Food Challenge Recipe 39: Italian Orzo Spinach Soup

I’m back! We’re back from America, so this week’s recipe doesn’t come from there, like my last three have. This one is actually Italian, and though the title states it’s a soup, it’s more of a stew in my opinion.

I made this as a warming lunch option to take to work. It serves 6 people and is fairly simple to make. It’s very filling, but that could just be the way I portioned it out!

I also made a fairly big mistake whilst making this, but it all ended up okay in the end….

You start with adding a little oil into a large stock-pot and adding 1 small white onion (diced) and fry for about 4 minutes. Add 1 cup of diced carrots, 1 cup of diced celery and 2 cloves of minced garlic. The recipe called for 3 cloves but I didn’t want that much. Saute this for an additional 3 minutes. This was where I made my mistake, and just forgot to put the carrots and celery in. I know, I know – weird but I did it.

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So that’s the onion and garlic, minus the carrot and celery.

Next I added 1.5 litres of vegetable stock, 1 can of chopped tomatoes, 227g of orzo pasta, 1/2 tsp of dried thyme, 1/4 tsp of oregano and 1/4 tsp of dried rosemary and stir to combine.

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I brought this to a simmer, and turned around in the kitchen. There behind me on the kitchen island was a lovely bowl of diced carrots and celery. DOH!

So I plonked them all into the pot too, and hoped for the best!

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This was brought to a simmer, then the heat reduced to medium-low and simmered for 10 minutes (or until the pasta is al dente), stirring occasionally.

Then I added 4 cups of spinach leaves.

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Stirred all together, I then tasted the pot and added 1.5 tsp of sugar, salt and pepper.

This was cooked for 2 minutes and it was ready!

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At this point it looks like there’s a lot of liquid, but there’s so much veg and pasta in there that I felt like it was more of a stew type consistency.

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I don’t think the soup suffered from the mistake I made. The veg was cooked through enough, but who knows, that could have contributed to a lack of moisture in the soup.

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This soup was really flavourful. It filled me up on each occasion I ate it, and I felt like I was getting a good healthy balance of vitamins and minerals from the rainbow of ingredients I was eating.

The verdict:

This was a really nice soup, and it will make a lovely addition to my home cooked work lunch ideas. I’ll most likely make this again, down the line, and I can see it being really nice and warming in winter and spring.

I give this recipe 7.5/10

 

Food Challenge Recipe 38: Frico Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

In the UK we have toasted cheese sandwiches, traditionally made in a sandwich press contraption, that’s usually so hard to clean after use that it’s makes more sense to buy a new one each time that try and get it clean. In the US they have no such problem – they make grilled cheese sandwiches and they are made in a skillet or frying pan. Simple, quick and much easier to clean up. I started making my grilled cheese sandwiches this way a few years back and it’s the only way I’ll do it now. They’re called ‘grilled’ cheese because in America when you ‘grill’ the heat comes from below, as opposed to in the UK where when we grill something the heat comes from above. (Think BBQ grill and you’ll get the idea)

Now, I know what you’re thinking – grilled cheese – that’s not a new recipe. But bare with me. I spotted this recipe over on smittenkitchen (yes her again!) and thought to myself “the only thing you can do to make a grilled cheese better is…. MORE CHEESE”.

The thing that makes this grilled cheese BETTER is the addition of a small amount of cheese in the pan before the sandwich goes in. This creates a crust of that crispy, cheese, lacy melted cheese on the outside of each side of the sandwich. This thin lacy, crispy layer of melted cheese is also known as Frico.

So, to make this epic grilled cheese you start of with some decent bread. Thick but not too thick. I ALWAYS make my grilled cheese with sweet chilli sauce inside. I love how the sauce mingles with the mature cheddar flavour. It adds beautiful sweetness and slight heat, which cuts through the cheese.

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I put about that much on the bread and spread it out evenly.

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Then as much grated cheese as you want, but bare in mind this has to melt evenly. This is why grated cheese is more effective as the surface area of the cheese bits are smaller. I used lactose free mature cheddar.

