Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Optimum 9400 Froothie maker - a review

 Optimum 9400
I was delighted to be asked to become a Brand Ambassador for Froothie, who sell the award-winning Optimum range of professional and domestic juicers and blenders.

One reason that I jumped at the chance to try out the Optimum 9400 blender, is that my daughters both love smoothies. My existing blender can only make 'lumpies' so I generally spend around £5 per week on ready-made cartons of fruit smoothies. I'd love them to drink more smoothies, as I think it's a great way to get 1 or 2 extra portions of fruit (or veg!) into their diets. The great thing about home made smoothies, is that you can use seasonal ingredients to keep costs down and you can omit any ingredients you don't like.

Whilst certainly not cheap at a RRP of £329, the Optimum 9400 is an excellent piece of kit for health-conscious vegetarians, vegans and raw food enthusiasts. In a domestic kitchen, it can be used to make smoothies, hot and cold soups, slushies, sorbets, dairy-free nut and seed milks/butters plus much more.  In fact it has around 15 functions - do check it out on this YouTube clip to see it in action!


On first inspection, the blender looks and feels like a proper, heavy-duty, professional product - which of course it is - as the Optimum range of blenders and juicers are used in many cafes and juice bars. I found the blender really easy to use and importantly, easy to clean too. There are no detachable parts to screw or lock together and the flexible lid just pops on and off. The tamper allows you to stir and scrape the contents of the blender whilst the motor is on; no need to stop, and scrape the contents back down. Once you've made a smoothie, you just fill the jug with hot water and a drop of washing up liquid and blend for a couple of seconds. Tip out the contents, rinse and you're done!


 Buy NowBoth of my teenage daughters have tried out the machine already and have been really impressed with the smoothness of their smoothies and the speed of blending. 
Over the next few months, we will be testing out the Optimum 9400 Froothie maker and blogging our recipe ideas.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to test out the machine with a 30 day money-back guarantee, pop on over to the Froothie website.


Integrity Statement

I received an Optimum 9400 blender to review and to act as a brand ambassador in future posts.
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Saturday, 12 July 2014

Win tickets to London VegfestUK '14

This year's London VegfestUK will be taking place in the Olympia West Halls on the weekend of Sept 27th and 28th 2014.

Vegfest hosts an amazing range of vegetarian/vegan food and drink stalls, kids' activities, talks, cookery demos and workshops, plus meet-and-greet sessions and book signings.

Special guests this year include presenters Amanda Hamilton and Sarah-Jane Honeywell, athletes Brendan Brazier, Patrik Baboumian, Fiona Oakes and Neil Robinson, plus Ms Cupcake founder Melissa Morgan, comedian Andrew O'Neill and Carl Donnelly.

Advance tickets are £10 in advance, currently available on a BUY ONE GET ONE FREE offer (which runs till Aug 23rd) at london.vegfest.co.uk/ticket-info. Children under 16 are admitted free.

I have 2 Sunday tickets to the show to giveaway (these will also admit a family of 4, with 2 children under 16).

To enter, just leave a comment telling me your favourite cook/chef, using the Rafflecopter widget below. Competition closes midnight Sunday 20th July. UK only.

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Friday, 11 July 2014

Easy Halloumi Cheese Pie

Easy halloumi pie
I've made this recipe before, but last time I made it, I altered it quite a bit and made pastry-less mini-pies! This time, I've more or less stuck to the original recipe...

Eftychia of 'Dream of Cakes' lives in Cyprus and mainly blogs dessert and cake recipes, however she also posts many other delicious Greek recipes, one of them being this amazing halloumi pie. I adapted it slightly this time (using filo rather than puff pastry and swapping the polenta for cornflour), but other than that I followed the recipe.

 Bookmarked RecipesAs you can see, it looks quite impressive when baked, but is really easy to make. It can be served hot, warm or cold and makes a great addition to a meze or a picnic. It also looks good enough to serve for a dinner party or special occasion, slices well and can even be (slightly under) baked in advance and re-heated if needed.

I'm entering this recipe to July's Bookmarked Recipes Challenge over at Tinned Tomatoes.

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Thursday, 3 July 2014

Gigantes Plaki (Butter Beans in Tomato Sauce)

Traditionally, gigantes plaki is made from soaked, dried butter/lima beans and baked in the oven. My quick version relies on tinned beans and is cooked on the hob, but you could make a big batch using dried beans and cook in the slow cooker (boil the beans for 10 minutes before slow cooking). This dish can be serve warm a part of a meze or hot as a main dish with rice or bread.

