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Friday, 24 July 2015

Garlic Bread and Tomato Bake

You know how it is on a Saturday when you haven't really planned what to eat for lunch?  Then suddenly you find that everyone is at home and looking expectantly for you to come up with something tasty for them to enjoy.

Well that's what happened to me last Saturday.  What could I make? What did I have in the larder and fridge?

Garlic Bread and Tomato Bake
Serves 4

A single garlic baguette
6 tomatoes
4 eggs
100 ml milk
2 tbsp red pesto
75g grated cheddar
freshly ground pepper
A few basil leaves (optional)

  1. Pre - heat the oven to 180C
  2. Slice up the garlic bread and place in a buttered oven proof dish.
  3. Thickly slice the tomatoes and layer over the bread.
  4. Cover with 2 tablespoons of pesto.
  5. Beat the eggs and add the milk, pour it over the bread and tomatoes.
  6. Season with freshly ground pepper and cover with the grated cheese. 
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until risen and golden.
  8. Tear up a few basil leaves and scatter over the top.
  9. Serve with salad.
This is the ideal dish for the No Waste Food Challenge run by Elizabeth's Kitchen.

And of course Credit Crunch Munch as this is a thrifty dish which will fill up the family at very little cost.   Credit Crunch Munch is run by Helen at Fuss Free Flavours and Camilla at Fab Food 4 All

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Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Come to a Barbeque at my Kitchen Table

It's Barbeque season and, although the weather has been rather variable, when the sun shines we love to cook and eat outside.  Some hardy souls even brave the rain and wind and carry on regardless.  Here are a few of the products that have arrived on my kitchen table for review and how I think they can be served as part of al fresco eating.

Let's start with some soup!  "Soup at a Barbeque!" I hear you cry, well yes... ideal for those days that are not quite warm enough and also perfect to keep hunger pangs at bay while the barbie is heating up and the main event is cooking.  This healthy Glorious Skinnylicious Soup is perfect to start your party.  The San Antonio Fiesta is a  hearty chilli sin carne with Black eye beans, Haricot beans, Black Turtle beans, and Red kidney beans. Also carrot, red pepper, basmati rice, a smoky Chipotle chilli paste, a pinch of peering at colourful floats parading past and ending the night shamelessly line-dancing in an old dancehall.

For those who prefer something a little smoother and sweeter there is New England in Autumn and it certainly doesn't taste like it has less than 1% fat. Made from roasted butternut squash with a hint of warming cumin, this soup reminds us of happening upon honesty stalls full of autumn harvests and strolling under colourful tree canopies.  Kids will love this too.

Now, you can't have a barbeque without burgers.  These are a little different, they are haggis burgers which I made by combining 500g of beef mince and 450g Macsween Haggis, then forming into patties. Chill and then cook in the usual way on the barbeque or fry them, cook under the grill or bake in the oven. Serve with salad, homemade coleslaw and homemade potato wedges.

To dress up your burgers, sausages or steaks you need some spicy sauce or a tasty marinade.  Encona Taste Explorers have a great range of sauces and marinades provide something a little different,  how often do you taste Jamaica, Korea or Morocco on the grill?

With Encona’s new marinade range, you can spice up your barbeque and bring flavour to the fire. You have a choice immersing your food in Jamaican Jerk, Korean BBQ or Moroccan Harissa.

Each marinade has been inspired by its origin, combining authentic ingredients to create three mouth-watering marinades that will make you feel like you are sunning in the Caribbean, riding a camel in North Africa or wandering through Gwangjang market.

A spicy and fragrant Moroccan paste made with a blend of chilli puree, herbs and spices; the harissa marinade adds the perfect kick to a lamb skewer.

For those who feel taste travelling to Morocco isn’t far enough, you can take your taste buds all the way to Korea. The BBQ marinade is made with a blend of gochujang spices, which can be enjoyed on beef, chicken, pork or grilled vegetables.

Alternatively, you could virtually hop across the pond to the sandy beaches of Jamaica, and enjoy a beach BBQ with a mild jerk marinade blended with scallions, hot pepper and pimento spices.

Each marinade is suitable for vegetarians and  two are gluten free.

