Thursday, 17 August 2017

Chickpea Cauliflower Couscous recipe

Chickpea Cauliflower Couscous 
Since discovering the quick lunch wonder that is Cauliflower Steaks I have also been searching out a delicious way to use up the rest of a cauliflower. I think I've now found the answer with cauliflower couscous. It's still amazing to me that a take-it-or-leave-it vegetable for me, one that I always used to consider pretty bland unless it was doused in a rich cheese sauce, is actually delicious when it is cooked in any way other than boiling it!

This Chickpea Cauliflower Couscous recipe is vaguely based around the Turkey Tagine recipe I blogged years ago (I think my photography has improved!). This version is vegan and doesn't actually use a tagine. The ingredients below made enough for two generous portions.

1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1/2 onion, diced
1 garlic clove, diced
1/3 ish of a cauliflower
Pinch of saffron
1/4 tsp piri piri
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground ginger
Salt and black pepper
400g tin of chickpeas, drained (reserve the liquid!)
20 green olives, halved
100ml water
Lemon juice
1/2 tsp bajan spice

First I diced the onion and garlic and set them to cook until softened in a largish saucepan with the rapeseed oil.

Blitzed cauliflower 
I struggle to wait long enough for onion to soften properly - impatient, me?! - but hate crunchy onion when it shouldn't be so have found that giving myself other things to do in the meantime is a good idea. For this meal, I tore the cauliflower florets into small enough pieces to blitz in my Mini Chopper (new toy, love it!). It needed two batches and the resulting raw cauliflower did look surprising like a pale cooked couscous.

Setting the cauliflower aside, I also opened the chickpeas tin and drained its liquid into a jar for later. I've recently learned that chickpea water is called aquafaba and is supposed to be an amazing egg substitute in baking. I'll let you know .... !

Back to the now-softened onion, I added a good pinch of saffron, the piri piri, coriander, cumin, ginger, salt pepper and stirred them all in. I went easy on the salt at this stage because I didn't know how much would come from the olives during cooking. I cooked this mix for a minute or so, then added the chickpeas, olives, water and lemon juice.

Stirring again to thoroughly mix, I brought the liquid up to a simmer then put a lid on the saucepan, turned the heat right down and left it all to gently bubble away for about 15 minutes. In hindsight 10 minutes would have been enough! The chickpeas were now soft, but fortunately not disintegrating!

I added the cauliflower, stirring thoroughly again, turned the heat off and replaced the lid, and left the cauliflower couscous to cook in the steam and juice of everything else for about 20-25 minutes.

Tasting just before serving I added a little more salt and a 1/2 tsp of Bajan spice blend for warmth of flavour. I served my Chickpea Cauliflower Couscous onto a warmed plate and enjoyed eating every mouthful!

Although I was very pleased with how this dish turned out, I would make a couple of changes when I cook it again. I think cinnamon would be better than ginger in the spice mix, or I might add ginger and cinnamon early on and dispense with the Bajan spice at the end. I would also add more colour alongside the olives as, while the meal was tasty, it doesn't look exciting. I do like colourful food! Perhaps a handful of peas or chopped red pepper would jazz it up? Suggestions welcome!

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Receiving a Brilliant Boyfriend bakerdays cake + #Giveaway!

brilliant boyfriend bakerdays cake 
A dismal Torquay summer day was brightened up for us last week by the welcome arrival of a bakerdays letterbox cake!

If you haven't heard about these before, it's a real cake, fully iced, yet slim enough to fit though a standard UK letterbox.

The perfect surprise gift?

Well, when bakerdays offered me the chance to find out, I was more than happy to accept!

The toughest part of the bakerdays experience is choosing which cake to send! Firstly did I want traditional sponge, lovely lemon drizzle, half chocolate half sponge, or rich chocolate chip? I chose the lovely lemon drizzle. Then I spent ages debating designs. I knew the cake would be on its way but Dave didn't so I wanted artwork that would fun for him. I think there are hundreds of options available plus, to add even more choices, I could have uploaded my own photographs! Eventually I settle on the Brilliant Boyfriend design because it sums up pretty much what I wanted to say.

Our cake's arrival was a great success!

