A week or so ago, I was standing in our office kitchen at breakfast time waiting for the toaster to beep. This story requires you to be familiar with the concept of a Danish toaster, so we’ll get that vital detail out of the way first. The Danes, being the edgy, thinking-outside-the-box, design-conscious folk that they are, have quite literally turned the concept of the toaster on its head. They have horizontalised the toaster. Where us plebs in England drop our flaccid sliced Hovis into a fiery, gaping maw, where it sits clamped between metallic jaws and undergoes a thrilling gamble of a transformation that could either result in charcoal or warm dough, but never the sweet Goldilocks stage in between, and which requires you to either interrupt the whole process to check on its progress or to stick your face into the mouth of the beast and risk singed nasal hair, and which is really only appropriate for bread the precise thickness of a pre-sliced loaf or, at the very most, a crumpet – heaven forbid you should try and insert your wedge of artisanal sourdough or pain au chocolat into its tantalizingly precise orifice – the Danes have realized the many potential perils of this situation. (Not least, the possibility of dropping your house keys into the slot and causing a minor explosion, as my mother once managed to do in a feat of ineptitude that still astounds and perplexes me).Read More
There are some things that, in my mind, have zero place in tea. Just like some people have an entirely irrational aversion to raisins in muesli, or olives in salad, I absolutely refuse to entertain certain rogue ingredients in my morning (/afternoon/evening) brew. Liquorice is the main culprit here: I can detect its sickly-sweet aroma simply from the vapour of the tea before it even touches my lips. Not that I’d let it, because then there’s a disgusting syrupy aftertaste that ruins the entire point of a cup of tea, which is to be bracing and relaxing all at the same time. It’s not candy, or medicine.Read More
I go through phases with noodle dishes. For a long time it was pad Thai, after I learned the tricks for making it properly (cook the noodles in the sauce, not separately) at a cookery school in Chiang Mai. Then I transitioned to the even easier pad see ew, a deeply-flavoured tangle of thick rice noodles in a silky oyster and soy sauce with scrambled egg and vegetables – perfect once I discovered that ‘having a job’ and ‘spending three hours making a meal each night’ are not always compatible. My ‘diet food’ is a wholesome bowl of Vietnamese chicken pho, sipped soothingly at the end of a strenuous workout, although since I gave up meat I’ve struggled to replace the deep flavour of chicken broth. Then there is tom kha, Thai coconut broth, which always hits the spot no matter what mood you’re in, and to which I add a big handful of rice noodles, though it’s not entirely authentic. When I could afford crab (i.e. before I moved to Denmark), my noodle fix of choice was a bowl of shimmering glass noodles dressed with galangal, yuzu, soy and lime, into which I’d stir fresh crab meat, edamame beans and chunks of pomelo.Read More
It’s a savoury recipe! We all know what that means. Winter, or as it shall henceforth be known, the ‘anti-food-blogging season’, is over, and with its welcome departure come lengthy summer evenings, with the sun still high enough in the sky to guarantee reasonable photo opportunities for one’s dinner. People often ask me why I chose to move to Denmark, and although my usual response is a raised eyebrow and the simple statement ‘er, they offered me money’, I think I might now answer by pointing out the excellent food photography conditions provided by the languid, almost never-ending Scandinavian twilight.Read More
I have made many a crumble in my life. I would count myself as something of a crumble connoisseur. I cut my teeth on the classics – apple, rhubarb – before graduating into a wild, wonderful world of pineapple, coconut and black pepper, or pear, chocolate and raspberry, or fig, blood orange and hazelnut, even venturing occasionally into savoury variations (tomato, rosemary and cheddar; butternut squash, sage and blue cheese). There is very little that I will not try to crumble, and there is very little that isn’t improved by being smothered in a blanket of butter, sugar and flour, rubbed together into an irresistible nubbly sweetness.Read More
1. Health food paradise at the new Holland & Barrett More store in York. I was recently invited to the opening of Holland & Barrett’s palatial new store in the centre of York. I’ve long been a fan of the brand for their organic dried fruit, nuts and muesli mixes, and for their supply of esoteric health ingredients from around the world (they were probably stocking quinoa and tahini way before Ottolenghi emerged on the scene). The new store is a bright, vibrant space filled with all sorts of healthy treats, from nut butters to smoked tofu to their huge range of ‘free-from’ products. However, the expansion means there’s also space for a selection of beauty and makeup counters brimming with natural products to make you lovely on the outside as well as the inside. I had great fun creating my own body scrub at the Beauty Kitchen stall, using a delicious-smelling array of natural ingredients (my personal combination involved bitter orange, Epsom salts, and a zingy lemongrass oil), and enjoying a 60-second manicure with the same nourishing combination, leaving my hands gloriously soft and fragrant.Read More