Time to get saucy with Encona Peruvian Amarillo Sauce, a blend of authentic Peruvian Amarillo chillies, roasted onion, spices and herbs creating a sweet, subtle chilli flavour with a hint of garlic – the perfect way for eager taste explorers to get their taste buds tingling without the cost of a plane ticket.

Grab your maracas and sombreros, Encona are taking us to Mexico too. Launching alongside their Peruvian sauce, they have created a Mexican Smokey Jalapeno Sauce. A delicious blend of chillies and spices gives the rich sauce a subtle smokey flavour and a warm and fruity taste to compliment your Mexican meals.

These are really versatile sauces, not just for the barbeque.  I added the Moroccan Harissa Marinade to some lamb steaks and cooked for 8 hours on low in the slow cooker, throwing in a drained can of chickpeas about an hour before serving.  The result was a delicious spicy tagine-style casserole served with lemon zest couscous.  A big pot of this would go down well with fans of spicy food.

I have a  hamper of Encona goodies including the full new range and a cute handmade World Map apron to GIVEAWAY, see bottom of this page.

And for the vegetarians attending the barbeque,  I would recommend this delicious Grilled Halloumi, Red Pepper and Rocket with Wholegrain, Pearl Wheat and Quinoa, using one of the new range of  Rice and Grains pouches from Uncle Ben's.  They are so quick and easy, ideal when you are pushed for time and still full of flavour.

Grilled Halloumi, Red pepper and Rocket with Wholegrain, Pearl Wheat and Quinoa

Serves 2
• 1 pouch Wholegrain, Pearl Wheat and Quinoa 
• A bag of rocket Salad 
• Half a pack of Halloumi Cheese 
• 1 Red Pepper 
• Some Olive Oil 
• Some Pine nuts

Heat a non-stick frying pan or griddle pan. Cut halloumi into 6-8 slices and cook quickly on each side for 2 mins until lightly tinged brown. Squeeze Wholegrain, Pearl Wheat and Quinoa pouch to separate the rice, tear 3 cms to vent, then microwave on full power for 90 seconds. Arrange rice, halloumi and salad on plate. Garnish with slices of red pepper and a few pine nuts.

This is the full range of Uncle Ben’s  wholesome, great-tasting Rice and Grain varieties  Perfect as a base for a healthy summer meal, each pack blends the goodness of wholegrain rice with added grains such as quinoa, wild rice or pearl wheat.

Everyone will all enjoy this Mixed Bean and 5 Wholegrains Salad and there are plenty more quick and healthy recipes on the Uncle Ben's website.

And for dessert here are a few ideas, from previous posts at Farmersgirl Kitchen, that will definitely please your guests:

1. Double Chocolate Tartlets
2. Sensational Strawberry Pavlova
3. Salted Caramel Peach Sundae
4. Chilli Lime Cupcakes 

 These Moose Maple Butter shortbreads are the perfect grab and go dessert, they are made to a simple shortbread recipe, the Moose Maple Butter gives them a slightly chewy,cookie texture rather than the usual crisp shortbread,  the flavour of maple comes shining through, not overpowering but deliciously  rich and sweet.

Moose Maple Butter contains nothing more than Pure No.1 Canadian Maple Syrup and fresh British Butter and a pinch of salt, it's great spread on toast, it's a great alternative to other sweet spreads, we loved it.

Finally treat your guests to the traditional Elizabeth Shaw Mint Crisps. This timeless recipe is made with quality dark chocolate, infused with mint oil and blended with a unique, melt-in-the-mouth honeycomb crisp.

Or you could introduce the latest mint creation from Elizabeth Shaw: Dark Chocolate Mint Thins. Delicate layers of quality dark chocolate infused with a sumptuous mint flavour, luxuriously decorated with crunchy mint sprinkles. The lightness of the chocolate with the crunchy sprinkles makes them very moreish indeed and although  these are great to share with friends over a coffee, you may find you want to keep these all to yourself!

I hope you've enjoyed this little barbeque round up and remember to enter the competition (UK only) to WIN a hamper of Encona sauce and marinade goodies by completing the Rafflecopter widget below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I was provided with samples to review, all opinions are my own. 