My version costs around £1 to make, using budget-brand beans and tinned tomatoes. 

Serves 2-4
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, chopped or crushed
  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes or around 400g/1 lb chopped fresh tomatoes.
  • 1 tin butter/lima beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh dill
  • ½ tsp sugar, optional
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • a pinch of cinnamon or a small cinnamon stick, optional 
Heat the oil in a pan and saute the onion, carrot and garlic for a few minutes.
Add all of the remaining ingredients, apart from the beans, and stir well.
Cover and simmer on a low heat for 10 minutes. 
Add the beans, stir and simmer (with the lid on)  for a further 10-20 minutes, until the carrots are tender.

 Vegetable Palette
Lower fat alternative: Just use 1 tsp of oil. 
Camping version: Simmer a jar of tomato pasta sauce with a drained tin of butter beans. Serve with warm pittas.

I'm linking this recipe to 'The Vegetable Palette'  over at  A2K - A Seasonal Veg Table.  This month's colour theme is red.

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Friday, 27 June 2014

Vegetable and Chickpea Tagine

This recipe is adapted from one a friend passed on to me from Delicious Magazine. The original recipe included lamb and honey, which I have substituted for extra vegetables and a little sugar. I also reduced the fat content considerably by cutting down on the suggested amounts of olive oil. 

Serves 4-6

Main ingredients:
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, cut into chunks
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • ½ butternut squash, peeled and de-seeded, and cut into chunks
  • 100g/4oz mushrooms, whole or cut into quarters, depending on size.
  • 100g/4oz green beans, cut into 2" pieces
  • 1 or 2 large white potatoes or small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 400g/16oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 or 3 strips of lemon zest
  • 500ml/1 pt hot vegetable stock
For the chermoula:
  • 2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp harissa paste
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp fresh coriander leaves
  • 1 tbsp fresh mint leaves
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
Couscous:
  • 2 cups couscous
  • 2 cups vegetable stock (made with a stock cube and boiling water)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp chermoula
First, make the chermoula by putting all the ingredients into a mini food processor. Blend to a smooth paste, then set aside.

Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large pan. Add the onion, squash and potatoes and fry over a medium heat until just starting to brown. Add the cinnamon, ginger and 2 tablespoons of the chermoula, and cook for a couple of minutes.
Throw in the green beans, mushrooms and chickpeas.
Add the tomatoes, stock and sugar and stir.
Cover the pan and simmer gently for 30-40 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile put the couscous and 2 tsp of the remaining chermoula into heatproof bowl and stir in the boiling water, lemon juice and oil. Cover with cling film and leave for 5 minutes.
Uncover the bowl and fluff up with a fork.

Finally mix the remaining chermoula into the tagine and stir well. Simmer for just a couple more minutes before serving.

Serve with couscous and/or flatbread.


 The Spice Trail
Alternatives: Swap the sugar in the tagine for a handful of chopped, dried apricots. 
Use any combinations of firm vegetables....this would be great way to use up gluts of home-grown vegetables such as courgettes and runner beans.
This recipe also works well with meat substitutes such as Quorn....use your preferred meat-sub instead of the extra vegetables.
You could make this a lower-fat dish by reducing the amount of oil still further, but I feel that as it's a vegan family meal, a glug of good quality olive oil is a good thing!

I'm linking this recipe to The Spice Trail challenge over at Bangers and Mash. This month's theme is cumin.

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Wednesday, 25 June 2014

The cheapest cabin-sized baggage?

 UPPTACKA cabin case
Do excuse this slightly random and not-at-all food-related post, but I've recommended this case on several different forums and thought it would be easier to post here to save repeating myself!

If, like me, you favour budget airlines and independently-booked accommodation over package holidays, you might be interested to know that IKEA currently have a cabin-sized foldable case for just £12 (with a free, Ikea Family Card). Ikea's Upptacka case measures 48cm x 34cm x 20cm, so is well within the hand luggage constraints of all major budget airlines... as far as I know.

Slightly frustratingly (as we tried so hard to find a budget-priced case to fit in with Ryanair's required baggage dimensions), we've used ours twice already and it has ended up in the hold, but has survived to tell the tale! Do label your case though, as if it ends up in the hold it may well be one of several identical cases on the carousel!

Integrity Statement
I purchased this case myself and have not been offered any incentive for a review.

