General

Back again

I haven’t been here in a while. This has something to do with the general wrestle of life with a business and a toddler, and something to do with the fact that, for a while, me and food were not on the best terms. Yes, we decided that having got to the point where life with a small child is actually sort of fun (i.e. the point where he sleeps for 11 hours a night – a point which was a veeerry long time coming) we should celebrate by having another.

Welcome, so-called ‘morning’ sickness. When I was pregnant with Frank I sometimes felt a little bit queasy, in that I would not much fancy a particular thing for dinner. That was as far as it went. I only remember feeling properly sick once, at an event we did at the Belgrave Street Feast, when we were surrounded by multiple incarnations of delicious food and I was disappointed to find that I couldn’t stomach any of it. Then by lunchtime I was over it and ate a dosa.

This time round I consulted the obligatory page on morning sickness in all of the pregnancy guides that I own (which is quite a lot – my general response to becoming interested in a subject being to read about it, furiously, as if there were going to be a test on it…which, I suppose, in the case of pregnancy, there kind of is). They all mention, nonchalantly, that most women tend to feel a bit sick during the first trimester and why not try eating ginger biscuits? But you don’t understand! I wanted to say. I feel really bad! The thought of eating any sort of biscuit made me feel wobbly, ginger or otherwise. I felt sick all day, every day, but often ravenously hungry at the same time. Normally I welcome hunger as a reason to eat something delicious and I have to say that the feeling of stomach-clawing hunger combined with a nausea so overbearing you can’t face eating anything is pretty miserable. Also, you don’t get a lot of sympathy because most people don’t even know you’re pregnant yet and if they do, there’s not really anything to see and you think you’d better not moan too much if you want people’s goodwill to last for another eight months. Once I threw up my lunch at work and I felt quite pleased about it, like at last I had something to show for all the effort I’d put in at feeling sick.

I felt too sick to even have cravings, apart from one week when I suddenly wanted Chinese food and I was quite happy as long as dinner had any combination of spring onions, garlic and ginger in it – I even insisted that we had a Chinese takeaway one night, which is completely unheard of – then that passed. I found a list in my diary, ‘things that don’t make me feel nauseous currently’ : it includes miso soup, oranges, buttered rice, jasmine tea and ice cream. Another of my frequent food lists is tentatively titled, ‘would I want to eat..?’ I felt nostalgic for the decisiveness of my first trimester with Frank, when as long as it was a mango or any type of seafood it was welcome in my belly.

Such is the strange inner timeline of pregnancy that all this feels like so long ago, although at the time it felt as if it had already lasted forever and would never end. Thankfully, I am now feeling much better. I can eat almost anything, and be hungry again an hour later. I can drink a whole cup of coffee! And, most importantly, cooking is no longer an endurance test. It’s good to be back.

 

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Recipes

Stuffed chocolate dates

January seems like a good time to feature a recipe for one of my favourite healthy snacks. The cliche is that people start in on rigorous diet and exercise regimes in the early days of the new year, only to have given up by the end of the month; we certainly see a change in what people are ordering at this time of year, with the richer, creamier dishes falling out of favour, a downturn in cake sales and an increase in special requests for vegan/low-carb/etc. menu adaptations. It’s easy to mock, it seems – I can’t help but notice how much scorn has been heaped upon the ‘clean-eating’ movement from certain quarters (most recently Jay Rayner in the Observer Food Monthly). This bothers me a bit because I think that everyone should be allowed to eat whatever makes them feel at their best, without judgment from people without any scientific qualifications claiming that there is no science to validate the way they feel. I happen to think there are worse character faults than a desire to lead a healthy life and inspire others (I can think of plenty of other people more deserving of public scorn). I also think that if you’re not convinced by a particular argument about a particular way to eat, then ignore it. Keep eating how you want to eat. Or do your own research. Don’t forget to take into consideration what you enjoy eating and what works for you. We have always tried to make Mill Kitchen inclusive for people with various dietary needs and to reflect a sense of balance across the menu; plenty of plants, but plenty of cake as well, so people can make their own choices. Hopefully there is something for everyone.

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Back to the dates! You can enjoy these all year round, but there are some lovely fresh dates available at the moment which makes it all the better – either way, you want one of the bigger, softer varieties like medjool. It’s a bit much to call this a ‘recipe’ but it is a great quick fix to remember if you’re tempted by something you’d rather not be. Stay strong, January resolvers!

