Orange Blossom Cake

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This very special Orange Blossom cake, from the wonderful Palestine On A Plate cookery book, is ‘filled with exotic aromas and a wonderful crumbly texture, yet quick and certainly not fussy’.  It is made with whole oranges and fragranced with orange blossom water, which is popular in the Middle East (and luckily available in supermarkets in the UK).    It also contains olive oil, which is lovingly revered in Palestine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The subtle flavour of the cake is complemented by the sweet syrup, which you pour all over the cake after pricking it, so it soaks up the aroma and moistness.  The whole thing is unique and delicious and comes highly recommended!  Allow about 40 minutes to prepare the cake, an hours baking, then another ten minutes to add the syrup.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Thank you to Xeinab for buying me the Palestine On A Plate cookbook.  It is full of more recipes that I cannot wait to try, particularly the falafels, stuffed vegetables, sweet potato kubbeh, sesame breakfast bread and orange blossom rice pudding.  For more information about the lovely Xeinab, her family and their life in food check out my article on page 14 of the local newspaper:  http://walthamforestecho.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Echo-24.pdf.  It will definitely make you hungry!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Orange Blossom Cake (serves 10)

For the cake

2 large oranges (or 5 seedless mandarins if you prefer)

150g caster sugar

180ml olive oil

1 tsp orange blossom water

5 eggs

320g fine semolina

4 tsp baking powder

Optional – edible dried rose buds to finish (I couldnt find any!)

For the syrup

150g caster sugar

2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tsp orange blossom water

180ml water

Wash the oranges, place them in a saucepan of boiling water and let them simmer for around 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees/gas mark 6 and line either a large loaf tin or around 23cm (9 inch) cake tin with baking paper.

Drain the oranges, leave them to cool then blitz them in a food processor/blender.  Add the sugar, olive oil, 1 tsp orange blossom water and eggs.  Blitz until smooth.  Add the semolina and baking powder and mix with a spoon until you have a smooth batter.  Pour the batter in to the prepared tin and bake for 45-60 mins, or until a knife inserted in comes out clean.  Leave to cool.

While the cake is cooking make the syrup.  Place all the ingredients in a saucepan over a high heat and simmer for around 5 minutes.  Set aside.

Carefully remove the cake from the tin by lifting it up by the baking paper.  Prick the surface of the cake all over with a skewer or something similar, then carefully spoon the syrup all over the top so it can run down in to the holes (and probably over the sides a little!)  Stud with the edible rose buds, if you have them.  The cake will keep for 2 days in a container.

Family-Friendly Couscous with Fried Halloumi

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is a delicious, fresh tasting summer dish.  Couscous (it doesn’t even need cooking!) is mixed with courgettes, sundried tomatoes, chickpeas, spring onion, pine nuts (optional), mint, parsley, garlic and lemon juice, and topped with slightly charred and naturally salty halloumi cheese.  Super satisfying!  My kids generally turn their nose up at more adventurous cheeses like brie or goats cheese, but love halloumi.

You could vary or scale down what ingredients you use, to make it appeal to your family specifically.  I think mint, garlic and lemon juice are essential flavours though.  Veg wise peppers, fresh tomatoes, soya beans, red onion, green beans and asparagus would also work well.  And feta cheese would make a great substitute for halloumi.  Allow about 15 minutes to make everything.  If you have a griddle pan then use that to fry the halloumi, otherwise a regular non-stick frying pan is fine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Summer Couscous with Fried Halloumi (serves 4)

200g couscous

1 small courgette, chopped small

4 sundried tomatoes, chopped very small

Can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

Large handful of mint (add more if you want a really fresh flavour!)

Small handful of parsley

6 spring onions, chopped small

Optional – pine nuts, toasted (do this by frying them in a hot dry pan until slightly browned for about a minute, shaking regularly to avoid them burning)

2 cloves garlic, crushed

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 vegetable stock cube, crumbled

1-2 tbsp oil from the sundried tomato jar (or any oil)

1 block halloumi cheese, sliced

Make the couscous as per the pack instructions (normally only takes 5 minutes).  Meanwhile, fry the courgette in a little oil for 5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, mint, parsley, spring onions, pine nuts (if using), garlic, lemon, vegetable stock and  oil.  Heat for another minute or two until warmed through.  Taste and add salt and pepper and extra mint if you think it needs it.

Griddle or fry the halloumi on each side, until golden and slightly crispy (1-2 minutes each side).  Spoon the couscous salad in to bowls and top with a few slices of halloumi and a sprig of mint.  Eat!

Noodle Salad with Asian Pesto

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I spotted this Noodle Salad With Asian Pesto recipe in the Itsu cookbook, and really fancied trying a different take on traditionally Italian pesto.  This pesto is made from unmistakably Asian ingredients – coriander, mint, ginger, sesame oil and soy sauce.  The pesto is mixed with noodles, avocado and topped with fresh chilli and toasted seeds, and I have added some soya beans too.  This is a really unusual and warming dish!