Then top this with the other slice. At this point, I use a spoon to spread a fairly thick layer of butter (I use Vitalite) on the outside of the top slice. I say to use a spoon to do this – I’ll explain why in a minute.

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The next step is the warm the pan on a low-medium heat. Now the Smitten Kitchen recipe says you use 1 tbsp of grated cheese next, but I didn’t think this was enough so I used 2 tbsp (I was right).

You sprinkle the cheese into the pan, right where the sandwich is going to go, and the place the sandwich, butter-side down on top of the grated cheese.

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Now remember I told you to use a spoon the spread the butter earlier? Here’s why. You now have a sandwich slowly grilling in the pan, but the side that’s facing up has no butter on it. I don’t like to butter both sides when prepping because you’re left with a buttery sandwich you can’t put down anywhere. Once it’s in the pan, you need to butter the side that’s now face up. But if you use a knife in a frying pan, it’s hard to get the angle you need to spread it. Enter: THE SPOON! It’s perfect for spreading at an angle and you’re not going to accidentally touch the hot pan. You heard it here first.

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You’ve got to let the sandwich fry in the pan until it’s golden underneath and the cheese browns and fricos. This is about 4 minutes. Then you lift the sandwich up and out of the pan with a spatula, sprinkle 2 more tbsp of grated cheese on the pan and flip the sandwich over on top.

Cook this until that side is brown and crispy, pressing down with the spatula to encourage all the cheese inside to melt together.

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And you’re done!

I always cut mine in half because it’s HOT in there.

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As you can see, the outside is crisp and the cheese has created a wonderful Frico crust.

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The inside is still melty, but the outside is that wonderful strong and crisp cheese flavour.

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I won’t mince my words when I say, this was the best grilled sandwich I’ve ever eaten.

I give this recipe 10/10!

 

 

Food Challenge Recipe 37: Pecan Pie Muffins

As you will know, I’m currently on holiday in Orlando so I thought that the recipes I post whilst I’m there should be reflective of the kind of food I love to eat when I’m there.

This recipe for pecan pie muffins is so quick and simple, and uses very few ingredients. The method is a little unorthodox for me, but I went with it and the result was just fine!

This made 20 mini muffins. I’ll mention here, that the size difference between a muffin in the UK and a muffin in the US is different, so I just went with it and made the amount that the batter gave me. The recipe states it’s 8 muffins. I made 20 mini muffins. I suspect mine were mini cupcake size.

I set the oven to 160c (fan) and buttered a silicone tray in preparation for the batter. Then I chopped the pecans.

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In a medium bowl I mixed the dry ingredients together: 1 cup of packed (pressed down) light brown sugar, 1/2 cup of plain flour, and 2 cups of chopped pecans.

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Now, with cake batters, I’m used to creaming the butter and sugar together to start with and then adding the rest of the dry ingredients. Then when you add the eggs, there’s no curdling and everything is smooth. The next step in this recipe was to ‘beat’ 2/3 cup of softened butter and 2 beaten eggs, together.

I honestly don’t know how to do this. Everything’s too wet and slippery to ‘beat’ together. I ended up with this:

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At which point I gave up and gradually added the dry ingredients into the wet, beating fast to try to prevent curdling.

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If you look closely, you can see this still curdled a bit. But usually this will right itself in the oven anyway, so I just carried on.

I spooned the batter into the cups. The recipe stated to fill each cup 2/3 full. I clearly ignored this and just put a load in each one…

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This then went into the oven for 15 minutes, until a toothpick came out clean when inserted into the middle of the muffins.

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I left these to cool a little for a few minutes, before popping them out of the tray (I love these silicone trays!) and left them to cool entirely.

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Once cooled it was time to try them!

Because these were called ‘Pecan Pie’ muffins, I expected them to be a bit sweeter, which is the main reason I made them as mini muffins instead of standard size. But they were really very tasty despite this.

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The cake was a little dense, but still light. The denseness probably due to the method of making the batter. The pecans offered a lovely crunch and additional sweetness to the muffin.

