Hello Fresh delivery today – very excited!

Guess what I received today?

My first Hello fresh box.

I was saying a few weeks ago I wanted to try this one after having already ordered (and loved) Gousto a while back.

The box was waiting for me on my front step at lunch time, full of yummy, fresh ingredients for three vegetarian recipes. And a free pack of Jordan’s granola.

I’ve already cooked one of the recipes, a zingy, veggie pasta dish which was simply delicious. The two others look just as tasty.

Post of my cooking experience coming up soon.

Fancy Croque-madames

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve had a comfort food kind of weekend, and lunch was no exception: croque-madames have been the lunchtime staple these past few days. These fancy cheese and ham toasties are simply delicious and even better than the original with an egg on top.

Eggs make my day every time.

Now, you may not have heard the term “croque-madame” before, but I’m sure you’re familiar with “croque-monsieur”, which is the French equivalent of fried or grilled cheese and ham sandwiches, often topped with béchamel sauce.

Do you know why we call these Madame (Mrs) instead of Monsieur (Mr)?

Because they have hats.

Egg hats.

I am being dead serious.

And I’m fairly certain this is reason enough to eat these bad boys. I mean, girls. Hmph. You know what I mean.

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Serves 1

Ingredients:

2 slices of wholemeal or sourdough bread

Dijon mustard

Salted butter

50g comté or gruyère cheese, grated

20ml crème fraiche

One or two slices of thinly sliced ham

1 egg

1. Spread a little Dijon mustard on each slice of bread, to taste. Make a sandwich with half the cheese and the ham.

2. Spread the outside of the sandwich with butter.

3. In a pan over medium heat, fry the sandwich on both sides until both of these are crisp and brown. Meanwhile, mix in creme fraiche with the rest of the grated cheese.

4. Turn on the grill. Spread the cheese and cream mixture on the top of your sandwich then place under the grill until the cheese bubbles. Place sandwich on a plate.

5. In the same pan you used to fry the croque-monsieur (or separate pan, as you wish), fry the egg. When it’s cooked, season and place on top of sandwich to finish your croque-madame.

6. Serve with a fresh salad.

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7. Enjoy!

Mushroom and tarragon lasagna

This weekend has been such a chilled-out couple of days.

I woke up late both days and studied Spanish and German at home in my pjs with a pot of tea and some music in the background. Worked on some lesson plans.

Did a little exercise.

Took a long walk in the sun.

IMG_3834Held an owl (literally, my friends). Say hello to Gandalf, isn’t he a beaut?

Ate some comfort food.

It was just that kind of weekend. 

I had dinner with my housemate Saturday evening. She cooked my sweet potato dauphinoise for us, which was, as always, a delight, especially with a light salad on the side and a small glass of Bordeaux wine.

IMG_3824Lunch was Croque-madames – if you’re not aware, these are simply the most delicious and elegant French alternative to a cheese and ham toastie, and a definite childhood favorite of mine. I’ll be posting the recipe tomorrow.

Dinner  yesterday was another Olive magazine recipe: mushroom and tarragon lasagna. When I saw the recipe in the magazine, I knew I had to try it. I’m always looking for healthy and delicious vegetable lasagna recipes, and tarragon is by far one of my favorite herbs, although I don’t often get the opportunity to cook with it.

The recipe is fairly easy to do, apart from the béchamel sauce, which I’d advise being careful with: I’m always tentative with these types of sauces, as they can easily split. The trick here is to incorporate the milk very slowly, little by little. My first attempt was completely botched! However, the lasagna is well worth the effort. Thanks for another delicious recipe, Olive!

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Serves 2

Ingredients:

250g chestnut mushrooms

2 shallots, finely chopped

25g tarragon, stems removed and finely chopped

Butter, unsalted

1tbsp flour

250ml milk

100g mascarpone

6 lasagna sheets

Parmesan (1 to 2 tbsp)

Salt

Pepper

1. Heat a pan over medium heat and melt some butter or coconut oil. Fry the finely chopped shallots until soft. Add the chopped mushrooms with a knob of butter and turn the gently so as to coat them all.

2. When the mushrooms are cooked, turn up the heat a little and let the liquid they’ve given out bubble out before adding the chopped tarragon. Set aside.

3. In a small pot, melt 1 tbsp of butter, being careful not to let it brown. Add 1 tbsp of flour and stir until well incorporated. Add the milk little by little, stirring continuously and letting the mixture thicken. When all the milk has been incorporated, season before stirring in the mascarpone (use a whisk if necessary to avoid any lumps). Fold sauce into the mushrooms.

