Sunday, 31 March 2013

Meat Free March Recipe Swap: Amy's Penne alla Vodka

We're just a few hours away from 12am on the 1st of April 2013 - when meat is officially back on the menu again. In case you hadn't noticed, there's been a distinct lack of sausage in my life this month. There's been no bacon, no breast fillets, no little prawnies peeking out from beneath a bed of delicious paella. Have I missed meat? Good God yes. But, I'll let you in on a little secret - it hasn't been all bad. To tell you the truth, I've actually quite enjoyed it. I've loved discovering a ton of recipes, eating out in all sorts of weird and wonderful places and picking dishes from a menu that I'd never normally touch with a barge pole, only to discover that they're actually quite delicious. 

Best of all, I've loved meeting new people and discovering a  ton of amazing blogs via the Meat Free March recipe swap that Fay from Food Fables and I organised. Joined by a whole host of brilliant people, this swap has seen veggie and vegan recipes fly back and forth from different ends of the country. From coconut and lime vegan cheesecake to pumpkin and chickpea salad with tahini and flatbreads, to Dirty John Quinoa and cornbread with a blackbean and jalapeno sauce, I've loved reading the Meat Free March recipe swap blogs (and there are more to come - watch this space!). They've provided me with a lovely lot of inspiration to see me through my final meat free days.

I had the pleasure of sending Amy a couple of my favourite mid-week veggie recipes - Feta and Spinach Pie (which was actually first cooked for me by Hannah over at Girl Eats Vegan - hi Hannah!) and a flavoursome Thai Curry which is one of Ash's favourites and a firm staple in our household.

In return, I was tres excited when a package from Amy turned up which contained two of my most favourite things - vodka and mini eggs. Although I would have been quite happy to consume both of these gifts in one sitting without any accompanying foodstuffs, Amy had also popped in a recipe for Penne Alla Vodka - a go to dish in her house for when she "doesn't want to be in the kitchen for too long but wants  something carbey,  cheesy and delicious!"

So, here's Amy's Penne alla Vodka, a recipe she's created herself having taken inspiration from both Nigella and a Smitten Kitchen:

Penne alla Vodka (serves two)
200g penne (we didn't have any in so made some fresh tagliatelle!)
salt and pepper
can of chopped tomatoes
squeeze of tomato paste
one white onion (diced)
one or two cloves of garlic (crushed/grated)
100ml double cream
2 big glugs of vodka
a few fresh leaves of basil to taste
lots of parmesan (or veggie alternative)
a handful of frozen peas (optional)

Fry the chopped onions in a little oil.

Once the onion has softened, add the garlic and fry for another two minutes.

Pour in the first glug of vodka, followed by the can of tomatoes, squeeze of tomato paste and a generous helping of cracked black pepper. For a smoother sauce, you can add a pinch of sugar too.

Leave to bubble whilst you cook the penne in a pan of salted water (or, in our case, get that tagliatelle rolled and then popped in a pan for a couple of minutes!)

Just before the pasta is done, add a handful of frozen peas to the sauce.

Leave to bubble for a minute, then add the cream to the sauce, take off the heat and stir through.

Drain the pasta and return to the pan with the other glug of vodka and a big knob of butter.

When the vodka has burnt off a bit of the alcohol, stir in the sauce.

Serve with basil torn up and a heap of parmesan. Best consumed with a crispy green salad and a big glass of vino.

You might have noticed a distinct lack of mini eggs in the recipe. Apparently the Smitten Kitchen serves brownies as a dessert to this dish, which is why Amy included them, but I'm ashamed to say I'd scoffed them all before the onions had even got anywhere near a chopping board.  Whooops!

Although not a recipe for someone on a diet, this was a mid-week dish that was completely delicious and felt extremely decadent. To be honest, I was a bit wary that the vodka was going to be slightly over powering and I found myself adding little tipples rather than big glugs, but, if anything, I would get back to my Essex girl roots and not hold back next time. Amy suggested that adding prawns into the mix at the same time as the peas goes down a real treat too - and it's definitely an addition I'll be trying soon!

A big thanks to Amy for her lovely recipe and to all the other Meat Free March recipe swappers for helping a sister out. Fay and I are forming a panel (I'm the Louis Walsh to her Simon Cowell) to decide which swapper will receive a prize of a month's supply of Abel and Cole boxes and a meal at the wonderful (and veggie friendly) Handmade Burger Co - and all I can say is that if the recipes and blog posts are of a standard similar to the ones I've seen so far, it's going to be a hard choice to make!

