Provencal Lentil and Quinoa Burgers with Tapenade (grain-free/easily vegan)

Provencal Lentil BurgersEgads folks. I am STILL without an oven. Well, a whole oven. The good bit of the oven where you put the big pots, and post in lots of trays of things to bake and roast.

Sorry if I am being too technical, but I just can’t help myself. You know me – such a tech head. Joke. Continue reading

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Lemony Kale, Quinoa and Chickpea Salad with Homemade Vegan ‘Parmesan Cheese’

kalequinoasalad6Lemony Kale, Quinoa and Chickpea Salad with Vegan Parmesan Cheese: mouthful of a title, mouthful of a meal. Continue reading

Quinoa Bowl with Citrus, Avocado and Edamame

citrus quinoa bowl with avocado and edamameWelcome to our new favourite summer salad. Why is this our favourite? Well, it is at once creamy, crunchy, savoury, tangy, slightly bitter and ever so slightly sweet (from the corn). We love what I call ‘dimensional salads’: ones that not only have complementing textures, but also complementing flavours – and this is definitely one of those. There is even a little pop from the quinoa, which I liken – if cooked less than the packet instructs – to those crackly pop rocks candies we used to get as kids. Minus the sweetness and weird science-experiment ingredients, of course. I was inspired to make this health-giving bowl of goodness from a recipe I saw in Yotam Ottolenghi’s second book, Plenty (avocado, quinoa and broad bean salad). I have made many versions of this textural salad in the past couple of years, but this is probably my favourite. I tend to add so many vegetables that it is always bigger than the bowl I have for it. That’s a good thing, right? We ate it in last week’s long anticipated sunshine, but with a new ingredient. One of which I believe Mr Ottolenghi would approve. Continue reading

Tomato and Skillet Corn Quinoa Salad


If any salad that I do epitomises summer I would say this is it. Sure, you can make this salad at any time of the year, especially if you want to feel summery while curled up in a warm duvet and hail ricochets down your chimney. But, it just won’t be the same, not without local grown-for-flavour corn and tomatoes. Out of season tomatoes can be pretty. But pretty insipid.  And corn, well if you get out of season corn that tastes of anything other than the little cardboard tray it often comes in, that’s a result.

No, this salad, and any salads that major on sun-ripened vegetables, should really only be eaten in the summer and early autumn.  I wouldn’t pass a law or anything but common sense tells us that food grown locally and in the right season tastes better, is better for us, is cheaper and of course is better for the environment. Continue reading

Edamame, Apricot and Mint Couscous

It’s 5 a.m. and I’m sitting at a computer,  bare footed with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice at my elbow. Mr A and I have annoyingly been up for quite a while, surfing futiley through a gazillion TV channels, knowing that come 3 p.m. all we – and Miss R- will want to do is flop under a ceiling fan and have a wee siesta. But we will be too busy alligator spotting at the local nature preserve or burning up the plastic in a meat locker-cold mall for such simple pleasures. Yup, we are not at home in Edinburgh, but in fact visiting my family in Florida. And, despite the decided lack of zzzs, it is worth all of the crummy jet lag in the world. Continue reading

Sweet and Tangy Berry Tabbouleh

There is nothing quite like waking up on a Saturday knowing that you are going to go mattress hunting. At Ikea. That maddening enforced maze. Those cute little scenarios that you can never recreate. And those blasted tempting meatballs. Unlike many families, we do not enjoy shopping. I detest the lighting in most stores and the claustrophobic feeling in all but the most unaffordable of shops; Mr A, well he is a guy; and Miss R likes shopping well enough when given a wad of money and a cheerio-goodbye from her parental benefactors (slightly unfair, she actually doesn’t mind hanging with me).

I know we are atypical in this respect. One only has to go to Tesco or up into town on a weekend and one can see two- and three-generations of family strolling together, carrier bags swinging in unison – little Johnny and Jessica with an ice cream, and Ma and Pa with takeaway lattes or some such. How I envy their calm mien. With us it is more like Mr A hovering on a double yellow line and Miss R and me dashing about like demented wasps trying to get whatever vital item it is that we lack. Stressed and sweating we then pile into the car, like thieves making a getaway.

