Vegetables

10 Minute Lunches: Sriracha Egg Fried Rice

Sriracha Egg Fried Rice

I’m having a Sriracha moment. Or maybe it’s a Sriracha life. I put the stuff on anything and everything, and it’s bloody delicious. I had some rice left over from cooking Cashew Chicken the other night, and what with a hot dinner being far superior to a lowly sandwich or salad, I took it upon myself to spice it up. 

Sriracha Egg Fried Rice

I’m often in a rush at lunch time. If I’m lucky, the twins will be napping, but more often than not I’m trying to grab a few minutes between feeds and nappy changes, all while keeping a keen eye on the bouncer and the Jumperoo. Ten minutes is often all I have, so I try to be resourceful. This recipe can use any leftover rice you have, along with any stray vegetables sitting woefully in the crisper drawer. Today, I had half an onion, a few wrinkly chillies, a can of sweetcorn and a couple of limp spring onions. You can throw anything in there – some grated carrot, a bell pepper or a handful of mushrooms if you have them lying around. 

Sriracha Egg Fried Rice

It takes no time at all, it’s crunchy, spicy, sweet and satisfying, and it only uses a wok – or if you haven’t got one, a large frying pan will do it.

Sriracha Egg Fried Rice
A quick and delicious lunch dish, perfect for those in search of something spicy and warming to fuel their afternoon.
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
5 min
Total Time
10 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
5 min
Total Time
10 min
Ingredients
  1. 2 cups of leftover rice
  2. ½ an onion
  3. 1 small can of sweetcorn
  4. 2 red chillies
  5. 2 spring onions
  6. Sprinkling of parsley
  7. 2 eggs
  8. Sriracha
  9. Light soy sauce
Instructions
  1. Chop your veg. I recommend slicing your half an onion into nice, thick wedges - the heat of the wok means it chars around the edges and cooks super quickly while still keeping a bit of its bite.
  2. Heat your wok until it smokes, then add about 3 tbsp of a flavourless oil - I used veg. Once the oil is hot, throw in your onion.
  3. Leave the onion to char, only moving it after a few minutes have passed. Once it starts to brown and soften, add the chopped chilli and sweetcorn and stir fry for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Dump in the cold rice and stir. Leave it to cook on full heat without moving it around in the pan - that way you'll get brown, crispy bits as well as soft, plump grains.
  5. After another 2 minutes, add around 3 tbsp of soy sauce and the same again of Sriracha. Mix in well and try it, add more to taste.
  6. Beat the eggs. Tilt the wok towards you and clear a space to pour your eggs. Once you add them, the edges should start to solidify quickly. Leave for 30 seconds to make sure the bottom is cooked, then gently fold it in on itself, as if you were scrambling eggs.
  7. Once the outsides are cooked through, break up the egg. Level your wok again and fold the egg through the rice mixture. Stand the wok on the heat and stir for another 1-2 minutes to combine.
  8. Turn off the heat and sprinkle with chopped parsley (or coriander if you prefer) and sliced spring onions.
  9. Add to bowls and zigzag with more Sriracha. Serve and enjoy.
whip until fluffy http://whipuntilfluffy.com/
It’s really important to use cooked and cooled rice for this – for some reason it just doesn’t work if you cook the rice fresh (and that kinda defeats the point, anyhow). If you have it in the fridge you could shred and add cooked chicken, sliced sausage or even strips of beef to this if you wanted. Plump little pink shrimps would work too, or squid rings if you’re fancy. I prefer the ease of this veggie version and I love that it basically clears my kitchen out any sorry looking leftovers.

Sriracha Egg Fried Rice

I’ll be back with more of these 10 minute lunches in the future, partly cuz I’ve bet myself I can go a whole month without resorting to a sad sandwich. Standing at the stove with the sunlight flooding in through the side window, it feels like there’s no better way than this to prep for the afternoon ahead. What do you eat for lunch?

Hitting the Reset Button

Lunch at my desk

Lunch at my desk: homemade falafel and hummus, salad leaves, cucumber and mint salad, cherry tomatoes, sweetcorn, olives and feta topped with sumac, seeds & Sriracha

We talked a little towards the end of last year about my need for some lifestyle changes. Well, it’s finally time for an update! After a good start, early 2015 brought Leeds Indie Food and all that entailed with it, and from January to May I had far less time and quite a lot more stress. You know, my eight hour days turned into 12 or 14 hour days and all that stuff.  Naturally, my health took second string, I indulged to the max and, man, was it was glorious. Burgers for lunch, gins every evening, plus some of the most exciting food I’ve ever eaten during the festival itself.

So, with my health goals still in mind, it’s no surprise that June had to bring a shift in what I ate and how I ate it. All that indulgence meant I was feeling pretty run down, tired all the time and I still had a way to go if I was gonna get on top of my diabetes and get myself to baby-ready status. We all know that my life revolves completely about what I eat, but it was time to reset, knuckle down and fine-tune. I decided to go all-in.

My aims (explained in more detail over here):

  • Nourish my body, give it everything it needs to function properly and happily 
  • Reduce any stress, inflammation and pain my body is experiencing and make it a healthy, happy place for a little person to live
  • Keep my blood sugars as level as humanly possible with a faulty pancreas
  • Work less, exercise more and sleep more
  • Maybe get stronger, healthier, more luxurious looking nails and hair in the meantime? Maybe lose a few pounds too?

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What with the diabetes and the general interest, my food knowledge is pretty good. I know my carbs from my proteins, my zinc from my beta-carotene. However, even with that back-up, the world of nutrition is a flippin’ minefield. So fat is good for you? Fruit is bad? But, hang on, what about cholesterol? -__- I’ve always adopted an “everything in moderation” philosophy before (even if I haven’t stuck to it) but it’s become clear that in this situation that just ain’t gonna cut it. So what do I do? Go paleo? That seems alright. What about Whole 30? Someone told me charcoal is really good for you? *rolls eyes/bangs head against wall*

One fail-safe way to start is with processed foods, kick them to the curb and you can get back on track. That, along with a few small changes, meant I could easily get on top of things, especially when eating at home. I cut down on high carb, high sugar foods straight away (heck, I know I’ll never kick that burger habit completely, and honestly who would want that? Not me) and it’s been pretty easy for me to make everything from scratch.

One area I’ve struggled with over the years, as supportive as Matt and my friends are, is that personally I need something more than that to keep me on track and answer the myriad of questions that pop up. On my own it just feels more difficult. Spinach versus kale? Peanut butter versus almond? Fuck it, I’ll have a brownie. You know the stuff. So I started talking to Laura. She’s a nutritionist. She first came on my radar when her then-blog, Peaches and Greens, was nominated with mine in the Blog North awards last year. She’s plant-based, which – as I understand it – is basically vegan without the stigma attached. I started talking to her and she cleared a lot of things up for me. I’ve been meeting with her every few weeks, keeping a food diary when I remember and packing as much veg into my meals as humanly possible. To be quite honest, it’s helped massively in keeping me on track.

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Now, I’m only a month or so in, but I’m already seeing a difference. I’ve ditched simple carbs for the most part and quite a lot of meat and dairy – around 70% of my meals every week have been meat-free – and that’s lead to a decrease in my daily insulin of around 30% so far. Oh, and I’ve given up booze, fish and caffeine. That’s not totally necessary, but it helps with the whole conception/pregnancy thing. I also feel quite a lot more energetic, I don’t get that afternoon slump at my desk, I’ve lost the post-meal discomfort I used to get during the evenings and my skin looks better than it has in ages. I’m hoping I can maintain the way I’m eating at the moment (peppered with one or two cheat-style meals a week, naturally) and that’ll get me to where I want to be (mum to a healthy, normal sized bambino). 

