Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The best small(ish) music festivals in the Midlands 2015

festival guide
The sun is shining and the main UK festival season is looming; The Mirror has even predicted a heatwave (surely such a quality paper couldn't get it wrong?!), so I thought I'd post a round of some of the festivals Mr O and I have been pondering over visiting this year, plus some other local (to us) festivals. In case you don't know, we're seasoned festival goers, and having done the big festivals pre-kids, we now prefer a lower-key event where we can actually get some sleep at night and have a hot shower when needed!

Our teenage daughters, Miss O and Miss K, are undecided on whether or not to join in with our festivities this year, as they now have rather more refined musical tastes than us! However, I have picked these festivals for their family-friendly facilities and prices, even if they don't appeal to my kids any more. Although my daughters wouldn't appreciate them now, they used to love festivals with craft activities, circus skills workshops and a place to hang out away from the main stage. 

I have excluded some great-sounding festivals from my line up, as some of the festivals I liked the sound of do not offer family tickets, and/or charge adult prices for teens under 16. If a child under 16 must be accompanied by an adult over 18/21 to enter the festival, then surely they should be charged a child/youth or reduced price?!

If you have younger children, do take a look at my family friendly festival guide, with plenty of tips on how to make a festival fun for all the family.You can also find lots of quick and simple camping meal ideas here.

May 21-24
Bearded Theory, Catton Hall, Walton upon Trent, Derbyshire
We've been to a couple of BTs and enjoyed this friendly, chilled-out festival, the great range of bands and good facilities for families. See my review of Bearded Theory 2012 here (different venue).There are 5 stages hosting an eclectic range of acts, a children's village and teen zone.
Adult weekend ticket inc. camping £94, child weekend tickets age 0-5 free, 6-11 £22, 12-16 £45, family camping area available.
Headliners this year include The Mission, New Model Army, James and Eat Static.

May 22-24
Glastonbudget, Turnpost Farm, Leicestershire
This festival appeals to me, as it would mean that I could see tribute acts of artists who have either disbanded, died or were out of my price range when popular!
Adult weekend ticket inc. camping £76, children aged under 5 £4, 6-15 £39, 16-17 £65, family camping costs an extra £3 per person.
Headliners include a good range of rock, retro, pop and indie tribute bands such as Kazabian, Totally Tina (Turner) and (Freddie) Mercury plus some new and acoustic acts.

June 5-7
Lunar Festival, The Umberslade Estate, Warwickshire (5 miles south of Birmingham)
This one is a serious contender for us, as it's fairly local and offers some great workshops as well as great music; I'd also love to see Julian Cope play live. There are 2 stages, workshops for kids and adults and late night clubs.
Adult weekend ticket inc. camping £94, Family weekend ticket £199.
Headliners this year include Tinariwen, The Fall, Wilko Johnson, The Bootleg Beatles and Julian Cope, as well as a wide variety of other acts.

June 19-21 
Acoustic Festival of GB, Uttoxeter Race Course Staffordshire
Adult weekend ticket £85 + £20 camping, Children under 10 £1, ages 10-15 £15 +£5 camping.
The big plus for this festival is that you can park next to your tent. Believe you me, this is a perk worth paying for, especially when you have younger children with lots of stuff to cart around! Headliners include Big Country, Beautiful South and Show of Hands. 

July 3-5
Godiva Festival, War Memorial Park, Coventry
FREE
We're definitely going to the Godiva Festival, as it's free! There's no camping on site, so if you're willing to take a risk, book your hotel accommodation before the line up is finalised. We've booked a room at the local Premier Inn and are looking forward to the main acts being announced in the next few weeks.
Godiva is actually quite a big festival; in fact it claims to be the country’s biggest free family music festival, with with 3 stages and a family field for little ones. Although no acts have been announced yet, the headliners from the past couple of years have included Happy Mondays, Buzzcocks, Maximo Park and Echo & The Bunnymen.

July 24-26
Nozstock The Farm, Rowden Paddocks, Bromyard, Herefordshire
Adult weekend £105, Teens £85, under 12s free.
I love the sound of Nizstock, but sadly won't be able to go as we'll be on holiday. There's a plethora of stages with music, comedy and theatre.Children will love the activities in the Enchanted Glade and there are also baby-friendly facilities. Headliners include The Wu Tang Clan, Martha Reeves and The Vandellas, Beardyman and DJ Hype. 

