Mandarin, Lemon and Ginger Cordial (without citric acid)

Cordial recipies almost always have citric acid in, which helps to preserve the cordial and stop the fruit from fermenting. However, I don't see the need for it as long as you're willing to refridgerate the cordial and drink it within a week or two... which I generally do! So this is my own recipe for a fab, fruity cordial, substituting the acid for a splash of cider vinegar, which helps add to the sharp zing of the citrus.

3 large lemons
4 mandarins
3-4 inch piece of fresh ginger
1kg caster sugar
1 litre boiling water
1 tblsp cider vinegar

1. Using a potato peeler, peel strips of skin from the lemons and mandarins. Try not to take too much of the white pith off (this had a bitter flavour).
2. Roughly slice the ginger, leaving the skin on.
3. Put the peel and ginger into a heatproof bowl, pour over the water. Cover and leave overnight for the flavours to mingle.
4. Next day, strain the liquid into a saucepan. Add the sugar and heat until it has melted. If you want your cordial to have a more gingery taste, put the ginger back into the water as it heats, then strain again.
5. Leave the mixture to cool, then juice the lemons and mandarins, and add the juice to the syrup, along with the vinegar. I like to leave all the juicy bits in, but you can pass the juice through a sieve if you want the cordial to be clear.
6. Bottle and store in the fridge. I like to keep a bottle of water in the fridge too, so I can always have an ice-cold glass of cordial when I fancy one!

Watercress and Rocket Soup with Homemade Spelt Bread Rolls

Dark leafy vegetables like spinach, broccoli, watercress and kale are particularly nutritious. They're full of vitamins- everything from antioxident vitamin C, to vitamin K which helps bones and brain activity; as well as iron (which is vital for women and helps keep energy levels up); copper (which your body needs in order to absorb iron); calcium (for your bones); potassium (which is needed for healthy blood, and also helps balance sodium levels); magnesium; phosphorus and manganese. Watercress is an especially low-calorie and low fat source of these vitamins and minerals.

I've been eating a lot of soups for my lunches, because I like to try a new recipe out every few days and there are endless possibilities. I wanted to make a watercress soup, but I was pretty disappointed with the result. Hmmm, healthy and tastless! Where's the fun in that?

So here is my attempt at making a more exciting watercress soup. I think it's still a work in progress, but at least it looks pretty, and the rocket adds a peppery twang to what's otherwise quite a bland and earthy flavour. Plus I'll throw in my spelt bread recipe for free!

Makes 12 rolls
400g wholemeal bread flour
300g strong white bread flour
300g spelt flour
1 1/2 packets quick yeast
1 tblsp honey
1 tsp salt
approx 1/2 pint tepid water
1 egg, beaten
4tblsp toasted sesame seeds

1. On a clean surface, pile up the flours, salt and yeast. Make a well in the centre.
2. Mix the honey into the water and pour into the well in the flour gradually, mixing in with your fingers until all the flour is combined.
3. Keep on mixing with your fingers until you've got a dough. You want this dough to be really quite sticky, so if you need to add more water, do. Then knead the dough for approx 10mins. You'll know when it's ready because the consistency will change and it will become elastic and smooth.
4. Rub some oil around the bottom and sides of a large bowl and place the dough in it. Cover with a damp tea towel and put in a warm place for about 1hour, until it's doubled in size.
5. Knock back the dough (slowly punch your hand into the middle of the dough to let the air out, and then gently knead it back into a ball again) then cut it into 12 pieces
6. Shape these into rounds (or whatever shape you want your rolls to be) and place them on lined baking trays, leaving a good 2 inches between each one. Brush with a little egg and sprinkle on a generous amount of sesame seeds.
7. Place back into the warm for a further 30mins-1 hour, until doubled in size again.
8. Put into a preheated oven at 200 C for approx 15mins. You can tell they're cooked by turning them upside down and knocking them with a finger. If they make a hollow sound, they're done.

Serves 4
1 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1kg potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 litre hot vegetable stock
150g watercress
50g rocket
salt and lots of black pepper
To serve:
a little low fat yoghurt
toasted pumpkin seeds/sesame seeds/saffron strands

1. Heat a little oil in a large pan and fry the onions and potatoes for approx 5 mins until softened but not coloured.
2. Add the stock and the garlic and cook for a further 20mins, until the potatoes are starting to break up.
3. Add the watercress and remove from the heat.
4. Pour the soup mixture into a blender and blend until smooth.
5. Chop the rocket up really small, like you would with herbs, and stir into the blended soup, adding some salt and a fair amount of black pepper
6. Serve with a hot toasted bread roll. Swirl a little yoghurt into the centre of the bowl and sprinkle on some seeds or maybe even some saffron strands if you're feeling flash!


