Courgette, dill and ricotta quiche with a rapeseed oil crust

I have a very large plastic tub in my lounge. One of those tubs that parents keep their kids’ toys in perhaps to prevent the inevitable and very painful Lego brick stuck between your toes and the plastic farm set from being sucked up the hoover. Yes one of those 2L ones. It has my stash of magazines in, Good Food magazines, and I cherish them all. Ever since my first, December 2012 to be exact, I’ve had a monthly subscription and my Good Food magazine delivered to the door at the end of the month as it’s just rolling into the next one.

Rummaging through you will notice which ones enclose the beloved recipes. Dog eared pages splattered with tinned tomatoes or oil drips and the front cover slowly slipping away from its hinges. Typically these recipes are family favourites, a one-pot tagine, a riff on a shepherds pie, curries and sides to roast dinners to keep things interesting. Come Christmas time every single one of the December issues become my bibles when I’m on the search for the ultimate roast potatoes, and what on earth to do with all that leftover turkey. Turns out there’s way more meal ideas than a turkey and stuffing sandwich or eaten cold with chips, pickled onions and gravy.

Always up to date with the latest food trends, in the most recent issue (August 2017) there’s talk of charcoal in food, alcopops (the frozen ones and a hella better than the tween faves of WKD and Bacardi Breezers), recipes for those health nuts who can’t cook a meal without using a spiralizer and ones for those who don’t even know what a spiralizer is. They cover alllll the bases that’s for sure.

One thing I always look forward to are the recipes coming from Rosie Birkett. Those you of you who aren’t aware of Rosie, she is a food stylist, food journalist and recipe creator hailing from London (find her on Instagram here). She has written a number of books, A Lot on Her Plate, being one of them and writes for newspapers and magazines across the UK. Her food ethos centres around seasonality, nothing chosen for their certain health properties or current trends, just things picked when they’re at their best, most sweetest, succulent and delicious.

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So in a flick through the July issue I came across this quiche recipe. For a while now I had been in the mood for a quiche. It’s pastry, I would eat it every day if I could, until my body mainly comprised of the flaky stuff. How can you go wrong really? Served at room temperature with a lemony dressed green salad, that’s all you need. Ok perhaps I did do a little faffing and roasted some spiced squash and carrots for on the side also, for me that’s keeping things simple, one pots aren’t in my repertoire. Plus the leftovers to look forward to for #notasaddesklunch or pack up and go on a picnic in the sunshine (oh how hard I wish for that this summer).

So I had courgettes in the fridge, some feta, an out of date tub of ricotta (sealed may I add, it was still fine), a bulb of fennel and loads of herbs. Perfect, no need to go shopping and using up all the odds and ends! That’s my favourite part. My heart sinks when I have to throw some forgotten item from the back of the fridge away. #wastefreeissexy

The original recipe calls for a spelt pastry flecked with pumpkin seeds. I love spelt pastry it’s so much shorter and crumbly than your typical shortcrust due to the lower gluten content, but I was wanting to attempt an oil based crust, substituting rapeseed oil for the butter. Cutting the quantity of fat by over half and substituting it for an unsaturated fat too which is proven to be more beneficial to our hearts than the saturated kind. Pastry that’s good for me? Well kinda…

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Half wholemeal to white flour brings the best texture, I used half wholemeal wheat flour and half plain flour, but any spelt or rye or even a bit of buckwheat would do here. We want something heavier than a white shortcrust and the nuttiness from the wholemeal flours pairs beautifully with the cheese. Don’t forget about the much needed fibre from wholegrains, got to sneak that extra bit in at every opportunity!!

If you’re scared about making quiche, don’t be! It’s far from difficult just requiring a little resting time for the pastry, pre-baking, and cooking and cooling of the filling before mixing it all together. If pastry really does give you the heeby jeebies, buying a good quality one from the shop is fine too, try to get an all butter shortcrust, or failing that call up your Nan!

Courgette, dill and ricotta quiche with a rapeseed oil crust

Loosely adapted from Rosie Birkett’s recipe in the July 2017 edition of Good Food magazine

Pastry Ingredients

  • 20g pumpkin seeds
  • 100g wholemeal flour
  • 100g plain flour (or a white spelt or rye)
  • pinch of salt
  • 50ml rapeseed oil (or olive oil)
  • 75 ml cold water

Filling Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 2 courgettes, halved lengthways then slice on the diagonal
  • 1/2 fennel, sliced thinly
  • 1 lemon
  • Big handful watercress, roughly chopped
  • Big handful dill, chopped
  • Big handfull parsley, chopped
  • 150g ricotta
  • 4 eggs
  • Good sized chunk of feta

Directions

  1. First make the pastry. Put the pumpkin seeds in a food processor and blitz until they are coarsely chopped. Then add the flours and salt, pulse until combined and pour in the oil blending until a breadcrumb consistency is formed.
  2. Add the water in a slow stream until it starts to clump together in a ball. Tip out onto a floured surface and squidge together into a ball (try not to be too heavy handed).
  3. Wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for a minimum of 30 mins. Can be made 1-2 days ahead.
  4. Preheat the oven to 160C/140 fan. Get a 22cm tart tin (a metal one with a removable base will make life easier). Once the pastry has rested, roll out on a floured surface into a circle, bigger than your tart tin and around the thickness of a £1 coin.
  5. Transfer to the tin, not worrying too much if it splits as you can patch it up later, and ease it in gently, pressing in the fluted sides with your finger. Roll a rolling pin over the top edge to make a nice finish and prevent it from shrinking inwards.
  6. Scrunch up some baking paper and line the pastry case, fill with baking beans or rice or dried beans. Place on a baking sheet and pop in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove the beans and bake for another 5 minutes until biscuity and the base is dry.
  7. To make the filling, heat the oil in a large frying pan then add the fennel seeds, cook for a few minutes until they smell fragrant. Add the garlic, courgettes and fennel and cook on a low-medium heat, stirring often, until starting to caramelise and turn slightly golden and the courgette and fennel have softened. This will take between 15 – 20 mins.
  8. Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped herbs and the watercress, alongside the zest of the lemon and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Leave aside until cool.
  9. In a bowl whisk the ricotta and eggs until smooth and season well with salt and pepper.
  10. Pour a thin layer of custard over the pastry base, fold half of the courgette filling with the rest of the custard in the bowl and spoon into the case.
  11. Dot the rest of the courgette mix over the top, pressing it down lightly. Sprinkle the feta over the top.
  12. Place in the oven (still on the baking sheet) for around 35 minutes until the edges are set and there is a slight wobble in the middle. Leave to cool slightly before eating, it tastes best at room temperature.

