A Charmed Life


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eat – chilled asparagus and almond soup

soupfordaysI don’t gush over food very often but today I am sharing my current favourite recipe – chilled asparagus and almond soup – created by the Hemsley sisters. I love asparagus so I am always on the lookout for new asparagus recipes and I found this gem in their cookbook The Art of Eating Well (great book for those who love healthy flavoursome meals and also for those reluctant cooks like moi).

This is an ideal summer dish, but to really get the full benefit of the flavours I would recommend teaming it with a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

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chilled asparagus and almond soup

ingredients
4 servings

for the soup
100g flaked almonds. For NF version, substitute with pumpkin and/or sunflower seeds.
1 small onion, roughly diced
1 large leek, roughly diced
1 tsp ghee
1 large garlic clove (crushed)
2½ tsp fresh tarragon, chopped (or 1 tsp dried)
600g asparagus, trimmed (about 12 spears)
1¼ litres vegetable stock (or homemade chicken bone broth)
2½ tsp fresh lemon juice
salt and black pepper (chilli powder optional)

for the topping
½ tsp lemon zest
½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil

preparation

1. Toast 25g of the almonds in a dry, large saucepan and set aside for garnishing later.
2. In the same pan gently fry the onion and leek in ghee for 5 minutes until softened, but not browned. Add the garlic and tarragon to the pan and fry for another minute.
3. Prepare the asparagus by snapping off the woody ends. Add the spears and remaining 75g almonds to the pan. Stir, add a pinch of salt and black pepper, then add the stock.
4. Simmer gently for 5 minutes, with the lid on, until the asparagus is tender.
5. Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice. Blend carefully, in batches if necessary. Taste and adjust the seasoning (I like to add a pinch of chilli here).
6. Chill and remove from the fridge just before serving, then garnish with the toasted almonds, lemon zest and a swirl of extra virgin olive oil (can be eaten hot as well).

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The Greeks spoke of it in love poetry, the Kama Sutra advises drinking it as a paste, it is said the French once dined on three meals of asparagus the day before their wedding in hopes of increasing their libido for the big night ahead. Did you know that asparagus is considered an aphrodisiac? Aside from its obvious phallic shape, asparagus is also packed with vitamin E, calcium and potassium, which aid in cleansing the kidneys and urinary tract as well as increasing sex drive and the production of sex hormones in both men and women. The aspartic acid found in asparagus helps to neutralize excess ammonia in our bodies, and that’s important because excess ammonia can lead to fatigue and sexual disinterest, and where’s the fun in that?

Sat Nam


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i’m going to tell you a secret

secret.jpg
Do you have a secret, one you have had for most of your life? One you have never discussed with anyone – no I don’t suppose you do, lucky you. For most of my life I’ve harboured a secret, one that brought me deep shame whenever I thought of it and restricted the way I conducted my life.

Still better late than never, I am a true believer that the universe always has my back so in my past year – my year of magical thinking as I have come to call it – I was given the opportunity to address this shame and work through it, and hey it must have worked because here I am today ready to share it with the whole world, well the blogosphere which is tantamount to the same thing these days.

Hi my name is Reena and I have suffered from a food phobia for most of my life.’ My specific manifestation was a phobia of fruit, more accurately a fear of the texture and smell of fruit. You know in Star Wars Part IV when Luke, Leia and Han Solo are stuck in the garbage compactor, I think of that as my worst nightmare only with it being packed with fruit.

Now, I know that for you the reader this revelation will hold some element of disbelief even sound completely laughable, but to me it has been debilitating to an extent. Most phobias have a backstory I don’t know mine because for as long as I can remember I’ve had it, as a child I remember crying and – drama queen that I am – threatening to jump over the balcony on being told I had to eat a piece of fruit. I’m not entirely sure there is a moment in time that started it all because as I got older I came to know that two other family members (one of whom is my brother) suffer their own food phobias.

I grew up with this ‘secret’ and it was a secret in that I never told anyone not even family, obviously they knew I wouldn’t eat it but they attributed that to me not liking it. No one has ever known that for me to touch fruit gives me great anxiety and leads me to washing make that scrubbing my hands immediately. Even the smell or being in the same room as it could cause panic in my mind. To make it more bizarre not all fruits were equal. Some I am even okay to eat – as long as I never touched it with my hands – I could happily eat diced watermelon or apple pie with a fork. I won’t go into a breakdown of every fruit and the degree with which it freaked me out but the absolutely worst for me (still) is an orange, I am unable to look at it, smell it let alone touch it or put it in my mouth (the colour has only recently become bearable to look at). But lemons are totally fine in fact they are my favourite fruit. Not making sense – welcome to my world.

