About me

After being diagnosed with a long list of food intolerances seven years ago, I was forced into getting more creative in the kitchen.

For me, the best recipes are those which are easy to prepare and deliver heaps of flavour, perfect for sharing with friends and family without having to single anyone out because of a specialised diet.

My love for cooking and adapting recipes for my own dietary requirements has given me the incentive to share tips with others who also live with restricted diets.

I hope you find a bit of cooking inspiration from my blog. Please feel free to comment and post any questions...

Monday, 27 June 2011

Some Like It Hot

Heat wave hits Britain! and sticks around 'quite literally' for all of five minutes. This afternoon I walked into Sainsbury's grateful for the chilled food section and walked back out again, greeted by a thunderstorm. I blame those who complain about the lack of sun in our English Summers, but yet are the first to grumble when the temperature dares to reach more than 19 degrees. The weather in Newcastle is deceiving. It is truer here than in most other cities that you should leave the house armed with the right accessories for atleast 4 different types of weather.

I have a sneaking suspicion that I was born of wrong nationality. Not only do I truly detest being cold and wet, but when we are blessed with even an inch of sunshine, I am the first and often the only person you will find out in the halls car park soaking up what ever rays possible. The car park for my new flat is sadly less of a sun trap, but I won't be deterred, roof party anyone??

Heat is also a vital component in most of my favourite dishes. I LOVE spicy food, which hasn't always sat well with others when I've cooked curries or chillies in the past. For me a mild curry is incomplete and when a friend brought back some incredible spices and dried chillies from Tanzania, I made a Madras that quite literally felt as though your throat was dissolving. NOTE: Remember to remove the chillies before serving. Other than the occasional hidden 'surprise' the Madras was delicious and my friend developed a higher pain threshold, so win,win.

I was recently given a list of ingredients to make Harissa Paste. Most commonly used in North Africa, this hot, blood red paste is known to be severely strong in it's traditional form. I have yet to try the recipe, therefore the quantities will have to be experimented with until you have a consistency similar to that of a thai curry paste.
Harissa Paste
  • Olive oil, crushed garlic, crushed red chillis, lemon juice, paprika, fresh chopped coriander and a little hot water.
Ideally, a pestal and mortar would be useful to bind the ingredients together, but a food processor is a good substitute. The paste can be used in all sorts of meat and vegetable dishes to give heat and flavour as you would a normal curry paste. For a simple, spicy side dish with a moroccan twist, roast large rounds of aubergine, spread with a little of the paste and serve with wilted spinach and chickpeas with a little olive oil and lemon juice. I also recently had a delicious salad of lemon and coriander couscous with harissa roasted sweet potato wedges, which would have been lightly tossed in the paste with a little extra oil and water before baking.
The accompanying Sailor Jerry's cocktails worked a treat for the spicy after taste and I am now in the midst of a hunt for a bottle of the 'real' SJ's that still smells like a deliciously warm, vanilla candle when served neat. I've heard word of the real thing in Tynemouth, no Morgans Spiced for me!

Cocktail and bar training begins this week so it is likely that I will be posting lots of drink recipes from now on  aswel. The breakfast bar in the new flat has now been deemed the cocktail bar, which is fitting as we already have a 'Vegas' bathroom. Let's just say there is no hiding from those mirrors, perhaps not the best thing after a night of cocktails...

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Sunday Gathering

Having been brought up in a household where Sundays are always approached with trepidation and crammed full of work that failed to be completed during the week, I think it's important to admit defeat for at least a few hours in order to start the coming week with some sanity. Despite the madness that occurs on a Sunday back home, having a family dinner together is always something that we would try to make happen. Happy to say, unlike most households we don't stick to the usual Sunday roast which I find to be too repetitive both in flavour and in special requests. As a family it's often a struggle to find something that everyone will enjoy without having to do potatoes and gravy five different ways.

Gwyneth Paltrow has just brought out a cookery book, I don't want to say LOL, but it only seems fitting-This woman is renowned as a follower of the macrobiotic and raw food diets, she called her child Apple for goodness sake. I watched her do an interview on "something for the weekend" today; reluctantly taking a bite of a scouse dessert named "wet nelly" (basically take any leftovers from your cupboard and cook them in a pastry dish, then serve with clotted cream.)