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Thursday, 16 July 2015

Salted Caramel Peach Sundae for National Ice Cream Day

It's National Ice Cream Day on 19th July, there are so many different flavours of ice cream and different ways to serve it, but nothing beats a sundae on a hot day. There’s something magical that happens when ice cream and sauce and fruit and crunchy stuff come together. From classic fruit, nut and sauce combos, to more extravagant creations involving cookies, meringues and alcoholic sauces (for adults only!), there are many delicious possibilities.

Anatomy of a Salted Caramel Peach Sundae (from the bottom up)
Serves 4

Layer 1 - The Fruit
Roasted Caramelised Peaches
4 ripe but firm peaches
50g soft brown sugar
25g  butter (I used Moose Maple Butter)

Pre-heat the oven to 180C.  Skin the peaches by covering with boiling water, removing after a couple of minutes and slip off the skins.  Slice the peaches and place in an ovenproof tray, cover with the sugar and dot with butter. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes until the sugar and butter melts and the peaches start to brown and caramelise. Leave to cool, then lift the peaches from the caramel and  Set both aside.

Layer 2 - The Ice Cream
2 scoops per person Salted Caramel Ice Cream
Try Kelly's of Cornwall Clotted Cream and Salted Caramel Ice Cream 
Place two scoops of ice cream per person on tray or dish and place back into the freezer until ready to assemble the sundaes.

Layer 3 - The Sauce
Salted Caramel Chocolate Sauce
100g salted caramel chocolate, chopped or use Hotel Chocolat salted caramel puddles
caramel from the roasted peaches
20g butter
2 tbsp water
Place all the ingredients in a small pan and gently heat, stirring,  until the chocolate has melted and formed a sauce, you may need a little more water to get it to the correct consistency for pouring.

Layer 4 - The Crunch
Caramelised Almond Granola Crunch
100g granola (I used one without dried fruit)
20g flaked almonds
50g soft brown sugar
25g butter

Heat the oven to 180C.  Place the butter in a frying pan and heat gently until the butter has melted add the granola, almonds and sugar, mix the dry ingredients with the butter stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes, then transfer to a baking tray and spread evenly.  Place in the oven and bake for 5-6 minutes. Watch the Granola Crunch carefully as it burns quite quickly.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool.  Once cool, break up the mixture, it will keep well in a jar if you have any left over.

To assemble the Sundae 
Place the roasted peaches in the base of the sundae dish or bowl, top with two scoops of salted caramel ice cream, pour over the salted caramel sauce and sprinkle Caramelised Almond Granola Crunch over the sauce, eat and enjoy!

Easy like Sundae morning (with apologies to Lionel Ritchie!)
While this is a really rich and luxurious Sundae, it does require a bit of time and preparation to make the various layers,  if  you want to create something much quicker, simply use fresh fruit without roasting, use a ready made Dessert Sauce like the new squeezable range from Clarks (the honey and maple syrup people) the sauces are made with carob syrup, a low calorie, low gi alternative to refined sugar, flavours include tempting chocolate and tantalising caramel, either of which would work well in this Sundae,  as well as scrumptious strawberry.  For a quick and easy topping, try chopped up fudge, fudge pieces or chocolate chips, or simply sprinkle over some granola without caramelising it. 

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Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Quinoa with Summer Roasted Vegetables and Harissa Marinade and a Giveaway

I thought quinoa was going to be the grain that finally defeated me.  I have tried to cook with it several times and never managed to get rid of the soapy taste.  When I saw this recipe in "At home in the wholefood kitchen- celebrating the art of eating well" I thought I'd give it another chance and I'm so glad that I did as this recipe for Quinoa with Summer Roasted Vegetables and Harissa Marinade was packed with flavours and none of them were soap!

The Blurb
With her love of whole food and expertise as a chef, Amy Chaplin has written a book to entice everyone to eat well every meal, every day. She provides all the know how for creating delicious, healthy dishes based on unprocessed, unrefined food - from the basics of good eating to preparing seasonal feasts all year round.