Brought in our regular post delivery by a rained-upon postman, it was packed in an unassuming brown cardboard box. I loved the contrast when we opened that to reveal the bright cake, complete with a little card and a mini celebration bag including candles, balloons and a party blower! Dave's face lit up and I was delighted too!

So, how was the cake itself? Well, it didn't last long so that's always a good sign! It arrived in perfect condition and, had I not known it was posted, I never would have guessed. The icing cleverly holds the cake fast to a board and the outer box is sturdy so absolutely no dents which I had been a little concerned about. The icing was bright white with sharply defined, boldly coloured printing which looked good enough to eat! The sponge was moist and tasted freshly baked with a light lemon flavour. Perhaps the texture was less sticky than I would expect from a lemon drizzle cake, but then they aren't usually swathed in royal icing so that made up for it! We got eight little portions from our cake.

Impatient fingers poised for more cake! 

I was impressed with bakerdays packaging. As already mentioned, the cardboard box is sturdy and also recyclable. The cake board, card and enclosed paperwork are, of course, also recyclable and the packaging peanuts are the cornstarch ones which dissolve completely in water. I will pass the celebration bag on so all we were left with for landfill was a small perforated plastic bag that had enclosed the cake. Well done bakerdays!

If you want to try out a bakerdays letterbox cake for yourself, enter the Giveaway below for a chance to win one!

The Giveaway is open to UK entrants ONLY. It opened at 8am on the 15th August and closes at midnight on the 28th August. I will email the winner on the 29th and they have 48 hours to reply with their details which I will pass on to bakerdays.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Top Five Etsy Finds - International Left Handers Day

Left handed wristwatch
by YourWatchDesign
International Left Hander's Day started 25 years ago in 1992. Its founders, the Left-Handers Club, began "an annual event when left-handers everywhere can celebrate their sinistrality (left-handedness) and increase public awareness of the advantages and disadvantages of being left-handed." So to join in the celebrations today, my Top Five Etsy Finds for August are ingenious items whose designs have been tweaked to make them perfect for left handed people. I learned that 10-12% of people are left handers - including my sister!

Small design changes can make a huge difference to an item's ease of use for a left handed person and this Left Handed Wristwatch by YourWatchDesign in Bridgnorth is a prime example. The crown placement is on the opposite side of the watch face. The watch also features a humorous saying on the white dial.

The Left Handed Wristwatch is for sale at £22.99 with free worldwide shipping.

Filofax Diagonally Ruled
Notepaper Inserts by OddsLikeMe
Penelope Winter, of Gartmore, is the creative mind behind OddsLikeMe. Her shop was born out of an urge to get back to pen and paper, although her computer does sometimes play a vital supporting role as is the case with these Filofax Diagonally Ruled Notepaper Inserts. The diagonal ruling makes the paper great for lefties or indeed anyone whose handwriting naturally slopes up. The design is sent digitally by pdf enabling the buyer to print as many sheets as they need, whenever they need to.

The Filofax Diagonally Ruled Notepaper Inserts are for sale at £4.20 with, of course, no shipping cost.

Left Handed Coffee Mug
by CaractacusPots
CaractacusPots is a brilliant name for a ceramics shop and I love the variety of items created by obsessive potter Susan Frankel in her Uxbridge studio. The colours she achieves are especially vibrant. My eye was caught by this Left Handed Coffee Mug finished in mottled blue and chocolate brown. Its generous 430ml size means it's big enough to cope with a serious volume of breakfast coffee and the handle is particularly comfortable to be held with the left hand. Susan threw this cup on her pottery wheel, then cut out and formed the handle from the body of the mug. She says it can be used by right-handers as well, but isn't as comfortable!

The Left Handed Coffee Mug is for sale at £14.99 plus shipping.

Left Handed Bath Board
by IansChicOrUnique
After a long day, indulgent pampering is in order and made easier with this Left Handed Bath Board. Made from reclaimed wood at IansChicOrUnique in Manchester, the board was cleaned, sanded and shaped, then treated with linseed oil and simply varnished because the wood was stunning once sanded. Its shaping was thought out with left handers in mind - the wine glass is nearest your hand and the candle furthest from being a singe hazard!

