Soothing balm

Is it just me or is everyone in need of a little bit of time out at the moment? I mean, it’s not even December yet and most people seem to be hitting their pre-Christmas meltdown already.

Before you reach for the gin, sit down and take a deep breath (remember to let it go afterwards). Then put the kettle on and brew yourself a cup of soothing lemon balm tea.

The calming properties of lemon balm (melissa officinalis) have been recognised since the Middle Ages. Lemon balm is a member of the mint family (and grows just as voraciously). Its leaves have an intense lemony scent that is both reviving and soothing. Our new house has a tiny bush of it growing in the tangled weeds edging the vegetable patch, but I know it won’t be long before it becomes a thriving monster.

To make lemon balm tea, I just shove a few handfuls of leaves and stems in a teapot and add freshly boiled water, then let it steep for a while. If that sounds too wholesome, Choclette has a recipe for lemon balm ganache which sounds like heaven. After all, lemon balm may help you calm down, but nothing is quite as soothing as chocolate.

Flippin’ fast flat breads

Now, I know you’re going to think I’ve lost the plot when I tell you that you should whip up a batch of flatbreads to mop up your next curry or wrap around that collocation of cold meats and salad bits lurking in your fridge. But really, you should. If I can do it while the Small Girl is doing her python impersonation (ie, entwining herself around my legs in an effort to be picked up because it’s getting close to dinner time and what the hell, she just feels like it) and the Boy Wonder is getting a slew of work phone calls culminating in him putting on his superhero cape and fleeing the house, then you can do it too.

Fast Easy Flatbreads

This recipe is from Hugh F-W’s River Cottage Everyday. The Boy Wonder bought me this for Christmas last year and I can confirm that it just makes me love him more every time I open it. Hugh, that is. I mean, how could I love the BW any more than I already do? (*rolls eyes*)

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Flatbreads
Honestly, this post took longer to write than making these little babies. I think we’re going to be seeing a whole lot more of them.

250g plain flour
1 tsp fine sea salt
150ml warm water
1 Tbsp olive oil

Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Mix the oil and water together, then pour into the flour, stirring with a wooden spoon or your hand until a slightly sticky dough forms. Turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for about five minutes, until it feels smooth and plump. Cover the dough with the upturned mixing bowl and leave to rest for at least 15 minutes.
When you’re ready to cook and eat the flatbreads, place a heavy non-stick or cast iron frying pan over a high heat. Roll the dough into a sausage and cut into eight pieces. Roll each out into a round (ish) shape, about 2-3mm thick. I used my hands at this point to stretch the dough like a piece of wet material. I would roll one out, then cook it, rolling out the next ones as I went.
To cook, lay a flatbread on the hot pan and let it sit for about two minutes, until it’s lifting off the bottom of the pan. Turn it over and let it cook for a minute, then remove it to a plate lined with a clean teatowel. Cover the cooked flatbreads with the teatowel to keep them warm and soft.
These are best eaten as soon as they are cooked, but any leftovers can be reasonably successfully reheated in the toaster. See, told you it was easy!

Sweet sweet Friday: Spelt Slice

The inspiration for this week’s sweet treat came from Emma at Frog, Goose and Bear. A couple of weeks ago she posted a recipe taken from a Bible Society cookbook which sounded so refreshingly old-fashioned and wholesome that I just knew it had to be good. But, you know, I couldn’t resist fiddling with it a bit, especially as I had a little bag of wholemeal spelt flour in the pantry just waiting for an outing. Spelt is an ‘ancient grain’ that’s kinder to the digestive system than wheat, so a lot of people find it easier on their tummies. It also has a slightly nutty flavour that I think lends itself well to baking.

Anyway, I dutifully copied down Emma’s recipe but as I was mixing it I started wondering if I’d copied it down wrong. Surely it needed an egg? By that stage of course I’d turned the computer off, so I was flying blind. Instead, my eyes lit upon a ripe banana languishing in the fruit bowl and I remembered something I’d read earlier in the week about using bananas as an egg substitute in baking. So the end result probably bears no resemblance whatsoever to Emma’s original version, (which doesn’t contain any eggs!) but I think it’s pretty good. Why don’t you make both and see what you think? Have a sweet sweet Friday and a very happy weekend… 

Spelt Slice

125g butter (or non-dairy equivalent)
1 Tbsp date syrup (or golden syrup)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 cup wholemeal spelt flour (or ordinary wholemeal flour)
1/2 cup desiccated coconut
1/2  cup chopped dates (or sultanas)
1 ripe banana, mashed

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease a slice tin. Melt the butter and syrup in a large pot over a low heat. Let cool for a few minutes and then add all remaining ingredients. Bake for about 20 minutes, until your kitchen is filled with warm, sweet smells. Let cool, then slice into bars. Store in an airtight container.