Stuffed chocolate dates

Makes 6

6 large dates, e.g. medjool
6 big spoonfuls of peanut, almond or other nut butter
about 75g dark chocolate
sprinkles, optional: I have a chocolate chai mix I like to sprinkle on top which makes it feel appropriately wintery. You could also try: sesame seeds, bee pollen, desiccated coconut, cocoa nibs.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of hot water or in the microwave. Pull a date open along one side and remove the pit. Shove a big spoonful of nut butter into the middle and squash it closed. Drop the stuffed date into the melted chocolate and stir until it’s coated. Spoon it out and put it onto a plate or tray (you can oil it lightly to stop them sticking). Repeat with the remaining dates. Sprinkle your toppings on, if you’re using any. Put the plate into the fridge for a few hours to set.

 

Book Reviews

Books of the year round-up 2016

It’s time for my annual pick of favourite cookbooks from this year. If you know me a bit, you’ll know that I read, and cook from, a lot of cookbooks. A lot. So while what I recommend will skew towards my particular taste, I like to think that I’m a pretty good judge when it comes to choosing books that will stand the test of time. My judging criteria: I’m drawn to titles that offer something unusual, a different angle or a less explored conceit – I want to learn something new. I like books which are beautifully styled and designed, so that you’ll want to have them out in your kitchen and turn the pages often. My personal focus also leans towards the healthy and, increasingly, simple (I want food that I’ll be happy to make on a regular basis; I’m less interested in highly styled, multi-process restaurant food or more recipes for cake). Above all the recipes have to work and taste good enough for me to want to repeat them.

Without further ado, here’s my top five:

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1.The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt (Norton)

I surprised myself with how much I loved this book. I’m not really of the science geek school of cooking, being a sterotypical arts graduate, but I found it impossible not to be fascinated by this thorough exploration of why food behaves as it does and how to get it to do what you want it to do. This is very squarely in the ‘useful’ rather than ‘beautiful’ camp but I can’t think of another cookbook I’ve learned this much from. It covers the whole gamut from how to buy a decent knife to how to cook the perfect boiled egg to how to make your own sausages, all backed up with hard science and exhaustive experimentation. My only caveats: it is decidedly American, so the core recipes covered are not all things us Brits would make on a regular basis, and some of the terminology around, for example, steak cuts gets a little confusing. Also, some of the ‘perfect’ methods of achieving something are just too fussy for regular use.

Favourite recipes: I’ve barely scraped the surface of this 958 pager, but the light and fluffy buttermilk pancakes are the best I’ve tried and I now know how to get my sweet potatoes extra crispy (the trick is to soak them first)..

Bookmarked to try: making my own sausages

2. River Cottage: Gluten-Free, Naomi Devlin (Bloomsbury)

I wrote a little about this book in my post featuring its delicious teff pitta breads. Since then I’ve called on it for several gluten- and dairy-free baking recipes and let me tell you, I was sceptical, but they were so good I would happily put them on the cafe counter. This is now my go-to when cooking for people with dietary requirements and it would be an excellent Christmas gift for someone beginning to negotiate the waters of gluten-free eating without resorting to some of the dodgier offerings of the supermarket ‘free from’ aisles. Crucially, the recipes are so good that you can serve them to gluten enthusiasts and avoiders alike with pride.

Favourite recipes: teff pitta breads; English sourdough muffins; carrot and walnut parkin; teff muscovado brownies

Bookmarked to try: buckwheat pasta

3. Eat Right, Nick Barnard (Kyle Books)

I also wrote a little about this book in a post featuring gingerbread. I recommend this not so much for the recipes (not that there is anything wrong with those) but as a primer for an approach to eating that is very close to my heart. I feel that there is a something of a dichotomy in the food world currently between what has come to be known as ‘clean eating’ and its scoffing detractors. I can see both sides, but I also believe that there is a middle way – looking to the traditions of generations for a way of eating that is sensible, healthy, economical and respectful of the land and animals behind it. I can only suggest you read this book for further explanation!

Favourite recipes: kombucha; water kefir; sprouted sourdough pizza

Bookmarked to try: maple butter

4. The New Vegetarian, Alice Hart (Square Peg)

Inevitably a vegetarian book will sneak into my year-end best-of and this one comes with a front-cover quote from Diana Henry boldly claiming it as “the best vegetarian book I’ve ever read or cooked from” – if it’s good enough for Diana Henry, it’s certainly got something going from it. This is a dreamy, soft-focus book that will transport you to a future where you live in a cottage and invite your friends round to eat baked purple goat’s cheese gnocchi from an antique wooden table (rather than a cheap pine number in a rental off the Bradford Road). Honestly, it would be hard to find something I didn’t want to eat from this book, and it is very large. Occasionally I found the slightly austere tone a bit grating (“diet food this most certainly isn’t!” she exclaims about a cauliflower and barley cheese – really?!) but every single thing I’ve made I would make again, and often have, which is actually quite rare for me.