I’m jetting off soon for some much needed time in the sun, Rethymno in Crete being my destination. Obviously I’m super buzzed about sampling all of the Cretan food (particualrly some of those Cretan pies – one a day being an obligatory thing and will be scheduled into my itinerary), the seafood is meant to be some of the best and I’ve read Rethymno is a real stunner too. If anyone has any Crete, Rethymno ideally, suggestions and recommendations send them my way, whether it be food, drink, sight seeing and must-dos all is much welcomed.

So there should be another post hitting here before I’m far and away, another to add to the dip devotion series. Stay tuned!!

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Low-sugar acai bowl

My Instagram feed has been LOADED lately with smoothies. Smoothie bowls, açai bowls, ‘nice’ cream, basically blended up cold things, with toppings for crunch.

Don’t forget the toppings!

Out of all the breakfast foods (OK perhaps not the avo toast as that is the ULTIMATE in photogenicity) the smoothie bowl photos rather well. Thick and creamy in a vibrant green or purple – or brown if you use spinach – a good nut butter drizzle and the generous overflow streaming down the sides. It’s cool, similar to ice cream so surely is the perfect candidate for summer breakfasts when porridge most definitely isn’t the answer.

Why is it then that every time I make a smoothie, it just doesn’t float my boat. I’m not sure whether it’s that a liquid meal just doesn’t satiate my appetite? Or perhaps that I’m conscious of not adding too much fruit so instead it ends up tasting of pond, never mind resembling one? I just can’t figure it out. SOS (save ones’ smoothies).

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Now I’m sure we’ve all heard of the açai bowl. A street snack from Brazil which is a deep purple berry frozen and blended and then topped with toppings galore. Bananas, granola, berries, coconut, seeds, you name it, you can top it. Here in the UK the açai berry isn’t as abundant so we have to rely on frozen bananas for the texture and then freeze dried açai powder or little frozen sachets of the açai pulp for the taste and colour. If you’re then centering your toppings around granola, banana and berries it’s not a very balanced breakfast. Meaning spiked blood sugar levels and a grumble in your belly by 11am. Breakfast preferably wants to contain a good balance of slow and fast release carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats so we need to rethink our smoothie bowl making rituals.

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Something else that has been trending lately. Fruit-free and low-sugar smoothies. Yuppp that’s right, ones that supposedly don’t taste like salad, are filling and all add up to that much needed 5-a-day (or is it now 7, or 10? I’m not sure it keeps changing). Frozen banana is the fruit of choice when it comes to smoothies, but have you ever considered steamed and frozen cauliflower? Or courgette? Or butternut squash? Thought not. Me neither. The furthest I ever roamed into vegetable territory was spinach or kale , the odd bit of avocado – that’s technically a fruit so doesn’t count!

Steamed to make it gentler on your tummy and frozen to keep the smoothie chilled, vegetables are a wondrous addition. Paired with ground flaxseeds, a spoon of plantbased protein powder, some berries, maybe a cheeky half a date as I’m just not that hard-core, milk and any funky powders you like, you’d be none the wiser that it contains some cruciferous vegetables. A spoon of oats or soaked buckwheat blended into the mix would be ideal if you need it super filling, or a generous sprinkle (*ahem* handful) of granola or muesli…leftover cookies in my case.

Maybe this smoothie bowl is the one that will change things forever? It was good. I’m not going to lie. But I am still ever faithful to my porridge/toast/muesli/overnight-oats rotation. The girl knows what she likes. -\_(‘~’)_/-

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Maybe I haven’t landed upon the perfect granola yet? Not too sweet, plenty of crunch. The sort that you just can’t get off of your mind. Saying that, this one was mega, it hasn’t escaped my mind. Maybe I’ve found the one?!?

If you’re after some more smoothie bowl inspiration and recipes, all low sugar veggie-centric and drool worthy may I add, head to these blogs and Instagram accounts. These girls are killing it in the smoothie game.

Low-sugar açai bowl

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup steamed and frozen cauliflower
  • 1/2 cup steamed and frozen courgette (zucchini)
  • 1/2 cup berries (I used a mixture of strawberries and blackberries, any fresh or frozen would work)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup milk
  • 1 heaped tbsp açai powder
  • 1 tbsp protein powder (I used hemp)
  • 1 tsp ground flaxseeds/linseeds
  • 1/2-1 date depending on sweetness preference

Topping ideas

  • Granola (try to use a low sugar one)
  • Muesli
  • These crumbled up cookies
  • Pumpkin or sunflower seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Fruit such as strawberries, blueberries, banana, kiwi
  • Bee pollen
  • Cacao nibs
  • Chopped Nuts
  • Nut or seed butter (I used a roasted almond, cashew and hazelnut)
  • Yogurt
  • Coconut flakes
  • Puffed rice, buckwheat, quinoa or amaranth

Directions

  1. Add all the ingredients for the smoothie into a high powdered blender, starting with 1/4 cup of milk.
  2. Blend until everything is blitzed smooth and you have a thick smoothie with the consistency of ice cream, adding more milk if necessary. A high powered blender will work best here, I use a nutribullet. One less powerful will struggle to blend the frozen fruit and vegetables and it will be lumpy.
  3. Spoon into a bowl (watch your tongue on that blade I know you’re licking it clean!)
  4. Choose your toppings, add as many or as few as you wish.
  5. Dive in whilst it’s still cold, and don’t forget that picture for Instagram!