July 24-26
Barefoot FestivalPrestwold Hall, Loughborough, Leicestershire
Adult weekened ticket inc. camping £90, child weekend ticket £38, under 5s free
Barefoot Firewalk tickets for over 12s cost an additional £33
No line up has been announced yet, but last years headliners included some talented, but lesser-known artists such as Laurel Canyons and Josephine & The Artizans, plus a range of folk, blues, indie and cabaret acts. There is also a kids' zone and arts workshops running during the weekend.

Aug 14-16
Farmer Phil's, Ratlinghope, Shrewsbury, Shropshire
Adult weekend ticket £76, family weekend ticket £239...inc. a full week's camping.
Farmer Phil's started off small and has grown each year. It offers great camping facilities, and children's workshops, craft activities and bouncy castles.
Headliners include Ferocious Dog, 3 Daft Monkeys and Talisman. 

Sept 4-6
Off the Tracks, Donington Park Farmhouse, Castle Donington Derbyshire
Adult weekend ticket inc. camping £80, children under 12s free, aged 12-15 £45. 
Off The Tracks has 4 stages, a proper campsite with well-maintained pitches, hook-ups, hard-standing, real showers and toilets. Children's activities, play areas and workshops. Headliners include Banco di Gaia and Dreadzone

Sept  11-13
Shrewsbury Fields Forever, Shropshire; Venue Not Yet Decided
(Tickets not yet on sale)
This is a bit of a wild card, as it might not go ahead. However, it's the one that my kids would probably be most interested in attending as it has hosted some very well known acts over the last few years.
SFF is Shropshire’s largest multi arena live indie, alternative, electronic, dance and popular music, comedy and arts festival, however due to a fall out over their previous venue (West Mids Showground), this year's festival may or may not be going ahead at an alternative venue. Last year's head liners included Tinie Tempah, The Cribs and Shed Seven. Keep a look out for more information!

If you know of any other similar festivals in the Midlands, do let me know and I'll add them to the list.

I have NOT received any incentives to promote any of these festivals. All views expressed are genuine. However, if anyone want to offer me free tickets to a festival, I am always willing to review!!! Images featured are from various festivals we have been to and not necessarily of the festivals featured.
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Saturday, 18 April 2015

Halloumi Arancini with Roasted Vegetables

Halloumi Arancini with Roasted Vegetables
I've blogged an arancini recipe before, and cooked the traditional Italian stuffed rice balls many times, but this time, I thought I'd ring the changes a bit. Miss K inspired me to make an Greek-fusion version, as she fancied something made with halloumi for dinner. She helped make the arancini, whilst I prepared the tomato sauce and roasted vegetables.

You can make arancini with left over, cold risotto or cook from scratch. They're good fun, although rather messy, to make with children, but if you use halloumi rather than mozzarella, you don't have to worry about them being perfect, as the cheese won't melt and escape! I think this variation is just as good (if not better) than the original.

Makes 8-10 arancini, serve 1 or 2 per person as a starter, 2-4 for a main course

For the arancini:
  • 1 cup risotto rice (arborio)
  • 2 cups hot vegetable stock (made with a stock cube)
  • 1 large clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp fresh, chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh chilli, optional
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup of dried breadcrumbs
  • 100g/4oz halloumi, cubed
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a pan.
Gently fry the garlic for a minute or so.
Add the rice, herbs and chilli and stir for a further minute.
Add 1 cup of vegetable stock, stir and bring to the boil.
Reduce to a simmer and add the second cup of stock. Stir again, and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
When the rice is cooked, cool at room temperature for 30 minutes and then and refrigerate until cool enough to handle.

To make the arancini:
Take a good heaped desert-spoonful of the cool risotto and form into a firm ball using your hands to squeeze the mixture together.
Poke a hole into the middle of the ball using your thumb, then place a small cube of halloumi into the hole.
Squish the rice back over the hole to cover up the cheese completely. Repeat until all of the rice is used up.
Beat the egg in a bowl and place the breadcrumbs on a plate. First dip each rice ball into the beaten egg and then roll into the breadcrumbs until covered all over.

Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes or until needed.

Heat 2-3 tbsp of vegetable or olive oil in a large frying pan. 
Add the arancini and roll around in the pan gently to coat with oil. 
Cook for 10-15 minutes on a medium heat, turning occasionally, until golden brown and piping hot. 
Alternatively, deep-fry for 5-6 minutes.
Drain and keep warm in a low oven until needed.

Whilst cooking the risotto/arancini, make some Greek tomato sauce (you'll only need ½ a portion...so freeze the rest for another meal) and roast your choice of seasonal vegetables.