With a carefree manner, she talked about how much of a foodie she is and how much she enjoys fried food and cheeseburgers, I think it's safe to quote the entire nation here: "You're not fooling anyone love!". The one thing I did agree with her on however,  was the importance of no matter how hectic a life you lead, sitting down as a family or with friends to eat at least once a week is a definate must.

Since starting at Uni, I've kept this notion in mind and will cook something quick and easy with friends to finish off the week. Emphasis on quick and easy because after all, it is still a Sunday, hence most of us are hungover. Tonight I will be making sweet chilli chicken stir fry and noodles-unadventurous I know, but it's quick and tasty, giving me more time to veg out and catch up with people.

As we're once again having Summer early, I took advantage of this last weekend and spent all Sunday in the park with one of the girls, a fat Sunday paper and a picnic of antipasto including proscuitto ham for the carnivores, an array of mixed olives, artickoke hearts and roast, stuffed peppers, followed by meringue nests and raspberries, bliss.

So although I will never be convinced that Gwyneth ever eats the fatty foods she claims to or that she has more than a nibble of the dishes in her cook book, (insert image of Paltrow munching on an apple crumble muffin like she means it) no, doesn't compute for me either. But atleast she has the right idea about Sundays and the importance of not eating alone. I'll end with a quote from a reviewer for the Guardian who read the stick insect's book:

Duck ragu One year Jamie Oliver came round to cook me lunch on my birthday. I expect he does that for you, too. He cooked this amazing duck pasta and I have literally spent the last 250 years trying to perfect it. Get a surgeon to give another duck at the Malibu Center for Desperately Sick Mallards a chance of life by transplanting the heart of the duck you are going to eat. Roast duck for two hours, then discard all fat. Not that I have any. Serve with spaghetti.

Somehow I don't think they were a fan.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Upstairs, Downstairs

Group meals in halls are always a bit of a spectacle. Whether you're all eating the same dish or not, expect there to be hurdles. Having half a dozen people all trying to use one oven, 4 hobs and a microwave can often resemble a game of twister, but with a lot more mess, higher risk of incurring 3rd degree burns and a depressing lack of cooking utensils and cutlery leading to the use of a can opener to stir boiling pasta.

When I'm not snowed under with assignments, cooking for groups of friends is something I will always make time for. After enjoying the quiet of half empty halls the last few weeks, one by one, people are heading back up with the intention of "working" for the last week of the holidays. This means hungry and appreciative mouths to be fed, followed by other people doing the washing up, win, win!

Tonight's dish is 'tomato and herb encrusted salmon with Mediterranean stuffed aubergines topped with melting mozzarella'. This will definitely beat the last group meal that came together haphazardly at 10pm one night just before the Easter holidays. Dishes including pasta in curry sauce, tinned soup bulked up with frozen veg and left over birthday cake were resorted to after the takeaway we ordered from did not infact exist.

Living in halls, having friends in several different flats throughout the building proves to have both positives and  negatives. Cooking a basic meal where all the ingredients can be quickly gathered and brought to one flat or ordering a takeaway together as a group are simple tasks. Cooking a large sunday dinner for 6 in two ovens 3 floors apart however...

This is the feat that we attempted in February and after 3 hours we did manage to sit down to a glorious feast of whole stuffed chicken, cooked on a bed of winter vegetables and dressed with rashers of bacon, yorkshire puddings, herb stuffing, vegetables and a home-made gravy the boys wanted to swim in!
Thankfully the lift was co-operating that day, as heating up the fat in one oven, preparing the vegetables in a kitchen several floors below and then transporting honey roast parsnips and potatoes on sizzling trays may not have been so successful if we'd had to take the stairs. The house manager would probably not have been impressed by an avalanche of roast potatoes cascading downwards, followed by two teary girls either. A sunday roast without the potatoes is incomplete for any englishman.

A small mention to the Royal wedding today as Wills and Kate tied the knot, inducing a procession of street parties across the country. My modest salmon is celebration enough for me, possibly with a toast to the newlyweds with a gin and tonic or a glass of cheap plonk-the alcohol is running low. After hearing that a lot of people have dressed up in their best outfits to watch the ceremony in the comfort of their own homes, I regretted not bringing my tiara to Uni. Then again, I did watch the wedding whilst on the treadmill in the gym. Perhaps that would have been taking accessorizing a little too far, a fascinator instead perhaps???

