Teriyaki aubergine

*** Disclaimer – this is a sponsored post. I received a free bottle of Hon Mirin and took part in an online cook along. The recipe posted in this post is from the Sozai Cooking School and not my own. However, the comments and recommendations are my own***

I’ve always wanted to know how to make a good and authentic teriyaki sauce especially as Big S has become a fan of Asian flavours, but when I’ve made versions before the resulting dishes were a bit too sweet and sickly. So I was delighted to be asked to take part in an online cook along sponsored by Hakutsuru Hon Mirin and which promised the ultimate teriyaki. 

It was a really fascinating couple of hours. I knew nothing about Mirin before the class other than the name! Now I feel that I have a little insight into this really interesting ingredient and I hope to use it in a variety of dishes. Hon Mirin is apparently very popular in Japan but hardly heard of in Europe, hence this event to celebrate Hon Mirin’s global launch. Hon Mirin (with Hon meaning real) is a sweet rice seasoning/alcohol made from glutinous rice, rice koi and alcohol. It has a pleasant sweet taste, a bit like a sweet sherry and none of the additional salt you get in cheaper alternatives.  It also has the advantage of being allergen free and contains no artificial ingredients – perfect for us. 🙂

Having used this mellow alcohol in a couple of dishes (we made minstrone soup and teriyaki) I would really recommend searching out a bottle for your store cupboard (and I’m really not saying that because I got a free bottle!). It really did add a lovely umami richness to both dishes and the shine in the teriyaki sauce was outstanding. Right now, Hon Mirin is only available on the TK Trading website, but hopefully it’ll become more widely available as more people come across it’s versatility. I really didn’t think it would add much to a minestrone soup but actually the mellow sweetness was a nice addition that enhanced the tomato flavour.

If you’re interested in learning more Japanese cooking skills then do check out the Sozai cooking school which runs lots of interesting online cook alongs, the instructor in my class was really knowledgeable and a great teacher.

I’m posting the teriyaki aubergine recipe from the Sozai cooking school, but if you wanted to use chicken or salmon, simple cut into bite sized pieces and then follow the instructions below.

Teriyaki Aubergine

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, sesame-free, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan)

serves 2

7 tbsp Hon Mirin

2 tbsp water

3 tbsp soy sauce

1 aubergine, sliced in half lengthways

1-2 tbsp cornflour

  1. Mix together the Hon Mirin, water and soya sauce and set aside
  2. Score the aubergine flesh and then dust all sides with cornflour
  3. Heat some flavourless oil on a medium to high heat and cook the aubergine on both sides until golden and throughly cooked through. This will take 5 or so minute son each side. Remove from the pan.
  4. Wipe out the pan to remove any excess cornflour. Return the aubergine to the pan and add the teriyaki sauce. Cook on a medium to high heat, basting the aubergine until the sauce has reduced and you have a sticky soft aubergine.
  5. Serve with rice and steamed green veg.

Spicy Tomato and Rice Soup

I don’t know about you but I find lunches the most difficult meal to cater for, especially right now where we’re all at home all the time, we have differing timetables and differing ideas over what makes a perfect lunch!

D and I generally have lunch and take the dog for a walk before the girls have even finished their morning lessons, so lunches have to be ready to be reheated or eaten cold. Right now, in mid-Winter slides and sandwiches seem rather less appealing and a hot option is preferred, but then there is the issue of keeping things warm for the lunches in stages. It has transpired that soup ticks all the boxes; it’s warm and nourishing, can easily keep warm and mostly all the family members like it. Also, there is something wonderfully homely about having a pot of soup on the hob and it makes me feel like I’m winning on the lunch front!

This soup is not only very easy to make from mainly store cupboard ingredients but also pleases the ‘bit-a-phobes’ (both children!) who only like smooth soups, but adds extra substance with the addition of rice to keep tummies full until supper time. I add chilli paste to mine as we all like slightly spicy food, but so feel free to leave it out if you’d rather have a more mellow soup for lunch.

