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I’m wont to extremely long and rambling annual round ups, when it comes to the end of the year. When I start looking back, I get so excited about so many things I saw, did and ate that I struggle to narrow it down. This year is no different!

JANUARY

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My recipe for Yakitori Chicken Hearts turns out to be the most popular one of the year, which I find encouraging, given how many people I know turn their noses up at offal. I posted this at a time when my culinary heart was still yearning for Japan (which we visited for the second time in late autumn 2013).

I also had fun learning all about cooking sous vide.

FEBRUARY

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The older (and more experienced I get) the better I become at adapting recipes to suit our tastes. There have always been some dishes I have been able to cook more instinctively, but when I was younger, I didn’t have the confidence to make changes that might improve upon the recipes of others. Making a few minor adjustments to this Baked Chorizo, Cod and Potato dish elevated it into a firm favourite that we’ve made again more than once.

Much of the content I published in February harked back to the second Japan trip, including several photo essays, a review of Burger King’s Kuro Ninja and a visit to Suizenji Joju-en Park in Kumamoto.

MARCH

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My most popular recipe this month (and one that continues to garner praise from those who make it) is my Mum’s Lucknowi-style Lamb Biryani.

March was definitely a recipe-lead month, with my primer on sous vide steak, our Japanese yakiniku at home experiment and cheese, ham and chilli jam pancakes for pancake day.

I was also surprised and fascinated by the responses to my little survey about ready meals versus home cooking.

APRIL

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There were two recipes I loved sharing in April – my Sous Vide Southern Fried Chicken and this unusual Smoky Paprika Coleslaw recipe featuring, of all ingredients, condensed milk! It really works! I also made a home made Mr Whippy ice cream; it worked superbly well but is a bit of a faff.

MAY

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The filming was earlier in the year, but May was the broadcast date for Heston’s Great British Food Chocolate episode, to which I was lucky enough to be invited as a guest. An incredible experience!

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These Individual Marzipan Cakes, a tweaked Nigella recipe, are definitely overdue to be made again.

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Salivating as I think of it, I had one of the best Lebanese meals I’ve had in the UK, at Warda restaurant in Southgate (North London). We’ve been again several times since and love it so much we’re taking my mum there for her birthday next month.

JUNE

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More inspiration from Japan this month in two of my recipes – Green Beans with a Tofu, Miso and Sesame Dressing (Saya Ingen Shira-ae) and Quick & Easy Yuzu Ice Cream.

I also had great fun filming a recipe video for vouchercodesuk. You can view the video but also access the written recipe for my Chorizo, Spinach, Onion & Potato Frittata, here.

Another recipe I posted in June must surely be my simplest ever, with just a single ingredient! But readers and friends have let me know they have been delighted to learn about the slow cooker method of cooking jacket potatoes.

JULY

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In July, I shared a mammoth travel post, rounding up all my favourites from a city break in Brussels.

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The recipe of the month was definitely these deceptively simple, beautifully bling Brazilian Brigadeiro Chocolate Bonbons but a second runner would be Little Orange & Lime Cakes, also from Brazil.

AUGUST

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In August I shared some great recipes made using my new Optimum 9400 Blender by Froothie. This smooth-as-silk White Chocolate Vanilla Ice Cream was one such recipe, as was this Quick Courgette & Blue Cheese Soup.

Our garden and allotment began to reward us with lots of delicious courgettes. Unlike some, I relish the glut and shared a long list of courgette recipes including fabulous Sausage-Ragu Stuffed Globe Courgettes.

This month, I also launched my Meet The Blogger series, in which I introduce readers to some of my favourite bloggers by way of an interview.

SEPTEMBER

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The undisputed highlight of my summer was attending my sister and brother-in-law’s wedding in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Sharing images from the day, not to mention our dining highlights, was a lovely way to relive the occasion. I can’t wait to go back when it’s less searingly hot!

Pete and I also had a great experience attending the Billingsgate Seafood Cookery School’s evening class on smoking fish.

OCTOBER

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This tasty month included a recipe that turned out even better than I hoped; this Burnt Apple & Bourbon Ice Cream plus a taste of Iceland, after our 20th wedding anniversary trip to Iceland in August and September.

I was also very happy with my Chorizo, Pumpkin, Spinach & Giant Couscous Salad.

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Celebrating my end-of-September birthday with lunch at Kurobuta restaurant was an excellent choice, one that still has me dreaming about some of the dishes. My review went up in October.

NOVEMBER

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I shared more from our trip to Iceland, with my Reykjavik Postcard full of our favourite sights, food and drink.

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Having been reworking the recipe since I first posted a version last year, I finally posted an updated recipe of my Easy Butternut Squash Soup with Bacon Brittle.

DECEMBER

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First, another postcard from our late summer visit Iceland, the fantastic Viking Sushi Boat Excursion.

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More travel, but this time in the form of an educational visit to Almeria and Murcia to learn about their agricultural Green Revolution.

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And my latest recipe, a choice of two recipes for lemongrass and coconut ice cream and decorative dried pineapple flowers with chilli.

 

Alongside all of that has been a steady flow of restaurant reviews, lots more Meet The Blogger interviews, some cookery book reviews and recipes featuring home grown produce from our garden and allotment.

This year I finally also joined instagram which I’ve really been enjoying, sharing the little food experiences (and wider life ones) that don’t make it onto Kavey Eats. This has proved particularly food fun during my travels, with friends kindly letting me know how much they’ve appreciated travelling along with me via the images and captions.

To readers old and new, thank you for taking the time to visit Kavey Eats. If you enjoy a post, a recipe, a tip or a story, do please leave me a comment with your thoughts or feedback. I love hearing from you.

Wishing you all the best for 2015!

 

In retrospect, the Showstoppers theme for Bloggers Scream For Ice Cream was perhaps a little intimidating. The implied requirement for fiddliness, extra effort and fancy presentation didn’t sit well with the demands on our time that are an inevitable part of the season of merriment (aka hustle and bustle). Still, the entries from those who joined in are beautiful, delicious and inspiring. And they don’t all need enormous time, effort or skill!

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I love the contradiction inherent Vanesther of Banger & Mash’ decision to make this incredible Swiss Roll Ice Cream Cake; while she was diligently performing her morning exercises as part of her get-healthy-lose-weight kick, she was also watching cookery programmes on the telly at the same time, which tempted her to make something sweet. Inspired by a Lorraine Pascale recipe, the beauty of this rather fancy-looking dome of tastiness is that it makes use of ready-made Swiss role, a little rum, brandy or apple juice and ready-made ice cream of your choice. Doesn’t it look fantastic?!

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My own effort – Lemongrass & Coconut Ice Cream with Dried Chilli Pineapple Flowers – was partly inspired by a dessert we enjoyed at a Japanese restaurant and partly by Pinterest images of dried pineapple flowers. In the end, the extremely simplified dish I made wasn’t quite the extravagant showstopper I originally envisaged, but I was chuffed to bits with how both elements turned out and added a little indoors sparkler for extra bling. I trialled a few different recipes for the ice cream and have shared a vegan version and a non-vegan no-churn version.