Toasting seeds is really simple – you just briefly dry fry them in a non-stick frying pan, shaking regularly.   I buy frozen soya/edamame beans lots, and you don’t even need to cook them, they just need to defrost.  They are great for adding to salads, as a snack or with scrambled eggs, and make a nice alternative to peas.

My kids were a bit sceptical when I served up this meal, as they adore regular pesto, but they ate most of it in the end.  We had just watched a beautiful and insane Japanese family film called Spirited Away so were able to link the food to the film!

Noodle Salad With Asian Pesto (serves 4 and takes around 20 minutes)

For the Asian Pesto

50g coriander, roughly chopped

1 tbsp mint leaves

Thumb sized piece of ginger, grated tiny

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 tbsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp salt

1 tbsp lemon or lime juice

1 tbsp honey

For the salad

320g noodles (any is fine)

1 tbsp sesame oil

2 ripe avocados, chopped

2 tbsp soya/edamame beans, defrosted or fresh (no need to cook them)

2 tbsp sunflower seeds

2 tbsp pumpkin seeds

1 red chilli, topped tiny

To make the pesto, put all the pesto ingredients (leaving a little coriander for serving) in a blender/food processor and blitz until it is a smooth sauce.

Cook the noodles as per the pack instructions, drain and toss with the sesame oil.  Add the chopped avocados and defrosted/fresh soya beans.  Toast the sunflower and pumpkin seeds by heating them in a dry non-stick frying pan for 30-60 seconds, shaking regularly so they don’t burn.

Add the pesto, avocados and soya beans to the noodles and put in to bowls.  Top the mixture with the toasted seeds, chilli and remaining coriander leaves and eat!

Chicken (or Veggie) Chow Mein

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This delicious Chicken (or Veggie) Chow Mein recipe comes courtesy of Judy and Andy Mus, a couple who run excellent ‘Saturday Cooking Club’ family cooking classes in Walthamstow, East London. Judy says this is the most popular dish at their cooking club, with many people commenting that it tastes better than a take away!  Even many fussy eaters have enjoyed it.   I have added fresh coriander to the recipe, as I can’t get enough of it and it is nice to sprinkle on some fresh herbs.

You can use chicken, prawns, tofu or quorn chunks along with the veg.  Allow about 25 minutes to prepare and cook it all.   The kids could help with all aspects of the dish – here is a guide to cooking with kids, in particular a video about knife skills: https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/guide-cookery-skills-age.  I had never let my kids cut with a sharp knife until I attended the cooking club!  It was a little scary, but my 6 year old did really well and still has all his fingers.
If you are local to Walthamstow then check out E17 Pop Up Kitchens on Facebook for info about upcoming cooking sessions. It costs £15 per family, is fun and relaxed, and there is no minimum age.

Chicken (or Veggie) Chow Mein (serves approx 4)

3 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
Small thumb ginger, peeled and grated or chopped very small
1 clove garlic, crushed or chopped very small
Any oil, for cooking
2 chicken breasts, cut in to small chunks OR chopped smoked tofu OR quorn chicken chunks OR prawns
1 pepper, cut in to thin strips
5 spring onions, chopped
200g beansprouts

200g noodles (any is fine – I used medium egg noodles)

Optional – roughly chopped coriander

Mix the ketchup, oyster sauce, soy sauce, ginger and garlic together and set aside.

Heat some oil in a frying pan on a medium heat and add the chicken (or tofu, quorn chunks or prawns), stirring regularly for about 10 minutes, until it is white and cooked through.

Meanwhile cook the noodles as per the pack instructions and set aside.  To the chicken add the pepper and stir fry for another 2 minutes. Pour in the sauce and stir well until bubbling. Add the noodles, beansprouts and spring onions and mix well for another 2 minutes.  Eat, sprinkled with coriander if you wish.

My Easy Veggie Ramen

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I LOVE RAMEN.  A big slurpy bowl of goodness which is particularly enjoyable when it is cold outside.  You can eat lots, safe in the knowledge it’s pretty good for you.  Feel free to experiment with what veg you use, or add cooked prawns, meat or tofu to the vegetables for extra substance.  In fact, this is a great soup for using up leftovers so almost anything goes.  Also you could cheat a bit and get a pack of instant miso soup and use that as the water/stock base.

Allow 15-20 minutes to prepare the ramen, and remember the garlic, ginger and chilli amounts are only a guide – you may wish to use less or more, according to taste.

