some oil In a pan – a couple of tablespoons is enough
Fry the sticks in the hot oil, turning when they go a crispy brown
Meanwhile, stir through the harissa paste (you want a good amount to mix in with the hummus – about a quarter of harissa to four parts hummus) and scatter over some ripped coriander leaves, if using.
Tip some tortilla chips into a bowl
Pull out halloumi on to a plate and squeeze lime over them

Tuck in to hummus with hot halloumi and use the chips for any leftovers while considering whether to buy more gin


Aubergine curry – Why to feed yourself

I am so lazy when it comes to feeding myself.

I am happy to eat tomatoes straight out of the bag or a sad jacket potato dumped on a bag of spinach if left alone to forage for myself.

But I’ll be eating this drab stuff while watching cookery shows, where they whizz up tons of gorgeous food from practically nothing.

This was the start of the curry. See? Not so time consuming.

This was the start of the curry. See? Not so time consuming.

And there I would sit, scoffing at how easy it is to make something, but in reality only bothering to eat plain spud.

Then I have a tendency to promptly invite everyone round for dinner after watching these things, thinking what a breeze it will be because I know how to cook, and I’d do it more often if I didn’t have such a fondness for jacket potatoes.

And inevitably it ends up with me attempting something a little bit too complicated, serving up something charred/ dry or taking two hours to do.

So, it makes sense to cook something beforehand – regardless of how easy peasy you think it looks. A test run will only help, not hinder, you.

It involves a bit of chopping, a touch of whizzing and a little stirring.

It involves a bit of chopping, a touch of whizzing and a little stirring.

To anyone who feels like it’s too much of a hassle to cook themselves a complicated dish, I say this – why would you NOT want to eat something lovely? Take an extra hour to make yourself something inevitably more tasty, you’ll be so much more satisfied than eating pickle out of the jar.

Now I ripped this from the BBC here and I’d heartily recommend following it pretty much to the letter. It looks like a ton of ingredients but really it’s not.

I halved it for myself so I could eat the rest the next day and adapted it slightly.

I used lemongrass paste instead of lemongrass stalks.

I also halved the amount of curry ingredients – such as stock, coconut milk and aubergine, but kept the same amount of curry paste stuff – that’s because i like things garlicky and spicy. But you should adapt it to your own taste – you’re the one eating it!

I skipped the ground coriander because I didn’t have any and also tossed in some spinach to wilt through it because, well, I love spinach.

Far more satisfying than eating pickle from the jar.

Far more satisfying than eating pickle from the jar.

Ingredients

Groundnut oil
Aubergines – about one small aubergine per person, cut into chunky fingers
200ml coconut milk
Handful spinach
150ml vegetable stock fresh or concentrate
1 tsp turmeric
A large bunch of chopped coriander leaves

Curry paste

Small onion roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
Thumb-sized piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
Teaspoon of lemongrass paste
2 green or red chillies seeds removed and chopped – failing that, a big pinch of chili flakes
Bunch of coriander stalks from the large bunch
1 tsp ground cumin

Method

1. Whizz all the curry paste ingredients together in a food processor until you have a rough paste

2. Heat groundnut oil in a large pan or wok and cook the aubergines until golden and scoop out to rest.

3. Fry the paste in a little of the coconut milk until fragrant. Add the rest of the coconut milk, stock and turmeric and bring to a simmer.

4. Add back the aubergine and simmer until it’s tender but holding its shape – don’t let it get mushy – this will take around 10 minutes.

5. With about two minutes to go, chuck the handful of spinach on top to let it wilt through the curry and absorb some of the sauce.

6. Scatter over the coriander leaves.

6. You could serve this with steamed rice, sticky rice or, as I did, with chappatis because I fancied something bread-y.


Rhubarb and vanilla compote – How to be healthy

I have moved recently. It’s marvellous.

I can sit in my underwear without traumatising my housemates and play Radio 3 in the morning without fretting that I’ve woken somebody up with a dramatic organ arrangement.

But what is most satisfying is the kitchen. There’s space to cook, no one is waiting for pans, and I no longer have to whizz stuff in a bowl on the floor because the only plug sockets are by the skirting board.

This will be your rhubarb and vanilla compote

This will be your rhubarb and vanilla compote

I assumed that most days would be spent whipping up some feast – whether it be a fancy salt crust-baked leg of lamb or gooseberry and hazelnut slices.

