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Oh BOY, oh boy… Rustling up a little *Carbonara*

17 Nov

20130628-072722.jpgOver the last few months I have seriously neglected my love of blogging and cooking yummy foods – not because I have fallen out of love with either of these things, but because my life has well *changed* a little.

Things were not really working out for me in my previous job, so I went for a complete career change and am now a very happy bunny.  My new job has taken over my life, (but only for the good) and now that my training period is complete I am ready to start getting back to writing my blog and cooking up some yummy foods again!

As well as changing my career I also have to admit that a BOY has entered my life and I have been teaching him how to cook some simple dishes, make meals that he/we can have for lunch during the week and just spending quality time with him.  SO APOLOGIES for neglecting you gemsfoodgems.

My work hours have changed significantly and returning home from work at 7:30pm in the evenings doesn’t leave much time to cook a healthy, delicious but most importantly QUICK meal.  Therefore my repertoire has changed considerably and I have been making more ‘simple’ dishes (it has also given me change to teach the boy a few things).  So here is one of my favourite, quick and easy recipes (and also one of the first meals I made for him).

PREPARATION TIME: 5 minutes

COOKING TIME: 15 minutes

MAKES: 4 portions of carbonara

INGREDIENTS:

  • 300g brown pasta (I always choose penne, but for a traditional carbonara use spaghetti)
  • 4 -6 rashers of bacon (smoked or unsmoked)
  • 1 large egg
  • 50ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 125g Philadelphia cheese (or any cream cheese)
  • 150ml single cream
  • Black pepper
  • Parmesan to serve
  • 1 garlic bread – optional

HOW TO MAKE THE CARBONARA…

First boil the kettle, get a large pan at the ready and place the brown pasta into the pan.  Once the kettle has boiled pour the water over (so all the pasta is fully covered) and then bring to the boil.  Leave on a rolling boil for 12 – 15 minutes, until the pasta is al dente (i.e. cooked but not too soft – it should have a little bit of bite!).

Whilst the pasta cooks chop the bacon into small cubes.  I use 4 – 6 rashers of bacon as it is quite salty and too much salt is good for no one!  If I buy thick cut bacon then I will use just 4 rashers, if I buy standard bacon I will use 6 as you want to be able to taste the bacon, but too much isn’t good.  You could use the bacon bits if you wish (this will save even more time), but I don’t like doing this as the bacon bits are generally VERY fatty.  I cut all the fat off my bacon and use just the meat – for health reasons, but also because I HATE chewy non-edible bits of food.  YUCK.

Place a large frying pan on the heat, once warm/hot add the bacon to the pan and allow to cook until golden/brown in places.  Turn off the heat and leave to cool a little.  Whilst this cools in a jug add the single cream, milk and the large egg; then whisk for a couple of minutes.  Now add the cream cheese to the warm pan, with the cooked bacon bits and stir.  This will ‘melt’ the cream cheese and it will become a little more sauce like – as oppose to a solid lump.

The pasta should now be cooked, so drain the pasta (so there is NO water left) and then pour into the frying pan with the bacon and cream cheese.  To this add the mix of cream, milk and egg, season with black pepper (to your taste) and then begin to gently stir.  You do NOT need to add any heat to the pan at this stage, as the pan should be hot enough and the cooked pasta should also have just enough heat to start making the sauce thicken.  If at this stage this does not occur, add a little heat to the pan (a very low heat) and keep stirring/mixing the pasta and sauce until the sauce thickens.  The egg will allows this thickening process to occur, so if you do not stir/mix well enough you WILL end up with scrambled egg bits through your sauce – which is not good!

It should look like this…

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My penne carbonara nicely thickening in the pan…

Once your pasta carbonara has got to this stage, is heated through and smelling great you are ready to serve!  So, its time to get the plates ready and if you have cooked a garlic bread (it will need to go in the oven when the pasta starts cooking) then it is time to serve – along with some grated parmesan on the top.  The new boy and I LOVE this little dish and we even get a portion each for work the next day… a little bit of heaven ENJOY!

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SPICING UP MY LIFE with a *pinch* of frugal-ness, a *drop* of creativity and a *spoonful* of patience!

