Recipe #9: Gluten-free lemon olive oil cake

This is the recipe that convinced me ‘Cup4Cup’ flour is simply the best gluten-free flour around. Unfortunately, it’s only available in the US, but I’m hoping it will make it across the pond soon. Otherwise, I will have to continue bringing a bag back in my suitcase every time I visit family and friends back home …

I clipped this recipe from an American magazine so the measurements are not imperial. But cup measuring spoons are now readily available in cooking shops here. All the ingredients are easy to find. Just make sure to use cornmeal, as in polenta, rather than cornflour, the thickener.

These beautiful cakes come together very easily. Only ½ cup of cornmeal is required so the cakes do not have the gritty texture that some cornmeal-based recipes develop. The Cup4Cup flour helps the batter retain a very similar texture and consistency to that made with standard flour and does not require additional xantham gum for sponginess. I think the hardest thing about this recipe was greasing the mini bundt cake pan and making sure the cakes wouldn’t stick in the nooks and crannies. But you could easily use a loaf pan or mini loaf pans instead.

Mine didn’t brown as nicely as those pictured in the recipe, but perhaps I’ll leave them in the oven a little longer next time. And of course, the sprinkling of powdered sugar makes a lovely presentation.

If you’re looking for a gluten-free flour substitute, please try Cup4Cup if you can get hold of it. And if you can’t, please email the company and tell them how much you’d like to see it here in the UK and perhaps we’ll generate a groundswell of demand! Hungry Games verdict: this recipe stays in my kitchen, along with my precious bag of Cup4Cup flour.

lemon olive oil cake lemon olive oil cake results

Recipe #8: Egg and bacon stuffed tomatoes

Look at the gorgeous photo included with this recipe. The colours and textures convinced me to clip it from a Sunday supplement and I was excited to try cooking it. While it does include bacon, this recipe appealed to me because it’s light on the meat content. It’s positioned as a breakfast item, but we love this type of thing for dinner. So I tried it as a mid-week meal.

Starting with ingredients, the list was quite short and easy to acquire. Slightly annoying was the tomato item listed as topped and emptied. My feeling is that the instructions to slice off the lids and scoop out the contents should be part of the recipe; it’s not as if you can find tomatoes already prepared this way at the store. A minor offense, however, and not a problem if you read the recipe prior to starting to cook.

Hollowing out the tomatoes took a bit of patience and finesse, especially for the very ripe tomatoes. I suggest trying a grapefruit knife with a curved end to reach the bottoms of the tomatoes. Then scrambling the eggs was straightforward, though I probably let them cook a bit too long. Next time, I’ll watch the pan more closely, take the eggs off when they’re still runny as the recipe instructs so they pour into the tomato bowls more easily. I used cubed pancetta instead of chopping bacon and pre-cooked it a bit in a separate pan.

The filled tomatoes looked sweet going into the oven and the kitchen started to smell lovely as everything roasted together. My children added a bit of cheese on top of their tomatoes instead of dill and that was an easy way to tailor these treats. The resulting stuffed tomatoes were beautiful on the plate and tasted great too. Hungry Games verdict: this easy recipe can certainly stay in my kitchen!

egg and bacon stuffed tomatoes egg and bacon stuffed tomatoes cooked

Recipe #7: Moroccan lamb

Even though this recipe describes itself as a summer roast, I gave it a try recently and it went down a treat no matter the season. Right up top, alternative cooking instructions were given to cook the lamb in a slow cooker so I jumped at that opportunity. The ultimate in advance preparation, I looked forward to popping the joint into the slow cooker in the middle of the day, then coming home to dinner ready to eat in the evening.

Some typical ingredients went into the slow cooker with the lamb but also dried apricots and a lovely Moroccan-inspired paste to top the joint. I couldn’t find pomegranate molasses at the grocery store, which surprised me as this was a Sainsbury’s recipe. I had some treacle in the cupboard and guessed that this might be the right consistency so I added this to the paste instead.

All went well assembling the ingredients in the slow cooker. The recipe instructed me to use a ‘high’ setting on the slow cooker but mine only had one setting. I gave the dish an extra hour to cook so I hoped that would make up for the lower temperature.

Well, sadly, that was a false hope and I was disappointed to come home in the evening to find no warm aroma of lamb in the house and a barely cooked joint in the slow cooker. It’s hard for me to blame the recipe as my slow cooker probably wasn’t on a high enough temperature. But we were still disappointed when I had to throw together something else for dinner instead. I finished cooking this lamb dish the next night in the regular oven and I’m happy to report that it was delicious. Even the children voted it a keeper. So, despite the very mixed bag of good and bad results, The Hungry Games verdict for Moroccan lamb is that it can stay in my kitchen! Obviously, I’ll probably use the regular oven rather than the slow cooker next time.