For the roasted vegetables:
  • 2 bell peppers, de-seeded and cut into chunks
  • 1 red onion, quartered
  • 100g/4oz button or chestnut mushrooms whole/halved/quartered, depending on size
  • 50g/2oz sun-dried tomatoes, chopped, plus 2 tbsp oil from the jar
  • 50g/2oz Greek olives
  • 100g/4oz halloumi, cubed
  • 1 tbsp chopped, fresh parsley, to serve
Drizzle the fresh vegetables with the sun-dried tomato oil and cook in a pre-heated oven at 160C/150C Fan/325F/Gas 3  for 15 minutes.
Turn the vegetables and add the halloumi, olives and sun-dried tomatoes and cook for a further 10 minutes. Sprinkle with a little chopped parsley, or any other fresh herbs, before serving.

Top tip: Cooked rice should be cooled quickly and refrigerated, then re-heated thoroughly to avoid food poisoning
 Cooking with Herbs
Vegan option: Omit the halloumi, or substitute for vegan cheese. Coat the arancini with No-Egg, or other egg substitute, mixed as directed with water, before rolling in breadcrumbs.

I'm linking this post to Karen's latest Cooking with Herbs linky at Lavender & Lovage. 
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Sunday, 12 April 2015

Spice Kitchen review, plus a recipe for Sri Lankan Cashew Nut & Green Bean Curry

If you're a regular reader of my blog, I'm sure you know that I love spicy food. I'm always on the lookout for new ingredients to try out, so I have really enjoyed testing out some new spice mixes from Spice Kitchen; Spice Kitchen was set up by mother and son team, Shashi & Sanjay Aggarwal in Birmingham, UK...
"Spice Kitchen is an online shop specialising in high quality hand-blended and home-ground Indian Spices. We also sell various cookware that can help you to create authentic Indian food. We specialise in selling authentic Spice Tins, which are known as 'Masala Dabbas' in India. These shiny stainless steel tins contain 7 separate containers for easy access to the myriad of spices that you will need to create perfectly blended Indian dishes and curries.
We source the freshest spices from around the world, hand-blend, roast and grind them and pack them carefully. We promise you that you will never have smelt spices like them (so much so that they smell outside the packaging!)."
 Spice Kitchen
I was lucky enough to get to try out  eight of their international spice mixes, which include Sri Lankan, Mexican and Baharat spice blends. I've tried out about half of the mixes so far, and I can tell you that they taste as good as they smell! Apart from my Sri Lankan recipe below, I've used the Mexican mix in my veggie chilli, the Baharat in my bean stew and the garam masala in my shami kebabs. All tasted really flavoursome and authentic.

I was going to mention that I haven't ever eaten authentic Sri Lankan food, but then I remembered that I have! One of my claims to fame is that I once worked with the lovely Karthi Gnanasegaram (now a presenter on BBC news and sports programmes), who's Sri Lankan mother used to send in some of her amazing vegetarian home cooked food for us all to sample.

I wasn't sure what to cook with my spice mix, so I researched various Sri Lankan curry recipes and found lots for cashew nut curry and green/snake bean curry. I thought I'd combine the 2 main ingredients and see what happened! The nuts gave the curry a really interesting taste and texture and the flavours were quite different from those you would expect in an Indian curry.

Cashew Nut & Green Bean Curry

Serves 4


  • 100g/4oz cashew nuts, soaked in water overnight
  • 200g/8oz green beans, cut into 2cm slices
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil or vegetable ghee
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • A spring of curry leaves (approx 10)
  • 2-3 tsp Sri Lankan spice mix
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • 50g/2oz creamed coconut (block), chopped into chunks 
  • 1 cup boiling water
Soak the cashew nuts in a bowl of water overnight. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the oil/ghee in a pan over a medium heat. Once hot, add the onions and cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the garlic, curry leaves and stir.

Once the onions are soft and beginning to change colour, add the spice mix and turmeric and cook for 2 minutes.

Add the green beans, coconut cream and water. Simmer, with the lid on, for around 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the sauce has thickened and the beans are almost tender.

Add the drained cashew nuts and stir to combine. Simmer for a further 5-10 minutes.

Serve with fragrant basmati rice and coconut sambol.

Nut-free alternatives: Use 200g diced paneer/Quorn/meat free pieces, or other vegetables instead of the nuts, if you prefer.