The list of ‘annoying things I have read recently on obsessive clean-eating blogs’ is a long one, but hovering somewhere near the top is the suggestion that you should keep loads of cooked quinoa in your fridge, ready to whip up into a healthy salad or a ‘snack’ at a moment’s notice. There are two things wrong with this recommendation. Firstly, quinoa is not a ‘snack’. Snacks are portable and easily nibbleable commodities, like apples, granola bars and – if you must – almonds. They are usually sugary and designed as treats between meals. Much as I love quinoa, I would not consider munching on its dry, nubbly grains much of a treat if I were in the middle of a catastrophic blood sugar slump between lunch and dinner, with only the prospect of cake standing between me and an otherwise inevitable desk nap. Nor would I carry it around in my handbag. But the main gripe I have with what I shall henceforth term ‘The Cooked Quinoa Fallacy’ is, simply, who on earth can afford to cook quinoa in large batches just so it can hang around in the fridge on the off-chance you might use it in the next few days?Read More
I learned to make Thai soups on a cooking course in Chiang Mai, and couldn’t quite believe how little effort went into something so vibrant, flavoursome and punchy. The creation of a prawn tom yum took under five minutes, and simply involved throwing some ingredients into a wok of simmering water. The resulting broth was heady, sinus-clearing and fresh, and I resolved to make these simple soups a staple in my kitchen upon my return. Now there is something vaguely ritualistic about their creation, as I chop through galangal, lemongrass and chillies with the small cleaver I bought in a Thai market, picking kaffir lime leaves off the plant in my conservatory and pouring rich, zesty coconut broth into deep bowls lined with a tangle of soft rice noodles.Read More
Most food writers, cooks and chefs worth their generous seasoning will tell you that their vocation stems from a desire to feed people. It’s hard to argue with that comforting, coddling domestic image of the buoyant, buxom feeder, apron stretched over a reassuring bulk (never trust a skinny chef), oven gloves at the ready as they dish out tray after tray of mouthwatering treats to a table full of rapt admirers armed eagerly with forks and the appetites of adolescents, guests who nurse that most fundamental and primal of human instincts: the desire to be fed. That’s why we cook, we’d have you believe: our life’s purpose is to be the smiling matron bestowing hearty, homely manna upon our loved ones, like a plump bird in a nest surrounded by plaintive little open mouths.Read More
When I was a lot younger, I remember stumbling upon a very curious utensil in my family's kitchen. This little knife had a wooden handle like any other, but its blade was serrated on both sides and, bizarrely, curved sharply to one side. My mum explained that it was a grapefruit knife, designed to enable the scooping out of grapefruit flesh from the skin so you could enjoy it for breakfast. She must have shown me how to use it, because I distinctly remember enjoying, on several occasions, the ritual of slicing a grapefruit into two heavy halves, running that special knife in a circular motion around the pink flesh, using a small paring knife to cut in between the membranes, bisecting the fruit like the spokes of a wheel, and finally savouring the fruit of my labours with a teaspoon, scooping each tiny segment out of the skin and popping it into my mouth.Read More
I was teaching a student the other day when he asked me to explain the term ‘idiolect’. As with so many definitions, this is something that benefits from the giving of an example. I was plunged into a moment of introspective self-analysis, rapidly mentally running through the lexicon I use on a daily basis, the words to which I attribute non-standard uses or meanings and which therefore constitute my own, distinct, idiolect. I hit, suddenly, upon the word ‘insane’. “You see, when I use the word insane,” I explained to my student, “I use it to mean amazing; ridiculously good; incredible.”
The other night, I found myself murmuring, through a mouthful of pecan nuts, “Oh my god these are insane.”Read More
I made and ate this after coming home from an aerobics class. I haven’t been to said aerobics class in months. I’d forgotten that the reason said class is called ‘Body Attack’ is because it leaves you feeling – you guessed it – like someone has attacked your body. Muscles aching, and with a slight touch of nausea from repeatedly rolling over on my back from sit-up position to plank position, I whipped up this so-ridiculously-nutritious-it-should-be-available-on-an-intravenous-drip-on-the-NHS salad. I have rarely felt healthier in my life.Read More
One of my life’s great woes is that I am constantly hungry. You could see this as a blessing; my food writing career requires that I be always ready to sample whatever tasty treat should come my way. However, more often than not it’s something of a curse, given the fact that I am completely unable to function when hungry. I genuinely cannot comprehend those people – you know the type; you may even be one of them – who can breeze empty-stomached through a whole day and then remark, astonished, by evening that they haven’t eaten anything all day and gosh, how silly, they probably should have something then really shouldn’t they, but they’re just not that hungry!!!!