But this hasn’t happened. Turns out the downside of not having to share a kitchen means you don’t have anyone to share your food with.

The only person I have to palm off my indulgent creations on is my boyfriend. And he considers a spoonful of peanut butter followed by a spoon of jam as a dessert. He brands cake ’empty calories’ and would rather do 100 sit ups than gorge on a plate of scones.

So, I had a glut of rhubarb, and no one to make cake for. I kept on looking at streusel, custard-based sponges and cheesecake. But I’ve got a holiday coming up and there’s no way I can eat bowls of dessert for breakfast if I don’t want to have a flurry of chins crowding the camera.

And what to do? Make a compote, of course. Something to stir through porridge, spoon on to greek yoghurt, or, if I’m feeling indulgent, spread on to scones.

It takes about 20 minutes and is the easiest thing to make. It’s still sharp enough to pinch the inside of your cheeks, but the brown sugar gives it a lovely caramel taste.

Six sticks of rhubarb
Enough light brown sugar to lightly coat
Tablespoon of vanilla extract (the good stuff)
Squeeze of orange juice (this gives it a little liquid

Preheat oven to 160C

Chop up rhubarb into sticks about two inches long

Put in an ovenproof dish

Sprinkle over brown sugar and coat

Pour over vanilla extract and small squeeze of juice and coat evenly

Put in the oven for 15 minutes/ until soft but still holding its shape.

Will keep for about a week in an airtight container.

Sometimes it’s worth making something simple, so that going into the kitchen is a breeze, instead of having to weigh/ time/ baste.

Enjoy over porridge in your garden, listening to the birds and smelling the lavender

Enjoy over porridge in your garden, listening to the birds and smelling the lavender


Turkish eggs, yoghurt and chilli butter – How to eat breakfast

Is there anything more ghastly than moving? Boxes, dust, reminders of outfits you’d rather shove deep, deep into your subconscious… it’s a carousel of hell.

And I am in the midst of it.

I’ve been surrounded by piles of books, mounds of clothes and for some reason, millions of bars of soaps, while everyone else suns themselves in the baking sunshine.

Hens' teeth! Mighty good work from an egg, some yoghurt and plenty of seasoning.

Hens’ teeth! Mighty good work from an egg, some yoghurt and plenty of seasoning.

All while trapped in an attic. All of the heatwave centred on the roof above my head, cooking me as I weakly shove books into boxes and find yet more bars of scented soap.

And what made it worse is that I was starving. I don’t know about you, but whenever I move, it would seem that I stop buying sensible things and revert to childhood favourites – potato waffles, corned beef, jars of jam and crumpets.

Perhaps I find it more comforting to delude myself that I’m seven and my only worry is what to have for tea; rather than someone who has managed to spank most of their salary on hand blenders instead of a pension.

But back to breakfast. There I was floundering around and utterly starving from all the heaving of boxes. And I just could not be bothered to drag myself to the shop, to pick up some tinned soup or something equally inspiring, but my stomach was aching for food.

Imagine how darling this will be when you make it, free from dusty boxes and piles of rubbish

Imagine how darling this will be when you make it, free from dusty boxes and piles of rubbish

Browsing the shelves I suddenly realised that, finally, my love of keeping odd ends of things – half a garlic bulb here, 2kgs worth of dried chilli there – had paid off. I would make Turkish eggs.

Now, I know that everyone has done this lately. I know I’m not being in any way original.

My only reason for writing this post is to try and persuade you that if I can make them, while sweatily dragging books into crates, and they still turn out delicious, then there’s no reason yours shouldn’t be utterly heavenly if you make them in your far cleaner and tranquil kitchen.

So – Turkish eggs. Make immediately.

For 1 – you could easily double this to make for a light supper

Ingredients

1 egg
Fat tablespoon of butter
Pinch of chili flakes or pinch of paprika – big or small depending on your tolerance
Three generous tablespoons of yoghurt (or creme fraiche if you’re feelnig super luxurious)
1 clove of garlic, minced or finely sliced
Pinch of salt
Squeeze of lemon
Sourdough or pillowy flatbread, depending on your preference

How to:

Firstly, poach the egg for three minutes
Add lemon juice, garlic and salt into yoghurt, and whip gently, before putting in a small bowl/ ramekin
Slice sourdough/ fold flatbread and put on plate
Pull out egg to let it drain
GENTLY heat butter and add chili flakes or paprika, swirling around to combine. If you blitz it on a high heat it will go horribly burnt and bitter
Place egg onto yoghurt, drizzle spicy butter on top
Eat in disbelief that this came from the ‘odds and ends’ in your cupboard


A guide to Vauxhall eats OR tea in striptease joints

When I met my boyfriend, he lived in Vauxhall, south east London.