Do you have a favourite end of the week baking treat? Link in to spread the sweetness of Fridays.

Sweet sweet Friday: Superfruity Halloween Muffins

I’ve been haunting every green grocer and supermarket in our neighbourhood this week, looking for a Halloween pumpkin. But Cinderella’s fairy godmother must have been around and turned them all into carriages because there were none to be found (plus, of course, it’s spring here and pumpkins aren’t exactly in season).

The main reason I wanted a pumpkin – apart from the Halloween connection – was to make Aine’s Vegan Pumpkin & Poppy Seed Muffins. Aine is an actress and dedicated vegan and she has a lovely and inspiring blog, PeaSoupEats. You should check it out, even if your idea of veganism is choosing chicken instead of steak.

Anyway, with no pumpkins to be found I thought laterally and went for the next best thing – carrots (well, they’re orange, at least). I fiddled around with Aine’s recipe and this is what I came up with. The trick with these is that they look like a treat but they’re full of stuff that’s good for you (and the little horrors in your life). Hope you have a sweet sweet Friday and a Happy Halloween.

Superfruity Halloween Muffins
The stewed apple replaces oil in this recipe (thanks for the tip Aine!) and I found date syrup in my local ethnic warehouse. You could use golden or maple syrup, but once you’ve tried date syrup you won’t go back!

1 3/4 cups white flour

1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
pinch sea salt
1 1/2 tsp cinammon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup dates, roughly chopped
2 carrots
1 small overripe banana
3/4 cup low fat milk
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
1/4 cup stewed apple (or applesauce, or apple puree, or whatever else you call it)
1/4 cup date syrup
1 Tbsp blackstrap molasses

Preheat the oven to 200C and prepare your muffin tins. There is no oil in this recipe so it pays to grease the tins well or use paper or silicone liners.
Peel the carrots and slice into coins, then cook in boiling water until soft and mashable. Mash to a puree and let cool. This should yield about 3/4 of a cup. Make it up to one cup with mashed banana (you may not need all the banana).
Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl, then stir in the nuts and dates.
Pour the milk and vinegar into a large jug and let it sit for five minutes to curdle and thicken. Add the other ‘wet’ ingredients (stewed apple, date syrup, molasses) and stir gently.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and fold together gently. DON’T beat it or your muffins will be Halloween horrors.
Dollop into muffin tins (I made a dozen mini and six full-size ones) and bake for 20-25 minutes, until they are springy and pass the clean skewer test. Dust with icing sugar and serve with pride.

Keen on quinoa – Superfood Salad

Once upon a time, when I was a carefree girl-about-London-town, I used to spend a lot of time at Leon, a tiny cafe in Carnaby Street with a Scandinavian-style bleached wood interior and good-for-you-but-not-too-earnest-about-it food. The waiting staff were charming, the menu was interesting and it was within stumbling distance of Liberty, Topshop Oxford Circus and the Boy Wonder’s work.

There are now lots of Leons and even a cookbook by its clever founder, Allegra McEvedy, but alas, none in little old New Zealand. But I’ve been making my own version of its Superfood Salad for so long now that I think it’s better than the original. Quinoa (keen-wah) is considered a super-grain because it’s high in complete proteins, which makes it an excellent choice for vegans, vegetarians and people on gluten-free diets. It behaves a bit like rice and millet – it absorbs twice its volume of water during cooking and has a subtle, nutty flavour.

Quinoa Superfood Salad

Superfood Salad (with thanks to Leon)
In the weekend I made this for Terence and Catherine, with some grilled chicken thighs, a tangle of green leaves and some flatbreads from the Italian deli warehouse down the road. Think of this as the master recipe and make your own substitutions as your garden and the seasons provide.

3/4 cup quinoa
1 head broccoli, cut into florets
1 1/2 cups frozen baby peas
200g feta, diced
1 avocado, diced
a handful or two of cucumber, cut into batons
2 handfuls of mint leaves, shredded
2 handfuls of parsley, chopped
zest of a lemon
a couple of handfuls of sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds (toasted in a dry pan, if you have the time and/or inclination)

Dressing
Mix together:
1 clove garlic, crushed with 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup olive oil

Rinse the quinoa under cold running water, then put in a pan with 2 cups boiling water. Boil gently until nearly all the water is absorbed (about 10 mins). Throw the broccoli and peas in and cook until the broccoli is bright green and ‘al dente’, then drain and refresh under cold water again.
Tip the cooked quinoa and vegetables onto a salad platter, then pour the dressing over the top. Toss gently, then scatter over the herbs, cucumber, feta and avocado. Strew the lemon zest and toasted seeds on top in an artistic fashion and serve. This feeds four as a main course, but I suggest placating the carnivores with something meaty on the side. It also makes a very good packed lunch, but remember to keep it refrigerated until playtime.