If you’re interested, here are my starting tips for eating better for health and wellness reasons aka not weight-loss:

  • You can’t do it all at once When I first committed to making a change, I was like “Yes. This is it. I’m in this. All kale all of the time”. Turns out, that’s probably not a helpful attitude. Six days in, I looked up from my plate of fish and chips and thought “Oh bugger, I’ve failed”. It’s great to get excited, but if you’re anything like me you’ll need to reign that in to keep things up. If your diet currently consists of quite a lot of everything, the way mine did, deal with one thing at a time. Burn out will sneak up on you, and there’s no point in beating yourself up. Just take things easy and don’t expect results in seconds.
  • Increase the good stuff before you cut out the bad When Laura helped me work out what I was aiming for, she put it in a really interesting way. I was aiming to reduce the amount of “anti-nutrients” in my diet and replace them with nutrient-rich foods instead. I thought about this kind of how I think about skincare. I don’t just want to clean my skin at the end of the day, right? I want to nourish it. So don’t just stop eating things, silly! Just make them better things. Nowadays I’m filling up on grains, nuts and seeds. I’m not fixated on calories, that’s not what this is about after all, I’m all about the nutritional value and taste (cashew butter, I’m looking at you). 
  • You honestly won’t be hungry As above. My tendency to view this as a “diet” has quickly disappeared. My plates are always full and I’m never hungry after I eat. That’s what I’ve always feared about “low carb” and it just isn’t true – for me, it’s all about variety. Give me a plate of leaves and I’m miserable – gimme a selection of loads of stuff, however healthy, and I’m into it.
  • Eat the rainbow Plates that look prettier are the ones you’ll want to eat, trust me. I try to make my meals as colourful as possible – red peppers, sweetcorn, beetroot, loads of greens etc to keep my enthusiasm up. No one wants to eat a plate of muddy-green and beige.
  • Vegans have good treats When I’m on the run, I generally try to look for vegan snacks, just because it’s easier to understand the ingredients list – there are generally fewer of them – and a lot the time they’re also refined sugar and gluten free too (bonus!). I’m totally into Bounce Balls @bounceballsUK and Ombars @OmbarChocolate, as well as the coconut mylks by @Rebel_Kitchen

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One of the things I was super quick to realise, is that food that’s good for you actually does taste quite nice. You can also get food that’s good for you when you’re out and about (!!) you just have to know the best places to go. If you live in Leeds, check out Laura’s Feel Good Guide for tips and discounts. I think I kind of already knew that, because I’m lucky to like a lot of different foods, so with lots of variation and a little expertise in the kitchen I’ve been making meals which I’m pretty into without any trouble at all. Last night’s tea (and today’s lunch) for example:

Homemade Falafel with Cucumber & Mint Salad
Serves 4
Warming, spicy bites that are quick, veggie, packed with protein and basically guilt free.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
20 min
Total Time
30 min
For the falafel
  1. 4 small onions
  2. 8 garlic cloves
  3. 2 tins chickpeas
  4. 1 handful fresh parsley
  5. 2 handfuls fresh coriander
  6. 2 tsp sea salt
  7. 1 tsp mild chili powder
  8. 3 tsp cumin seeds
  9. 2 tsp baking powder
  10. ½ cup gluten-free wholemeal flour
  11. 2 cups vegetable oil, for frying
For the cucumber salad
  1. ½ cucumber
  2. 1 handful fresh mint
  3. 1 green rocket chilli
  4. ½ tsp sea salt
  5. Squeeze of half a lemon
  6. 2 tsp white wine vinegar
Instructions
  1. Skin and halve the onions and garlic cloves and pop them in your food processor. Pulse them until they're roughly chopped.
  2. Add the oil to a large, heavy bottomed pan and heat it over a medium heat.
  3. Add the rest of the falafel ingredients to the processor and pulse to the consistency you like - I like mine pretty smooth but if chunky's your thing - work it.
  4. When the oil is hot enough (see notes), use an ice-cream scoop to drop balls of the mix into the pan. You'll hear sizzles when it hits the pan. Don't crowd the pan - I fried no more than four at a time - it's time consuming, but worth it.
  5. Leave the falafel to fry for 3 minutes or until a nice, golden brown crust has formed, but keep busy - while the pan is sizzling, dice your cucumber into 1cm-ish pieces and chop your chilli. Transfer to a bowl and add your fresh mint, roughly chopped.
  6. It's probably time to flip your falafel! This should be easy, Use a spatula or slotted spoon to turn those babies over. Fry for another two minutes, until golden brown, and then transfer to a tea towel or kitchen paper to drain. Wait a few seconds for the oil to come back up to temp, and crack on with the next lot!
  7. The next break you get add the salt, lemon juice and vinegar to the cucumber salad. Mix well. To plate, sprinkle that stuff on a bed of hummus and top with delicious, warm falafel. Serve with pitta or salad for ultimate satisfaction.
Notes
  1. To test my oil temperature I use a wooden chopstick. When you think the oil might be hot enough, dip the tip of your chopstick into the pan. If tiny bubbles form around the outside, you're on the money!
Adapted from Just a Taste
Adapted from Just a Taste
whip until fluffy http://whipuntilfluffy.com/
 These falafels are seriously delicious and they make for such a filling, satisfying tea that weirdly feels very naughty even though it’s basically all good for you. Try ’em, you won’t regret it.

So that’s where I am right now. No doubt it’s easier to eat better in the summer, especially with all this uncharacteristic weather we’re having, but I’m hoping that with planning, research and a little effort I’ll be able to slide on through to Autumn without much trouble. I’m going to try to post here more often, not just about this, but with a variety of recipes, reviews and much more besides. If you’re interested in following my journey a little more closely, you can follow me on Twitter over @whipuntilfluffy and on Pinterest too, where I basically spend all my time these days.

Happy weekend!

Beetroot & Carrot Gyoza

Beetroot and Carrot Gyoza

Every now and then I like to try my hand at something a bit fancy. I first made gyoza about three years ago, when I was still in my old flat. I was new to Leeds and Matt used to work long shifts, so I’d spend my evenings in the kitchen, trying new things. I covered all sorts of stuff, from Thai fishcakes to chicken kievs. Because I had time, I made things you might usually buy ready-made, just to teach myself a few techniques – the more complicated (and far from essential) stuff you can only really attempt if you’ve got hours on your side.

Crimping gyoza is the kind of long job that becomes weirdly therapeutic. The first few are fiddly, but after a bit you settle into a system and before you know it you’ve got a whole tray crimped and ready to steam. I’m not even going to attempt to explain to you how to do it, so have a look at this video to guide you – I owe it everything. Last night, I had plenty of mix, so I made fifty. After sharing 16 yesterday and demolishing six today alone, 28 are now nestling between layers of greaseproof paper in my freezer to steam or fry at a later date. They’ll last quite happily in there for about three months – tidily achieving one of the 5 Steps to a Happier Kitchen Life I wrote about last week. Stock that freezer, readers!

Beetroot and Carrot Gyoza

Beetroot and Carrot Gyoza

Beetroot and Carrot Gyoza

Believe it or not, this was one of those “let’s see what we have in the fridge” meals. I use my local asian supermarket pretty well – stocking up on sauces, vinegars and spices regularly. It’s cheap, and you can find more exciting things than you might see browsing the shelves at Tesco Express. I usually have a store of gyoza wrappers hanging around. I buy them frozen for about £1.75 a packet, and each one contains about 60 skins. While I love stuffing them with minced pork or shredded duck, these babies are particularly cost effective when you rifle through your crisper drawer to see what’s left.

On Saturday afternoon, during a search of the fridge and cupboard, I found a shrivelling piece of ginger, a wrinkled red chilli, an onion, a corn on the cob, one carrot left in the bottom of the packet, some sorry-looking spring onions and three cooked beetroots that had been stewing in a tupperware since Christmas. Grated up and mixed together, this veg that might’ve just as easily ended up in bin came together as fragrant, spicy bites which don’t just fill a hole, but genuinely impress whoever’s eating them. I added a squeeze of (again, shrivelled) lime, a dash of soy and a slug of rice vinegar to help, too.

Beetroot and Carrot Gyoza

So are we steaming or are we frying? Well, both of course! These guys get their underside fried til golden, then we add water to the pan to steam them through – potsticker style. This way, you get crunch and chew. It’s the best. What I especially love about these is that the beetroot starts to bleed through the skin so they turn pink. Simple pleasures, eh?