Image courtesy of Ikea.

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Saturday, 21 June 2014

Cinnamon Sugar Mini Muffin Doughnuts

Cinnamon Sugar Mini Muffin Doughnuts
When I saw Michelle from Utterly Scrummy's recipe for these delicious-looking, mini muffin-doughnuts (which are obviously not Duffins!), I just had to make them. They're really simple to make, and taste even better then they look! They have the taste and texture of those mini supermarket doughnuts.

I made a few minor changes to the recipe as follows...

  • I halved the recipe (to make 24) and replaced the cinnamon in the cake mixture with vanilla extract. 
  • To coat the muffins, I mixed 2 tsp of cinnamon with 6 tbsp sugar. 
  • I melted around 4 tbsp butter and after dipping a couple and seeing how much butter each muffin absorbed, I decided to just dip the 'muffin tops' into the butter, but still roll the whole cakes in the cinnamon sugar.

 Bookmarked RecipesI froze half of the batch and took a few out to defrost as and when anyone fancied one. They are best served warm and I found that a 10-15 second blast in the microwave did the job, without affecting the taste or texture.

My next challenge is to make a vegan version, so watch this space!

I'm adding this post to this month's Bookmarked Recipes over on Tinned Tomatoes.

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Monday, 16 June 2014

World Cup Vegetarian Meal Plan!

World Cup Flags

OK, this is a bit of a cash in on the World Cup, as I'm really not a football fan, but as Mr O has suggested that I cook different family meals for the different matches this week, I thought I may as well blog my meal plan!

Meal Planning MondayI'm adding this meal plan to Mrs M's Meal Planning Monday linky.

Here are a few of my previous vegetarian/vegan meal plans:




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Thursday, 12 June 2014

Triple Chocolate Vegan Cookies - Suma Bloggers' Network

triple chocolate vegan cookies
This is my first post for the brand new Suma Blogger’s Network, which I'm very proud to be part of.The Network is made up of a collection of vegetarian and vegan bloggers from all over the UK, who will be blogging every couple of months using ingredients from Suma Co-op (wholesale suppliers of a huge range of vegetarian and vegan foods)

Each recipe will be featured both on the individuals' blogs and on the Suma website.

My first recipe is a slightly indulgent one, but one which will hopefully dispel the myth that vegetarians and vegans live on lentils and spinach! 

Makes 10-12 cookies
  • 4oz/1400g plain flour
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder, sieved 
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3oz/75g dairy-free margarine/spread
  • 6oz/150g soft, brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp No-Egg (egg replacer) mixed with 1 tbsp water
  • 2oz/50g white, dairy-free chocolate/chocolate chips (I used Organica vegan white chocolate from Suma)
  • 2oz/50g 'milk', dairy-free chocolate/chocolate chips (I used Moo-Free from Suma)
  • 2oz/50g dark, dairy-free chocolate/chocolate chips (I used Plamil chocolate chips from Suma)
a selection of products from Suma
Pre-heat the oven to 170C/160C Fan/325 F/Gas 3 and grease two baking sheets.

Melt the spread on a low heat and allow to cool.
Cream the spread with the syrup and sugar.

Add the remaining dry ingredients (except the chocolate), the egg-replacer and the vanilla
Mix until you have a fairly firm, smooth dough; if the dough is too crumbly, add a little water or dairy-free milk.
Add the chocolate pieces and mix again to distribute them evenly through the dough.

Take dessert-spoonfuls of the mixture and place them, spaced well apart on the baking sheets.
Do not flatten.
Bake for 10-12 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for around 5 minutes before removing and placing on a wire rack to cool.

 Suma Blogger's Network
Will keep for several days in an airtight container. Suitable for freezing. 

Alternatives: Make chocolate-orange or mint-chocolate cookies, by swapping the vanilla extract for orange or mint.

Integrity Statement
As a member of the Suma Blogger's Network, I will receive a selection of complimentary products from Suma every two months, to use in recipe development, and will blog an original recipe for the Network. 



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Saturday, 7 June 2014

Greek-Style Tortilla/Taco Salad with Halloumi

Greek-style taco salad with halloumi

After making my first ever tortilla bowls a couple of weeks ago, I decided to experiment further and tried making microwaved bowls (see tutorial below)The wraps puffed up slightly, so maybe corn tortillas are a better option, but they went nice and crispy and worked very well as an alternative to toasted pittas with this Greek-inspired salad.

