Los Angeles vs. Los Angeles: Starring the Malibu Farm Pier Café

Malibu Pier
Los Angeles (definition)
City in California
Los Angeles, officially the City of Los Angeles, often known by its initials L.A., is the most populous city in the U.S. state of California and the second most populous in the United States, after New York City, with a population of 3, 792, 621 (2010 US census).
Nickname:       City of Angels
Inhabitants:      Angelenos                                                                                                     From: Wikipedia

Thursday: It’s too hot for a winter’s day. I’ve arrived after a ten-hour flight, and the world around me feels distorted. Out of focus. I haven’t had enough sleep and I’m fairly certain that it’s not the right time of day (night?). It’s disorienting. I’m disoriented. It’s loud as well. And everything around me – from cars to coffee cups – feels too big. Clumsy. I’m supposed to be meeting someone, but I can’t see him. He’s not here. There are too many people moving around me, and rooted firmly to the spot, I start to sway. Kelsey Grammer walks past, with a tiny baby strapped to his chest. This is definitely getting surreal.

Welcome to Los Angeles

Los Angeles is a city that’s notoriously difficult to define. And probably impossible to understand. Which also means that it defies description. Of course, adjectives can help, but as everyone’s experience of this vibrant, exciting, glamorous, immense, isolating, empty, narcissistic “city” is different, they’re not actually very helpful. It’s certainly bizarre: a place where – thanks to the film and television industries – numerous imagined identities are imprecisely separated from these multiple realities; where the everyday often refuses to be normalized. Los Angeles is characterised most easily (perhaps), by contrast; by contradiction. A friend once told me that everything you hear about Los Angeles – from the entirely fantastic to the utterly and incomprehensibly dreadful – is probably true. It strikes me that this is a terrible burden for a city to bear.

Malibu (definition)
City in California
Malibu is an affluent beach city in Los Angeles County, California, United States. It consists of a 21-mile strip of prime Pacific coastline, and is famous for being home to Hollywood movies stars.
Nickname: The Bu
Signposted: “27 miles of scenic beauty”                                                                             From: Wikipedia
The ocean at Malibu

The ocean at Malibu

Friday: It’s slightly warmer than it was yesterday, which seems to be the perfect temperature for a winter’s day. It feels as though the world around me has stopped. It’s quiet and calm. Peaceful. And given my proximity to the busy Pacific Coast Highway, this is rather surprising. It’s sunny, clear and bright. Focused. The ocean looks remarkable – it’s perfectly still – and although I know absolutely nothing about surfing, I’m certain there’s no possibility of “catching a wave” (is that right?) this morning. It doesn’t look real. The entire scene is totally unconvincing, and I’m reminded of the 1998 film The Truman Show, which ends as the protagonist – the appropriately named – Truman Burbank (played by Jim Carey), realizes that he’s spent his entire life in a television show, living on a film set that exists inside a dome built within the Los Angeles area. But in this edition – my edition – the sun is brighter, the sea is flatter, and the clouds look suspiciously as though they’ve been airbrushed on as an afterthought.

At the end of the Malibu Pier is the café to which I’m headed for breakfast. It’s a relative newcomer, but with an ethos summarized as “Fresh. Organic. Local”, and with a ‘casual’ décor that has been beautifully, meticulously, and deliberately designed, I can imagine that it’s going to be around for some time to come. It’s open from Wednesday – Sunday (9am-3pm), serving either breakfast or lunch. There is an excellent range of freshly squeezed juices, as well as teas and coffee. And it’s an interesting menu, too. Basic enough that it’s going to have a wide appeal, but unusual enough to keep people coming back. It’s not cheap, but to be fair the prices are similar to what you’d expect elsewhere in Los Angeles.

I had the farm scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and ricotta ($16.00), which was really very good, along with a filter coffee ($3.00). Following a recommendation, I also had the apple and kale juice ($6.00), although I was first tempted by the idea of the carrot, beet and orange. It was absolutely wonderful, and quite the thing to convince me that I should probably drink kale juice every day for the rest of my life. But that’s Los Angeles for you.

The rest of the menu was appealing too, with items including multigrain pancakes with bacon bits and maple syrup, quinoa oatmeal with coconut milk, sandwiches (from fried egg, bacon and arugula to chicken, ricotta and bacon), and salads (including kale caesar and burrata served with seasonal fruit).

