Sunday, 31 January 2016

Experiments in Moroccan Cuisine

A couple of years ago we decided to go against tradition for our Christmas day meal and went Moroccan style instead.  Mr Cocopopia was even prepared to go veggie for the day and found this great recipe for Moroccan Spiced Pie from the BBC Good Food website.  The recipe advised that prep time was an hour and a half but I have to admit (probably because it was new to us) it did take a little while longer.  (By the way, if you think we've got loud taste in kitchen decor, that's just me playing around with photoshop!)

What made the recipe so interesting was that there were 3 parts to it because in addition to the filo wrapped pie, it was also served with home made houmous and a harissa yogurt sauce.  Stepping out of our comfort zone to prepare an unfamiliar meal with longer than usual preparation time, turned out to be worth the effort to create a special meal for a special day.

But we decided from that point on that we should include more Moroccan inspired meals into our diet, not just for the taste, but Moroccan cuisine can also be a healthy option for vegetarians and meat eaters alike.  The BBC Good Food website also gives some Top 10 Tips for healthy Moroccan cooking here.

Last week, my Slow Cooker Challenge took on Moroccan theme with a chickpea, sweet potato and mushroom tagine.  Spices included coriander, paprika, cumin, turmeric, cayenne pepper and fresh ginger and dried fruits (apricots and raisins) added to the flavour.

My recipe is a bit long and off-putting to include here (there are 25 different ingredients to start with!) and I wouldn't want to put you off, so here's another link to the BBC Good Food Guide site for a Slow Cooker Chickpea Tagine.  Its an easy recipe to start off with and you can play around with ingredients to suit your own taste.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

On a Damp Day

Saturday was damp and foggy and I started the day gazing out of the window eating my porridge, procrastinating before going outside as there were jobs to be done.

The bad news is that we tend to have moss growing on our roof, the good news is that it gets picked off by the friendly neighbourhood jackdaws, the bad news is that it blocks the gutters.  It was a necessary job this week-end to clear out the gutters, which meant Mr Cocopopia climbing up the ladder whilst I held them steady at ground level.

Once that job was done, there was the more pleasant job of tidying up the garden from the recent storms.  And clearing up after our boy cat, Mr P.

Now Mr P likes to go out on expeditions, finding and collecting things and bringing them home.  Here he is with a gold star he brought back one Christmas.

But his latest obsession is bringing back figs from a neighbour's garden. Probably because they are mouse shaped.  Sometimes they are a bit worse for wear, other times they could almost be edible.  I usually pick them up as and when I spot them but over the past month, with the short days and the bad weather, I've just left them.  So there was a bit of backlog and this is his collection from the past month:

I counted 35 plus a piece of tennis ball.  There were also plenty of short twigs, but that's Sweet Pea's obsession.  Sweet Pea's twigs get popped on the garden fire pit but there's no way I'm making a pie out of Mr P's foragings (sorry Mr P)

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Night Skies and Apple Pies

I remember the same thing happening last January - following crisp and sunny winter days, the clear night sky gives amazing sunsets.  The photo above captures the evening lights coming on in the town, whilst looking out towards the horizon at sea (the strange light in the middle about a quarter of the way in from the left is something to do with the new wind farm currently being built off the coast).  The image is a bit blurry as I should have used a tripod, but I was once again hanging out of the top window trying to capture the image in the precious moments before the sun set - but I like the effect anyway, its a little dreamy ...

Although I'm no astronomer, so don't know what I'm looking at most of the time, I do have a real fascination with the night sky, the moon and the stars and just find the whole thing mind-boggling (it is all so vast - and are we alone?).  I also love the very clever night sky photography that is out there and have a lot of admiration for those who can get to grips with the technicalities of getting amazing shots in the dark.  But there is one spectacle in the sky at the moment that is well worth looking out for and that's for roughly the next month, 5 planets are going to be visible in the sky at the same time (mercury, venus, mars, jupiter and saturn) with the best view likely to be on the morning of February 5th.  If you're outside and the sky's clear, look up and prepare to be amazed (or is that just me?).

On to more practical matters, I've been busy making jewellery again and looking for some new outlets this year so building up a little stock before listing anything.  I love working with semi-precious gemstones and find it very therapeutic and relaxing.

I've been a bit behind in mentioning The Slow Cooker Challenge recently but that doesn't mean I haven't been trying - I just wasn't ready to post anything that didn't quite work (such as the macaroni cheese that came out a bit solid!).

However, I did make some rather tasty baked apples recently.  It helps if you've got a crock pot wide enough to place them together in the base (mine didn't quite fit so I had to shape the edges of the apples a little to fit!).  Here's the recipe:

Baked Cranberry Apples

3 large cooking apples
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup crushed, chopped or coarsely ground nuts (almonds, walnuts or pecans)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup cranberry juice

1.  Core the apples to about 3/4 of the way down, leaving enough base to hold the filling inside the apple.  Peel a 1/2 band around the top of the apples and rub exposed apple with lemon juice if you want to avoid discolouration.