I used to adore shopping, both proper and window. I can’t quite put my finger on why I would now rather stick pins in my eyes than schlep uptown to spend money I don’t have on something I don’t need. Perhaps it’s the largely indifferent service, or the feeling one is being manipulated (Ikea, I am talking about you). Or that I don’t care for what passes for fashion these days. Despite loathing it more than I loathe watching Gran Prix (which is saying something) sometimes you just gotta do it. And today was the day. To be far it wasn’t too hideous. Mr A sat in the car listening to rugby while Miss R and I flopped on beds. Quite an odd experience rolling onto one’s side and looking straight into the eyes of a stranger doing the same thing two feet away. Anyway, Miss R found a mattress. But little did we realise until we read the fine print that their mattresses are “European sizes”. Miss R’s bed frame is good ol’ John Lewis, some 10 cm shorter. Much sighing in silence on the way home. And we didn’t even get any meatballs for our troubles. Continue reading

Late-Summer Salad and Triple Tomato Soup

This morning I realised we are experiencing an inexorable slide to ‘porridge weather’. All summer I have been vacillating between starting the day with berries and yogurt, poached egg with asparagus, and a breakfast bruschetta of chopped cherry tomatoes, olive oil & basil on sourdough. All very delicious and light. But this morning – without any thought behind it – I reached into the cupboard and pulled out a forlorn packet of Scottish porridge oats. Using a half and half mixture of soya milk and water, I simmered this companionable pairing before adding dried goji berries and a grating of apple. And it was heavenly. If that doesn’t say ‘autumn’ I’m not sure what does.

But it wasn’t just the instinctively pre-hibernation breakfast that signaled summer’s end. Although it doesn’t yet feel too chilly, the other omens are abundantly clear: more than the odd brown leaf on the lawn, mystery mushrooms colonising under the oak tree, a lower, moodier sky. But my most accurate harbinger is the two extra bodies on the bed. Today Mr A and I awoke to find our cats nestled and immovable among the folds of the the duvet.

Over the years we have realised that as soon as Max and Mimi pad up from the cool and serene downstairs to warm and cosy upstairs, summer is well and truly behind us. So, barring a freak heat wave (highly unlikely) it won’t be long until we fire up the central heating and start moaning about the cost of it.  Until then it is an extra layer and the comfort of cat-warmed feet. Continue reading

Sushi Made Simple

sushi on plate

Miss R LOVES sushi. She had her first encounter with raw fish and sticky rice at the tender age of three, gleefully pressing the pink and white parcel into her little mouth with the relish other three year olds might have for a chocolate bar or burger. Unfortunately, when she was young, Scotland might as well have been Mars when it came to finding Japanese food, so we were rarely able to indulge her. Even fish shops very rarely stocked the quality of fish with which to make your own sushi and sashimi. But gradually over the years the restaurant and fishmonger situation has improved and we can now make sushi as often as we like – or as often as the purse allows. For one of Miss R’s birthdays we even had a sushi making party, which was great fun even if I was picking rice out of the carpet for days afterward. Five years later I still vividly remember one bold boy sucking down the contents of the wasabi tube and trying desperately hard not to cry.

I can’t pretend to be an expert on sushi. As I am self-taught in this art, my efforts would probably appall a 10-year apprenticed sushi chef. But I can’t afford to frequent sushi bars very often, so Miss R and I make do by rolling it ourselves with the freshest ingredients. Even though Mr A is the only one in our house to have visited Japan we all love sushi, sashimi, miso and all the other delicacies of this most refined of cuisines. I love the ‘clean’ flavours, precision and attention to the tastes – sweet, salty, bitter, sour, spicy (many will debate this one) and umami.