The Left Handed Bath Board is for sale at £20 plus shipping.

My fifth and final choice is this stunning image print of famous left handed guitarist Jimi Hendrix playing his flipped right-handed guitar. Created by ShaunMcMuldroch in Leeds, the image relies on eye-catching use of white space as much as the distinctive shapes that make up Jimi's portrait. It is A5 size and inkjet printed onto 200gsm paper.

The Jimi Hendrix Print is for sale at £4.45 plus shipping.

Jimi Hendrix Print by ShaunMcMuldroch 

Happy International Left Handers Day!

Friday, 11 August 2017

New handmade Greetings Cards! (dare I mention Christmas?)

Flower greetings cards 
I've had a busy morning putting the finishing touches to a small batch of greetings cards. I'm delighted with how they have turned out and am excited to reveal them to you all! Click any of the text links or the photographs to buy!

This flower trio I thought would be perfect for birthdays, anniversaries or simply for 'just because' occasions. They measure 6x4 inches and feature hand cut circles of vintage paper, the centre one of which is embellished with one of my crocheted flower motifs. Two cards have white flowers, one card has a sparkly sand coloured flower. As with all my greetings cards, these are blank inside and have a matching plain envelope. At the moment I am still shipping my cards in cellophane sleeves, but once my current stock is used up I will be switching to a plastic-free alternative!
These cards are £7.50 for the three with free UK postage on eBay.

Flower and mice cards 
I used three sparkly sand flowers to adorn one of this any occasion card pair. Its partner sports recycled black yarn crocheted mice heads which I think are fun. These cards are also 6x4 inches, blank inside and will be shipped with plain envelopes.
These cards are £5 for the two with free UK postage on eBay.

Although it is only August, I am already noticing Christmas items appearing in the shops and across Twitter so I thought I might as well get in on this act! It does feel a bit weird because I usually don't like to think about That Season until I have at least celebrated Halloween and preferably Bonfire Night as well. However, for you more efficient souls I have added this new trio to my 'Christmas collection'!

Dickens' A Christmas Carol trio 
The three 5x5 inch cards feature vintage John Leach illustrations upcycled from an old copy of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. You can buy them for
£7.50 for the three including UK postage on eBay and, while you are there, take a look at my other Christmas cards too.

Happy shopping!

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Lentil Beanburger recipe with Tomato Salsa

Lentil Beanburgers 
I'm enjoying getting into my cooking at the moment, especially experimenting with new recipes. My Plastic Free July pointer to Not Buy If I Can Bake has seen me create my own wholemeal bread rolls, chickpea tofu, cauliflower couscous and, now, Lentil Beanburgers! I'm soon going to blog about the tofu and couscous, both of which are a great success, but for today here are my first vegan burgers. They were surprisingly delicious!

I read lots of veggie burger recipes online over the past year. I've eaten different varieties in restaurants and even bought them to fry up at home, but was intimidated by the thought of making my own. In hindsight this was ridiculous! They're incredibly easy! My recipe is very much Using Up The Leftovers so some of the quantities are a bit odd. I think the mix will turn out to be adaptable though and I look forward to trying out variations in future.
Here is what I made today:

Using up the leftovers 
4 tbsp green lentils
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
1/2 onion, fairly finely diced
1 garlic clove, diced
1/2 red pepper, diced
2/3 tin black eyed peas
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 tin tomatoes
1 tsp mixed herbs
1 tsp Kush Cuisine Cocoa Rub spice blend
Salt and black pepper to taste

I started by boiling the lentils in water for about half an hour until they were soft. I then drained them and put them into a large mixing bowl with the drained and rinsed blackeyed peas. I roughly mashed the beans and lentils with a potato masher.

While the lentils were cooking I fairly finely diced the onion and garlic. I put them into a covered small pan, with the oil, and cooked them over a fairly low heat until the onion was softened, stirring it occasionally.

While the onion cooked I blitzed four getting-stale wholemeal bread crusts in my new favourite toy which isn't actually new at all! Previously I would have grated the bread by hand, knuckles and all, but last week spotted a Mini Chopper in a charity shop for just £4. It's small so I had to blitz each bread slice separately. However that's still much faster and the machine is only 120w so economical on electricity. (If your local charity shops don't have any Mini Choppers, there are lots on Amazon here!)