Fragrant basmati rice: Soak, rinse and drain 1 cup of basmati rice. Cover with 1¾ cups boiling water, a cinnamon stick, 1 whole chilli and 2 green cardamom pods. Simmer for 10 minutes, covered and then turn the heat off and leave to steam for a further 5 minutes (lid on).

Coconut Sambol
  • ½ cup fresh coconut, finely grated
  • ¼ to ½ tsp red chilli powder (to taste)
  • 1 small red onion grated, or chopped in a food processor
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  •  a pinch of salt (to taste)
Mix all ingredients together, adding chilli to taste. Chill until needed.


I received some complimentary Spice Kitchen products for review/recipe development. All views expressed are genuine. 
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Thursday, 2 April 2015

Mint Chocolate Easter Cupcakes (Vegan)

These cute mint chocolate Easter cupcakes are a variation on my easy vegan fairy cake recipe. I couldn't find any vegan mini-eggs locally, so I painted some mint imperials with dots of brown food colouring. Just be sure to warn guests that the eggs are hard sweets, in case they try and bite into them or give them to young children!

Makes 12

  • 150g/6oz dairy free spread/margarine
  • 150g/6oz sugar
  • 150g/5oz SR flour
  • 25g/1oz sifted unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 heaped tsp Orgran No Egg mixed with 7 tbsp water (or use a similar egg-substitute)
  • ½ tsp xanthan gum
Cream the spread and sugar together until light and fluffy.
Add the remaining ingredients and mix gently until combined.
Spoon the mixture between 12 paper cake cakes in a muffin tin, filling quite generously.
Bake at 180C/170C Fan/350F/Gas Mark 4 for around 20 minutes, or until firm to the touch.
Cool on a wire rack.

When cold, top with mint butter cream/frosting...

Vegan butter icing

  • 50g/2oz dairy free spread/margarine
  • 125g/5oz icing sugar
  • ½-1 tsp peppermint extract 
  • green food colouring
  • 1-2 tsp boiled water
Soften the spread.
Mix in the mint extract and colouring.
Beat in the icing sugar gradually, adding a little boiled water as needed to make a soft, spreadable mixture.

Pipe onto the top of each cupcake, once cold.

For the nests
100g/4oz dairy-free chocolate, melted
40g/1½oz rice crispies
12 vegan mint imperials (check ingredients for gelatine) or dairy-free chocolate mini eggs.
12 mini Easter chicks

Mix the cereal into the melted chocolate until coated. Spoon into a well greased mini muffin pan.
Press the crispies down with the back of a teaspoon and make a slight indent for the egg and chick to sit in. Chill until needed. 
Carefully remove the nests from the tin, using a palette knife, and place one on top of each iced cake.
Fill with a chick and an egg.

Top tip: Warning - do not open the oven to check until at least 15 minutes have passed (unless you can smell them burning!), as the egg-replacer takes longer to set than eggs would. I found this out whilst cooking my first batch and they sunk in the middle!
 tea time treats

Alternatives: Make a large chocolate sandwich cake by dividing the mixture between two greased and lined sandwich cake tins and baking for 25-30 minutes. 

I'm linking this post to April's chocolate-themed Tea Time Treats linky hosted by Lavender & Lovage and The Hedgecombers




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Friday, 27 March 2015

Pineapple & Lime Smoothie

Pineapple & Lime Smoothie
I love fresh pineapple, but can't always be bothered to peel and chop a fresh one just to make a smoothie, so I made this one with convenience ingredients. You could, of course, make it using fresh fruits too.

This smoothie is my latest invention made using my Optimum 9400 blender and smoothie maker.

Serves 1
  • 1 small tin of pineapple in natural juice (approx 225g/9oz including juice)
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • ½ cup ice
Smoothie benefits: Rich in vitamin C, manganese and fibre
Smoothie tip: Smoothies containing pineapple tend  to separate quite quickly if left to stand, so are best drunk straight away.

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Friday, 6 March 2015

Hobnob Biscuits

Hobnob Biscuits
I thought I'd have a go at making home made Hobnob biscuits as they're a family favourite. We were all quite impressed with the results. They actually taste like genuine Hobnobs! 

This recipe is a great one to make with little ones (or big ones!) for Mother's Day, as the cookie dough is very easy to make and can be mixed and rolled by hand, if you don't want to use a mixer or food processor.