Moroccan lamb

Recipe #6: Massaman beef patties

Snipped from Sainsbury’s magazine, I had high hopes for this recipe because it looked like it could be made in one dish, featured plenty of fresh veg and included some new flavors. I was curious about ‘massaman curry paste’ and the rice vermicelli noodles made it gluten-free; a necessity for my coeliac husband. Finally, it was hard to resist a recipe that used the word ‘zesty’ in its description.

From the top, I found the promotion of this recipe as ‘burgers without the buns’ misleading as these don’t resemble traditional burgers at all. But I was pleased to make the vegetable mixture and beef patties in advance. While the recipe instructed me to slice the sugar snap peas in half, this only made the tiny half peas on the inside fall out, so I left my sugar snaps whole. The beef patties and veg could be stored in the fridge all day until they needed to be grilled just before dinner.

I hadn’t really cooked with instant rice vermicelli noodles before so I was thrilled at how quick and easy they are to use. I’ll definitely keep a supply of these in the cupboard for the future. As usual, I kept the dressing on the side so my little ones could add or not to taste. After everything was assembled in the roasting dish, the Asian aromas that came from the oven were enticing. Colorful and tasty, we all enjoyed the taste of the beef patties and the crunch of the fresh veg and peanuts in the dish.

With recipes written like this one, I find myself re-ordering the steps in my head, especially if I’m preparing part of the dish in advance. For example, I didn’t want to mix the dressing into the rest of the ingredients in advance, so I didn’t find it helpful when the instructions told me to use a particular bowl for the dressing and add other components. For me, this recipe didn’t quite achieve the right balance between too much instruction and not enough.

So, it’s a difficult Hungry Games call to make on Massaman beef patties: should it stay or go? Because the result was so tasty, I’m going to let this recipe stay in my kitchen. But I’ll probably make notes in the margin for next time.

Massaman beef patties

massaman beef patties COOKED

Recipe #5: Salmon, curly kale and sweet potato mash

This recipe was part of a newspaper supplement featuring healthy dishes. It appealed because I’m always trying to get my kids to enjoy fish rather than eat it under duress. One of them refuses salmon so I had to substitute with one piece of cod.

Ingredients were easy to find and I was pleased to use sweet potato for mash for some lovely autumn color. Similar to Recipe #4 with baked eggs, the tomato ratatouille could be made in advance and used over other dishes as well. The fish cooked quickly so the veg could be steamed while that was in the oven. Our kale didn’t look nearly as soft as the recipe photo so I’ll continue searching for a better way to prepare that super food.

Overall, this full-meal recipe was clearly written and simple to put together. The tomato ratatouille components combined well and helped my children enjoy eating fish. I added carrot and swede for even more color on the plate, but I’ll probably substitute the kale next time with a different green veg. Hungry Games verdict: this recipe can stay in my kitchen!

Salmon curly kale and sweet potato mash

salmon curly kale and sweet potato mash COOKED

Recipe #4: Baked eggs with chorizo and tomato ragout

Oooh, we love baked eggs in our house. And the idea of adding chorizo made my youngest child actually rub his hands together in anticipation.

I appreciate a recipe that suggests steps that can be done in advance. So I did indeed make the tomato ragout earlier in the day and that made dinner preparation quite quick. The ragout itself is a filling, savoury topping so next time, I might double this and save some for another dish. I had run out of saffron sadly, so had to leave this out. I’m sure it would have added depth to the flavour, but the strong chorizo was very tasty anyway.

Individual ovenproof dishes worked well for combining the portions of ragout and eggs. Baking time was a bit long for my oven making the yolks less runny than I would have liked, so I’ll adapt that next time. I had sour cream in the fridge so I used that instead of Greek yogurt as it achieved the same contrast to the rich chorizo.

I didn’t snap a photo of our baked eggs because they disappeared so quickly! In fact, even though the recipe states that it serves four, I’ll need to make more in the future as the children requested seconds. This recipe certainly gets to stay in my kitchen as part of The Hungry Games. Give it a try!

Baked eggs and chorizo with tomato ragout

Recipe #3: Roasted red pepper, ginger and prawn rice

After quite a long summer hiatus, The Hungry Games are back! I’ve held out and not purchased any new cookbooks as I’m trying to get through my pile of clipped recipes first. But Christmas is coming and I know I’ll want to put some cookbooks on my list for Santa … So I’ve been using my clipped recipes a lot in an effort to clear out some of the mess. Now it’s time to share the verdicts on whether these recipes will stay in my kitchen or be sent to the recycle bin.

Starting with Roasted red pepper, ginger and prawn rice –

This recipe looked colourful and I’m always eager to try meat-free meals as healthy alternatives. The idea of cooking everything in one dish also appealed to me to shorten cleaning time after dinner.