Spicy Tomato and Rice Soup

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan)

serves 4

1 tbsp oil

1/2 onion, chopped

2 clove of garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp tomato puree

1 tsp chilli paste

2 tsps balsamic vinegar

1 tsp sugar

400ml passata

400ml vegetarian stock

1/3 cup rice

1/2 tin sweetcorn (optional)

  1. Heat the oil in a sauce pan and sweat the onion  until soft and translucent – try not to get too much colour. Add the garlic and continue to cook for a couple of minutes until fragrant.
  2. Stir in the tomato puree and chilli paste (if using) and cook for a further couple of minutes. 
  3. Pour in the tomato passata and vegetable stock and bring to a simmer.
  4. Add the sugar and balsamic vinegar. Taste and season. 
  5. Blitz if you want a very smooth soup and return to the pan and bring back to a simmer. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired.
  6. Add the rice to the simmering soup and cook for about 10 minutes, until the rice is cooked through. If using sweetcorn, add a couple of minutes before the end of the cooking.
  7. Serve with a hunk of bread or a sandwich for a hearty and warming lunch.

Pomegranate and Grenadine Pâte de Fruits (Fruit Jellies)

I’ve always loved to make homemade sweets, and as pate de fruits are such an essential part of Christmas (especially for the French side of the family) these homemade fruit jellies are the perfect addition to my 12 days of Christmas.

If you’re not familiar with pate de fruits they’re a fruity jelly sweet, like a soft fruit pastille, covered in sugar. Made with fruit juice, sugar and pectin they’re naturally vegetarian and allergy friendly despite being not particularly healthy. But then again it’s Christmas and it’s time for luxury and indulgence.

Making homemade sweets seems like the height of luxury and difficult techniques, but these are super simple and you end up with some beautiful 100% natural pure fruit pastilles. One batch makes enough for well over 50 jellies, making it easy to have some for our Christmas treats as well as an addition to my homemade hampers. As long as they’re kept in an airtight container they will keep for months.

This recipe is adapted from the fabulous book on preserving by Pam the Jam. I’d thoroughly recommend seeking it out if you enjoy delicious and exciting preserving. I’ve chosen a combination of pomegranate and grenadine as it felt suitably festive and packs a punch of flavour, but you can easily swap any juice you’d like.

Pomegranate and Grenadine Pate de Fruits

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan)

makes 50-100 jellies

500ml pure pomegranate juice

juice of 1 lime

3 tbsp grenadine

450g granulated sugar

15g pectin

75g glucose syrup

1 tsp flavourless oil

  1. Line a 20cm square baking tin with parchment
  2. Pour the juices and syrup into a deep saucepan.
  3. Stir the pectin powder into half of the sugar. Sprinkle over the juice and stir, heating gently until the sugar has dissolved.
  4. Add the rest of the sugar, the glucose syrup and oil. Let the sugar dissolve. Then bring to a rolling boil.
  5. You want the temperature to reach 108 degrees Centigrade. This will take 10-15 minutes and you will notice the bubbles changing as the mixture heats. Be sure to scrape down the sides whilst the mixture is bubbling.
  6. As soon as it reached 108 degrees Centigrade, take the pan off the heat and pour into the lined tin.
  7. Leave to cool, then cover with baking parchment. Once fully cold and set cut into pretty shapes. Squares or triangles are the most efficient but I like using mini cookie cutters to stamp out little shapes.
  8. Roll each shape in caster sugar and then store in an airtight container until ready to eat.

Cucumber and Rice Noodle Salad

I don’t know about you, but when we’re all at home (and obviously thanks to Covid-19 that is ALL the time right now) I struggle with lunch ideas the most. The other meals and snacks I find I can think up ideas, be creative and non-repetitive, but for some reason lunches often stump me. I guess it’s just one meal too many each day.

However, as I now have plenty of time to get creative with the contents of my fridge and pantry I’m trying to have at least part of each lunch as an exciting, fresh, healthy new idea.

This rice noodle salad is loosely inspired by an Ottolenghi dish; it’s fresh, tasty, easy to make with mainly store cupboard ingredients. Perfect for these days when popping to the shops is a dim and distant memory.