About the Author: Amy Chaplin has worked as a vegetarian chef for over twenty years. She is the former executive chef of New York’s renowned vegan restaurant Angelica Kitchen, a recipe developer, a teacher, and a private chef whose clients include Natalie Portman and Liv Tyler. Amy’s delicious vegan and vegetarian cuisine has appeared in numerous publications, including Martha Stewart Living, Vogue, the Wall Street Journal, New York magazine, the Guardian, the Vegetarian Times, Oprah magazine and the Washington Post. A native of Australia, over the last two decades Chaplin has worked as a chef in Amsterdam, London, Sydney, and New York. She currently resides in New York City. Find more of her original recipes at

What's in the book?
This is a large book and something of a wholefood primer.  My own introduction to wholefoods came about in the late 1970s and it was Gail Duff who influenced my interest in whole and healthy foods.  Amy Chaplin had the benefit of growing up on a community farm by parents who cooked and ate the food that they grew there. After Amy's introduction and biography, you move on to The Pantry, which for Amy includes vegetables and fruits that sit out on the kitchen worktop. Amy introduces us to whole grains, beans and pulses, nuts and seeds, superfoods such as goji berries and help seeds; oils, vinegars, seasoning and condiments.  But it doesn't stop there, we learn about seaweeds, spices, pantry vegetables and a feast of ingredients for the fridge and freezer.  Natural sweeteners, bottled and canned items and I doubt if the pantry door will close!

Amy then gives us a run down on equipment we should aim to have in our kitchen, although she does recommend slowly collecting good-quality pans to last a lifetime.  Two luxury items are included which Amy uses daily, a pressure cooker and a Vitamix blender.

Cooking from the Pantry, this section is divided into Grains, Beans, Nuts and Seeds and Roasting Vegetables.  Before you start cooking any of the recipes, each chapter has detailed instructions on how to prepare and the ingredients. Here are a few of the recipes I liked: Simple Quinoa (this was the basic recipe I followed for the featured recipe), Lemony Marinated Lentils sounds delicious, Tamari Toasted Seeds are bound to be a hit for snacking or sprinkling on salads.  The Roasted Vegetables are prepared with coconut oil and fresh herbs.

Pantry Recipes takes these basics a little further with a range of creative dishes such as Steamed Greens with zesty flaxseed dressing, Wholewheat fettucine with kale, caramelised onions and marinated goat's cheese, Dijon mustard marinated tempeh and garlic tamari-braised tofu. There are some really great Make-Ahead Condiments including the harissa, I made for my recipe, tahini sauce and toasted almond butter.

We are just about half way through 'At home in the whole food kitchen' and we are just starting with breakfast.  I wouldn't refuse spelt almond waffles, blackberry cornmeal muffins or pumpkin bread with toasted walnut cinnamon swirl or coconut and quinoa pancakes.

Soup is easy to make and easy to keep healthy and whole food, I really must make pea and courgette (zuchinni) soup with dill.  Miso soup was one of our 70's stand bys, Amy makes a hearty winter miso soup with adzuki beans, squash and ginger and I love the sound of the luscious spicy carrot soup with Kaffir lime leaves and coconut.

Salads doesn't herbed spelt berry salad with peas and feta sound good?  As does shaved fennel beetroot salad with blood orange and crushed hazelnuts and, of  course, the quinoa with roasted summer vegtables and harissa marinade (recipe below).

Everyone loves snacks, nibbles and drinks and this chapter doesn't disappoint, rustic pea spread, roasted red pepper macadamia pate, black sesame rice crackers and to wash it down rhubarb rose infusion or turmeric lemonade.

We are by no means finished yet, Whole Meals serves up dill roasted plum tomato tart with pine nut crust, tempeh portobello burgers, butternut squash lasagne with wholewheat noodles and sage tofu ricotta and heirloom bean bourguignon with celeriac mash.

Desserts can be whole food too, there is a range of tarts including fresh peach with walnut crust, coconut custard tart with toasted coconut crust, date pistachio praline tart and dark chocolate truffle tart with Brazil nut crust. Other sweet treats include apricot coconut bars, pistachio sultana cookies with cardamom and earl grey fruit cake.

At home in the whole food kitchen  finishes with a little essay on tea, in all it's forms, Amy's thoughts on cleansing and healing with whole foods, some guidelines and menu suggestions and finally why we should eat organic foods.

Who is it for?
This book would suit both the novice whole foodie and experienced vegetarian and vegan cooks.  The extensive information about ingredients, and how to prepare them, is well written and, so far, the recipes have worked for me.  The recipes themselves are interesting and varied, with some rather different combinations of ingredients to satisfy the most adventurous cook.