The verdict:

These were quick, easy and tasty! They might be a little better with some kind of maple glaze on top.

I give this recipe 6/10

Food Challenge Recipe 36: Baked Orange Cauliflower

When you read this I’ll be on holiday in Orlando, so I thought this week’s recipe should be reflective of this.

Here in good ole Blighty when we think of Chinese takeaway, we think Sweet & Sour Chicken. But in the US I’ve never seen Sweet & Sour Chicken. It seems their equivalent is Orange Chicken, which is so very similar but with a sweet citrusy edge.

Since we’re trying to eat a little less meat, at home, I saw this recipe and knew I wanted to try it out! This recipe serves two people and was super quick and easy to make.

I started off with a small cauliflower which I cut into bite sized florets.

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I put the oven on to 180c (fan), and whisked two large eggs in a small bowl. Then I put 1/2 cup of panko breadcrumbs into a Ziplock bag. The recipe states to use up to 2 cups of breadcrumbs, but I found I only needed 1/2 a cup – I think my cauliflower was tiny!

I dipped each floret into the egg, gave it a shake and place it onto a plate for the excess to run off.

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I then tossed each individual floret in the panko and placed onto a prepared baking sheet.

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These were put to bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

For the sauce I put the following into a small saucepan:

  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp orange juice
  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 2.5 tbsp vinegar
  • 1/8 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 clove of minced garlic
  • 1/4 tsp minced ginger
  • 1/2 tsp Sriracha
  • 1.5 tsp ketchup

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I brought this to the boil, stirring constantly.

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In a separate bowl I mixed 1 tbsp of water with 2 tsp of cornflower and then added this to the pan.

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This was stirred up until the sauce thickened.

At this point the cauliflower was ready!

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And the sauce was drizzled over top.

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I served this with steamed basmati and green beans.

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The cauliflower was cooked through, but still had a little bite to it. The breadcrumbs added some lovely texture. The sauce was delicious. I could taste each of the ingredients, and though it was very sweet, it was really close to the flavour of orange chicken I’ve tasted when I’ve been in America. There was a little heat from the Sriracha, which help cut through the sweetness.

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The verdict: I really enjoyed eating this. I actually wished I had more when I’d finished! I’ll definitely be making this again, as it was so delicious and so simple to make!

I give this recipe 10/10!

 

Food Challenge Recipe 35: Chocolate Peanut Butter Rice Krispie Treats

For a good while the recipes I’ve been making have been savoury meals, and Gary really wanted something a little bit naughty and sweet. He chose these peanut butter rice crispy squares, which looked quite simple, and can also be made vegan depending on what type of chocolate you put on the top. I’m not a fan of peanut butter, so I knew these wouldn’t be my ideal snack, but marriage is all about compromise 😀

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There are only 4 ingredients in this, and you might find you already have these in the cupboard, so who knows, you could be eating some of these this evening!

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You start off by measuring the rice crispies in a bowl – you need 105g.

Then line a square baking tin (or rectangle since that’s all I had) with parchment paper.

Add some golden syrup (80ml) and peanut butter (83g) to a saucepan and heat them together, stirring all the time until it just starts to bubble a little.

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Once it’s melted together, it’ll be smooth.

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I then poured this over the rice crispies and mixed it up until each of the crispies have been coated.

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This was then pressed into the tray and the tray popped into the fridge to set.

When this had set, I melted 300g of chocolate in the microwave. I heated it in 30 seconds increments, stirring in the middle, until it was all melted.

I then poured the lot over the top of the crispies, smoothed it out, and then returned it to the fridge to set.

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Once this was set it was time to remove it from the tin, which was really easy by simply pulling the baking paper up and out. And then I sliced the lot into 20 squares.

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The squares were light and chewy, and a little crumbly (mainly because I’d not pressed the crispies down enough!).

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The verdict:

Personally these weren’t for me, but if you like peanut butter, I’m told these are delicious! They were so simple to make, I’m sure I’ll be making these again!