Of course, the fact that everything has been so very carefully designed also makes it appear (at the very least) ever-so-slightly contrived, but focusing on the stunning view makes that easy enough to forgive. If they were open for dinner it would be perhaps the most popular place in Los Angeles county to watch the sun set. But even if you can’t (yet) watch the sun go down, it’s definitely an(other) excellent place for celebrity sightings. And with that in mind, I can’t help wondering what Truman Burbank would make of it all…

What was left of my breakfast!

Posted in Brunch, California, Drinks, Food, Los Angeles, Lunch, Review, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Pearl Barley with Butternut Squash, Courgette and Fennel

Pearl barley with butternut squash and fennel_1Pearl barley is a processed and polished grain that has had the hull and bran removed. It doesn’t have a particularly distinctive taste, and is commonly used in soups and stews as a thickener, where it adds texture and bulk rather than flavour. Perhaps not surprisingly, it tends to go unnoticed. Simply put, it’s an ingredient that fades into the background. It’s subtle, mild, under-stated. And to be perfectly honest, I’ve never really thought of it as particularly exciting.

But if you pay a little more attention, it has rather more to offer than this might suggest…

If you look at it carefully, you’ll see that it’s really rather pretty. The grains are small, delicate, shiny and white(-ish). They almost glow. I guess there’s a reason why it’s called pearl barley. But there’s also an unexpected lack of uniformity between the grains. As well as the overall iridescence, there’s quite clearly a spectrum of colour from white through to dark beige that’s really very pleasing.

It also performs rather well in terms of nutrition. It’s relatively unprocessed, and is high in (soluble) fibre and protein, as well as being low in fat. Moreover, it’s straight-forward to prepare and cook, requiring nothing more than to be rinsed and then simmered in a pan of water. Despite some suggestions to the contrary, it doesn’t need to be soaked, although doing so will reduce the cooking time and it’s fine to do that if you prefer. If cooked properly, the texture of pearl barley should be associated with a slight bite, rendering it interesting rather than plain. Even the flavour improves on review, and rather than bland, it becomes slightly nutty. A bit like brown rice.

Pearl barley with butternut squash and fennel_4

Put all of this together and you get an ingredient that’s actually much more than the sum of its parts. And the real beauty of pearl barley, I’m increasingly being led to believe, is its versatility. There is absolutely no reason at all why it should be limited to its role as a “filler”, or be confined to soups and stews. It works very well as an accompaniment to a whole range of meals, in place of other grains like rice and couscous,  and it’s becoming increasingly popular in dishes ranging from salad to risotto.  Here, it’s no longer seen as subordinate – a secondary ingredient playing a minor role – but instead is allowed to take centre-stage.

And that’s exactly what it does in this recipe, a lovely dish that makes a really good (and substantial) supper or lunch, and which seems particularly fitting for winter. If you’ve got any left over, (ha!) it’s also great served at room temperature, and makes a tasty lunch-time salad.

Pearl barley with butternut squash and fennel_5

Recipe: Pearl Barley with Butternut Squash, Courgette and Fennel


1 small butternut squash
1 courgette
Olive oil
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed
            chop and reserve any feathery fonds
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
200g pearl barley, rinsed
Juice of ½ lemon
A handful of Parmesan
            or other well-flavoured hard cheese
A handful of parsley, roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Pre-heat the oven to 190°C / 375°F / Gas Mark 5.

Cook the rinsed pearl barley in plenty of well-salted boiling water until tender, but so that it still has a bit of bite; this will probably take about 45 minutes (if you’re not sure, check the packet for cooking instructions).

While the pearl barley is cooking, peel, halve and deseed the squash, then cut into chunks and scatter in a large roasting tin. Trickle over 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Toss so that the squash is well coated and put into the oven to roast. Cut the fennel lengthways into 6 or 8 wedges, and the courgette into chunks. Leave both to one side.

After 15 minutes, add the fennel, courgette and garlic to the roasting tin and turn with the squash until everything is covered in oil. Roast for a further 30 minutes or so, until the vegetables are soft and beginning to caramelise around the edges.

Drain the cooked pearl barley, and toss with the roasted vegetables in the tin. Add the lemon juice, cheese, parsley and any fennel fronds. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Shave over some more cheese and serve.