Makes around 18-20 biscuits
  • 75g/3oz white SR Flour
  • 75g/3oz wholemeal SR flour (if you don't have this, use white SR flour)
  • 100g/4oz porridge oats (or fine oatmeal)
  • 150g/6oz dairy-free/vegan spread
  • 100g/4oz granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 100g/4oz dairy-free chocolate to top, optional
Pre-heat oven to 160C/150C Fan/Gas 3/325F

If using porridge oats, grind them for a few seconds in a food processor or liquidiser to make your own fine oatmeal.

Rub or blend (in a food processor) the spread/margarine into the flours and oats, until you have the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs. 
Mix in the oats, bicarb. and sugar.
Drizzle the syrup over, and mix or blend well until you have a firm dough. Add a little more syrup, if the mixture is too dry.

Roll the dough into around 18-20 small balls, using your hands.
Place, spaced well apart, on greased baking trays and flatten slightly.

Bake for 17-20 minutes, until dark, golden brown.
Allow to cool on the trays for 5 minutes before removing and cooling on a wire rack.
Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Suitable for freezing.

 Family FoodiesOptions: If you prefer a softer cookie, bake for 12 minutes, until pale golden brown.
To make chocolate hobnobs, allow the biscuits to cool completely. Melt the chocolate and dip each cookie into the melted chocolate. Alternatively, drizzle the chocolate over the cookies.

I'm linking this post to this month's Family Foodies  baking challenge co-hosted by Eat Your Veg and Bangers & Mash

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Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Herby Salad with Chickpeas and Olives

Salad with Chickpeas and Olives
This simple salad is basically a variation on tabbouleh without the bulgar wheat! It works well as a side dish to accompany a carb-heavy main course, such as pizza or pasta, or as a lunch-box salad served with pitta bread.

  • 2 little gem or 1 cos/romaine lettuce, leaves separated 
  • 2-3 ripe tomatoes, de-seeded and diced
  • 8cm/3" chunk of cucumber, de-seeded and diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, de-seeded and diced
  • 50g/2oz pitted olives, sliced
  • ½ can chickpeas/garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 tbsp each of fresh chopped mint and parsley 
Dressing
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small clove of garlic, crushed (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

 NCR
Put all of the salad ingredients, apart from the lettuce, into a bowl.
Mix the dressing ingredients together, drizzle over the salad and mix gently.
Allow the flavours to marinate for around half an hour before serving on a bed of lettuce leaves.

I'm adding this recipe to this month's No Crouton's Required Challenge, created and co-hosted by Lisa's Kitchen and Jacqueline at Tinned Tomatoes.

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Thursday, 19 February 2015

Lubia bi Zeit with Maftoul & Spiced Roast Potatoes - Suma Blogger's Network

These recipes have been inspired by my recent delivery from Suma, for my second Blogger's Network post of the year. When I ordered Maftoul and Lebanese 7 spice, I had no idea what to do with them! After looking through my cook books and Googling for various Middle-Eastern recipes, I came up with this themed meal:

Serves 4

Lubia bi Zeit (Lebanese Green Bean Stew)
This vegan bean stew can be served hot or warm. The mushrooms and peppers aren't traditional, but I think they give the stew more flavour and texture. Serve with pitta, for an alternative, quick meal.
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 200g/8oz fresh green beans, ends trimmed, cut in half
  • 1 medium onion, halved and sliced
  • 1 green bell pepper, sliced
  • 100g/4oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 large clove of garlic, crushed
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp Alfez Lebanese Baharat 7 spice mix (use less if you prefer a milder flavour)
Heat the oil in a large pan.
Fry the onion gently for around 5 minutes, until golden brown. Add the tomato purée and spice mix and cook out for a further 2 minutes.
Add all of the remaining ingredients and stir together.
Simmer with the lid on for 20-25 minutes, or until the beans are almost tender. Uncover the pan and simmer for a further 5-10 minutes to reduce the sauce.

Maftoul with Chickpeas 
Maftoul, also known as Palestinian couscous, is similar to giant couscous, but is made from sun-dried bulgur wheat which is hand rolled, giving it an uneven grain size. This dish is traditionally made with chicken.
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 125g/5 oz/¾ cup maftoul
  • 350ml/1½ cups boiling water/vegetable stock
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • ½ tin of chickpeas/garbanzo beans, drained
  • 2 tsp  Alfez Lebanese Baharat 7 spice mix
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1 cinnamon stick
Heat the oil in a pan, on a medium-low heat. Gently fry the onion for a few minutes, until softened. Add all of the remaining ingredients and stir.
Simmer for around 20 minutes, with the lid on, stirring occasionally.