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

How an Abel & Cole veg box saved Meat Free March

When I decided to spend March meat-free, I knew that I wasn't going to be able to get my foodie kicks from a month of jacket potatoes, Linda McCartney sausages and lentils. But, whilst I love experimenting with different recipes, the veg aisle in the supermarket doesn't usually get much of a look in when meat's on the menu - I tend to stick to what I know (mainly tons of cucumber, potatoes, salad, sweet potato and the odd butternut squash).  More to the point, prior to my month of vegetarianism my knowledge of when different fruit and veg is in season was pretty abysmal. I didn't know my spring greens from my autumn roots.

So I thanked the lord of lettuce and leeks when Abel & Cole got in touch and offered to send me a large vegetable box to encourage me on my path of meat free March. For those of you who haven't heard of Abel & Cole, they are the door-to-door angels of organic, seasonal fruit and veg boxes (and they also offer a ton of other brilliant produce too). For as little as £10 a week, their lovely local drivers will deliver a box full of the freshest, most in-season organic veg (or fruit, or fruit and veg), along with a whole host of beautiful recipes that are published weekly and occasionally the odd freebie too. They also deliver meat and fish (obviously not to me this month!), gorgeous looking ready-meals, loaves of bread and store cupboard staples like those all-important bars of chocolate. Although some of the produce is a little on the pricey side, I personally think their fruit and veg boxes are brilliant value for money and the service is wonderfully convenient - especially if, like me,  you don't have a car.

So, you can imagine my excitement last Friday when I arrived at work to be greeted by a lovely box by my desk that was full to the brim with exciting veg for me to try. One of the drawbacks of living in a flat in the city centre without a concierge service is that Abel & Cole weren't able to deliver to my home as there isn't easy access into the building or a safe place to leave the box (and the drivers deliver from 3am in the morning!). However, they were more than happy to deliver to my office and the lovely, sustainable packaging and accompanying recipe book got lots of my colleagues talking excitedly.

From avacado to beetroot, chinese leaf to watercress, green pointed cabbage to green batavia lettuce, all of the veg in my box was beautifully fresh and I was eager to get home and plan my week's meals around it. Although not everything was to my taste (celery sends me out in a cold rash), the beauty of Abel & Cole's model is that if you don't like something, you can ask for it not to be delivered again. Although you can't specifically specify what you'd like to receive, part of the joy is in the surprise.

I think that's the key to Abel & Cole - by delivering a real mixture of amazing produce, most of which is a surprise, it makes you want to use it and to try new things. Normally Ash and I start from scratch each week when it comes to shopping - we plan our meals around various recipes, not around what we have in the cupboard. Sometimes there'll be an evening when we don't have anything planned, so we end up buying a takeaway, going out or putting a cheeky pizza in the oven which can soon rack up cost-wise. But by having a stash of veg in the cupboards, there's never a reason not to make something fresh and super tasty. We did a tiny shop to compliment the veg - spending just £19 on a week's groceries.

Brocolli, Feta and Walnut soup from the Veg Box Companion book

Since the veg box arrived last week, we've already eaten a ton of fresh greens - not just boring stuff like cabbage and lettuce, but exciting stuff too. And if we're stumped for ideas, the wonderful Veg Box Companion book that came with the box offers a whole host of delicious looking recipes and ideas for perfect seasonal veg combinations.

This week has already seen the kitchen come alive with a truly tasty broccoli,  feta and walnut soup and a colcannon littered with spring greens, carrots, lemon and Parmesan. Still to come on the menu there's haloumi kebabs with lemon and thyme baste, Chinese leaf parcels and a delicious veggie chilli with homemade guacamole. I could get used to eating like this every week.

So, a massive thanks to the veg box guardian angels for helping me to keep the meat free March faith, for encouraging me to try new things and for keeping a fridge in veggie heaven. The lovely folk at Abel & Cole have also offered the winner of our Meat Free March recipe swap a month's supply of veg boxes, so I look forward to reading what tasty, seasonal spring time (err, if you can call it that with all this snow) treats the winner concocts with their supply!

Sunday, 24 March 2013

A how to guide to vegetarian dinner parties

I'll be completely honest -  whenever we've had a dinner party in the past my heart has always sunk a little bit when I've realised that we've got a vegetarian guest making their merry way to ours to quaff our wine and avoid our meat. It's not that I don't love my veggie friends - I do - it's just a bit of a faff to cater separately for an animal loving mate.

