Food as Gifts


Giving food as gifts can be a fantastic way to keep the cost of Christmas presents down, but also to show off your culinary skills to your nearest and dearest!

Mince pies, Christmas puddings and panetonne are all great options for taking to parties or pulling out of the bag on Christmas eve/Christmas day with the in-laws. But if you’re thinking about sending a little token to those further away, it’s better to go for a jam, preserve or chutney.

Collect your empty jars throughout the year and buy some pretty labels to ensure you get pride of place in any relie’s cupboard above the kettle!

I did this last year with blackberries. A bit of greaseproof paper around the lid with an elastic band gives a ‚”homely” look and a personalised label will have your gran thinking you’ve walked straight out of the Masterchef kitchen.

For a savoury alternative, try this courgette chutney. It’s a little bit exotic but still moorishly sweet. I made this for my mum’s Mother’s Day gift this year and baked her a fresh loaf of country grain bread to spread it all over! Had I not arrived at her house to find her making bread, this would have been a lot more effective I’m sure, but the chutney went down a treat and keeps in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

Food is a great way to bake, stir and fold your love into your Christmas presents – give it a go for 2012!

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Laab Neua – Thai Lettuce Rolls


It is very rare that I will choose to cook something I don’t think I will like, but with a pitiful Thai repertoire it is time to start being brave and trying new things.

This weekend, my flavour of the month, Rick Stein took me back to Thailand with his Laab Neua (lettuce rolls). His description goes a little something like this: Stir-fried minced beef with lemongrass, chilli and roasted rice rolled in lettuce leaves.

What this title doesn’t tell you is how unbelievably good the end result is once you’ve mixed in the lime juice, fish sauce, mint and coriander! Ok, so the ingredients may be very similar to the Waterfall Beef Salad, so maybe I’m not that brave, but mince outside of a cottage pie? That is a little bit unusual!

Rick Stein must have a steel lined mouth to cope with the amount of chilli he suggests in his recipe for 4 – I toned it down slightly and simply halved the ingredient quantities to feed 2 as a main course. This really is one of the easiest, tastiest and cheapest Thai dishes I’ve made, a great addition to the list and one that I will probably use to create an authentic starter at my next Thai dinner party! A great alternative to my usual (and very messy) spring rolls.

Here is my recipe to feed 2 (or 4 as a starter):

250g lean minced beef (turkey mince also works as a lower fat option but will require longer cooking)
2 lemongrass stalks – very thinly sliced
4 shallots – thinly sliced
Juice of 2 limes
1 tsp dried chillies – ground into a powder
1 large fresh red chilli – finely chopped
1-2 tbsp fish sauce (to taste)
handful of coriander – roughly chopped
small handful of mint leaves – roughly chopped
2 tbsp rice (long grain, jasmine or basmati – whatever you have lying around)
1 iceberg lettuce
olive oil
black pepper

The time is in the prep for this one, as everything but the mince is served raw.

Whilst your slicing and chopping just throw everything into a bowl. Then squeeze in the lime juice and pour over the fish sauce.

Put the uncooked rice into a dry wok and put on a high heat. Toast until lightly browned, stir continually to avoid burning the grains. Then pound in a pestle and mortar (or in a cup with a heavy rolling pin) until partly ground.

Fry off the mince in a little bit of olive oil until it is just browned (don”t over cook) and season with a bit of black pepper. Add the mince to the salad mixture and stir. Carefully peel off 1 x iceberg lettuce leaf per person and spoon the salad mixture into the lettuce leaf bowl.

Serve open or roll the leaf around the mixture to make a wrap.

These gorgeously sweet and crunchy Thai lettuce rolls will test your spice threshold and if you’ve visited any market place in Thailand, will take you straight back. Try replacing the beef mince with pork or flaked fish.


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Turkish Delight, Leeds


My other half took me in to the depths of Leeds Market for lunch last week.