Sorry, but I hate these people.Read More
Blood oranges make winter worthwhile. Grey rainy mornings are a little bit brighter as you take your sharp serrated knife and gently slice the skin off these reassuringly weighty citrus fruits, revealing the stained-glass segments within. Marigold orange with blushing tinges of red, through to the dark scarlet of lifeblood, every blood orange is different, and part of the enjoyment is taking a moment to admire the individual tones of the specimen you’re about to eat. You can eat them as they are, of course, but I like to mix them with other ingredients, particularly where their gorgeous colouring can be fully appreciated.Read More
A fabulous combination of soft, comforting noodles bound together with an incredibly complex sweet-sour-citrus dressing, brimming with the tang of lime and the fiery rasp of fresh galangal and the richness of soy, brown sugar and tamarind. There are bright, moreish edamame beans for crunch, chilli for heat, and then the rich, sweet taste of fresh crab meat, all topped off with chunks of sweet pomelo and toasted sesame seeds. I’ve essentially thrown all my favourite far-Eastern flavours into a pan with some noodles and some crab, and it emerged as something far more than the sum of its parts. It’s very loosely based on an incredible dish of glass noodles with crab and garlic that I ate in Vietnam, but with an added arsenal of punchy flavours that magically work beautifully together: the sweet pomelo and yuzu brighten up the rich crab, while the toasted seeds and edamame beans add earthy depth and texture. Go visit the AO at Home blog for the recipe!
Few people seem to know what to do with a persimmon. In fact, most people I know have never encountered them before. They’ll either hear me mention one and say ‘what’s that?’, or they’ll glance over at it in the fruit bowl and look confused. I can kind of understand why: persimmons do resemble large, squat orange tomatoes, so seeing them nestled there amongst the bananas, apples and pears might seem a little odd (even though the tomato is, of course, technically a fruit). I explain the unique qualities of this fine fruit, tell them how good it is in a variety of dishes…and then of course they say ‘Oh right’ and promptly forget, assuming this is another of my mad fruit whims to be humoured and then quickly disregarded.Read More
You're going to be seeing a lot of avocado recipes on this blog in the foreseeable future. For the next year, I'll be receiving fortnightly baskets of the fruit to experiment with in the kitchen (I'll be talking a bit more about why in a future post). Before I even start on the potential of avocados in the kitchen, though, let me suggest another unexpected use for this beautiful fruit. You may not have realised, but suddenly becoming an ambassador for avocados gets you a surprising number of friends. I have yet to meet anyone in my close social circle who has not, upon hearing my news, promptly and enthusiastically declared themselves a lover of avocados and hinted that they would be willing guinea pigs for any recipe development. Extra friendship points to those who have recommended favourite avocado recipes, and über bonus points to those whose list of avocado recipes included ice cream. You are people after my own heart.
So there you have it. Nutritional powerhouses, definitely; delicious and versatile, yes...but avocados are also a quick and easy enhancer for your social life.
However, avocados do have one serious inadequacy in terms of their culinary usage: they are possibly the least spontaneous ingredient ever. One does not simply decide one day to whip up an avocado salad that evening. Recipes involving avocado need notice: time for you to buy your 'perfectly ripe' specimens from the supermarket, discover they are sour and rock hard, and then postpone your plans for a week or so until the fruit has softened into creamy, buttery jade goodness. By which point all the other ingredients you bought will probably have gone off, so you'll need to start again.
Incidentally, the same rule applies to mangoes. The two fruits are often used together by unrealistic recipe writers who, irritatingly, do not adjust the 'prep time' for their recipes in order to add a week or so's 'ripening time'.
Receiving fortnightly baskets of perfectly ripe avocados is a luxury I do not intend to take for granted. I am very excited to be able to experiment with an ingredient I love but don't get to enjoy enough. My experience with avocados is fairly limited to guacamole, chicken, bacon and avocado salad, and a favourite dish of orzo pasta with broccoli pesto and avocado. I have big plans for these beauties, so watch this space.
This recipe is, if you'll believe it, something I dreamed up on the spur of the moment and 'threw together' in a slightly haphazard fashion. Inspired by some beautiful wild Alaskan salmon that I picked up on special offer, and which seemed too good to ruin with any sort of cooking whatsoever, I decided to serve it as sashimi. Too lazy to bother rolling sushi, I decided to pile all the components of sushi into a bowl: salmon, toasted sesame seeds (I also use nigella seeds when I make sushi, because I love their strong earthy flavour), pickled ginger, cucumber, a sauce of soy and wasabi, and sushi rice mixed with vinegar, sugar and salt. The rice is delicious when freshly cooked and still slightly warm - a completely different taste and texture experience to when it has firmed up and is tightly rolled in seaweed.
