Chocolate cake…..without the guilt!

My sister introduced me to The Unrefined Kitchen when she made their refined sugar-free, gluten-free chocolate cake for my niece’s 2nd birthday. It was scrumptious, so much so that I made one myself this weekend! As this chocolate cake is sweetened with honey and has no refined sugar in it, perhaps it should be renamed the “Eat-As-Much-As-You-Like-Without-Feeling-Guilty Chocolate Cake”. 😉

For the cake recipe and many more delicious recipes, click here to go to the Unrefined Kitchen.

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Zucchini parmigiana

This delicious dish is ideal for a simple, nutritious evening meal. Technically, you should use Parmesan cheese in parmigiana recipes but I used cheddar instead and it worked very well!

Ingredients

1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 zucchini, cut into ribbons about 1/2 cm thick
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 400-gram can of tomatoes
2 cups breadcrumbs
100 grams grated cheese (Parmesan or cheddar)
1/2 tsp pimenton (smoked paprika)
4 tbsp olive oil

1. Dice the onion and sauté with the crushed garlic in 2 tbsp olive oil until golden.
2. Add the can of tomatoes and the pimenton. Simmer, stirring frequently, for 20 minutes.
3. Shallow-fry the sliced zucchini in the other 2 tbsp of olive oil (you will probably need to add more while frying) until the slices are golden and slightly brown. Turn the slices while frying so they are golden on both sides.
4. Layer the zucchini in a baking dish (I used one which was 27 x 21 cm), followed by the tomato sauce, then sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the zucchini and tomato. Finally, sprinkle the grated cheese evenly on top.
5. Bake at 340F/170C for 20 – 25 minutes, until the breadcrumbs are crispy and the cheese is golden.
6. Enjoy! I served it with a side of garden peas and steamed cauliflower but it would also make a great lunch dish along with a green salad.

Food: celeriac soup recipe

Source: Wikipedia. Author: DocteurCosmos

Photo credit: Wikipedia. Author: DocteurCosmos

Celeriac – celery root – isn’t going to be winning any beauty contests any time soon. But let’s not be judgemental. Despite its unattractive appearance, it is a versatile and delicious vegetable which is perfect in blended soups. This soup is creamy and lovely, ideal for chillier days as autumn begins to creep into the air.

Ingredients

1 large white onion, diced
2 medium leeks, finely chopped
1 large celeriac (celery root), chopped into small cubes
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp paprika
Approx. 8 cups/2 litres vegetable stock
1 cup milk
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Step 1: Sauté the onion, leek and garlic in the olive oil, stirring frequently for 10 – 15 minutes, until they are golden brown.
Step 2: Add the celeriac and simmer on a low heat until the celeriac is tender. Add the vegetable stock, paprika and salt and pepper. Simmer for a further 10 minutes.
Step 3: Blend the soup until it is smooth and creamy, then return to the stove. Add the milk, stir and heat until it is steaming hot. Enjoy with a slice of freshly baked bread!

Giant couscous and feta salad

Couscous salad

Despite the name, giant couscous is in fact a type of pasta which is toasted and shaped into little balls that look like an enlarged version of couscous. According to Wikipedia, it was invented in Israel during the early 1950s when there was a rice shortage. You can read more about its invention by clicking here. Ptitim, as it is known in Israel, is now becoming increasingly well-known outside the country and is currently a popular ingredient on the menus of many trendy restaurants. It is also known as Israeli couscous or Jerusalem couscous. I used a wholegrain giant couscous to create this nutritious, summery salad. If you cannot find giant couscous, you could substitute regular couscous or orzo pasta in place of it.

GIANT COUSCOUS AND FETA SALAD
(serves 4)

Ingredients

150g giant couscous
100g feta cheese, cut into small cubes
1 small red onion, finely chopped
100g frozen garden peas, boiled
Approx. 10 Kalamata olives, chopped
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Black pepper, to taste

1. Cook the giant couscous according to the instructions on the packet. I lightly fried mine in a little olive oil for 5 minutes before adding water and stirring until the water was absorbed and the couscous was tender.