Well written recipes including instructions on how to prepare various pantry ingredients.  Lots of well styled clear photographs.

It is a big heavy tome of a book, certainly not for reading in bed!  When I first looked at the recipes I was a bit put off by some of the ingredients, but on closer inspection most are easily available and there are only a few that I would struggle to source.

The Verdict
If you want to eat more healthily or simply explore some different recipes, then this is a great place to start.  You will learn the how and why of whole foods as well as having recipes to follow, allowing you to create your own healthy vegetarian and vegan recipes.  I was so impressed by the recipe, not only was the quinoa perfectly cooked, the harissa was the best I've ever tasted with the combination of the ingredients making a fabulous meal.

Quinoa with Summer Roasted Vegetables and Harissa Marinade
Serves 4 - 6

2 courgettes (zucchinis), roll cut into 2.5cm (1in) pieces
2 red peppers (capsicums), deseeded and cut into 2.5cm (1in) pieces
300g (10 1/2 oz/2cups) cherry tomatoes, large ones cut in half
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Sea Salt
1 red onion cut into 1.2 com (1/2 in) wedges
720g (1lb 9oz/4 cups) cooked quinoa, cooled (see below)
80ml (3fl oz/1/2 cup) homemade harissa (see below)
40g (1 1/2 oz/1 cup) chopped flat-leaf parsley
140g (5oz) goat's milk feta, drained and crumbled
Olives, to garnish

Pre-heat oven to 200C/400F/Gas mark.  Line 2 baking trays with baking parchment. Place courgette (zucchini), peppers (capsicum) and cherry tomatoes in a bowl and toss with 3 tbsp of the olive oil and 1/2 tsp salt.  Divide vegetables between baking trays and spread out in a single layer.  Roast for 25 minutes.  Gently stir vegetables, rotate trays and roast 10 minutes more or until browning, Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Warm remaining 2 tbsp olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat.  Add red onion and saute for 5 minutes. Lower heat a little and cook for 15 minutes longer, stirring every minute or so, until soft and caramelised.  Stir in a pinch of salt remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Transfer quinoa to a large bowl, fluff with a fork, add harissa and mix well.  Add roasted vegetables, caramelised onions and parsley; toss gently to combine and season to taste with additional salt. Crumble feta over top and serve garnished with olives.

Makes about 80ml (3fl oz/1/3 cup)

1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tsp ground paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/8 tsp sea salt
 60ml (2 fl oz/1/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Warm a small to medium frying pan over medium heat.  Add cumin, coriander and caraway seeds, toast seeds, stirring continuously, for 2 minutes or until fragrant.  Transfer to an electric spice grinder and grind until fine.  Place ground spices in a bowl then add paprika, cayenne, garlic, salt, olive oil and lemon juice.  Stir until smooth.  Store in a  sealed glass jar in the fridge for up to two months, or as mentioned above leave out the lemon for storing indefinitely.

Simple Quinoa
Makes 720g (1lb 9oz/4 cups) cooked quinoa

170g (6oz/1 cup) quinoa
240ml (8fl oz/ 1 cup) filtered water, plus more for soaking
pinch of sea salt

Wash and soak the quinoa in at least 720ml (24fl oz /3 cups) water for 8 to 24 hours.  Drain and rinse the quinoa.  Place in a 2 litre (3 1/2 pint) pan and add filtered water and salt.  Bring to the boil over high heat, cover pan, reduce heat to low and cook for 15 minutes or until all the water is absorbed.  Remove from heat and set aside, covered, for 5 - 10 minutes before fluffing with a fork and serving.  Once cool, quinoa can be stored n the fridge for up to  four days.

At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen Celebrating the Art of Eating Well by Amy Chaplin
Published by Jacqui Small Publishing
Hardback RRP £25.00

I have a copy of At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Celebrating the Art of Eating Well to GIVEAWAY, simply follow the instructions on the Rafflecopter widget. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Thursday, 9 July 2015

Strawberry Mousse and Whipped Cream

In case you’re not familiar with the strange looking white gadget behind the strawberry mousse, it's a Cream Whipper. It makes delicious whipped cream, mousses, flavoured toppings, garnishes or foams in seconds. Perfect for topping cakes, coffees, milkshakes and desserts. You can create the lightest, fluffiest whipped cream in an instant – leave it plain or add flavourings, from simple vanilla to whatever else you fancy! You can even make a dairy-free, healthier alternative to whipped cream using coconut milk.

