Carrot falafel

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I’m procrastinating. I’m writing this post as slowly as possible because I don’t want to clean the bath. It’s not really my fault: I blame whitefly, which are persistently infesting my indoor plants this year. I don’t mind if it’s herbs, I just bin them or put them outside to face the gale force winds on my balcony. But this is different. This time they have spread to my miniature orange tree, and I remember writing a post not too long ago about how keeping this tree alive means that I am a grown-up. I will not have my symbolic adulthood destroyed by whitefly! I don’t know what the real-life metaphor for that destruction would be, but I don’t want to find out. Which leads me to the bath. Today I painstakingly washed the leaves and branches of my orange tree with soapy water. It looks happier. My bath, the location of this washing, is however now full of leaves and soil. I want to take a shower. I need to move the orange tree. I need to clean out the leaves and soil. And then in 3 days I need to do it all over again. And then again. Or maybe I could write this post and put it all off, and then maybe I’ll go to the bath and see a little note of apology from the whiteflies saying they were sorry to bother me and won’t be coming back. I’d like that.

On to falafel. I’ve been making falafel for a while, and it’s always been fine but I’ve just been that bit underwhelmed by it. In my heart, I have known that this was because I simply refuse to put in the oodles of salt and oil needed to make plain falafel truly tasty like the stuff you get from a take-away. I just can’t do it. My solution was to add carrots, which give extra texture, flavour and bulk, and then to bake the lot to give it the crunch I’m looking for. Much better. I serve this with pita, salad veg and hummus/salsa. I’ve packed an extra serving for my lunch tomorrow, and I’m already looking forward to it.

falafellunch

Ingredients:
450g carrots
1 red onion
a 400g tin of chickpeas
a 1 inch piece of ginger, chopped finely
1 large egg
4 tbsp plain flour
1 tsp mild chilli powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp sesame seeds
salt

Makes about 20 falafel balls to serve 4 people
Calories per serving (not including pita etc): 260
Takes 15 minutes to make, 20 minutes to bake

Stage one: Preheat the oven to 190C/fan170C. Blend the carrots, red onion and chickpeas to the size of your choice. I blend a couple of seconds at a time, because I like my falafel chunky and I like to see the different colours. Other people may like them smoother. Anyway, pick a texture and blend accordingly.

Stage two: In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients and mix well. I’ve added sea salt as a specific ingredient here because you’ll need to add more salt than you would if you were just seasoning. Use sea salt if possible. You’re working with pulses here, which aren’t already packed with flavour and salt like meat or cheese. It’s like if you’re seasoning from a table salt shaker – season as usual and then add 3 more shakes for luck.

falafelmix

Stage three: Line a couple of baking trays with greaseproof paper, and then ball out the falafel. Again, whatever size you like will work here. I went for falafel about the size of a heaped tablespoon. And yes, I did this bit with my hands. I’m sure you could use spoons if you want, but hands is easier as the mixture is quite crumbly.

prebakefalafel

Stage four: Bake for 15-20 minutes until they look crispy. Enjoy hot or cold.

bakedfalafel

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Cheesy filo parcels

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There exists for me a very rare and special category of food: food that is so much lower in calories than it ought to be that it almost feels unfair. Portions that look huge and are full of cheese, but somehow there’s no nutritional downside. It appears that filo pastry is the key to this category. It’s thin and fragile, but bakes into solid, crunchy goodness so that you don’t notice how little there is of it. Plus it makes me feel all fancy. Filo pastry is a great way of separating out the filling for what would otherwise have been a single large pie into lots of little filo parcels, which means you get so much more crunch for your filling. Brilliant. Fair warning: these parcels are a bit fiddly. But they don’t take long, and they’re worth it. Some of the cheese leaked out of mine in the oven, and at first I panicked and was sad and assumed it was a disaster. Turns out, it wasn’t. It makes no different to the cheesiness or crunchiness of the parcels, plus I got to eat the crispy cheese. I guess a fix for this would be to double up the filo pastry for each parcel, which you are welcome to do, but I’m happy with fewer calories and crispy cheese.

You can use these parcels as a fancy low-calorie starter, or eat three of them and still have a low calorie dinner but feel like you are eating a feast. Guess which I did?

Ingredients:
3 filo pastry sheets
250g spinach
800g plum tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
100g mature cheddar (I used low fat)
2 tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil

Makes 6 parcels
Calories per parcel: 160
Takes 60 minutes

Stage one: Preheat the oven to 190C/fan 170C. Quarter the tomatoes, mix in the garlic and 1 tsp of olive oil, season and pop in the oven for 30 minutes. I’d give them a mix around half way through to stop them burning. This should dehydrate the tomatoes and intensify their flavour. If they’re still plump at the end of the 30 minutes, roast them for a further 10 minutes. The drier they are, the easier they will be to work with.

Stage two: Meanwhile, put the spinach in a colander and pour a kettle full of boiling water over it to wilt. Leave to cool, then squeeze as much of the water out of it was possible. Grate the cheddar into a bowl.