My Veggie Ramen (serves 2)

2 eggs

2 tbsp oil (any is fine)

3 cloves garlic, chopped or crushed

Small thumb of ginger, chopped very small, or minced

1 red chilli, chopped very small

4 mushrooms, sliced

4 large cabbage leaves, sliced thin

1/2 red pepper, sliced thin

4 spring onions, chopped small

1 litre hot water (or 1.5 litres if you want the soup more watery)

1 vegetable stock cube

2 tbsp soy sauce

200g noodles (any is fine – I use fine noodles which cook in 3 mins)

4 radishes, sliced thin

1 avocado, sliced in to small chunks

Small handful of coriander, roughly chopped

Chilli garlic sauce (or whatever sauce you fancy)

Boil the eggs in water for around 6 minutes, then drain, put them in cold water and set aside.

Fry the garlic, ginger and chilli for 1 minute in the oil in a saucepan.  Add the mushrooms, cabbage, red pepper, spring onions and fry for another few minutes, until softened.  Add the water, crumble the vegetable stock cube in, add the soy sauce and noodles and simmer for a few more minutes until the noodles are cooked.  Ladle in to bowls then top each bowl with the radishes, 1 egg chopped in half (hopefully it will be a little soft in the middle!), avocado slices, coriander and chilli garlic sauce.  Slurp then go back for more!

Potato, Onion and Fennel Tortilla

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This potato, onion and fennel tortilla is my favourite recipe from Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals cookbook.  The slightly caramelised potatoes and red onions are delicious encased in the egg, and the fennel seeds are a really interesting addition.  As you can see my tortilla turned out flatter and more like an omelette, but it doesn’t matter either way!

We ate our omelette/tortilla with baked trout and peas and sweetcorn, but it would also be nice with a salad and/or sausages.  My kids enjoy eating it with their hands (hence it also makes a great cold snack the next day)!  Allow about 30 minutes to make.

Fennel seeds are one of my *exciting ingredients* and also work well in fish pies and Mediterranean tomato based sauces.  They are cheap and last for months in the cupboard!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Potato, Onion and Fennel Tortilla (serves 4-6 with a side)

200g potatoes, chopped very small in to approx 1cm chunks (I don’t bother peeling – I like the nutty texture)

1 red (or white) onion, chopped small

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 large clove garlic, crushed

1 tsp dried mixed herbs or handful of fresh rosemary/parsley, chopped

5 eggs, lightly beaten, with a little salt and pepper

Fry the potatoes in a frying pan in oil on a medium heat until they start to soften and get a little golden (about 8-10 mins), then add the onion, fennel seeds and herbs.  Mix well and keep stirring for another 6 mins or so, until the onion is soft.  Add the garlic and stir, then pour the eggs in.  Briefly stir and swirl the eggs in the pan until the pan is covered and the other ingredients are nicely spread out.

Once the egg starts to set around the edges, you have two choices.  You can either finish the tortilla off by cooking the top for a few minutes under the grill until set (my preferred option) or you can leave it on the hob to gently cook through.

Once cooked, carefully cut the tortilla in to wedges and eat alongside whatever you fancy.

Wild West Rice (ready in 45 mins)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Wild West Rice is based on Jamie Oliver’s version of a Native American recipe.  It’s a unique, sweet and nutty dish full of interesting flavours and textures.   Rice is mixed with dried cranberries, onion, chopped almonds, cinnamon, garlic, dill and lemon juice and eaten with lovely thick wedges of roast butternut squash.  We had the dish with baked trout but it would be nice with chicken or a salad too.  My kids rejected the butternut squash but liked the rice!  I had a feeling that would happen, but it was worth a try… They were intrigued by the name of the dish, which sparked off a discussion about cowboys.

I used a packet of pre-cooked microwave rice to speed things up, and stir-fried it with the other ingredients instead of microwaving it.  Pre-cooked rice is absolutely brilliant for making cooking times quicker and can be kept in the cupboard for a good while until needed!

Wild West Rice (serves 4)

2 tbsp any oil

2 cloves garlic, crushed/chopped

1 red/white onion, chopped small

1 packet microwave rice (I used brown rice)

Shake cinnamon (I probably used about 1/4 tsp but use what you like – avoid lots though as it will overpower the dish!)

Large handful dried cranberries

Small handful roughly chopped dill

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt and pepper

1 butternut squash, skin on and deseeded, cut in to thick finger sized chunks

Heat the oven to gas mark 5/190 degrees.  Put the butternut squash chunks in to a baking tray, drizzle with 1 tbsp oil, season with salt and pepper and mix well.  Roast, shaking the tray every 10 mins and turning the chunks if necessary, for around  30-40 minutes, until soft and golden brown on the outside (time will depend on your oven).

Meanwhile, put 1 tbsp oil in a large frying pan/saucepan on a medium heat.  Add the garlic and onion and fry for a few minutes until soft.  Add the rice and cinnamon, cranberries, dill and lemon juice and fry for a few more mins until all mixed and cooked through.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Put the rice on a plate with the butternut squash chunks.  Eat with fish, chicken or a salad.