Enjoyed al fresco basking in the morning sunshine listening to the birds whistle their tunes. That’s the ideal breakfast situation. Not achievable most of the time I know, but on the one day that it appears, make the most of it. Embrace it with both hands, the smoothie bowl included, and DIG IN!

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Burnt courgette veggie chilli and all the fixings

Meat Free Monday. An initiative started up to encourage eating a vegetarian meal altogether as a family just one day per week, to improve your health as well as the health of the environment. Also there’s One Part Plant, started up by Jessica Murnane, with the idea to eat one plant based meal per day. Some use it as a chance for a healthy meal full of vegetables, others to reduce the impact of meat production on the environment. By vegetarian I’m talking vegetables, grains, legumes, a bit of dairy or eggs perhaps (I do love me a bit of cheese), but definitely not Quorn fish fingers and chips. Please can a vegetarian explain to me why you would want to eat something which resembles the taste and texture of a fish finger when you choose not to eat the real thing? I just don’t get it.

Now for many, a vegetarian meal completely devoid of meat, fish and sometimes eggs and dairy too if it’s vegan, well that’s not a meal. I’m from the North of England. The home of meat and two veg, bread and dripping, Lancashire hotpot and the legendary Pie Barm (google Wigan Kebab). If it contains, meat, potatoes and pastry, it’s probably Northern and the food that we were brought up on. It’s cold up here, we need the stodge to keep the warmth in our bones.

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The struggle here has to be the Dads. Happy with steak and chips every night I’m sure, the meal that always fits the bill, but not necessarily a happy one on the purse strings. A veggie meal for Meat Free Monday which isn’t too funky, not too many greens and no weird unpronounceable components like quinoa or edamame or tzatziki, that’s what we’re after. I always opt for a veggie chilli full of different beans, lentils and veggies for that texture and a lack of meat means we need to up the flavour for some oomph! Of course whenever the pan is set down at the table for dinner my dad has to ask ‘does this contain any meat’, well no it doesn’t. Nevertheless we all really enjoy it, and as soon as he has dug in the lack of beef isn’t mentioned again.

Chilli Con Carne is one of those meals I remember fondly from my childhood. Something which is quick and easy for busy families and makes everyone happy. One made from minced beef and tomatoes (basically Spag Bol minus the herbs with added spices and chilli) and a tin of kidney beans thrown in the mix. Probably the only meal we used to eat that contained beans or legumes (the chickpea was alien to me) and the beans I then picked out and left sucked of their chilli juices on the side of the plate. Oh how things have changed. Spooned on top of white rice and a side of garlic bread it was a regular on the meal rotation.

Perhaps traditional in the UK, but not so much a traditional recipe. Hailing from Mexico the Chilli Con Carne is a far cry away from what we are used to. Chunks of beef, like cheek, brisket or shin slowly simmered in a deeply rich sauce, no minced beef here, and technically kidney beans shouldn’t be seen either. A melange of spices, paprika and different chillies all balanced to give layers of smoky-sweet flavour which is finished off with some dark chocolate (it makes all the difference). Cooked up in one pot, cowboy style, that’s how a chilli should be.

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Well and truly burnt

For those Meat Free Mondays we want a veggie chilli which isn’t just a substitute or a side, but it’s even better than the real thing. So good that the vegetarians have to fight to get their fill before the carnivores tuck in. That’s when you know it’s good. Vegetarian food is no more difficult than cooking meat it just requires extra spices and flavouring tricks to pack in that flavour. Different pulses, grains and vegetables are used to provide varying texture and interest so every mouthful is different.

I like to serve this veggie chilli over a jacket or baked sweet potato, but brown or white rice, quinoa, cauliflower rice, in a wrap or just in a deep bowl with tortillas to scoop up the juices. All will suffice here. The toppings are a necessity. Whether you go basic with some guacamole or all out with sour cream, coriander, lime to squeeze, feta or grated cheddar cheese, tortilla chips, pickled jalapenos, chilli sauce (Cholula Hot Sauce always is a winner), spiced up salsa and some sauerkraut. This is the pot that will suit all, just make sure to fill the table so everyone can DIY.

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This recipe I found in the January edition of Good Food magazine, from Izy Hossack (of Top with Cinnamon). It was a recipe for a burnt aubergine veggie chilli, and, not like me at all, we didn’t have any aubergines in and I couldn’t be bothered to walk down to the shops in the rain to get some. So courgettes had to do. If you’re familiar with making Baba Ghanoush, the courgettes need to be charred under a grill or directly on your gas ring until blackened and starting to collapse. The skins are then peeled away to leave a silky smooth interior with some smokiness that is to be folded through the chilli. If you’d prefer, here is the original recipe using the aubergines, but at this time of year I’m sure you avid gardeners are growing courgettes out of your ears. So for a respite from courgette chutney and fritters, add this into your courgette cooking repertoire.

Below are also the recipes for the sweetcorn and tomato salsa and guacamole with which I served the chilli. Super simple and quick and only require a few extra ingredients. But it’s the extras that make this dish shine!!