You can also use a cream whipper to infuse alcohol with all kinds of flavours and herbs – ideal for cocktails!

Strawberry Mousse
Serves 3-4 depending on the size of the glasses

400g strawberries
75g icing (powdered) sugar
150ml double cream
  1. Hull the strawberries and set aside 6-8 to decorate the mousse.
  2. Whizz the rest of the strawberries in a blender or use a stick blender until you have a liquid strawberry puree. Sieve the puree to remove the seeds.
  3. Add the sieved icing sugar and whizz again to blend.
  4. Add the cream and stir together gently (do not blend)
  5. Pour the mixture into the Cream Whipper, closing the top firmly, screw on the nozzle of your choice, then apply the gas as per the instructions that come with the whipper. 
  6. Shake the mixture gently and fill glasses or bowls with the mousse by compressing the lever.
  7. Top with the remaining strawberries.
Strawberries with whipped cream
N2O also acts as a natural anti-biotic so the cream stays fresh in the whipper for up to 10 days if kept in a fridge. The Cream Whipper is only suitable for making whipped cream, if you want to make Espumas or hot sauces, Discount Cream also sell  commercial grade Stainless Steel whippers.

I was surprised just how easy and fun it was to use the Cream Dispenser and the cream does keep well in the fridge. Adding air to the cream makes it go a lot further, so you actually eat less!  There is no artificial flavour and the strawberry mousse was so light and tasted only of strawberries and cream.

Cream Whipper - RRP £24.99, Discount Cream price £17.49

I was supplied with a Cream Dispenser to review by Discount Cream. 

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Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Bloomsbury Bookshelf Round Up

Sophie and The Sibyl by Patricia Dunker
Published by Bloomsbury
Hardback £16.99
eBook £14.99

The blurb
A Victorian Romance, in which the Reader will be transported to 1870s Berlin, to meet George Eliot, observe her relationship with her publisher, and learn of the surprising and knotty entanglements of Our Hero Max
The Duncker brothers, Max and Wolfgang, own a thriving publishing business.  When Max’s fondness for gambling and brothels gets out of hand, the older, wiser Wolfgang sends him to Homburg, to dance attendance on a special celebrity author – the enigmatic Sibyl, otherwise known as George Eliot.  The most feted writer in Europe has scandalised English society by living with a married man, the biographer and philosopher George Henry Lewes, and the couple are enjoying a rapturous welcome in liberal Berlin.  As enthralling and intelligent as her books, the Sibyl soon has Max bewitched.
But Wolfgang has an ulterior motive for the trip: to find Max a wife, in the daughter of a family friend, Countess Sophie von Hahn.  At first, Max is lured by Sophie’s beauty and his affectionate memories of their shared childhood.  But Sophie proves to be nothing like the vision of angelic domesticity he was expecting. Mischievous, wilful and daring, she gambles recklessly and rides horses like a man.  Furthermore, as George Eliot’s most ardent fan, she is determined to meet her idol.
Both Sophie and the Sibyl have Max in thrall and he is soon out of his depth, torn between his worship of these two unconventional women – whose eventual meeting will have unexpected and gloriously amusing consequences.

From a virtuoso musician by the name of Herr Klesmer to a talented painter called Meyrick, the pages of Sophie and the Sibyl are peopled with characters and scenes the Reader may recognise from the works of Eliot herself.  Embodying the spirit of the age, it explores the issues of the day: Darwinian ideas, education for women, the arts and artistry, reputation and celebrity – as well as the role of the narrator in fiction.  Portraying the author-publisher relationship with wonderful subtlety and humour, it confirms Patricia Duncker’s reputation as a writer’s writer. Playful, audacious and as dazzlingly witty as its protagonists, Sophie and the Sibyl is a literary masterpiece from the author of Hallucinating Foucault and James.