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Like me, Jo from Jo’s Kitchen is a fan of making delicious treats quickly and easily, and also of incorporating leftovers. Here she puts some leftover mincemeat to great use by mixing it into vanilla ice cream and making Mini Mincemeat Ice Cream Bombes. Jo points you at the recipe she uses to make vanilla ice cream, but also advises that you can use good quality shop bought. I imagine the mince meat would also work well mixed into shop-bought vanilla custard and churned from scratch. These are formed in individual moulds, so you could play around with the shape of your mould for extra impact.

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Helen has become the queen of styling, creating really evocative images, particularly her seasonal ones, such as this beautiful Christmas Pudding Ice Cream Bombe. Helen’s inspiration was the thought of what she might serve for Christmas celebrated in warmer climes, though with modern central heating, I think it would go down a treat here too, especially after a traditional and rather heavy Christmas roast! For this bombe she uses a classic no-churn recipe and adds orange zest, brandy and mince meat for flavour and texture.

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Monica from Smarter Fitter has pulled together four beautiful elements to create her showstopper Bourbon and Spiced Pecan Ice Cream – spiced pecans, which she’s since made again to serve on their own, vanilla ice cream, bourbon and home made waffle cones. Having made a bourbon ice cream myself earlier this year (mine with burnt apple rather than spiced pecan) I can say with confidence that bourbon in ice cream is heavenly. Am salivating for this spiced pecan version!

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A new #BSFIC theme for January will go up on the 1st!

 

Some people are quick to blame the internet for the downfall of courtesy, culture, community, the breakdown of society… you name it. Social media in particular is singled out as a poor substitute for “real” social interaction, dismissed as a tool beloved by the socially awkward. But many of us know this for the fallacy it so clearly is; having supplemented rather than replaced our real world social lives with a global web of friendships based on shared interests and discussions held online, we understand that the internet has simply opened up more of the world to us. Instead of struggling to find people within our local communities that share a love of the topics that arouse our interests, we can look further afield and make connections with folks from far-flung places. I know that these connections are true and meaningful; having met in real life many very dear friends I first found online. To me, it feels like a modern version of penpals; I enjoyed corresponding with several when I was a little girl.

Celia, based in Sydney, Australia is one such friend. The chances of us meeting in real life are probably remote (though I live in hope), but somehow we connect via our shared love of food, growing our own fruit and vegetables and our family experiences. I adore Celia’s blog, Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. And in the few short minutes that we’re both online at the same time, early morning for one of us, late at night for the other, we exchange a snatch of giggled messages before one of us starts their day and the other heads to bed.

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Hello and welcome, please introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

Morning lovely Kavey!

My husband Pete and I live with our now adult sons in an old house in the Inner West of Sydney, Australia. We bake our own sourdough bread, have chickens in the backyard and try to make as much as we can from scratch. A few years ago we ripped up the backyard lawn that no-one ever mowed and converted the space to large vegetable beds – we now have a messy, occasionally productive garden with mutant squash, rampant tomatoes and a resident frog.

We share our adventures through our blog Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. It’s an inconsistent rambling record of our lives with recipes, photos and the occasional post about cats pouncing on testicles.

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

Not really! We were making fig jam and lime cordial the weekend that I started the blog, so that became the name!

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Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!

Oh the infamous “Apricot Lamb”. For some reason, I decided that since I’d enjoyed my mother’s apricot chicken as a small child, I was sure to love apricot lamb made with tinned apricots in syrup. It’s become a standard warning now whenever my food combinations get a little too “creative” – “beware the apricot lamb”…

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You blog regularly about bread baking and chocolate-making; what is it about bread and chocolate that appeals to you so strongly?

You know, after tempering and baking for nearly ten years, I *still* feel clever whenever my chocolates pop out of their moulds cleanly, or when a loaf of sourdough rises and browns to perfection. I find it incredibly soul-satisfying – there’s something very rewarding about seeing the finished products lined up on the bench!

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish more than the others on your shelf?

I’m a big Jamie Oliver fan from his Naked Chef days – I find his recipes work consistently well. Adore Hugh FW – his River Cottage series inspired much of our lifestyle. Lately I’ve been drawn to chef authors such as April Bloomfield, David Tanis and Fergus Henderson. Oh, and I’ve always been a Jacques Pepin fan – the very first cooking show I ever watched was his Today’s Gourmet series. In bread terms, I’m particularly fond of Dan Lepard’s The Handmade Loaf and Richard Bertinet’s Dough – both were integral to my baking journey.

If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

Ooh, now there’s a question Kavey. Hmm. Chestnut flour brownies for dessert, and I’d work backwards from there. Lots of sourdough, baked that morning. Maybe a pulled pork based main – I’ve been a bit obsessed with pulled pork this year!

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What’s the single piece of kitchen equipment you wouldn’t be without? (It doesn’t have to be electrical)

I had the perfect silicone spoon – it had a wooden handle with a silicone head with *just* the right amount of resistance in it when pushing food around a frypan. Eventually the head cracked and the handle splintered, and I spend a year looking for a replacement. I eventually found the perfect substitute by Chasseur – and bought six of them. As one does.

What’s your kitchen white elephant?

The bloody box grater. It’s not a true white elephant in that it does get used, but we can’t seem to get one that does what we want! The first one was sharp, but all the plastic cracked when it went through the dishwasher, and the one we bought to replace it was rubbish. The quest continues…

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Is there a particular cuisine or style of cooking that you seek out most often when dining out? What about when cooking at home?

When we do dine out, which isn’t very often, we look for culturally interesting cuisine – something new and interesting that we haven’t tried before. I would happily never eat at a fine dining restaurant again – I’d much rather have large shared platters and pots of stew!

Which single dish could you not live without?

Hainanese Chicken Rice

What do you love about eating out?

I’ve finally figured out that I don’t like eating out much at all. I love spending time with friends, but honestly, we could eat in a food court for all I care. I’m rarely excited about restaurant food, and even when I am, I often can’t remember what I ate the next day. Cooking at home is different – those taste memories seem to be stored in a different part of my brain.

What are the biggest turn offs for you, when eating out?

Snobby service first, followed by bland food.

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Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?

I think I’ve become better at structuring a post, but I don’t think the style has changed much. My friends often tell me they can “hear” my voice in my posts, which makes me very happy. I’m not very consistent with content – I’ve always just blabbed on about whatever I’m interested in at any given time, and that’s not always food. Or it might be three bread posts in a row, which probably bores many of my readers silly (the ones I know ring me up to tell me).

What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?

Playing with crystal beads and turning loops in wire – I’m having a brief jewellery making revival at the moment. I’ve sent out a heap of sourdough starter to friends and we’ve all been baking virtually over Twitter – I’ve been loving that! I’ve discovered the most perfect candied orange segments and have been dipping them in tempered origin dark chocolate – I can’t seem to stop because I keep eating the ones I’m making to give away.

ttb

Spread the love

Blog URL: http://figjamandlimecordial.com/
Twitter handle: https://twitter.com/celiafigjam

 

Enjoyed this interview? Read the rest of my Meet The Blogger series, here.