I give this recipe 9/10

 

Food Challenge Recipe 34: Peperonata

It hasn’t been lost on me that my last few recipes have been tomato-heavy. Apparently that was what I was fancying for the last few weeks. It’s been hot and summery and tomatoes taste the best in hot weather.

But for this week’s recipe I tried out something I’d never had before, Peperonata, which is an Italian side dish. I decided to serve this with sausages and new potatoes.

For this recipe I halved a recipe I found which was intended for 4 people.

This recipe is so super easy:

You fry 1.5 cloves of garlic (which has been thinly sliced) and 1/2 an onion in oil for around 8 minutes until they’re golden. I have lazy garlic which is diced, so I just used that.

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For this recipe I used one yellow bell pepper and one red sweet pointed pepper, both sliced into strips.

These were added to the pan and cooked for 5 minutes.

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Then you add vinegar (0.5 tbsp), passata (63ml) and season it. The recipe then states you need to simmer the whole lot for 25 minutes.

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I personally feel that what was in the pan was too dry to simmer, and 25 minutes was a little too long. But I persevered!

Once the whole lot had cooked down, I removed it from the heat and stirred in a handful of fresh basil and some sliced black olives.

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And this is the finished article! The flavours and textures were very good. I liked the basil and olives, as they added a nice texture and freshness.

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As you can see, it’s a little dry-looking and thankfully the peppers added some moisture, however I feel like if I make this again I’ll make enough for 4 because I think by halving the amount it reduced the required amount of liquid to cook it all properly.

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The verdict:

This tasted really good, but there wasn’t enough punch of flavour to make it ‘delicious’. I think I’d like to try making it one more time to see if I can get it right, and then decide if it’s something I’d like to have regularly.

I give this recipe 6/10

Food Challenge Recipe 33: Tomato, Veggie Sausage & Bean Stew

The weather had turned slightly autumnal when I picked out this recipe, and though it’s a stew, it was pleasantly light and not at all stodgy, which is what I’d hoped. It’s not quite autumn yet!

What I liked about this recipe was that it used veggie sausages, a I used the Cauldron Lincolnshire ones, as recommended by the recipe.

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This was a very fast and very filling dish. I made enough for 2 people.

You start off by frying 3 of the sausages (halved) and 1/2 a diced white onion in a little oil, for about 8 minutes.

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Then you add 1/2 clove of garlic (diced), 1/2 tsp of smoked paprika and some chilli flakes and cook for one minute.

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While these were cooking, I wedged 300g of salad tomatoes.

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Once the spices are cooked out a little, you add a pinch of sugar and all the tomatoes to the pan.

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These cook for 5 minutes, and you can see the tomatoes start to soften and break down slightly.

Add in 100ml of vegetable stock and a 400g can of cannellini beans that have been drained and rinsed.

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Season and stir, then simmer for 5 minutes.

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At this stage you’re meant to add in some freshly chopped parsley, but I hate the stuff, so a little ground pepper will do for me!

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I served this into bowls, and we ate it with a spoon and fork.

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Though the sausages still looked a little pale, they were cooked through and tasty.

The beans were soft and the broth was well-seasoned, warm with chilli spice and very delicious.

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It did feel like there was a LOT of tomato in there, so you’ve really got to like tomatoes to eat this!

The verdict:

I did enjoy this. The flavour of the broth was lovely, though I wasn’t overly keen on the sausages as they had a meaty texture which I was put off a little by. The seasoning was great, and the beans were lovely, though, as I’ve said in previous recipes, I’m not the hugest tomato fan so maybe less tomatoes would have been better for me.

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Still, it was a tasty enough recipe, that I might consider making it again, but I might try a different type of veggie sausage. These sausages contained a little milk protein in them too, so weren’t dairy-free which surprised me. But that’s a different issue!

I give this recipe 6/10

Food Challenge Recipe 32: Rice-Stuffed Tomatoes

I’ve made a few recipes from Smitten Kitchen during this challenge, and the last one I made Baked Tomato Sauce for Pasta was SO GOOD I knew I wanted to try another of her recipes soon.