My thoughts
I very nearly gave up on this book.  I found part I rather dull, not in the least bit funny or gripping as described by the reviewers in the press release.  However I did persevere and part II was much better and definitely worth hanging on for.  This is an odd little book, to me the characters were rather one dimensional, as if the author didn't really know them and was standing behind a glass window watching them but not really hearing or understanding their nature.  What it did do was pique my interest in George Eliot and her novels. She is not an author I have read and I feel that I probably should, so if nothing else this book may widen my knowledge of Victorian literature!

The Pleasure of Reading, Edited by Antiona Fraser, preface by Victoria Gray
Published by Bloomsbury
Paperback £9.99

The blurb
In this delightful collection forty acclaimed writers explain what first made them interested in literature, what inspired them to read and what makes them continue to do so. First published in 1992 in hardback only, original contributors include Margaret Atwood, J.G. Ballard, Melvyn Bragg, A.s. ByaS, Caroll Ann Duffy, Simon Gray, Germaine Greer, Doris Lessing Tom Stoppard, Sue Townsend and Jeanette Winterson. The new edition also includes essays from five new writers, Emily Berry, Kamila Shamsie Rory Stewart, Katie Waldegrave and Tom Wells.

Royalties generated from this project will to go to Give a Book a charity set up in 2011 that seeks to get books to places where they will be of particular benefit.  Give a Book works in conjunction with Age UK, Prison Reading Groups, Maggie's Centres which help people affect by cancer and various schools and literacy projects such as Beanstalk, where many pupils have never had a boo of their own in their lives.

My thoughts
This is an interesting book, not surprisingly a lot of the authors have read and been influenced by the same books and authors.  What I enjoyed were the stories told by the contributors about why the books they chose were important to them.  I'm sure if you read this book then, like me, you will start to think about the books which have influenced you, books which punctuate chapters in your life.  As a child I devoured books of all kinds, the Enid Blyton section in the local library was my treasure trove.  At 12 I discovered The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart in the school library and my adult reading career had begun, inevitably I found Jane Austen totally enchanting and her books are amongst the few that I have re-read, along with  Doris Lessing's Martha Quest, another key novel in my reading journey.  Like the contributors to The Pleasure of Reading, I could go on, and would find it just as difficult as they have done to limit my choices.  A great reminder of just how important reading can be in developing an enquiring mind.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
Published by Bloomsbury
Hardback £12.99
eBook £10.99

The Blurb
In 1883, Thaniel Steepleton returns to his tiny flat to find a gold pocketwatch on his pillow. But he has worse fears than generous burglars; he is a telegraphist at the Home Office, which has just received a threat for what could be the largest-scale Fenian bombing in history.

When the watch saves Thaniel's life in a blast that destroys Scotland Yard, he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori – a kind, lonely immigrant who sweeps him into a new world of clockwork and music. Although Mori seems harmless at first, a chain of unexpected slips soon proves that he must be hiding something.

Meanwhile, Grace Carrow is sneaking into an Oxford library dressed as a man. A theoretical physicist, she is desperate to prove the existence of the luminiferous ether before her mother can force her to marry.

As the lives of these three characters become entwined, events spiral out of control until Thaniel is torn between loyalties, futures and opposing geniuses.

My thoughts
What an interesting novel.  I enjoyed reading this combination of historical novel and fantasy thriller.  The characters are intriguing, Thaniel is a sort of everyman to the mysterious Mori and blue stocking Grace.  Throw in the dandified Matsumoto and add some Japanese nationalism to the Fenian bombing and it makes for a rarified mxiture, you are never quite sure what is going to happen next! The final chapters are pure thriller and keep you glued to the page to find out what happened, who dunnit and why, all round a very good read.

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Thursday, 2 July 2015

Roasted Carrot Hummus and the One Pot Gourmet Gardener Review

I can't recommend this Roasted Carrot Hummus highly enough, it is so good.
It's one of the recipes in the One-Pot Gourmet Gardener by Cinead McTernan, delicious container recipes to grow together and cook together.  If you have been following my blog then you'll know that I'm growing vegetables in containers this year, so this book is right up my street.

Author CINEAD McTERNAN is a horticulturally trained writer and gardening editor of The Simple Things magazine. She was previously editor of The Edible Garden magazine and worked on The English Garden and BBC Gardeners’ World magazines. Her previous book Kitchen Garden Experts was published by Frances Lincoln in 2014.