Dec 242014
 

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Christmas Market in Cathedral Square, Vilnius

 

A few weeks ago, I was invited to Almeria and Murcia, two neighbouring regions in Southern Spain, to learn more about their agricultural practices and produce.

1 Agrobio – Biological Pollination & Pest Control

We started with a fascinating visit to Agrobio, a company that produces and sells bumblebees for pollination and a wide range of insects for biological pest control. Before a tour of the bee production facilities, we learned more about the use of bees for pollination from researchers Isabel Mendizábal and David Morales.

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Isabel and David at Agrobio

Tomato crops were used as an example; tomato flowers are not naturally very attractive to pollinating insects, so farmers need to intervene. In the past, farmers have employed a variety of techniques to pollinate their tomatoes; the use of hormones (which cheat the flower into thinking they are pollinated but result in poor quality seeds, poor setting of fruit and also need human intervention every few days to spray) or the use of blowers and vibrators (intended to release pollen by blowing or shaking it loose from the flowers, but expensive and not very effective).

But bees have proved to be more effective and cheaper and they result in perfect fruit setting.

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Hive bees won’t pollinate tomatoes as there is no nectar in the flowers; once the first few bees from a hive visit the field, they’ll pass on information to the rest of their hive that there’s no nectar in that location. But bumblebees don’t communicate in this way, so each bee will merrily visit any tomato flower it encounters. Additionally, bumblebees don’t store food, so they will leave the colony box to find flowers every day.

Once farmers switch to using bees for pollination, they usually switch to biological pest control too; chemical pesticides often cause bees to die, not to mention the residues of chemicals that remain in the produce. To make matters worse, pests develop resistance to widely used chemicals over time, meaning that farmers must use ever increasing amounts to protect their crops from the same pests.

Indeed, Almeria’s farming community suffered a catastrophic blow in 2006, when Greenpeace published a report about its discovery (in German supermarkets) of unacceptably high levels of pesticide residues in produce from the region, including pesticides not permitted to be used in the EU. The supermarkets in question quickly switched to non-Spanish producers, but the scandal grew as more European vendors tested for and detected the same residues and stopped buying from Almeria. Brussels placed the offending chemical on its blacklist and with that, Almeria could no longer sell affected produce within the EU. The blow to the economy was severe and resulted in unusually rapid and wholesale changes to the industry; in 2005 just 300 hectares in the region used biological pest control, now 27,000 hectares in the region do so.  The use of chemicals dropped drastically; indeed Almeria has become a global showcase for farming with minimal use of chemicals. The regional public administration also support the change, keen to ensure the problem does not arise again; they provide subsidies, training and other resources to support the agricultural community.

Said Isabel of the change; “We passed from an example of what you must not do in agriculture to an example of what you must do.

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The process of growing bees is utterly fascinating. Agrobio selectively breed different species of bumblebees for different regions around the world. For example, the UK bumblebee is a different subspecies to the ones found elsewhere in Europe. If Agrobio were to sell UK farmers the European subspecies, it would breed with our native bumblebees and our unique subspecies would be lost. For this reason, Agrobio produce a number of difference species and subspecies of bumblebees for their various farmers around the world.

By clever use of a series of temperature and light controlled rooms, Agrobio are able to mimic the various lifecycle stages of the bumblebee and produce the bees all year round. We explore the various rooms, blinking in bright lights as huge bumblebees buzz around us, a row of workers gently picking individuals and placing them into boxes; we squint in dark red lit rooms in which bees are in a state of hibernation, and even see a tray of dozing ones transferred from one very cold room to another. In the last room, boxes of bees are carefully packaged, along with a feeder of nectar, ready for transport to the customer.

Agrobio provide bumblebee colonies in two types of boxes suitable for use in a greenhouse or outdoors; the indoor boxes have more ventilation to allow the heat to dissipate; outdoor boxes are better protected against the weather.

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As with the bees, breeding insects for biological pest control isn’t straightforward; agrobio perform extensive research to determine which insects are the best natural predators for the various pests that plague farmers, with the choice depending on crop varieties, climate and geographical location. They then produce and sell the relevant insects in large quantities. Although they do a lot of research to improve the efficacy of their biological pest control species, they are keen to point out that there is no genetic manipulation involved, just careful use of selective breeding to favour natural characteristics. With some insects, it’s a case of breeding them in large numbers, packing them in suitable bottles, tubes and boxes and shipping them to farmers for release. With some insects, particularly parasitoids, the pregnant females don’t travel well so instead they will allow the parasitoids to impregnate some of the pest species, send those out to the farmers, and once released into the greenhouses, the parasitoids hatch and breed, and lay their next generation of eggs within the pests of the greenhouse.

 

2 Clisol – The Future of Farming

Lola Gómez Ferrón is a fruit and vegetable grower who embraced biological, sustainable farming long before the rest of the region were forced to follow suit. It’s a family business which she inherited from her parents, and she and her husband now employ just 6 staff to help them look after 2.2 hectares of land. The average figure, she explains, is around 3 people per hectare, but of course it depends on what you’re growing and how you are growing it. Tomatoes, for example, need much more effort than melons!

The first thing that most visitors to the region notice, even before they land, is that the vast majority of agricultural land is covered in greenhouses. Looking down, as your flight comes in or takes off, you cannot fail to notice the extensive coverage of green and white plastic tunnels across the landscape.

Lola explains the history of local greenhouses:

The Almeria region has a unique semi-desert climate which is warm enough for many fruit and vegetables to be grown outdoors. However, the region suffers from blasting winds, often 100 days of the year or more, which destroy crops and made farming very difficult. Around 50 years ago, farmers in the region began to put up traditional greenhouses – the regular structures used elsewhere, with plastic coverings. These succeeded in protecting crops from the wind but also conferred an additional benefit – Almerian farmers discovered they could now grow produce throughout the winter, when the rest of Europe could not. Year round produce became central to the economic success of the region’s agriculture.

The original greenhouses were flat, but rainwater collected on top and often caused the structure to collapse; that lead to a change in the shape of the greenhouses, most of which now have a 10-12% gradient roof angle to allow for water to run off without weighing down or damaging them.

The extra heat provided by the plastic coverings was a boon in winter, but in summer, the heat was too intense. Rather than remove the plastic coverings from such vast areas of land, local farmers developed a system of whitewashing the plastic during the summer to reflect away much of the heat, and then washing the plastic back to green for the winter. Many of the greenhouses are quite low in height, which makes it easier for the farmers to clamber on top to paint or clean.

Other changes include improved ventilation; earlier greenhouses required manual opening and closing of vents but the newest models are fully automated and computer controls open and close vents on different sides of the structure according to sensors monitoring temperatures within the greenhouse and wind direction outside. (Plants being such efficient producers of oxygen, need ventilation to blow out excess oxygen and bring in fresh carbon dioxide).

