Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Closed for the holidays



The time has come, and I am officially on holiday. The kitchen will be closed for the next three weeks but you can keep an eye on my Instagram account @margots.kitchen for some of my Portuguese experiences with my family.I will be in search of good food, and in September I am back with travel tips and recipes inspired by our journey. 

Happy holidays and till September!

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

A soup to make a mother proud



The great thing about my weekly organic delivery box is that I receive whatever is in season and love the surprise of what comes every week. This week the mini cucumbers arrived. They are also called pickling cucumbers because, well…they are perfect for it. They have a thinner skin than their bigger relatives and tend to be less bitter. But I wasn’t going to pickle them. I had something else in mind.

About two months ago, I went with my sister to the last Secret Kitchen supper club at the Culinary Anthropologist’s house. Anna Colquhoun has now closed the doors of her beautiful kitchen for the next two years, as she moved to Istria where she is running a bed and breakfast and cookery classes, and that is also where she is doing her PhD research. Bolara 60 is a 250 years old stone farmhouse located in Northwest Croatia. As described on their website: “It is a destination for anyone looking for an idyllic, nature-lover’s paradise, where great food is celebrated”. Being familiar with Anna’s work - you can see some of my experiences at her kitchen in London here and here - I am sure that the food and the hosting will be nothing but excellent.

I digress as my mind strays into plans to visit her guesthouse. But returning to the subject of this post, during her last secret dinner, Anna served us, amongst other great food, a cold yoghurt soup with diced mini cucumbers that made the whole table raise a chorus of Mmm... in unison. It was a surprising and super delicious dish. She said it was a tribute to her mother, who had sadly passed away a few weeks before. The whole evening and that dish came back to me this week - it would've been my mothers birthday had she not passed away at the end of last year. And what better way to commemorate than cooking something really special. As Anna’s refreshing soup was so perfect, I didn’t want to go experimental. Luckily the recipe can be found in her latest book collaboration Gather Cook Feast. I made it for family and some friends and got the best compliments. To make a mother proud. 

The chefs getting ready to serve the last secret dinner.
The menu.
Anna Colquhoun's mouthwatering Bulgarian yoghurt soup.

 Back in my kitchen

The ingredients.


Whisk the yoghurt with the oils and garlic.

My mouthwatering version of chilled cucumber and yoghurt soup.


Chilled cucumber & dill soup with crushed walnuts (by Anna Colquhoun, extracted from the book Gather Cook Feast.)
Serves 4

This soup is refreshing, crunchy, satisfying and healthy. I recommend making it with organic natural live yoghurt. 

Ingredients

80g walnuts halves
459g good natural yoghurt
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed smooth
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon walnut oil, plus a little to finish
a small bunch of fresh dill (around 20g), finely chopped plus a little more to finish
around 200ml cold water
sea salt
250g mini cucumbers
1 Tablespoon lemon juice 

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C and toast the walnuts on a tray for around 8 minutes, until golden and rubbable. Tip on to a clean tea towel, gather up into a bag and rub vigorously to loosen the skins. Pick out the pieces of nut, leaving the skins behind. Chop very finely.

Beat together the yoghurt, crushed garlic and oils until smooth and well combined. Stir in the nuts and dill (keeping back a little of each to finish the bowls). Stir in the cold water until the soup is a lovely consistency – something between thin and thick cream is nice – then season to taste with salt. Chill the soup in the fridge for at least an hour.

Cut the cucumbers into very fine dice (as tiny as you can make them) and layer in a colander with light sprinklings of salt. Leave for 20-30 minutes, so that the salt draws out the excess water from the cucumbers. The salt will also season them and help keep colour and texture.

Just before serving, stir the cucumber and lemon juice into the yoghurt mixture and check the seasoning once more. Finish the bowls of soup with the few walnuts and dill you have kept aside and dribble over a few drops of walnut oil.
Serve.

A healthy noteCucumbers (Cucumis sativus) contain 95% water making them ideal to help keep the body hydrated. They contain vitamin C and the mineral Silica, that is good for your hair and nails. Cucumbers are a great source of fibre.
Walnuts (Juglans regia) have great nutritional value and are very rich in serotonin. Walnuts are also rich in Omega 3, which may prevent heart diseases by lowering triglycerides and reducing plaque formation. They contain a component of vitamin E (Gamma-tocopherol), which provides antioxidant protection that helps detoxify cancer-causing substances. 
Natural live yoghurt boosts immunity and is very helpful in cases of stomach ulcers. It is high in protein, natural fats and calcium. It is a natural source of probiotic activity (live friendly bacteria) that enriches the intestinal flora, maintaining a good digestive system.