Ingredients for this dish were straightforward and easily found in the grocery store. I didn’t, however, read the rice item closely enough. The recipe actually calls for pre-cooked rice and quinoa but I don’t usually use this, so I had to quickly steam some rice and boil some quinoa before adding to the dish. Other than that, I enjoyed roasting the vegetables and did some of this in advance. After that, combining and cooking the rest of the dish took very little time. I kept the dressing on the side to suit my little one’s palate.

The prawns became a bit dry but the combination of roasted vegetables, onions, coriander and chilli made the dish robust and flavoursome. Hungry Games verdict: this recipe can stay!

roasted red pepper ginger and prawns

roasted red pepper ginger and prawns COOKED

Recipe #2: Sardines on toast

What makes a good recipe? We probably all have different answers to this, depending on whether we are cooking or just eating. For me, a good recipe should have:

-          Clear, sensible language

-          A short list of ingredients, all of which can be easily purchased

-          Realistic time estimates

-          A lovely photo

These criteria are strictly based on my own cooking style and limitations. My end results need to be within a rather narrow range of flavors to please two small children and a non-adventurous husband. I seem to like having an image of the dish to aim for, so I can see if I’ve ‘done it right’ at the end. At other points in my life, I may have added criteria such as ‘beautiful presentation’ but it’s not as important now. And I’m clearly not going to shop for exotic ingredients at specialist markets either. I predict that The Hungry Games will turn up some quite simple recipes because if they looked too complicated, I probably wouldn’t have clipped them in the first place.

So, here is a very straightforward lunch recipe for sardines on toast.

Because I work from a home office, I have the opportunity to make fresh lunches for myself. This one looked tasty, healthy and relatively easy. I omitted the red chillies because I’m a wimp when it comes to spice. But otherwise, my end result looked pleasingly similar to the recipe photo. The sardines added a hearty flavour that wasn’t too overpowering, as anchovies might have been. But I think that I should have added at least a bit of chili or another spice because my version lacked a fun kick without it.

Overall though, this recipe was a tiny treat that provided me with a quick but wholesome lunch. The Hungry Games verdict: it can stay in my kitchen!

Sardines on toast recipe


Sardines on toast finished

Recipe #1: Chicken tagine with lemon, honey, olives and fresh vegetables

I received a tagine as a Christmas gift and was excited to try it. It’s a beautiful object, which somehow made me optimistic that the food it cooked would be beautiful too.

The instruction booklet from Emile Henry included a few recipes so I thought it would be safe to start with one of those. The ingredients were straightforward and I used preserved lemon for the first time.

The cooking process started similarly to other stew recipes. I fried onions, garlic and the chicken right in the tagine on the stove top. Then I tried to bring the chicken pieces into a pyramid as instructed – harder than it sounds. The vegetables were then squeezed around the outside of the sagging pyramid. Much less liquid was added than when making a stew in a casserole dish with a lid.

Then the tagine went in the oven. That was it, pretty simple. Not far into the cooking time, I realized that I should have placed a baking sheet under the tagine because a lot of the liquid was bubbling up around the edges of the lid and dripping on to the bottom of the oven. About an hour and a half later, we sat down with the beautiful tagine in the centre of the table. Taking the lid off was quite dramatic as a plume of steam puffed out.

I’m disappointed to report an anti-climactic ending to this recipe. The chicken was very bland and my children asked if we could please try a different recipe next time – at least they were diplomatic! The turmeric in the sauce stained our tablecloth. I’ll beware of that hazard next time I use that spice. So between the burnt-smelling oven, the stained tablecloth and the unsatisfied family, The Hungry Games verdict is that this recipe will be going to the recycling bin.

I’m not giving up on the tagine, though. Another family member with a tagine has recommended a cookbook called Easy Tagine by Ghillie Basan. Maybe I’ll give that a go next time.



Chicken tagine with lemon, honey, olives and fresh vegetables

The Hungry Games – will the recipe stay or go?

One of my 2015 goals for Cristina Benson Communications is to provide marketing support to a food client. Partly because many independent restaurants and bakeries here in London are working hard to provide great food and I’d like to help them grow. But also because I love both the science and the art of food. I enjoy serving satisfying meals to my family and learning why a recipe did or didn’t work. So I’d like to combine my enjoyment of food with my copywriting day job.

I have a potential challenge in that I haven’t done much food writing outside of taking Guardian Masterclasses with Jay Rayner and Felicity Cloake. So, here, as part of this blog, I’m going to develop some experience writing about food.

It wasn’t hard to come up with a structure for The Hungry Games. Over the years, I’ve clipped, snipped and ripped so many recipes and shoved them in cookbooks in the hopes that someday I would try them.  Well, someday is here. I’m going to try all of these loose recipes and decide which ones can stay in my kitchen and which must go to the recycling bin. This isn’t District 12 so no one will go hungry. But all of my ragged recipes will compete as tributes so see which ones survive.

And at least my cookbooks will be a lot tidier in the end. Happy Hungry Games! And may the odds be ever in the best recipe’s favor . . .

pile of recipes