Comfort eating without the guilt: My Favourite Chicken Soup

After a day like today, a person's gonna reach for something... a bottle of gin maybe, or a tub of ice cream... However, I may be down but I am certainly not out, and my determination to stick to my get-less-flabby-by-bikini-season diet still overules.

And here lies the magic of comfort eating in that it really doesn't have to be bad for you. Chicken soup is the perfect thing to warm a bruised soul, especially when it's spicy and filling like this one.

This recipe is the one I've ended up at after many attempts to make the Perfect Chicken Comfort Soup, and has its roots in both oriental and good old English cuisine.

No picture, sorry (I ate it too quickly).

1/2 onion, chopped small
2 cloves garlic, still in their shells
1 medium chicken breast
1/2 lime, cut into 4 chunks
2 small handfulls dried soup mix (lentils, split peas, barley, etc)
2cm root ginger
2 lemongrass sticks, tough outer shell removed
1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced thinly (or, as I used this evening, approx 6 slices of pickled jalapeno chillies from a jar- these work really well as they're piquante and add a sharpness to the soup)
2 bayleaves
4 thin strips of lemon rind (careful to just get the yellow skin, none of the white rind which is bitter)
1/4 pack creamed coconut, chopped up small
dash soy sauce
plenty of pepper
preheat the oven at 180 C

1. First put the whole chicken breast into a small casserole dish, with the pieces of lime. Cut 4 or 5 slices into 1 of the garlic cloves and put it, whole, into the dish. Cover and place in the oven for approx 10-15mins.
2. Meanwhile fry the onion in a little oil until soft.
3. When the chicken is cooked through, remove it from the dish and cut into strips approx 5cm by 1cm thick. Place these in the pan with the onion and cook for 2mins, before pouring over about 2 pints boiling water.
4. Now take the garlic from the dish, remove it's skin and squash it to a pulp, then add it to the pan. Squeeze the flesh from the lime pieces and add this too. Then peel and finely chop the remaining garlic clove and add this, along with the bay leaves, lemongrass, chilli, ginger, soup mix and strips of lemon skin.
5. Bring the soup to the boil and let it simmer for approx 25mins, until the lentils are cooked but still have a bit of bite to them.
6. Pick out the bay leaves, lemongrass, ginger and lemon skin and discard before adding the coconut. Add soy sauce and pepper to taste. Cook for another 5mins to ensure all the coconut has melted, then get it down you and feel the love!
Serves 2 (or one particularly sad and hungry soul)


Tasty Tasty Thai

This is my cheeky little version of a Wagamama recipe. Can't get enough of this dish at the moment!

Vegetable Stir Fry with Coconut Ginger Sauce

For the Coconut Ginger Sauce:
2 inches ginger root, peeled and grated
4 stalks lemongrass, outer layers removed, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tblsp oil
100g creamed coconut, chopped small and mixed with 300ml hot water
500ml boiling water
3 tsp sugar 
a handful of chopped corriander
For the stir fry:
1 tblsp oil
6 spring onions, chopped
1 red chilli, de-seeded and chopped small (for a medium-mildish heat... add more/less depending on whether you like it hot or not!)
8-10 mushrooms, sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced
5-6 broccolli sprigs, cut into small pieces
generous handful beansprouts
few splashes dark soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
To serve:
150g brown rice noodles
1 lime, in wedges
generous handful of peanuts, chopped small