I love sushi rolls that feature avocado, in delicious creamy contrast with the tangy rice and the subtly sweet fish (often crab or salmon), so topped my sushi bowl with ripe avocado, mashed with smoked salt and lime juice to bring out its flavour, plus a heavy-handed dose of fresh mint, which might sound unusual with Japanese flavours but works very well - you could, however, use coriander to equally good effect. I also added some cooked soya beans, because one of my favourite Japanese dishes is one of the simplest: sweet, salty steamed edamame beans, fresh from the pods.
I was expecting this to be tasty, but I wasn't quite prepared for how ridiculously delicious it was. Raw fish sometimes lacks flavour, but this salmon was utterly gorgeous, soft but still with that delicious salmon richness. It was the most beautiful coral colour, too, possessing none of those fatty white stripes you get with farmed salmon. The rice was soft and tangy, the seeds nutty and crunchy, while the beans and cucumber added a delicious fresh crunch. The mashed avocado really does make this dish, though, providing a nice bridge between the crunchy ingredients and the sticky rice, the hint of lime sharpening everything up. The tangy pickled ginger and salty soy is essential, making the whole thing moreish and addictive.
This makes me want to throw away my sushi-rolling mat. Why bother, when you can just throw everything into a bowl? It's quick to put together, looks absolutely stunning, and is incredibly healthy (although maybe less so when you consider it's so good that you'll want a second helping).
Sushi bowl with salmon sashimi, avocado, lime, edamame and pickled ginger (serves 2):
- 200g sushi rice
- 320ml water
- 3 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 ripe avocado
- Juice of half a lime
- 1/2 tsp flaky sea salt (I used smoked salt)
- A handful of fresh mint or coriander, finely chopped
- 200g Alaskan salmon, very fresh
- A quarter of a cucumber, finely diced
- A couple of handfuls of cooked soya beans or broad beans
- Pickled ginger (from oriental shops or large supermarkets)
- 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds and/or nigella seeds
- Soy sauce
First, cook the rice. Rinse it three or four times then drain. Place in a pan with the water, cover with a lid, bring to the boil then reduce the heat to very low. Cook for 15 minutes, without removing the lid or disturbing the pan. Meanwhile, mix together the rice vinegar, caster sugar and salt. Halve the avocado, remove the stone, then scoop the flesh into a bowl. Roughly mash, using a fork, with the lime juice, salt and chopped mint or coriander. Set aside.
Once the rice is cooked and has absorbed all the water, stir in the vinegar mixture while still warm. Divide the rice between two bowls. Very finely slice the salmon using a sharp knife, then add to the rice. Spoon the avocado mixture on top. Scatter over the cucumber, soya beans, and some pickled ginger, then sprinkle with the seeds. Mix together a little soy sauce and wasabi, then drizzle this over the bowl and serve immediately.
It's strange how some foodstuffs are a totally normal, everyday part of the scenery in some countries, and then we come along, get our health-obsessed five-a-day superfood-crazy label-mad hands on them, slap on a massive price tag, and turn them into something chic, exclusive, expensive-because-healthy. When I was in Vietnam, there were smoothie bars perched on every street corner, churning out giant plastic cups of heady made-to-order mixtures; everything from fresh coconut to dragon fruit and durian fruit would be blended in front of your eyes into a sweet cupful of nourishing deliciousness. None of these ever cost more than around 80p. Come home, go to a smoothie bar (if you can find one, that is), and you'll pay at least £3 for the privilege of having some inferior fruit crushed into a cup.
The same goes for Japanese food. Nourishing noodle soups, slimming sushi and protein-rich tofu are staples of the Japanese diet, taken for granted, almost. Everyday food, they certainly don't cost nearly the amount they do over here, where you seem to pay for the privilege of ingesting something that isn't likely to give you a sumo wrestler physique overnight (and, of course, for the importing of certain ingredients).
The first time I tried goji berries was at a Chinese friend's house. She had made Chinese hot pot for me, and I had been avoiding the little red blobs floating around in the broth, thinking they might be some kind of super-spicy little dried chilli. Upon closer inspection, I realised they were goji berries, plump and swollen from their bath in the hot liquid. Later, she made me a cup of green tea, throwing in a handful of the berries for good measure. It was delicious, the berries imparting a sweet, slightly musky flavour to the tea.
I was amazed at the apparent careless abandon with which she put these berries into things. But then, I realized, I am used to the Western treatment of goji berries - a sort of awed and slightly confused reverence. As something bearing that elusive and exclusive 'superfood' label, goji berries are to be respected, to be treated with admiration, even if we are never likely to try them because they're often pretty expensive. In China, where the berries have been grown for hundreds of years (they're the biggest cultivators and exporters of goji berries in the world), they're probably a little more blasé about these little fruits, free from the ludicrous superfood-mania that has swept the UK in recent years.