He’s typically described as ‘gregarious’ – an acceptable way of saying he cannot help but gently flirt with anyone. It’s not his fault, he’s just more inclined to befriend everyone on a night out – just as I’m inclined to hiss ‘I don’t need any more friends, I’ve already got two’.

This will hopefully give you some context into how, when I was first introduced to this very busy bit of south London, my only experience of it was him, standing on his flat balcony in a vest, cooee-ing at those who had been kicked out of the Royal Vauxhall Tavern and were sprawled out on the Pleasure Gardens.

This was my perception of Vauxhall - until I went on a bit of a wander

This was my perception of Vauxhall – until I went on a bit of a wander

In short, I had heard it was the gay capital of London and all I could see was a pile of dingy clubs centred around a bleak, grey roundabout.

But, after persuading him to pull on a shirt, we found a wealth of places to go to – and all brilliant.

So, consider this a guide to Vauxhall – a corner of London criminally ignored.

Despite having taken LOTS of photos of all these lovely places, I'm in the middle of moving and can't find them. So instead, here's a lovely old map of the place.

Despite having taken LOTS of photos of all these lovely places, I’m in the middle of moving and can’t find them. So instead, here’s a lovely old map of the place.

Cafes/ restaurants:

The Ragged Canteen

A lovely vegetarian cafe down a little back street, serving up generous portions of imaginative food. Plates of lemon and goat’s cheese ravioli, squash and coconut curry, lemon and almond cake are all served up in this relaxed setting, which has exhibitions for visitors to peruse while they walk their lunch off, or browse magazines or use the wi-fi.

The Bonnington Cafe

In a quiet grove away from the rush of commuters and Fire nightclub, is the Bonnington Cafe. A former squat with a rotating rosta of cooks who serve up their own specialties, ranging from Middle Eastern, to Asian, to French food.  It has about 15 tables scattered in this ramshackle, and very welcoming, restaurant, with works by local artists decorating the brightly-painted walls, and a piano squeezed into the corner. There’s a byob (that’s a bring your own booze/ loose belt) policy for this very cheap and down-to-earth stalwart of the Vauxhall food scene.

Cheap, wholesome food in a cosy setting - perfect

Cheap, wholesome food in a cosy setting – perfect

BYOB, a variety of cuisines - and within waddling distance ot the tube

BYOB, a variety of cuisines – and within waddling distance ot the tube

Lassco Brunswick House

Oh, HI. This is a true beauty. This crumbling, stately home, which is now part restaurant/ part antiques shop, means diners and drinkers can enjoy set lunches and elaborate dinners surrounded by chandeliers, maps, huge bathtubs and piles of doorknobs. It’s a maze of staircases, with a saloon, parlour and library all stuffed with interesting objects. Typically British plates of mussels and cider, or seabass and tomatoes, are all served up, with seasons dictating the changing menu. Go, GO NOW.

The Tea House Theatre

Set in the Pleasure Gardens (which is where Becky Sharp was humiliated in Vanity Fair – obviously you knew that, you’re not some uncultured swine), this old Victorian pub, which was later turned into a seedy strip joint, is now a proper little tea palace. Sadly, the cakes are lacking (the scones when I went were microwaved to tough rocks, and the Victoria sponge was a bit bland), but the selection of teas are lovely, the ambience is tranquil, and the thoughtful decorations means this is a perfect place to unwind for a couple of hours.

Kitfo House

Greasy spoon turns Eritrean restaurant once the sun sets. Friendly staff with traditional dishes that are served on the ubiquitous special pancake-like bread. A good hit of spice and perfect to run to when only all the bacon and eggs in the world will do for breakfast.

Almost near Vauxhall

Adulis

This deserves an honourary mention just because of how tasty its food is. Another authentic Eritrean restaurant, sevring up piles of incredibly cheap dishes in a welcoming environment, where platters and beers are shared, while you fan yourself if you ill-advisedly picked a curry far too hotter than you can manage. Stews, curries and and a wide variety of special dishes, all served up in the traditional Eritrean fashion, make this a place to sport elasticated waistbands and binge until you have to be carried out.


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