Greenhouse coverings now make use of photo-selective plastics which reflect light in such a way that some pests such as aphids and whitefly are less likely to enter.

We also learn why Lola has moved away from traditional soil-based agriculture to hydroponics:

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Lola has one greenhouse still using the traditional system, which allows her to show visitors the differences between this and her newer hydroponic systems.

The soil in this region is poor. Traditionally, farmers used to add a 50 cm layer of fertile soil imported from elsewhere, on top of the local orange soil. Then they would add 2-3 cm of manure and then 12-15 cm of protective sand above that. To plant the crops, the sand was moved aside, the seedling planted into the soil below, and the sand moved back into place. But after 5 or 6 years, all the goodness in that imported soil was depleted and the farmers faced the enormous task of removing the top layer of sand and replacing the soil once again. It was an arduous and expensive cycle.

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Lola grows both tomatoes and peppers using her closed-system hydroponics techniques

Lola has instigated closed-water system hydroponics in several of her newer greenhouses. She uses coconut husk purchased from India, where it’s a discarded by product of coconut farming. All the nutrients required are added to the water, which circulates within the closed system. Nothing leaches into the soil; nothing enters the water table. Again, specialist sensors detect when plants need more water, and allow controlling computers to direct the flow as required. When the plants are young, they are fed by clean fresh water. That water is recycled through the closed system repeatedly. By the time the plants are older, the water has been recycled numerous times, but the older plants are able to handle that. Lola is convinced that in the future, most if not all farming will use closed-water hydroponics systems – no contamination of the land or water table and very efficient use of water – an increasingly limited resource.

Lola uses biological pollination and pest control, and is pleased that the price has dropped as more and more farmers adopt the approach, and companies like Agrobio (she uses a competitor) are able to increase volumes and reduce prices. Things are constantly evolving as more research leads to greater understanding; where once the sticky insect traps – placed on greenhouse walls to attract and trap pests – were bright blue, they are now a much paler blue. Why? Because recent spectrum research has discovered that the brighter blue attracts both pests and pest control insects but the paler blue attracts only the unwanted pests.

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Lola smiles as she tells us that she loves her plants as she loves her children; “a plant lives, grows, thinks, moves – it’s the same, not less, than people”.

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After teaching us so much about the history, current practices and future of farming in the region, Lola also shares some of her personal tips for tomato growing, several of which could readily be implemented by a home grower. I’ll be sharing those with you next year, as I’m eager to give them a try myself. Lastly, we enjoy a fine feast of farm fresh produce served with local olive oil and honey.

You may enjoy this short BBC Video filmed in Almeria last year, which features Lola and showcases her hydroponic tomato greenhouses.

 

3 Agromark – Traceability of Produce

Agromark in Murcia is a successful fruit and vegetable farming business owned and run by three brothers. One of the brothers, Carlos Doménech Llopis, gives us a tour of one of their broccoli farms, telling us that an impressive 80% of the broccoli consumed in Europe during late autumn and winter is grown right here in Murcia.

Like Almeria, Murcia boasts a microclimate that allows them to grow crops throughout the winter. Unlike Almeria, it doesn’t have ferocious winds to deal with, indeed Carlos tells us a little more wind would be very welcome when it comes to ventilating their greenhouses!

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Before visiting the greenhouses, we learn how seeds are processed by the rather grand Urbinati potting machine; I find it utterly mesmerising. Soil is imported from Estonia (and on occasion from Scotland) and fed into the machine which breaks it up, fills it into the seed trays and pushes a small hole into each pot. Today, Agromark are using seeds purchased from Malaysia; a variety called Calabrese Broccoli F1 Hybrid Parthenon. The bright blue coating protects the seeds and also makes it easy to identify the source; each seed company uses a different colour coating for their seeds. A vacuum system sucks individual seeds onto a rotating cylinder and releases them into the seed trays below. These are then covered with vermiculite, a mineral-rich rock that expands when heated, providing a superlight covering for the seeds that locks in moisture and leaches beneficial minerals.

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After potting, the seed trays are transferred into a climate-controlled room for 48 hours, during which time they germinate. Once germinated, the seedlings spend 35-55 days in the greenhouses before being transplanted to the fields outside. The consistency of temperatures in the germination room and greenhouses ensures a 99% success rate for germination; much higher than can be achieved outside.

In the greenhouse, we are shown seedlings at various stages. Each seedbed is meticulously labelled to show the variety, the date they were sown, any feeds or chemicals applied and so on. This commitment to traceability fulfils stringent requirements from customers including Sainsbury’s and Waitrose in the UK and other supermarkets and distributors across Europe.

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When it comes to the other end of the process, Agromark are keen to pick, package and distribute the produce as quickly as possible. To this end they’ve developed a process whereby workers walk through the field, cutting only the heads of broccoli that are fully grown and in good condition; these are dropped onto a conveyor belt that carries them into a mobile packing shed where they are cut, wrapped, labelled and packed into crates within minutes.

 

Coming soon, a round up of traditional food in the two regions.

Kavey Eats travelled to Almeria and Murcia on behalf of the We Care You Enjoy campaign, funded by Hortyfruta and ProExport.

 

Few blogs make me as hungry while reading as baking blogs, and London Bakes is another of my favourites. Kathryn focuses on gluten-free baking, sharing a wide range of delicious baked treats.

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Hello and welcome, plea­se introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

Hello, my name is Kathryn and I write the blog London Bakes. I describe it as a mostly gluten free baking blog – so many people are intimated by gluten free baking and recipes that call for seven different types of flour but I like to keep my approach as simple as possible and show that baked goods without gluten can be just as good, if not better, than their flour-filled counterparts.

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

I actually can’t remember what my blog’s original name was! It was something that I set up years ago and was more reflective of my aim at the time to write more of a personal/lifestyle blog than a food blog. As my focus narrowed to baking, I decided to change it to something which represented that better and so London Bakes was born.

Why did you choose to blog about baking?

For the last year or so, nearly all of my recipes have been gluten free. Whilst I can tolerate gluten without any problems, I often bake for family members who have coeliac disease and I like to make sure that they can eat everything that comes out of my kitchen. The more I bake gluten free, the more I enjoy the challenge that it presents and I find it so much more interesting than regular baking.

Does blogging about baking present any particular challenges?

Gluten free flours can be temperamental so it often takes a while to get a recipe that I’m happy with and there are some recipes that I just can’t seem to get, however hard I try (a good gluten free lemon tart eludes me, for one).

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Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!

I have a bad habit of dropping cakes when taking them out of the oven and it’s nearly always when they’re for a specific event rather than just because I fancied baking a cake. One Saturday morning I was making a two layer chocolate cake for a family party and I dropped both layers on the floor. I’m afraid I burst into tears and went to wake my boyfriend up so he could clean up the mess while I sulked in the other room!

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

I use a lot of nuts in my baking – the bottom drawer of my fridge is filled with them in various states (whole, chopped, ground) – and I couldn’t be without a bottle of extra virgin olive oil. I use it often in place of butter in my baking and love drizzling a little over vanilla ice cream.