I saw this recipe online, and actually made it on the same night as another of my favourite bloggers made her version of the same recipe – great minds and all that.

I like tomatoes, but not as much as my husband. Unfortunately, I was spoiled by an over-use of acidic tinned tomatoes in the 90s, and that somewhere ruined my like for the fruit. And I’ll also point out that the tomatoes we can get where I live tend to be watery and tasteless for most of the year. If I can find a recipe that brings out the natural sweetness of them, without having to add too much sugar, then I’m all in.

I will now add a disclaimer, that though I used to ALWAYS read a recipe over before starting, on this occasion I did my becoming-more-usual thing of skim-reading and missing the important parts…. nice work, Erin. So there were a couple of mistakes, but I think I managed to improvise adequately!

So, first off, I took 4 large vine tomatoes, and cut the tops off. I then scooped out the flesh, making sure not to pierce the bottoms or break the sides.

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I salted the cavities, and turned them upside down on a plate to drain.

My first mistake was to throw out the tomato tops, because I was meant to keep them to pop onto the tomatoes later. But I didn’t – doh!

The flesh went into my blend-active bottle, to be lightly blitzed into a pulpy liquid.

My second mistake was to miss the part of the recipe where I needed a frying pan with a lid. I don’t own one of these, but I could have used a saucepan, and I didn’t. So, you’ll need a frying pan with a lid for the next part…..

I added some olive oil to the pan, and once heated added 1 tbsp of chopped onion, 1/2 crushed garlic clove and some chilli flakes and cooked them for a couple of minutes.

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Then I added 6 tbsp of arborio rice and cooked it together for about 3 minutes until the rice had started to toast.

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Then I added the blitzed tomato pulp, brought it to a simmer and reduced the heat to medium-low. I seasoned this with a little salt and a tsp of dried Italian seasoning.

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I mixed this together, and then covered with an improvised lid – some kitchen roll. This wasn’t greatly effective and it absorbed come of the steam, so later on in the cooking process I needed to add a little boiled water, to help the rice along. This simmered for 10-15 minutes (until the rice was par cooked). I tasted this towards the end, and added some sugar, pepper and salt, to taste.

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During this cooking time, I prepared some red potatoes by chopping them into cubes and coating with seasoning and a little oil.

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The rice was ready, so I popped the mixture into the tomato shells, which were filled 7/8 of the way. At this stage you can either pop the tops back on, or some breadcrumbs. I had neither (doh!) so I just went with them the way they were.

They stood up in a prepared (oiled) baking dish, in amongst the potatoes which helped to keep the tomatoes upright.

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These baked in the oven at 180C (fan) for 30 minutes. I jostled the potatoes about a little on a couple of occasions to stop them from sticking too much.

And once they were done, they looked like this:

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The rice had started to brown and crisp up on top, and the tomatoes were soft and beginning to burst a little at the tops.

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So, what was the verdict?

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The rice was cooked just right, and the top part of the rice was slightly crunchy which I really enjoyed. The seasoning was spot on and the tomato shells were perfectly cooked.

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The potatoes were a great accompaniment. I’m a ketchup fan, so a little ketchup to dip both elements into, brought the whole dish together.

This was a fairly simple and very tasty dish. I’d like to try this again, and perfect those two elements I messed up, so I can see what difference it makes.

I give this recipe 7.5/10

 

 

Food Challenge Recipe 31: Watermelon Sorbet

It’s still hot. Well, it is at time of writing this…. who knows what the great British summer will be offering as you read this.

Either way, this week’s recipe is something hydrating, cooling, and ended up being pretty delicious!

I love melon of all kinds, but I really love the freshness of watermelon. What’s great is that you can buy packs of freshly prepared melon, which makes making things like sorbet super duper easy!

This sorbet recipe uses an ice cream maker, so the first thing you need to do is put the inner bowl in the freezer if your machine requires this.

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I took 625g of prepared watermelon and popped this into a blender, along with 100g of caster sugar and 2 tbsp of lime juice.

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This was all blitzed together until smooth, but still a little pulpy.

And that’s it! You tip it into your ice cream maker and follow the instructions for how long to churn it for.

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It was in our machine for about 25 minutes.

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At this stage it’s soft-serve, so it needs to go into the freezer for about an hour before eating.

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What came out was a lovely light, fluffy and gorgeously soft sorbet. It wasn’t too sweet, the lime juice cut through any sweetness but worked well with the fresh watermelon flavour.

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Obviously, this was a super easy recipe, if you have a blender and ice cream maker. My only complaint is, and this was the case with the other sorbet we made, that after a few hours you are left with a solid block of watermelon ice. In order to eat it, you kind of have to take it out a while before you want to eat it, or soften it in the fridge. But that’s not a problem and the flavour isn’t lost.

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The verdict: I really liked this recipe. For ease and flavour, I couldn’t have asked for much more. My only issue is how hard it goes a few hours after it’s made, but this could be something to do with the churning time. I’ll have to practice!

I give this recipe 8/10

What is Mindful Eating?

I only heard the term ‘Mindful Eating’ last week, and I was interested in seeing what that actually meant. I’ve been practicing the Buddhist idea of Mindfulness in one way or another for around 10 years, and it makes a lot of sense to me.

If you’re not familiar with the term, it all boils down to being present, getting rid of all the peripheral thought that makes our minds fuzzy, and really listening to yourself.

My relationship with food is fairly good. As a child we didn’t buy junk food, home cooked meals were most nights, and on the odd occasion we had frozen pizza or ready meals (it was the 80s!) as we’d just got a microwave. I was allergic to artificial food colouring, and most sweets had those in, so I didn’t eat them and I’ve never liked fizzy drinks. We also believed I was allergic to chocolate, though it’s very possible that this was just early lactose intolerance symptoms. We didn’t have chocolate bars, and I remember eating a Club biscuit, finding it had no biscuit in it, and feeling really naughty that I was eating what was essentially a chocolate bar….. I didn’t tell my Mum (hehe)

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Over the years my habits have been on the healthy and then on the not so healthy side. Portion sizes grew and then diminished. Once I’d started running, my relationship with food changed. I wanted to eat food that was good fuel for the type of exercise I was doing, portion sizes were relative to the amount of energy I needed, and I was drinking a heck load of water to hydrate. I felt my body benefitting from these changes and learned what it needed and responded to.

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So, when I began looking up what Mindful Eating was, I realised that’s what I’d been doing without even knowing it.

According to Mindful.org, Mindful Eating is:

Mindful Eating is:

  • Allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom.
  • Using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body.
  • Acknowledging responses to food (likes, dislikes, or neutral) without judgment.
  • Becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating.

Someone Who Eats Mindfully:

  • Acknowledges that there is no right or wrong way to eat but varying degrees of awareness surrounding the experience of food.
  • Accepts that their eating experiences are unique.
  • Is an individual who by choice, directs their attention to eating on a moment-by-moment basis.
  • Gains awareness of how they can make choices that support health and well-being.
  • Becomes aware of the interconnection of earth, living beings, and cultural practices, and the impact of their food choices on those systems.

This made a lot of sense, and worked alongside what I have been doing for a while. But it was great to see it written down in this way. It’s not about stopping yourself from eating what you consider to be ‘bad foods’. It’s not about feeling guilty if you have one donut in a month. It’s about listening to your body, understanding what makes your body feel good, and making choices that are right for you.

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I’m glad to see this is something people are following and learning from. I feel like Mindful Eating is just good sense, but so often I see people not listening to their bodies, feeding themselves junk food every day that their bodies simply can’t use for nourishment, or eating far too much food in one day based on the amount of exercise they’re doing.

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I’m not judging those people – everyone’s individual relationship with food is so so personal. It can be a source of comfort, anxiety and some people don’t get any joy from food at all. But I think Mindful Eating is an accessible and simple place to start. There’s no fad dieting, no restrictions and no health dangers. To me, it’s just good sense.

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