Stage three: Lay out the first sheet of filo pastry, and halve it so that you have 2 filo squares. Take a sixth of the tomato mixture and put it on the centre of the bottom edge of one of the squares. Sprinkle a sixth of the cheddar and the spinach on top.

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Stage four: OK, here’s the fiddly bit. Gently start to roll up the parcel into a sausage. The tomato is going to want to seep through and rip the filo, so you’ll need to support it as you roll it up. Brush both sides of the pastry roll with olive oil, and then fold the ends of the sausage over the tomato side of the roll. This will help it hold together in the oven. Repeat for the other 5 parcels.

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filoroll

Stage five: Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper, and lay the parcels on it. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden.

bakedfiloroll

Cheddar scones

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Today’s post was meant to be about scones and pea soup, but for some reason I decided to make the pea soup using only standard store cupboard ingredients and it turned out blah. Not bad, just blah. Fortunately, the scones that I am sharing with you are sufficiently wonderful that I really didn’t care. They actually de-blahed the entire meal. The recipe I used on BBC good food suggests making lots of them so they’re tiny, but I like them bigger. I prefer the crust-inside ratio this way – lots of crunchy outside, but more fluffy inside. I think these scones are another example of my lack of interest in prettiness and perfection in my baked goods. I don’t use cutters to make them look even. I don’t want them to look even. I want them to be golden and irregular. The upside of my way is that it takes far less time, and also there’s no guilt about tearing into them. You aren’t destroying perfection; these scones were not meant to last.

cheddarscone

Ingredients:
50g butter, room temperature
250g self-raising flour
25g porridge oats
75g cheddar cheese (I used low fat)
150ml milk (I used semi-skimmed)
1/4 tsp paprika (optional)
a big sprinkle each of salt and pepper

Makes 8 scones
Calories: 205
Take 15 minute to put together, and 10-15 minutes to bake
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Stage one: Preheat the oven to 220C/fan200C. Get out (and preferably measure out) all the ingredients, as you’re about to get your hands buttery and floury, and that’s just the start. Rub the butter and flour together until the mixture forms crumbs. Then add in the oats, cheddar, paprika and seasoning, and mix. Pour in the milk and mix until just combined into a moist dough, adding a splash more milk if it turns out dry and crumbly.

sconemix

Stage two: If you’re a perfectionist, lightly flour a surface and then cut the scones out using a circular mould. If you’re not, flour the surface and your hands, then gently form the dough into a short sausage. Slice it into 8 roughly equal chunks. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and lay the dough chunks on it.

prebakedscones

Stage three: Bake for 12-15 minutes until the scones are golden and beautiful.

cheddarscones

Chocolate chip cookies

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Sorry for the long delay in posting – life has been busy in a wonderful way. I’ve spent time in Cambridge with friends, and been unexpectedly offered a wonderful and exciting job as a research assistant for the next year! Now I get to stop looking at NHS jobs every 10 minutes before leaping into a panicked flurry of typing in case I miss a position that can be up for as little as 5 minutes. I get to stop worrying about what I’m going to do for new work experience this year. I get to stop living in the glum irony that trying to become a clinical psychologist is basically terrible for your mental well-being. Life is excellent. And now I get to thank my employers and work experience organisers through a medium which I find far less socially awkward than my usual rambling “thanks, really, thanks, no seriously, thanks” etc etc. Baking! Tonight I am baking for a large number of ladies in a child psychology department, so clearly chocolate chip cookies are the answer. I used this recipe. It’s good. Life is good. Good things are good.

packedcookies

Ingredients:
200g brown sugar
100g caster sugar
170g butter, room temperatures
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
200g dark chocolate chips

Makes 36 small cookies, or 18 big cookies
Calories: 120 when making 36; 240 when making 18
Takes 15 minutes to make, 10 minutes to bake

Preheat the oven to 190C/fan170C. Cream the butter with the two sugars. Stir in the eggs and vanilla, then add the flour, salt and baking powder. When everything is evenly combined, stir in the chocolate chips.

Put a sheet of greaseproof paper on a baking tray. Put balls of cookie dough on the paper 8cm apart, 1 tbsp in size for small cookies, 3 tbsp for large cookies. Bake for 10-15 minutes until they’re golden brown and starting to crisp around the edges. Leave to cool four a couple of minutes before transferring them to cooling racks.