Award-winning photographer JASON INGRAM has worked on numerous garden and food magazines. His published books include The Ethicurean Cookbook and Kitchen Garden Experts

The Blurb
With these exciting container recipes, you can grow all the ingredients you need for a single dish in a single pot. One-Pot Gourmet Gardener presents 25 carefully devised container recipes grouped into soups and salads, delicious main courses, handy picnics, quick suppers and divine drinks and puddings, including gazpacho, garden pizza, ratatouille, smoothies, sauces and tarts. Each one-pot recipe provides every step from sowing to serving. And after being guided through an introductory masterclass on how to grow crops in pots, readers will have the confidence and skills to devise their own one-pot recipes. With a little planning you can prepare the food for a one-pot celebration, when you sow the crops in spring!

My thoughts
The concept of this book is simple, plant up a container with a variety of herb and vegetable plants, then when they have grown, you are ready to make the recipe.  All of this is explained in the Introduction which tells you how to get started and encourages everyone with even the smallest patio balcony or roof garden to give growing your own a go. Everything from choosing a pot, tools and equipment to compost, positioning your pot, watering, pests and diseases, harvesting and storage is covered at the start of the book .

The Recipes
For each recipe there is a 'Grow Me' section and an 'Eat Me' section.  Here are some of the recipes which I found attractive:  Courgette and Fennel Tart, Hummus Three Ways (including Carrot Hummus), Honey and Thyme Blackberries with Thyme Shortbreads. Kale and Celery Soup, Rainbow Chard Pesto, Radish and Shallot Pickle and Pimms Jelly.

Who is it for?
Anyone who wants to grow vegetables in containers, but also cooks who would like to try making something a bit different with produce.  Whether you grow your own vegetables or not, you can still enjoy the produce from farmers markets or greengrocers or even the supermarket.

Everything you need to learn how to grow vegetables and herbs in containers.  A variety of interesting, well written recipes, good photographs and clear instructions for sowing and growing.

For those of us living a bit further north, some of the containers would be unlikely to thrive.  I know this because I have been gardening for many years, however not everyone would be aware that tomatoes and aubergines are unlikely to thrive outside in Scotland and might be disappointed, especially in a summer like this one, where even my courgettes have failed to thrive. Some information on regional differences would have been helpful.

The Verdict
A fun book which would be a good gift for a gardening cook or a cooking gardener! The containers looks as attractive as containers of flowers with the variety of plants really complementing each other. As you will see below, I was impressed by the Carrot Hummus, and I'm sure many of the other recipes will be well worth making too.

Roasted Carrot Hummus
200g/7oz carrots
Drizzle of olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 x 440g/15oz tin cooked chickpeas
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 heaped tsp tahini
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp ground cumin

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.
  2. Place the carrots on a baking sheet, drizzle with oilive il an season. Roast in the oven until soft - about 30 minutes.
  3. When the carrots have cooked, place them adn the remainder of the ingredients into amixer and blitz until blended and smooth. Spoon into a bowl and level to remove any air pockets.
  4. Serve immediately, with warm pitta bread, or cover with a film of olive oil to preserve it and store in the refrigerator. 
As I said at the beginning of this post, this is a truly delightful recipe, roasting the carrots brings out the sweetness and combined with the other ingredients it makes a delicious spread or dip. 

One-pot Gourmet Gardener by Cinead McTernan
Photographs by Jason Ingram 
Published by Frances Lincoln

To order One-Pot Gourmet Gardener at the discounted price of £12.99 including p&p* (RRP: £16.99), telephone 01903 828503 or email and quote the offer code APG311.   *UK ONLY - Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas. 

There is no end to the creative ways to make Hummus, here are some to get you started:

Roasted Butternut Squash Hummus - Recipes from a Pantry
Aubergine and Red Pepper Houmous - Penelope's Pantry
Easy Roasted Red Pepper Hummus - Hungry, Healthy, Happy
Wild Garlic Hummus - Farmersgirl Kitchen
Kale, Coriander and Hemp Hummus - Tinned Tomatoes
Sweet Potato and Lime Hummus - Maison Cupcake
Huomous with Peanut Butter - Fab Food 4 All
Courgette and Preserved Lemon Hummus - Natural Kitchen Adventures

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