Beetroot & Carrot Gyoza
Yields 50
Cheap, healthy bites that'll seriously impress your guests
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Prep Time
1 hr
Cook Time
10 min
Prep Time
1 hr
Cook Time
10 min
For the Gyoza
  1. 3 Cooked Beetroot
  2. 1 Carrot
  3. 1 Corn on the Cob (or half a small tin)
  4. 1 Red Chilli
  5. 1 Knob of Ginger
  6. 5 Garlic Cloves
  7. A Sprig of Coriander
  8. 1 Onion
  9. 3 Spring Onions
  10. 1 tsp Light Soy Sauce
  11. 1 tsp Rice Wine Vinegar
  12. Juice of Half a Lime
  13. 1 Pack of Gyoza Skins
For the Dipping Sauce
  1. 60ml Light Soy Sauce
  2. 60ml Rice Wine Vinegar
  3. ½ tsp Dried Chilli Flakes
  4. Chopped Spring Onion to Garnish
Instructions
  1. If using a food processor, throw in your peeled garlic cloves, peeled ginger, roughly chopped red chilli, halved onion and trimmed spring onions. Pulse for 10 to 20 seconds until the mix is chopped finely. If you don't have a processor, either dice all ingredients as finely as possible or grind in a pestle and mortar until the correct consistency is reached.
  2. Remove the mix from the processor and transfer into a frying pan. Add a slug of vegetable oil and fry, keeping the mix moving, for four-five minutes to soften the onions and bring out the flavours.
  3. Back in the food processor (don't panic - there's no need to clean it), pulse your sweetcorn, carrot and beetroot until it looks as though it's been grated - you want to keep the texture chunkier so it has a bit of bite to it. When finished, transfer to a bowl with the ginger and onion mix and combine.
  4. Add your soy sauce, vinegar and the juice of half a lime to the mix and stir through. Set aside.
  5. Pour a little water into a glass or ramekin and set it next to your bowl of mix on a chopping board. With a gyoza skin in one hand, spoon around a teaspoon of the mix into the centre.
  6. Dip your finger into the water and trace it around the edge of the skin and fold the skin in half, the bottom up to the meet the top, being careful not to seal it. Use your fingers to create folds in the front flap of the skin, crimping around 5 times per gyoza. For reference - have a look at the video mentioned earlier in this post, a visual speaks a thousand words, after all.
  7. Repeat, getting into a nice rhythm, until all your skins are used. You'll probably have a little mix leftover. Put a frying pan on a medium heat, and add a good slug of vegetable oil to the bottom.
  8. When the pan is hot, place your a few gyoza into the pan, so their folds point straight up. This flat bottom will get nice and browned as they fry. I can fit around 12 in my large frying pan, but you can pack them in quite tightly if necessary. Keep an eye on them and after 3-4 minutes, the bottoms should turn a golden brown colour.
  9. When the frying stage is complete, get around 65ml (that's roughly a quarter cup) of water from the tap and throw it into the pan, still on the heat. Be sure of yourself, and as soon as the water hits, cover the pan (with anything - if it doesn't have a lid, use a plate or a baking sheet!) and allow the gyoza to steam for 4-5 minutes, or until the water is gone.
  10. As the gyoza steam, pour equal parts light soy and rice wine vinegar into a small dish. Sprinkle with dried chilli flakes and drop in some chopped spring onion. Take to the table.
  11. When the water is gone, turn off the heat and transfer your gyoza to a dish. Take them to the table with pride! Alternatively, keep your gyoza in a a simmering oven - about 80ºC - while you fry and steam your second batch.
whip until fluffy http://whipuntilfluffy.com/
Beetroot and Carrot Gyoza

Have you ever made gyoza? If so, let’s compare notes! If not, what’s stopping you? Next time, I’m thinking I could experiment and stuff my skins with confit duck. I think I’ll deep fry them too, and serve with a plum sauce. I love these ideas from Serious Eats – maybe I’ll add a fig or two?

The Fruit Stall, Chapel Allerton

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It’s probably become quite clear to people who know me, follow me on Twitter, see me about, that I love where I live. I mean, I really do. I’m a relative newcomer to suburban life, my move out of the city centre coincided with my wedding last September, but man have I adapted well. I’m fully into it. The neighbours, the local independent scene, my single piccolo at 9am every morning, served to me by my friendly neighbourhood barista. I’m one of those people now. Those inner city flats, they’re just so impersonal, aren’t they?! You can’t get asparagus fresh from the ground down there, can you! Those people just don’t understand what they’re missing. </patronising> Joking aside, I know you can shop independently in the city centre, but no one makes it easy for you. What I love about being in Chapel Allerton is that there are lovely, local people running lovely, local businesses everywhere. It’s great!

Anyway, I’m here to tell you about The Fruit Stall. It’s funny because it’s a shop, not a stall. But it was a stall. In the 18 months leading up to the opening in March, Richard set up his fruit and veg on Fridays and Saturdays under a canvas umbrella outside Yorkshire Bank on Stainbeck Lane. Now they have permanent premises in a unit just round the corner on Harrogate Rd, next to Neil the Butcher, so they can trade for longer hours and from a Wednesday through to Saturday.

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I’ve talked on the blog before about how, as I’ve got older, eating locally and seasonally has become much more important to me, so when I heard The Fruit Stall was expanding, I got pretty excited. It seemed like just the antidote the people of Chapel A needed, shortly after the announcement that a new Morrisons superstore was on it’s way. I mean, I’m not judging, I’m realistic: it’s easy to nip into the supermarket on your way home from work – they’re open late and they’re cheap. But the thing is, I believe that supermarkets have us missing out on the way things are supposed to be eaten and enjoyed. Personally, I don’t want to eat strawberries in February and asparagus in December. The supermarket confuses me. Everything is available all the time – and there’s a trade-off for that. Taste.  

That’s what I love about having The Fruit Stall so close to home. They stock what’s fresh. It’s out of the ground that morning, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. Come September, those peaches are no where to be found and you just have to live with it until next June. Thing is though, there’s a silver lining: in return, you get plums. Modern day convenience, maybe not – but the taste comes back. Things are ripe, juicy. Shiny and green. You get what’s there at its very best, and I’m really into that.

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Way back in January I wrote about my philosophy on How to Eat Well. In that post, I explained that the way I operate is to buy little and often, what’s fresh and looks good. A little of what I fancy when I fancy it, if you will. It’s a very Nigel Slater way to be and it suits us in the Dix household. Annoyingly, it’s not the cheapest way to do things, and in some way it contradicts some of what we spoke about last week in Meal Planning. Buying day to day can be more expensive than planning ahead, but buying from independents can help keep that cost down. While a lot of local products are charged at a premium, what they sell at The Fruit Stall is amazing value for money. I rarely spend more than £3 a pop, and I still seem to have fresh fruit, veg and flowers at home for days. Packaged produce at the supermarket may have a longer shelf life, but the stuff grown around the corner is often bigger, rounder, brighter. All together, much more appealing.

I guess the purpose of this post is much the same as the purpose of my post on The Greedy Pig from a few weeks ago. I’m surrounded by a lot of people who have no qualms waxing lyrical about the sad state of local economy, but it’s those same people I see walking home with flame-orange Sainsbury’s bags every night. I’m not trying to vilify anyone, I don’t want to preach – after all, we all do it. I’m just here to slowly prod you, slowly coax you into visiting your local butcher, greengrocer, coffee shop, cafe, family-run restaurant. My generation is one of the first to become truly consumer driven – favouring cheap prices and bright, white warehouses over small spaces shrouded in passion, effort and history. Thankfully, there’s started to be a little backlash. If we make it a part of our routine to keep good, quality establishments in business, if we shake off that need to be anonymous as we browse but instead say hello as we hand over the cash, it should start to feel like second nature. Don’t you think?

/rant.  What do you think? Do you shop locally or do you see it as out of your price range right now?

The Fruit Stall 138 Harrogate Road, Chapel Allerton, Leeds LS7 4NZ | @TheFruitStall

Yorkshire Day with Le Creuset: Spanish Spiced Chicken with Yorkshire Salami

Yorkshire Day Spanish Spiced Chicken

Hello again! Today I’m back with the main course from my Yorkshire Day menu, served up for my cookery demonstration at the Le Creuset store in the Victoria Quarter. For the starter recipe, check out Monday’s post: Courgette Risotto.

The thinking behind this dish, is that I wanted to again show the versatility of my Le Creuset 30cm casserole dish. I’ve spoken so much about this dish since I bought it, and it really is such a useful item to have in your kitchen. It’ll go from the hob, into the oven and, from there, straight to the table. And it’s roomy enough to cook for a whole family. One pot chicken dishes are two a penny in our house, they’re an easy tea option for either a weeknight, or to feed friends. The same basic recipe can be adapted with loads of different spices and extras to keep things different. In February, I made a similar thing with One Pot Spiced Chicken with Smashed Squash, Sweet Potato and Charred Cauliflower.

Yorkshire Day Spanish Spiced Chicken Yorkshire Day Spanish Spiced Chicken

This time, as I was cooking on show and I had a limited timescale, I chose the simple spice combination of cumin seeds and paprika. These spices lend themselves well to a slow, warming heat but nothing too eye-watering. They give the dish character without blowing anyone’ s head off. This type of dish will pretty much take as many ingredients as you fancy. You can pack it with all different types of veg and carbs. It works well with jerk seasoning, or cajun spices, rice and black eyed peas – Caribbean style, or with sausage, cider and butter beans for something more mild.