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

Definitely Nigel Slater. I use his book a lot and if I’m googling to find a recipe and one of his pops up, I’ll inevitably use it (and love it). He just makes the kind of food that I like to eat.

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If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

I’ve learnt my lesson from too many dinner parties where I’ve been stuck in the kitchen all night, trying to plate up an excessively complicated meal – now I’m much more likely to serve up something like a big lasagne with a side salad so that I can spend more time with you and less time stressing out in another room!

If we were meeting for a meal out, which restaurant would you choose?

I know this is a restaurant that Kate mentioned in your interview with her but I’d have to say The Truscott Arms too. Maybe we should organise a big blogger meet up there! [sounds good to me!]

If we were to take a trip together, where would we go?

I’ve loved reading all the posts that you’ve written about Japan and the enthusiasm that you have for the country (and the food!) so maybe you could show me round? It’s not somewhere that I’ve ever been and I would love to go there.

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Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?

I definitely blogged more frequently when I first started but I soon realised that wasn’t sustainable. Now I focus on getting out a post every week or so but ensuring that it’s something that I’m proud to post rather than just posting for sake of it. I hope that my photography has improved over time as well but it’s one of the parts of blogging that I most struggle with.

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

For me it’s definitely balancing blogging with work/home. I’ve been travelling a lot recently with my job and I’ve had to neglect the blog a little as there’s just hasn’t been enough time to fit it in.

What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?

I think blogging pushes me to get more adventurous in the kitchen and experiment with new ingredients and techniques. I also love the fact that having to come up with a new post forces me to think about something other than my fay job for a few hours a week.

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What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?

I have a long and enduring love for using buckwheat flour in my kitchen – I use it for muffins, cookies, cakes, waffles, pancakes, everything really! It’s the most well-behaved flour I’ve come across and I love the slight grassy flavour that it has; it works so well with chocolate and winter spices like ginger and cinnamon.

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What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

I’m not sure if it’s the most popular post ever but the most popular post this year by far is these flourless salted dark chocolate cookies. They’re very easy to make but super, super chocolate-y which is all that I really want in a recipe!

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

Maybe the plum, ginger and almond cake that I made earlier this year? I think it’s one of the absolute prettiest cakes I’ve made (although I haven’t set the bar particularly high) and it’s really delicious.

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Spread the love

Blog URL: http://londonbakes.com
Facebook page: http://facebook.com/londonbakes
Twitter handle: http://twitter.com/londonbakes
Pinterest profile http://www.pinterest.com/londonbakes
Instagram handle: http://instagram.com/londonbakes

 

Enjoyed this interview? Read the rest of my Meet The Blogger series, here.

 

I visited Colombia about thirty years ago on a family holiday that also took us to Brazil, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. Though I still have memories of Bogotá – I remember the statue of Simon Bolivar in Plaza de Bolivar, the flamboyant Iglesia del Carmen and being driven around the old town areas – there’s a gap when it comes to remembering the food.

Luckily, Proexport Colombia recently invited me to attend a Colombian Cooking Masterclass in the Ambassador’s beautiful residence in Chester Square.

We spent a happy hour in the small basement kitchen, where renowned Colombian chefs Juanita Umaña and Diana García talked to us about ingredients and demonstrated several dishes, inviting us to touch, smell, taste and to get involved. We ate Colombian specialities straight out of the fryer and scribbled down tips and tricks before taking our seats in the ambassador’s dining room for a multi-course feast.

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The snacks we made with Juanita and Diana both featured yuca (manioc) flour. Pasteles de yuca croquettes stuffed with a spicy beef and egg mixture. Arepas (corn cakes) were double-fried – dough was rolled out, cut into discs, fried for a few minutes, then a slit carefully so that an egg could be dropped inside before being fried again. Arepas are most commonly made quite large, but Juanita and Diana made individual ones using quails eggs before creating a larger one with a hen egg.

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For lunch we were served a variety of dishes, all traditional favourites in Colombia. My fellow diners were particularly taken with the Ajiaco Santafereño (chicken and potato soup) but my favourites were the mixed seafood en leche de coco (in coconut milk), the Posta Negra Cartagenera (Cartagena braised beef), the dulce de leche crème brûlée and the sandwich of Oblea wafers and dulce de leche.

Recipe: Posta Negra Cartagenera (Cartagena Braised Beef)

Serves 6

Ingredients
Posta

1 tail of rump or rump tip of 3lb with its fat
1.5 teaspoon salt
0.5 teaspoon pepper
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon vinegar or 2 tablespoons bitter orange juice
Braising Liquid
3 tablespoons oil
4 sweet chili peppers, seeded and chopped
3 white onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tomatoes, chopped
Salt to taste

Method

  • Place the meat in a bowl or pan and marinate with salt, pepper, garlic and vinegar or bitter orange juice. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours.
  • Remove the meat from the refrigerator. Heat the oil in a pot over high heat and brown the meat on all sides, starting with the fat, until obtaining a dark caramel colour all over.
  • Add sweet chili peppers, onion, and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes.
  • Add tomatoes and pour in enough hot water to cover a third of the meat.
  • Braise for 45 minutes over medium heat to medium doneness. If you want it done more, place in a 350° F (180 °C) oven for 40 minutes more, or depending on your preference.
  • Remove the meat from the pot and let sit for some minutes.
  • Cut it in thin slices.
  • Adjust seasoning. If the sauce formed in the pot has dried out, add some hot water and reduce a bit, for all the flavours to integrate and obtain a nice gravy.
  • Serve the meat with its gravy, fried coconut rice and salad on the side.

 

Kavey Eats was a guest of Proexport Colombia. The recipe for Cartagena Braised Beef, published with permission, is from Colombia Cocina de Regiones, edited and published by MNR Comunicaciones y Ediciones, an authoritative book on the recipes of Colombia, with contributions from Juanita Umaña and Diana García.

 

A health-focused, almost-vegetarian wellbeing blogger (not me) and a hedonistic lover of all the things that are bad for you (that’d be me, for the avoidance of any doubt) might not be considered natural bosom buddies and yet, Monica Shaw and I have become dear friends. We’ve even had drunken conversations about bosoms, come to think of it. We first met during a press trip to Cornwall a few years ago and have remained friends ever since, meeting up for gentle weekends of cooking, eating, drinking, playing board games, listening to music and generally relaxing. Everyone needs weekends (and friends) like this in their life.

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Hello and welcome, plea­se introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

My name is Monica Shaw – I’m an American – and a Brit! I hail from Chicago but moved to the UK about 7 years ago, got my citizenship, and I guess now this place (the Wiltshire countryside) is home to me. I make my living doing social media and web analytics for small and large companies, and while I’m a geek at heart, I’m equally crazy about food and, for lack of a better word, wellness.

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

SmarterFitter is all about how to be awesome by making sound choices. My content focuses on recipes, stories and tips for living a “smarter” and “fitter” life in all aspects: food, fitness, work, play… as a geek, I come at it from a sometimes nerdy angle. But my aim is to use my logical mind to not only make sound choices in my own life, but also to pass on reasoned, quality information to my readers.

