Fish Congee

We had a family ritual when I was a kid.  Every Saturday evening after dad’s game of tennis, he’d treat us to congee at a local hawker stall.  I always opted for fish or chicken porridge.  A big bowl was always too much for me, but I would do my best to make a dent.

Congee (or bubur) is essentially a rice porridge, cooked with lots of water/stock, and typically served with slivers of ginger, a pinch of ground white pepper, fried shallots, soy, sesame oil, chopped spring onions and many other condiments of one’s choice.

I recently made a big pot of fish congee – it was a Sunday night and the congee lasted until Wednesday.  As the days passed, the flavours deepened and I was genuinely sad when I scooped out the last of the congee.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup uncooked rice, washed (I used basmati)
  • 6 cups of water
  • 1inch ginger, peeled and julienned
  • 2 tbsp Chinese rice wine (Shao Xing)
  • 300g cod, boneless and skinless cut into chunks (marinated in 1 tbsp soy, 1/4 grated ginger, a pinch of salt, white pepper, 1 tbsp rice wine)
  • salt

To serve

  • dark soy
  • ground white pepper
  • sesame oil
  • 1 inch ginger, peeled and julienned
  • fried shallots
  • spring onions, finely sliced

Method

  1. Use a big, deep pot.  Add the rice, water, ginger and rice wine.  Leave to simmer for 40 to 50 minutes over a low heat until 3/4 of the water has evaporated.  The rice should resemble mush
  2. Drain the marinade from the fish.  Add the fish to the pot and leave the congee to cook for a further 15 minutes
  3. Once cooked, remove the pot from the stove
  4. Ladle into bowls and serve with the condiments

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Rachel Allen’s Dutch Apple Cake

I’ve had a hankering for apple pies and tarts since our last visit to Ireland in November last year.   We were treated to home-made apple desserts, ripe from the garden variety, served with hot custard and cold vanilla ice cream.  Once we were back in London, I dreamed about them for days, I kid you not.  In fact, Hubby made several trips to M&S for their apple pie and custard.

We were watching Rachel Allen on telly last week and saw her make a lovely crumble topped cake, which got me flicking through her book ‘Bake’.   I found an easy recipe for a Dutch apple cake, achievable even with the little ankle-biter begging for play-doh every 2 minutes.   I used a 9″ springform tin and the cake turned out beautifully.  No cream needed, but pots of tea is advisable.

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Sweetcorn fritters re-visited

My colleagues and I went to Granger and Co, Clerkenwell twice in the last few months for breakfast.  My go-to breakfast at Bill’s has always been ricotta hotcakes, but I twisted a colleague’s arm to share some sweetcorn fritters on both occasions.

I’ve tested Bill’s recipe for Sweetcorn Fritters previously and it was rather underwhelming (it was too stody), but I woke up craving it one recent Sunday.   I had to make do with frozen sweetcorn and basil instead of coriander, and just winged it really.  There is something to be said for going with your instinct.  The sweetcorn fritters were lovely and light, served with cumin tomatoes, avocado and spinach.

Ingredients: (serves 2)

  • 3 tbsp organic plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 50ml milk
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 red pepper, de-seeded and diced
  • 1/2 yellow pepper, de-seeded and diced
  • 2 tbsp sweetcorn kernels (I used frozen, but best use fresh)
  • a handful of chopped basil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil (or more if you fancy, I didn’t)

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven at 200 degrees and line a baking tray with baking paper
  2. Mix the flour, baking powder, paprika, milk and egg in a medium bowl and mix well
  3. Mix in the peppers, sweetcorn, basil and season well with salt and pepper
  4. Heat oil in a non-stick frying pan
  5. Once hot, spoon the sweetcorn and pepper mixture into the oil (2 tbsp per fritter) and leave to fry for 3 to 4 minutes on each side over medium heat
  6. Remove the cooked fritters from the oil and drain on kitchen paper
  7. Remove the baking tray from the oven and carefully transfer each fritter onto the tray
  8. Cook in the oven for 5 minutes (I found this helped cook the innards as I only shallow fried the fritters on the hob)
  9. Serve with cumin (grilled) tomato, spinach and avocado

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Spicy crab and spinach sauce

I intended to make this lovely crab and spinach sauce to serve with zoodles (courgette/zucchini noodles).  Alas, it is cold outside and a bowl of steaming hot pasta topped with delicious sauce won the toss up between comfort and health-eating.  To make this sauce Whole30 compliant, exclude the olives and serve with zoodles.   From pot to plate in 15 minutes.  Perfect for a midweek meal.

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Ingredients:

  • Fry lite (olive oil)
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 red chilli, finely chopped (de-seed to cut back on heat)
  • 1 can (400g) chopped tomatoes
  • 80g spinach leaves
  • 1/2 tsp herb de provence
  • a good handful of pitted black olives, chopped
  • 120g white crab meat (I used canned, brining liquid drained)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a handful of chopped basil

Method:

  1. Heat a non-stick frying pan on the stove (low heat)
  2. Spray the pan with Fry lite and fry the garlic and chilli for 30 seconds before adding the chopped tomatoes, spinach and herb de provence
  3. Leave to cook for 10 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally
  4. Add the olives and crab meat and season with salt and pepper.  Leave to cook for 2 to 3 minutes
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chopped basil
  6. Serve with pasta/zoodles and I was thinking it might even be lovely over an omelette!

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The return of the oaty fruit crumble

I’ve blogged many versions of this recipe over the last few years.  It is a firm family favourite, fuss-free and easy to put together.  I had a full fruit bowl and some of the apples were starting to look a bit sorry for themselves.  A shame to let them go to waste.  I added them to chopped pears and blueberries, with a hint of grated nutmeg, lemon zest, brown sugar and ground cinnamon, topped with oats.  45 minutes later, beautiful, earthy warmth filled the kitchen.  Served with single cream.  Yum.

Here is the recipe – serves 2 to 3 portions

A) Crumble:

  • 2 packed cups of uncooked oats
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1.5 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 to 3 tbsp vegetable oil

B) Fruit base

  • 3 to 4 peeled, cored and chopped apples
  • 1 large pear, peeled, cored and chopped
  • a good handful of blueberries
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar

Method:

  1. Pre-heat the oven at 180 degrees celsius
  2. In an oven-proof pie dish, mix all the fruit bar the blueberries with the rest of the ingredients
  3. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes
  4. Remove the dish from the oven, stir well and add the blueberries
  5. In a separate bowl mix the oats with all the ingredients bar the oil
  6. Mix 1tbsp of oil into the oats, then add another, combine until the mixture is wet.  Only add some or all of the 3rd tbsp of oil if necessary
  7. Top the fruit with the oat mixture, use your oven mitts and transfer the dish into the oven
  8. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the oats topping is golden and crunchy
  9. Remove the dish from the oven, leave to cool slightly and serve with cream or ice cream

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Toddler update – 2 years and 2 months

When I tell people how old the Bear is, they shake their heads in sympathy, squeeze my hand and say, ‘terrible twos, it’ll pass’.   That is before they proceed to tell me about the ‘threenagers’.

I’m doing the Bear a disservice.  She has grown up to be an absolute joy (not that she wasn’t before).  They’ve taught her well in nursery.  There is a fixed routine and she thrives in it, five days a week, 8am to 5pm.  The Bear moved into the next class up just before Christmas and has started wearing a school uniform.  It was all we could do to stop her from putting it on during the Christmas holidays.  She loves wearing her beloved uniform and she runs into school everyday looking forward to fun, music, games and independent play.

I often joke that her dad is a rockstar, and it is apparent that the Bear has inherited his musical talents.  She plays the xylophone whilst singing Twinkle, twinkle, little star.  Other favourite songs are still Wind the Bobbin up, Jingle Bells (accompanied by handbells) and One, Two, Three, Four, Five….Once I caught a fish alive.

Her favourite word at the moment is, wait for it (drumroll please)… ‘No’. Do you love Mama? No. Do you want milk? No. Do you want to eat? No. Do you want to say yes? No.

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If you ask her to do something which doesn’t suit her (e.g. put on your cardigan/shoes/or let’s walk), she throws herself onto the floor in protest.  Honestly, child.

The Bear adores Peppa Pig.  Every evening when we come home from nursery, she asks for Peppa Pig on telly.  I deliberated in my head whether we ought to be spending our time playing games (she plays all day in school), reading (she does that in school and before bed anyway), something more educational (I know lots of Tiger Mums but I’m not one of them), but we’re both shattered after a long day and what’s wrong with a bit of telly for a bit of a laugh (Daddy Pig is hilarious.  I don’t know how Mummy Pig puts up with him).   Thanks to Peppa, she can say ‘that’s disgusting’, dinosaur, jelly, ball, helicopter, chickens, rabbit, sheep…

Now don’t get me started on stickers.  The Bear is mad about them.  We have them stuck to the floor, our shoes, socks, hair… everywhere! Forget fancy presents.  A book of stickers is all she needs!

We have a bookworm in the house.  The Bear received lots of good books from friends over Christmas.  I try to limit bedtime stories to two books, but she somehow talks me into reading double that.  Her favourite book at the moment is Superworm.

The Bear now has an awareness of the important people who grace her life.  Grandad, Breda, Rose, Vee, Grandpa, Ibu, Maima (her friend Jemima), her nursery teachers and friends, and recently, Meg our cleaner (or miracle worker, as I call her).  She still breaks my heart when she says she doesn’t love me, but is quick to pacify me with a cuddle.

Thankfully, the Bear is still keen on food and is happy to eat what we eat.  However her table manners leave a lot to be desired.  She refuses the highchair and stands on her seat to eat her meals (but not in nursery obviously).  Earlier, she screamed out loud and bashed her cutlery on the table whilst out for breakfast.  One man shot us a menacing look and left the cafe.  Oh dear.   But her’s a photo of her sat at her table, with her bib on and looking ever so well-behaved…

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We love you darling Bear, strops, snots, sweet smiles and all.   We are blessed to have you in our lives and hope you’ll always be happy and healthy.

Love you to the moon and back xxx

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Our Whole30 journey

This post was long overdue, but inspired recently by a reader.

I learned about the Whole30 program last summer and was keen to try it out.  We were stuck in a rut with bad eating habits leading to general malaise and lack of energy.  I downloaded the book, It Starts With Food, and decided that we needed a big shakeup where food was concerned.

Whilst the program is strict (no sugar, dairy, grains, legumes, processed carbs, alcohol to list a few for 30 days), I was keen to push the re-set button on my gut.  With Whole30, I learned to eat three main meals, and almost very little snacking in between.  I won’t sugar-coat it (no pun intended), it was hard.  I love my rice and noodles, cakes and biscuits, pizza and the obvious glass of wine or two to toast the end of a working week.

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What did we end up eating, you ask? These were typical meals:

Breakfast – eggs (I am no fan, but decided in the spirit of the program to get with it), avocado, grilled tomatoes, smashed potatoes and kale, and a small bowl of fruit

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Lunch – chicken salad with balsamic dressing became a staple during the working week, or a hot meal (roast chicken, veggies), or leftovers from dinner.

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Dinner – chili con carne topped with grated squash, lamb steaks with courgettes and sweet potatoes, chicken fajita (minus the tortilla) with sauteed courgettes, cod curry with aubergine and courgettes

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Was it expensive? Yes.  We had meat or fish with all our lunch and dinners, and this proved costly.  However, before the program, we were eating out or getting takeaways loads so it was swings and roundabouts really.

How did we feel during the program?

I was grumpy at the onset, no thanks to the initial detox headache.  My limbs were achy for a day or two, as if I had run a race.  I was constantly clock watching during the first few days, hungry between meals but willing myself to get through without my usual elevenses.  The positives? I used to feel bloated after my meals and this stopped within a week of the program.  Once I got used to my new eating habits, my craving for sugar and my usual rice/noodle fix dissipated (not disappeared, mind).  I found my energy levels didn’t dip as much.  My day starts at 5.30am and I don’t normally go to bed until 11pm, and then may have to wake up to check on the Bear if she cries or is unwell. Previously, I relied heavily on coffee and sugar for energy, but during the program found that I could get by with little caffeine (a cup versus two to three).

Did it affect our social life?

Yes.  I was used to nursing a lemonade whilst out with work colleagues, but sparkling water was just no fun.  We were invited to a pot luck and I made a veggie lasagna which I didn’t even eat.  Thankfully our host served fish and vegetables.  I didn’t enjoy having to explain my food choices and some people do roll their eyes and tell you that you have to live a little.

Did we lose weight? Yes.  I didn’t have much to lose in terms of pounds, and rather it was better health and energy that I sought and was happily rewarded with.

Did we stick to Whole30 post program?  Though not in its entirety,  it is now a lifestyle which I chose to adopt in my daily life.  I still have eggs (and no processed food) for breakfast four to five times a week.  I indulge during lunch and have reverted back to rice/noodles/sandwiches.  Dinner, most days consist of meat or fish with a side of veggies and potatoes/sweet potatoes.  I have a glass of wine or two per week, and enjoy a slice of cake or two every so often.

However, I do feel my gut was much happier during the program and therefore  I fully intend to do another round of the Whole30. A re-set is long overdue.