You will need:
  • 4 tortilla wraps, microwaved as below and allowed to cool
  • 1 pack of halloumi, sliced into 8 and grilled or barbecued
  • Your choice of fresh salad ingredients (I used lettuce, tomato, onion, bell pepper and cucumber)
Dressing: (mix all ingredients together)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 crushed clove of garlic
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • A little black pepper
To make the tortilla/taco bowls:
Microwave one tortilla wrap at a time for 15-30 seconds on high, to soften.
Brush or wipe one side of each wrap with a little oil.
Place oiled-side-down into a heat-proof dish, pleating the wrap gently so that it fits inside the bowl.
Remove from the bowl and dry out the wrap in a medium oven for around 5 minutes, before cooling on a wire rack. 
microwaved tortilla bowls
Fill each tortilla bowl with salad ingredients. Top with the warm halloumi and drizzle the dressing over.
Serve immediately with your favourite dips.

Vegan option: swap the halloumi for vegan falafels.
Alternatives: Vary the salad ingredients and toppings, to make Mexican or Indian-inspired salads.

 Family Foodies
 NCRI'm entering this recipe to this month's No Croutons Required Challenge, co-hosted by Jacqui at Tinned Tomatoes and Lisa at Lisa's Kitchen

I'm also adding it to 
June's Family Foodies co-hosted by Eat Your Veg and Bangers & Mash


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Saturday, 31 May 2014

Cheat's Patatas Bravas

Cheat's Patatas Bravas
This is another one of my non-recipes, which seams almost too simple to be worth blogging, however it makes a cheap, quick and super-easy vegan meal which can be cooked in about 20 minutes.

Patatas Bravas should really served as a tapas dish, however, it makes a great camping/festival meal and is also good for an end of the week/month dinner, when the cupboards (and purse) are bare!

Serves 4
  • 2 tbsp olive or vegetable oil 
  • 1 kg/2lb bag of frozen potato cubes, almost defrosted 
  • 1 large jar of tomato and chilli pasta sauce 
Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large frying pan/baking dish. Shallow fry or roast the potato chunks until cooked, crisp and golden brown (about 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally).
Throw in the jar of tomato and chilli sauce and any extras (see below) and heat through for a further few minutes until piping hot.

Serve with bread, olives and salad.

Alternatives: To bulk this out, add some extra veg/protein along with the tomato sauce (eg: a tin of drained beans/chickpeas/sweetcorn/sliced mushrooms/veggie salami/chorizo etc...anything ready cooked.). You could also swap the potato cubes for frozen chips, wedges or even hash browns.
For a cheaper version, use 'real' potatoes and a home made tomato sauce
Make individual portions and serve as a tapas dish whilst watching Spain play in the World Cup!


 Credit Crunch Munch
I'm entering this recipe to this month's Credit Crunch Munch , hosted at Gingey Bites and founded by Fab Food 4 All and Fuss Free Flavours.



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Thursday, 29 May 2014

Salt of the Earth Rock Chick Deodorant - A review and giveaway

 Rock Chick natural deodorant
Crystal Spring, who already make the award-winning Salt of the Earth natural deodorants have just launched a new 100% natural deodorant for girls, called Salt of the Earth, Rock Chick.

Both deodorants are unscented, long lasting and good value for money. They are suitable for vegans and obviously are not tested on animals. They both contain naturally-occurring potassium alum and are suitable for young skin too (so are great for young adolescents, who might not need a strong antiperspirant). The Rock Chick solid crystal deodorant (priced at £4.96) is attractively packaged in purple and silver. My girls, who aren't particularly sweaty teens, found it easy to use and effective. 

They weren't as quite as keen on the 
Salt of the Earth Spray, as it goes on wet and takes a little while to dry, but they thought it smelt pleasant as a body spray. Although it has no added perfume, it contains  honeysuckle flower extract so smells faintly floral. I think it would work well as a body-freshening spray at festivals or during camping trips, when daily showering isn't always possible.
Salt of the earth deodorant
"A little bit of girl-power confidence for those who are starting to notice changes with body odour. Long lasting and great value, Rock Chickis kind and gentle to skin and kind to clothes. Being unfragranced it will work without anyone knowing it is there..." 
I have a set of Salt of the Earth deodorants (including one unscented full-sized spray, a travel spray and a Rock Chick, crystal stick) to giveaway, simply use the Rafflecopter widget and leave me a comment below, telling me your favourite smell! Closes Midnight 7th June UK only.
Integrity Statement
I received complimentary products to review and giveaway. The views expressed are genuinely those of myself and my family.  a Rafflecopter giveaway
If you're not lucky enough to win this prize, Crystal Spring are currently hosting a giveaway for their new scented Salt of the Earth deodorant. Competition closes Sunday 8th June.
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Friday, 23 May 2014