My blog mostly focuses on vegetarian, vegan and raw food but I myself am not a vegetarian (though I was for over 10 years, and why I’m not anymore is probably the subject for another interview!).

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Why did you choose to blog about vegetarian food?

Simple: I’m obsessed with vegetables, and my diet is about 90% plant based, so this is what comes naturally to me.

Does blogging about vegetarian food present any particular challenges?

Only when people realise I’m not a vegetarian and get a little huffy!

Rachel and Yotam Sweet potato and black bean chili

What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?

I’m very lucky to work with Rachel Demuth who runs Demuths Cookery School in Bath. Her vegetarian and vegan cuisine is a revelation. Many vegetarian cooks focus on replacing meat. But for Rachel, it’s all about the veg, and creating beautiful dishes that are inherently vegetarian, drawing on her experiences travelling all over the world. Her Mexican cookery is a particular favourite. In fact, hers is the best Mexican food I’ve ever had (particularly her tamales and her frijoles refritos negros), and that’s saying a lot – I used to live in Austin, Texas where Mexican food was a staple!

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

Avocado. Avocado. Avocado. Well, I could live, but there would be an avocado-shaped hole in my heart if I had to go without.

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

Mark Bittman and his book How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

Warm tofu with sesame garlic sauce, because I know you love it!

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What’s been your favourite destination thus far and why did you love it so much? Can you share a favourite memory from the trip?

By far, Kate’s Kitchen at Camont in Gascony for a food photography workshop with two extremely talented people – Tim Clinch and Kate Hill – in one of the most beautiful places in the world. A favourite memory is the “apricot tart moment”. We spent the day photographing Kate as she went through the process of making an apricot tart. It was a stunning dish and made for beautiful photography. Then went out to the night market in Vianne, returned home drunkenly in need of sustenance, so we hacked into the tart, eating it off of napkins. I took an Instagram photo of the tart, on the napkin, half-eaten, totally unstyled, and launched into a rant about how “this” is what food photography is all about: the moment in which the food is actually enjoyed, not some super-styled setup that bears no resemblance to how the dish is actually shared and consumed. But you know what, after the rosé wore off, I realised that my rant was the manifestation of a subconscious belief that I had repressed (food styling pressure and all that). Now, I am to make my photography a reflection of what’s real, even if it isn’t always pretty.

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Which destination is at the top of your foodie travel wish list? (nb: can make it a top 3 if prefer)

India.

What’s the very first trip you remember taking?

Road trips to Ohio from Chicago to visit my dad’s side of the family. Amazing pies. Terrible tinned vegetables.

Where are you going next?

Camont again for Christmas!

What three things can you never travel without?

Keys, wallet, phone.

If we were to take a trip together, where would we go?

Japan, of course.

Raw Raspberry Cheesecake Chargrilled Romanesco Cauilflower Salad

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

Time. I work full time and some of the work I do is very brain-intensive, so often at the end of the day I feel too zapped creatively to write anything worth reading.

What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?

Trying to keep up with all the prolific bloggers out there who have an amazing capacity to keep cranking out content.

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What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?

I’m currently on a 7-Day Juice Feast so I’m all about the fresh-pressed juices and smoothies at the moment. My favourite thing is taking fresh juice and blending it up with avocado for a silky smooth creamy meal in a glass, which I eat with a spoon. Garnishes are also one of my big loves – on smoothies, the best thing ever is a trio of pumpkin seeds, coconut flakes and bee pollen. Ok, and maybe a sprinkle of coarse sea salt.

DIY Vitamin Water

What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

32 Natural Ways to Flavour Water though I much prefer the runner up, 11 Immediately Gratifying Things You Can Do Right Now To Improve Your Health.

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

My beloved (and extremely photogenic) dog Rocky recently passed away. As a tribute, I’ve created a book and calendar of Rocky photos, both of which I’m selling to raise money for Hope Rescue, a charity and rescue centre where I adopted Rocky from. The calendar costs just £6 – a small price to pay for a little Rocky in your life, and a little £££ to help those precious pooches who haven’t yet found their forever home.

Spread the love

Blog URL http://smarterfitter.com
Facebook page http://facebook.com/smarterfitter
Twitter handle http://twitter.com/monicashaw
Pinterest profile http://pinterest.com/smarterfitter
Instagram handle http://pinterest.com/smarterfitter

 

Enjoyed this interview? Read the rest of the series, here.

 

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For my birthday, Pete and I enjoyed a wonderful lunch at Kurobuta – Scott Hallsworth’s modern Japanese restaurant. Most of the dishes blew me away (especially the Mushrooms with Gorgonzola, Miso and Pinenuts which I simply can’t stop thinking about).

The dessert in particular inspired me to play with some of the same flavours for a showstopper of my own. Designed by Filip Gemzell (Kurobuta’s executive pastry chef) and brand new on the menu the week of our visit, the spiced kombu compressed pineapple, coconut & lemongrass sorbet, caramel, lemon sponge, crumble was a beautifully balanced dish with lots of flavours and textures to enjoy. Gemzell kindly provided me with some extra information about the pineapple, which he compresses (under vacuum) with kombu, green chilli, red pepper, lemongrass, Szechuan pepper, vanilla, salt and sugar. He left me in the dark about his coconut and lemongrass sorbet but the light, refreshing combination was one I just couldn’t forget.

I decided against compressing the pineapple, and drastically reduced the flavouring ingredients to just one – powdered red chilli. But what to do with the pineapple if I was not going to compress it?

This time, inspiration came from Pinterest where I first found beautiful images of dried pineapple flowers, but no instructions, prompting a search that lead me to several blog recipes, most citing Martha Stewart for the original idea.

Gemzell calls his frozen element a sorbet, presumably because coconut is a fruit and there’s no dairy in the recipe. But as the rich, creamy coconut milk gives a texture more like ice cream than my mental image of a sorbet, I’m calling mine an ice cream. I tried several different recipes for the ice cream, of which I’m sharing two below.

The first recipe is suitable for vegans and uses corn flour to thicken coconut milk to make a custard-like base. You can either infuse fresh lemongrass during the heating process or add ground dried lemongrass or lemongrass extract.

The second recipe is an adaptation of my usual quick and easy no churn ice cream but the use of condensed milk means it’s not suitable for vegans.

Earlier this year, I was sent some samples of a new product by Rhythm Health – fresh coconut milk from the Philippines, no additives, first-press only and suitable for gluten-free, dairy free, vegetarian and vegan diets. I admit I was dubious about how much difference I’d notice but both Pete and I were blown away at the how good the flavour was was when we used the first pouch in an Indian curry and a second in a Thai Massaman. The only downside is that, unlike the canned coconut milk I bought previously, this fresh product has a fairly short shelf life (and I was told that it’s not suitable for freezing). Luckily, I live a couple of minutes walk from a health food shop that now stocks this product, which is where I purchased the pouches I used for this recipe.