Adapted from: River Cottage Veg! Everyday, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Posted in Food, Lunch, Recipes, Salad, Uncategorized, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

Happy New Year: Mulled Pear and Vanilla Syrup Bellini


Pear, vanilla pod, cinnamon_3Mulled wine is just one of the many traditions that I look forward to over the festive season. And although it is an apparently simple concoction made from red wine, gently heated along with mulling spices and a small amount of diced fruit, it is actually one of those recipes that people just can’t leave alone. So, while some believe that the mulling spices should be restricted to cloves, cinnamon and (possibly) nutmeg, others include allspice, cardamom and / or bay leaves. Similarly, although apples and oranges are almost universally added to this brew, lemons and limes regularly make an appearance as well. Everyone, it seems, has their own perfect formulation; some of which, incidentally, are far better than others. But despite this – the lack of precision, the quantity and even quality of ingredients (including the red wine) – it is also a drink that seems endlessly capable of providing cheer, comfort and goodwill on these cold and wintry nights. And without it, Christmas would doubtless seem just a little less shiny. I know that there are many who would totally disagree with me, arguing instead that red wine is rarely mulled well and provides absolutely no solace at all. Oh, seriously? Bah! Humbug!

Having said that, mulled wine is not (at least for me), a drink for New Year’s Eve, when our mood should somehow be more frivolous. I did consider mulled white wine, which is something that I’ve yet to try. The recipes that I’ve found sound intriguing, full of sweet and spicy flavours that include cinnamon and cardamom, but also vanilla, honey and even star anise. But even this didn’t sound quite right for New Year’s Eve, when everything needs to feel lighter. This isn’t about feeling inconsequential or trivial – far from it – but somehow it does still need to be playful, optimistic, and positive. It almost goes without saying (doesn’t it?), that the perfect drink for New Year’s Eve is sparkling wine.

Inspired by all of this, I’ve taken the basic idea of mulled wine, and added fruit (pear poached with cinnamon and vanilla in a sugar syrup), to sparkling wine in order to make what I think is a fabulous winter cocktail, perfect for New Year’s Eve. It is a treat (vanilla pods are expensive, but are worth it just for the incredible smell that bursts out when you split the bean), and it is a drink that requires a certain amount of forward planning and preparation. But a New Year’s Eve celebration seems like the perfect occasion for that.

Anyway, whatever you’re doing this evening, I hope that you have a wonderful time.

Happy New Year to you all

Mulled pear and vanilla syrup bellini

Recipe: Mulled Pear and Vanilla Syrup Bellini

16 fluid ounces water
100 grams caster sugar
½ vanilla bean, split lengthways to expose the seeds
½ cinnamon stick
1 ripe pear
This makes enough for about 12 glasses of mulled pear and vanilla syrup Bellini
If you don’t want to use all the syrup at once, then I’ve found that it keeps well for a couple of weeks in a sealed container in the fridge
1 (or more) bottle(s) of Cava (or other sparkling wine)


To make the mulled pear and the vanilla syrup:

Put the water and sugar into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the vanilla bean and cinnamon stick. Cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.

Peel the pear, and slice in half lengthways. Remove the core.  Add the prepared pears to the sugar mixture. Cover and cook over a medium heat until tender, probably about ten minutes.

Remove the pear halves with a slotted spoon and place to one side to cool. Discard the cinnamon stick. Remove the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds, stirring them back into the sugar mixture. Discard the vanilla bean.

Bring the mixture back to a boil, and continue to simmer until it has reduced and looks slightly syrupy, which will probably take about 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Put the pear halves and the vanilla syrup into separate containers and place in the fridge to chill thoroughly.

To make the mulled pear and vanilla syrup Bellini:

Cut the pear into small pieces and put one (or a couple) into the bottom of a champagne flute.

Add about 1 fl oz of the vanilla syrup.

It’s a good idea to taste the syrup first. It is – of course – sweet, and has an intense flavour of both cinnamon and vanilla. You should be able to taste the syrup in the final drink, but you don’t want it to dominate. Exactly how much to add is really a matter of personal preference.

Top-up with sparkling wine (of your choice).


Posted in Drinks, Recipes, Seasonal | Tagged , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Chilli Hot Chocolate: Adding a little whimsy to your life

The Big Bang Theory


Sheldon:   For the record, I only drink hot chocolate       in months with an R in them.

Howard:   Why?

Sheldon:   What’s life without whimsy?