Chana Korma - Mild Chickpea Curry (Vegan)

Chana Korma (mild chickpea curry)
It's a little late, but here's my post for National Vegetarian Week:

I often add chickpeas (chana) to my veggie curries or make a chana masala side dish, but I don't generally use them in a main dish curry. This korma recipe is tasty and filling enough to eat as a main dish, but can also be served as a side dish along with a paneer or vegetable curry. 

Don't be put off by the long list of spices...you can always use a ready-made curry paste to save time.

Serves 4 as a main course; 6-8 as a side dish
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • ½ cinnamon stick, broken.
  • ½ tsp fennel seeds, ground
  • 1 large onion, grated or finely chopped
  • 2 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped or crushed
  • 2-3 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp chopped chilli (optional - leave out for a very mild, child-friendly curry)
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 or 3 curry leaves (optional)
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • 2 tins chana/chickpeas (I use the East End or KTC brands)
  • 1 cup/250ml of coconut cream or 2oz/50g creamed coconut (block) mixed with 1 cup/250ml boiling water
  • ½-1 tsp sugar (optional)
  • 1 tsp garam or korma masala
  • 1 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped
Heat  the oil in a large pan; and add the cinnamon and ground fennel seeds. Cook for a minute or so before adding the onion. Cook the onion on a medium heat until just starting to brown.
Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 2 minutes.
Mix in the remaining spices (except the garam/korma masala) and tomato puree and cook for 2-3 mins.
Add the chickpeas, coconut cream and sugar, simmer for 10 minutes with the lid on, adding a drop more water if needed.
Stir in the garam or korma masala and simmer for a further 2 minutes.
To serve, garnish with the chopped coriander leaves.

Serve with rice/naan/chapatti for a cheap and filling meal.

Alternatives: If you don't have a good range of dried spices, simply omit the tomato puree and dried spices and replace them with korma curry paste. 
Add some fresh or frozen spinach, or sliced mushrooms along with the chickpeas.

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Friday, 16 May 2014

Vegetarian Chilli in Tortilla Bowls

Vegetarian chilli is a popular meal in my household, but it gets a bit boring after a while. After spotting various meat-based taco salad and Tex-Mex tortilla bowl recipes on Pinterest, I thought I've have a go at making a veggie version...

Serves 4

For the chilli, rice and bowls
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced
  • 1 large clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup vegetarian/vegan mince
  • 2 tsp mild chilli powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp finely chopped red chilli
  • A good pinch of cinnamon
  • ½ can red kidney beans or other beans, drained
  • 1 small can sweetcorn, drained
  • 250ml passata
  • 1 packet of microwave Mexican rice or ½ portion Mexican rice
  • 4 large tortillas
Salad
  • ½ lettuce, finely shredded
  • 1 green bell pepper, halved and finely sliced
  • 1 chunk of cucumber, halved, de-seeded and sliced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and grated
Salad dressing
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp chopped coriander
  • 2 tbsp, chopped pickled jalapenos
Toppings
  • ½ cup salsa
  • ½ cup guacamole
  • ½ cup mature cheddar cheese, grated (or vegan alternative), and/or soured cream
  • 1 tbsp fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
First make your tortilla bowls. I used this tutorial from The Yummy Life, but found they needed a little practice to get the timings right and that I needed to microwave them first for around 15 seconds, to soften them, before baking. If I was going to make these regularly, I'd invest in a set of Tortilla/Taco Salad Pans.

Fry the onion in a little olive oil until soft. Add the garlic and cook for a further minutes or two.
Stir in all  the spices and the oregano, then add the veggie mince.
Pour in the passata, beans and sweetcorn, and simmer for around 15 minutes.

Meanwhile prepare the salad ingredients, mix the dressing together and set to one side.

To serve, heat the rice and divide between the tortilla bowls.
Spoon the veggie chilli over the rice.
Top with your choice of salsa, guacamole, grated cheese/vegan cheese and soured cream.
Sprinkle with the chopped coriander and serve with a side salad. 