With eating being such a social activity, my phobia has restricted me when it came to cooking for others, eating out and even food conversations. Of course I never admitted my problem, for admitting would for all intents and purposes make me the object of ridicule, saying I was scared of spiders (which I’m not) is more preferable than saying I am scared of fruit but also how could I admit to something I didn’t understand myself; so to make life easier on occasion I would say I was allergic but mostly especially with my close friends and family I was just known as a fussy eater. One of my oldest friends told me recently I was always a nightmare to eat out with. Not the nicest thing to hear even if it is true.

So I continued to live with this in silence until a few years ago, when late one night at work I heard a kerfuffle at the other end of the office and upon investigation I learnt that some co-workers were playing a trick on a colleague due to her phobia of fruit. Seeing the panic in her face was all I needed, to know that I had found a kindred spirit. That night for the first time ever I was able to speak freely about my fear. Until this night this person and I barely knew each other but since that night we have become friends, whenever we meet up we joke about our connection and I have to say she is one of my best eating out buddies. Knowing that there was someone else in this world like me made me braver at broaching it with others in my life. It was like ‘I’m not such a freak, there are others like me too’ and yet it still never occurred to me to seek help or even consult the internet until the opportunity fell into my lap when I was in therapy last year.

During my time in therapy I was introduced to an nutritionist and together we worked on helping me to conquer¹ my food aversion phobia – because that is what it is called. Many people suffer from a degree of food aversion phobia; I used to go out with someone who detested coriander, I know many people who won’t eat peas – sometimes these will be fads or like mine last a lifetime. It is when it affects the quality of life that it becomes a problem. I haven’t gone into health implications because it is only since I’ve understood my phobia that I have been able to start living a more healthier lifestyle. Before just hearing how I must eat five a day would make me cringe now I’m planning meals to include my five a day.

I have worked and am still working very hard to overcome this phobia, I must have I just wrote about it; and while I’m not ready to drink a glass of OJ just yet, I will quite happily dig into a bowl of cherries and that my friends is what you call progress.

Sat Nam

¹the programme I am on was especially designed for me (it involved goal setting, reprogramming my brain, visualisation and working to achieve those goals in a comfortable environment). It is on going.


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eat – cookie cutter butter cookies

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I thought I would make some plain old butter cookies today and with Chrimbo around the corner I thought I would give them some shape to get into the festive spirit – this time of year is all about spreading love so I figure it was apt to use a heart mould (and it is the only shape I have).

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ingredients
makes abou18

60g butter
55g brown sugar
1 egg
½ tsp vanilla essence
pinch of salt
175g plain flour
½ tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
½ tsp ground ginger (optional)

any shape cookie cutter

preparation

1.In an electric mixer cream the butter with the brown sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add vanilla essence and egg, mixing well. Sift together the flour and salt, add it to the wet ingredients beating until just mixed. Here I split dough in two and in half add ground cinnamon and in the other half ground ginger and then give each a quick mix (if you choose to split the dough like I do, keep the dough separate as you continue with the baking process).

2.Place the dough in a large plastic bag and chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours and up to eight hours.

3.Preheat the oven to 190°C / gas mark 4. On a lightly floured base roll the dough till it is approximately 1/2cm thick.

4.Using any shape cookie cutter cut the dough into shapes.

5.Place the cookies on a greased baking tray and bake for seven to ten minutes (depending on the size of the cookies). Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

This is one of the ways I’m getting into the Christmas spirit, that and over indulging on cheesey Christmas songs – I would love to hear what you are doing, let me know over in comments.

Sat Nam


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eat – pumpkin bread

pumpkinbreadOne of my must dos when I am in the States is to buy pumpkin bread from Starbucks. I know you are thinking ‘really Reena – Starbucks!’ But I’m telling you their pumpkin bread is their one redeeming factor. After years of harbouring a dream to be able to make pumpkin bread for myself, I finally got off my a*se and did something about it. Took a few attempts but as they say third time’s a charm and this certainly rings true for me today, for I successfully managed to produce a yummy moist loaf. The taste is sublime – spicy and sweet but the smell…  let’s just say if I could somehow translate how good my pumpkin bread smells right now, I know you would be reaching for your loaf tin.