However, if meat free March has taught me anything, it's that there's a lot of really exciting vegetarian cookbooks and ideas out there - and catering for a veggie at a dinner party needn't be tricky. From Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall to Kaushy Patel, Yotam Ottolenghi to Nobu Matushisha, there are a lot of brilliant chefs doing great things with vegetables right now. In fact, some of the veggie food I've cooked this month has been so delicious I'd happily serve it to my sausage loving friends, and to be honest I doubt they'd even notice that the meat was missing. 

Last weekend Ash's parents came to stay. To finish the weekend off in a memorable way, Ash and I decided to go all out and cook a feast set to wow. As three out of four of us eating were veggie, we went the whole meat-free hog and drew up a completely vegetarian menu. A main course of fresh raviolli stuffed with roasted butternut squash and walnuts, homemade garlic bread and salad, followed by creme brulees (hello blowtorch!) and a cheese board went down an absolute treat - and I think it's fair to say that meat wasn't missed by anyone.

So, what are my top five tips for holding a vegetarian dinner party or catering for a vegetarian guest?

1. Just cause it's veggie, there's no reason to be too heavy on the carbs 

We recently went to a tasting evening at a local restaurant where every vegetarian dish - although delicious - was accompanied with a heavy load of carbs. Potatoes, bread, chips, pasta - sometimes more than one of the above per course, all taking the place of something meaty. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a massive lover of carby accompaniments - but you need to think about your guest's stomachs. Bloatedness does not a happy dinner party go-er make.

2. Think of the veggies first, and pick a recipe with a meaty alternative

There's lots of gorgeous veggie dishes that can easily be tweaked to make a meaty alternative if you're catering for both herbivores and omnivores. For instance, the barley, tomato and garlic risotto that I blogged about the other day could easily welcome some last-minute fried chorizo for your sausage loving guests. If you're thinking of going down the fresh pasta route, ravioli is perfect for both meat lovers and rabbit foodies alike - simply whip up two different fillings and cook separately.  It's a lot easier to think veggie first and then adapt to meet the needs of your meat eaters than it is to do it the other way round!

3. Timings, timings, timings. 

If you're going all out veggie, it's still important to think about your timings. OK, so you might not have a massive hunk of beef to get just right, but there's not much worse than an overcooked carrot. If I'm cooking something complicated or a meal that's spread over a number of courses, I always sit down with a piece of paper beforehand and work backwards with the recipes from the time that I'm intending to serve. If there's an element of the dish that can be made in advance, crack on and do it. It's not rocket science!

4. Leaf? With everything? Be inventive!

If I had a tenner for the amount of veggie dishes I've had at restaurants etc this month that have been hidden under a pile of leaf, I'd be a very rich lady. Just because a vegetarian isn't a fan of meat, it doesn't mean they want to hang out in a lettuce patch all day either. If you want to serve salad as part of your menu or as a garnish that's fine, but be inventive with it! Think fresh beetroot, fruit, nuts. The world is a salady-oyster.

5. The proof is in the pudding

As long as you're catering for a veggie and not a vegan, thinking of a pudding to perfectly compliment your main course should be a doddle. Just remember to avoid gelatin and rennet and check your guest's attitude to eggs. The same goes for a cheese board or dishes that contain that hard cheeses such as Parmesan - it may be best to scour out a vegetarian alternative.

My attitude to cooking for my veg loving friends has changed considerably over the past few weeks, and my attitude to dinner party dining will never be the same. Have you had problems being creative with the veggie food you serve at dinner parties? Do you find veggie guests a difficulty or do you relish the challenge? And if you're a veggie, have you ever been made to feel unwelcome at a foodie gathering? I'd love to know your thoughts!

Hansa's - a jewel in Leeds' veggie crown

First up - an apology. I've been a bit slack with the whole blogging thing over the past ten days or so - it's been a particularly busy couple of weeks! I've spent my time entertaining parents x 2, celebrating my nephew's first birthday, dressing up as a Roman and frolicking round London for ITV2's new show Plebs, winning the Adelphi's pub quiz, cooking up a vegetarian storm in the kitchen, being busy at work and organising the lovely folk who are taking part in our Meat Free March recipe swap. I can't believe my month of meat abstination is almost over - and what a month it's been! Apologies for neglecting this little corner of the internet - a mega blog catch up is more than called for.