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Weird but Wonderful

There is no denial in the fact that when it comes to food, we all have our own little guilty pleasures. For many, this may just be something as simple as a secret obsession with chocolate fingers, or the tendency to O.D. on salad cream. But the cravings that I find most interesting, are the bizarre concoctions that you hear of people secretly indulging in late at night, unable to make sense to the taste buds of anyone but themselves. The freaky eaters.

I openly admit now, when it comes to the munchies, I am a freak and proud of it. Tomato Ketchup for instance, something which I never use and do not enjoy as an accompaniment, yet I LOVE on peas.That's it. Just a bowl of peas and ketchup. My housemates questioned this at the beginning of the year, but they're no saints either. One of them disgusted us all after admitting his desire for "rice sandwiches". That's cooked, cold rice (usually egg fried), between buttered bread, usually with ketchup and mayo, yet for him it works.

A lot of people will attempt to hide their strange flavoured affairs, worried of what others will think of chicken Kiev with gravy or bagels with chicken, cheese and jam. Honestly, I'm not making these up. But why should we be ashamed? We're all individual in our likes and dislikes, and it can only serve as a talking point to announce that for the last few months you've been involved in a steady relationship with pasta and korma curry sauce. If we were all a little more open to discussing our peculiar eating habits, we might influence others to step outside their comfort zones and be more adventurous in cooking and experimenting with foods.

After years of being criticised for my weakness for crunchy peanut butter (HAS to be crunchy) and seeded raspberry jam, straight from the jars, eaten with a spoon, one of my closest friends admitted that they also know and love the combination well. I can now bask in the sweetness of knowing that I have a food soul mate. So no matter how peculiar others may find your odd indulgences, it's likely there is somebody out there who will know where you're coming from.

I am happy to say that the asparagus and mushroom risotto was a wild success on Friday night. Sadly the peas had to be omitted due to the size of the paella dish, but I made space for the white wine, as any good cook should when it comes to cooking risotto. There are several rules to be adhered to in order to produce a successful and delicious risotto. After lightly frying onion and garlic in a little olive oil or butter until soft, add the aborio risotto rice and mix until the rice begins to expand and turn more translucent. Reduce the heat and pour in a glass of white wine. Stir gradually with a spatchelor until the rice has absorbed the wine and then continue to stir whilst gradually adding stock ladle by ladle as the rice absorbs it. The rice should cook for about 20 minutes, until soft but still with a slight bite to it. As far as adding extra ingredients and flavours go, be adventurous. My favourite combinations include butternut squash and toasted pine nut or for the meat eaters; smoked paprika chicken and chorizo---I cooked this for a friend after they brought my laptop back to life and almost converted from pescetarianism, the smell was that good, and on tasting I was given a marriage proposal, so it must have been a success!

After having lost track of time writing this entry, my roasted carrots with thyme and a squeeze of orange juice now resemble charred, orange twigs. The slight carbon like taste however is another weird enjoyment of mine and although professionals would say it's not healthy, I compare it to the blue smarties debate. Blue smarties should be avoided because they can give you cancer? Yes, but maybe only if you eat 50,000 a year. Char grilled vegetables and I will continue to go steady.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

To market, to market

In attempts to put off revision today, I headed to one of my favourite places in the city, Grainger Market.

Having lived in a smaller, more historical city my entire life until last September when I came to university, the market place is no foreign land to me. The sparring calls of fruit and vegetable vondeurs competing to proffer their best crop of the day is background noise that I've grown accustomed to in my home town.

The Geordie grocers of Grainger Market on the other hand, are a force to be reckoned with. Approach the butcher aisle with caution is one crucial token of advice, as the men are not afraid to approach you with a large, bloody T-bone. An offer which this pescetarian did not handle too graciously.

Entering the indoor market for the first time is not dissimilar to entering a corn maize. Row upon row of greengrocers, butchers, fishmongers and bakeries are just some of the stalls to intrigue your senses. At the heart of the market, you can find my favourite greengrocer's. The ladies working on the stall have come to know me and my usual purchases well this last year, as fruit and veg are the foundations of my diet and cooking. Never mind 5-a-day, I must be hitting 15.

My other regular stops include the weigh house, where a wide selection of dried fruit, cereal, seeds,nuts and baking goods are so cheap, it's understandable why I often trudge home with a multitude of cellophane bags, containing the ingredients for delicious muesli and porridge that are far from bland and boring. A bag of mixed nuts which may cost you £3 in a supermarket, will be a fraction of the price at any good market like Grainger.