4. Pre-heat your oven to 180° Celsius. In an oven-proof dish, layer the mushrooms mixture and lasagna sheets so as to form about three layers, finishing with a layer of white sauce. Sprinkle the parmesan over the top.

5. Cover the dish with a tent of foil and bake for 45 minutes in the oven. Remove the tinfoil and bake for a further ten minutes to brown the top.

6. Serve with a fresh salad.

7. Enjoy!

Baked sweet potato with feta chipotle cream and chorizo

One of my favourite moments every month is receiving my Olive magazine, a foodie magazine featuring delicious recipes as well as restaurant and travel features. I particularly love the “Healthy choices” and “Weeknight simple” recipe categories, the latter one from which I took this beautiful recipes.

Baked sweet potatoes are always a delicious choice, but these toppings absolutely blew my mind: the feta chipotle cream goes beautifully with the SP and it’s a nice change from my usual homemade sour cream and chives. The chorizo, meanwhile adds a lovely kick and smells so delicious while it fries that you’d want to eat all of it by itself – but you should definitely wait, it is so worth it!

The original recipe calls for pickled jalapeños and sour cream, but I added my own twist by using crème fraiche instead of sour cream and chipotle paste instead of the jalapeños. I absolutely LOVE chipotle paste and I happened to have some left over 😉 thought I’d be clever in using up my ingredients.

I’ve already planned all of my meals for the week but I’m pretty sure I’m going to end up having this every day for the next few days. Because mm mm mmm was this delicious.

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Serves 2

Ingredients:

2 sweet potatoes, washed

60ml crème fraiche

30g feta cheese, crumbled

1 tbsp freshly chopped coriander

1/2 tsp chipotle paste

100g chorizo, cut into thin slices

Watercress or baby spinach leaves to serve

1. Preheat oven to 200° Celsius.

2. After having washed the sweet potatoes, dry them and pierce on all sides with a fork. Place on a baking tray in the oven for approximately 40 minutes.

3. While the sweet potatoes are baking, mix together crème fraiche and feta, making as smooth a mixture as you can – if possible, use a blender. Then, add coriander and chipotle paste and set aside.

4. In a dry frying pan, fry the chorizo until crisp.

5. When the potatoes are tender, place on a plate and split in half. Divide the feta chipotle cream between both, then sprinkle on the chorizo slices. Serve with fresh salad leaves (I used a mixture of watercress, rocket and spinach).

6. Enjoy!

Chickpea, kale and spinach curry

Third in my list of recent Indian-inspired dishes, and continuing in my vegetarian stride: here’s a simple version of Chana Saag, chickpea and spinach curry, inspired by Hungry Desi.

I love vegetarian dishes which use legumes (beans, lentils, peas) as one of their main ingredients and really provide a filling and nutritional alternative to meat by packing a good protein punch. I also love using spinach, my favourite leafy green and a nutritional powerhouse – 100g alone provide you with 25% of your daily needs in iron, 47% of your daily vitamin C needs and more than four times your daily needs in vitamin K!

I’ve also used a little kale, which has amazing benefits as well – it fit in perfectly with the rest of the dish and tasted, as always, delicious!

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Serves 4

Ingredients:

150g spinach, washed leaves

100g kale

1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 can of chickpeas

1/2 teaspoon dry ginger powder

1 teaspoon coriander powder

1/2 teaspoon fennel

1/4 teaspoon cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon garam masala

1 tablespoon tomato puree

1 can chopped tomatoes

Salt

Coconut oil

1. Heat 1 tablespoon of coconut oil in a large pot. Add the spinach and kale leaves and salt. Cook for about 5 minutes, breaking down the greens until wilted and pulped but some liquid remains. Remove to a separate bowl.

2. Heat 1 more tablespoon of coconut oil in the same pot. Add the cumin seeds and fry for 1-2 minutes until they sizzle.  Add the chickpeas and a little more salt salt.

3. Remove from heat and add the ground spices.

4. Return to heat and mix in the tomato puree and canned tomatoes. Cook for 1-2 minutes and then add 1 1/2 cups water. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes.

5. Add the greens and cook for another 5-10 minutes on low heat.

6. Taste and adjust salt and chili as needed. Serve hot with naan, raita and rice.

7. Enjoy!

Roasted fennel and tomatoes

Everybody seems to be cooking fennel these days, so here I am, jumping on the bandwagon with this beautifully simple recipe from my grandmother: roasted fennel and tomatoes.