Last weekend Ash's parents Sue and Paul came to stay with us in Leeds for the first time ever.  We had a lovely time showing them the sights - from Leeds city centre to Ilkley, Briggate farmers' market to Saltaire. Sometimes having visitors to stay is the best excuse ever to do a lot of exploring, a lot of drinking and a lot of eating, which is exactly what we did. What's more,  showing someone else around the city that you call home is a reason to fall back in love with it all over again - it made me realise how lucky we are to live in such a thriving, diverse area.

Sue is a vegetarian so the weekend offered the opportunity to explore a bit more of Leeds' meat free foodie culture and share it with someone who really loves good vegetarian cooking. Ask any Loiner what restaurant they associate with some of the yummiest veggie food in the city, and Hansa's will always be the answer. The Gujarati restaurant was therefore firmly on our must-eat list for Saturday night. 

Established back in 1986, Hansa's is a Leeds institution that has won award after award for its sublimely tasty vegetarian food. A few years ago I was lucky enough to live a few seconds walk from North Street's lentil heaven, but to be honest it took me a good few months to pluck up the courage to eat there. Not because it has a scary shop-front, but rather because I associate Indian food with meat. Lots and lots of superbly marinated, uber tasty meat.  When a craving for curry came a'calling, the thought of a vegetarian Indian just didn't cut the mustard. However, when Hansa's ran a special birthday deal for two the offer was too great to pass up - and I thank my lucky daal we didn't. Hansa's has been on our list of favourite Leeds restaurants ever since.

We visited Hansa's with Sue and Paul on a busy Saturday night. Luckily we'd booked a table because the restaurant was very busy with diners getting their kicks from meat-free munching. We were greeted by Hansa herself and shown to our table on the second floor, which was a bit of a tight squeeze for four of us and a host of delicious food.

Being completely honest, we've experienced better service from Hansa's staff in the past. We noticed that other diners had been given snacks when they were seated which we weren't. There was also a wait of almost an hour for our starters to be served after our initial order. All in all, I couldn't help but feel that the restaurant was slightly understaffed for a busy Saturday night.

That being said, when our starters (finally) arrived any qualms we had about poor service were swiftly forgotten. Between us we tucked in to a deliciously sticky and beautifully spiced chilli paneer (which more than met Sue's spice test - the hotter the better!), Kachori (spicy coarsely ground peas and channa daal deep fried balls) and Khasta Kachori (sublime bread stuffed with spicy maag-daal, chickpeas and potatoes). The only dish that seemed to miss the starter mark slightly was Paul's choice - a Hansa's Kenyan Special (yam and sweetcorn with coconut sauce, onions and crunchy peanuts) - which we all felt would have been better placed as an accompaniment to the main than a starter. That aside, presentation of all four dishes was absolutely flawless and portion sizes were good.

For our main course, Ash and I decided to share Ful Cobi (delicious cauliflower florets, carrot,
potato and peas) and Hansa's Special (a four bean feast in a spiced sauce). The Hansa's Special had a real kick to it which was beautifully complimented by the sweetness of the carrots and peas in the Ful Cobi. Sue and Paul opted for Bhaji Paneer (spinach, paneer and peas) and Ringan na Raviya (kenyan aubergines, stuffed with spice masala, onions and coarsely ground peanuts) which were filling, flavourful, fragrant and perfectly accompanied by Paul's leftover Hansa's Kenyan Special.

Curry is synonymous with a plentiful array of delicious carbs, and Hansa's doesn't disappoint on this front. We went all out with both rice and bread - opting for Puri (grilled chapatti), Rotli (gorgeous deep-fried bread), cumin rice and coriander rice. The Rotli was the stand-out carby accompaniment - it wasn't overly oily, deliciously crisp and a brilliant sauce-catching tool. The rice was expensive for the portion size served - we opted for one portion between two and another one wouldn't have gone amiss.

Having said that, by the time dessert rolled around we were full to the brim so perhaps it was a good thing that our rice portions were slightly on the small side. I've had dessert at Hansa's before and despite giving it a miss this time round, I can safely say that they are as delicious and as unusual as the other courses.