22 Apr

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Recently I have started hoarding spices! As my repertoire has grown over the last year and I have been writing this blog, I have started to acquire a large range of spices. I started to find that buying them in little glass pots (the ones you get in the supermarket) was actually costing me a lot of money and I felt that I was paying more for the glass than I was for the spices. I had a shop around and found a little supermarket in Shoreditch, London where I could get any spice I wanted in a bag for about 89p and I got a lot more spice for my money. There are lots and lots of places that do these bags of spices, so you will definitely be able to get hold of them.

The only issue I had then was that the spice bags were falling over and if this happened after I had snipped the corner off then they would fall over and spill all over my cupboard… cue removing all cupboard items and cleaning. This did not make me happy. I therefore started collecting jars from my friends, house-mates and at work colleagues and within a few weeks I had enough to house my spices. The next issue was that I now could not tell the cinnamon from the five spice from the cumin; without getting all 3 out and having a good sniff. ISSUE. I kept worrying my carrot cakes would be flavoured with cumin and that my curries would be all about cinnamon. So, I decided to get a little bit creative and make tags for my spice jars. Here is what you need:

  • Jars – any size and shape
  • Spices in bags
  • Ribbon
  • Coloured Paper
  • Black pens
  • Hole punch
  • Scissors
  • Time & patience

Now you have everything ready, you can get started and get crafty. So, cut out little tag shapes, rectangular at one end, the other end finishing with a point. Then punch a hole in the end where the point is and write the name of your spice neatly on the tag. Now thread some fine ribbon through the hole and tie around the top of your jar. DONE!

It really is that simple. I think they look great, so I placed them around my garden and photographed them as they just looked so rustic and pretty. Now whenever I go to my cupboard I smile as I made those, but also as I know what spice I am getting!

HAPPY CRAFTY TIME PEOPLE!

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LET’S CELEBRATE… I made it to 1,000 hits today! THANK YOU!

18 Mar

Thank you for helping me hit 1,000 views today!  A very happy little lady 🙂

Hello everyone, just a quick word from me… I made it to 1,000 hits today.  Thank you very much to everyone who has taken the time to read my blog and visit my pages.  I am a huge foodie, I cook and bake all weekend every weekend (apart from when I am at the gym or sleeping!) and it really is a huge part of my life.

I decided to write a blog a few months ago, so that I could share my passion with others.  At first I wasn’t sure I was going to be any good at it and wondered what my aim was, but with a help from a few others (you know who you are) I have fallen in love with blogging and now I spend my weekend cooking, baking, photographing, instagram-ing and wordpressing!

I set myself a few goals last month and today I reached my first one!  Knowing that people are reading my recipes and sharing my food experiences/stories is really great.  So thanks again and please do keep reading… you are making my day!

Gems x

The ORANGE-IEST, Lemon Cake you ever did see…

11 Mar
My orange coloured Lemon Cake.  It was phenomenal :)

My orange coloured Lemon Cake. It was phenomenal!

My mother and I made the lemon cake together yesterday for mothers day, using the eggs we collected from the chickens.  We then devoured it with a large mug of tea!

I just wanted to take the opportunity to share the end result of this cake with you here.  It was fantastically orange (due to the eggs we used from our chickens) and it was beautifully lemon-y.  It really was a taste sensation!  So, if you are doing any of your own baking at home and can afford to buy organic, free-range eggs do – you will not regret it, I promise.

Do you want to make my lemon cake?  If so, you can find the link on the right of the page under ‘A little Lemon Cake for my Mother Hen’, or simply click on this link!

If you make one of your own do send some pictures over to me, or send me a TWEET @gemsfoodgems.

Just a few of the chickens for the eggs for my Lemon Cake... Thanks!

Just a few of the chickens for the eggs for my Lemon Cake… Thanks!

Strange little LOVE happenings… I just have to share with you.