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Yoghurt brownies

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You know when you buy something and can’t remember what you intended to do with it? Normally this is fine. Vegetables just go into whatever I was planning to make next. The rest goes into either the freezer or pantry until I actually need it. Or else I just eat it. But the thing with Greek yoghurt is that I love how it tastes when something has been done to it, but I don’t like it quite enough to eat an entire pot. So… brownies! What I really like about these brownies isn’t just the taste – it’s how easy they are to deal with after baking. They’re rich and chocolately, not too sweet, gooey like all brownies should be, but the yoghurt makes them lighter and somehow holds them together better. You don’t need to leave them to set. You don’t need to be careful taking them out of the pan. Just take them out of the oven, slice, and eat. Beautiful.

yogbrownieslice

Ingredients:
150g dark chocolate (I used 70% Lindt)
150g butter
80g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
160g golden granulated sugar
200g Greek yoghurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs

Makes 12 brownies
Calories: 290
Takes 20 minutes to make, 20 minutes to bake

Stage one: Preheat the oven to 180C/fan160C. Put the dark chocolate and butter in a bowl, and put the bowl on top of a small saucepan filled with about an inch of water over a medium heat. Melt them, stirring occasionally, and then remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Stage two: Sift the flour and cocoa powder into a mixing bowl, and then mix in the sugar and vanilla extract. Pour in the chocolate-butter mixture and stir until everything is combined, then add the yoghurt, and finally stir in the eggs. You’ll now have a thick, glossy batter.

yogbrowniebatter

Stage three: Dollop the batter into a 20x20cm baking tin, and pop in the oven for 20-25 minutes. You can tell a brownie is done by gently shaking the tin, and if the brownie doesn’t wobble, it’s done.

yogbrownie

Vegetarian chili wraps

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I spent work today sitting in a sunbeam next to a window through which came a light breeze. It’s summer! Life is good! OK, ironically literally as I wrote this the sky has turned from blue to grey and it has started raining. From this I could derive some kind of life lesson about taking things for granted, or maybe something about the greatest joys being brief, but in truth I don’t really think I’m interested in that and it’s kind of trite. Plus, it doesn’t change anything! I still had a lovely day, and I still used that lovely day as an opportunity to make a lovely summery dinner. For me, this means wraps. I love wraps. I could eat a million of them, preferably with a tasty and nutritious filling, but I’m not picky. I can eat them with Marmite. I can just rip into them plain. I crave them.

Warning: you will make a mess when eating these wraps. Do not eat them in front of people you want to impress. Eat them in front of people you can laugh with. Everyone makes a mess in a different way. I catapulted vegetables over the table, my lap and the floor as I ate mine. My husband somehow managed to make all the tomato juice come out of the bottom of his. It’s a voyage of discovery. Don’t wear a white t-shirt.

Ingredients:
1 tin of kidney beans, drained
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 large white onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp mild chilli powder
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tin sweetcorn, drained
200g cherry tomatoes
1 large avocado, or 2 small avocados
a handful of fresh parsley
grated cheese to serve (optional)
tortillas

Makes 6 wraps
Calories: 340
Takes 20-25 minutes to make

Stage one: Finely chop the onion, crush the garlic, and cook them in a saucepan over a medium heat until the onion has gone translucent. This should take about 5 minutes. Then, add in the chopped tomatoes, kidney beans, chilli powder, coriander and cumin. Season to taste. Give everything a stir, reduce the heat to low, and leave it to do its thing while you prep the rest of the veg.

Stage two: Chop the avocado and halve the cherry tomatoes. I know you don’t need to halve the cherry tomatoes, but I find it hard enough to eat wraps as it is without spraying tomato all over the place. Combine them in a bowl with the sweetcorn and parsley and give everything a mix.

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Stage three: Put the wraps together! Dollop in the centre a sixth of the bean mix, then spoon over some salad, and finally sprinkle some grated cheese on top (if you like). Accept that as you are going to make a colossal mess, and enjoy.

chiliwrap

Sweet potato bake (aka fake Dauphinoise)

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I’ve never been quite sure about Dauphinoise potatoes. I get the point: they’re rich and creamy, which to me is a great quality in a foodstuff. The thing is, I always find myself wanting something more. I want a bit more crunch, a bit more flavour, something a little more substantial that (if possible) won’t make me feel guilty. Somehow, thinking along this vein led me to the conclusion that I could make my own version of the Dauphinoise by basically changing all the ingredients. The plus side of doing it this way is that you can have this as a light main course or a side, and it’s neither too bland for the main nor too overwhelming for the side.

Ingredients:
850g sweet potatoes
1 red onion
100g cheddar (I used low fat)
150ml semi skimmed milk
3 eggs
1 tsp wholegrain mustard

Serves 4 (or 6 as a side)
Calories: 350 (if serving 4)
Takes 30 minutes to make, 30 minutes to cook

Stage one: Preheat the oven to 200C/fan180C. Peel and slice the sweet potatoes, and thinly slice the onions. Put in a roasting tin. If you don’t want the top really crispy, now would be the time to measure out some tinfoil to put over the roasting tin half way through and set it aside for later.

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Stage two: In a bowl, combine the milk, eggs and mustard, and season well. Pour the mixture over the potato and onion. Grate the cheese and sprinkle it over the top.

prebakesweet

Stage three: Pop it in the oven for 30 minutes. Have a look after 15-20 minutes and decide how crispy you want the top. I like the top really crispy, so I just left the roasting tin uncovered, and the top potatoes went all crisp and the onions charred slightly. It’s a personal taste. If you’re not weird like me, very carefully cover the roasting tin with tinfoil and return to the oven.

sweetpotatobake