7 Spiced Potatoes
  • 450g/1lb baking potatoes, scrubbed and cut into wedges or chunks
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp  Alfez Lebanese Baharat 7 spice mix
  • ½ lemon, cut into chunks
Pre-heat the oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas 6/400F 
Coat the potato wedges in the oil and spices. 
Place in baking dish, top with the lemon pieces and cover with foil. Bake for 20 minutes, shaking occasionally, then uncover and roast for a further 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Labneh
Labneh is a basic soft cheese, made by straining yogurt through muslin to remove excess water/whey and then adding flavourings. I didn't bother to strain my yogurt, as I used thick Greek yogurt.
     Suma Blogger's Network
  • 7.5cm/3" chunk of cucumber, de-seeded, diced and blotted dry on kitchen towel
  • 250ml/1 cup Greek yoghurt, or vegan plain yogurt - strained, if you have time
  • 1 tbsp fresh, chopped mint or 1 tsp dried mint
  • 1 small clove garlic, crushed
Mix all of the ingredients together. Chill until needed.

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Monday, 16 February 2015

Steenbergs Organic - A Review

 Steenbergs
I'm always keen to support family-run businesses, so when Steenbergs Organic asked me to review some of their products, I was delighted to oblige.

In case you don't know, Steenbergs are a small, family- run, artisan spice company based in North Yorkshire. They specialise in the ethical sourcing and hand-blending of spices, teas and home baking ingredients, with a focus on organic and Fairtrade and a passion for provenance, aroma and taste. They also stock a range of eco-friendly household and kitchen-ware products, including some beautiful, lacquered coconut-shell bowls. 
"Steenbergs Organic is a family-run, friendly firm committed to Fairtrade, the environment and people. It was set up in 2003 by Axel and Sophie Steenberg in North Yorkshire. We have moved three times since set up and are now in a purpose-built, ecofriendly factory, which is just 200 yards from where we started!"
 Coconut shell bowl Organic hot chocolateThey kindly sent me some organic Fairtrade Vanilla Extract, Organic Herby Lemon Stuffing and some organic Fairtrade Hot Chocolate. All 3 products were well packaged and presented, and tasted as good as they looked. I particularly liked the re-usable tin which the drinking chocolate powder came in, and the fact that it contained a hint of cinnamon, which made it particularly warming on a cold winter's day.

Steenberg products are stocked in various health-food outlets across the country and are available online, with free UK postage and packing on orders above £24.99

I received some complimentary Steenbergs products for review. All views expressed are genuine. 

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Saturday, 14 February 2015

Pan-Fried Gnocchi with Garlic & Chilli

Pan-Fried Gnocchi with Garlic & Chillli
Apologies for my recent lack of blog posts. Life, work and a bout of blogger's block got in the way for a few weeks! Anyway, I'm back with a delicious new batch of recipes to share with you...

My first one is for pan-fried gnocchi; I don't often cook gnocchi as Miss O isn't keen on its texture. As she was out with her boyfriend tonight (on her first Valentine's Day date!) I decided to experiment with a new variation of gnocchi, which I came across at a local Italian restaurant. I've never fried gnocchi before, but it gives it a totally different texture.

Serves 3-4 as part of an anti-pasti/tapas style starter. Double recipe to serve 3-4 as a main course, or as a buffet dish for 8.

  • ½ pack 250g/10oz of ready made plain potato gnocchi (check ingredients as some brands are vegan. I used Waitrose essential gnocchi which is vegan and only £1.75 per pack)
To coat
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp sweet paprika powder
  • salt and pepper to season
Dressing
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 mild-medium chilli, de-seeded and chopped finely (I used ½ a red and ½ a green chilli)
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley, sage or basil (to serve)
Cook the gnocchi according to the packet instructions.
Drain, rinse in cold water and blot dry on kitchen paper.
Once cool, toss the cooked gnocchi in the seasoned flour mixture. Remove from the excess flour.

Meanwhile make up the dressing, by mixing all ingredients together.

Heat a further 1 tbsp oil in a frying pan, on a medium-hot heat.
Add the coated gnocchi, and fry for 5 minutes, tossing occasionally in the pan to cook evenly.
When lightly browned, remove from the pan and place in a bowl.
Remove the pan from the heat and add the dressing ingredients (except the parsley) to the pan.
Cook for around 30 seconds, to de-glaze the pan and cook the garlic and chillies.
Pour the dressing over the gnocchi, stir and sprinkle with the chopped herbs.

Serve warm with a squeeze of lemon juice or a sprinkle of vegetarian Parmesan-style cheese, yeast flakes or toasted pine nuts.