Up to a few weeks ago, I don’t believe I’d ever had roasted fennel before; I mainly remember eating fennel raw, in sandwiches or salads. I had a delicious fennel salad in Rome last summer, with black olives, orange and rocket and a tangy olive oil and orange dressing, and have fond memories of eating the most amazing homemade sandwiches on the Amalfi coast: fresh mozzarella, slices of tomato and raw fennel, fresh floury Italian rolls soaked with extra-virgin olive oil; just add a cool breeze, the sun shining on my skin & a good view and I’m in heaven.

In any case, eating cooked fennel was a revelation: this recipe is simplicity itself and tastes so good you won’t even believe it. Three ingredients are needed: fennel, tomatoes and extra-virgin olive oil. Put the lot in the oven, wait a little while and enjoy! For those of you who aren’t the biggest fans of the liquorice-like taste of fennel, you’ll be glad to know that cooking this vegetable definitely tones this flavour down, bringing out much softer tones.

A really lovely dish, tasty and so easy to make! My grandmother likes to have it as a side dish, with a piece of baked fish and some rice, but I can picture this as a vegetarian main, with some butter beans added in for good measure (and a bit of a carb and protein boost). How will you choose to eat it?

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Serves 2

Ingredients:

1 bulb fennel, fronds cut off and kept aside

1-2 tomatoes

Olive oil

Salt

Pepper

IMG_37911. Preheat oven to 190° C.

2. Cut fennel and tomatoes into halves, then into wedges.  Place vegetable wedges into an oven-proof dish. Cover in some olive oil, a little salt and pepper.

3. Cook in the oven for 35-45 minutes or until fennel is tender, turning over halfway through.

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4. Serves hot with rice and a fillet of fish, or with some beans. Sprinkle the fennel fronds on top.

5. Enjoy!

Enjoying a bit of Nature

I’ve gone down to Surrey for the weekend to spend some time with The Boy on this wonderfully sunny weekend. I never get much of a chance to cook there or work on new recipes – for one thing, it’s not my kitchen and for another, I don’t have a lot of the tools or ingredients I would normally use.

However, I get to enjoy nature and its produce in a different way: The Boy is a horticulturist, so when I come here I can try my hand at a little gardening!

Last time I came here, we sowed some courgette, shallot and physallis (inca berry) seeds which we shall plant once it’s warmer out and they’ve sprouted – I cannot wait to eat/cook with the fruits of our labour, courgette flowers especially! They are so delicious and near impossible to buy anywhere. I’m hoping to be posting courgette flower recipes all summer!

One of the Physallis seeds just sprouted today, I am such a proud mama 😉

This time around, we (he) planted some new plants outside – a few ferns and euphorbias and others whose names I’ve already forgotten but can’t wait to see grow!

He arranged the plants and put them in the ground – he’s got the experience and I enjoy watching him work far too much, with the obligatory cup of tea in my hands, of course!

See the end result below: I do hope these plants flourish. I can’t wait to see what they look like in a few weeks’ time!

It feels really great to spend some time outside getting your hands dirty and learning a new skill (albeit slowly). Whether it’s to go for a walk, exercise, just get some sun or garden, I love being out and in contact with Nature on beautiful days like these!

What did you all do this weekend? Any memorable outdoor experiences?

Caffeine is not my friend: anxiety triggers and staying on the right path

A bit of a personal post today. 

 So, I had caffeinated coffee for the first time in, oh, about three and a half years yesterday. It was kind of by accident: it was warm out so I asked for an iced coffee at a cafe and simply forgot to mention that I wanted it decaf. By the time I realised my mistake, I felt silly and decided to just get on with it and drink my iced coffee.
 

Now, the reason I stopped drinking coffee in the first place was because it was having too strong of an effect on me. A few years ago, I realised that after drinking coffee, I always felt on-edge, antsy, anxious… It triggered a number of anxiety attacks at that point in my life and as soon as I put two and two together and saw the correlation, I decided to stop and never turned back! 

 Well, I turned back once, 6 months after stopping, and boy was it a bad idea! 

 Anyway, for the past few years, I’ve kept saying that one day, I’d have coffee again – when I’d have a day to waste, in case it didn’t go so well. I kept putting it off, because I didn’t really miss coffee. Tea is better anyway 😉 

 As it turns out, I suppose yesterday was that day! And it wasn’t that bad, considering. I felt the caffeine as soon as it hit my system, like an oncoming rush of…something… a heightening of sensations, a certain loss of control. I had to breathe deeply and talk myself into not freaking out. And I managed not to, although I felt very hyper and slightly agitated for the hours that followed. Finding sleep was particularly hard. 