Till next week!
 

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Breakfast in a hurry - Easy pancakes




Student life and a good balanced diet don’t always go hand in hand. I remember those days when I had to skip breakfast because I would wake up late for class and had to rush out of the door, having a juice or a cup of coffee on the way with a piece of sweet bun.

A while ago I was speaking to my nephew who’s on a full-time naval engineering course, and he told me he was finding it difficult to eat properly - breakfast was almost nonexistent, especially in exams week. He got a big tut- tut from his now wised-up auntie. After a short but kind lecture on the importance of having a good meal in the morning, I gave him some ideas for breakfast.

One suggestion that got him very interested is the quick and nutritious pancake that he can prepare in no-time in the morning. It’s easy to make and it would help him feel satiated, almost until lunch time. These pancakes are low in refined sugars and, when paired with fresh fruits, they make a good and balanced meal to start the day. For those in a hurry or not.

Blend bananas, eggs, oats, cacao powder, cinnamon and almonds.
The batter in the frying pan.
Use the seasonal fruits of your choice.
An easy and gorgeous breakfast.
  
Quick banana and nuts pancake
Makes 4-6 small pancakes

Ingredients

2 eggs
1 banana
12 almonds (you can also use 2 tablespoons of ground almonds)
2 Tablespoons of oats
1 teaspoon of cacao powder
½ teaspoon of cinnamon
A drizzle of a good quality maple syrup
Butter or coconut oil to brush the pan

Method

Mix all the ingredients in a blender. (Alternatively, you can mash the bananas, whisk the eggs and add the ground ingredients together, mixing gently.) Brush the pan with butter or coconut oil. Pour some of the batter into the pan and cook for a few minutes on each side. Serve with fresh fruits, preferably seasonal, and drizzle with a good quality maple syrup. Enjoy!

A healthy note:  Egg is a fantastic and inexpensive source of protein. It contains lecithin, which helps the body to break down fat and cholesterol. Lecithin is also a source of the B vitamin-like choline, which is necessary for brain development at pregnancy. Choline is an important nutrient for the prevention of fatty liver and is a neurotransmitter involved in many functions, including memory and muscle control. Egg also contains biotin, another B vitamin-like compound, which is very important for the digestion of fat and protein, and essential for the health of hair, skin and nails. Egg contains an antioxidant called glutathione that prevents the formation of free radicals. It is very rich in Omega-3 fats, which prevent diabetes, obesity and depression. It contains vitamin A and E, folic acid and lutein (an antioxidant in the carotenoid family that helps to keep the eyes healthy and safe from oxidative stress).

Almonds (Prunus dulcis): like any other nut eaten raw, almonds are much easier to digest when they are soaked overnight. They are a great source of complete protein and good fats. They contain insoluble fibre, which is beneficial for regular bowel movements. Almonds are rich in magnesium, vitamin B6 and vitamin E. Besides tasting great, almond milk can be taken for constipation and inflammation of the gut (e.g. colitis, IBS and Crohn’s disease).

Bananas are a great option for a pre-or post-workout snack, as they provide carbohydrate and boost your energy. They are very rich in potassium, which studies have shown to decrease the risk of heart disease. Bananas provide a good amount of soluble dietary fibre that helps with regular bowel movements. They are also a source of vitamin B6 and vitamin C. 

Till next week!

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Sweetness and a little crunch – a salad with a twist



 
I discovered a small café in Muswell Hill, about three years ago, called Chriskitch. I fell in love with the place and its food. The chocolate cake and the coffee alone are worth my travel there. The salads are stunning, the breads are a must, and the presentation of the plates is very fun and creative. I always find an excuse to go back to try something different each time.

Chris Honor, the chef and owner, loves giving a twist to his recipes. You would never think of putting together some of the ingredients and dressings he mixes in his salads, but they work beautifully. His café has even got the blessing of the fiercest food critic of the capital, Jay Rayner. If it is good enough for Mr. Rayner…  

And if it works, why try and change it, right? Except that, like Chris, I like to put a twist on recipes. One of his recipes that inspired me to add a little touch of mine is the grape and black olive salad. My family loves it. I like to think that even Jay Rayner would approve it… (wink).

Spread the blended kalamata and miso mix evenly on a lined baking sheet.
Let it cook until dehydrated and wait until it cools...
...then blend into a powder.
Cook both grains as per packet instructions. Let them cool...
...place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix gently.
Green grapes, grains and dried black olives

Back in my Kitchen

Green grapes, grains and dried black olives salad (inspired by Chriskitch recipe)
Serves 4-6

A good source of fibre, this salad can be a great accompaniment to a fish, chicken or lamb dish, if you are not a vegan or vegetarian.