This last taste – denoting meaty, savoury, yeasty flavours – is a Japanese word that roughly translates as ‘savouriness’ or ‘deliciousness’. This word and concept covers the often indefinable tastes we sense in some foods, and has filtered into British culinary thinking by chef Heston Blumenthal and in the US by David and Anna Kasabian - see the Umami Information Center for more about this subject. You can even buy umami paste to add to dishes. I used to think I liked salty things but I now realise that umami, which often pairs up with salt in savoury foods, such as Marmite, is really what I like. It’s only taken 40 something years to figure that out. It explains why I love parmesan cheese, tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, fish sauce and black olives – all high in free glutamate acid – an amino acid that is the hallmark of umami.

With sushi, you can play with taste elements to great effect emphasising, say, salty and umami (smoked eel + sushi seaweed/nori) or sweet and spicy (mayonnaise and peppered mackerel). I like to add in hot, sour and bitter garnishes such mustard-hot wasabi, pickled sushi ginger, spicy togarashi (here’s my recipe) powder and salty-sour umeboshi paste to satisfy my craving for taste contrast. But even a slug of Kikkoman makes a brilliant partner for sushi.

I have always thought that the two keys to good sushi are super fresh fish and   properly cooked sushi rice. Well, I have amended this slightly to also include properly cooked quinoa. Yep, quinoa. My friend Niki gave me the idea after she wanted to make the first recipe that I posted, smoked mackerel and quinoa fishcakes, but didn’t have all the ingredients, so made a sort of sushi thing instead. I don’t know what she ended up putting in this invention but I’m positive it was delicious. This was a stunning revelation as, although sushi is super healthy, it isn’t all that low in carbohydrates. We need carbohydrates and I don’t have any truck with the lingering fad for high protein-low carb diets that may end up wrecking your kidneys, but I do believe that we should include more unprocessed, ‘brown’ carbohydrates.  You can of course use brown sushi rice to lower the GI rating, but I can never get it to work as well as the white stuff. So the near-sacrilegious substitution of rice for quinoa struck me as rather genius. And it worked, beautifully.

Sushi doesn’t have to involve raw fish. By all means use just the smoked mackerel, or maybe try some smoked salmon, quality tinned or jarred tuna, chicken, cooked prawns,  crabsticks (which are a complete misnomer but perfect here) or keep it veggie. This is made for ‘free-styling’ so put in what you like and what you can neatly roll up. Kids are sometimes a bit funny about the look of the seaweed, so get round that issue by rolling it up as inside-out rolls, with the seaweed safely curlicued up inside the rice. It takes a little more skill, but only just a little. I will guide you through the steps but there are plenty of on-line videos to help too. Here’s one on California rolls.

Once you have the hang of rolling sushi, increase the chances of your children trying this healthy nibble by getting them to have a go as well. Have plenty of counter space, a bowl of water for keeping hands clean and damp and be prepared for plenty of giggles. Apparently this is National Parenting Week here in the UK. Prime Minister David Cameron, a father of three young children, was asked on Radio 2′s ‘Jeremy Vine Show’ for his top parenting tips. First on his list was for parents and children to cook together, making a lot of mess and having fun in the process. I think sushi making fits this bill perfectly. Give it a go, but don’t blame me if you are picking up rice for the forseeable future…

Sushi Made Simple

285g/10 oz sushi rice

360ml/12.5 oz water

3 tbsp rice vinegar

1 tbsp caster sugar

3/4 tsp salt

4 sheets toasted nori (sushi seaweed)

100g/4 oz super fresh salmon, cut into long strips (you may not need all)

100g/4 oz smoked mackerel, torn

Good quality mayonnaise, mixed with a little wasabi paste if you like (we like) – optional

Black sesame seeds, optional

Vegetable fillings: thin strips of cucumber, avocado, carrot, beetroot, spring onion/scallions – but use any vegetables that you like such as shiitake mushrooms, peppers or mooli.