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pumpkin bread 

ingredients
makes 1 loaf

500g pumpkin (you need to end up with 280g of pumpkin puree)
50g salted butter softened
60g caster sugar
½ tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger (I used fresh ginger)
3 medium eggs lightly beaten
350g white flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 Tsp pumpkin seeds (optional)
100g chopped walnuts (optional)

preparation

1.Peel the pumpkin and discard the seeds. Cut pumpkin into small chunks and place in a medium saucepan. Cover with water and bring to the boil. Put the lid on, lower the heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes. Drain well and blend in a food processor until you have a smooth purée. Leave to cool.

2.Grease a 22cm x 11cm loaf tin (about 1.3 litre capacity) with butter and  line the base and sides with grease proof paper. Preheat the oven to 180°C (this is for a fan oven you will need to add 10°C-20°C for a non-fan oven).

3.Weigh 280g of the pumpkin purée and place in a large bowl and add in the softened butter, sugar, eggs and all the spices. Mix all the ingredients together.

4.Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a second large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the well and, with the help of a wooden spoon, stir all together until smooth. At this point you may want to add walnuts and/or pumpkin seeds.

5.Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 1 hour. Once cooked and golden the loaf will shrink from the sides of the tin.

6.Allow the loaf to rest for a few minutes out of the oven before turning it out on to a wire rack to cool.

If you do give it go, let me know what you think.

Sat Nam

 


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eat – courgette noodles with avocado sauce

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Food and I have never been friends. It’s not that I’m fussy when it comes to eating, more unadventurous and uninspired. It makes me cringe when I think of past eating habits and I do wonder how I have made it this far with no ongoing health issues. Bizarrely though, I may have been a lousy eater but I am actually a pretty decent cook (so I’m told) –  now it’s all about redressing this imbalance; exploring eating better with home cooked meals. Right now I am loving courgette noodles (also known as courgetti) – a yummy and healthy substitute to pasta.

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courgette noodles with avocado sauce

ingredients
serves 2

for the noodles
2 large courgettes
dash of salt
olive oil

for the sauce
1 avocado, pit removed
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp cracked pepper
¼ lemon squeezed
1 clove garlic (crushed)
dash of olive oil
sprinkle or two of chilli flakes(for a little extra kick)

preparation

1.Using a spiralizer or mandoline (or a grater will work if you haven’t got one of these) to julienne the courgettes into long strips (they should resemble spaghetti). Place in a colander and add a few dashes of sea salt to the courgette and toss. Leave the courgettes in the colander for about 20 minutes, this will help to drain off excess water.

2.To make the sauce mix all the ingredients together until it has a smooth creamy texture (I use a fork but a food processor will make the much job easier.

3.You can eat the dish raw (as is) OR you can heat up the noodles and add sauce on top OR you can heat both up – it is just a matter of preference. To heat: Add a little olive oil to a sauté pan and once pan has heated up add the courgette and cook for 2 minutes. If heating the sauce, add and mix through noodles, cook for another 2 minutes.

Hopefully you feel inspired to try if you haven’t already.

Sat Nam

ps how cool is the tablecloth 😉

 

 


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eat – hokey pokey cookies

hokeypokey.jpg

I was never any good at science at school but the one experiment I remember and enjoyed was when my third form class made hokey pokey. You know the one when after the golden syrup and sugar are heated, it causes a reaction with the baking soda which creates carbon dioxide (I confess I cheated and looked up the science bit of this). The carbon dioxide is trapped in the heavier syrupy mixture which causes it to fluff up into the thick golden mixture – looking like an eruption. Then as it cools it sets into a firm solid that can be eaten. Yum Yum. A true kiwi kid, I do have a sweet tooth – hokey bars (remember them with the heart of gold in the middle), crunchies, hokey pokey ice cream… and now hokey pokey cookies.