Ingredients

200g organic green grapes, chopped
200g organic pearled spelt
150g organic black rice
2 celery stalks, chopped
60g almonds, chopped
20g black olive powder (see how to make it below)
Juice of 2 lemons
Sea salt and black pepper

For the black olive powder – you will need to start this a day before or at least 6 hours before you are planning to make the salad.

Ingredients

160g black olive (I use Kalamata)
20g white miso paste

Method

Preheat the oven to 100°C. In a food processor, combine the olives and the white miso. Pulse them until they turn into a rough paste. Transfer this paste to a lined baking sheet and spread the mixture evenly. Place it in the oven and cook until the mixture looks dehydrated (about 2-4 hours). When ready, turn the oven off but leave the mixture inside the oven with the door left ajar until completely cool. Place the mixture in a food processor and pulse until a powder is formed.

Cook the rice and spelt as per packet instructions, set aside and let them cool. Put all ingredients in a bowl, mixing gently. Taste and adjust the seasoning. 

Enjoy!
                                                                        
A healthy note: green grapes (Viti vinifera) contain vitamins such as vitamin C, that prevents infections; and vitamin K, that supports bone health and prevents excessive bleeding. Green grapes are also rich in iron, which plays a very important role in the formation of red blood cells; and potassium, which aids cell and heart functions, tissue and muscle.
Almonds (Prunus dulcis): like any other nut eaten raw, almonds are much easier to digest when they are soaked overnight. They are a great source of complete protein and good fats. They contain insoluble fibre, which is beneficial for regular bowel movements. Almonds are rich in magnesium, vitamin B6 and vitamin E. Besides tasting great, almond milk can be taken for constipation and inflammation of the gut (e.g. colitis, IBS and Crohn’s disease).
Black rice (Oryza sativa) and pearled spelt (Triticum spelta) are both great sources of fibre which improves digestive health. Black rice contains an antioxidant called Anthocyanin (its deep purple colour is an indication of high antioxidant properties). Studies have shown that Anthocyanin helps reduce inflammation, improves cardiovascular disease and has anti-cancer properties. Black rice also contains vitamin E.

Till next week!

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Cupboard magic – Chickpea fritters




The convenience of having cupboard essentials is bliss. When you get home and there is nothing in the fridge that takes your fancy, because you had no time to go shopping earlier, you run to the cupboard to find help. And there it is: a can of chickpeas and a can of sweetcorn. My saviours.

Three weeks ago, we cooked a chickpea fritter at FoodCycle that everyone in the team approved. I decided to adapt the recipe in my own kitchen. A bit of a throw-together and there you have it - a nutritious meal. 

Sieve the flour in a bowl, add egg and milk. Whisk well.
Add spices...
...a drizzle of olive oil and all the rest of ingredients.
Place the fritters gently in the pan.
Cook them for a few minutes on each side.
Enjoy your fritters with some slices of avocado on the side and fresh salad leaves.


Chickpea and sweetcorn fritters
Makes 8-10 fritters

These fritters  are a great source of fibre - which encourages movement in your digestive system. They also contain protein and carbohydrate, making them a well balanced snack or a good light meal when paired with fresh salad, for example.

Ingredients

90g spelt flour, plain white flour, or gram flour for a gluten-free option  
½ teaspoon baking powder (optional)
1 organic egg
A drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
60ml organic milk (cow’s or oat)
1 teaspoon of cumin
½ teaspoon of smoked paprika (use more if you like it really spicy).
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
140g chickpea
100g sweetcorn
3 spring onions, chopped
2 handfuls of fresh spinach, chopped
1 handful of fresh coriander, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil for shallow frying.
Sea salt and black pepper

Method

Sieve the flour and baking powder in a big bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Beat the egg and milk with the flour mixture. Drizzle a bit of olive oil. Add all the other ingredients, apart from the olive oil. Pour the oil into a large frying pan, on a medium to high heat. Using a tablespoon, scoop the mixture and place it gently in the pan. Repeat the process until you have 3-4 fritters on the go. Cook them for a few minutes on each side until light brown - if they start to get burn, lower the heat. 

Serve them with avocado slices and fresh salad leaves as a light lunch, or with salsa or yogurt sauce as a snack.