Cucumber Rice Noodle Salad

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, sesame-free, vegetarian and vegan)

serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side

100g rice noodles

1 tbsp olive oil

30ml vinegar

15g caster sugar

1/2 shallot, finely chopped

thumb size piece of ginger, julienned

3 mint leaves, finely shredded

1/4 red chilli, finely chopped

small bunch of coriander, roughly chopped

1 tbsp poppy seeds (optional)

1/4 cucumber, sliced in half, seeds removed and cut into half moons

  1. Place the noodles in a bowl, pour over boiling water and leave to sit for about 15 minutes
  2. In another bowl combine the sugar, vinegar and shallot. Stir to dissolve the sugar.
  3. Add the julienned ginger and finely sliced shallot to the vinegar mix and leave to infuse
  4. Drain the noodles once soft and mix with the olive oil so they don’t clump
  5. Add the chilli, cucumber and noodles to the vinegar mix, stir well and leave for 10 minutes for the flavours to mix
  6. Add the herbs and poppy seeds if using, toss and serve

Malta and Gozo with allergies

We’re just back from a wonderful, relaxing and very sunny summer holiday and I thought I’d pass on some thoughts on Malta and Gozo as holiday destination from the point of view of a family with food allergies to cater for. Whenever we go somewhere new I do a search on the supermarket availability for safe foods and allergy-friendliness of a destination, frequently coming up with nothing useful or only snippets of information. So maybe if I write my thoughts , other people may find it helps them in future.

I haven’t been paid in any way for this review, it just to help others who travel with allergies by passing on my thoughts 🙂

Similar to most families with allergies, we went self-catering; even if we could easily go to stay in hotels or all inclusive I’m not sure it would be my chosen option. It is not an issue and I think I just like cooking too much, and the trip to the local supermarket is always an interesting holiday activity for me. On this occasion we splashed out on a private villa with a pool and much needed air-con. This proved to be a highlight and certainly helped us relax and cool off. See below for our beautiful villa and pool in traditional Gozitan style.We used a company called James Villas and I have to say that the whole process from booking to returning home worked like clockwork. If you’re looking for a Mediterranean villa holiday I’d really recommend having a look at their site.

The first notable feature that made this holiday so easy was the language. Although everyone speaks Maltese, the official language is still English and that made getting our message across so much easier. It’s so reassuring when trying to convey such important requests to know that the person you’re talking to is really getting the message. I should add that the Maltese people as a nation are incredibly laid back, friendly and welcoming. I’m not sure I even heard a car horn in anger.

As we were staying on Gozo which is a small island only 14km long by 7km wide, there wasn’t a huge selection of food shops, but we did come across a Lidl, one supermarket in a shopping centre called Arkadia which we used and various little convenience stores. The selection of brands available was excellent; they even had Waitrose own-brand products!

We found the range to include products from the UK, France, Italy and Malta. The free-from brands we came across included Alpro, Pure, Valsoia, Misura and Schar. A really impressive range for a small island you might visit on holiday. So we were very well catered for, for buying dairy-free margarine, dairy-free yogurts, ice cream and milks, free-from biscuits and croissants.

We don’t need gluten-free products ourselves, but that range was even better. Amazingly, even the small convenience stores had a few free-from products available.

We did however have a problem with bread. I didn’t find any sliced loaves that didn’t have ‘may contain sesame’ labels and that wasn’t a risk we were willing to take on a small island. I only managed to buy some UK produced pittas that we survived on, along with the supplies I’d brought from home! More concerning was the fact that the peanuts were bizarrely kept within the bakery cupboards – that really wasn’t a welcome sight.

A lot of the ice cream parlours advertised vegan ice cream, but again we weren’t taking any risks whilst on an island with no big hospital, so opted for very cooling, iced ‘slushies’ instead which were available everywhere.