You Also Need: a bamboo sushi rolling mat, Japanese condiments such as togarashi, umeboshi, pickled ginger, soy sauce/shoyu sauce and wasabi – get all of these in Oriental supermarkets, some mainstream supermarkets or online; bowl of clean water, sharp knife, cutting board, cling film, foil or large baking tray.

The rice is the only bit that you kind of need to get right as the rest is just to your taste. Wash the rice in cold water until the water runs clear: I do this in a sieve. Pop it into a lidded saucepan and add in the 360 ml water. Leave it to soak for 15 minutes then bring to the boil. Cover and lower the heat to simmer for 10-12 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Remove from the heat and leave, covered, for 10 minutes. You can do all of this ahead of time and bring up to room temperature before making your sushi, but I find it is best if you use freshly made rice. While the rice is cooking and waiting you can get on with sorting your fillings and work space. Mix together the vinegar, sugar and salt until dissolved. When the rice has rested spread it out onto a long sheet of foil or onto a large baking sheet, sprinkle generously all over with the the vinegar mix. Fork the rice  around to mix the vinegar solution. Experts say to fan the rice as it makes it glossier.                                                  

Now you are ready to roll! Place your rolling mat on  your work space, lay one piece of nori  on the edge closest to you. If you are having a shot at the inside-out rolls then trim off the top quarter with a pair of scissors. Spread some rice onto 3/4 of the nori, leaving the top quarter bare, or up to the edge for inside-out rolls. Dip your hands in water and clap to remove excess. Doing this regularly while smoothing on your rice will keep it from sticking to your hands too much.

For regular maki sushi lay your fillings in a line, one-quarter from the bottom edge (see photo), starting with the mayo or umeboshi, if you like. Don’t be tempted to pile on too much or it will be trickier to roll up. I usually use about four fillings at a time. Once all of your toppings are on start rolling from the bottom edge, using your fingertips to guide and contain the filling as you roll away from you. Take your time, gently squeezing as you roll, using the mat to push the seaweed roll forward. You will hopefully end up with a neat, tight sushi roll. Trim away any filling peeking from the ends and set aside while you set up another roll. When they are all completed cut each roll into 6-8 pieces and place cut side up on a platter along with your condiments. 

For inside-out rolls place your nori on the worktop next to the rolling mat and press on your rice, as instructed above but taking the rice all the way to the trimmed top edge. Now, if you are brave, carefully grab the two bottom corners and flip the rice-laden nori over onto the mat, aiming for the bottom edge to line up. If you are less brave, press a piece of clingfilm over the sushi, lining up the bottoms and then flip. Doing it this way is trickier for rolling up as you need to ensure that you pull away the clingfilm as you roll, but some may find this easier to begin with. Now carry on with the filling but laying it directly onto the nori. Roll up tightly, roll in sesame seeds if you like, and cut to your desire thickness. Now, attack with chopsticks!

Quinoa option: Rinse 200 grams of quinoa in running water and bring to the boil in 400ml of water. Turn the heat to simmer, pop on the lid and cook until the water is absorbed. Cool and season as above.

quinoa sushi (foreground) + rice sushi

Makes a great, healthy snack for school too!

Quinoa and Smoked Mackerel Fishcakes

plated quinoa and smoked mackerel cake with salad

Quinoa (pronounced ‘keen-wa) is having its moment in the sun, so to speak. Ranked highly in the healthy foods hall of fame, creamy-coloured, crunchy quinoa has gone from ‘keen what’ to ‘keen wow’. This ancient Andean staple is used like a grain but it is in fact a seed (scientific name Chenopodium quinoa Willd. Yes, it is two ls). And, unlike cereal crops such as wheat, oats, rye and barley, quinoa is a gluten-free complete protein, making it invaluble to vegans and coeliacs alike.