"The Shanghai Store", one aisle away from my regular grocer, is a haven for anyone who enjoys Chinese, Japanese and Thai food. The foreign labels, unfamiliar products and indistinguishable frozen goods are not things to be feared, but embraced. I recently bought 3 packs of authentic noodles made from rice, buckwheat and oats for £1.50. As a sufferer of food intolerances, wheat is off the menu for me and it wasn't until I found the shanghai store that I even realised there were alternatives to the usual wheat noodles. The wide selection of miso soups, each flavoured with different Asian ingredients knock the socks off of any standard cup a soup and at just 50p for 5, who can argue with that logic? I'm currently enjoying a mugful, with pieces of crunchy water chestnut, seaweed, and noodle pieces, flavoured with soy sauce. They also come with a small sachet of natural flavouring, making them this student's ultimate pot noodle!

This week's best buys from the lovely greengrocer stall include 2 large punnets of beautifully sweet, juicy strawberries for just £1.50 and a bunch of this season's first asparagus-both of which will be playing leading roles in tomorrow night's dinner when a dear friend comes to visit. On the menu: Asparagus, pea and mushroom risotto, accompanied by a very large glass of Pimms!

As soon as April arrives and the sun makes appearances lasting longer than half and hour, out come the emerald green shorts and the pitchers of Pimms, it really makes me feel that Summer is on it's way:

Bring on the sun, bring on the Pimms
  1. In a pitcher or large jug, mix 1 part Pimms to 3 parts chilled and sparkling lemon and lime flavoured water. (Traditionally made with lemonade, I find the sparkling water gives a better flavour and is lighter to drink.)
  2. Give the frozen ice cube tray a good smack on the counter, and add all the ice to the jug.
  3. Add an array of fruit wedges, including orange, apple, lemon and lime. Mix in a  few sliced strawberries, crescents of fresh cucumber and a few leaves of mint.
Varying the ingredients which you add to the Pimms allows you to invent your own take on the drink, making it new and different each time. Last weekend for example, the ice trays were sadly empty, but frozen raspberries made a tasty alternative, slowly melting and infusing with the alcohol. Despite what others may say, I believe there is no harm in picking out the drunken fruit after finishing your drink, it is after all safer than drinking on an empty stomach.

Due to a lack of proper kitchen ware which every student will suffer from at some point or another, tomorrow night's risotto will be cooked in a paella dish. This is at least a step up from my wok, which regularly masquerades as a risotto pan.

Biting into a honeyed plum from the market, I've realised that I may have gotten carried away describing my love affair with Grainger. The most important point to make however, is that markets and independent sellers are not only MUCH cheaper, but often sell fresher and tastier products whilst allowing you to meet interesting people and avoid fuelling the supermarket giants responsible for these markets losing business.

After hearing from a major ghost of relationships past, I will need to decide on a meal for Sunday night as well.... What goes well with nervous conversation and childish giggling??????

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Introducing....

As a 20 year old Journalism student coming to the end of my first year, I had jubilations about how university would affect my love of cooking and enjoyment of good food. It is a proven phenomenon that the majority of students do not know how or care to cook real meals. Preferring to rely on late night takeaways, store cupboard favourites of “super noodles” and “nutella” or a liquid diet of alcohol and energy drinks for sustenance; they give a bad name to those who actually USE their kitchens, not just the kettle and microwave.

If I am ever going to be a real writer, I need to be writing. I have been inspired by countless books, articles, magazine features and films, but find that creative writing does not come quite as easily as I would have hoped. Knowing the subject of your writing is essential. I have learnt this by the amount of research that is necessary in order to write just one article. The most natural and fluid subject I can write about is my own life and in particular, a major passion of mine, cooking, and even more so food.

Over the last year I have proven to myself that it is possible to cook simple yet delicious food quickly and on a student budget, whilst studying a very intense, fast paced course and maintaining a part time waitressing job.
Along the way, I have seen and experienced some rather awful student kitchens (generally not my own) and have provided refuge for friends, serving dishes from creamy lemon risotto, to Moroccan vegetable tagine. In my blog I wish to share past and present student cooking experiences and recipes straight from the source, cutting out the middle man responsible for being handed patronising student cookery books the day you leave home, giving a “recipe” for beans on toast.

My hidden agenda in this is the chance to send my writing out in to the world, to become more conscious of my abilities as an aspiring journalist and improve along the way. Constructive feedback is always appreciated and questions about student life, cooking and learning to write for any reason will be answered.