Goji berries' superfood credentials stem from their large quantity of antioxidants and vitamin A. However, there's no real evidence to suggest they're any better for you than berries in general, which are also classed as 'superfoods'. Still, I find them a rather intriguing little fruit, with their beautiful dusky red colour and diminutive puckered appearance. You can get them in most health food shops and even some large supermarkets now, and, while they're not cheap, they're not much more expensive than your average dried berry.
Lucky enough to have a bag of goji berries in my cupboard, I decided to experiment with a new granola recipe. I figured that if more common dried berries - blueberries, cranberries, etc - work in granola, why not up the 'superfood' credentials by adding some goji berries too?
I've long been a fan of making my own granola, ever since my first attempt a year or so ago. There are several advantages to doing it yourself.
Firstly, commercial granola is astronomically high in fat and sugar. Not to bore you with my health-nerd neuroticism, but it is. If you're lucky enough not to need to worry about such things, then good for you, but it still can't hurt to cut back a bit on these ingredients. The reason shop-bought granola is so delicious and tastes like flapjacks is because it's drenched in oil and honey/sugar before baking. Tasty, but not the most nutritious breakfast. By making it yourself, you can drastically lower the amount of calorific rubbish that goes into it, while still having a delicious-tasting end product. The trick is to use apple puree and honey to coat the granola mix before baking. Yes, there's still sugar in the form of honey, but much, much less, and no fat - just apple.
I imagine a lot of you are wondering if it's less tasty for this reason. It is certainly less sweet and flapjack-esque, but I find that the dried fruit makes up for this, adding plenty of sweetness. The granola base mixture (oats, barley, etc) toasts wonderfully in its covering of apple puree and honey, turning deliciously golden, toasty and crunchy. It's the perfect base for the dried fruit and nuts, allowing them to really shine. I actually prefer it, now, to commercial granola, which just tastes overly sweet and buries the flavour of the fruit and nuts within.
Secondly, homemade granola is cheaper. You won't save yourself huge amounts of money, but you will save a bit. If you buy decent granola or muesli, you often spend around £3-4 for a 750g box. To get all the ingredients to make your own (depending on what you put in it) usually costs around £5, but it makes about 1.75 kg. Plus some of the ingredients you only need to buy once to make several batches - apple for the apple puree, honey, flaked almonds, and dried fruit like raisins.
Also, it really is wonderfully satisfying to make your own. I appreciate not everyone has the time, but this takes under an hour from start to finish, and there's barely any hands-on work involved - just mixing everything up, then stirring it from time to time in the oven so that it toasts evenly. The sweet, spicy, toasty smell of the grains cooking warms your kitchen and hovers around you for hours afterwards.
Thirdly, you can customise home-made granola however you like. I've never found a muesli or granola in the shops that quite fits my specifications - I love brazil nuts, chopped dates, and tropical fruit, but this combo has never been found to my knowledge on the supermarket shelves. Now that I make my own, I can put in my favourite things. Until now I have made two versions: one, a tropical granola with brazil nuts, flaked almonds, dried papaya and dried pineapple (sometimes adding banana chips or coconut flakes); two, a delicious cinnamony version with chopped apricots, chopped dates, raisins, flaked almonds and brazil nuts again. Both are utterly delicious, but it was time to experiment with a new version.
Enter this 'superfood' berry granola, featuring goji berries, other dried berries (I used a mixture of cherries, blueberries and cranberries), sunflower seeds and toasted pecan nuts. I've wanted to try pecans in granola for ages, because they're my favourite nuts after brazil nuts, and I can't get enough of their toasty, caramel flavour. Sunflower seeds add crunch and also healthy nutrients, while the granola base is enriched with cinnamon and a good dose of vanilla. After a spell of baking in the oven, the sweet, spiced granola is mixed with jewel-like dried berries.
I haven't added too many goji berries here, because they're quite an acquired taste. Instead, their pleasant, earthy flavour combines with the more assertive sweetness of dried cherries, cranberries and blueberries. The result is a joyous medley of colours, the bright and muted reds of the berries contrasting beautifully with the nut-brown blanket of toasted oats and pecans.
I actually wrote all of the above post, up until this point, having not yet tried the result of this granola experiment. I figured it would be good enough to share with you all, though. This morning I poured my first bowl (and took the photos). I made a mug of green tea. I chopped up some blood orange and put it into the bowl with some ginger- and brown sugar-stewed plums left over from dessert last night. The dark juice of the blood oranges mingled with the magenta syrup from the plums, soaking into the granola. The tea sent wisps of grassy, fragrant smoke into the air. The dried berries and pecans winked invitingly up at me from the bowl, a glorious mass of syrupy red.