Rhythm Health full fat coconut milk is really really thick, especially when at fridge temperature. If you want to try this recipe with canned coconut milk firstly, do make sure you buy the regular rather than reduced fat type. Then I suggest you leave the can to sit in a cupboard for several weeks so that the contents separate, as canned coconut milk is wont to do. Open the can carefully and drain away the thin liquid – use it in a curry or smoothie – retaining only the thickest milk for this recipe.

I originally intended to plate with some gently toasted and crumbled coconut macaroon biscuits and a little fresh pineapple and chilli compote, but time ran away from me. Certainly I think those with better styling skills and patience could create a far prettier presentation than I achieved here!

Of course, the dried pineapple flowers can be used to decorate all kinds of desserts; I’ve seen them used to great effect piled into an edible bouquet atop a large cake.

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How to Make Dried Chilli Pineapple Flowers

Ingredients
1 fresh, ripe pineapple
1-2 teaspoons red chilli powder

Note: Of course, you can omit the chilli if you prefer.

Method

  • Top and tail your pineapple, then stand it upright and cut away the rest of the peel, taking care not to cut away too much of the fruit itself.
  • Remove the ‘eyes’; some people prefer to cut them out individually but we find it easier to cut away v-shaped slivers in spiralling lines around the fruit.

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  • Slice the pineapple thinly, about 2-3 mm in thickness is ideal. (Note: if your pineapple isn’t fully ripe, it will be difficult to cut through the core, so do choose a properly ripe one for this recipe)
  • Lay pineapple slices onto a baking tray lined with a silicone baking mat or a sheet of baking parchment. Sprinkle a little chilli powder over each slice – I concentrated mine in the centre.
  • Bake in a low oven (100C / 215 F) for approximately an hour, turning over after half an hour. Check regularly, as the exact time will depend on the juiciness of your fruit and the exact thickness of the slices; yours may be dried more quickly, or need significantly longer than an hour.

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  • When the slices are fairly dried out (but not so dry that they are brittle), transfer them gently into a muffin tray to create a pleasing cupped shape, turn off the oven and leave the muffin tray in the closed oven as it cools.
  • Once dried, the flowers can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week, but the texture will gradually change from crisp to chewy, the longer they are kept.

Dairy-Free Lemongrass & Coconut Ice Cream Recipe (Vegan)

Ingredients
200 ml extra thick full fat coconut milk
50 grams sugar
1 tablespoon corn flour
small pinch sea salt
2-3 stalks of slightly crushed fresh lemongrass to infuse or 2 teaspoons ground dried lemongrass or 1 teaspoon lemongrass extract

Note: Infusing with fresh lemongrass imparts a more subtle lemongrass flavour. Adding dried or extract as an ingredient gives more of a kick.

Method

  • In a small bowl, very gently heat 1-2 tablespoons of coconut milk in a microwave for 10-20 seconds, then mix in the cornflour to make a smooth paste. Set aside.
  • In a pan, heat the remainder of the coconut milk with the sugar on a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the cornflour and coconut milk paste to the pan, along with the lemongrass.
  • Continue to cook on a gentle heat, stirring regularly, until the mixture thickens.
  • Remove from the heat. If using fresh lemongrass, remove now, squeezing out any milk from the stalks.
  • Leave the mixture to cool, then transfer into a storage container and refridgerate until cold.
  • Churn, according to the instructions on your ice cream machine. Transfer into a suitable container and freeze until needed.

No Churn Lemongrass & Coconut Ice Cream Recipe

Ingredients
200 ml extra thick full fat coconut milk
120 ml / 150 grams condensed milk
small pinch sea salt
2 teaspoons ground dried lemongrass or 1 teaspoon lemongrass extract

Method

  • Using an stand mixer or electric whisk, whisk the coconut milk briefly to loosen and aerate, then add the condensed milk, salt and lemongrass, and whisk again to combine thoroughly.
  • Transfer into a suitable container and freeze until solid.

 

Although it’s not quite as grand as I’d originally planned, I made this for the Blogger Scream For Ice Cream Showstoppers challenge. A few tweaks to the presentation, and I reckon it could certainly make an impressive dessert!

IceCreamChallenge mini

Kavey Eats received samples of Rhythm Health coconut milk earlier in the year. I have since purchased the product again from local stores.

 

I shared my pick of books already. Here’s the rest of my Christmas Gift Guide 2014.

Bordallo Pinheiro Melon Bowls

These gorgeously shaped and coloured Melon bowls, designed by Portuguese artist, Rafael Bordallo Pinheiro, are available in two sizes, 15 cm and 25 cm (£18.50 / £36.50). Bordallo’s pumpkin and orange designs are also lovely, but the melon ones are my favourite. Buy from Divertimenti.

 

Sous Chef Gift Sets

SC World Pepper SC Sakura Sake Set
SC Chinese Mooncake SC Fig Mostarda

It’s too hard to narrow down to just one; Sous Chef offer so many tempting gift sets which are just ideal for food and drink lovers this Christmas. My picks are the World Pepper Selection (£19.50), the Deluxe Sakura Sake Set (£39.50), the Chinese Mooncake Recipe Kit (£15) [why hasn’t anyone bought me this????] and a jar of fig mostarda (£8.50).

And don’t forget this Korean yuzu tea (£3.50), from which I made the most incredible (and easy) yuzu ice cream.

 

Lakeland Thermospatula

Thermospatula

I was ridiculously excited when I saw this at Lakeland’s preview show this summer. The Thermospatula is a silicone spatula and digital thermometer combined; no more awkwardness stirring the jam without dislodging the metal jam thermometer clipped insecurely to the side of the pan. The thermometer can be slipped out of the spatula and used on its own too – doubly handy. It’s really such a simple idea and one that’s utterly brilliant! I use mine to make jams and chutneys but it will also be very useful for those of you who temper chocolate at home. Buy Lakeland’s Thermospatula (£14.99), here.

 

Porto Sippers

sippers1 sippers2

At one of the feast dinners that are a highlight of the Oxford Food Symposium I sat next to a gentleman who delighted in showing us his nifty little sipper glass, designed to let you drink from the bottom of the glass where the fuller flavours are unchanged by the oxidisation on the surface. I don’t know how much of a difference this makes, but it was were certainly a talking point and I imagine the tulip shape collects the aromas affectively too. Drinkstuff sell a Decanter and Sippers set (currently £19.99) or a pair of sippers (currently £7.50).

 

Froothie Optimum 9400 Blender

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I’ve fallen hard for my fabulous new power blender and it’s been getting a lot of use during the last few months. We’ve made delicious soups, the smoothest custard bases for ice cream and quick fresh-fruit sorbets and we’ve only scratched the surface of what it can do. The Vitamix brand is better known in the UK, but this Australian power blender has a more powerful motor (which gives it a higher top RPM), a super sharp 6 blade assembly, a single jug for wet and dry, runs more quietly and is just a little over half the price of the Vitamix Pro 500. I hope it goes without saying that I would never recommend a product I didn’t wholeheartedly believe in; freebies don’t change that. I genuinely love my Optimum 9400 and can’t imagine making soups, custards or smoothies without it! As part of the ambassador campaign, I am able to offer readers an additional 2 years warranty free of charge on any Optimum appliance purchased via this (affiliate) link, and using the coupon code “Special Ambassador Offer” on checkout.