2.  In a small bowl, combine sugar, cranberries, nuts and cinnamon. Stuff the mixture into the apple centres, trying to get in as much as you can!

3.  Lightly oil the slow cooker and place the apples inside.  Pour the cranberry juice into the slow cooker to surround the apples.

4.  Cover and cook on low until the apples are soft but not collapsing.  Cooking time varies with slow cookers - mine took about 3 hours but they did overcook a little.

5.  Remove the lid to allow apples to cool slightly and serve warm drizzled with the cooking liquid (yogurt or vanilla ice-cream also goes well with this too).

Monday, 11 January 2016

A Welcome Walk On The Beach

Last Wednesday we had a mid-week respite in the weather - it was actually not windy, not raining, warm (ish) and the sun was trying to peep out from behind the clouds.  

I had an afternoon appointment in town at the bank but having lost my appointment card, I slipped up on the time and turned up an hour early and was asked if I could return in an hour's time.. It was the perfect opportunity to take an afternoon stroll on the beach.

I needed to cross the bridge over the river to reach the beach on the other side.  Unfortunately, some of the glass panels at the side of the bridge have fragmented but apparently this is nothing to do with vandals, but a fault in the construction of the glass.  They did, however, make an interesting viewfinder.

The optimistic people at the surf shop had the boards out, but the first week in January, I expect business is slow ...

Or maybe not, because once I reached the beach, there were a few paddle boarders out, enjoying the gentle waves in the short time they had before the sun was ready to set again.

I really enjoyed the calm and tranquility of the beach on a winter's afternoon.  Our local beach is not sandy but very pebbly which means its hard work to walk on it but it's really good exercise for the leg muscles.  I made the decision that I really need to walk more on the beach from now on, not just for the exercise, but for the sheer bliss of just being there.  Who knows, maybe this is the year I'll take up paddleboarding...

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Happy New Year

A new year, new plans, a blank canvas ...

Well here we are in 2016 and a happy new year to you! 

Unfortunately I'm a few pounds heavier than I was this time last month, but its mostly down to the inactivity, the irregular eating habits and extra alcohol consumed (who would have thought that a normal/small glass of wine is 160 calories and the equivalent of a slice of madeira cake, and a single shot of spirit is the equivalent of a yorkshire pudding - so many empty calories to be hidden in a favourite tipple!).  

But now I've returned to work and am no-longer sitting at home hiding indoors from the non-stop wind and rain, my activity levels are picking up and my eating habits are starting to improve.  My new favourite comfort food is sweet potato mash with some grated cheese - a little strange, I know, but so easy to take to work for lunch to heat up in the microwave, as I avoid gluten so don't eat sandwiches. 

I wasn't housebound for the whole of the holiday season and I did go in to work for a couple of days between Christmas and New Year.  We also managed a couple of bracing walks on the beach, a day out in Chichester (but I forgot my camera so unfortunately no pics) and a cinema visit with a meal in a cosy Turkish restaurant beforehand.  The colourful glass lights were beautiful and atomospheric - specially imported from Istanbul.

Before Christmas I unfortunately had a bit of a cold, which usually means a nose as red as Rudolph's and a horrible cold sore on my lips.  However, this time I have found the perfect remedy for sore and dry skin in  Burt's Bees hand salve. Yes, its meant for hands, but with its blend of botanical oils, healing herbs and beeswax its been really good for healing my sore, dry skin and now I'm better, it makes a good skin protector against the cold wind that seems to be pretty constant when venturing out these days, especially when walking on the beach.

I've dug out a couple of old yoga dvd's and am now attempting daily yoga sessions to "have more energy, strength and flexibility than ever before" - that's the claim made on the box, so we'll see.

I don't believe in January weight loss diets, I'd just rather try to make more effort to eat healthier food - then the weight will take care of itself.  So its back to the Slow Cooker Challenge.  This week its all about my Fifty Shades of Orange Curry

An easy to make, healthy and nutritious curry made from mostly orange and red ingredients (plenty of beta carotene here!)  Serve with naan bread or rice

2 teaspoons of olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove
half a teaspoon of fresh grated ginger
1 level tablespoon of curry powder
half a teaspoon each of:
  ground coriander, ground cumin, turmeric
quarter a teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 - 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into half inch dice
1 carrot, very finely chopped
1 can of chopped tomatoes (or carton of passata)
1 can of chickpeas
salt and pepper to taste

1.  Prepare your "base" by adding the oil to a frying pan and frying to onion for about 5 minutes until lightly browned.  Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute.  Stir in the curry powder and other spices. 

2.  Transfer this mixture to your slow cooker.  Add the potatoes, tomatoes and chickpeas.

3.  Depending on the thickness of your tomatoes, you may need to add a small amount of water.

4.  Cook on low for 4 - 5 hours (but this will depend on the temperature of individual slow cookers, and you may need to start on a higher temperature to soften up the carrots).

Can be served with some plain yogurt to add coolness and creaminess (optional).