Ignoring all the blood orange and plum madness going on (which just lifted breakfast to dizzying heights of incredible deliciousness), this granola was incredible. So much better than I had expected, even though I expected good things. I think the key lies in the sunflower seeds and the pecans - the seeds contribute an amazing nutty toastiness that underlies the whole thing, combining wonderfully with the sweet, caramel notes of the pecans and then the sugary berries. Heavily attached to my brazil nut and tropical fruit version, I hadn't expected this to be quite as good. Instead, I think it's a new favourite. It allows me to indulge my borderline indecent love of pecan nuts and dried cranberries. It looks gorgeous. I can claim it's vaguely healthy, both because of its lack of oil and refined sugar and because it has some goji berries in (tenuous yes, but every little helps). As well as sunflower seeds and pecans, which are full of nutritious good fats.
I promise, this will surprise you. Both because it's incredibly easy, and because it's so much better than granola from the shops. The combination of ingredients just makes for the best ever breakfast bowlful. Even better if you add some segmented orange and stewed plums, although I think serving it with some fresh berries would also be a great idea, or some sliced banana (or both).
You may, like me, be sceptical of the superfood label. But this granola is both super and food, so I think it deserves the accolade. Get your hands on those crazy goji berries and get this granola in your life.
'Superfood' berry granola (makes around 10-12 servings):
(I'd like to add that the serving estimate here is strictly that - an estimate. I eat a lot of granola in a single portion, and this is so good that you might want to rethink your normal cereal serving size...)
- 320g apple puree*
- 110g runny honey
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- Seeds of 1 vanilla pod, or 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1kg muesli base mix
- 200g pecan nuts, roughly chopped
- 90g sunflower seeds
- 50g goji berries
- 150g mixed dried berries (e.g. blueberries, cranberries and cherries - or just one type)
Pre-heat the oven to 160C.
In a large bowl, whisk together the apple puree, honey, salt, cinnamon and vanilla. Add the muesli base and stir well to combine. Spread this mixture out evenly between two large baking sheets.
Bake for 10 minutes, then remove the trays from the oven give the mixture a good stir around. Return to the oven and bake for another 10 minutes, then stir again. Finally, bake for another 10 minutes, then add the pecan nuts and sunflower seeds. Bake for 10 minutes more, then remove from the oven and leave to cool.
When cool, stir in the berries. Store the granola in an airtight jar or box.
* To make apple puree, simmer peeled, chopped cooking apples in a lidded pan with a splash of water until they turn to mush, then roughly crush with a potato masher or fork. It's worth making a big batch of this then freezing it in individual 320g portions, so you can easily make a batch of granola whenever the whim takes you!
I sampled my first pomelo in rather insalubrious surroundings. Perched unceremoniously atop a wall, sweat clinging tenaciously to my shoulders and brow, overlooking a rubbish-strewn ditch with the sickly aroma of rotting fruit permeating my sinuses, I hacked off its mottled green skin with a penknife and proceeded to prise away at the flesh within, the hand sanitizer I'd zealously rubbed over my fingers doing little to assuage my feelings of filthiness. Its pearly pink flesh and sweet, tart flavour stood in sharp contrast to the ambience, and I spent a few happily relaxed moments concentrating on pulling apart its rosy segmented lobes, deaf to the madness of motorbikes and hawkers around me.
This was in Hué, Vietnam. I'd purchased a pomelo from the main market, having been intrigued for years about these gigantic grapefruits and finally deciding to bite the bullet and get one. I probably should have tried it first in the UK, sitting down at a table with a nice chopping board and serrated knife rather than perched on a crumbling wall doing my best with a blunt penknife and a complete absence of plate or napkin, but that's life for you. Besides, I was doing my bit in terms of food miles - better, surely, to eat a fruit in its country of origin rather than thousands of miles away from it?
The pomelo is like a grapefruit, but bigger, and possessing none of that sour astringence that makes people dislike grapefruits. They're quite sweet, no sharper than oranges, but with a lovely floral citrus flavour. In Vietnam I was often served wedges of pomelo as an after-dinner snack; you would just take a big bite and suck the fragrant juice out of the pithy membranes. They were delicious.
However, one of the most famous pomelo dishes is the pomelo salad. Found all over south east Asia, this is an incredible combination of sweet pomelo pieces, crunchy vegetables, and a classic south east Asian salad dressing: a fusion of hot, salty, sour and sweet flavours, usually comprising lime juice, chilli, fish sauce and brown or palm sugar. It might sound an odd combination, but the sweet, bursting pomelo against the zingy dressing, coupled with the crunch of vegetables is amazing.