The local element of this dish (although I bought the veg locally also), is the salami. It turns out Yorkshire is somewhat of a hotspot for cured meats. While you can get official Yorkshire Chorizo, made on Church End Farm in Skipton, which I’ve used before, I went for a salami cured at The Reliance – a pub on the outskirts of Leeds town centre which I mentioned in my Where to Eat in Leeds post. Dried and cured on site, they offer two flavours: Fennel and Chilli & Black Pepper. I referred to this as chorizo throughout my demonstration, which it isn’t (whoops), but the salami works in very much the same way – with the same texture, just less spice. Salami lets out oil, much in the same way as chorizo does, but a little less, and with a much meatier flavour. If I were making this dish with supermarket ingredients, I’d use chorizo and use slightly less paprika in my spice mix, as supermarket chorizo contains more fat and therefore lets out much more spiced oil.

Yorkshire Day Spanish Spiced Chicken Yorkshire Day Spanish Spiced Chicken

The biggest thing to be aware of when you’re cooking this dish is texture. Each element needs a bit of special treatment to keep the textures as they should be. For the chicken, crispy skin is a must. For the salami, the outside needs caramelising to save things getting too chewy. Potatoes must be cooked through and the green beans must be crunchy. That’s why, the browning process, though it seems time consuming, is important. Be patient, it doesn’t add much time on and the dish will taste so much better.

Spanish Spiced Chicken with Yorkshire Salami (makes enough for 4 sharing)

5 Shallots or 1 Large/2 Small Onions
2 Garlic Cloves
2 Sprigs of Thyme
2 tbsp Smoked Paprika
2 tbsp Cumin Seeds, crushed
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Black Pepper
1 tsp Olive Oil
2 tbsp White Wine Vinegar
1 Whole Chicken, jointed or 4 thighs & 4 legs skin-on
300g Salami or Chorizo
2 Large Handfuls of Jersey Royal Potatoes
250g Trimmed Green Beans
500g Chicken Stock

1. Chop the salami into chunks and put it into a dry pan. Place on a medium heat and leave for five minutes, flipping the pieces over once to get a nice caramelisation on each side. Remove from the pan and set aside.

2. Add your chicken pieces, skin side down into the pan with the oil from the salami. Again, leave for five minutes to brown. Only the skin side needs to be browned. Don’t worry about the chicken being pink on the inside, we’re just colouring it, not cooking it through. When the skin turns a golden brown, remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.

3. For this kind of dish, I like to chop my onions a little chunkier than usual. Thicker onion slices will add another texture element to the dish. Chop or slice your onions roughly and place them in the pan (now complete with salami and chicken juices) on a low heat. Sweat them down for five minutes until they are just starting to soften and add finely chopped garlic and thyme leaves. Cook for another five minutes.

4. In a small bowl, mix the paprika, cumin seeds (crush or finely chop these before), salt and pepper together and add your olive oil. Mix to turn it into a paste. Transfer this paste to the pan and combine with onions. When the spices are mixed in and the onions are simmering, pour in the white wine vinegar. This bit of liquid serves to deglaze the pan. Scrape your spatula along the bottom to make sure you catch all those delicious brown parts, adding flavour to what will become the sauce and reducing it down into a concentrated liquor. You can do this with booze too, a glass of white wine would do, or staying with the Spanish theme, a sherry. At a push, you can use a little splash of stock to do this.

5. When most of the liquid has disappeared, slice your new potatoes lengthways and place them flesh side down into your pan, making sure they make contact with the bottom. Direct contact with the surface of the pan will build up a bit of a crust, and cutting the potatoes lengthways means they’ll cook through quicker – meaning there’s no need to par-boil them.

6. Begin to layer up the browned salami and then the chicken on top of that, making sure the skin is facing up. Pour stock into the pan so it covers the potatoes. Stop there, as any liquid covering the chicken will prevent it from browning and going crispy in the heat of the oven. Let it simmer on the hob for five minutes.

7. Place into a oven preheated to 180ºc on the middle shelf. Place the lid on but slightly cocked, to let a little bit of steam out. Prep your beans and after 30 minutes, remove the lid and scatter the beans over. Cook for a further 25-30 minutes and transfer straight to the table. Serve out of the pan, family style.

With this type of recipe, you don’t need to worry too much about over or under cooking the chicken. After around 40 mins the chicken will be moist and perfectly cooked through. A little extra time won’t make the meat lose its tenderness because of the liquid in the pot. Don’t be scared, it’ll be delicious – in life, there are plenty of things to be precise about, but this dish isn’t one of them!

Yorkshire Day Spanish Spiced Chicken Yorkshire Day Spanish Spiced Chicken

Because the only pan and dish needed for this recipe is the 30cm casserole, I’m going to use this opportunity to talk about some of the other Le Creuset items I used during my cooking demo – things you wouldn’t necessarily think of when it comes to Le Creuset. First up, the Cool Tools. I have a few of these in my kitchen and I can’t tell you how useful they are. They’re pretty straight forward really, a heat proof mat that will protect your work surfaces and dining table even if your pot comes straight from a scorching oven. They’re reliable, they look goo and they don’t retain heat, so you won’t burn yourself. The Round Cool Tool is just £7 and the perfect companion for the 30cm Casserole, plus you can coordinate them with your cookware!

Next up, the Chef’s Apron (£30) and Double Oven Gloves (£19). Now, I know that these aren’t the kind of things that normally make you excited to spend your money, but make an investment in them and they’ll become a solid part of your kitchen kit. Thick, reliable and good quality, spending the extra cash beats buying multiples in the supermarket and burning your hands when they start to wear out. I don’t own either of these yet, but I plan on buying both soon. The apron is comfortable to wear, despite it’s thick material, the double waistbands are flattering and there are four (FOUR!) pockets, for you know, storing stuff. Available in Cerise, Cassis, Cream, Black, Coastal Blue and Nutmeg.

Yorkshire Day Spanish Spiced Chicken

On Friday, I’m back with the final course of my Yorkshire Day menu. It’s a staple recipe you can adapt to suit your needs, perfect for summer, with little unusual extra too: Yorkshire Tea Ice Cream with Rhubarb Pickle. See you soon!

Disclaimer: I’m working as Le Creuset Leeds’ blogger ambassador. As laid out in this post, I adore the brand and have plunged much of my hard earned cash into building my collection, long before Whip Until Fluffy was even a twinkle in my eye. In exchange for cooking for some bloggers on Yorkshire Day, the brand offered me a handsome discount on future purchases (and a fantastic experience!) – but no gifts or payments were exchanged for this, or any other, post.

Yorkshire Day with Le Creuset: Courgette Risotto

Courgette Risotto

A few weeks back, I designed and cooked a Yorkshire Day menu for a demonstration at the Le Creuset store in Leeds Victoria Quarter. Today, I’m sharing the recipe for the starter: Courgette Risotto! This was the first cookery demonstration I’ve done, and I was lucky enough to have the plush surroundings of the luxury French cookware brand we all know I’m obsessed with. It was nerve racking, and not something I’d ever seen myself doing, but could I turn down such a great opportunity? No way. Le Creuset coached me every step of the way, and luckily, there were a lovely bunch of ladies in attendance. In fact, I couldn’t have asked for a better audience – and I actually enjoyed it, having previously thought I’d burn at least 10 tea towels, all of my fingers and, just possibly, the whole place down. Turns out I’m one step closer to basically being Rachel Khoo (no?… ok maybe not).

Let’s talk about the food. I’m one of those people who finds cooking therapeutic. Which I guess is obvious, otherwise I wouldn’t do it so much. Risotto, however, is probably the most therapeutic dish to make, with a slow bubble and methodical stir that will calm worries and soothe stress. It’s also great to make for a group – one pot means little washing up and it can bubble away while you stand by with your spatula looking pretty. It can be served as a starter or, in larger portions, as a main. It’s versatile, innit. That’s part of the reason I chose it as my first dish to make in front of a room of people. And I’m glad I did – it went down pretty well, and I somehow managed to channel a bit of its laid back Italian charm.

Yorkshire Courgette Risotto

It’s natural to think of risotto as a winter dish. But personally, I see it as the perfect vehicle for the fresh, zingy flavours of summer. Served in small portions, a risotto really doesn’t have to be heavy, which is why I chose it as a starter for my Yorkshire Day menu. Forget the traditional pairings of meaty mushrooms and chunky root veg – just stick with the seasonal veg and herbs of the warmer months and you’ll be reet. Another thing I don’t agree with: that risotto is a labour of love. That phrase is so loaded. Yes, it needs your attention, but it doesn’t have to take hours. In fact, using the 30cm shallow casserole I’m so prone to banging on about, it takes little over half an hour. The method is easy once you know how, and pretty soon you’ll be whipping these bad boys up like it’s second nature.