 From: The Big Bang Theory; Series 3, Episode 23 – The Lunar Excitation

Whether you’re being playfully whimsical, or just downright logical, Sheldon is making an excellent point. (Well. Of course he is). And in the northern hemisphere at least, we’re now solidly into “hot chocolate” season – that time of year when this drink can really, truly be enjoyed. It’s the ideal (perhaps even perfect) thing to provide cheer when it’s cold and damp. It is, without doubt, a drink to warm the soul. And it’s not just about drinking it. There is also a fundamental pleasure in making it – in melting chocolate in hot milk – especially on a wintery day. It’s a relaxing process in itself. It should be appreciated for the simple luxury that it is, and lingered over accordingly. It should certainly never be rushed.

Chilli Hot Chocolate_1Conventionally, hot chocolate (or drinking chocolate) consists of melted chocolate and milk. It is sometimes sweetened but this should be done mindfully, and only to the extent that is needed to melt away any residual edge of the chocolate’s natural bitterness. Hot chocolate is a dense and complex concoction that can taste of many things, but – even when sweetened – sugar itself should not be one of them. At its most bitter, hot chocolate is an acquired taste, and its consumption is in tiny amounts, served in suitably small vessels – a bit like the strongest espresso. A thimble-full would probably be enough (even too much) for the likes of me. I’m a firm believer in actually enjoying the taste of hot chocolate. It should be savoured. And it ought never to involve the kind of facial distortion that results from drinking neat gin. Although it was traditionally served cold, this is the brew that still retains a nod to the original Aztec notion of a chocolate drink, where cocoa seeds were ground into a paste, mixed with water and infused with chilli peppers to make xocolatl. And not only was it an extremely popular drink, it was also given medicinally, usually for stomach complaints.

On the other hand, an ‘instant’ chocolate drink (or hot cocoa) is made from a cocoa powder that also contains sugar and milk. It does still have its place – it’s certainly convenient – but it’s important to chose your powder carefully, and those that are made with a decent quality of cocoa and don’t contain too much added sugar (or sweetener) are definitely superior.

But for me, ideally at least, drinking chocolate is a compromise between these two extremes. And melting the chocolate really is a critical part of the whole relaxing ritual – it is infinitely more satisfying than adding hot milk (or water) to a powder. The texture needs to be rich, smooth, dense; the taste thick, intense and heavy with flavour. And it is the type and quality of the chocolate that determines this. Dark chocolate is definitely the way to go, and it should contain at least 70% cocoa solids. But it also has to be drinkable – too strong and it becomes unpleasant – and so it might (according to taste) be necessary to add some more sugar, or try it instead with a small amount of honey.

This is a simple – but good – recipe, and with the addition of chilli can be said to draw (at least to some small extent), on the Aztec tradition of xocolatl. But there are many ways to infuse a cup of hot chocolate, and if you don’t like the idea of the chilli then play around with other infusions and flavours – vanilla, orange or lavender are all fabulous – or keep it simple and make it with nothing but chocolate and milk. I find that there is no need for cream. It does not need a chocolate flake. And teeny-tiny marshmallows have absolutely no place at all. (Anywhere, actually. But certainly not here).

So go on. What are you waiting for? There are, after all, not even five months left in the current “hot chocolate” drinking season. It would be a shame to let them go to waste…

Chilli Hot Chocolate_2Recipe: Chilli Hot Chocolate


Enough milk for two mugs of hot chocolate
Any kind of milk works here, so use whatever you would prefer. Mine was made with skimmed milk.
½ cinnamon stick
½ chilli, sliced lengthways and seeds removed
A small pinch of ground ginger
100g good quality chocolate, grated, shaved or broken into small pieces as appropriate
I used Willie’s Cacao Chef’s Drops – 72% Venezuelan single estate dark chocolate, and which apparently has “complex nut and coffee notes”. All I know is that it tastes great. Check it out here.
Honey – to taste
Serves 2


Put the milk into a small saucepan, along with the chilli, cinnamon stick and ground ginger. Place over a medium heat for 5 minutes, and then remove the chilli and cinnamon stick.

Add the chocolate and stir until it has all melted into the hot milk. Keep stirring, allowing the milk to heat-up until it is just beginning to froth at the edges, but don’t let it boil.

Pour the hot chocolate into two mugs, adding some honey to taste (perhaps ½ – 1 tsp) if you find that you need it. And enjoy!

