Sugar Free Banana Bread

This is an unusual one for me. I am all about sugar. I mean, I eat a lot of vegetables too, but when it comes to cake, I am a purist – it’s got to be full of butter and sugar. That’s what cake is about, right?

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A few weeks ago one of my colleagues went on a sugar free diet, and a couple of the others were just generally trying to ‘eat better’…I think we’re always striving for this in my office, but there’s a pretty consistent balance between the amount of cake and the amount of fruit consumed – recently there has been a pretty steady stream of Creme Eggs being consumed. But, I digress! To my colleague, sugar free meant no cake, so I decided to look into making sugar free cake (because an office without sugar is no fun).

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And behold! I found a recipe that I like. This is pretty straightforward, and I’ve played around with it a bit – most recently I have added chocolate to it, because that still counts as low sugar, right? But what I’ve found is that in banana cake you don’t really need sugar. Granted, it makes it look a bit more appetising (for whatever reason this cake has come out a slightly grey shade of brown every time I’ve made it), but it tastes just as good because bananas are super sugary, especially if you leave them until they’re really brown. I’m not going to start advocating a sugar-free lifestyle, but, this banana bread is pretty good if you want to try it.

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Best Falafel

Falafel is a labour of love. It always takes longer to make than I anticipate, but is wholly worth it once it is done. This recipe is adapted from the Guardian’s ‘how to make the perfect…’ series, and whilst I’m not entirely sure it’s perfect, it’s pretty damn good. This recipe uses a mix of chick peas and fava beans, but if you’re struggling to find fava beans (or dried broad beans, to go by their other name), I don’t see why you can’t just use all chick peas. I can’t say I understand enough about the intricacies of falafel making to understand why one is preferable over the other.

I spent much time searching around various shops to find fava beans, to no avail, so (as previously recommended) I went to Hodmedod’s and found them there. Hurrah!

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Unfortunately a mishap occurred with this batch – possibly not blended for long enough, or the beans weren’t dry enough, but they were a nightmare to shape into balls, and after they immediately fell apart in the pan once I started frying them, I gave up, smushed them all down and made a different sort of falafel, one that looks like a giant bowl of brown sugar. This was achieved by pouring all of the mixture with a few tablespoons of sunflower oil and baking at 200C for about 20-25 mins (turning the mixture occasionally). It’s better in this form if you want to make wraps, because unlike when they’re round, it doesn’t all collapse so easily. So, accidental discovery, would recommend. But you can also follow the correct traditional method below.

img_4666tOne final recipe note: I have to split the ingredients in half and make in two batches because my blender doesn’t fit all of it in at once – at least not for it to effectively blend. If you too have a not-huge-blender, you may want to consider this.

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Quinoa and Pepper Salad

img_4599tThis has become one of my staple lunch options. It’s straightforward and fairly quick to make, and you can switch the different items based on what you’ve got around. This recipe is based on Anna Jones’ ‘At Your Desk Salads’ (from A Modern Way to Cook) – which is an excellent chart of ingredients in six different categories that you can mix and match to create a salad. So the base of this is quinoa, with pepper, spring greens, cornichons, pumpkin seeds and a pesto dressing. I won’t list all of the various options here, but another variation I’ve done recently is brown rice with carrot, lettuce, sesame seeds, capers and a soy sauce/maple syrup dressing.

A Modern Way to Cook has rapidly become one of my favourite cookbooks. In the past I have bought recipe books and cooked one or two things out of them, and then they just sit on the shelf, very occasionally used. So for a while I have refused myself cookbook purchases because it’s not worth paying about £25 for a couple of recipes. This time though, I found the book in the library, and I took it for a test run before investing. For the longest time I didn’t even realise my library had cookbooks, and now I know I think I will always borrow before buying. We cooked out of A Modern Way to Cook pretty much solidly for a week, and I realised that it was going to be a worthwhile investment, because there’s so many new, different (and quick!) recipes to try. Not eating meat has meant I’ve had to invest a fair amount of time into looking at what else I can eat that is good for me, balanced and healthy, and this book is possibly one of the best I’ve come across (also Ottolenghi’s Plenty, which will be discussed at a later date).

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Banana & Toffee Cupcakes

The last month has been crazy, full on crazy. I went to Stockholm a couple of weeks ago, and it was glorious. I never get tired of visiting Scandinavia, it’s like this paradise where everything is just lovely and full of coffee and pastries, and they have museum exhibitions about brewing beer (yes!). It also looks like this:

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On returning, we had friends staying for the Bank Holiday weekend, and then had a huge pizza party which was great, albeit very messy, because when you make 3kg of dough, and get your approx. 20 guests to all make their own pizzas, it gets…ugh. My kitchen. It was the biggest clear up job ever, and mad props to Laura and Hayden who did loads of it whilst I was still at the pub. We had some cool pizzas though – including macaroni cheese pizza, potato pizza, and banana and harissa pizza (which surprisingly worked).