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As with everything great, it starts with onions. You can use small onions, or even shallots. Shallots will give you a slightly sweeter flavour that will work well with the more delicate citrus notes in this recipe. Onions and shallots, like risotto, need some lovin’.  Dice them small and soften them over a low heat with a little oil and a little butter, for anything up to 30 minutes. They’ll be sweet, soft and translucent. Add garlic and thyme and you have a perfect base. Next up is the rice. It’s deceiving. Just a cup of the dried stuff will feed six people starter sized portions and probably leave you some left-overs. So many times I’ve just poured Arborio rice into the pan willy-nilly, but be warned: that stuff expands. Add a cup of your rice to the pan and move it around. You want to coat each grain in the oil, get it all up in those juicy onions. Cook it out for around five minutes, stirring continually, and you’ll notice it starts to go translucent around the edges. At that point, you’re ready to add your wine.

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The wine I used for the Yorkshire Day risotto was a bit special. Made in Leventhorpe, the dry white is ideal for this dish because the acidity is a great balancing flavour paired with the creaminess of the rice and cheese. Starting with a large glass and reducing it down until almost gone, it’ll deglaze the pan, soak up all the flavour from the onions and the taste of the wine lingers on the rice while the alcohol cooks off. The wine, along with the courgettes and lemon, really go a long way to keeping this dish light and summery, despite the robust base. If you don’t want to use alcohol in your cooking then you can deglaze the pan with white wine vinegar, which will also add some acidity. In a pinch, you can even use stock.

Alongside the wine, the real star of the show here is the Ribblesdale Goats Cheese. Usually a risotto is made with Parmesan, a hard Italian cheese I’m sure we’re all familiar with. I wanted to see if, in the spirit of Yorkshire Day, I could get a local cheese in there instead. As always, when I’ve got a cheese-based query (and trust me, they crop up a lot) I head straight to my local cheesemonger, the lovely George & Joseph I’m Chapel Allerton. They were more than happy to help me and when I requested a Yorkshire equivalent to Parmesan, they suggested Ribblesdale Goats Cheese. A hard cheese, it still has a rich, creamy texture, but it grated perfectly into the risotto, not overpowering the way a softer cheese might be, but leaving behind a residual flavour and saltiness slightly more interesting than your typical Parmesan.

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When plating up I topped each portion with ribbons of fresh courgette and crushed, toasted pine nuts. Not only does it make for a very pretty finish, but it also adds a touch of freshness and a much needed bit of crunch to an otherwise soft, rich dish.

Yorkshire Day Courgette Risotto with Leventhorpe Wine & Ribblesdale Goats Cheese
(makes enough for six starter portions or three mains)

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30-40 minutes

5 shallots or 1 large/2 small onion
2 garlic cloves
3 sprigs of thyme
Approx 130g Arborio Rice
1 large glass of dry white wine
750ml of chicken stock (the best quality you can afford)
2 large/4 small courgettes
Approx 150g (a large handful) of Ribblesdale Goats Cheese, grated
2 heaped tbsps of pine nuts
½ a fresh lemon

1. Dice your shallots and soften over a low heat with a small nob of butter and a splash of oil. After ten minutes, add crushed garlic and thyme leaves, roughly chopped. Soften for another five minutes until translucent. In another frying pan, pour in the pine nuts. Set over a high heat and keep an eye on them.

2. Add your rice to the pan and stir well to coat each grain with oil. Leave to cook for 3-4 minutes – when ready, the grains will turn translucent around the edges. At the same time, take the pine nuts off the heat and set aside.

3. Turn up the heat and immediately pour in the white wine. Leave to simmer and reduce by more than half, leaving just a tablespoon or two of liquid in the pan.

4. Add your first ladle of stock. Try to resist the urge to keep stirring. A little movement is fine, but messing with your rice constantly will make it more starchy, leaving it with a gloopier texture. When the risotto is ready, you’ll start to see bubbles forming on the surface of the rice. When you move the rice around in the pan, it should stay in the same place, not spreading to the drier parts of the pan.

5. Repeat this process, tasting the rice after each ladle of stock. Use a y-peeler to create ribbons for the top of dish, five to eight should be about right. Grate the rest of your courgette. The rice should take around five ladles worth of stock – you want it to be soft on the outside with a slight bite left at the centre. Tasting after each ladleful will help you get used to how your risotto should be, so you don’t miss that vital point when it’s at its most perfect.

6. After the final ladle, your risotto should be able to stand on its own. If you piled it up, it shouldn’t start to spread to the sides of your plate, but maintain its form. If it’s too wet, keep it on the heat for a bit longer. Chuck in your courgette and turn the heat down to low. Add the grated cheese and stir through. Turn off the heat and let it melt for a few minutes in the pan.

7. It’s unlikely you’ll need to add salt to the risotto because the cheese, especially if you’re using Parmesan in place of goats cheese, has a high salt content as well as the stock. Serve up, top with courgette ribbons and toasted pine nuts. To finish, I drizzled over a little Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil with Lemon, but if that’s not within your reach, try a squeeze of fresh lemon juice instead – mmm zingy! Enjoy!

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I served up my portions of risotto to the girls in the Le Creuset Tapas Dishes, part of the World Cuisine collection. I love these babies and they’re probably going to end up as my next purchase. Perfect for sharing style dishes stretching across all cuisines. Available in Volcanic (pictured), Cerise and Satin Black for £14 each.

I’ll be back on Wednesday with the simple chicken dish I made for the main on Yorkshire Day, but in the mean time, check out posts from some of the lovely attendees: Kat Got the Cream and Life by LDE – gorgeous ladies who just may have caught the Le Creuset bug.

Disclaimer: I’m working as Le Creuset Leeds’ blogger ambassador. As laid out in this post, I adore the brand and have plunged much of my hard earned cash into building my collection, long before Whip Until Fluffy was even a twinkle in my eye. In exchange for cooking for some bloggers on Yorkshire Day, the brand offered me a handsome discount on future purchases (and a fantastic experience!) – but no gifts or payments were exchanged for this, or any other, post.

Courgette & Yogurt Loaves: a Recipe for The Yogurt Council

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A few weeks ago, something quite exciting happened. I won a competition! Love Yogurt were looking for an official “Yogurt Stylist” to work with them on a few recipes as part of Yogurt Week. It was easy to enter – just upload a pic of your favourite recipe including yogurt for a chance to win. I did that, and after being shortlisted due to my Instagram likes (big thanks to all of you for following and liking my pictures – I really appreciate it), my shot was plucked from the other nine finalists by a couple of expert judges: Jo Sweetman, top nutritionist and advisor to many of the UK’s biggest food brands, and Karen Burns-Booth – food writer, blogger, recipe developer and food stylist extrordinaire who runs Lavender and Lovage.

I like courgette bread. I’ve been making it a lot over the past year or so, so my recipe for the competition was easy to come up with. It’s a much more nutritious way to consume baked goods than a sandwich loaf or a cupcake, it tastes really good, and the vegetable content means it stays moist too. I’ve tried it lots of different ways, but this recipe is the one I’ve settled on. The pecans and sunflower seeds give it an extra bit of bite and the spices provide a subtle warmth. In baking, I think yogurt really comes into its own. I use it a lot in place of buttermilk in recipes – since that isn’t easily obtainable here in the UK. Yogurt adds a tangy freshness and makes for a really soft, light crumb. What I like most about these loaves is the way they rise – giving you that perfect, golden dome bakers everywhere long for.

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The image above is the competition winner. I chose to keep things simple and according to feedback, that’s why the judges chose me. They liked that the recipe was clear and achievable for even novice bakers, and that my photos were styled in a clean and honest way. The recipe is simple – completed in little over 30 minutes, and the loaves will last for around five days in a sealed container.

Courgette & Yogurt Loaves (makes 6 small loaves)

nb. If you don’t have small loaf tins you can use one large loaf tin and enjoy in slices, or you can split the mix into 12 and use a muffin tin for smaller, snackable bites.

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

120g plain flour
120g wholemeal flour
140g courgette, grated
2 large eggs
125ml natural yoghurt
100ml vegetable oil
30g pecans, chopped
20g sunflower seeds
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C.

2. Beat the eggs in a large bowl, together with the vegetable oil, yogurt and vanilla.

3. Drop in the grated courgette and set aside.

4. In another large bowl, combine all dry ingredients except the pecans and sunflower 
seeds.

5. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture about a quarter at a time until a batter forms.