 The lesson I learned from this? Coffee is not my friend. I’m no longer suffering from anxiety and I can deal with whatever life throws my way, but reintroducing anything in my life that can have such a noticeable effect on my psyche still seems like a stupid thing to do. At least it’s good to know what my triggers are. And I suppose that’s part of managing my health, as well: knowing what’s likely to set me off and staying away from it. 

 I’ll just stick to tea (green and white, mainly), thank you.

Red lentil dhal

I’ve been feeling pretty inspired by Indian cuisine these past few weeks and have been cooking up a lot of Indian dishes – after Spinach and Paneer curry, here’s the latest in what may be a long list of Indian creations.

To many non-vegetarian people, a meal just isn’t complete without a hunk of meat, and a meal based solely on vegetables and grains or legumes just isn’t a proper, filling meal. Prove them wrong with this delicious red lentil dhal recipe!

Not only is it flavourful and delicious, but it contains wonderfully filling red lentils, which are high in carbohydrates, fiber and protein! They are also a great source of iron and B vitamins: a 1-cup serving of lentils can supply 82% of a person’s daily iron requirements and 90% of a person’s daily folate (vitamin B9) requirements.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

225g red lentils

115g greens beans, steamed and chopped

115g baby corn, washed and chopped diagonally

1 green pepper, deseeded and chopped

2 tomatoes, deseeded and chopped

1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp coriander

1/2 tsp asa foetida

150ml vegetable stock

2 tbsp coconut oil

Fresh coriander

Poppy seeds

1. Rinse lentils in cold water and drain. Repeat up to three times to wash out any debris. When lentils are washed, put in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring water to the boil then reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until lentils are tender. Take off the heat and set aside.

2. In a second pot, add coconut oil. When melted, add spices and red chilli. Cook for two minutes, stirring continuously. Add chopped greens beans, green pepper and baby corn and cook for a further two minutes, again stirring continuously.

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3. Add vegetable stock, bring to the boil then reduce heat and let simmer for 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

4. Add vegetables, the remaining cooking juices and the chopped tomatoes to the lentils. Stir through then cook for a further 5 to 8 minutes.

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5. Serve immediately, while the dhal is hot, sprinkling each plate or bowl with fresh coriander and poppy seeds.

6. Enjoy!

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Sugar-free baked beans

If you live in England, you must know that a full English breakfast is not complete without beans – baked beans, that is. If you’re going to brunch in England, and brunch right, you’ve got to have some of these with your eggs!

Now, the only brand you should be buying, my British friends tell me, is Heinz: nothing beats a tin of Heinz baked beans. The contents of which pack a whopping 9.8g of sugar per serving (1/2 tin or 200g). Even the reduced sugar and salt version has 6.7g of sugar per portion (1/2 tin or 200g)!

I never fully understood the concept of baked beans; we don’t eat a whole lot of beans in France. The first time I saw someone eating beans on toast (in my mind, the nutritional equivalent of carbs on carbs with sugar sauce), I did a double-take! However, I must admit, they have kind of grown on me – but I would rather eat them homemade to actually know what I’m eating.

I have really scoured the internet to find a proper baked beans recipe that I would find truly satisfying, and this one really did it for me (although I did tweak t a little). I love the strong tomato sauce, balanced with the sweetness of the rice malt syrup (all glucose sweetener) and the acidity of the apple cider vinegar. Slow-cooking really thickens the sauce and makes the beans perfectly tender. Make a big portion and keep in the fridge to enjoy, heated, at breakfast, dinner or as a snack. You can even freeze it in portions and keep for up to three months!

Serves 8

Ingredients:

2-3 tins cannellini beans

1 red onion, diced

1 onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tin chopped tomatoes

2 tbsp rice malt syrup

3 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Coconut oil

Salt

Pepper

1. Heat the coconut oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat, add the diced onions and cook for 6-8 minutes.

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2. Stir in the chopped garlic, tomatoes, rice malt syrup, apple cider vinegar and 400ml water, then tip in the beans. If using dried beans, make sure you’ve soaked them overnight and pre-cooked them for an hour in simmering water.

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3. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 1½-2 hours, stirring occasionally, until you have a thick sauce and tender beans.

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4. Serve the beans on toasted bread, with grated cheese, if you like, or as part of a complete full English breakfast.

5. Enjoy!

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Original recipe found here