We ate out a couple of times. Lunch whilst visiting the Citadella in Victoria, the Capital, and one in a restaurant near our villa called Il Girna by Peppe. Both occasions were successful. The staff were very accommodating and we felt confident that they took our concerns seriously. Both adapted the menu to suit our needs, and whilst the resulting dishes were fairly plain, they were safe, so we were happy customers. If you’re after gluten-free or vegan food, the provision was excellent with dishes available in all the establishments we checked.

So, all in all, it was a really good destination for a holiday with allergies/food restrictions and I’d definitely recommend considering it as an option. We only visiting Malta once to go to the excellent aquarium, but I believe it offers more of the holiday resort type holiday. Gozo was much quieter, with stunning architecture (and really interesting house names – our favourite was ‘Reality’!). It’s fairly rocky with dramatic cliffs, stony bays and always beautiful crystal clear sea and inlets. Seafood lovers will be very happy, many very simple looking beach cafes and shacks seem to be turning out the freshest seafood. Sandy beaches are few and far between, with the red sanded Ramla Bay being the favourite. It should be noted that we had some fairly hairy drives with roads suddenly ending in front of us, or being so steep that the car couldn’t make it up in 1st gear, something I have never experienced before.

There’s also plenty of culture from pre-historic temples which pre-date the pyramids of Egypt by one thousand years, to hilltop Basilicas aplenty. It seemed to me that Visit Malta has invested a lot in their tourist attractions and they were all modern and top-notch. I’d say we did everything in Gozo in one week, but then we like to be busy and you could happily stretch it out with more ‘relax time’, and that would be rather lovely in the wonderful southern Mediterranean climate.

Rich Chocolate Sorbet

It’s not often that we swelter like this – well that used to be the case, who knows for the future 😦

All anyone is thinking or talking about is the heat! I do love how us Brits are totally obsessed with the weather and talk above it over any other ongoing national crisis.

Even I, with my constant baking and cooking, have had to turn off the oven to cope with the extreme heat. But that won’t stop me experimenting and tinkering with flavours 😉

After a little hiccup from the new divine Nomo chocolate (made by Kinnerton so safely free-from) the other week where they copied and pasted some of my old recipes onto their website without crediting me, I have been gifted a year’s supply of chocolate. [p.s I have not been paid in any way for this recipe, the free chocolate was due to their mistake and I’m making full use of it!] In fact we now have so much chocolate in the house that I’m having to cook with it even more than usual, and usual is really really often! I was so disappointed when I first noticed they had used my recipes without asking or crediting, but delighted that they have turned out to be the brand I hoped they were; there are now full credits on the website and they’ve suggested future collaboration which i’m really excited about 🙂

So with masses of chocolate to happily get through and a heatwave in progress, my thoughts turned to chocolate sorbet. As I’ve mentioned before we’re big sorbet fans in this household and the thought of turning some delicious chocolate into a light, fresh and refreshing pudding seemed just right.

It turns out that chocolate sorbet is totally delicious. It’s lighter than ice cream, full of chocolate flavour and quicker to set than fruity sorbets. I made the mix at lunchtime and it was acceptably frozen by the evening (see the final photo after the recipe), even better by the next day or later in the week. I don’t have an ice cream maker to churn the sorbet so my version is a little grainy, but I actually find that quite pleasant as the grainy bits are like tiny chocolate chips, giving both added flavour and texture.

Chocolate Sorbet

(dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soya-free, sesame-free, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan)

serves 6

200g caster sugar

40g cocoa powder

400ml water

70g dairy-free chocolate, finely chopped

  1. mix together the sugar and cocoa powder in a saucepan. Pour in the water gradually to avoid any lumps of cocoa
  2. Dissolve the sugar and bring to a boil for a couple of minutes to make a chocolate sugar syrup.
  3. place the finely chopped chocolate into a bowl, and slowly pour over the sugar syrup. Stir until the chocolate is melted. Cool.
  4. Pour into a Tupperware box and place in the freezer. Every couple of hours stir through with a fork to get rid of any large ice crystals. Once a sorbet texture is obtained, simply keep in the freezer ready to scoop.
  5. or, cool the chocolate mix, then pour into your ice cream machine and churn as indicated by the manufacturers instructions.