Posted in Drinks, Food, Recipes, Seasonal | Tagged , , , , , | 20 Comments

Golden Beetroot Pasta with fresh herb pesto

Golden beetroot pasta_1Golden beetroot is a beautiful vegetable. It is characterised not only by its wonderful, sweet and earthy flavour (which is slightly milder than its red counterpart), but also by its stunning, unbelievably vibrant, bright yellow colour. Beetroot is in season from the late summer months, but this golden variety has such a fabulously autumnal appearance that – as far as I’m concerned – it easily rivals the pumpkin as the most seasonally evocative vegetable. (And, of course, you don’t have to attempt to carve a golden beetroot into intricate Halloween shapes in order to achieve this effect).

Although it is a traditional – heritage – variety, golden beetroot declined in popularity from the end of the nineteenth-century, giving way to what is now the more common red / purple variety. It has recently been experiencing something of a revival though, and is more often found in stores and markets than it was just a few years ago. If you haven’t already tried it, it’s definitely worth a go…

The pesto for this dish is made with a mixture of fresh herbs, and is the perfect thing to do with any that are hanging around in the fridge, perhaps in danger of going to waste. I used basil, mint, chives and parsley, although almost any of the soft herbs will work well. It is – apparently – always best to include a large handful of parsley though, which helps to balance the overall flavour. But of course this recipe is also great made with a store-bought pesto, so feel free to substitute that instead.

Recipe: Golden Beetroot Pasta

For the herb pesto:

A handful each of 3 or four different soft leaf herbs
Large handful flat leaf parsley
½ clove garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
½ cup/100ml extra virgin olive oil
you may need less oil than this depending on which herbs you use
1 tbsp freshly grated Pecorino cheese (or Parmesan)
If (like me), you don’t use all the pesto for this recipe, then it keeps well in the fridge for a few days, or can even be frozen for future use


Place the all the herbs and garlic into a food processor and pulse several times.

With the motor running continuously, slowly add the olive oil until a thick paste is formed.

Add the Pecorino and pulse two or three times.

For the golden beetroot pasta:

2 golden beetroot
Olive oil
1-2 tbsp herb pesto
A couple of handfuls of rocket
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Enough pasta for two servings
Optional: Goats’ cheese, to serve
Serves 2


Preheat the oven to 400°F / 200°C / Gas Mark 6

Carefully wash the beetroot under cold running water – making sure not to break the skin – and pat dry with kitchen paper. Cut away the leaves, keeping at least 1″ of stalk.

Place in a large roasting tin, and add some olive oil – rolling the beetroots in it in order to make sure they are well covered. Sprinkle with a little salt.

Bake in the preheated oven for 40 – 45 minutes or until the beetroot is soft but not shrivelled. Leave to cool slightly, then cut away the root and stalks, and rub the skin away. Chop the beetroot into small dice, and keep warm.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta so that it’s ready just as you finish cooking, peeling and chopping the beetroot. Drain and return to the pan. Add 1-2 tbsp pesto (according to taste) and stir thoroughly.

Add the rocket, stir again – allowing the rocket to wilt – then add the cooked beetroot.

Finish with some cubed or diced goats’ cheese (optional), and serve with a fresh green salad.

Adapted from: britishfood.about.com
Posted in Food, Lunch, Recipes, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

Student Recipes – Day 7: One-Tray Roast Chicken and Vegetables

one-tray roast chicken and vegetables_7A home-cooked roast dinner is one of the meals most frequently missed by students. Often representing a strong sense of family it is, of course, linked to more than just the food itself, but it’s one home-comfort that can be fairly easy to reproduce. And while I’m not attempting to persuade anyone that this will be as fabulous as something that you’d get at home, this recipe for one-tray quick roast chicken is still a good option – especially when you consider how much more straight-forward it is to make than a traditional roast. You can decide which vegetables to use according to what you’ve got and what you fancy. So, you might prefer to use regular instead of sweet potatoes, or perhaps add a couple of parsnips. Pumpkin or squash would also work well. It’s really up to you.

This is the first meal in this series that uses meat / poultry, and I’m going to suggest that you buy free-range or organic chicken for it. As a less expensive alternative, the RSPCA Freedom Food chickens would be my second choice (in the UK). You should be able to shop for all of these in a supermarket, but if you’ve got access to a good butcher, then speak to them about your options. Although free-range / organic / welfare meat is more expensive, I firmly believe that we all have a responsibility to support more ethical farming practices such as these. And although it is more expensive, it’s still possible to incorporate these sorts of choices into a modest food budget by simply eating less meat / poultry (which can be a good idea for other reasons too). Following the meals in this series provides a good introduction for how you might go about doing this.