Gluten-free option: Use gluten free gnocchi and corn flour for coating.
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Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Fruit & Nut Bars - Suma Blogger's Network

Fruit & Nut Bars
Here's my latest post for the Suma Blogger's Network, which also ties in quite nicely with Veganuary. 

I currently buy a certain brand of fruit and nut bars for healthy snacks, but they're very expensive, so I thought I'd have a go at making my own. I've made a couple of different varieties so far, and found you can mix and match the ingredients, so long as you keep the fruit and nut ratio roughly the same. I used my Optimum 9400 blender to get quite a smooth textured bar, but a normal food processor or blender should work, if you're happy with a chunkier texture.

Makes 6 bars

  • 75g/3oz cashews
  • 50g/2oz dairy-free chocolate or raw chocolate - I used Plamil vegan dark chocolate 
  • 100g/4oz dried dates (or 50g/2oz dates plus 50g/2oz raisins) - I used Suma pitted dates
  • a dash of cinnamon powder, vanilla/mint extract or orange zest to flavour

Blend the nuts briefly, until ground into a fine powder. Remove from the blender. 
Repeat with the chocolate.
Blend the dates with a little cinnamon/flavouring to taste. Scrape out of the blender.
Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Mix until completely combined into a dough-like consistency.
If the mixture seems very sticky, add more ground nuts, or some unsweetened cocoa powder.

Squeeze together using your hands and place on a sheet of greaseproof paper. Cover with another sheet of paper and roll to approx 1cm thick. Push the edges in with a palette knife to neaten them up.
Chill for 30 mins then cut into 6 bars.
Wrap the individual bars in greaseproof paper and chill until needed, in an airtight box.


Variations: Double the ingredients to make a batch of 12 bars.
Use different combinations of dried fruits and nuts for different flavours and add your choice of flavouring extract. You may need to add more ground nuts, if you use softer dried fruits. If you want to use softer nuts (such as Brazils, walnuts, macadamias or pecans, it's best to mix them half and half with harder nuts such as cashews, hazelnuts or almonds. Toast the nuts gently before grinding for a fuller flavour.
You could also roll the mixture into balls and dust in cocoa powder to make raw, vegan truffles. 

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Sunday, 11 January 2015

A mainly vegan meal plan for Veganuary - Week 2

Well done for making it through week one with me. You may have already seen my new recipe for Rice and Peas...this went down well with all the family. I won't, however, be blogging my Chickpea and Potato Patties recipe, as they fell apart and weren't very tasty! Here's my second weekly Veganuary meal plan. Some of the recipes featured are vegetarian, so you need to select the vegan options in each recipe.

Monday: Aloo parathas and tarka dal
Tuesday: Gigantes Plaki (Butter Beans in Tomato Sauce) with salad and pitta - double recipe to serve 4 as a main course
Wednesday: Shepherdess Pie with green vegetables - use vegan alternatives for mashed potato.
Thursday:Jambalaya
Friday: Sloppy Joes with corn on the cob and sweet potato chips/fries
Saturday: Spinach and Basil Tofu Cannelloni - recipe to follow
Sunday: Champignons et Légumes au Vin (Mushrooms & Vegetables in a Red Wine Sauce) with roasted potatoes and parsnips.

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Saturday, 10 January 2015

Rice & Peas with Jerk Mushrooms

I must admit I have never eaten real Jamaican rice 'n' peas, so I do apologise if this version isn't quite traditional. It does taste good though; it's cheap and easy to make and it's vegan!

Serves 3-4

For the rice
  • 1 can gungo/pigeon peas or red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup of long grain rice, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 fresh chilli, finely sliced/chopped
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2 cups of coconut milk (or use 1 can and make up to 2 cups/450ml)
  • salt and black pepper
  • A few sprigs of fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme
Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a large pan. Gently fry the onion until soft. Add the chilli and garlic and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.
Add the rice and stir.
Add all of the remaining ingredients (except the peas/beans) and mix together. Bring to a simmer then cover the pan and cook on a low heat for 10 minutes. Add the beans and stir.
Cook with the lid on, for a further 5 minutes.
Turn off the heat and allow to continue steaming whilst you cook the mushrooms...