There are often other ingredients too. In Hoi An I had a pomelo salad with chicken and prawns, a combination that works very well indeed - the mellow flavours of the meat and seafood provide a perfect foil to the zesty pomelo madness going on around them. Often, toasted peanuts are scattered over the dish, both to add texture and a delicious rich toasty flavour that works so well with the other very zingy ingredients. The vegetables may vary, but usually you find carrot and cucumber, in shreds. Sometimes peppers, or beansprouts. There are sometimes shallots, for a savoury earthy flavour. Lots of fresh herbs - mint and coriander, mostly, but perhaps Thai basil.
I knew I had to recreate a pomelo salad, having enjoyed it so much in Vietnam.
I decided to render it a more substantial meal by adding noodles. Specifically, cooked slippery rice noodles, to provide a calming squidgy backdrop to all the other intense flavours. The rest is all there, though - crunchy julienned vegetables, loads of vibrant fresh herbs, a zingy dressing of lime juice, rice vinegar, fish sauce and brown sugar, and the ever-important scattering of toasted peanuts. Then there are big chunks of torn pomelo flesh, lending their sweetness and juicy yet crunchy texture. I decided to go down the prawn route, because they have a lovely sweetness and a meaty crunch that is excellent paired with the other ingredients. To keep the flavours Asian, I pan-fried the prawns with ginger and lemongrass.
I've generally never felt very comfortable cooking Asian food; it's one of the cuisines I'm least familiar with. This has changed recently, though, as I've started cooking more and more of it. To get to the point where I can invent my own Asian-inspired recipe is a pretty big achievement for me.
Even more so, this thing is absolutely insanely delicious. If you can't imagine how it would all work together and taste, make it and be blown away. It's just got the perfect combination of textures and flavours, as south east Asian food so often does. Mellow slippery noodles, zesty dressing, juicy prawns, sweet pomelo, perfumed herbs and toasty peanuts. That's the best I can do to describe it, so if you want to know more, get into the kitchen and make one yourself. You can often find pomelos in big supermarkets and Asian grocers.
Asian pomelo salad with lemongrass prawns and peanuts (serves 2-3):
- 100g thin, flat rice noodles
- 1 carrot
- 1/4 cucumber
- 3 spring onions
- A large handful chopped mint
- A large handful chopped coriander
- 100g mange tout
- Half a large pomelo, or one grapefruit-sized one
- 1 stick lemongrass
- A 1-inch cube fresh ginger
- 200g raw prawns
- 1 tbsp garlic-infused olive oil, or sesame oil
- 3 tbsp peanuts, toasted in a dry pan then roughly chopped
For the dressing:
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 3 tsp brown sugar
- 2 tsp rice vinegar
- 1 tsp garlic-infused olive oil
- 1 red chilli, finely chopped
- 1 tsp chopped fresh ginger
- Juice of half a lime, plus extra lime wedges to serve
First, soak the noodles in boiling water until soft (5-15 minutes, depending on your brand/thickness). Drain, rinse in cold water and set aside.
Slice the cucumber into thin batons. Grate the carrot. Thinly slice the spring onions lengthways. Place them all in a large bowl with the herbs. Steam or boil the mange tout for 1-2 minutes then finely slice lengthways and add to the bowl. Add the noodles and toss together well.
Prepare the pomelo by slicing it into quarters, slicing off the thick skin with a knife and then using your fingers to prise the flesh away from the pithy membranes. Tear the flesh into bite-sized chunks. Add it to the noodles and mix together well.
For the dressing, mix all the ingredients together in a small jug. Pour it over the noodle mixture and toss together. Divide the mixture between 2-3 plates or bowls.
Finely chop the lemongrass and ginger. Heat the garlic/sesame oil in a non-stick frying pan, then add the lemongrass and ginger. Cook for a minute or so, then add the prawns, cooking on each side for a couple of minutes until cooked through. Place the prawns on top of the noodle salad, then scatter over the peanuts. Serve immediately, with lime wedges to squeeze over.
I returned to my house in York last week, after a rather longer Christmas break than I had anticipated, to find myself greeted with the kind of scene I imagine the most inconsiderate burglars leave behind. The saving grace, however, being that nothing was actually stolen. No, this was just the inevitable consequence of having a kitchen about 30% of the way through a glamorous makeover: a thick layer of dust adorning surfaces like snow, a lone fridge standing forlornly in the middle of the floor with a ghostly sheet draped over it, small nuggets of plaster and brick scattered like charming confetti o'er the sink and floor. Barely a trace remaining of the cosy place I had tried to make it when I moved in.