8 Mar

Over the last month I have had a few strange sightings of foods that are shaped like love hearts.  I have been keeping you up-to-date about them on my ‘Food Related Bits and Bobs’ section, but it is getting so strange I thought that I would blog about them properly and also add them to my random section to, as I feel it is important to share these strange sightings.  I would also love to hear from you, if you have had any of the same/similar things happen to you i.e. rude vegetables, food letters, strange food shapes in general, as it is so interesting.

So, here is what has been happening to me.

20130214-091703.jpg9th February 2013

I decided to attend a friends baking club, its actually somewhere in Shoreditch, London where you volunteer your time and skills in return for someone elses skills.  On the 9th February I had been asked to share my baking skills, which I did.  I planned to make some little beetroot muffins (as per my blog) and when I arrived my friend Sarah said to me that she had brought me some cake cases.  To my shock and horror they were love heart shaped.  Now, I am a girly girl but I am not a love heart girl.  Sorry, just no.  It is NOT me.  But, fine for the sake of the other participants I thought it would be nice to go through with it, so I spread some CHOCOLATE BEETROOT MUFFIN LOVE.

20130214-095011.jpg14th February 2013

I blogged about it twice last month, but as we all know it was Valentines day. Great for some, not so much for others. I went shopping in my favourite fruit and vegetable shop in Shoreditch, did my grocery shop and off I went home.  I came to prepare dinner and found this little LOVE SPUD in my shopping.  I decided it was a sign and skipped around the house with a grin on my face for the rest of the evening.  It hasn’t turned out to be a sign at all (grrrrr!!), but this was the second time in a week that a random love heart had popped into my life, so I decided to document it and share it with you all.

photo (5)1st March to 6th March 2013

Since the 14th February I have had a few weird sightings of more love heart shaped vegetables and love signs.  The first came last weekend when I was chopping my chorizo for my homemade, pizza (yes including the base, using wholemeal flour people!).  I chopped the first slice, second, third and looked… are my eyes decieving me?  Am I making love hearts?  Yes!  A chopping board full of CHORIZO LOVE this time.  Feeling a little freaked out, but also kind of excitied (forever the optimist it would seem), I created a pattern of them and photographed them… so here they are!

photo (6)The next was when I was walking around Shoreditch and I looked down at some scribblings on the pavement thinking ‘WOW Banksy has branched out into pavement graffiti and I am standing on it’… mixed with ‘who scibbles on the floor in permanent marker pen, pah’… but no, I don’t think I had that quite right and rather it was some little love elf spreading love around Shoreditch, London.  Needless to say, I had no option but to photograph it…

Shoreditch is full of lovely little things like this, but I never see them in REAL LIFE.  So it was totally fab to see one for myself… and yes, those are my favorite brown boots.  The slogan is right ‘LOVE IS ALL U NEED’ (… along with a little bit of food, water and oxygen).

photo (3)My last, but not least sighting came on Tuesday afternoon.  I was running a cooking session (yes, I do this for a job to!) and I was preparing some fresh beetroots for the group, who LOVE beetroots.  They are obsessed.  My co-worker passed me a peeled beet to chop and voila, this little BEETROOT BEAUTY appeared…

As you will know if you are an avid follower of my blog, I have got on a train and headed to the North of England for some family time.  Whilst there I decided to share my love heart related stories.  To this my sister added ‘yeah it happened to me to’.  No way.  Yes way.

photo (7)My sister was preparing lunch for her and her boyfriend in their new home and was chopping some carrots.  There in the middle of the carrot was a love heart.  She instinctively photographed it, as she knew I was having some sightings of my own and then she shared it with me yesterday.  WOW.  So, we can now add a LOVE CARROT to the pile.

I am not sure if there will be any more FOOD LOVE in my life, but I am quite enjoying finding them and being surprised and excited as they appear.  This isn’t someting that has ever happened to me before and although I am optimistic I don’t look for things like this in every day life.  Sceptics amongst us will say ‘you only see what you want to see Gemma’… and yes you are very correct.  But I am not sure you can deny these are love heart shaped foods that I have simply stumbled upon.  I am not making them, adapting them or creating them… I am doing nothing to adjust the shape of anything.  But maybe I do see beauty in things, and for that I don’t think I can be critized.