Favourite recipes: teff, banana and maple loaf; griddled halloumi salad with date dressing; chocolate-beetroot spelt loaf; cauliflower and barley cheese

Bookmarked to try: everything else

5. Everything I Want To Eat: Squirl and the New California Cooking, Jessica Koslow (Abrams)

I had a real debate about whether to include this one (my other choice would have been the ever-excellent Diana Henry with her new book, Simple) seeing as, um, I haven’t actually cooked anything from it. But, this was the most intriguing read of the year for me. Again, the Californian approach to food is something I gravitate towards, and some of the recipes here are pretty Mill Kitchen (if Mill Kitchen was in LA and had rich and famous customers) – their version of avocado toast features pickled carrots and garlic cream and their skillet pancake is topped with cacao nib pudding. I always find it interesting to read about the journey other food businesses have been on; Squirl started out as a jam business, so there are recipes here for strawberry rose geranium jam and raspberry cardamom jam at the more achievable end of the spectrum. There are also recipes for things like their ‘tomato party’ which features tomato paste, tomato powder, tomato stem oil, whipped feta and garlic chips. A little daunting. However, while Koslow’s approach seems meticulous, her writing voice is friendly and approachable. The pictures mostly seem to be of customers of the restaurant and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Ultimately this is a book that I want to spend some quality time with, that I have a sense may inform future menus.

Favourite recipes: none yet

Bookmarked to try: crispy rice salad; salmon with sorrel pesto; cardamom doughnut-ish tea cakes; ginger molasses shrub

 

 

Parenting

Dip dip

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Back in the heady days when Frank was six months old, I could not wait to get him started on solid food. Oh, the fun we would have! I pictured his smiling face as I introduced him to all of my favourites which, naturally, he would love too. I even envied him the chance to discover it all, like, you know, that feeling you get when you recommend an amazing book to someone and you’re so excited for them but at the same time a bit sad because you wish you could be in their shoes and read it all again from the start?

Have I learned anything about parenting yet?

It hasn’t quite worked out that way. Frank likes milk. He will tolerate things that are related to milk, like yoghurt and cheese, or milk from a non-human. To everything else, his reaction ranges from very mild curiosity to imperious rage. I’m trying to be patient and give him time, but I can’t resist the thought that maybe I just haven’t found the right thing yet, like maybe he would love Mexican food, or pad thai, or persimmons? A little glimmer of hope crept in when I gave him a boiled egg and showed him how to dip the soldiers in the yolk, explaining, in the way you do, “dip dip”. He caught on to the idea of dipping straight away and ever since has been trying to dip anything and everything. If he has nothing to dip into in front of him, he holds his food out to you at arms length saying ‘da da?’ until you oblige. Sometimes he tries the food after he’s dipped it. Mostly he just wants to keep playing the fun ‘da da’ game infinitely. But still, I could see a way in.

A few good things for dipping:

Smoothie: made thicker by adding a little less milk and/or some frozen fruit. Good for dipping toast soldiers or chunks of fruit.

Creamed spinach: wilted in butter and blitzed with a couple of spoonfuls of cream. He did not like this one.

Soup: so far simple creamy vegetable soups, made on the thick side, with crackers, have been the most popular.

Beetroot: based on one of our all-time favourite things to do with beetroot from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian. Blitz a couple of medium sized cooked (boiled or roasted) beetroot – about 150g – with about 45g toasted walnuts, a couple of teaspoons of red wine vinegar and about 50g soft goat’s cheese. Season to taste and add olive oil to get a dippable consistency.

Chinese dumplings: with a 50/50 mix of soy sauce and rice vinegar. I also tried him on sushi with a little puddle of soy sauce, which he was not remotely impressed with.

It strikes me, writing this, that with his penchant for dairy and dipping, Frank would love the baked camembert on the menu at the moment. If you come across me with a small boy and a box of molten cheese, feel free to share your baby feeding success stories…

How To

How to: have a prep day

I have come across the advice, in many books, to set aside a regular block of time for food preparation for the coming week. Usually referred to as a ‘Sunday Cook-Up’ or similar. Until recently, I had always ignored it; it sounded a bit like work, where, for that matter, I usually am on a Sunday. Better, I thought, to squeeze in a bit extra when making dinner – double portions for later, or a tray of something while the oven was on. Except that often that felt like a bit too much effort. I’m always looking for ways to make good habits easier, which, in my experience, means reducing the amount of willpower involved – willpower is a fragile thing. So scheduling in a couple of hours at the same time every week requires me only to summon the willpower once at that specific time, versus daily, vaguely, if at all. I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now, and so far the habit has stuck. Here are the other reasons why I’ve become a convert to the prep-ahead method:

  1. It reinforces healthy habits. It’s much easier to have an alcohol-free night or resist calling the takeaway if you have alternative options ready and waiting. And you’ve put the work in, so you won’t want them to go to waste. Plus in my experience, healthy eating begets healthy eating.
  2. It’s economical. I set my prep session for a Tuesday, when my veg box delivery arrives, so that I can use up anything lingering from last week’s shop while having the advantage of new produce to dress it up. There’s also less incentive to eat out or buy snacks when you have a well stocked fridge.
  3. It doesn’t take as long as you might think. I have the length of a baby’s nap to play with (1-2 hours) and here’s what I did with my hour this week: a jug of green smoothie; a box of energy balls; par-cooked cauliflower for the freezer; a batch of kombucha.
  4. You discover what’s most useful for the way you eat. The things I find work well for me are: chicken stock (for soups and stews); a soup (for simple lunches, feeding the baby or bulking out basic meals); kombucha (healthy soft drinks) and a range of healthy snack options (smoothies, bakes, energy balls etc).
  5. It reduces waste. Here are some examples for using up your leftovers: most vegetables can be made into soup, which you can always freeze for another day; or if you have less time, chop and steam or blanch them and put them in the freezer for quick sides; greens and most fruit can go into a bulk batch of smoothies or juice; fruit can be dried in a dehydrator or low oven for snacking, or stewed for breakfasts. Use any bones and odds and ends like bendy carrots, half onions and wilting herbs to make stock, which is great for creating leftover-using meals of soup, stew, risotto, pie etc.

If you have a prep day, let me know how you use it!

Recipes

Naomi Devlin’s teff pitta breads

Today I have a recipe to share with you, and that recipe is for gluten-free pitta breads. However, they are so good I suggest we put the gluten-free bit to the side and just call them delicious. If I’m honest, they are not much like a regular pitta bread, but if a regular pitta bread is one of those long-life supermarket jobs with a texture like flabby cardboard, that may not be a bad thing. These are more tender, subtly sweet,  and full of flavour from toasted nuts.

I found this recipe in one of the latest in the prolific River Cottage series, River Cottage Gluten Free, by Naomi Devlin. It’s a book which I can highly recommend for anyone who is, or cooks for, a gluten free diet – well, obviously – but also for anyone interested in exploring alternative flours to plain old wheat. The book comes from a perspective of good health and the recipes, so far, are all good – with Naomi’s help I have successfully made and maintained a brown rice sourdough starter which I use mainly to make her sourdough crumpets and, occasionally, a loaf of bread.

I first made these when we had Gav and Ellie round to dinner (who I can now officially say are my brother- and sister-in-law, as opposed to ‘my boyfriend’s sister and her husband’ – hooray!) I had most of a bag of teff flour left over from making the mocha muscovado brownies – also excellent! – so I decided to give them a go. Gav and Ellie loved them. Tom loved them, and that’s saying something as he usually treats my forays into alternative flours/sweeteners/etc with suspicion (sample conversation in our house: “do you want one of my brownies?” “are they….normal?”) Since then I’ve made them again, to check they were really that nice, and then again. And now I’m sharing them with you.

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Naomi Devlin’s Teff Pitta Breads

Makes around 8

A few notes: while you can play around with the nuts, the combination of pecan and teff is so good I would definitely try that first. I also think it’s worth making a double batch if you can – that way you can have some on standby in the freezer. I just put them straight in the toaster from frozen. This is easier than making traditional wheat flour bread in a way – no kneading – but there are a few steps and you’ll need to be near your kitchen for a few hours.

Teff flour is easier to find that you might think – I’ve seen it in the Morrisons in Horsforth – check the ‘free from’ aisle. Millet and tapioca flours can sometimes be found in Indian or Chinese grocers, otherwise a reasonable sized health food shop should have them (e.g. Out of this World or Millie’s in Leeds town centre).

For the sponge:
7g quick dried yeast (I use the stuff in the cylindrical tubes, you can also use 20g fresh yeast if you can get it)
175g tepid water
115g white teff flour (plus extra for shaping later)
60g millet flour
25g ground linseed

For the pittas:
115g finely ground pecan nuts (or try another type of nut, or grind oats to make a flour – make sure they are gluten free oats if this is an issue)
60g tapioca starch
2 tbsp olive oil or melted coconut oil or melted butter
2 tbsp date syrup or honey or rice syrup
1 large egg
7g sea salt
1/2 – 1 tsp psyllium husk (if needed – I never have)
Butter or olive oil for greasing
Milk or water for brushing
Sesame seeds for sprinkling (optional)

First, make the sponge by mixing all the ingredients together (if using fresh yeast, you will have to activate it with a little of the water first). Cover and leave to rest in a warm place for an hour.