Straight-forward though it is, this is a meal that’s impressive enough to share with a friend or housemates – even family – if you feel like doing that. Equally, you can save what you don’t eat until the following day, when you can have it as another easy dinner option (but make sure that it’s thoroughly re-heated before you eat it). Alternatively, you’ve got the basis for a great lunch (or two) – if you remove the cooked chicken from the bone and mix it with the roasted vegetables, then you can make a great sandwich, use it to fill pitta bread, or turn it into a wonderful pasta salad.

[This is the seventh (and last) in a series of posts - you can find the first one here - prepared in response to a request from Jess, who has recently moved to London where she is a full-time student at LAMDA]

Recipe: One-Tray Roast Chicken and Vegetables


4 chicken thighs
¼ lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp mixed dried herbs
Olive oil
A selection of assorted vegetables
This is what I used:
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces
2 large courgettes, cut into large pieces
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into medium-sized pieces
1 red pepper, cut into large pieces
1 red onion, cut into medium-sized pieces
This makes 2 portions


Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F / Gas Mark 6.

Put the vegetables in a large flat bottomed roasting tray.

Add a tbsp or two of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Mix everything together until it’s all lightly oiled.

Cut off any excess fat from the chicken thighs, but don’t remove the skin completely.

Add them to the roasting tray with the vegetables.

Squeeze some lemon juice over each of the thighs, season with a little more salt and pepper, and mix everything together again so that the chicken is coated with a bit of the oil. Rearrange so that the chicken pieces are nestled into the vegetables, making sure that they’re skin-side up.

Sprinkle over the dried mixed herbs.

Put the tray into the oven and roast for 50 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of the chicken thighs. Check that the chicken is cooked by inserting a skewer into the largest thigh – if the juices run clear then it’s cooked (if it’s pink then it needs to be cooked a little longer).

When everything is fully cooked, serve the chicken and vegetables onto a warm plate.

And if you fancy, tip some of the cooking juices straight from the pan over the chicken and / or vegetables before eating.

Posted in Food, Meat, Recipes, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Student Recipes – Day 6: Hearty Lentil and Spinach Soup

Hearty lentil and spinach soup_2Lentil soup is hearty, filling, tasty and comforting. And as with all the recipes in this series, it’s also inexpensive. Besides all that, lentils are nutritious; an excellent source of low-fat protein – making them a particularly valuable addition to a vegetarian or vegan diet – as well as fibre and micronutrients (including a range of vitamins, plus calcium, phosphorus and iron).

There are a number of different kinds of lentils (including red, green and Puy), and they come in various guises. Canned lentils have already been cooked and can be useful for all kinds of salads and side dishes. But as well as being cheaper, dried lentils tend to result in less waste (it might be difficult to know what to do with ½ can of  leftover lentils). You don’t need to soak dried lentils before using them so they’re often just as convenient anyway, especially if you’re adding them to soups, stews and casseroles. Soaking them does reduce the cooking time, but they don’t take very long to cook in any case – about 40 minutes for green lentils, and less for other varieties. You should, however, rinse lentils before using them and pick out any that don’t look look.

If you aren’t used to cooking with lentils, then it seems as though they can take a bit of getting used to. But once you’ve added them to your repertoire it’s quite likely that you’ll begin to wonder how you ever managed without them: green lentils also work well as a stuffing for other vegetables; red lentils are used to make dhal; and the most majestic of lentils (the Puy lentil) is simply fantastic as an accompaniment to fish and meat (and can work particularly well in a sausage casserole). Perhaps I’ll get round to featuring some more of these recipes in future posts.

Hearty lentil and spinach soup_1

Anyway, this recipe – for a hearty lentil and spinach soup – makes enough for two generous portions, but if you’re after something lighter then it easily becomes enough for four. You can have it for lunch or supper, and it tastes great heated-up the next day (especially if you throw in another handful of spinach as as you’re reheating it – just before it’s served). The cheese is optional, but it does work really well, so do add some if you can. And whenever you have it, it also goes well with some crusty bread, or even toasted pitta.