When the onion was soft I added two-thirds of it to the bean-lentils and set that aside. I stirred the diced pepper into the remaining onion and set the pan back on the heat until the pepper softened.

Then I stirred the tomato and mixed herbs in with the peppers, turned the heat up a little, and cooked this salsa sauce until it was thick and glossy.

The beanburger mix 
Back with the bean-lentil-onions, I stirred in the breadcrumbs, salt and black pepper, and Cocoa spice blend. I'm using this Caribbean inspired mix a lot at the moment, but I think any spice blend would work here depending what you have available. A whole tsp did look a lot, but was needed for the flavour and I could probably have added another 1/2 tsp.

When the ingredients were well mixed it looked a bit like cooked burger mince! I then took handfuls at a time and moulded the mix into six small patties. Each one took a minute or so to come together because I had only roughly mashed the beans earlier. I wanted that texture, but could have mashed more or blended to get smoother patties.

Prepared veggie burger patties 
I let the prepped veggie burgers rest in the fridge for about half an hour. Then I shallow fried them in rapeseed oil over a medium-low heat for about five minutes each side, until they were piping hot all the way through. One burger did collapse as I turned it over, but the others stayed complete!

I served myself a generous three veggie burgers with the tomato salsa and new potatoes. The burgers were great with a good texture and a lightly spiced flavour that still allowed me to taste the beans and lentils. They were moist enough on their own, but particularly good with a dab of the tomato salsa. That did just need a shake of salt - I had forgotten how much tomatoes seem to absorb!

I don't think I would want to eat these burgers in a bun as there is already bread in their ingredients. Instead they would be good with varied salad side dishes or, in the case of the collapsed one, scattered as part of a veggie pizza topping.
What do you think?

Monday, 7 August 2017

Trying a bamboo toothbrush and washing dishes with coconut!

Tshirt sponge and coconut scourer 
I stumbled across a great little eco webshop last week. Called Save Some Green, it stocks bamboo products and household items made from other natural materials. I have been wanting a bamboo toothbrush for ages so ordered one to try out, plus three pairs of bamboo socks and a coconut fibre pan scourer. Service was super fast with my parcel arriving two days after placing my order. My items were packaged with paper and card, all easily recyclable, and everything was a good price with postage included so no nasty surprises mid-checkout!

On the downside I wasn't too pleased with the bamboo socks. They feel lovely to wear, but just walking to St Marychurch and back (about four miles) resulted in a hole worn through the toe of one sock which now needs darning. I walk that far three or four times a week so I am hoping this was just an aberration and the other pairs are stronger.

Bamboo toothbrush 
The bamboo toothbrush met all my expectations and I certainly won't be going back to a plastic one anytime soon. I am aware that my homemade toothpaste is slightly more abrasive than commercial brands so I decided to get the soft bristled brush to compensate for this. I think it looked rather elegant next to its garish plastic forerunner. It did take a few seconds to get accustomed to the neck not being angled, but this soon wasn't a problem and the smaller head is more comfortable when reaching towards my molars. This toothbrush and my toothpaste together clean my teeth well. Admittedly the bristles are still nylon, but BPA Free and apparently as compostable as the brush at the end of its life. Save Some Green is currently offering 4 for the price of 3 on these toothbrushes so I might just stock up!

The surprise hit of my Save Some Green order however was the coconut fibre pan scourer pictured at the top of this post. It's brilliant and far more efficient than the scritchy pad sponges we've used for years. I wanted to get away from them (yes, plastic again) but assumed I would just require more elbow grease instead. This is absolutely not the case. Even our daily porridge saucepan is no longer a dreaded chore! The scourer is, of course, completely compostable when it wears out and, judging by its lack of degradation in the week so far, I expect it to last a long time. My next order will include at least three of these gems so I always have a backup and because they get cheaper the more I buy!

Finally, as the coconut scourer made part of our usual wash-up sponges redundant, I thought about what might replace the rest of them. I remembered my very first crocheting efforts, supervised by my grandmother some thirty-five years ago. I made a very lopsided dishcloth from thick natural cotton thread. I don't have any of that thread right now, but did have a length of upcycled t-shirt yarn going begging so I experimented! The round blue pad in the top photo is a palm-sized dishwashing 'sponge'! Its effective use wasn't as mind-blowing as the scourer, but it does the job well and, again, looks like it will last ages.