Burnt courgette veggie chilli

Ingredients

  • 2 courgettes
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, finely diced
  • 1 stick celery, finely diced
  • 30g red lentils, rinsed until the water runs clear
  • 1 tin kidney beans
  • 1 tin black beans
  • 3 tbsp dark soy sauce/tamari
  • 1 heaped tsp chipotle paste
  • 1 tin plum tomatoes
  • 20g dark chocolate (70% plus, the darker the better)
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes (or more/less to taste)
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 heaped tsp vegetable stock powder (I use Bouillon)
  • 400ml water

Directions

  1. Turn your grill up to high and place the courgettes under for around 30 mins to 45 mins, turning occasionally until well blackened and charred all over. If you have a gas hob place the courgettes directly on the ring and char until completely blackened. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pan then add the onion, carrots and celery and cook gently for around 20 minutes until softened. Stir often to make sure they don’t burn.
  3. Go back to the courgettes and peel away the burnt skin to reveal the soft inner flesh. Throw away all the burnt bits, making sure to scrape every little bit of the insides away and set aside.
  4. Once the carrots, celery and onions have softened add the red lentils and the two tins of beans along with the water in the cans. Add in the courgette flesh, soy sauce, tinned tomatoes, chipotle paste, all the herbs and spices, chocolate, vegetable stock and 400 ml of water. Stir everything together, bring to the boil, then turn down to a very low simmer.
  5. Put the lid on ajar, and leave to cook for 1 1/2 hrs, stirring very often, as it thickens it will stick to the bottom. If it starts to look a bit thick add a bit more water.
  6. After the time, take off the lid and check the consistency, if it seems a little thin leave to reduce for another 15 minutes or so longer. You want a thick sauce.
  7. Check the seasoning, adding more salt or chilli if you think necessary, then squeeze in the juice of half a lime, sprinkle with some coriander and take to the table to serve.

Sweetcorn and tomato salsa

Ingredients

  • 1 tin sweetcorn
  • 4 medium tomatoes
  • Handful of coriander leaves and stalks
  • 1/2 lime
  • 1 green chilli, deseeded

Directions

  1. Drain the sweetcorn and put into a bowl.
  2. Finely dice the tomatoes, slice the coriander leaves and stalks finely along with the deseeded chilli and add all to the sweetcorn.
  3. Squeeze in the juice of some lime, a big pinch of salt and pepper then taste for seasoning. Add more chilli, lime or salt if you like and serve spooned on top of the veggie chilli.

Guacamole

Ingredients

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1 lime

Directions

  1. Slice the avocados in half and scoop out the flesh into a bowl.
  2. Add the juice of the lime and a large pinch of salt and mash well with a fork. Leave chunkier if you like or mash until smooth and creamy if that’s what you prefer. Taste for seasoning.

 

Let me know what you think if you cook this recipe. It doesn’t have to be on a Monday either, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, any day it will be good. And the leftovers even better. If you’re making this for a solo dinner or two people, make the full amount. Eat leftovers for dinner or lunch later in the week or freeze for a rainy day.

Snuggly warming hugs

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July Jamborees

July. A month of variable weather. Full of promise one day for that scorchio summer at home that we all hope for, to wake up the next morning to torrential showers and gusting winds that leave a chill in our bones. When it comes to what to wear that day, preparing for all weathers is a must, or in my case giving up and just wearing jeans and a t shirt with some jazzy earrings and a neck scarf. And under no circumstances forgetting that umbrella even if it’s broken and sagging, as all of mine are, it will provide some protection against that unforgiving weather of ours.

The summer provides some serious downtime for me. As the whole of Europe prepares to shutdown for August, the UK decides to take a break too and jet off to some warmer clime. Meaning not much work to go around in the modelling industry. A time I am now learning to take in my stride, not get stressed about having a free schedule and just make the most of it and doing things for ME. So far having involved decorating my room, a few lunches out, shopping trips, plenty of cooking and soon to come will be trips to other cities in the UK, gallery visits and *fingers crossed* a day at the seaside.

I hope you have the most fantastic summer if you’re in the northern hemisphere, and if you’re in the south and moving into winter, don’t worry too much as I’m sure it will still be a hell of a lot warmer than it is here in Manchester!

Here’s the things I’ve been loving this month. Enjoy!

#1 Belazu Rose Harissa

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If I had to, which I’m hoping no one holds me to this, choose ONE food that I would eat for the rest of my days, I reckon harissa would be a strong contender. Harissa is a chilli and paprika paste mixed with spices, oil and in this case rose petals, used frequently in North African and Middle Eastern cooking. I’ve tried many supermarket brands in the past, and they’ve been fine, perfectly acceptable but I’ve had my eye on this harissa from Belazu for a while and finally got my hands on some. A gloriously deep red spiced up paste, which is fragrant, sweet and smoky, compared to the supermarket versions it wins hands down. Also the company is based in the UK, YAY for that too! I’ve been swirling it through my hummus, spreading on a sandwich, dotted across eggs, mixed into salad dressings and using as a marinade for salmon. Come along harissa, I reckon you’ve surpassed peanut butter in the Thea’s Top 10 list, and you won’t be going anywhere for a long time.

 

#2 ManiLife Deep Roast Peanut Butter

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Ok I go on and on and on about peanut butter here. I’m sorry. I’m sure many of you also share the same feels? Please say yes. I’ve been happy eating the same brand of peanut butter for a good while, Meridian Crunchy Peanut Butter is found in the majority of supermarkets, made with no added sugar or palm oil just roasted peanuts and salt. It’s good. Then however I discovered Pic’s Crunchy Peanut Butter. Made in New Zealand, again just salt and high-oleic peanuts, it surpassed Meridian on the flavour scale, but money wise it’s slightly more pricey. Not much later, ManiLife Deep Roast arrived in my life. A British company grinding and producing in London and sourcing their peanuts from Argentina. They roast them for longer so it is dark, verging on the bitterness of coffee, utterly AMAZING. I can’t look at normal peanut butter anymore…I am a changed woman 😉 Visit their online shop here, as it is impossible to buy in the north of the UK but found in many shops around London and the south. Hop onto it, you will be forever grateful. I am. 