6. Fold in the chopped pecans and sunflower seeds.

7. Grease your loaf tins and divide the batter between them.

8. Place in the oven and bake for 18-22 minutes, until the loaves are golden brown.

9. Leave to cool and enjoy plain or spread with butter.

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I’m pretty chuffed with my win. I’ve been putting a lot of work into my styling and photography over the past few months – trying to post quality over quantity, with really top notch images. That’s mainly because those are the type of posts I enjoy reading on other blogs. It’s nice to get confirmation that it’s paying off! I’ve had a lot of feedback recently from you guys, telling me that you like my photos and I really appreciate it – thank you. Hopefully I can keep improving.

As for the prizes, I won £1000 prize money (!!) which I intend to plunge right back into the blog. I’ve bought a new 50mm camera lens so I can capture higher quality images, and I’ve invested in some cooking equipment to bring some more diverse recipes to Whip Until Fluffy. Those of you who know me will know that my ambition is to integrate food styling into my day job, so this is a real boost to morale and a very welcome surge of funds. I also won a trip to the South of France to take part in an edible food styling masterclass with Karen of Lavender and Lovage at her home there. I’ve just had the date confirmed and I’m so excited to be going – I can’t wait to pick up new skills, travel and take advantage of a fantastic opportunity to do the thing that I love with someone I can learn a lot from. On top of those prizes, I now hold the title of Official Yogurt Stylist for 2014, which means I am working with The Yogurt Council to come up with more recipes to really show how versatile and tasty yogurt can be.

Want to take a look at my competition? Browse the #YogurtStylist tag on Instagram to see what I was up against – the competition was stiff #humblebrag. Runners up include @me_and_orla who runs the beautiful Me and Orla blog, @kateveggiedesserts who makes amazing cakes and sweet dishes from all kinds of veg at Veggie Desserts, @sylviahappiness who writes at Happiness is Homemade, and @eat_your_veg who caters for the little ones over at Eat Your Veg. All gorgeous entries well deserving of the prize – it’s genuinely such a pleasure for me to be counted side by side with them.

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I’ll be reporting back on my adventures over the summer as well as sharing the links to the recipes that I write for The Yogurt Council, so you can look forward to lots of content from me over the coming months. And in conclusion, thank you. For reading, commenting, liking and sharing. I really appreciate every single person who reads my blog and I value your feedback, so drop me a note down in the comments or over on Twitter @whipuntilfluffy to say hi. Follow The Yogurt Council over at @LoveYogurtUK on Twitter and @LoveYogurtUK on Instagram.

You can now also Like my page over on Facebook if you fancy it – find me at Whip Until Fluffy.

A Low-Carb Italian Feast

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I’ve had a bit of a challenging time at work lately. Over the May bank holiday, I launched my freelance website, CopyStorm. I’ve been busy anyway, working all sorts of hours (and a lot of weekends!) to keep up, but with the new site on top of that, things got a little crazy. Matt was away a few weekends ago, frying up a storm with Fish& on Liverpool Dock, so I was alone in the evenings. During the day I had to work and clearly Saturdays are not the ideal time to be slaving over your laptop, especially when the sun is out. As the afternoon rumbled on I became convinced that I owed it to myself to get a takeaway as a reward. I’d worked so hard after all. You deserve it, said the voice in my head. You need a treat for the weekend. And I nearly did it.

Thing is, sometimes, you deserve a takeaway, if that’s your thing. I am a firm believer that if sweet & sour pork or a battered sausage and chips is the way you give yourself a pat on the back,that’s fine. As a diabetic though, sometimes that’s stupid. Not always. But sometimes. So on this particular weekend, and for no apparent reason, my blood sugars were running the highest they’ve been in a while and despite treatment, they just didn’t want to come down and stay there. I gave myself a stern talking to and I went to the Co-op instead of the chip shop. I bought a courgette and an aubergine, some tomatoes, and I set some minced beef from the freezer to defrost. At first, I was miserable about it, but by the time I served up, I felt pretty smug. Just call me Saint Lil. Careful of my halo now! 

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So, Italian food. It’s not exactly a carb counter’s dream. It’s rich, it’s delicious, and by golly is it mostly made of flour. I had a hankering for bolognese, so I started with that. Matt and I have worked together on what we think is the perfect beefy ragu for almost the entire time we’ve been together. I think, after about four years, we now have it down to a fine art. It needs a bit of time. Eight hours if you have it. If not, four’ll do. It’s a long wait, but it’s worth it. It’s a delight: the perfect, methodical thing to do when you’re stressed, or if you just want to time-out for a while. Prep, throw everything in, and leave it to bubble away. At the finish line you’ll be left with a dark, silky sauce fit for kings. And your house will smell heavenly.

So this recipe is low-carb. To keep my blood sugar levels from unexpected spikes, I decided to skip the pasta. I’d just like to clarify that I don’t find this kind of thing easy. For reference, I’m not on board with “squashetti” or “courgetti”. Cauliflower “rice”? No thank you. With all the respect in the world, ain’t nobody got time for that. Well, at least, I haven’t got time for that. Aubergine slices in place of your carb, though? That’s legit. And it’s easy! The only form of carbohydrate in this dish comes with the béchamel sauce, and if you’re really feeling angelic, you can replace the plain flour with an alternative thickener, and use soya or almond milk in place of your regular cow juice. For me though, one heaped tablespoon of flour and 400ml of semi-skimmed split between six portions is good enough to slip through the net.

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Aubergine Lasagne (makes enough for six portions)

1 Large or 2 Small Aubergines

For the ragu:

2 Onions
2 Celery Stalks
1 Large Carrot
2 Cloves of Garlic
65g Pancetta
400g Beef Mince
100ml Milk
250ml Red Wine
400ml Beef Stock
1 Punnet of Plum Tomatoes (between 250 & 400g)
1 Bay Leaf
1 tsp Nutmeg
2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Black Pepper
Fresh Basil

For the Béchamel sauce:

50g Salted Butter
35g Plain Flour
400ml Milk
1 tsp Nutmeg
1 tsp Salt
40g Parmesan

This is long – stick with me.

1. Approximately 8 hours before you plan on serving, dice the onions, celery and carrot. Place a heavy-bottomed casserole pot on a low heat and add some oil (about 2tbsp if you’re the measuring kind). There’s no need to wait for it to heat up, so just chuck in your onion and cook for around 5 minutes – until it starts to turn translucent. Throw in your celery, then 3 minutes after that, your carrots. Add your garlic too – you can crush it if you fancy, but I can never be bothered to wash up the grinder – so a rough chop will do.

2. After your veg has softened (around 5 minutes), turn your heat up to medium, clear a space in the middle of the pan and add your diced pancetta. The only reason I like to get pan-bottom-on-pancetta-action is that you get a nice golden crust on the edges of the meat. Let the pancetta crisp up and when it’s nearly done, stir it through the veg.

3. Next up is mince, repeat the process – trying to get a bit of surface area contact – until all the pinkness has disappeared. Pour 100ml of milk over your meat – this may seem weird, but it’s one of the secrets to such a rich and unctuous sauce. Let it bubble away with the heat on high until there’s barely anything left. Stir in the bay leaf, nutmeg , salt and pepper.

4. Add your tomatoes, sliced lengthways into 2 halves. Cover with red wine. Repeat the same process you went through with the milk, letting it bubble and reduce by two thirds. It’ll take 5-10 minutes depending on the heat from your hob, gas versus electric etc. If you can’t get fresh tomatoes, add one tin of chopped tomatoes instead. There’s no problem with that, but I think the fresh ones just elevate your sauce slightly – ramping the sweetness up a notch. Put the kettle on.

5. Give the mix a stir while you wait for the kettle to boil. When it’s ready, pour 400ml of water over a beef stock cube in a jug or bowl and whisk quickly to dissolve it. Pour in the stock. Turn the heat as low as it will go and set the lid on your pot at a jaunty angle, leaving a small gap for the steam to escape. Step away and let your bolognese do its thing. Check on it every now and then and give it a stir. Top up with a bit of water if it looks a little dry around the 6 hour mark.

6. When you ragu is done, preheat your oven to 180ºc. Then, melt 50g butter in a saucepan. Add in the 35g flour and stir, to make a roux. The mixture should form a thick, beige paste. Keep it moving over a low heat for a minute or two, and bit by bit pour the milk over. Do this slowly and your sauce should thicken as you stir, leaving you with a consistency that should easily coat the back of a spoon. As the sauce bubbles on the stove top on the lowest heat possible, grate your block of parmesan. Take approximately 75% of it and fold it through your sauce. Stir in the nutmeg and salt (don’t be tempted to add more, parmesan itself has a high salt content) before removing it from the heat and setting aside.

