January 31, 2016

Sweet Banana Rice Brekkie

I almost just wrote 'sweet banana rice oatmeal' in the title box of this post - but I thought that that might be a bit TOO MUCH of an oxymoron. Can you have an oatmeal made out of... not oats? I did play around with porridge briefly - but that brought up scenes of gruel and austere meals. Which is weird - I grew up with 'porridge' - now it just sounds... so... 19th century.

I think I've driven my friend mad though. She's not a fan of how she has started calling porridge oatmeal. Apparently it's too much exposure to me and my weird vocabulary and my love of oatmeal. What can I say? Oatmeal's awesome. 

Yeah. We'll just have to go with Brekkie. I mean. It's not even a real word. 

But it's the best of a lot of bad options. And sometimes that's all that we can ask for. I make it sound like I'm talking about a life and death. Well.... sometimes breakfast can seem like a life or death situation. 

It was my birthday a few weeks ago. It was great. I had so much work to do. What could ever be more fun? Nothing right?

I also went to see a movie with my friends and the day after we went to IKEA. Obviously - IKEA was brilliant. 

The hilarious story about the plate I bought is ALREADY broken? Not so hilarious. It was put on the stove top so that food could be spooned onto it... but the stove-top was hot and...

Exploding plate.

 Yes. I mean literally exploded. As in - dinner and place going everywhere. And a bang. And a mess to clean up...

And a reminder to remember that stoves that have just been cooking for will be HOT and so you should NOT place plates on them. 

But for my birthday - my parents gave me an Internet grocery delivery. They gave me a limit and I was allowed to put whatever I wanted into the virtual grocery cart, and it was delivered to me at my flat at college... (at 9pm the Friday night of my birthday.)

I'm a student. Its free food. It was the best birthday present ever (or up there at the top of the list in any case...). My Nana also gave me a gift card for the grocery store near where I live. Thanks Nana!!! So far I've got Nutella, Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chips.... all important student living essentials...

But I tried to think carefully about what I got in my Internet delivery. First to consider was what I couldn't get near to where I am... I'm looking at you Purple Laughing Cow triangles, Itsu hot sauce and black beans.

Next was almond milk - because its heavy and cheaper to stock up when they're selling it for a £1... so I got a dozen cartons...

Then came the stuff that's kind of expensive and I would probably spend way too much time deliberating over and then possibly still not end up buying.... the grapes, the pecan nuts.

And then some stuff that I was simply curios about like rice porridge flakes. I was looking in the 'free from' section for something else (vegan mayonnaise) and saw it and thought it looked interesting. If a little expensive (£2.50 for a 450g bag). It's my birthday (or was) - why not try something new - right?

When my parents saw what I'd chosen - as well as commenting on the lack of tinned tomatoes and 3 packets of cheese triangles (you can't get the right ones here ANYWHERE. Unless I walk 2 miles) they commented on my rice porridge flakes. My Dad did that thing people do where they say they simply name of something and in the process convey a spectrum of slightly confused and other, more prominent negative judgements. My Mom just pointed out that I loved it as a baby so I'd love it now.

Sigh. Eye roll. Resist the urge to hit them (gently of course) with the packet.

Well... if I'm eating baby food I might as well do it properly. So I went super simple here - just rice porridge, milk, bananas and sugar. Although I'm actually against babies being given sugar....

It doesn't matter cause I'm not eating baby food. Tak very much Mom.

Sweet Banana Rice Brekkie

Serves 1

  • 1/2 cup rice porridge flakes
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 banana, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon sugar 

  • Place the rice flakes and the milk together in a pan. You can cook this for a lower time on a higher temperature as the package suggests - but I found that it sticks way too much cooking like that; so I cook it for about 20 minutes on the lowest setting for the stove-top - stirring fairly regularly. You know it's ready when all the milk has been absorbed and the porridge has become thick, like a smooth rice pudding.
  • Transfer to a bowl and top with the banana slices and sugar. 

January 26, 2016

Roast Beet Chili

I love roasted veggies. I mean - who doesn't? Roasting veggies intensifies the flavors - which is especially  effective with sweeter veggies - carrots, squashes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, parsnips... and beets.