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hokey pokey cookies

ingredients
makes about 12

125g butter, softened
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 Tsp golden syrup
1 Tsp milk
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 1/2 cups plain flour

preparation

1.Preheat oven to 180°C. Line a large baking trays with baking paper
2.Using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and creamy.
3.Place golden syrup and milk into a heatproof microwave-safe jug. Microwave for 20 to 30 seconds on HIGH (100%) power or until hot. Stir in bicarbonate of soda (mixture will bubble up).
4.Add warm milk mixture to butter mixture. Stir until well combined. Sift flour over batter. Mix well
5.Roll 2 teaspoonfuls of mixture at a time into balls.
6.Place onto prepared baking trays, allowing a little room for spreading. Gently press biscuits down with a floured fork. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden and firm to the touch.
7.Stand on trays for 3 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Enjoy


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eat – masala chai cake

I am very particular when it comes to cake as I do not like chocolate. Yes you heard right no chocolate for me, give me plain sponge and fresh cream over gateaux every time. I recently heard about this cake and it intrigued me. I thought I would give it a test run today in order to perfect in time for Christmas day.

masala chai cake

170g unsalted butter
230g golden syrup
230g dark muscavado sugar (I used brown sugar)
280g self raising Flour
2tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
350ml whole milk
8 cardamom pods
3 peppercorns
½ cinnamon stick
2 or 3 slices root ginger, chopped (I grated 4 slices – I can never have too much ginger)
2 every day strong tea bags (I used masala chai tea bags)

Topping/Filling
1 tsp unsalted butter softened
3 tsp brown sugar
1 ½ tsp maida flour (I used brown flour)
½ cup walnuts, chopped
2 tsp chai masala (tea/spice)

First prep the topping/filling:
In a shallow dish, combine butter, brown sugar, flour, walnuts and masala chai spice.
Mix with a fork, till it is crumbly and set aside for later.

For the batter: First make chai. Put the milk in a pan along with all the spices (except cardamom and fresh ginger). Bring to the boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
Once the milk has reduced by half, add the tea bags and stew for a few more minutes. It needs to be quite strong to come through in the cake.
Leave to cool.
Strain and add more milk if necessary, to make the mix up to 200ml.
Preheat the oven to 170°C and butter and line a square 20cm cake tin.
Put the cardamom pods in a pestle mortar and give them a cursory bash to open the husks, and pick out the black seeds inside (this is the fiddly bit).
Then grind them to a powder. Remove any last bits of husk.
In a separate pan, melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup. Allow it to cool a little.
In a large bowl sift the flour, cardamom and salt. Add fresh ginger.
Stir in the cooled syrup mixture, the eggs and finally the 200ml of chai.
Stir gently till well mixed, then pour in half mixture into cake tin then sprinkle half the masalachaicake1.jpgtopping/filling that you made earlier. Pour out rest of batter. Then over the top the rest of the topping/filling.
Bake for 50 minutes or until a skewer/toothpick comes out clean.
Rest in the tin for a few minutes before turning out.

Not too bad for a first attempt, don’t you think ? Tastes delicious too. Yummy eaten warm with a cup of tea. I know not exactly Christmassy but I do like my spices.


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eat – ginger and walnut cake


Gingercake.jpg

Tonight it’s my turn to take cake to my writing class and I very nearly opted for an M&S option but then I remembered I was given a longed for Edmonds cookbook (a kiwi institution) for my birthday. I decided it would be silly to not use it so I made a cake. Three slices later I have to say it is pretty damn good. Do you think it’s rude I am only taking half a cake to my class ?

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ginger and walnut cake

ingredients
makes 1 loaf

125g butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 Tsp golden syrup
2 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp mixed spice
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup chopped crystallised ginger (this is what it says on the recipe I prefer to use fresh ginger)
you can add 1/4 cup sultanas I didn’t
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup milk

preparation

First start with creaming butter, sugar and golden syrup until light and fluffy.
Sift flour, baking powder, ginger and mixed spice together.
Add sifted dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with beaten eggs.
Stir in ginger, walnuts (and sultanas).
Dissolve baking soda in the milk and stir into the mixture (I always sneak a taste of the batter at this point – if I feel it needs more spice I add more fresh ginger – the spicier the better I say)
Line a 20cm cake/loaf tin with brown paper, followed by baking paper. Pour mixture into tin.
Bake at 180°C for 35 minutes or until the cake springs back when lightly touched.
Leave in tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.

I like eating it warm with a little butter. Give it try and let me know the yum factor.

ps  I forgot my class follow my blog – M&S here I come…