I hope you enjoy my blog.  Thank you for reading, Gems… with LOVE x

Gemma’s Marvellous Medicine #1 – Honey & Lemon Drink

23 Feb

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I’ve been away for a little while as like many of my friends in London town, I have been suffering with nothing less than ‘man flu’.  This is obviously a serious illness which requires constant moaning about and should be accompanied by a miserable face… I really did go for it and lapped up the sympathy votes. 

I hope you are all feeling a little better, but if not, I thought it would be an ideal time to share ‘Gemma’s Marvellous Medicine’.  Admittedly, this is something I have stolen from my mother’s little box of tricks, but it really does work.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 Lemon
  • 1 tsp Honey
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 100ml boiling water

METHOD

This really is extremely easy to make but it works a treat.  The lemon is first, so get yourself a glass and into it squeeze your lemon.  Roll the lemon on the work-surface for a little while using the palm of your hand – this will release the juices.  Then, cut the lemon in half and squeeze into the glass.  You could use your hand as a sieve to prevent all the pips from going into the glass or if you are feeling really rotten and want to be lazy, just throw the pips in to!  (Don’t do this if you are giving it to children!)

Next pop in a teaspoon of sugar, then a teaspoon of honey and then the hot water.  Now, I like this drink nice and strong and lemony.  If you want the same add less water, if you want a long drink add some more.

A LITTLE BIT OF THEORY…

So, why is this drink so good?  Well, the lemon is our vitamin C, so this gives our immune system a real boost and allows our body to start fighting all the germs.  We only absorb a certain amount of vitamin C in any one day, so using half a lemon will give you all the vitamins you need.  Don’t try eating several lemons – vitamin C can only do so much!

The honey is great, its one of natures natural antibacterial remedies, as it contains phenolic acid and flavonoids.  It compliments the lemon excellently and seems to allow the antioxidants in the lemon to be absorbed much more readily.  Honey is present in a large number of cough medicines, and it seems to coat the throat, so if you have a dry cold or a chesty cough this remedy is excellent.

The sugar – this is a necessity for me.  I have a sweet tooth, but the sugar seems to cut through the bitterness of the lemon in a way the honey cannot.  Sugar is also the provider of energy, therefore if we are feeling low and lethargic the sugar just seems to give you a boost and give you the energy spurt you may just need to get to work.

Hot water – I use the boiling water to dissolve all the honey and sugar and to bring the drink together, but there is a bit of theory behind it to.  Have you been ill and your mum gives you cooled, boiled water to drink rather than water from the tap?  Yes, me to!  This is because the boiling of the water removes any little germs/bacteria thay may be in our water, which our bodies could normally fight off.  It therefore follows that using hot water here has the same effect (no extra germs added), but it has the benefit of warming us up on a cold wintery day too… perfect!

I give this drink to my friends and housemates when they are feeling under the weather and they all say ‘wow it tastes incredible’ and that they do feel a little better after it.  I would suggest you have it in the mornings before work or in the evenings before bed.  It really is just like a ‘hug-in-a-mug’! 

HAPPY DRINKING PEOPLE & I really do hope you are all feeling better soon!  I am off to drink my honey and lemon drink right now… ATCHOOO!

Winter Warm… Spicy Butternut Squash Soup!

24 Jan

Feeling cold?  Feeling a little down?  Feeling like you need a boost of vitamins and minerals?

Look no further!  This week I have been making this delicious winter warmer, and as per usual I took a recipe I know and then mixed it up a little.  It’s the time of year where we all need a good, hearty soup for our lunch/dinner to keep us warm, but so we feel like we are being good to ourselves too…. It is January after all!  I know I require soup at this time of year! So, why not make this recipe and then  freeze some of the portions for another day (see below), or you can pop it in a warm flask or Tupperware and take it to work with you for a delicious lunch.

If you want to eat this with some bread, try to choose a wholegrain/brown bread, as this will be packed with wholegrain goodness!  You could even have a tasty scone (see my next recipe, coming soon!) and make sure you eat these warm, with piping hot soup!  WOW!