Accompanied by a fine bottle of Rioja, some good chat and plenty of curry sharing, our meal at Hansa's was a delight despite the initially poor service. It was lovely to be able to share our choices - something that you can't often do as a vegetarian diner at a "normal" Indian restuarant and an element of social dining that I've really missed during meat free March. Hansa's just know what they're doing when it comes to texture, flavour and creating truly exciting food that doesn't empty your purse completely. I'll be rushing back soon - even when meat is firmly on my menu again.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Meat Free March - Recipe Swap

One of the things that's kept me going in my quest to eat meat free over the past twelve days has been other people's willingness and enthusiasm to suggest great vegetarian or vegan recipes. From suggestions of risotto to lasagna, curry to burritos, my experience of veggie food has been well and truly widened, my culinary creativity stretched and my willingness to try new things has increased ten fold.

But as we're almost half-way through Meat Free March now, a little extra inspiration wouldn't go amiss.

That's why Food Fables Fay and I have been busy organising a meat free recipe swap - in the hope that it'll stop us from resorting to a basic bean burger to curb our rumbling stomachs and keep our kitchen creativity intact. 

How will the Meat Free March recipe swap work? 

The idea is to gather together a group of people who love food, love writing about food and are either already eating meat free or are looking to expand their repertoire of veggie or vegan food. 

We'll team interested parties up with a fellow blogger by popping you over a quick survey of food don'ts and food loves. 

After that, you'll have a few weeks to scour recipe books, blogs and other foodie bibles, looking for the perfect recipe to send you veggie pal.  As I really love brown paper packages tied up with string, we thought it'd be nice if we sent each other vegan/veggie recipes by post, so that you can include one or two low-cost ingredients for the recipe if you so choose. 

As per the food bloggers code, we'd encourage you to tweak recipes taken from cookbooks or to provide your swapee with a link to the cookbook writer's site  if you are using the recipe with out alterations - they have to earn their bread and soya butter too!

We'd love nothing more than to see everyone's culinary attempts at their swap pal's recipe, so we'd really enjoy it if people wrote up their escapades in a blog post, and take lots of pictures too! 

We're also currently in talks with a few nice bods to be able to offer the best post a little something - watch this space for more info...

In addition to writing about your recipes it would be great to share hints and tips on Twitter, which you can do using the #MFMuk hashtag.

Some key dates

  •  Participation confirmation to be received by this Friday March 15th
  •  Recipes to be arrive with partner by Monday March 25th
  •  Blog posts to go up Sunday March 31st
  •  Matches sent out Sunday March 17th

How do I sign up?

Signing up is easy - just leave me a comment below with your email address or tweet @becs_edwards or @foodfablesuk or drop us an email at Simples!

Looking forward to meat free munching with you!

Twelve days of Meat Free March: a veggie recipe round-up

This month has flown by - I can't quite believe that I'm almost half way through my thirty one days of meat abstention. Apart from missing the sweet, sweet taste of freshly fried chorizo, the beautiful versatility of prawns - my favourite fishy friends - and the indescribable wonder of a Saturday morning bacon sandwich, I've actually not missed eating meat all that much at all. Despite my colleague Nathan sending me almost daily photos of thick-cut, beautifully cooked steak, I've found the draw of the meat aisle quite easy to resist.

The thing that's kept me going is the wealth of new, healthy, delicious recipes that I've discovered - both by chance and by recommendation. I thought I'd take the opportunity to pop together a quick rundown of a few of my favourite dishes that I've tried over the past twelve days. 

Ottolenghi's Barley, Tomato and Garlic Risotto

Recommended to me by the wonderful Gemma over at Florence Finds, this dish was a wonderful, filling mid-week treat - one that I know will join our list of favourites even when we go back to full-time omnivore fun.  To be honest, when I was cooking it I was completely unsure quite how it was going to turn out - it features quite a concoction of ingredients and a hell of a lot of garlic. So, maybe not a first date food, but if you like healthy comfort noms and want to ward off vampires, this one's for you. You just need to put your faith in Ottolenghi's genius and trust that the recipe will work. We adapted it slightly as we were low on fresh tomatoes so we used tins, and instead of buying pearl barley we used Bello's three grain blend - which is a mixture of risotto rice, spelt and barley. If you want to try Ottolenghi's original recipe, you can find it here.