2. While the couscous is cooking, prepare the rest of the ingredients. Boil the peas, drain them and leave them to cool. Chop up the feta cheese and the red onion. Finely chop the Kalamata olives. I prefer to buy the ones which are whole as I think they taste better than the pitted ones. If you do this, take care to remove the stones before including them in the salad.

3. When the couscous is cooked, add it to a large bowl, along with the rest of the ingredients. Drizzle the lemon juice and olive oil over the salad, mix well and serve. Enjoy!

January, we had fun

January was a great month on the blog.

I made some delicious soup (Honey-roasted parsnip and carrot soup), took part in a photo challenge (highlights below) and published the post which was Freshly Pressed, to my delight, on February 1!

I kick-started January with the First Thirty-one Photo Challenge, welcoming in 2013 with a photo a day.

Browse highlights from my entries below:

Day 1: Resolution:

Resolution: to get outside and go places

Resolution: to get outside and go places

Day 10: Gorgeous hand-knitted socks, knitted by a friend

socks

A wintry photo entry for day 14’s “Frost” theme

snowy tree

Day 19: Fur

fur

Day 31: snowdrops signal the end of winter

snowdrops

I also enjoyed challenging my writing skills with challenges from The Daily Post

My dream trip: a writing challenge about traveling set my imagination on fire.

Another writing challenge: Starting Over, a short story set in Mexico.

Cultural Life celebrated the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with this post:

January 28 1813.

And on January 31, I published this weekly writing challenge post, about saying an emotional goodbye to my mother at the doors of the operating suite. It was Freshly Pressed! I don’t often use the word “awesome” but being Freshly Pressed was the embodiment of that word. Thank you to everyone who commented, liked and shared my post. Welcome to my new followers and thank you for helping to create a great blogging month here at Cultural Life!

Photo challenge day 13: Cabin Fever

I struggled to think of what I could photograph for today’s photo challenge theme (for more info on the First Thirty-one Photo Challenge, head to Fourtuitous). Having spent most of the past three months running here, there and everywhere during what has been the most stressful time of my life so far, it is actually nice to coop myself up at home and enjoy some much-needed respite. So today’s theme of “Cabin Fever” was difficult.

I settled on photographing my lunch time bowl of soup. Sometimes, although I love it, cooking can give me cabin fever. Actually, I guess it’s not so much the cooking but the amount of clearing up and washing dishes at the end. I love cooking but a self-cleaning kitchen would greatly add to my enjoyment!

Roasted red pepper and tomato soup.

Roasted red pepper and tomato soup. Don’t get me wrong: the soup didn’t give me cabin fever (it was delicious) but the clearing up did!!

Honey-roasted parsnip and carrot soup

A few days ago, my sister gave me a bag of parsnips. Her husband had brought them home and since she doesn’t like parsnips, she gave them to me. I am not a parsnip hater but I am not particularly enamored by them either. But I was determined not to let them spoil and go to waste. And so I made this soup which actually turned out much better than expected. I guarantee it will convert anyone with a low opinion of parsnips!

Honey-roasted parsnip and carrot soup

Honey-roasted parsnip and carrot soup

Ingredients – serves 6 – 8, depending on portion size. If you are daunted by the quantity of soup this recipe produces, freeze the leftovers.

4 large parsnips, peeled
6 medium carrots, diced
2 onions, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic
3 tbsp honey
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp mild chili powder
Vegetable stock/bouillon cube
Salt and pepper

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 390°F/200°C. Chop the peeled parsnips into rough chunks. No need to worry about making them look pretty; they are going to be blended. Drizzle them with a liberal amount of honey and a little olive oil.

Chopped parsnips, drizzled with honey, ready to go in the oven

Chopped parsnips, drizzled with honey, ready to go in the oven

Sprinkle with a small pinch of salt and some ground black pepper and roast for 30 minutes. Half-way through roasting them, add 2 garlic cloves (chopped in half) along with more honey if necessary.