A week later, and while there are huge bare patches of brick and plaster all over the walls, the rafters in the roof are ominously exposed over one's head and the cupboards are bare unpainted board with no doors or shelves, it's looking a bit better. There is, at least, a shiny new induction hob and brand new oven. There is also a nice new sink, and worktop, replacing the inexplicable wood surrounding the old sink, which had developed a delightful plague of mould and was probably the cause of me getting ill when I first moved in.
(Yeah, that's right, it was the mouldy sink...not a stint of going to bed at 3am every night for about a fortnight, going out in the freezing rain on Halloween wearing nothing but a leotard, and living off leftover tarte tatin for every meal because I couldn't be bothered to cook. That had nothing to do with it, I am sure.)
Anyway, while it's looking decidedly less burgled, the kitchen is still a bit of a way off its completion. The one thing I find most difficult is the lack of worktop space, as the worktop half of the room has yet to be built. This means my chopping and stirring needs are met by a tiny square foot of worktop just next to the hob. There's no possibility of doing any fancy cooking involving more than a couple of pans and bowls, or any great amount of chopping. Certainly the KitchenAid mixer or blender will not be making an outing for a while.
It was great timing, then, for Thomson Al Fresco to get in touch and ask me to suggest a few healthy recipe ideas that can be cooked while camping. Although my lovely induction hob is hardly a campfire, and my house is a bit better than a tent, I am certainly in need of easy recipes that require very little surface space and can be easily cooked in one pan. While I imagine many people stick to pasta and jarred sauce, or endless barbecues, while camping (I wouldn't really know; I've only been twice, both times in England, and one involved inadvertently pitching our tent over an earwig nest, so they're memories I'd like to rid myself of), it's not actually that difficult to come up with a one-pan meal that is fairly good for you. Pulses are the key: filling, nutritious, and all you have to do is open a can.
Given that Thomson Al Fresco offer lots of camping holidays on the continent, I thought I'd give these recipes a European theme, adapting them to the local produce of the country you might happen to be camping in. This one is based around Spanish ingredients: chorizo, tomatoes, peppers, and chickpeas. It only needs one pan and one chopping board (you're chopping raw chorizo on it first, but everything you chop on it afterwards gets cooked, so you won't get any horrible diseases - just don't forget and nibble bits of the peppers while you chop them with the chorizo-y knife, as I nearly did).
The result of this colourful medley is a delicious thick stew, deeply flavoured from the paprika in the chorizo and the tomatoes, which collapse into a lovely sauce. There are tender sweet peppers and onions, comforting chickpeas and some crunchy greens, to make the whole thing that little bit healthier. It's about as healthy as you can get, in terms of hearty one-pot meals: tomatoes, peppers and onions are all very good for you, as are chickpeas, which bulk up the dish and fill you up in a much healthier way than pasta or rice. The meat here is used as a seasoning, rather than a main ingredient.
The beauty of this recipe is that it's very adaptable. You could use the cooked chorizo that comes in a ring if you can't find the raw stuff (which has the bonus of meaning you can then nibble those peppers as you chop. I assume everyone does this - it's not just me that loves to eat raw peppers while cooking, is it?). You could use tinned tomatoes instead of fresh. You could change the herbs depending on what you have, or omit them altogether. You could use any kind of tinned beans or even lentils instead of the chickpeas, and most greens instead of spring greens - spinach and kale work well. Think of this as a blueprint. What is essential, though, is that you serve it with lots of crusty bread to mop up the thick, smokey tomato sauce.
Although I rather like the romantic notion of tucking into a steaming bowl of this round a campfire under the setting Spanish sun, I think I'll stick with eating it in my ramshackle kitchen. The main reason being that I know it's earwig-free.
Tomato, red pepper, chickpea and chorizo stew (serves 4):
- 200g cooking chorizo, thickly sliced
- 1 tbsp olive oil (or just cook the veg in the oil released by the chorizo, if you don't have any oil)
- 1 red onion, thinly sliced
- 4 red peppers, deseeded and cut into strips
- 2 bay leaves (optional)
- 600g cherry tomatoes, halved
- 100ml water
- 1 tbsp tomato purée (optional)
- 1 tsp dried mixed herbs (sage, thyme and oregano work well)
- 2 x 400g cans chickpeas
- 300g spring greens or cabbage, thinly sliced
- Crusty bread, to serve
Heat a large casserole dish or saucepan over a medium heat, then add the chorizo. It should start to sizzle and crisp up, releasing orange oil. Cook for a couple of minutes, then add the olive oil, red onion, peppers and bay leaves. Cook for 5-10 minutes on a fairly high heat, until the onions and peppers have softened.
Add the cherry tomatoes, water, tomato purée and herbs. Cook for 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes have collapsed into a thick sauce. Add the chickpeas and cook for another 5 minutes, then add the spring greens or cabbage. Cook for a couple of minutes to wilt the greens.
Serve with crusty bread.