Pleased with my initial success, I tweaked the design to make it easier to remember. I've made more Dishwash Pads from another upcycled t-shirt so now have quite a stash. If you would like to try one out for yourself they're £2.50 each which includes UK postage. Click the photo below to Paypal me!

Tshirt sponges 

Saturday, 5 August 2017

#WorldReads - five books from Israel

If this is your first visit to my WorldReads blog series, the idea of the posts is to encourage and promote the reading of global literature. On the 5th of each month I highlight five books I have read from a particular country and you can see links to previous countries' posts at the end of this post.

This month's country is Israel! David Grossman's new novel A Horse Walks Into A Bar was my Book of the Month for July so, even though I had already chosen to feature Israeli authors next, this post feels even more timely. Here are a further five Israeli-authored novels that I enjoyed.

Weeping Susannah

Weeping Susannah by Alona Kimhi

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Read my original review on Stephanie Jane

Set in Tel Aviv, Weeping Susannah is written in the first person and takes us through several months in the life of a thirty-three year old woman. Susannah lives basically as a child, cared for by her aging mother, as her chronic depression leaves her unable to cope with every day life. She has a horror of bodily functions including simply eating so cannot eat in front of anyone, and has never had a job or adult friends other than those of her mother. When an American second cousin unexpectedly arrives and expects to stay in Susannah's home, she initially shuts herself away in her room, but gradually begins to discover that she can be stronger and more social than she believes.

About The Night by Anat Talshir

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Read my original review on Literary Flits

I was surprised in reading About The Night by similarities to another then recent read, The Memory Of Love by Aminatta Forna. Both are intense love stories whose male protagonist is named Elias - Elias Riani here, Elias Cole in The Memory Of Love - who tells of his love from a hospital bed looking back across the years. Both are set in countries at war - Israel and Sierra Leone. Both have a dual timeline of then and now, and I thought both were absolutely beautiful to read.

Good People by Nir Baram 

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Read my original review on Literary Flits

The recent Brexit and Trump victories made the 2016 English language publication of Good People scarily timely. I read a statistic that 89% of a population will keep their heads down and not dispute their government's actions if there is a chance of repercussions against themselves or their families. In this novel, Baram explores two everyman characters in 1939-41 Germany and Russia. Thomas, in Berlin, and Sasha, in Leningrad, aren't special people, despite how they like to see themselves. They wouldn't have made any great impact except for the fact of their existing when and where they did. They could be any one of us and, in times of fear when totalitarianism and fascism become the norm, they are likely to represent the great 'silent' majority.

The Secret Book Of Kings by Yochi Brandes

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Read my original review on Literary Flits

Two themes recur throughout The Secret Book Of Kings: 'Stories are deadlier than swords' and 'Our nation has a short memory'. Brandes' exploration of biblical history from the vanquished House of Saul's point of view cleverly illustrates both of these thought-provoking statements in the context of a gripping historical novel.

Trail Of Miracles by Smadar Herzfeld

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Read my original review on Literary Flits

For such a short novella (just over a hundred pages), Trail Of Miracles is a surprisingly long read. This is a book to consider and to linger over rather than a fast-paced page-turner. The tale was inspired by the true story of an 18th century Ukrainian woman and it does feel rooted in truth, but with frequent diversions into dreams and matters of faith so I was often unsure how much of what I reading was Gittel's actual story and how much was stories that she told.

That's it for August's WorldReads from Israel. I hope I have tempted you to try reading a book from this country and if you want more suggestions, click through to see all my Literary Flits reviews of Israeli-authored books! Please do Comment your own favourite Israeli books below and if you fancy buying any of the five I have suggested, clicking through the links from this blog to do so would mean I earn a small commission payment.

If you missed any earlier WorldReads posts, I have already 'visited' America, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, Ireland, ItalyNew Zealand, Nigeria, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Turkey.
In September I will be highlighting five books by Greek authors. See you on the 5th to find out which ones!