2. While the parsnips are roasting, saute 2 finely chopped onions in a little olive oil. Add 2 crushed cloves of garlic, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp paprika and some ground black pepper. When the onions are golden, add the diced carrots and 1/2 tsp mild chili powder. Cook on a moderate temperature and stir frequently.

3. When the parsnips are done, add them to the onions and carrots. Cook for 10 minutes. Then add vegetable stock to cover the vegetables – the liquid should come approx. 2 inches above the veg. Sorry for the lack of an accurate measure: I didn’t bother measuring my stock. You can always add more liquid if you prefer a thinner soup.

4. Cook until the parsnips and carrots are tender, adding more cumin, paprika or chili if desired. Blend thoroughly and season to taste. After blending, return to the pan to heat the soup until bubbling. Serve with fresh bread and a green salad. Enjoy!

Photo challenge day 11: Warmth

Today’s theme from the First Thirty-one Photo Challenge at Fourtuitous is “warmth”.

Few things are more delicious and more warming on a cold winter’s day than a hearty bowl of home-made soup. This honey-roasted parsnip and carrot soup is my own creation. The addition of ground cumin, mild chili powder and plenty of black pepper give it a spicy warmth.

Honey-roasted parsnip and carrot soup

Honey-roasted parsnip and carrot soup

A culinary weekend

I spent a lot of time in the kitchen this weekend, making Italian-style pasta sauce for my eighth blog challenge recipe and traditional English barley and berry pudding for my nineth.

As well as these two scrumptious recipes, I made falafel using this recipe from Nade in the Kitchen. Nadine (aka Nade) has a fabulous food blog which I highly recommend.

And on Sunday, while the pudding was baking in the oven, I popped a loaf of bread in to bake too. For the results, see the photo below!

Tasty, golden, delicious bread — mmm!

What did you cook or bake this past weekend?

Blog challenge recipe #8: Italian-style pasta sauce

So, here is my blog challenge recipe numero otto!

You might have noticed the “-style” in the title above. Although the recipe uses ingredients commonly found in Italian cooking (eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes…) I would call my recipe inspired by Italian flavors: the recipe is one that I improvised last night.

bandiera d’Italia

Italian-style pasta sauce

Ingredients (serves 2, adjust ingredient quantities as required)

2 tbsp olive oil
½ large red onion, diced
½ eggplant, chopped into cubes
½ large zucchini (or 1 medium one), diced
½ head of broccoli, chopped into small florets
8 – 10 white/button mushrooms, chopped
4 – 5 cloves garlic, chopped or crushed
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, soaked for 2 hours and then chopped
½ tsp hot smoked paprika (optional)
½ tsp dried basil
½ tsp oregano
Fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped (to taste)
Sea salt and black pepper (to taste)

Method

1. If you are using packaged sun-dried tomatoes (as opposed to the ones in oil in jars), you will need to soak them in hot water from a kettle for 2 – 3 hours before use.

Sun dried tomatoes, after soaking for two hours

2. Chop the red onion and crush or chop the garlic.

Red onion

3. Heat the olive oil gently in a pan and add the onion and garlic, plus hot smoked paprika (if using). Cook at a moderate heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Use a lid to speed up cooking time.

4. Add the chopped eggplant, zucchini and mushrooms and cook for a further 10 minutes. Be wary of the eggplant sticking to the pan. In my experience, it has a tendency to soak up the oil like a sponge. Stir often and add a little extra olive oil if necessary.

Chopped zucchini

5. Add the chopped sun-dried tomatoes, broccoli florets, dried basil and oregano to the pan, along with a small amount of salt and black pepper. Stir and cook on a moderate heat for 10 minutes, until all the vegetables are tender.

6. Add the fresh basil leaves shortly before serving and stir into the sauce. I served it with olives and penne pasta topped with goats’ cheese. Enjoy!

Olives — a perfect accompaniment to pasta