7. Slice the aubergine in approximately 0.5cm rounds. Move quickly so it doesn’t colour. Begin to layer the lasagne, starting with bolognese on the bottom, then a thin layer of béchamel, followed by aubergine slices. Repeat the ragu, béchamel, aubergine layering until you fill your dish. Make sure the top layer is béchamel, and then scatter over the remaining parmesan.

8. Place in the oven for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown on top. Garnish with torn basil leaves.

Deep Fried Courgette with Fresh Mint

While you’re playing the long game, listening to that beauty bubbling on the stove, you’re going to need something to tide you over. I’ve talked on the blog before about my love for Zucco, a restaurant not far from where I live which serves Italian small plates. One of my three regular orders there is the Deep Fried Zucchini with Mint. I thought I’d have a crack at replicating it at home. I’m having a bit of a courgette moment right now. It’s near on my favourite vegetable at this time of year. I can’t get enough!

Deep fried courgette slices with fresh mint (makes enough for two sharing)

nb. there’s an egg in these pics. I started making this recipe, breading the slices with flour, then egg, then flour. It was a little too claggy and thick for me, so I dropped the egg. After I’d made this, I went back to Zucco – they’d seen my tweet about this recipe and told me the secret is to use milk and flour instead – next time!

1 Large Courgette
80g Plain Flour
1 tsp Rock Salt
½ tsp Black Pepper
½ tsp Nutmeg
6 Fresh Mint Leaves

1. In a shallow bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.

2. Slice your courgette. I stuck to approximately the thickness of a 20p piece, you need a little bite or you’ll end up with crisps. Chop each round in half so you have semi-circles.

3. Roll your courgette slices, a handful at a time, in the flour mixture. While you’re doing this, heat about 2 inches of vegetable oil in a heavy bottomed, deep frying pan.

4. When your oil is up to temperature (stick a wooden utensil in – the handle of a wooden spoon, maybe – the oil should bubble gently around the handle) drop in your courgette slices. Be careful not to overcrowd your pan.

5. It should take around 5 minutes for your slices to start browning around the edges. When they’re nicely coloured, remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon and set them on a couple of pieces of kitchen paper. Repeat with the next batch.

6. Dress your slices with a sprinkle of rock salt, pepper and a slug of olive oil. Chop your mint and throw it in. Toss them around for an even covering. Serve warm.

Deep Fried Courgette with Fresh Mint

Aubergine Lasagne

It’s a big meal – but when it comes to carbs, it’s pretty virtuous. I’ll be making this time and again in the future. Happy feasting!

Got any tips and tricks to share about lasagne making, carb-swapping or courgettes? Share them with me in the comments or over on Twitter @whipuntilfluffy.

What to Eat in February

What to Eat in February

Vegetables: brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celeriac, chicory, jerusalem artichoke, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, parsnips, potatoes, shallots, squash, swede, sweet potatoes, truffles (black), turnips.

Fruit: blood oranges, clementines, kiwi fruit, lemons, oranges, passion fruit, pineapple, pomegranate, rhubarb.

Meat & Fish: guinea fowl, partridge, turkey, venison, clams, lemon sole, lobster, mackerel, mussels, oysters.

As I write this, there’s a storm out. When I look up, the grey is clearing, making room for bright blue skies with candy floss clouds, but I still hear the rain sploshing on the windows and the doors banging in the draft. It occurs to me that this kind of sums February up, the last month of Winter. Times are a-changin’, but probably only in small increments for another 28 days, when dull and biting February will buckle to bright and breezy March and spring’s first days allow us to shake off our winter coats and leave them in the cupboard. January may have been bitter, but it’s ok, hope is on the horizon.

For me, February is all about roots. It’s our last chance to make the most of those knobbly, earthy gems before Spring brings greens and we’re all gushing about asparagus and pea pods, before anyone who’s anyone is leaving those muddy, scraggy guys to rest in favour of their prettier relatives. I’ve got a lot of love for those roots, so in February I like to make use of what’s left, think parsnips, turnips, jerusalem artichokes. And of course, that nubby diamond in the rough, celeriac.

For this month’s recipe, I went with what was in stock. Sweet potatoes and a butternut squash, jewel-like against a browned spiced chicken, rubbed in moroccan flavours, topped with charred cauliflower. All in one pot, softening in each other’s juices, speared with fresh rosemary. Killer one pot chicken dishes are usually my husband’s forte. Caribbean, French, North African flavours, he’s mastered them all. This is the stuff winter is made of, for us. Marinated and cooking in it’s own fat, alongside a smidge of lard and a bit of stock, all dryness is banished from the bird and the flesh comes away from the bone like butter. A one pot is easy to put together, saves on washing up and looks as impressive as a roast with a tenth of the effort. Perfect for a lazy February afternoon, when all you really want to do is snuggle under a blanket with your book. Add a tumbler of wine and you’re in for a warming, seasonal treat. Probably a mid-afternoon snooze, too.

What to Eat in February

One Pot Spiced Chicken with Smashed Squash, Sweet Potato and Charred Cauliflower (enough for two)

1 Small Chicken
1 Butternut Squash
2 Medium Sweet Potatoes
Half a Head of Cauliflower
Half a Lemon
Fresh Rosemary to Garnish
30g Lard
Oil for Cooking

For the rub:
2 Tbsp Cumin Seeds
1 Tbsp Smoked Paprika
2 Tsp Caraway Seeds
2 Tsp Dried Chilli Flakes
2 Tsp Cinnamon
2 Tsp Cayenne Pepper
1 Tsp Nutmeg
1 Tsp Salt
1 Tbsp Fresh Rosemary
1 Tbsp Olive Oil

What to Eat in February

If I’m making a one pot chicken dish, I generally find it cheaper to buy a whole chicken and joint it myself. I’m planning to do a post showing you how I do that, but for now, put your trust in Delia. She starts her instructions with “this is nothing to be afraid of” and I wholeheartedly concur. Save your chicken wings and freeze them alongside the carcass, which you should roast off in a hot oven and keep to make stock out of when you have two or three saved up. Whole chickens are very economic, especially if you can save cash with a multi-buy, joint them and freeze the individual pieces for later. You can always buy your chicken ready jointed at the supermarket, no judgement here, and obviously I don’t need to lecture you on the benefits of bone-in, skin-on thighs and legs vs breast fillets, right? Right.

Once you have your chicken pieces, measure out your spices. Here, I find it easiest to use an electric spice grinder, but a pestle and mortar is a good work out and will make you feel like you earned your supper. Alternatively, use the end of a rolling pin on your chopping board, just make do with what you have. When you have a fine mix, add in your oil and mix, you should end up with a thickish, red paste, still relatively dry. Roll your chicken around in it, rub it into all the crevasses. Set aside for later.

What to Eat in February

Preheat your oven to 180ºC. Put a large saucepan full of salted water on to boil. In the meantime, peel and cube your squash. Those buggers can be tough, but don’t let them win. This video from The Shiska in the Kitchen should help, if you need. Next, do the same with your sweet potato. When the water comes to the boil, dunk your veg in and turn down to a simmer. Find yourself an overproof dish big enough to hold all your ingredients. I went with a Le Creuset Shallow Casserole (love of my life) which is 26cm across. Pop in a glug or two of oil, veg or olive, and heat. When the dish is good and hot, place the chicken in. Leave it in there, sizzling, while you drain your vegetables. They should’ve been cooking for around 5 minutes at this point. Cover and set them aside. Brown your chicken in the dish for around 4 minutes on each side. Turn off the hob.

Place your knob of lard into the dish with the chicken. Transfer your root veg into the dish and arrange it around the meat. Scatter over  some fresh rosemary. Chop your cauliflower into little florets and arrange it around the outside edge. Season with salt and pepper, squeeze over the juice of half a lemon and cover. Place inside the oven on the middle shelf. Cook for 30 minutes. When your timer beeps, reach in and remove the lid. Mix things around a bit. If you’re worried things are getting too dry (each bird will release a different amount of fat, after all) you can simply add a cupful of chicken stock. Cook for a further 30 minutes or until the edges of the veg are turning a deep brown. If you’re worried about the chicken, just stick a fork in and if the juices run clear, you’re all good. To serve, mash any large chucks of squash or potato roughly with a fork and sprinkle with more fresh rosemary.

What to Eat in February

Take the dish to the table and tuck in. It’s a fairly filling meal for two, but if you want to flesh it out, add some buttered rolls as a side and you might end up with some chicken leftover for lunch in the week. The spice and richness of this meal pairs well with a red wine, as you may find that a white is delicate for the robust flavours. Personally, I wouldn’t call this a really spicy dish. It doesn’t blow your head off but leaves more of a background warmth instead. If you did want something cooling to cut through it though, a blob of sour cream with a little lemon juice mixed through would do nicely.