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Monday, 12 May 2014

Fragrant Heart: A Tale of Love, Life and Food in South-East Asia - A review

 Fragrant Heart
Food and travel are two of my favourite things, so when Miranda Emmerson, author of Fragrant Heart, asked me to take a look at her latest book (a memoir about...you guessed it...food and travel!), I was very happy to do so. I received my copy just a few days before going on holiday to Portugal, so I read the book lying under the Portuguese sun. A perfect combination!

Fragrant Heart tells of Miranda and partner Chris's travels through China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia during a 'gap year' which they decide to take before settling down to start a family (they've since had two children). Miranda, a  regular contributor to BBC Radio 4, interweaves her exotic travelogue with tales of her family background, her relationship with Chris and her worries of renting her house out, back home in Wales. 

The book takes the reader on an adventurous journey through S.E Asia, painting a picture not only of the sights of interest, but also of the culture, history, art, politics and cuisine of each region. Some parts of the book are touching, some fascinating and some are laugh-out-loud funny. 

Miranda, a long time vegetarian, struggles to find 'safe' food in countries which regard meat and fish an essential part of any meal...
"Are you a vegetarian? Want some advice? Don't go to China. No. Wait. Scrub that. Do go to China. Just don't try to be a vegetarian once you're there."
Detailed descriptions of the foods they discover on their travels are so vivid that you can almost smell the food cooking and taste the flavours as you read...
"Bolou fan is a sweet and sticky and imparts a feeling of childish decadence to any meal. A whole pineapple is served to the table stuffed with berry-black, steamed short rice. Lifting the spiky lid you uncover a pirate's chest of delight. Candied peel curls in little crystalline caterpillars on top of glistening, sugary delight."
Although not a cookbook, each chapter ends with one or two recipes from the region with both a meat-based and a vegetarian version of each recipe. I tried out the rather confusingly named fish-fragrant aubergine, which contains no fish at all! Fish-fragrant apparently describes the combination of seasonings which would traditionally be served with fish, but work equally well with vegetarian and vegan dishes:

Yuxiang Qiezi or Fish-Fragrant Aubergine (Vegan)

Sichuan cuisine is full of different preparations, ways of cooking things and sauces to cook them in. Fish-fragrant is a description given to this particular sharp and sour sauce classically served over aubergine. There are no fish products used in it. It is very spicy, so cautious first-time cooks might want to halve or even quarter the amount of chilli bean sauce they put in. Served over boiled rice with a handful of chopped spring onions and maybe some nuts on top, I think it makes the perfect winter lunch.

Serves 2 
Preparation and cooking time: 30 minutes
  • 5 Sichuan peppercorns 
  • 2 small aubergines 
  • 2 tbsp groundnut oil 
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped 
  • 2-cm piece of ginger, finely chopped
Sauce:
  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine 
  • 2 tbsp Chinkiang black rice vinegar (available from most Asian grocers)
  • 2 tsp sugar 
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce 
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce 
  • 2 tbsp chilli bean paste (this can be found in Asian grocery stores and some supermarkets, under the Lee Kum Kee brand) 
  • 3 tbsp vegetable stock 
  • 1 tsp cornflour
Garnish:
  • 3 spring onions, sliced
Toast Sichuan peppercorns in a dry frying pan for a minute and then crush. Set aside.
Make the sauce by mixing the rice wine, vinegar, sugar, soy sauces, chilli bean paste, stock and cornflour together in a small bowl.
Cut aubergine into bite-sized cubes.
Heat the groundnut oil in a wok over a medium to high heat. Add the aubergine and stir-fry for 3 minutes or until the outsides have browned. Add the garlic, ginger and reserved ground peppercorns and stir-fry for another 30 seconds. Pour the sauce over the aubergine mixture and cook on a medium heat for 4 minutes, until the sauce has started to thicken.
Remove from heat and serve with spring onions sprinkled over.

I couldn't find rice wine, so left this out. The resulting dish was amazing, if a little on the spicy side, as I used the full 2 tbsp of chilli bean sauce; I made 2 versions: one as above and one with Quorn and mushrooms, which were equally tasty. Miranda recommend using different combinations of vegetables depending on which you prefer.
Fragrant Heart: A Tale of Life, Love and Food in Asia by Miranda Emmerson is published by Summersdale and is available from Amazon  and all major bookstores. 
I have a paperback copy of the book to give away. Just enter the Rafflecopter below by Midnight on 22nd May:

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