Serves 4

Heat 3 tbsps of olive oil (or a few sprays of Fry-lite) over medium heat in a medium-sized saucepan and sauté 2 whole heads of garlic, cloves separated, peeled and quarted, for about two minutes, or until golden. Add two tins of chopped tomatoes, 1/2 tsp of paprika, 1/8 tsp dried chilli flakes, 1 tbsp thyme, 4 strips of lemon zest, 1 1/2 tsp caster sugar, 1 tsp salt, 270g of Bello's three grain blend (rinsed and drained) and a ladleful of water; stir and bring the mix to a simmer. Cook over minimal heat for 50-60 minutes, until the barley is tender but still firm to the bite. You’ll need to stir it from time to time, so it doesn’t stick to the pan, and add water occasionally, making sure there is always just enough liquid left in the pot to cook the barley. At the end of the cooking, the mix should be runny enough easily to spoon into bowls.
Once done, remove the pan from the heat, stir in 15g chopped coriander leaves and some freshly ground black pepper. Add 150g of feta, stir gently so the cheese doesn’t break up too much and stays in largish chunks, taste and adjust the seasoning accordingly.
Spoon into serving bowls, sprinkle with 50g of feta and 5g of coriander, and drizzle over a little olive oil.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Cauliflower and Chickpea Curry

Filling. Low calorie. Cheap. Fast.Vegan-friendly. Perhaps could do with a bit more in the way of spice, but did the trick just fine. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has slightly adapted his recipe from Angela Hartnett's, which can be found here, which in turn was inspired by food served at Prashad, a vegetarian restaurant in Bradford which is firmly on my list to try this month. Watch this space for a review!

Gnocchi and Tomato bake

Image courtesy of BBC Good Food - but mine looked like this too, I promise!

I can't put into words how much I adore BBC's Good Food. I own two of their hefty recipe books and they're our go-to food bibles for whenever the cupboards are bare and our imagination is lacking. Full of meals made made up of store cupboard favourites, and a large veggie section to boot, I've cooked a lot of their recipes and I've never discovered a bad one. This gnocchi and tomato bake was no exception - simple, super quick and very tasty - it hit spot on a day that cheese was being craved in abundance. 

So, there we go. Here's to another two and a bit weeks of vegtastic meals. Please help a sister out though - I'd love to know if there are any veggie meals that you'd particularly recommend to keep me going over the next nineteen days!

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Becs Bakes: Secret ingredient scones and maple and pecan cupcakes

Every so often, I have a massive urge to bake. The urge often comes on a Sunday afternoon when I can think of nothing I'd like to do more than get down my cake-y recipe books, leaf through the pages, find something that takes my fancy and spend a few hours getting the kitchen into a state where you can only just see the floor from all the flour that I've managed to sprinkle over it.

I find baking relaxing - a bit like cooking, concentrating hard on a recipe is a real release from thinking about other stuff. My Mum's a good baker (and also a bit of an experimenter too - her couscous cake is something that only Mrs Cropley from the Vicar of Dibley would be likely to dream up) so quite a lot of my childhood was spent making cakes and biscuits with her. My favourite bit was always sifting the flour and licking the bowl. I'm 25 now and not much has changed.

Anyway, this Sunday the baking urge hit me so I whiled away a few hours knee deep in buttercream icing and kneading dough.

First up I used ingredients that we already had in the cupboard to make scones. Quite often I find that homemade scones can be a bit disappointing - either they are too crumbly and dry, or they're flat as a pancake, or they rise well but leave a horrible baking soda aftertaste. A few years ago I discovered a recipe from BBC Good Food that has revolutionised my scone making activity. Just look at these bad-boys:

Delicious, moist, light and towering high. The secret? Use warm milk and a little dash of lemon juice. The lemon juice sours the milk slightly, which means it tastes a bit like buttermilk and gives a boost to the rising agents in the self-raising powder and baking powder. Sorted.

Want to know the recipe? You can find it here.

Whilst the scones were cooling I decided to try my hand at something a bit different. After visiting the Sunshine Bakery on Thursday all I could think about was cupcakes. We had maple syrup and pecans in the cupboard (left over from Mexicanna) and I wanted to combine them into something that'd beat the Sunshine Bakery's mango and banana cake for deliciousness.

After a bit of digging around, I pulled out The Primrose Bakery Book that Ash's mum kindly got me a few Christmases ago and found a recipe for maple and pecan cupcakes that looked delicious.

I adapted the recipe slightly as we were low on self-raising flour and I only had 160ml maple syrup. Instead of the maple syrup buttercream suggested, I topped with a light vanilla buttercream instead.

The Primrose Bakery's Maple and Pecan Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream 

For the cupcakes (makes 10 regular cupcakes or 8 muffin sized ones)

Preheat the oven to 180c/gas mark 4/fan oven 160c. Line a 12-hole muffin tray with 10 muffin cases. Using an electric mixer, cream 115g unsalted butter with 50g of soft brown sugar until pale and smooth. Add 160ml of maple syrup and beat well. Add two eggs, one at a time, mixing slowly after each addition. 