Other dishes to eat in February:

Farfalle, Pancetta & Kale from Food&_
Roasted Winter Citrus from Joy the Baker
Celery Root and Cauliflower Puree with Garlic Greens from Gourmande in the Kitchen
Warm Brussel Sprout Salad from A Beautiful Mess
Jerusalem Artichoke and Cheese Gratin from Lavender and Lovage
Butternut Squash and Swiss Chard Ravioli from Eva Kolenko
Pomegranate, Pear & Kale Salad from Chasing Raspberries

Tell me, what are you eating this month? 

Filmore & Union, Leeds

Filmore & Union, Leeds

I can’t lie, health conscious food is not something I usually look for when I’m dining out. Meals out are generally a treat, something I don’t eat at home and, let’s face it, preferably something fried. I know I know, that’s not the right attitude. But sadly, a carb lover never changes her spots. However, being a diabetic, my choices are often limited, so I appreciate that something of a food haven exists for those with dietary requirements, and that a diet-savvy alternative is there for those who want to dine out without fearing the calorie intake.

About two weeks ago I had lunch at Filmore & Union in the Victoria Quarter, Leeds City Centre. It’s kind of an odd spot. A cluster of tables sectioned off in the middle of a shopping centre, albeit a beautiful and upmarket one, the design of the place is modern and rustic. It’s gorgeous but it’s not an obvious lunch choice, especially on such a cold and blustery day in January. Arriving with hands bundled in pockets, I was pleased to see patio heaters belting out waves of warmth, with an army of fluffy throws on the backs of chairs, perfect for covering chilly knees. Obviously this kind of venue will flourish in the summer, but I snuggled up and within 5 minutes I’d already forgotten the draft. The environment was relaxed, some customers sipping on tea, others tucking in for 2 courses. The restaurant manages to be airy, open and light but without being loud. Holding a conversation across a table was easy, unlike a lot of shopping centre eateries, and the presence of other diners and wait staff was unobtrusive.

Filmore & Union, Leeds

Filmore & Union, Leeds

We started with juices. Just the menu itself is a pretty good read, packed full of seasonal information and health tips plus information on the brand’s philosophy. Eat Clean, Eat Pure is the idea. To your smoothie or juice, you can add loads of healthy boosters including chia seeds, echinacea and vanilla whey protein powder, depending on what you’re in the market for. I opted for the Joluxe Immune Booster (£3.75)  juice. It’s made up of blended yellow pepper, carrot, ginger and orange. I topped it off with an Aloe Vera shot (£2) for an added kick up the immune system’s backside. Aloe Vera is a super healer, they say, great for digestion.

Now I’m not big on fruit, I’m a naturally savoury person, so I was interested in trying something vegetable heavy. The juice was zingy, tangy, it seriously sang inside my mouth. I genuinely felt shaken up after I drank it, more alert and productive for the few hours that followed. Plus it left none of the sticky aftertaste I dislike from packaged juices. The best thing about it was purely how orange it was, a great change from the dull greens and browns I usually associate with juices and smoothies. Lauren’s smoothie, Super Antioxidant (£4.95) was packed with strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, apple, mint leaves and coconut water. Jen went for the Raw Choco Fix (also £4.95), made from almond milk, raw cacao, raw cashews, banana and agave syrup. It was weirdly chocolate bar like, but with none of the sickly, cloying characteristics. Healthy and indulgent at the same time! None of the three drinks we tried were overly sweet or filling, which contrasts with the juice bar experiences I’ve had before. They felt clean, simple and fresh.

Filmore & Union, Leeds

For my main I went for an Open Steak Bagel with Sweet Onions, Tomato Salsa and Tzatziki (£12.95). The steak was cooked perfectly, pink in the middle and with a charred crust. There was barely a chew to it and loads of fresh, juicy crunch from the salsa. I was pleased with the generous portions, wrongly thinking eating healthy meant eating small, the bagel came piled high. On the whole, I enjoyed it, my only criticism is that the dish was a little sweet. The sweet potato and caraway chips promised a bit of spice but I couldn’t taste the caraway and I didn’t really think they were necessary, they left a sweet aftertaste I could’ve done without, with no crunch or heat to balance them. The salsa, onions and tzatziki were all very good, but without something spicy or sharp to cut through it the bagel fell just short of full marks. I’d have preferred it with a small side salad or slaw, and maybe a slick  of wholegrain mustard on its lid. My second choice would’ve been what Lauren ate, the Asian Smoked Salmon & Sweet Potato Fishcakes (£10.95). Again a generous portion, two round fishcakes sat atop curly kale and orange segments, with pomegranates and almonds dotted in. The dish was an absolute beauty.

The ingredients in all our mains were clearly so fresh, their colours jumped off the white background. Obviously nothing had been sitting around, there wasn’t a wilted leaf or past-best vegetable in sight. They looked, shock horror, like they’d been pulled right from the ground. Imagine that! The 100% Fresh, 100% Natural produce is a huge part of what Filmore & Union are offering and for me that’s a massive plus. They make a point to source their ingredients from the local area, so there’s every chance your lunch has come from ground to plate within hours.

Filmore & Union, Leeds

Filmore & Union, Leeds

We finished off with dessert, of course. I have never seen so many beautiful but virtuous looking cakes in one place at one time. The counter was overflowing with platters and cake stands offering everything from a gluten free lemon & polenta cake to a vegan chocolate and blackberry cake. It looked good. Like, the kind of good where there’s absolutely no guilt to come from ordering a pudding. It feels like it’s actually the right thing to do. The whole menu obviously caters fantastically for those with dietary requirements and the cakes really don’t disappoint, with more range than I’ve ever seen before. I opted for a Banana, Oat and Flaxseed Muffin (£3.75). There are a lot of oats in my diet for their low GI credentials (again, the diabetic thing), keeping blood sugars level without the peaks and troughs that simple carbs can bring, something that the whole F&U menu boasts. The muffin was a good way to round off the meal, it was fluffy, and came with a deep, nutty texture you don’t find in mass-products desserts in chain coffee shops and cafes. I loved it and I will go back for it again, maybe to take out for breakfast on my way to work. The other desserts our table ordered looked scrumptious, without fail. Even the giant Granola Bar (£3.95) got me salivating. It was so interesting to see a sweet menu really come alive with unusual ingredients, not a nasty in sight. Plus, every dessert comes with a little pot of natural yoghurt and a few berries. A lovely little touch, as if your halo could shine any brighter.

Filmore & Union, Leeds

It was lovely to go back to work without the hangover from a too-large lunch. So many times I’ve come a cropper to grabbing something too heavy in my lunch hour, giving me a headache and having me snoozing at my desk all afternoon long, to-do list forgotten. It’s good to know that you can eat a great meal and leave with a spring in your step, without the threat of the inevitable sugar come down. I’d really recommend Filmore & Union to those looking for not just low cal or carb, but a nourishing, nutritious option for lunchtimes, breakfasts or early evenings. For me, it’s probably best as a brunch spot. They have a great bagel menu, plus muesli, porridge, granola and more. They have a good range of teas and organic coffees, and I’ve already waxed lyrical about the healing power of the juices. It’s also an ideal fit for its environment. The Victoria Quarter is beautiful, with a huge sky light, amazing architecture and luxury stores. F&U is a great pitstop to rest your aching feet, or a great place to drop off anyone who’s holding you back. Got a husband dragging his feet? A nagging teenager? Leave them here, there’s free wifi. The prices are, I think, slightly high. So just bear that in mind when you’re adding extra shots to your smoothie.

I think it’s also important to add that the staff were incredibly knowledgeable about the menu. They answered all our questions, made some great recommendations and really had me feeling like I was in safe hands. If you’re gluten free or vegan, lactose intolerant or allergic to anything, you can really put your confidence in this lot and you won’t leave unhappy.

If you eat clean or you’re trying to be good, you’re going to love this place. If you’re partial to a chicken nugget… maybe not, but give it a go, it might change your life! I haven’t been converted, I’m afraid I’m too devoted to burgers, but I am interested in trying more. Open to eat in and take out Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 8am-7pm, Thursday 8am – 8pm, Sunday 9am-6pm.

Filmore & Union Restaurant and Express Bar Victoria Quarter Leeds LS1 6AZ | @FilmoreandUnion

Disclaimer: The Victoria Quarter invited me down to try Filmore & Union free of charge. That has had no effect whatsoever on my opinion. All honesty here, friends.