 

Straw Salt and Pepper Shakers

straw SP straw3 SP

I like the elegant simplicity of these straw-shaped salt and pepper shakers, £24 from Hidden Art. They can be propped up in a glass, laid flat alongside the cutlery and easily stored away in a drawer.

 

Star Wars Lookalites

starwarslookalites

These officially licensed “Stumpy Stormtrooper” and “Dumpy Darth Vader” table lamps are £19.99 each from Firebox. I know quite a few adults who’d love these as much as the kids might!

 

Carluccio’s

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carluccios4 carluccios5 carluccios6

Carluccio’s always tempt me with their sweet Christmas treats. This year, my favourites are the Meringhe di Gianduja (£9.95), Fichi al Rhum (£6.95), Ricciarelli almond cakes (£9.95), Lunettes d’Arancia (£6.95), Pistachio torrone (£6.95) and sponge cakes in Limoncello syrup (£6.95).

 

Tetris Cookie Cutters

tetriscookies

Also from Firebox are these Tetris cookie cutters. I first came across the idea on an American custom cookie maker website but they were too expensive, so I was happy to spot that this set is just £6.99.

 

Nutural World Nut Butters

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I met Mordechai Chachamu earlier this year and have been hugely impressed by his range of all-natural nut butters, which he sells under his brand Nutural World. The nuts and seeds are lightly toasted to bring out their flavours before being processed and bottled – no additives at all. Gorgeous flavours. Buy online at Nutural World.

 

Bananagrams

bananagrams

The perfect word game for any age group, Bananagrams (£10.59 from Amazon) comes in a handy pouch for travelling.

 

Nesting Babushkups

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These three matryoshka-decorated glass cups nest, like a Russian doll set. £12.50 from CubicUK.

 

Adagio Teas Samurai Sampler Set

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Check out my recent post on Adagio’s Sampler Sets, a lovely way to try a range of teas and the perfect gift for tea lovers. I recommend the Samurai Sampler Set at £9.

 

Let’s Cook Okonomiyaki

okonomiyakiset

Japan Centre has lots of food kits for anyone with an interest in Japanese food. This okonomiyaki kit is £16 and includes okonomiyaki flour, powdered seaweed, kewpie mayonnaise, pancake sauce, tempura flakes, pickled ginger and a recipe.

 

Fabulous Pong Cheese

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I’ve been sharing Pong Cheese with readers for a while now. How can anyone resist the allure of top quality cheese available by online order? Their Pong Christmas Explorer Box is £29.95, and of course you can browse their other collections or choose cheeses individually. Enter PONGKAVEY10 into the Discount Code box during checkout for 10% off your order (excluding delivery); valid till December 31st 2014.

 

T-Rex Meat Cuts

Trex

I can’t find this fabulous art print by Victor Calahan for sale via a UK website, but here it is for US $19 from Society6 in California, and the website is currently offering (at time of writing) free international shipping!

 

Master of Malt

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I love Master Of Malt and have bought a fair few gifts for Pete over the years, as have family and friends. Their Drinks by the Dram Christmas Crackers are available from their own site or from Amazon. Despite the name, Master of Malt are not just about whisky either – check out this History of Gin Tasting Set (£18.95) and this Premium Rum Tasting Set (£22.95).

 

Hotel Chocolat Christmas Range

Christmas Collection-2 Mini Stocking Truffle Xmas Tree
HC Butterscotch puddles HC Mulled Sultanas HC-mini-hazelnut-buche

I’ve already shared some of my favourites from this year’s Hotel Chocolat Christmas range, in my annual competition (closed) in which I gave away The Christmas Collection (£35), The Christmas Truffle Tree (£26) and the Dinky Christmas Stocking (£10). I can also recommend the mulled wine sultanas in chocolate (£8), the butterscotch puddles (£5.50) and the mini hazelnut yule logs (£3).

 

Lakeland Flare Pans

Flare Pan Flare Pot

I was drawn to these as soon as I saw them – on an aesthetic level alone they are absolutely beautiful; however, this new range have been developed for much more than their sleek sci-fi looks. The unusual flared ridges adorning the sides of the pans are designed specifically for use on a gas hob; they distribute the heat evenly across the base and up the sides which heats up the contents of the pan more quickly. Designed by Oxford Professor Dr. Thomas Povey whose expertise is thermodynamics applied to advanced jet engine design, the pans are formed from cast aluminium with stainless steel handles. They can be used on electric, ceramic and halogen hobs too, but you won’t get the faster cooking that they provide on gas. I love my Flare 20 cm saucepan (£64.99) but I’ve yet to do side-by-side comparisons with a regular pan to put this “fin-x” technology to the test. Regardless, it’s a gorgeous thing.

 

Moby Picks

mobypicks

Yes, I admit, I picked these purely for the punny name! Moby Picks, £12.90 from CubicUK.

 

Niederegger Marzipan

Niederegger fruits niederegger lovers box

This is another gift I hope to see under my tree every single year. Niederegger is the king of marzipan and whether you pick up this box of pretty marzipan fruits (£6.99 from Lakeland, or from Amazon) or a collection of different flavoured marzipans (500 grams £19.99 from Lakeland, 400 grams £18.99 from Amazon)

 

Melamine Children’s Plates

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Yellow_Robot_Plate Princess_Green_Plate Green_Monster_Plate

How cute are these melamine plates by French Bull, available for £5 each from Designed in Colour?

 

Snow Globe Salt and Pepper Shakers

gamagosnowglobeSP cactus shakers

These white and black bear snow globe salt and pepper shakers look so much fun! £10.99 from Amazon or £9.99 from LazyboneUK. Or how about hot and cold climate pine tree and cactus shakers, £14.99 from CubicUK?

 

Doki Ramen Bowls

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doki3 doki4

I love Doki’s range of Japanese tableware. Choose from their great selection of ramen bowls and other products.

 

Drinks List

leffe nectar kingsginger appleicewine harveys-pedro-ximenez-30-year-old-sherry
brownbrothersorangemuscat morrisonssigPX asdatasgall redemption-bigchief

Last but not least, here’s a selection of delicious drinks to warm you up this Christmas.

As if that weren’t enough, many of the gifts I suggested last year are still available, including the mammoth selection of tea towels!
Likewise, you may find inspiration in 2012’s gift guide too.
The same goes for my guide to tasty alcoholic tipples for the sweet-toothed.

My gift guide does not include any sponsored suggestions – I list only items that appeal to me personally. I came across some items at Christmas preview events and have also been provided review samples to test a few. The rest I found while browsing online stores. Links to Amazon, Froothie, Lakeland and Master of Malt are affiliate links. Please see affiliate box in sidebar.

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