A healthy note: Chickpea or garbanzo (Cicer arietinum) is the most nutritious of all the legumes. It is very good for your pancreas, stomach and heart. It is high in protein, fat and carbohydrate. It contains very good levels of iron (more than other legumes), calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and B vitamins, and especially folic acid (B9). Sprouted chickpea contains vitamin C and enzymes. 
Sweetcorn (Zea mays): If you can, choose organic and non-GMO corns. Corns contain dietary fibre which alleviates constipation and haemorrhoids. It is rich in vitamins B1, B3 and B5 (panthontenic acid), that are necessary for metabolism of carbohydrates as well as for the metabolism of protein and fat.

You can also check other chickpea recipes here, here or here.
 
Till next week!

Thursday, 6 July 2017

The art of preparing a bento box


I have always been fascinated with the Japanese culture and its cuisine. During my trip to Tokyo a few years ago, I marvelled at the bento boxes and their colourful contents. Since then, the preparation of bento meals as a lunch-on-the-go has been something I’ve wanted to master. They can pack so many flavours into a good size serving.

I have been following Sara, aka Shiso Delicious, on Instagram for a while. Sara is half Bulgarian half Japanese, now lives in London and is an advocate for plant-based food. She works with food and the arts, and she also runs workshops teaching how to put together amazing bento boxes. I joined her workshop last week, hoping to pick up some tricks to apply to my daughter’s lunch box. It was a perfect small class of 7 international Londoners from all parts of the world: Brazil, Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, Singapore and Japan.

Sara was very friendly and welcomed us with a cup of Matcha tea made from one of the best matcha powder sold in this country by Matchaelogist. We enjoyed the tea with a yummy vegan banana bread before the class started.

After the warm-up, we started to learn how to prepare the bento box. Sara builds it based on the 5 basic tastes elements: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. She demonstrated how to prepare the Japanese rice and tamago yaki rolling (a layered omeIete). We learned how to make purple rice (with Japanese rice and black rice, shiitake mushroom and kombu), a fast rice vermicelli with spicy Korean style dressing, onigiris, roasted smoky nuts and seeds, and more.

I watched her closely, working in her intricate way, putting all those beautiful cooked and fresh foods together, like a piece of art. Nutritionally speaking the box had it all: carbs, protein, fibre and essential fats. It was packed with nutrients, optimum nutrition at its best. But above all it was so deliciously good. I am now hooked.

Like Sara, her workshop was lovely, informal, genuine, nurturing and with lots of zest.

Sara preparing matcha tea...
...to be enjoyed with her yummy vegan banana and matcha bread.
Japanese rice prepared with shiitake and kombu. 













Fastest morning rice noodles being prepared using a heavy jar to hold the noodles under the boiling water.
Saltwater roasted nuts and seeds.
Rice noodles, beans and red Korean dressing.
Onigiris.
Learning how to prepare layered omelet.
 
Sara showing us one of her ways to build a bento box.
Beautiful and colourful food ready to be put together in a bento box.
Back in my kitchen

Inspired by Sara’s vegan banana bread, I decided to share my banana bread recipe I’ve been making for ages. I hope you can enjoy it with a nice cuppa of matcha tea as I now do. I told Sara I was going to borrow her banana bread recipe to share it here with you. I have made the small batch for my daughter’s bento box and it went down really well. If you want to try Sara’s vegan recipe, go here. It's small version for bento box is very handy.

Dry ingredients.
Wet ingredients.
Fold chocolate and nuts gently.
Place the mixture in a tin and decorate it with sliced banana and chocolate pieces.
Nutty banana bread. Enjoy it with a cup of tea.
A nutty banana bread 

Dry Ingredients

125g rolled oats
125g organic spelt, white or wholemeal flour (I use Shipton Mill)
1 Tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon powder 
150g coconut or muscovado sugar  
100g Brazil nuts, chopped
45g dark chocolate (I use Original beans 75%), roughly chopped

Wet ingredients
2 organic eggs
3 medium size ripe bananas, mashed
150ml organic extra virgin olive oil 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. In a blender, with the exception of the chocolate and Brazil nuts, blend all the other dry ingredients.

Whisk the eggs and add the mashed bananas and olive oil.  
Fold the wet blend into the dry, without mixing too much. Add the nuts and some of the chopped chocolate (leave some to scatter over the cake before baking it). 
Pour the mixture into the tin, decorate with some slices of banana and chocolate pieces.
Bake for 50 minutes. Enjoy it with a nice cup of tea.

A healthy note: Bananas are a great option for a pre or post workout snack as they provide carbohydrate and boost your energy. They are very rich in potassium, which studies have shown to decrease the risk of heart disease. Bananas provide a good amount of soluble dietary fibre that helps with regular bowel movements. They are also a source of vitamin B6 and vitamin C. 
Brazil nuts are a great source of Selenium - an essential mineral which studies have shown to have a protective effect against cancer.

Till next week!