So when I got some beets in my veg bag - they were chopped up and in the oven before I'd really thought about what I was going to do with them. So... beets in the oven. What next? I didn't have any cous cous - so the everlasting veggie standby of roasted veggies and cous cous was out. With pasta maybe? Or rice. I think (well I know) that I have some risotto rice in the cupboard somewhere. Maybe save them and have them cold in a salad. Some salad without any type of leaves or anything? Some salad that would be....

Not that I would ever mind having a bowl of roasted beets on there own. But I hardly think I would be allowed to call that a balanced meal...

So I started thinking about what I was in the mood for. Made what I fancied the heart of my dinner instead of what I had. It's cold - it's windy. I wanted something warming - something that I needed a spoon to eat. Something like a thick soup, or a stew, or a chili...

Can you put roasted beets in a chili?

Apparently you can. It it makes a lovely rich chili, the color is obviously glorious, and it's hot and has all the right textures - with bits to bite into and bits to chew and squishy tomatoes and right now I probably sound very weird. But what can I say? It's a good chili.

Roast Beet Chili 

Serves 2-4 (depending if you have it on it's own or serve it with rice etc..)

  • 2 beetroots
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 sticks of celery, washed and sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons of cumin
  • 2 teaspoons of smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons of dried cilantro
  • 1/2-1 teaspoons chili flakes (add more or less to taste)
  • 1 14oz can of chopped tomatoes
  • 6 small (plum/cherry) tomatoes, washed and quartered
  • 100g frozen spinach (for me this is 2 'bricks'. If you want to use fresh spinach that should work - stir it in just a few minutes before the end instead)
  • OPTIONAL: 3/4 cup Quorn mince
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked black eyed beans (1 14oz can)
  • 3/4 cup sweetcorn

  • Preheat the oven to 200C/390F
  • Thoroughly wash the beets, and cut into small dice. I didn't peel mine (just scrubbed very well) but if you would like to that's fine. Place the oven in a baking dish and cook for 30-40 minutes. The beets should be soft but not burnt or falling apart. I didn't use oil (mainly because I forgot) and this worked out fine (they didn't stick and were still lovely and flavourful) but if you want to use a bit of oil and actually roast them - go ahead. 
  • When the beets are ready, take them out of the oven. Place the onions and celery in a medium saucepan with a little oil and saute for 5 minutes.
  • Turn down the heat slightly, add the spices and a 1/4 cup of water and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the veggies are soft. 
  • Add both kinds if tomatoes, the roasted beets, the spinach, and the Quorn mince if using to the pot - and cook for 7 minutes, constantly stirring as otherwise the spinach has a tendency to remain together as a lump. 
  • Add the black eyed beans and the sweetcorn and cook for a further 5 minutes, until everything is cooked through.
  • Serve with rice, bread, baked potatoes or on it's own. Can be topped with yogurt, grated cheese etc if desired.
Of course - Nutritional yeast can only make an awesome thing better

January 24, 2016

Japanese Apple Bunnies - Usagi Ringo

This blog is no stranger to bento lunches. The only tag with more posts attributed to it is recipes (you can see all my bento lunches from the past 2 years by clicking on the word 'bento' under the heading 'tags' in the sidebar). But mostly my bento's have been 'american' style. 'Western' food cut into pretty shapes. Or just Western food with a few food picks to make it look pretty as possible as has been of late. But I decided that it's time I got slightly more authentic.

Not much I grant you - but this is more like a half way point.

So I thought I'd master the art of apple rabbits - or usagi ringo. Apparently they are used as a space filler in Japanese bentos. But they do also appear a lot in American style bentos. They're not particularly difficult - and as fruit carving goes it's really not very fiddly. And yes - for some people these won't look very much like rabbits. But they're a good place to start.

As you may notice I am by no means an expert in making these yet. Often I'll cut the skin to thin, or the apple slice will break, or I'll accidentally take the ear of the rabbit off. As you can see by the photos - the bunny rabbits decrease in numbers as time goes by.

1. Wash and dry the apple. I think that red or maybe pink apples look the best for these- there's less contrast with green apples between the skin and the flesh - but if you want to green bunnies go ahead. (I know actually have a strong desire to get a golden apple and have pink and yellow bunnies...) Also fresher - more 'crisper' apples are better for this if possible - because they're gonna soak in water for a bit and the crisper the apple to start with the crisper they will be after soaking.