For the jerk mushrooms

  • 450g/1lb chestnut or white mushrooms, quartered
  • 2-3 tsp jerk seasoning (add more/less to taste)
  • 4 tbsp tomato ketchup
  • 2-4 tbsp water

Sauté the mushrooms in 1 tbsp vegetable oil for a few minutes, until starting to brown.
Reduce the heat and add the seasoning. Cook for a further minute.
Finally add the tomato ketchup and water and stir again (add a little extra water for a thinner sauce). Taste and add more jerk seasoning if needed.
Cook for another minute or so.

Serve the rice topped with the jerk mushrooms.

Vegetarian option: Swap the mushrooms for meat-free/Quorn chicken-style pieces, if you prefer.
Extra veg option: Add a cup of frozen vegetables (peas, sweetcorn, green beans etc.) to the rice when you add the peas/beans. 
Child-friendly option:  For younger children, or those who don't like spicy food, omit the fresh chilli, remove their portion of rice and peas and then spice up the remaining rice with a good sprinkle of cayenne pepper. Just add a pinch of jerk seasoning to the mushrooms at first, remove their portion and then add the remaining seasoning.
 Credit Crunch Munch
I'm adding this recipe to the Credit Crunch Munch, created by Helen and Camilla and hosted this month by Helen at Fuss Free Flavours.

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Sunday, 4 January 2015

A mainly vegan meal plan for Veganuary - Week 1

Here's this week's Veganuary meal plan. It's mainly vegan, but my family might want to top some of their dishes with a bit of cheese or add some Quorn. If you're going completely vegan, then select the egg and dairy-free options in each recipe.

Monday: Vegetarian chilli in tortilla bowls (check wrap ingredients)
Tuesday: Potato & chickpea patties - recipe to follow, with roasted vegetables
Wednesday: Mixed vegetable curry with rice and naan
Thursday: Parsnip & carrot soup with fresh bread
Friday: Rice & peas with jerk mushrooms (or jerk meat-free chicken-style pieces) - recipe to follow
Saturday: Spicy vegetable & bean burgers with sweet potato chips (shop-bought, frozen are fine!) and vegan coleslaw
Sunday: Pasta with Greek tomato sauce, vegan garlic bread and salad


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Friday, 2 January 2015

Aubergine, Bean & Pepper Casserole

Aubergine, Bean & Pepper Casserole
Here's the first of my Veganuary recipes for the year. I wanted to make a really simple, but tasty, Greek-inspired dish for those new to vegan cooking. The secret to this dish is baking it in the oven but if you want a faster version, ready in less than 30 minutes, you can also cook it on the hob.

Serves 4

  • 1 medium-large aubergine/eggplant, sliced about 1cm thick
  • 2 large bell peppers (any colour), halved, de-seeded, and thinly sliced
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced or sliced
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes, or around 500g/1lb very ripe chopped fresh tomatoes 
  • 200ml/¾ cup boiled water or hot vegetable stock
  • 100g/4oz/1 cup of drained, tinned pulses such as cannellini beans or butter beans 
  • 1 mild-medium chilli, de-seeded and finely sliced
  • 1 tsp of dried oregano
  • 1 tsp sugar, optional
  • a handful of fresh chopped mint and parsley (about 1 tbsp of each)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
Pre-heat the oven to 180C/170C Fan/350F/Gas 4*

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large frying pan (medium-high heat) and cook half of the aubergine slices on both sides for a few minutes, until soft and golden brown. Remove from the pan and repeat with the other half. Keep the cooked aubergine to one side. Once cooked and cooled slightly, chop the aubergine slices into quarters - This is best done after cooking, to ensure that the aubergine is cooked through evenly.

Turn down the heat to medium and add a further tbsp of oil to the pan. Gently sauté the peppers and onion for a few minutes. Then add the chilli and garlic and cook for a further 2 minutes. 

Add all of the remaining ingredients (including the cooked aubergine) and bring to a simmer. 

*If you're in a hurry, reduce the amount of water/stock by half and cover the pan. Simmer for around 10 minutes, instead of baking. 

 Extra VegIf you have time, pour the vegetables into a heat-proof dish, cover with foil and bake for 1 hour. Uncover for the last 10 minutes for a thicker sauce.

Serve with fresh pitta bread, potatoes, rice or pasta.

Vegetarian option: crumble 100g of feta cheese over the casserole before the final 10 minutes cooking time. 
Substitutes: If you don't like aubergine, swap it for 200g/8oz mushrooms or 2 medium courgettes/zucchini.  

 Credit Crunch MunchI'm linking this post up to this month's Extra Veg Challenge, created by Fuss Free Flavours and Utterly Scrummy and to the Credit Crunch Munch  also hosted by Helen at  Fuss Free Flavours.

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