Those simple words “I don’t mind, you choose” led me past the fruit and veg, past the old lady manning the dusty greetings cards next to every type of button and wool you could imagine, and towards a quiet eastern European couple busying themselves in a 4ft by 4ft kitchen, walled with an off-white plastic kiosk.

Turkish Delight is one of the more random places I have sat down to eat lunch but I really enjoyed the food and the experience.

The menu is limited with a choice of about 5 dishes, but they vary from falafel wraps to lahmacun (dough topped with mince & onion). We tried nearly everything on the menu and our bill totalled under £10 (including 2 cans of Fanta!).

Leeds Kirkgate Market can be nothing short of a maze at the best of times, and Turkish Delight seems to be so exclusive it’s even off the map, but if you fancy an adventure into the Middle East for an hour on your lunch break, it is well worth finding!

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Trick or Treat?


Curb your Twilight fueled vampire urges this Halloween with this easy Blood Beetroot Soup!


Chop up 2 packets of cooked beetroot and fry for a few minutes with olive oil, salt and pepper (and some herbs if you want)

Add a pint of vegetable stock and simmer for 5 minutes

Blitz and serve with some crispy bacon pieces – or freeze to reheat later.

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Easy Peasy Pesto


When all you need is fast, easy, home-cooked comfort food – it has to be pesto covered pasta every time.

The simple notion that you are craving said fast, easy and home-cooked comfort food probably means you’ve had a rubbish day at work. Not only will you love this flavourful & glossy pasta sauce, but will take great pleasure in bashing the crap out of all your ingredients with a pestle and mortar!

Start by roughly tearing up a whole bunch (or plant) of basil.

Pound this to a deep emerald green mulch in your pestle and mortar (a big granite one will do all the hard work for you and can be picked up for £15 from TK Maxx!)

To this add a handful of pine nuts which you’ve already toasted for a few minutes in a dry pan and a large pinch of salt and pepper.

Carefully pound these to create a dry paste.

Add a large glug of good extra virgin olive oil and stir.

Grate in a small handful of parmesan and pound a bit more until you have a thick shiny paste – add more olive oil to loosen if needed.

Serve mixed into or drizzled over your favourite pasta – try spinach and ricotta filled ravioli, or simply boiled sheets of lasagne (silk handkerchiefs).


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Herby Butternut Squash Soup


I’ve been craving butternut squash soup for weeks now. I’ve never really been a soup-maker – Heinz has always done the trick. But surely it’s one of the simplest things to master? So I’ve started doing a bit of research.

Good Food is usually my go-to site for trying to make anything new but every time I look for a butternut squash soup recipe, they are full of cream/ double cream/ creme fraiche which is a big no-no giving that my other half if lactose intolerant. So here is my dairy free butternut squash soup recipe which is flavoured with a big dose of rosemary, seriously warming and seriously good.


1 Butternut squash – halved & seeds scraped out
1 pint chicken stock
1 onion
1tbsp extra virgin olive oil
50g Pure olive spread
3 stalks of fresh rosemary – chopped
Black pepper
Fresh parsley – chopped

Lay the two butternut squash halves on a baking tray and roast for 45 minutes

Scoop out the flesh and put into a bowl, set aside

Finely chop the onion whilst warming the oil and Pure spread in a large saucepan

Add the onion to the pan and fry until soft and golden

Add the chopped rosemary to the onions and stir well to release the flavour and fragrance – this will make your kitchen smell amazing!

Tip in the butternut squash and mix well – when the squash re-warms you should be able to lightly mash this in the pan with your spoon

Set the pan aside to let the mixture cool

Meanwhile make your stock and allow to cool to luke warm

Add both the stock and the butternut squash mixture to a liquidiser, and blitz for a minute or so – stir and blitz again to create your soup

Add the soup back to the pan and heat up

Serve with cracked black pepper and chopped fresh parsley and mop up with some warm crusty bread – YUM!

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