1. Start by making the sauce: heat the oil in a large pan. Add the ginger, lemongrass and garlic and cook over a low heat for 6 mins until it's softened but not coloured.
2. Add the water and sugar. Bring to the boil then turn the heat down and allow to simmer for 20mins or until reduced by half.
3. Now stir in the creamed coconut mix and heat for a further 2 minutes
4. Pour the mixture through a collander to remove the larger chunks of ginger and lemongrass, then stir in the corriander.
5. Cook the noodles according to the packet, then drain out and pour over the sauce. Cover with a teatowel and put to one side.
6. To make the stir fry, heat the oil in a wok or a large pan, until it's almost smoking hot. Add the spring onions, chilli, broccolli, pepper and mushrooms and cook, stirring, for 3 mins.
7. Pour over a tablespoon of the sauce along with the soy sauce and sugar, place a lid on the wok and cook for approx 5 mins, stirring occasionally.
8. Uncover, add the beansprouts, and then cook for a further 2 minutes.
9. Now divide the noodles and sauce between two bowls. Spoon the stir fry into the centre, and serve with lime wedges and the chopped peanuts.
10. Consider wearing a bib when eating... this stuff goes everywhere :0D



Small Pleasures

I've been seeing a lovely emotional therepist for the last few months. Something I always said I'd never do, but that totally blew me away when I realised how much it actually did help!

She reminds me to enjoy the little things: that success doesn't have to mean achieving every life-long dream at once, it can also mean making your own face-mask and having a sleepover; putting together the perfect playlist on iTunes; or maybe carving a pumpkin and then using the inside to cook something delicious!

The first I haven't done yet (but am looking forward to making happen at some point), the second and third I have indulged in during the last week. The pumpkins you see here were carved the Sunday before Halloween, whilst watching my favourite Halloween movie, Hocus Pocus (gotta love Bette Middler), and then followed by a delicious meal with my housemate and her lovely new man. I made warm pumpkin salad as a starter for the meal. It was good.

So I thought I'd share some recipies that make fantastic use of the leftover pumpkin! A reminder to always enjoy small pleasures.

Recipe 1
Warm Pumpkin and Feta Salad
Serves 4
The seeds and flesh of 1 small pumpkin, flesh cut roughly into 1 inch chunks
Crushed chillies
Juice and grated zest of 1 lime, plus a little extra juice for serving
2 tablespoons runny honey
generous drizzle olive oil
6 sprigs fresh thyme
approx 1 teaspoon paprika
1 pack feta cheese
salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven at 150 C
2. Wash seeds and mix with 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes, the lime zest and juice, and some salt and pepper. Roast in the oven on a baking tray for 30-40 mins, tossing once during cooking, until they're dry and crispy
3. Next place the pumpkin flesh in another tray. Mix together the honey, oil and thyme, pour over the pumpkin and mix until well coated.
4. Sprinkle over about another 1/2 teaspoon of chilli flakes, the paprika and some salt and pepper, and cover with foil
5. Turn the oven up to 190 C and roast the pumpkin for 20mins, then remove the foil and cook for around another 20mins, basting regularly until the sauce and pumpkin wedges have caramalised.
6. Cut the feta into 1cm cubes. Mix together with the pumpkin and finally squeeze over a little more lime juice and sprinkle with the seeds. Serve with creme fraiche and warm buttery bread.

Recipe 2
Proper American Pumpkin Pie
Serves 10-12 depending on portion size!
4oz plain flour
1oz icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2oz butter
1 1/2oz lard
A little very cold water
300g mashed, cooked pumpkin flesh
1 small tin evaporated milk
2 eggs, beaten
150g dark soft brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Start by making the pastry case:
1. Preheat oven at 190C
2. Sift the flour, salt and sugar together into a large mixing bowl
3.Cut the butter and lard into small chunks and mix into the flour using a knife, cutting up the lumps as you mix.
4. Once it's is in small pieces, use your fingertips to gently rub and mix the butter and lard into the flour, until it looks like breadcrumbs
5. Add a little splash of water and mix using your hands. Make sure the mixture stays cold- this is the key to good pastry! So use very cold water and keep a window open if it's hot in the kitchen...
6. Add enough water to make a dough. The bowl should be left clean. Then cling-film the ball of dough and leave in the fridge while you make the filling:
7. Cut a small pumpkin into 1 inch chunks and remove the skin, seeds and any stringy bits. Put the pumpkin in a saucepan and cover with boiling water, then simmer for approx 30 mins until it's soft.
8. Drain and leave to cool.
9. While you're waiting, you can take the pastry from the fridge and use it to line a 20cm flan dish. Put a circle of baking parchment in the centre to stop the inside from burning or bubbling up, then blind-bake the pastry case for 10 mins. Don't throw away the pastry cuttings, you can use these later on.
10. Next, blend/mash the pumpkin to a pulp. Weigh out 300g of the mash, and place in a bowl. (Don't throw the rest away, it makes a really good soup heated up with some cooked onions, coconut milk, thai spices and veg stock)
11. Add all the other filling ingredients to the bowl and mix till combined.
12. Remove the paper from the pastry case and pour in the mixture, then return it to the oven for 15mins, when the top of the filling should be starting to harden.
13. At this point, I take the leftover bits of pastry and cut out little star shapes, then carefully place them at random on the top of the pie. Just a pretty little touch, not exactly neccessary, but like I said, pleasure in small things!
14. Put the pie back in the oven and cook for approx another 20-25mins, until the filling is set but still soft.
15. Serve hot or cold (but I prefer it hot) with a generous dollop of fresh cream. NOM!