Makes: 6 portions

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: 20 minutes (until all the squash is soft)

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 4 carrots (finely chopped)
  • 2 stalks celery (finely chopped or grated)
  • 1 Leek or 1 large onion (finely chopped)
  • 1 large Butternut Squash (diced or grated)
  • 4 handfuls Red lentils
  • 2cm grated ginger
  • 1 ½ tablespoon ground coriander
  • 2 tsps ground chilli OR 2 fresh chilli’s, finely chopped (or enough to suit you!)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped/grated
  • 1 tin reduced fat coconut milk
  • 2 litres / 8 cups water
  • 2 vegetable stock cubes
  • Black pepper to season
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 handful of finely chopped fresh coriander – to serve (optional)

Method:

Wash your hands, get all your equipment and ingredients ready and then before you chop anything wash all your vegetables.

The lentils need washing next.  Place your 4 handfuls of red lentils into a large bowl.  Add lukewarm water and using your hands rub the lentils together.  You will notice the water turns cloudy.  Drain the water and repeat until the water is clear (approx. 3 rinses).

Next the lentils need to be cooked.  Most people would probably put the lentils in towards the middle/end of the cooking process, but this isn’t the right way to use lentils in your cooking.  It’s best to cook them and allow them to soften before you add any other ingredients.  So, place them in a pan, add the 2 litres/8 cups of water and bring this to the boil and then allow the lentils to simmer whilst you prepare the vegetables.

Now you are ready to start preparing your vegetables.

It’s really important when making a soup to ensure that all the vegetables are cut to the same size – this will ensure they all cook at the same speed.  So, if you are grating your vegetables (this will reduce the cooking time by 5 minutes) then you need to grate the carrots and the butternut squash.  If you are chopping – chop the carrots, butternut squash, celery and onion (or leek) so they are all the same size – no more than 1cm cubed.

You will notice that the pan with the lentils in is boiling away nicely, but that foam has developed on the top.  Spoon off this foam and throw it away – it doesn’t add any flavour, in fact just the opposite!

So, you’re ok to put all your vegetables into the pot now.  Place them in carefully – do not burn your hands and then add all of your herbs and spices.  Chilli is a flavour that some people can handle and others can’t, so if you are not sure just add 1tsp.  If you are brave or just like spicy food you can add a few more – but you must taste after each one to check it’s not too spicy.  If it is too spicy it could be inedible. Add the crushed/finely chopped garlic, stock cube/s and ginger.

Bring the soup to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes until the vegetables are soft.

Finally add the reduced fat coconut milk, stir well and take off heat.  I choose to use reduced fat coconut milk as it just reduces the calories a little, without taking away any of the flavour – so why not?  I think this is a slightly healthier option; especially if you are watching your calorie intake!

If you prefer a smooth soup then blend the soup with a hand blender or food processor for a thick, smooth consistency.  If you like chunky soups then you can leave it without blending; it will taste just as good.

Serve with brown, wholemeal or granary bread for an additional treat – or to make the meal even heartier.

WHY THIS RECIPE?

Squashes are in season from August right through to March, so they are a fantastic winter vegetable.  They are a great source of fibre, to help you feel fuller for longer and they also contain lots of Vitamin A and Vitamin C.  Vitamin C is really important in the winter months as it helps boost the immune system, which can help you fight off colds or even prevent you from getting them in the first place.

Soups, as you will know are a great winter warmer!  So, if you live alone, don’t discount this recipe as it makes 4 portions.  Get creative!  You could make this recipe, eat one portion right away and freeze the other 3 for occasions you fancy some hearty soup.  Ensure to freeze it in suitable containers so that you can easily defrost and reheat the soup – you may just need to add a little more liquid when you come to heat it up again.  Alternatively, you could take this soup to work in a flask as a tasty, healthy lunchtime treat or out on a walk in the biting cold to help you defrost and re-energise.

If you decide to eat some bread with this soup, try to choose a healthy wholemeal/brown bread.  Wholegrain/brown bread is a great alternative to white bread as the wheat is not refined, so you get the wholegrain goodness, which includes extra fibre, B vitamins and essential fatty acids.  The increased fibre will keep you feeling fuller for longer!