 

#3 Home brewed Kombucha

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One of my favourite treats to buy whenever I go to London. If you’ve never heard of it, kombucha is a fermented tea drink which has a slight effervescence, the taste not completely dissimilar from cider. It’s made using a sweetened black or green tea and a SCOBY which feeds on the sugar to create an acidic environment and when bottled up the CO2 increases which makes it that bit fizzy. I’m a huge fan of Jarr, a company haling from Hackney, their passionfruit kombucha is particularly dreamy, not too sweet and really provides a good pick me up as well as some TLC (tummy loving care that is). With only one place I’ve discovered in Manchester which sells kombucha, I’ve taken to making my own as a little project for over the summer. One batch down, in a ginger and lime flavour I’m pretty chuffed and getting all jazzed about the flavour combos I have lined up. If you want to give kombucha brewing a go, I bought a scoby from ebay and then there’s many blogs full of all the information you need to get started. See here, here and here. Happy fermenting!

 

#4 Bundobust – Leeds and Manchester city centers

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Any of you Leeds/Manchester-ites will be well aware of this gem of a food spot. And if you’re not where have you BEEN? Originally an craft beer bar in Leeds which sold Indian street food for a snack, turned out the food was more than good so now it’s an Indian street food restaurant with a well stocked bar full of beer, lager and ale. Completely vegetarian and most dishes are vegan too, that’s not saying you shouldn’t go if you’re a meat eater. You won’t miss the meat at all. Offering all the classics such as Massala Dosa, Idli Sambhar, Chole Batura, Tarka Dahl and Vada Pav alongside their own Gujarati-inspired creations like the Biryani Bhaji Balls and the Onion Gobi Bhaji Bhajis. Do not visit without ordering the Okra Fries. And you will want a portion for yourself, those aren’t for sharing. See their website for the rest of the menu and where to find them.

 

#5 Light Before Dark Black Gingham Wide Leg Culottes – Urban Outfitters

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You know when you walk into a shop, see something and know that you NEED to own it. That happened with these culottes. At heart I’m still 8 and would happily live in my junior school red gingham summer dress. So, in flies in these black and white gingham culottes, slightly cooler, more ‘hip’ as my dad might say, whilst still living that ‘mini-me’ life. They’re loose and airy, perfect for those times when the weather is in our favour, or layered up with a jacket and some trainers to withstand the rainy days. The high elasticated waistband, well the fashion isn’t the only reason I wear them. Going out for a big meal? Stick these on and you can squeeze in that dessert instead of your jeans button popping open. Comfort and style, I’m in. 

 

#6 Flamingo wallpaper

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So last week me and my mum spent a few days redecorating my room. Going though the whole procedure of painting the ceiling, woodwork, walls and finally coming to the best bit, the wallpapering. When your new wallpaper is pink and covered in flamingoes it’és particularly exciting. As glorious as it sounds. I have plans for a corner full of plants, terrariums and succulents to keep the air fresh and clean, lots of artwork by me, a handmade crocheted throw which I’m currently in the making of and some white artichoke lights as there isn’t enough of a 70’s throwback as there is. If anyone has any Pinterest boards that they would be happy to share for some bedroom/plant/artwork inspiration, I’m all eyes!!

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Chocolate and banana granola clumps

Let’s start this post with a quiz. Name for me a breakfast food that one might consider ‘healthy’?

I’ll give you a few seconds to think about it…

Was granola one of the first ideas to come to mind? A deep bowl of fat free yogurt, chopped fresh fruit, and a generous smattering of granola. Not forgetting the drizzle of runny honey.

I’m not going to get into the debate here of clean vs dirty. Healthy v unhealthy. As is there really an unhealthy food? A slice of cake someone may think of as unhealthy however when you take a look at your diet as a whole if it’s sandwiched in between lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes, surely that constitutes as a balanced diet? Kale and quinoa may be ‘healthy’ but if they don’t make you happy, are we living as well as we think. Cake, cookies, brownies and the sweeter things in life are as necessary as kale. That is fact.

Back to the granola, I’m sure there are many brands we grew up eating or still tip into our bowls each and every morning. Maybe you only bought some boxes believing they were healthy, perhaps better than your favourite Cornflakes, but didn’t really take any pleasure from eating them. Words such as natural, free from refined sugars, organic, low fat, whole, all suck us in to the belief that we are making the right choices. Go and take a closer look at almost any box of granola on the supermarket shelves. Take a real close look. HINT, look at the sugar content.

I know I’ve mentioned before about my thoughts on sugar. I’m not a nutritionist, a dietitian or anyone who has the scientific plain facts, so I suppose what I say should be taken with a pinch of salt. Nonetheless, it’s evident that as a nation we consume far too much of the sweet stuff. I’m not just talking caster sugar. Maple syrup, honey and agave I’m looking at you too.  Our recommended daily allowance currently stands at 30g per day, that’s 6 tsp. Take a regular can of coke for example, when that contains 35g (7 tsp) you can see how the numbers stack up.

Anything which contains more than 5g of sugar per 100g is said to be high. As sugar or a syrup is the ingredient in granola which brings the crunch, it is going to be higher than say a box of muesli or shredded wheat. There are granolas on the market which have much lower sugar content and are GL (glycemic load) tested, so won’t cause as much of a spike in your sugar levels. That being said, if like me you have tried this one in particular, will know that it resembles a certain food for our feathery friends. Bird food. Dry, floury, not much crunch and rather bland, food for fuel not for enjoyment.

No one needs that. Life isn’t made for boring breakfasts.

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I’m sure many of you have seen this recipe before from one of my favourites, Green Kitchen Stories. Their banana granola is a bit of a worldwide phenomenon. My New Roots has a recipe also. In fact it’s far from a new concept. Google banana granola and the posts are numerous. Hundreds and thousands of them. Hello innovative blogger over here! But you can never have enough granola recipes.