Its fabulousness doesn’t stop there: quinoa is lower in sodium and higher in calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese and zinc than wheat, barley or corn. Full of satiating fibre too. I don’t want to be a nutrition geek, so if you want to know more about this versatile, tasty and nutritious seed, click here.smoked mackerel and bowl quinoa

cooked and uncooked quinoa

cooked and raw quinoa

I will be a prep geek, however:  rinse the grains well before cooking and ignore your packet’s cooking instructions. Trust me, unless you want quinoa porridge (which is actually quite interesting, cooked in apple juice), keep your fast simmering time to ten minutes and, with the lid still on, kill the heat and steam for a further five minutes. The ratio of quinoa to liquid that I use is 1:2. Should be perfect. When cooked the tiny buff coloured beads swell delicately and sprout a tail. That’s when you know it’s done. Quinoa has its own harmless bitter tasting natural pesticide on the surface. So, before you cook the quinoa pour your measured grains into a fine-mesh sieve and rinse for about 20 seconds, rubbing the grains between your fingers.  Although much of the bitterness is removed during processing it’s still wise to give it a good rinse. Those who complain that quinoa tastes weird probably haven’t rinsed first. Sorry about the bossiness – you can tell I am a mother.

The recipe below is a low GL take on fishcakes, with the added bonus of affordable smoked mackerel in place of more expensive crab or salmon. I make the cakes with cold leftover quinoa but you can of course make some up specially, cooling it before making up the cakes. I have used capers in this version but a heaped teaspoon of grated horseradish  (English Provender Co. is good) and little dinky cubes of pickled or grated beetroot taste great and look pretty too. I use quinoa quite a lot so I hope to post some of our family and Maggie’s Centre favourites in the near future. This is my daughter’s favourite.uncooked quinoa smoked mackerel cakes

Quinoa and Smoked Mackerel Fishcakes

What You Need

300g/10.5 oz cooked quinoa (or use 150g raw quinoa and boil with 300 ml water, as directed above)

200g/7 oz smoked mackerel, skin and any hard end bits removed

1 medium carrot, grated

1/2 courgette (zucchini), grated and squeezed of excess moisture (optional)

3 heaped tbsp capers (rinsed if in salt), chopped

zest and juice of one lemon (preferably unwaxed)

2 tbsp chopped fresh dill, or 2 tsp dried dill

about 75g/3 oz (+) maizemeal, polenta or cornmeal (they are all more or less the same thing – dried, ground corn)

rapeseed oil, to fry

What To Do: I usually do this in a food processor, quickly pulsing the mixture so as not to get a sticky mush, but you can certainly do it by hand – literally, squidging it all up with both hands. Pop the mixture into a bowl, cover and refrigerate for half an hour. This cooling time makes it easier to form into cakes.

Now, form little cakes – mine are usually about 9 cm/ 3 in in diameter and 4.5 cm/1. 75 in thick but it’s up to you. If you do them my way you should get about eight or nine cakes. Pour the maizemeal onto a plate and, as you form each cake, pat it into the maizemeal, gently rolling it on its side to completely coat. Place the coated cakes on a cool baking sheet or plate. Now, heat up enough oil to coat the bottom of a large frying pan generously but not more than a few millimetres. Sprinkle in a few grains of maizemeal and, if they sizzle, you’re good to go. Put some of the cakes into the hot oil, making sure not to crowd them as this reduces the heat and makes for soggy cakes. Cook the cakes until they are very golden brown; turn carefully to prevent them breaking. Because the fish and quinoa are already cooked you don’t have to go too dark. When this batch is done pop them onto a paper towel-lined baking sheet and into a warm (120C/250F) oven. Cook the remaining cakes. Serve with a sharp green salad, some oven-baked sweet potato wedges and the following simply-prepared sauce.

Dill Cream Sauce

200ml/7 oz half-fat crème fraîche/sour cream

juice of half lemon

1 tsp grated horseradish or wasabi paste

100g/3.6 oz cucumber (English/hothouse), finely chopped

1 tbsp chopped fresh dill or good pinch of dried dill

Mix well and serve with fishcakes.

This is my first post of my first blog (late adopter!). Thanks for visiting and I hope you come back soon to see if I get any better. I think I’ll do a late winter soup next. Until then, make it homemade.quinoa and smoked mackerel cake opened with fork