2. Cut the apple into slices and remove the core. For most apples I'd say that splitting it into 8 is a good call. You don't want them too thin - it's really hard to fit the 'bunny' in then - but if they're too thick it's harder to do. I also like to 'square off' the top end a bit - but that's just me.

3. Starting at the top - cut (it won't work with a peeler) the peel away from the apple until about 1/2 - 2/3 of the way down. I TRY and do it so there's a thicker 'peel' at the top and have it thinning as I get nearer the end of the cut. Emphasis on TRY. But you don't want it TOO thin at any point because then it just breaks away.

4. This is possibly the most fiddly bit. You need to cut an longish isosceles triangle out of PEEL of the apple (don't cut into the rest of the apple if that is at all possible), with the base at the top edge of apple, where the peel is fully away from the rest. You now need to very carefully remove this triangle - but be aware- if you pull to hard you may remove the ears as well. And no one wants a ear-less bunny rabbit.

5. Mix a little lemon/lime/orange juice into a bowl of water/lidded container. It doesn't need to be a massive bowl - but the water needs to be above the apples when you place them in. Place the apples in the water. This stops them going brown quite as much when taken out and placed in a bento box. They should be here for at least 5-10 minutes, but if you only want a few bunnies for each bento they are okay in here for a few days.

6. Use them to cuten up pretty much anything!

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January 23, 2016

Lemon and Sultana Pancakes

You know when you see something in the grocery store and you convince yourself that you DON'T really want them and you'll make something better when you get home and ultimately convince yourself not to buy them?

You know what I'm talking about - right?

That was what happened EVERY SINGLE TIME I went to the grocery store last semester. Didn't matter which one I went to (apart from I guess the health food/middle eastern store but that was more because they didn't sell them...) - or what time of day it was, what I went in for or if I was hungry or not. 

I really wanted one of those packets of little lemon and sultana scotch pancakes that they sell. 

And I have really no idea why. I'd probably have one - max two and then not want anymore. But one or two little pancakes is not enough to keep me full - so I'd evidently end up eating something else with them and then I'd feel overfull - because I really don't need two breakfasts.

And what's worse - I probably wouldn't ENJOY them. I'd probably find them two sweet, the texture not right. I'd probably have those one or two - and then put the rest in the freezer. Where they would probably sit until the week before I need to move out of this flat at the end of the semester and then I'd have to panic about finishing a packet of pancakes I didn't want/like on top of panicking about exams. 

And who needs that?

So why did I crave these pancakes every-time I saw them. 

I have no clue. 

Well.... I do actually have several clues. Just because I know that I probably wouldn't like them very much now- doesn't mean that I don't remember liking them. Growing up - we always had a special breakfast on Saturdays. Special wasn't extraordinary. Sometimes Mom would make scotch pancakes or welsh cakes - often Dad would buy something from the store. Toaster waffles or brioche or hot cross buns or teacakes or crumpets ... pancakes. Two packets. One packet of plain ones for my brother (because yes - he is a weirdo who doesn't like raisins) and one packet of lemon and sultana. (FYI - we didn't eat a whole packet ourselves. Our parents would help. Often there would be some leftover). 

I loved the crispy edges and soft, fluffy interiors that arise from toasting them. How as they came out of the toaster oven they would be two hot to handle and you might drop them a few times trying to fish them out (because you obviously couldn't use a fork to do it - electrical shock risk). I loved how if you put butter etc. on them - they'd still have that hard, crispy, toasted outside but with a thin layer of intense flavor on top. (and to anybody who knows me - yes as a general rule I don't like butter. But I can remember how great it tasted when I did like it). Or syrup. Obviously syrup. Maple syrup that we used to much of and made our pancakes soggy with. How you could pick out all the sultanas before you ate the pancake and it would leave little holes where they'd been. The lucky dip of how sometimes you'd get seemingly hundreds of raisins - and sometimes you wouldn't get a single one and you'd be asking if one of the plain pancakes had gone for a walk and gotten lost in the wrong packets. 