Using a spoon , fold 100g of self-raising flour and 15g of plain flour, along with a sprinkle of baking powder into the batter and beat well. Fold in 60g of roughly chopped pecan nuts.

Spoon the mixture evenly into the muffin cases, filling each case about two-thirds fill. Bake in the centre of the oven for 25 minutes, until risen and golden and they pass the clean skewer test. Leave the cupcakes to cool for 10 minutes in their tin, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

For the caramelised pecans

Whilst the cakes are cooling, gradually heat 60g of golden caster sugar in a heavy saucepan until the sugar has melted. Spread 20 pecan nut halves onto baking powder, then pour the melted sugar over the nuts, covering them completely. Wait for the caramel to cool and harden, then break into 20 pieces (half a pecan per piece).

Ice the cupcakes with the vanilla buttercream below and top with a caramelised pecan. 

For the vanilla buttercream icing

Using an electic hand mixer, beat 78g of butter with 45ml of milk, 175g of icing sugar and 3/4tsp of vanilla extract until smooth. Gradually add another 175g of icing sugar to produce a buttercream that's smooth and creamy.

The Primrose Bakery Book's recipes never fail to delight, and this one was no exception. In fact, I'd even go so far to say that they were the best cakes I'd made in a long while - Ash certainly seemed to think so after eating cake number three anyway. 

I took the scones and the maple and pecan cupcakes into work to treat my colleagues to a spot of afternoon tea on Monday - I can't think of a better way to start a week!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

How a trip to Sukhothai, Leeds City Centre, quelled the outbreak of World War Three

Picture the scene:  I’m hungry. I haven’t eaten meat for days. My sugar levels are low. My sausage levels are low.  

Now, this scene might not seem like much to some of you, but when I get hungry, I get angry.  Like, really angry. If I don’t get fed extremely quickly there’s every possibility that World War Three might break out at any second. Ash has been with me long enough to know the routine – namely a bit of grouchiness, followed by a full-on hissy-fit, followed by a pitiful moan of “but I’m really hungry.” Before the full-on hissy-fit, he usually shoves a bit of bread in my gob to try to quell the anger. You could say that he’s the Switzerland to my Germany.  

Anyway, I digress. I was hungry, miserable and close to a tantrum. I was having severe cravings for chorizo and bacon, two food-stuffs that due to meat-free March are completely out of bounds.

Ash recognised the signs. I was getting grouchy. Something had to be done, pronto. Rather than cooking (the hunger-anger ratio couldn’t cope with the wait), we decided to venture out into town to grab a bite to eat.  With a load of amazing restaurants on our doorstep, we thought that finding something veggie, quick(ish) and filling would be easy.

How wrong we were. I fancied trying Dish – the Great George St  restaurant that I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews about. However, there was only one dish on the entire menu that was suitable for a pescatarian. Although the food looked amazing, with heavy hearts we had to walk away, promising ourselves a return trip once meat free March is over.

I tried to rack my brains for other restaurants in Leeds that would sell a plethora of meat and fish free dishes to fill my belly with. All of our usual go to places wouldn’t offer a great selection – the Adelphi, the Reliance etc are great for good quality gastro pub grub, but their vegetarian offerings are few and far between. I didn’t fancy a curry; otherwise the wonderful Hansas would be our first port of call.

Just as my stomach let out an almighty rumble and World War Three was about to break out, I was struck with a brainwave. Let’s go Thai! Thai cuisine is full of lovely vegetarian dishes, oodles of Tofu, bags of flavour.

And so with that we headed to my favourite Thai restaurant in Leeds – Sukhothai on South Parade. Decadently decorated, the restaurant never fails to deliver, always offering a little taste of truly authentic Thai cuisine. Although a familiar dining experience, I’d never been to Sukhothai and not had a meat or fish dish of some kind. To be honest I’d never even glanced at the vegetarian section of the menu. So when I opened the menu to find almost 40 exclusively vegetarian dishes, I was both surprised by the amount of variety and extremely happy with the amount of choice I’d have.

As soon as we tucked into our starters of Pak Tod (deep-fried mixed vegetables in a light batter, served with sweet chilli sauce) and Khanom Jeeb Pak (steamed vegetable dumplings served with soy sauce and crispy garlic), I knew that World War Three had been quashed and peace-time reigned supreme.

 Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures as the hunger had forced me to leave my phone at home, so you’ll have to believe me when I say that the Pak Tod was beautifully presented in a little metal basket. It was an absolute taste sensation. Thick slices of vegetables had been lightly fried in batter to make them almost unrecognisable – it was only when you bit into the veg that you could work out what vegetable it was. It was a type of lucky dip that I can only liken to eating a packet of Revels – but instead of “ohhh, I’ve got a toffee one” or “oooh, I’ve got a malteaser”, our dish was met with shouts of “ooohhh, a piece of butternut squash!” or “Yum! Aubergine!”. The sweet and sour sauce provided the perfect accompaniment.

The Khanom Jeeb Pak was delicious too – the dumplings were moist, delicate and perfectly flavoured. The dipping sauce was lovely too – Sukhothai could certainly win an award for brilliant condiment production.

For mains, I opted for Massam Tofu ( Massam curry with chunks of deep-fried bean curd, peanuts, carrot, onion and potato) and Ash stuck with tradition and had Gang Kiew Pak (Thai green curry with coconut milk, bamboo shoot, bean curd, courgette and mixed vegetables). The curries at Sukhothai never fail to disappoint – they’re never too heavy, always a reasonable size and always leave you wanting more. This time was no different – and I was pleasantly surprised by how flavoursome the delicious chunks of tofu were. I hadn’t had tofu since a trip to Thailand almost five years ago, and it reminded me of how much I love the stuff when it’s properly cooked. It’s now a resolution to cook it at home at some point this month.

All in all, our meal was delicious. Service was brilliant – our waitress was very keen to chat when we told her about our meat-free march challenge, and the bill was wallet pleasing (I’m not sure of the exact amount as Ash paid, but he smiled about it – I’m a lucky lady!). Next time I feel that World War Three is about to break out because of a lack of fuss free, vegetarian friendly and truly tasty food, Sukhothai will be my first port of call to quell the unrest. 

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Meat Free March: how a kale and onion pizza can set you up for a Tom Odell gig

No meat for a month means no more cheeky meat feast pizzas - the food that's traditionally accompanied pre-gig or pre night-out drinking since 2003.

There's something about a good supermarket bought meat feast pizza. On paper, it's completely and utterly disgusting. Shed loads of nameless processed meat (three quarters of which is probably horse), a whole load of overly salty mozzarella cheese and the stodgiest pizza base in history pretty much equates to a heart attack on a plate. I'm not normally one for ready meals. However, when there's a gig to go to or a night out to be had where alcohol is involved, nothing quite beats the meat feast combo for its magical stomach lining properties and its delicious, salty goodness.

This Saturday we had tickets to see the brilliant Tom Odell at the Cockpit in Leeds. Slightly concerned that this gig would be meat feast pizza-less, I set about scouring around for a meat-free alternative - something that we could make at home and something that would beat Sainsbury's generic vegetarian pizza offering hands-down.

A last (meaty) supper at the Sunshine Bakery Supperclub

Image courtesy of

Last Thursday was the final day of being able to shove as much meat in my gob as I wanted for an entire month. Having made a pact with Fay over at Food Fables to spend March meat-free, I'd decided to celebrate my final day as a loud and proud omnivore by spending Thursday evening with Anna, a fellow foodie. Coincidentally, I'd also promised Anna that I'd take her out for a slap-up meal to celebrate her birthday. The opportunity was therefore ripe to try a new dining experience, tickle our taste-buds, say goodbye to meat and celebrate Anna's 21st birthday (for the upteenth year in a row) in style.

I can't remember exactly when or where or how I'd found out about the Sunshine Bakery supperclub. Nestled in a little corner of trendy Chapel Allerton, the supperclub takes place in a bakery that, by day, serves the most amazing cupcakes. Run by David Bennett, former chef for Marco Pierre-White, it's a chintzy, vintage style haven where all sorts of sweet treats are served up on retro crockery whilst you're seated on mis-matched tables and chairs. It's small, sweet, and exceptionally welcoming.

The supperclub takes place outside of bakery opening hours on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and relies on word-of-mouth rather than traditional marketing to keep the customers coming in through the door. Having heard good things, I was eager to try it out, especially when I heard that a two course meal would be just £15 a head. The bakery do little to advertise the supperclub online, so a phone call was needed to secure a booking.