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Yet again I had a few bananas, well past their best, festering in the fruit bowl. Usually that always means banana bread, but no eggs and so far no success with a vegan version of said bread, I just wasn’t going to take the risk. Banana granola was on my mind. Sweetened with fruit and just a little maple syrup to bring the crunch. Thoughts of baking low and slow to ensure no burnt bitter ends and using up some brown rice puffs hiding in the back of the cupboard, well obviously my brain on that particular day was fully functioning. Clumpy granola, lightly sweetened, boulders of crunch to munch whether it be for breakfast or as a snack. It was a result.

This one. A heavy dousing of raw cacao, a big pinch of salt is essential, and some peanut butter too. Cos’ why not! Chopped nuts, coconut flakes, oats, raw buckwheat and puffed rice mixed well with some cinnamon for that sweet spice. It’s simple as you like, low in added sugar and one to use up whatever is going in your cupboards.

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I can’t forget to mention that it’s dad approved. From a dad who likes his breakfasts of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, granola, Shreddies and Weetabix on rotation, and that is that. But this stuff by the handful, he was more than happy. Take it as you like. In a bowl drowned with your milk of choice, ice cold. Or some yogurt, whether it’s coconut, cows or almond topped with a big handful and some fruit. That açai bowl or smoothie that was begging for a bit of crunch, here’s your answer. As a topper for porridge, toast, overnight oats, a vessel for scooping up nut butter or just popping into your mouth… You got it!

Plus it’s chocolate flavoured. How can you go wrong?!?!

Chocolate and banana granola clumps

  • Servings: Makes a small serving which can be doubled easily ( just divide between two trays and rotate them halfway through baking)
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Ingredients

Dry ingredients:

  • 40g almonds
  • 40g walnuts
  • 40g flaked coconut
  • 50g puffed brown rice
  • 25g raw buckwheat
  • 75g rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 tbsp cacao powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 big pinch of salt

Wet ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 tbsp rapeseed oil (olive oil or coconut oil will work too)
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 tbsp water
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 very ripe banana

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C/140°C fan. Line a baking tray with baking paper or a silicone baking sheet.
  2. Chop the almonds and walnuts roughly and add to a bowl along with all the other dry ingredients and stir together.
  3. In a saucepan mash the banana to a purée then add all the other wet ingredients and heat gently until everything has melted and combined.
  4. Pour the banana mixture into the oat mixture and give it a good stir until there are no dry bits left and everything is mixed well.
  5. Transfer to the baking sheet, pat into a thick layer and put in the oven for 20 minutes.
  6. After that time, give the granola a stir by folding it over trying not to break the clumps up too much. Rotate the tray and place back in the oven for another 15-20 minutes. Checking the granola every 5 minutes, stirring the outside edges into the middle to ensure they are not burning.
  7. Take out of the oven when deep brown and smelling delicious. It will firm up even more as it cools.
  8. Leave the tray to cool on a wire rack, whilst the scent of chocolatey banana bread wafts through the house, so hide away from wandering hands! Store in a Tupperware at room temperature where it will keep for around 1 month.

Hope you enjoy this one. It sure is a winner. I’ll be off now, I’ve just eaten a mouthful of granola and I want some more!

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What’s the dealio with dairy?

We pour it on our cereal, splash it in our tea, our coffee, eat it as an after dinner dessert or slice onto crackers with chutney for a mid-afternoon snack. Dairy in all its forms is something we have been brought up on. In the western world we are told as soon as we stop breast feeding to drink our milk, so much so that is an integral part of most peoples’ diets.

Memories of a glass of warm milk before bed as it helps to send you to sleep, that minuscule red wheel of Babybel cheese you fished out of your lunchbox daily, and squeezy yogurts that you stuck in the freezer to make into ice lollies on those (more frequent back then) days of stuffy summer. Frubes I’m looking at you! Dairy, seemed to be a fundamental part of the diet.

Marketing campaigns encourage parents to feed their children dairy products, enforcing the fact that without it they won’t get enough calcium to grow and have strong bones, ‘it will make you strongerer’. The fear of rickets is probably on most parents minds, so if the guidelines say to eat dairy, the children will eat it. What if they were lactose intolerant though? Around 10-20 years ago the only option you had as a dairy alternative was fortified soya milk. Probably sweetened. Most likely a bit gross. There wasn’t really much development in terms of dairy free milks, yogurts and cheeses, and the free from aisle…what free from aisle? If you were lactose intolerant you either gave it up cold turkey, or suffered the consequences.

I can’t pinpoint when exactly, but here in the UK, let’s say 5 years ago? Something triggered a small amount of the population to go dairy free. We also became more aware of the effects of soya on the environment and how it disrupts hormone levels (particularly for us women). The dairy free market was steadily growing, the occasional almond and coconut milks were accessible, still didn’t taste that good- mainly water and emulsifiers – so the need for creamy dairy wasn’t ever satisfied. You know it’s become a thing when Starbucks catch onto the trend and almond and coconut milk become an optional extra, with a 30p charge of course. Soon the media channelled into it spreading the word that dairy is the devil, it leads to cancer and causes osteoporosis, and every other ailment under the sun.

Around the same time, another tribe of people were touting that low fat dairy should be avoided at all costs. You can still eat your cheese, yogurts, milk and butter, but ensure that it is full fat. The higher the better for some, swearing off high fat – low carb diets. Bulletproof coffee (that is indeed coffee blitzed with butter to supposedly give a creamy drink without the crash from the caffeine), full fat yogurt, choosing cheese over dessert and searching out raw milk if possible. Totally contrasting to the dairy free crowd, making it utterly confusing to us consumers.

There doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer to this problem for the time being. The government guidelines include dairy as part of a healthy balanced diet, it’s a good source of protein and calcium ensuring that you stick to lower fat varieties as the amount of saturated fat can be high. Personally, I find a happy ground in between all this conflict. I eat full fat yogurt (organic if I can, Yeo Valley is my go to), spread salted butter liberally on my toast and eat cheese when I want. I enjoy dairy. Cutting it out from my life would make me miserable and being unhappy doesn’t contribute to a healthy lifestyle. If you’ve ever experimented with removing or reducing your consumption of something, you will have realised that it penultimately ends up in being substituted with something else. The best dairy substitute by far is nuts, healthy though they are, you can always over do it. Need some cream, use cashews, spread nut butter instead of butter on toast, make cheese from cashews herbs and garlic, and milk from, yet again, more nuts.

Nuts aren’t the only culprits in the dairy free gang. Rice milk has been a favourite for many for years as it’s naturally very sweet, and coconut milk too for something a bit creamier and richer. Oat milk hailing from Sweden and even hemp, quinoa and tiger nut milk can all be spotted. If you’re wanting to switch up your milk routine and try something new here’s a list of dairy free milks that I would always choose. They are tried and tested, all of them with a different flavour which lends themselves to different things.

  • Oatly – Oat Milk

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A personal favourite, creamy milk which tastes as delicious chilled from the fridge as it does on your morning muesli or stirred into your porridge. Also note that it is one of the best dairy free milks for using in tea and coffee as its foams well and doesn’t separate. I tend to choose the blue Oatly carton as it is fortified with calcium, vitamin D, B12 and riboflavin and it is also cheaper than the organic version.

  • Rude Health

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I’m a huge fan of the company Rude Health, having sampled all of their range of milks (many times I may add) they still are a firm staple on my shopping list. Their almond, hazelnut and coconut milks all are made with a base of brown rice so are delicately sweet, perfect for those of you wanting some sweetness without adding sugar, and when blended into smoothies or lattes have a nice subtle flavour. Then there’s the ultimate almond for the purists – with a heftier price tag – and a higher percentage of nuts and none of the rice. The cashew milk too, which I’m highly fond of, purely made from cashews and water, it is the creamiest of the lot and makes a mean turmeric or matcha latte. All of the Rude Health milks have the added bonus that there are no emulsifiers or stabilisers so they do require a good shake before pouring. However if you’re worried about missing out on certain nutrients when you cut out milk, none of these are fortified so you may want to opt for another brand for the everyday use.

  • Alpro – Unsweetened roasted almond milk

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Alpro is well known by the masses notably for soya products, which has a bit of a bad rap. This almond milk though is the best of the lot they offer. Unsweetened and fresh, it’s the sort of milk that fits into your everyday life. More cost-effective too at the cheapest on offer, but with a very low content of almonds and quite a neutral flavour it may not be the most exciting for your tastebuds.

  • Califia farms – Unsweetened almond milk

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New to the UK and currently found in Sainsburys, Califia Farms is a bit of a game changer in terms of almond milk. Carageenan free, no added sugars and utterly delicious I have to add, this one is something to hunt down. It’s so good I enjoy drinking it as is, from a glass (and when I’m that desperate straight from the bottle) and that’s that. Also brilliant for use in hot drinks as there is no curdling and it isn’t thin so you won’t require half a carton to get your tea how you like.

Now what’s my stance on dairy? I love the stuff and have tried (vow to never again) giving it up, and believe that if you aren’t allergic or intolerant and most importantly you enjoy it, don’t deprive yourself. Dairy is high in saturated fat but as long as you don’t overdo it, there will absolutely be no problems. Here’s some of the dairy products that I like to eat, I always try to stick to organic if possible and mix it up by consuming not only cows milk, but sheeps, goats and buffalo too. You will be surprised how many of your favourite cheeses aren’t actually made from cows milk.

 

  • Yeo Valley – Natural yogurt, Greek style yogurt and salted butter

 

I love this brand as all of their products are organic the cows are fed on luscious grass and made in Somerset . I always return back to their natural yogurt, or the greek style if I want something richer, as it has a good tang and you can find it in most supermarkets and even corner shops. The butter too is lovely, a bright marigold yellow with a little salt, spread it on sourdough. That’s what you call heaven.

  • St. Helen’s farm – Goats yogurt

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This may be a dividing option. It’s rich, but with a salty savouriness that balances all out. The flavour too is much stronger than a cows milk yogurt so a little goes much further. Dolloped on a crumble, topped with strawberries or strained to make a labneh. Perhaps keep it real simple with just a drizzle of local honey and a little pinch of salt, bloomin’ marvellous!

  • Feta cheese

The most famous of offerings from Greece. That salty crumbly cheese that none of us can get enough of. It makes every meal better, whether that be avo on toast, a mundane salad, a sandwich or a pile of broccoli. Add feta and automatically it is elevated. Traditionally feta is made only from goats milk so try to opt for one of those, searching in your local Aldi or Lidl should do the trick.

  • Halloumi

Halloumi tends to be the vegetarians’ choice (and eaten by all the carnivores too) particularly when BBQ weather rolls along. You Nando’s aficionados will know the drill. Squeaky cheese, as my mum refers to it, takes on flavours well so when marinaded and griddled to leave blackened scorch marks, that rivals any sausage or chicken drumstick. Another cheese which traditionally is made from goats or ewes milk and found in the Mediterranean sunnier climes of Cyprus.

  • Longley Farm – Crème Fraîche

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From a dairy local to me comes this crème fraîche. Alongside many yogurts, butters, milk and creams they produce, this is the better than any supermarket version. If anyone knows in more detail, please back me up on this, but supposedly this is the only variety of cream available to buy in France. Crème fraîche goes through a fermenting process to give it that tang, meaning it lasts longer in the fridge and is better for our digestion than cream.

  • Godminster – Organic Cheddar cheese

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Having worked a stint in a farm shop and on a cheese counter, a good few chunks of cheese came my way. Blue, Cheddar, Lancashire, Cheshire, Brie, goats cheese, I like them all, but when it comes to making a cheese board I know that a good cheddar will always be the first to disappear and everyone fights for the last slither. This Cheddar cheese from Somerset is mature and punchy enough to stand up to any chutney, but still creamy and lingers on your palate…until the next piece. Available to buy in the UK at many delis by the slice or in individual truckles. Grated into a cauliflower cheese or sliced in a cheese sandwich, guaranteed it will be the best you have ever made.

To wrap it all up, I still don’t think there’s an outright decision on whether we should be eating dairy or not. Do what works for you. I do try to limit my dairy consumption, so that means substituting dairy milk for a plant based milk instead, for environmental reasons mainly as methane production is one of the main causes of global warming. Milk is something in the western diet that is consumed at least once a day, particularly for us Brits – we’re all rather partial to a cuppa – very swiftly by switching that up you’ll be eating and drinking much less. Yogurts, cheeses, butter and cream don’t tend to be an everyday thing. Also yogurt and crème fraîche (and some butters if they’re french) are all fermented or cultured. They’re beneficial to our guts and if you’re not a huge fan of other fermented products such as sauerkraut, kombucha and kimchi they are a good way of getting those good bacteria into your diet.

Do what’s right for you, your lifestyle and your budget. As long as we’re all ensuring to eat as many vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains, mainly plant based, then that cheeseboard and a glass of vino, it’s there to ENJOY!

Until next time

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Carrot and oat chocolate chip cookies

I love the gap in between meals. I love snacks. Particularly cookies for a snack.

mmmmm cookies 

When I was younger I always loved the occasional trips with my mum to a shopping centre, bags gathered in hands with the excitement of new shoes and holiday gear. (Shoes which according to my dad should be saved for my holiday, by which time they were too small as I was the never-ending-child). We always made a detour on the way out by the Millie’s Cookies stand. Anyone also from the UK will have similar fond memories. I’d have a pick of two cookies, guaranteed white chocolate chip and the other a milk chocolate and toffee, my mum’s the oatmeal and raisin, all wrapped in a paper bag to nibble on on the car journey to my Nanan’s to bridge-the-gap before dinner.

Nowadays my cookie preference nods towards a more grown up flavour. Ideally a crispy on the outside and really gooey in the middle, the under baked kind with a good butterscotch caramel tone. Either with oats for a chew and plump raisins, or studded with dark chocolate chips (85% plus), more chocolate than cookie, and some nuts for crunch. Not forgetting that sprinkle of flaky salt. You can’t forget that.

Inevitably, eating cookies everyday isn’t going to do you any wonders. Perhaps your mental health, chocolate is known for its calming effects (I’ll take that as an excuse!!), but they are very high in sugar and fat. Sadly we do need to keep those added sugars down from day to day. On the odd occasion though, there will be no holding back.

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For the every day 4pm slot, THIS recipe has been my recent nibble. Usually I’m a fan of the two-ingredient banana and oat cookie which, as I can’t be that minimalistic, morphs into an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink cookie. They’re sweet, gooey and as we always have overripe bananas in the fruit bowl, waste-free too! (BONUS). I found this version, full of add-ins for texture, crunch and goo, on The First Mess blog, her photography always does wonders there’s no surprise that I was drawn in. I am always on the hunt for the perfect specimen of a snacking cookie. Maybe now I’ve found it?!?!

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It wouldn’t be a recipe of mine on this blog without the little tweak here and there, and this cookie is no different. I like my snacks to not be too sweet, wholesome and tasty yes, but sickly no. Initial ideas of subbing the mashed ripe banana for an equal amount of finely grated courgette, great. However the last courgette I had just put in the oven to roast, so it wasn’t going to happen after all. Next best option? Carrot. Naturally sweeter, why didn’t I think of that in the first place!

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Made with finely grated carrots, oats, toasted coconut, roasted chunks of almonds (or pecans), some cinnamon and turmeric and not forgetting the dark chocolate (that’s the important part). Make sure to under bake these, they still will feel really soft from the oven, but bear with me here. Leave them to cool fully on a rack and store in the fridge ready for a week, or two (if you’re lucky), of snacking success. Note they’re vegan, with only a little bit of added maple syrup, I’d reckon they’re good enough for breakfast? Well they were good enough for me!

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Carrot and oat chocolate chip cookies

Ingredients

  • 70g (1/2 cup) raw almonds or pecans
  • 40g (1/2 cup) coconut flakes
  • 80g (1 cup) rolled oats
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp ground psyllium husk (if you can’t get this use ground flaxseeds or linseeds instead)
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt, plus extra for topping
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 110g (1/2 cup) finely grated carrot
  • 60ml (1/4 cup) + 2 tsp milk, I used oat milk but water works too
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
  • 1 tbsp almond butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 90g (1/2 cup) chopped dark chocolate (my favourite is 85%)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan.
  2. Chop the almonds or pecans into small chunks and put in a tin and roast in the oven for 8 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile chop the coconut finely and after the 8 mins add the coconut and the oats to the tin and put in the oven for 4 more minutes.
  4. Pour the almonds, oats and coconut into a bowl along with the cinnamon, turmeric, salt and psyllium husk and mix well.
  5. Put the grated carrot, milk, coconut oil, almond butter, maple syrup and vanilla extract in a small bowl and whisk together.
  6. Add the wet ingredients to the dry along with the chocolate (but reserve a little and put aside) fold until combined and everything is incorporated.
  7. Line two baking sheets with baking paper, or silicone mats. With an ice cream scoop place mounds of dough on the baking sheets until you have used all the mixture.
  8. Flatten to a pattie shape with damp hands, as they won’t spread in the oven. Squish the reserved chocolate chips into the top of the cookies and sprinkle rather generously with flaky salt.
  9. Bake for around 15-20 minutes, until the edges are golden and firm but the middles are still soft. I found 15 mins was perfect.
  10. Cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes then transfer to a rack until completely cool and store in the fridge for up to two weeks.

 

But Seriously? We all know they won’t last that long.

Big hugs and sunshiney love

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