And if you think that this recipe sounds good then you might also want to look at these:

Lentil soup with lemon, bacon and mint

Lentil and roasted tomato soup

Hearty lentil and spinach soup_3[This is the sixth in a series of posts - you can find the first one here - prepared in response to a request from Jess, who has recently moved to London where she is a full-time student at LAMDA]

Recipe: Hearty Lentil and Spinach Soup


2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 tsp dried mixed herbs
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
3 tomatoes, cut into large pieces
150g green lentils, rinsed and drained
1.3 litres vegetable stock
            It’s fine to use a stock cube
A small handful of parsley, chopped
100g spinach
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Optional: A small handful of grated pecorino, or other hard cheese
Makes 2 generous portions


Heat the oil over a medium-low heat in a large saucepan. Add the onion, carrot and dried herbs and sauté gently for 5 minutes.

Add the garlic and tomatoes and sauté for a further minute.

Tip in the lentils, stir, then add the stock and some salt and pepper.

Bring the soup to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 25 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.

Add the parsley and spinach and simmer for a further 5 minutes.

Check the seasoning, then spoon into bowls to serve. Sprinkle over the grated cheese, if using.

From: River Cottage Veg Everyday!, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Posted in Food, Lunch, Recipes, Soup | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Student Recipes – Day 5: Sardines on Toast

Sardines on Toast_4Toast forms the starting point for several popular student meals, with baked beans and cheese providing two of the most common toppings. It’s easy to understand the appeal of such an easy and convenient snack – which requires the bare minimum in terms of cooking, and uses just a small number of ingredients. And of course it helps when these are also items that are easily stored and often found in our kitchen cupboards and fridges.

This recipe – sardines on toast – maintains many of these advantages. But it has other things to offer as well… Not only does it have a more interesting and complex flavour (the result of adding just a few extra ingredients – things like garlic, lemon and parsley), it also provides a range of nutritional benefits. Sardines are an excellent source of protein, and also contain relatively high levels of various minerals, as well as vitamins A and D (which may be particularly relevant to people living in rather sun-deprived areas such as the UK). But as an oily fish, they are also a natural and important source of omega-3 fatty acids, which – notably – sardines retain even when canned (unlike tuna). They are also considered to be a sustainable fish (please look for the MSC – Marine Stewardship Council – certified sustainable seafood rating when you’re buying any fish), and are generally low in contaminants. And if none of that impresses you, then it might be worth noting that a 120g tin of sardines in spring water should cost about 50p from your local supermarket.

If you’d like to make this into a bit more of a substantial meal, then it also goes really well with a simple fresh salad, using lettuce leaves as well as anything else suitable that you happen to have in the fridge.

Sardines on Toast_1

[This is the fifth in a series of posts - you can find the first one here - prepared in response to a request from Jess, who has recently moved to London where she is a full-time student at LAMDA]

Recipe: Sardines on Toast


1 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped (optional)
Juice of ½ lemon
1 x 100g can (grilled) sardines, drained
The observant (and perhaps the pedantic) may notice that I’ve used fresh sardines here. I do regularly make it with canned sardines as well, which really are the ideal thing to use for both ease and convenience
2 slices brown bread
A handful of parsley, roughly chopped
Serves 1


Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat.

Put the garlic and red chilli (if using) into the pan, and cook for a couple of minutes.

Add the sardines and heat through for a few minutes until warm.

Toast the brown bread.

Stir the parsley into the sardines, add a squeeze of lemon juice, then divide between the toast and serve (alongside a simple salad if you fancy).

Adapted from: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com
Posted in Brunch, Fish, Food, Lunch, Nutrition, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Student Recipes – Day 4: Tomato, Chickpea and Spinach Curry

Tomato, chickpea and spinach curry_1One or other from a broad range of Indian curries is often suggested as another perennial student favourite, and while some recipes include a long list of ingredients that can appear daunting (and time consuming), home-made options can still be quick and simple to make. They can also be filling, tasty, and healthy, as well as relatively inexpensive.

The least complicated way to make ‘curry’ is to use a prepared curry powder which is readily available to buy in supermarkets and other stores. It’s essentially a Western invention, and ingredients commonly include coriander, turmeric, ginger, fenugreek, cumin, mustard and pepper. These powders are usually available in a range of strengths –from mild to hot – so it’s easy to select something that’s suitable for your tastes.

Alternatively, you can use garam masala, which is also a spice blend, but in this case is based on a mixture used in north Indian cooking. It contains slightly different ingredients, and often includes cloves and cinnamon which can give it a slightly sweeter (arguably rounder, warmer and more subtle) flavour than curry powder. Of course, both are fairly standardised in their ready-made Western forms, which tends to override the complexities of regional and cultural differences found elsewhere.