Feeling sorry for myself tastes goooood!

Time to share another naughty but oh-so-tasty recipe!
I loosly based this on a recipe I've been making since I was a kid... it's ridiculously easy, and deliciously moist (chocolate cake can come out horribly dry but this one always seems to work, as long as you don't over cook it!)

Chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate and honey icing
Makes approx 12

To make the cake:
5oz self raising flour
1oz cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarb of soda
pinch of salt
6oz brown sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1/4 pint veg oil
1/4 pint milk
1 tablespoon honey
To make the icing:
4oz butter, softened
6oz icing sugar
4 tablespoons greek yoghurt
150g white chocolate
2 tablespoons runny honey

1. Preheat the oven at 160C and set out a tray of cupcake cases (I used re-usable silicone cases as they keep their shape perfectly
2. Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarb, salt and cocoa powder into a large bowl
3. Add the honey and eggs and begin to mix
4. While mixing, pour over the milk and oil in a steady flow and keep mixing until you have a smooth batter
5. Pour into the cases and bake in the middle of the oven for around 15mins. Keep checking on them as cooking times vary from oven to oven. You want them to be springy to the touch.
6. While they're cooling make the icing: sieve the icing sugar onto the butter and beat until soft and fluffy
7. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of hot water. Do this slowly at a low temperature and take it off the heat as soon as it's all melted- if it overheats it will go crumbly.
8. Pour the chocolate over the icing mix, and stir in
9. Add the honey and yoghurt and mix until well blended.
10. When the cakes are completely cold, put the icing into a piping bag with a star shaped nozzle and pipe a generous swirl of icing onto each cake. Dust with cocoa powder and put into the fridge for the icing to set.
11. Nom nom nom nomnomnomnomnom om nom nom.


One for you... one for me, another one for you.... and two for me...

Sometimes the best results come from cocking things up!
I stumbled on this recipe by getting another recipe wrong... but, turns out, damn, its good!

Melting Centre Chocolate Baileys Truffles

150g Green and Black's white chocolate
150g Green and Black's 75% cocoa solids dark chocolate
150ml thick double cream
25g unsalted butter
4 tablespoons baileys
1 tablespoon greek yoghurt
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons icing sugar

1. Break the white chocolate up into the bowl of a food processor and grind until it looks like granulated sugar.
2. Place the cream, butter and baileys into a saucepan and heat gently until it's just at simmering point.
3. With the motor running, slowing pour the liquid mixture over the chocolate in the food processor and blend until smooth.
4. Pour the liquid truffle mix into a bowl, cover and put in the fridge overnight.
5. Next day you will find the mixture is more solid, though it will still be pretty soft and gooey.
6. Sieve the cocoa powder and icing sugar together into a bowl.
7. Now take teaspoons of the chocolate mixture and drop into the cocoa powder. Quickly, with hands well dusted in the cocoa powder, form rough balls of truffle mix and place on a plate. As soon as you have a plateful, transfer to the freezer, which will firm the mixture up a little.
8. While the balls are in the freezer, melt the dark chocolate in a bowl over a pan of boiling water. Take the chocolate off the heat as soon as the lumps have disappeared (if it overheats it will turn granular)
9. Now take the truffles out of the freezer and drop, one by one, into the melted chocolate. Working quickly so the truffle mix doesn't melt, roll in the melted chocolate using a fork to move them around and lift them out, and place back on the plate.
10. Dust with the remaining cocoa powder mix. Then transfer the plate of chocolates into the fridge until the outer layer has firmed up.

When you bite into these truffles, the white chocolate centre just melts on your tongue. They make a great prezzie. Just make sure you keep some for yourself!