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Anyway, now that I’m finally less insanely busy, it’s time to write about those banana and toffee cupcakes I mentioned a while ago. I love banana cake, and I’m always looking for variations to increase its general awesomeness. This is a tale of first world problems, whereby the little Waitrose near my house stopped selling the banana and toffee cupcakes I had grown to love. They still sell them at the one 4 miles from my house, but that is no use to me. So I decided to try and make some myself. I’ve made these a couple of times, and I will say it’s still a work in progress. I think I’m basically hoping that one day they’ll taste exactly like the Waitrose ones, but in the meantime, these work pretty damn well as a substitute.

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Strawberry & Rhubarb Syrup

Summer is here! (It’s forecast to rain tomorrow, but 3 days of sunshine and 20+ degree heat is good enough in the UK). To celebrate all the sunshine and possibility of sitting outdoors without a jacket, I made some delicious, delicious syrup. It was one of those recipes you see and think to yourself “I need that in my life”. And I wasn’t disappointed. I took some rhubarb from my parents’ garden, bought some strawberries and a lemon, and a cute milk bottle, and after very little effort, I had this:

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It’s great as a summer drink mixer – use 2-3 tbsp of syrup and add sparkling water, or my personal preference, bitter lemon. If you’re feeling like you need some alcohol, add 2 shots of gin, and maybe a few crushed mint leaves. Beautiful.

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Carrot, Cumin and Kidney Bean Burgers

Carrot, Cumin and Kidney Bean Burgers

Gratitude for this meal idea goes to Laura, who I am sharing my quest for better cooking for one with.

After a previous bad experience making vegetarian burgers that contained kidney beans, I wasn’t immediately sold on the idea of these burgers. The gross burgers I made a year or so ago were dry and unpleasant, and so I was like “will this be more of the same?” NO. No it won’t. These burgers are excellent, cheap and straightforward to make. From Laura’s suggestions I made some additions to the original recipe, such as increasing spice and eating with halloumi. I also added some garlic, because if there’s one thing that Nigel Slater has taught me, it is that anything is greatly improved by the addition of garlic.

I think if you leave the mixture in the fridge for a bit you could probably put these on the barbecue. This I am keen to try because one of the few things I am not sold on for being fully vegetarian is not being able to have proper barbecues. I mean, there’s nothing like a beef burger or a sausage that tastes of delicious charcoally grill, right? So I’m hoping that these burgers might make a good substitute (or I will just continue with my occasional lapses back into eating meat).

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I also probably need to invest in a new grater. And a garlic crusher. I spent far too long trying to grate the carrot because we don’t have a box grater, which makes grating more than a small amount of something really inconvenient. Then when I was grating the garlic I managed to also grate my thumb. Genius.  It is useful to have effective kitchen tools.

Oh, and if you were wondering what my soundtrack to making these burgers was, it was this little guy chewing his cardboard tunnel: tiny rabbit

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Cooking for One

Day of food joy #lunch #pasta

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Cooking for one. It sounds like something sad and lonely, someone without a partner, family or friends to cook for, but often it’s just a fact of life.  For the last 2.5 years I’ve lived with housemates, but we haven’t cooked together or for each other, so I have cooked for myself every evening. I love to cook, I love making the effort to cook a delicious meal even if it is just for myself. Over that time I’ve also stopped cooking meat for myself, which has presented a challenge in finding new things to make. My friend has recently moved, and she, like me, lives with someone else, but is cooking for herself. We’re in our mid-20s, don’t earn much (or anything at all, in my case), but we want to eat well and we don’t have the luxury of spending a lot on food, nor can we afford to waste it.

So few recipes cater for cooking for one. I know the obvious thing is to just reduce the quantities, but so often that means using bits and pieces of vegetables and trying to work out something inventive to do with the leftovers, or having to eat the same thing several nights in a row, which is tedious. Recently I ate tomato and lentil soup for lunch four days in a row because I had vegetables to use up and I was trying to save money. By the third day I was truly sick of it. This is how things often are when you’re just cooking for yourself. But it shouldn’t be. Food should always be awesome, even when cooked in smaller portions. This is what I’m looking for, for my food to be exciting every day, even when I’m trying to use stuff up.

I’m going to start writing my dissertation in a few weeks, which means a stretch of about 3 months where I have plenty of work but no pressing deadlines. I’m going to start thinking a lot more about how I cook for myself, and because it will be almost summer there will be loads of amazing vegetables coming up soon. This will be my new challenge – to find more variety and excitement in cooking for one, and writing about it here. Watch this space.