Anyway, I used a medium curry powder to make this recipe, which overall contributes to a tasty and healthy vegetarian supper. I served it with (brown) rice – although warm pitta bread would also have gone well – and didn’t bother with the optional garnishes of plain yoghurt and coriander. What you don’t eat can be frozen, or reheated the next day.

Tomato, chickpea and spinach curry_2

[This is the fourth in a series of posts - you can find the first one here - prepared in response to a request from Jess, who has recently moved to London where she is a full-time student at LAMDA]

Recipe: Tomato, Chickpea and Spinach Curry


1 tbsp oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
2cm piece fresh root ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp curry powder
I used a medium curry powder, but you can use whatever suits your particular tastes
400g can chopped tomatoes
400g can chick peas
250g bag spinach, roughly shredded
Optional:   1-2 tbsp natural yogurt
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
This makes 2 portions


Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and cook the garlic, onion and ginger together for 5 minutes until softened and golden.

Add the curry powder and cook for a minute, stirring continuously to stop the spices sticking.

Add the tomatoes to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the chick peas and bring to the boil. Leave to simmer for 10 minutes.

Stir in the shredded spinach and cook gently for a couple of minutes until it has wilted into the sauce.

You can serve this with rice (as I did), or even with a couple of warm pitta breads.

And if you fancy, the dish can be finished with a spoonful of natural yogurt and some chopped coriander.

Adapted from: http://www.Waitrose.com
Posted in Food, Recipes, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Student Recipes – Day 3: Roasted Ratatouille Pasta

Roasted vegetable pasta_6As well as being quick and easy to cook, pasta is inexpensive and incredibly versatile, making it an ideal staple for busy students. And whilst white pasta doesn’t have a particularly impressive nutritional content, using a whole wheat variety will at least provide you with some fibre. Plus, it’s not difficult to make a tasty sauce using plenty of vegetables, so that the overall result is really quite a healthy meal.

Traditional ratatouille is a French dish of stewed vegetables, and recipes range from the ridiculously complex to the very simple. Although the former is likely (some would argue), to have a superior – and possibly more authentic – taste, those requiring a minimal amount of preparation can still be very good. I particularly like the idea of roasting the vegetables, which not only gives them a fantastic flavour (especially if they’re left to char or caramelise slightly at the edges), but also means that they demand very little attention once you’ve got them in the oven.

You can serve this dish on its own, but it also goes really well with a fresh green salad if you’ve got the time and inclination to make one (see yesterday’s post for some suggestions).

This makes enough for two portions. You can share it with a friend, or save half for the next day, when it can be eaten cold (or re-heated) for a quick supper or lunch. You could also make the roasted ratatouille mixture (without the pasta) to fill pitta bread, which makes another great midday meal.

A note about fresh herbs: It might feel slightly decadent for students to buy and use fresh herbs (especially if there’s concern that they’ll go to waste), but they really can make an incredible difference to the taste of food. Perhaps start with basil and parsley – two particularly flavourful and versatile varieties – and see how you go. If you’re not convinced, then you can use mixed dried herbs here instead, but the result probably won’t be quite so good.

[This is the third in a series of posts - you can find the first one here - prepared in response to a request from Jess, who has recently moved to London where she is a full-time student at LAMDA]

Recipe: Roasted Ratatouille Pasta

1 small aubergine, trimmed and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 courgette trimmed and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 red onion, sliced
1 green pepper
This is a good combination of vegetables – and roughly fits with the idea of a traditional ratatouille – but it’s perfectly fine to substitute what ever you happen to have available
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
200g tomatoes
            That’s about 3-4 medium sized tomatoes
Enough pasta for two portions
            I like to use whole wheat penne pasta
A handful of basil leaves, roughly torn
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Optional: a handful of grated pecorino or other hard cheese
This makes 2 portions


Heat oven to 220°C / 425°F /Gas Mark 7.

Put the prepared vegetables and garlic into a roasting tin. Drizzle over the oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss together.

Roast for 30 minutes, then add the tomatoes and roast for a further 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the packet instructions, and drain once it is ready.

Put the cooked pasta into the vegetables, add almost all the basil leaves and mix together.

Serve and finish with a good handful of grated cheese, as well as the remaining basil.

Note: If you’re saving half for another day, then leave to cool completely before tipping it into a suitable container (with a tight fitting lid) and putting in the fridge.

Adapted from: www.bbcgoodfood.com
Posted in Food, Lunch, Recipes, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments