Sunday, 12 July 2015

Graze in the Shops



Graze Goodness To Go

I've had a subscription to Graze boxes for ages, now, so I was kind of excited when I heard they were launching a new off-the-shelf range in supermarkets.

I got my hands on some early samples, and perhaps unsurprisingly I recognise most of the snacks from the subscription model. And thankfully, most of my favourites have made it through to the in store range -- presumably because they're among the most popular overall.

One of the best things about Graze snacks is the interesting combinations you get within a single portion box. A couple of my regular favourites are the herby bread basket (with mini bread sticks and croutons) and punchy protein nuts (almonds, peanuts, and chilli-lime cashews).

At the sweeter end of the scale, salted fudge & peanut cookie has mini chocolate cookies, salted peanuts, and mini fudge chunks. And the original fruity flapjack is a proper treat packed with dried fruit and seeds.

The in store pricing ranges from 99p to £1.49. It's still cheaper per portion to get a weekly box, and personally I love the surprise of not knowing what's going to turn up, but this is a fun back-up option.

If you want to try Graze for yourself, you can get a free box of snacks without commitment (and more freebies later if you keep your subscription) if you sign up using my referral code: 9NZDYMVDP (I get a small discount too).

Graze Goodness To Go


Sunday, 5 July 2015

Salt & Pepper Stir Fried Vegetables



I used to get Chinese from a great takeaway in London (no, I can't remember the name, and it may not even be there any more -- this was over a decade ago). Everything was good, but my favourite dish was the salt and pepper tofu: crispy, dry-fried tofu pieces tossed in spicy seasoning that popped on the tongue.

To be honest, the "salt and pepper" name has always confused me a little. I'm sure there is salt and pepper in there, but that's true of many dishes. The most noticable flavourings in this one are chilli (lots of lovely chilli) and garlic.

Where we live now, our local takeaway offers salt and pepper calamari (which my husband loves), but nothing veggie with the same flavour profile, so I had to figure out how to do it myself. I was thinking of recreating the original tofu dish, but in the end I decided to go for a healthier option and use the same flavours in vegetable stir fry.

Salt & pepper stir fry

Salt & Pepper Stir Fried Vegetables
Serves 4

200g tenderstem broccoli
2 red bell peppers
400g shitake mushrooms
1 large onion
4 cloves garlic
1 red chilli
1 green chilli
1tbsp sunflower oil
1tsp salt
1tsp sugar
1tsp black pepper
1tsp ground ginger
1tsp Chinese spice mix*
4 scallions

  1. Cut the broccoli into large florets; chop the pepper into bite-sized pieces; trim and halve the mushrooms.
  2. Cut the onion into thick slices and dice the garlic.
  3. Remove the seeds from the chillis and discard, before chopping the flesh.
  4. Combine the salt, sugar, black pepper, ginger, and Chinese spices in a small bowl.
  5. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and begin to stir fry the broccoli, peppers, mushrooms, and onion. Add the garlic after a couple of minutes of cooking.
  6. Add the mixed spices and chilli, and toss to combine all the ingredients.
  7. Continue to fry until the vegetables have softened.
  8. Chop the scallions and toss through before serving.

* I used the Chinese blend from Spice Kitchen which is made from liquorice, star anise, cassia, szechuan peppers, black cardamon, orange peel, and cloves.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Wieliczka Salt Mine



Wieliczka Salt Mine

One of the best things about academia is the options it can offer for travel, to conferences and to collaborate. I've been particularly lucky in this respect: this month, it was a visit to Krakow for a project meeting. I took Andy with me and we decided to make a week of it, and see the city properly.

Around the same time, the lovely folks at Tinggly reached out to introduce me to their collection of gift experiences. And what a collection, seriously: there's everything here from motorbiking to Cambodian temples and underwater scooter rides in Mauritius, to whisky tasting in Scotland and Japanese cookery lessons in Tokyo. The beauty of the system is its simplicity: as the giver, you just buy a voucher (currently £45), and then the recipient can choose when and where in the world they want to cash it in. (As an aside, I think this might just be the world's most perfect wedding present: wherever the bride and groom are going on honeymoon, they can probably find something nearby to indulge in.)

Would I like to try out an experience from their range, they asked? Obviously I wasn't going to turn down a chance like that. I glanced at the interactive map, wondering vaguely if there was likely to be anything in Poland, or whether I'd just pick an English destination.

Wieliczka Salt Mine jumped out at me straight away: a tour for two, with minibus collection from my hotel in Krakow? Perfect.

I love visiting historical sites and learning more about how things were in days gone by... and aside from pure interest, it's also really great research for my books. I hadn't even really realised that salt was mined from rock, so I had a lot to learn on this trip.

The mines only fell out of use quite recently, when tourism proved to be more profitable than salt. Now they're set up as a walk-through exhibition, with life-size models illustrating some of the operation of the mines. You can even have a go at lifting a bucket of water using one of the original human-powered winches.

But the real shock comes when you emerge at the other end of your long walk through the tunnels, and discover you've covered only about 1% of the network. An utterly amazing day out, highly recommended to anyone visiting the Krakow area.

Wieliczka Salt Mine
An abandoned mine shaft

Wieliczka Salt Mine
Demonstration of floodwater being pumped from the mine

Wieliczka Salt Mine
More demonstrative reconstructions

Wieliczka Salt Mine
Excavation marks along one of the shafts

Wieliczka Salt Mine
Ropes and pulleys were used to lift salt from the mines

The Wieliczka mine, however, is not only (or even primarily) famous for its mining history. The true stars of the show here are the carvings made by the miners.

Since mining is a dangerous trade, the miners were traditionally a very religious bunch, and this fact is amply demonstrated in their underground churches and chapels. Not only are the chambers themselves hewn from the rock, but they're decorated with intricate rock-salt carvings.

Perhaps the most amazing thing is that the miners did all this in their own time, after a long day at work, just to show their dedication to their faith. Impressive stuff.

Wieliczka Salt Mine
Looking down into the cavernous main church

Wieliczka Salt Mine
Christ on the cross, carved in salt

Wieliczka Salt Mine
The altar and lectern are also carved from salt

Wieliczka Salt Mine
A carving of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus

There's also a shop, right in the depths of the mines, where you can buy your own salt carvings, candlesticks, and of course, cooking and bath salts. I picked up a couple of flavours of seasoning: one with celery, and one with lovage. The prices are really reasonable, too, not hiked up for the captive market.

We took hundreds of photos; here are just a few more shots to give you a flavour of the mines.

Wieliczka Salt Mine
Looking up into the galleries

Wieliczka Salt Mine
Salt-encrusted wood is well preserved against the ravages of time

Wieliczka Salt Mine
Even the crystals of the chandelier are made of salt

Wieliczka Salt Mine
One of the underground lakes

Wieliczka Salt Mine
It used to be easier to tick off all the Unesco World Heritage sites: Wieliczka and Krakow city centre both made the first list

Wieliczka Salt Mine
Coloured salt crystals in the museum display


Monday, 1 June 2015

Pizza Review and a Chocolate Salami Recipe from Dr Oetker #freshnessfrozen



Chocolate salami

Even though I'm a regular customer of their various ranges, I've always been slightly puzzled by the brand identity of Dr Oetker. What other company specialises primarily in baking ingredients and accessories and cake decorating supplies... but also a line of frozen pizzas?

Then I was asked if I'd like to do a review of the Dr Oetker Ristorante pizzas, along with trying out some of their Italian dessert and cocktail recipes. And suddenly, having an easy pizza fresh from the oven, accompanied by something gorgeous that you've made yourself for afters, it all made a bit more sense.

My favourite is the Spinaci, which is simplicity itself with garlicky spinach and cheese, closely followed by the Funghi. Actually, as long as there's someone around to share with, I'll usually cook one of each for a bit of variety.

Dr Oetker pizza review

Dr Oetker pizza review

This chocolate salami recipe results in something rather like chocolate tiffin in texture and philosophy. It's probably the best tiffin I've ever eaten, though: with amaretto liqueur, and amaretti biscuits. Yes, please! I love amaretto.

(Speaking of which, there's an extremely dangerous recipe in the accompanying cocktail booklet: two parts whisky to one part amaretto, with nothing else but ice. Which sounds lush and lethal.)

I made a few minor tweaks to the Dr Oetker recipe, using glace cherries instead of cocktail cherries, and only hazelnuts & pistachios (the original recipe included pecans, but I didn't happen to have those in the cupboard).

Chocolate salami

Chocolate Salami
Makes 2 large logs

200g (8 oz) amaretti biscuits (crunchy, not soft)
200g (7oz) glace cherries
100g (4oz) hazelnuts (chopped)
100g (4oz) unsalted pistachios (shelled and roughly chopped)
250g (10oz) Dr. Oetker Dark Chocolate, roughly chopped
50g (2oz) butter
30g (2 tbsp) golden syrup
100g (4oz) soft unsalted butter
150g (5oz) caster sugar
30ml (2 tbsp) amaretto liqueur
30ml (2 tbsp) Dr. Oetker Cocoa Powder
  1. Crush the amaretti biscuits into small pieces. Cut the cherries into quarters, and chop the nuts.
  2. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl suspended over a saucepan of simmering water until smooth and cool.
  3. Melt 50g of butter and the syrup into the chocolate, stirring until smooth.
  4. Set the chocolate mixture aside to cool.
  5. Cream the remaining 100g of the butter with the caster sugar until pale and fluffy and beat in the amaretto liqueur.
  6. Add the cocoa powder to the cooled chocolate, stir well then add this to the rest of the mixture.
  7. Tip in the cherries, chopped nuts and crushed biscuits and mix well.
  8. Place in the fridge for 10 -15 minutes to firm up a bit.
  9. Place 2 large pieces of cling film, one on top of the other, onto the work surface to roll the chocolate salami out on.
  10. Tip half the chocolate mixture out onto the cling film and mould the mixture into a fat salami- like log.
  11. Roll the cling film tightly around the log, and twist the ends.
  12. Repeat with fresh cling film and the remaining mixture.
  13. Keep the logs in the fridge for at least a couple of hours, until fully solidified.
  14. Cut into slices to serve, and serve chilled.



Friday, 29 May 2015

Islamic Art & Architecture in Egypt



Outside Sultan Hassan mosque

As well as seeing the pyramids and other ancient Egyptian sites, while we were in Egypt we also enjoyed visiting some more recent (but still historic) buildings.

One such was the mosque and madrasa of Sultan Hassan, dating back to the Mamluk period. I particularly loved the carved calligraphy, and the black-white-and-red patterns of the door frames and floor tiles. The open air, courtyard structure was also new to me, and not something that would really work in a rainy country like England! In Egypt, though, it makes a lot of sense.

Inside Sultan Hassan mosque-madrasa

Inside Sultan Hassan mosque-madrasa

Inside Sultan Hassan mosque-madrasa

Inside Sultan Hassan mosque-madrasa

Inside Sultan Hassan mosque-madrasa

Inside Sultan Hassan mosque-madrasa

Minarets


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