Add the rest of the ingredients up to the salt and mix together thoroughly. Leave to stand for 10 minutes so the nuts and starch can absorb some of the moisture in the dough.

If the dough seems to wet to handle, you can add some psyllium husk now. My dough is usually quite soft and sticky but not unmanageably so.

Grease a couple of large baking trays and sprinkle with sesame seeds or teff flour.

Make a little pile of teff flour on your work surface and flour your hands. Scoop out an egg-sized lump of dough and drop it into the flour. Roll it around with your hands into a ball and flatten it slightly into an oval about 5mm thick. Place it on a baking tray (they don’t expand much, so you can put them quite close together). Repeat to use up the rest of the dough. Brush the pittas with milk or water and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using. Cover the trays with cling film and leave in a warm place to rise for about 1 1/2 – 2 hours. (NB: I have also left them to rise in the fridge for around 8 hours and they still turned out fine).

Preheat the oven to 240c/220c fan. Put a roasting tray on the bottom shelf of your oven and boil the kettle.

When the pittas are ready to go in, sprinkle them and the trays with water. Half fill the roasting tray with boiling water to create a steamy atmosphere. Bake for 8-12 minutes, until they are just starting to turn golden brown at the edges (they may look underbaked, but if you leave it too long they will be tougher).Enjoy warm or let them cool and freeze for later.

From River Cottage Gluten Free by Naomi Devlin; Bloomsbury, 2016

 

 

 

Recipes

Baked goat’s cheese sweet potato

I’m going to start this like a banal conversation. This weather we’re having is very confusing.

It’s summer, but it’s overcast and drippy and the sky is like dirty dishwater. Which we should be used to, but because we have images of beaches and ice lollies and patio seating in our heads we get depressed, and then we need comforting food, which is generally not summer food. It could just be me, but judging by the number of sausage sandwiches we’ve been making at Mill Kitchen, it isn’t. I think the sausage sandwich is the warm, floury, pat on the back of the food world. It’s homely, reassuring, not too little, not too much. My veg boxes are full of tomatoes, sweetcorn, runner beans, peaches, melons, the sort of food that wants to be eaten ripely with bare feet and cold wine. But all I’ve been wanting is shepherd’s pie.

Then it’s autumn, but it’s hot and airless, like living in a closed Kilner jar. We’ve been having meetings to plan the menu for the next few months, discussing broths and stewed fruit with the fan on its highest setting. Hey universe, what’s up?

I wanted to share a lunch I made the other day when in a state of complete uncertainty about what I felt like eating, not an easy place for me to be. Often what I feel like eating is the only thing I do know. So I started with some things I reliably like eating (and, conveniently, Frank does too): roasted sweet potato and melting goat’s cheese. While the potato was baking I made a quick kale salad which I stuffed in at the end with a round of cheese on top, then back in the oven until the cheese was starting to ooze. It’s not quick, but it is easy, and melted cheese, like sausages, will always be appropriate whatever the weather.

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Baked goat’s cheese sweet potato

Serves 2

2 sweet potatoes
5-6 tbsp olive oil
salt
2 handfuls of kale
2 tbsp dill
2 tbsp hazelnuts
2 tbsp dried blueberries
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 rounds of goat’s cheese, 1-2 cm thick

Set the oven at 200c. Wash and dry the sweet potatoes, then rub them all over with a bit of the olive oil and a good sprinkle of sea salt, patting the salt on so it sticks. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on size, or until you can stick a knife through the middle with no resistance.

Put the hazelnuts on a baking tray in the hot oven for 10 minutes or so, until golden. Pull the kale leaves off the stalks, wash and dry it and chop it roughly. Chop the dill finely. Mix the red wine vinegar with the remaining olive oil and a pinch of salt to make a dressing. When the hazelnuts are toasted, chop them roughly.

Sprinkle a couple of pinches of salt over the kale leaves in a big bowl and pour the dressing over. Rub the dressing into the leaves, coating them thoroughly and bruising them a bit so they wilt. Mix in the chopped hazelnuts, dill and dried blueberries.

When the potatoes are cooked, slit them down the middle and pile in the salad. Wedge the circles of cheese on top and return them to the oven for 20 minutes or until the cheese is golden and bubbling.