I have seriously no idea why it took so long for me to get around to making these. I'd tell myself every time (so maybe twice a week on average) that I'd make these for almost 4 months. I guess I'm not very good at keeping the promises I make to myself. But for the first Saturday Morning pancakes back at uni - the day after my birthday and whilst prepping for a trip to IKEA - I found myself reaching for the raisins. I later found that I didn't have any lemon juice (or lemons) and okay - that was a bit (a big) flop in terms of the plan to make lemon and sultana pancakes - but who cares. I had some very nice sultana pancakes. 

My friend once asked me if I practised making things more than once before I published them on here. I answered that I TRY to - but it doesn't always work like that. This time I didn't post the first batch. I didn't plan to - it was kind of a busy morning. But it's a good job that I hadn't planned to. Because... well... 

First of all I had no lemon juice. And I could guess - but how could I make sure that I had the right amount of lemon if I didn't have and to add? And then there was the 'disaster' with the baking powder. It wasn't a disaster exactly.... it's just that I added way to much. Lets just say.... expect there to be a recipe for pickles coming soon. 

Lemon Sultana Pancakes 

Based on a recipe for drop scones from the Be-Ro Cookbook.
Serves 2, makes about 9 (sorry - I know 9 isn't divisible by two)

  • 1/2 Tablespoon ground flax-seeds (ground lin-seeds)
  • 2 Tablespoons warm water
  • 1/4 cup white flour (plain/all purpose)
  • 1/4 cup fine plain wholemeal flour/white wholemeal flour (this has a finer grind than normal wholemeal flour used for bread, and no bits. I recommend the Dove's Farm one)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 Tablespoons applesauce (apple puree, not the stuff sold in the UK as a condiment. Apple baby food is the easiest way to buy it in the UK)
  • 4-8 Tablespoons of milk (I used almond - but I'm pretty sure any type of plain milk would work)  
  • 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice (I used the stuff from a bottle - but go ahead and use freshly squeezed if you want!)
  • 2 Tablespoons of sultanas (This doesn't give pancakes with as much fruit in as the ones you buy, but it's enough for one fruit portion per serving of pancakes and I didn't want to add more as that raises the sugar content of the pancakes. If you like your pancakes with more fruit.... go crazy!)

  • Mix together the ground flax-seed and warm water in a small dish. Let sit for about 5-10 minutes, stirring a few times. It should amalgamate to make a thick but kind of watery paste
  • Combine the flours and the baking powder in a measuring jug. If you don't have one a smallish bowl is fine, but I find a measuring just works best for smaller batches of batter like this. 
  • When the flax is ready, add that, the applesauce, the lemon juice and about 1/4 cup (4 Tablespoons) of the milk to the flour mix. Fold this in to form a batter. Test it for thickness - it should easily drop of a measuring spoon. If not add more milk. I needed 6 Tablespoons - but this does depend on the flours that you use so you will need to experiment a bit. Always remember that you can add more - but you can't take any away. Make sure that the first lot is stirred in fully before adding more. 
  • Heat up a lightly greased frying pan. My Mom swears by a well oiled griddle for pancakes - but I've found that I get much better results with a frying pan and a spray of oil. Plus I don't have a griddle. It should be quite hot. 
  • Fold in the raisins to the batter. 
  • Drop the mixture onto the frying pan. I used 2 Tablespoons for each pancake and could fit 3 in the pan at the time. You need to make sure that there's enough room to flip them. 
  • Cook for about 2-5 minutes on the first side, then use a spatula to flip them. You will know that they are ready because the edges will be solid and have changed color - although the middle will still be uncooked and liquid - and they will flip with the spatula very easily. Cook for roughly the same amount of time on the other side. Both sides should be golden brown. You don't want them too dark because then they will overcook if you have leftovers to toast the next time.
  • Continue until all the batter is used up. I found that I needed to turn the heat of the stove-top down with each pan-ful - otherwise the pan would get too hot as time progressed and the pancakes would burn before they were cooked through. 
  • I served mine with sunflower spread and honey - but syrup would also be more than great. They can be frozen and reheated in the toaster- just turn it down to the lowest setting so that they defrost first without toasting until they're burnt. If you don't use honey these pancakes are suitable for vegans.