Tag Archives: yoghurt

Oh Mon Amour! The Stolen Heart

Ah, ’tis once again Valentine’s Day! In previous years I have treated you to pink and romantic treats, but this year I felt that a little bit of a twist was in order. Everyone is all about hearts, so let’s take that idea and run with it.

I’ve drawn my inspiration from the cold and snowy weather we’ve had in olde London Town for the last few days (even if today has warmed up rather nicely). I was in the City earlier in the week, and was fascinated by those medieval buildings that are still clinging on in the face of advancing glass and steel monsters. In the icy mist, they give you brief glimpses of times long forgotten, but still not quite gone. I passed one church that looked like something from a fairy tale, but more like one of the darker true Grimm tales than anything more recent and sugar-coated. It was striking how the cool weather seems to be able to strip a scene of almost all colour, leaving it eerie and silent.

Against this atmospheric scene, this dish is a tribute to those old tales, where key characters encountered  unexpected things in the woods. There might be a happily-ever-after, but there could equally be a grisly end in the dark forest on the snowy ground at the teeth of the big, bad wolf. Yes, you guessed it, I’m going with the latter. And you can guess how that heart was stolen – basically, it’s a crime scene on a plate!


In coming up with this, I had something rather like Snow White in mind. There had to be lots of red and white – which are, after all, the key elements that go into making the most romantic colour of all, pink – but they are presented in a way which I’ve called The Stolen Heart to suggest that some beast has just “stolen” someone’s heart in the most literal sense. Rather than lovely fluffy pink macarons or cupcakes with love hearts, this is intended to look shocking.

The idea is that this is a snowy scene, achieved with a mixture of yoghurt and mascarpone. Roasted figs are added (a fruit that is so often linked with romance and passion) to represent something that has been left behind by the miscreant. The scene is dusted with snow-like sugar, and then finally splattered with a red fruit sauce with a dash of pomegranate molasses, this latter ingredient bringing in the fertility associations of pomegranate as well as adding sharpness. The result is strange, in turns both pretty and unsettling, and perhaps the complete antithesis of all the chocolate hearts and sugared rose petals that seem to be everywhere else at the moment. That said, perhaps this is not the most suitable thing to serve your special someone on Valentine’s Day, but then, that wasn’t what I was going for.

So what do you think? Taste-wise, it’s actually delicious – rich roasted figs, heady with the perfume of spice and lemon in red wine, chilled mascarpone with just a light hint of sweetness – so it does make a lovely late winter pudding. But it might just freak you out too…

Finally, just one little tip – it’s wonderfully great fun to splatter the red sauce in a dramatic fashion, but either do it over a sink or in the garden – otherwise you will find your Jackson Pollock frenzy makes the kitchen look like a crime scene. And serve it straight away – the sauce will start to bleed (ha ha!) and dissolve the sugar snow. You want it to look like the crime has just been committed, and someone’s heart really has just been stolen. Perhaps too literal an interpretation of Valentine’s Day?

To make The Stolen Heart (serves 2):

For the figs:

• 4 large ripe fresh figs
• dash of lemon zest
• 3 tablespoons red wine
• 1 tablespoon honey
• 1 tablespoon brown sugar
• pinch of allspice

For the snow:

• 100g natural yoghurt
• 100g mascarpone cheese
• icing sugar

For the blood:

• 100g raspberries (frozen work best)
• sugar (to taste)

1. First, roast the figs. Cut the figs into quarters, then mix with the zest, wine, honey, brown sugar and allspice. Put into an over dish, cut side up, cover with tin foil, and cook at 200°C (400°F) for 20 minutes (you might need to check from time to time and spoon the wine sauce onto the cut figs). Remove the tin foil, spoon the sauce into the figs again, and cook for another 10 minutes. Put the tin foil back, turn off the heat, and leave until cold.

2. Make the “blood”. Heat the frozen raspberries in a saucepan until quite liquid. Mash, then pass through a sieve to remove the seeds. Sweeten to taste with sugar. If you want, you can add any left-over wine syrup from the figs to add flavour and deepen the colour.

3. The prepare the dish, mix the yoghurt and mascapone cheese until smooth. Spread onto two large plates.

4. Chop the figs into large chunks. Drop onto the plate in a rough manner.

5. Dust everything liberally with icing sugar for a snow-like effect, and immediately “splatter” the plate with the red fruit sauce (you might not need all of it – just enough to create the dramatic effect). Serve straight away.


Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things


I love cheese. Show me a groaning cheeseboard, it’s hard to resist the urge to pick, pick, pick. Cheddar, Stilton, Wensleydale, Manchego, Comté (darn, that Comté!), Brie…you name it, I love it.

What I have not really done much of is trying to make my own cheese. I’ve followed the posts on Pease Pudding with interest, but frankly the realities of living in the middle of a very large city makes getting hold of the right sort of milk rather challenging. Keeping a dairy herd out back is rather impractical, and I’m not sure the woman downstairs would be trilled to find a couple of Frisian cows munching on the recently-planted birch trees or peering into her kitchen in the morning. That, and I can get hold of just about anything in London if I really need to (although yuzu fruit and edible frankincense oil have managed – thus far – to escape me).

However, there is one option which is both relatively quick and very easy. This little miracle is called labneh (which you may also see spelled labni, lebni or labne) which is essentially strained yoghurt. OK, I realise that doesn’t sound too appealing! But what you do is allow most of the liquid to drain off, which leaves behind a very thick yoghurt, something like cream cheese. This can be made with low-fat yoghurt if you’re looking for a healthier version, and I think it is particularly good if you use goat milk yoghurt.

The method here is simplicity itself – pour all the yoghurt into a bowl, add salt, mix well and then strain through a cloth. Then leave it for a day and you’ve got the labneh. 24 hours is the minimum you should leave it, but if you can manage longer (up to 48) then so much the better. You might prefer to use a (very clean!) tea-towel rather than a piece of cheesecloth, as I learned from experience that if the cloth weave is not sufficiently fine, the yoghurt just pours straight through. The sort of messy mistake you make only once!

As cheeses go, this is (or should be) relatively low-fat – I used low-fat yoghurt in my version, so the resulting cheese is rich and creamy, but not oily in any way. Of course, all that is undermined by adding a little olive oil for serving…but I think the combination of the thick, creamy labneh with olive oil works very well.

Once made, there are a few ways to store and eat it. Either roll into balls and store in a jar of olive oil, or use to fill dishes, add a drizzle of olive oil, some lemon zest and salt, pepper and toasted nuts for a delicious dip. You might even prefer to use some dukkah mixture to add another layer of Middle Eastern flavour. Alternatively, spread on toasted bread and add a drizzle of honey for breakfast.

To make labneh:

• Large pot (450g) natural yoghurt
Large pot (450g) goat milk yoghurt
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

In a large bowl, combine the yoghurt and stir well to incorporate the salt.

Line another bowl with a clean tea-towel (it should come over the edges).

Pour in the yogurt mixture, then gather the edges of the cloth and tie in a bunch. Hang the cloth above the bowl, and leave for at least 24 hours to drain (best to start first thing on a Friday morning, then by Saturday evening it’s done). When you return, there should be clear liquid in bowl. If you can leave it longer (up to 48 hours) so much the better.

When ready, open the cloth. The outside of the yoghurt will be firm, although the inside may be a little soft. Mix everything together until smooth, and then either form into balls and store in oil, or use as a dip or spread with bread.

Worth making? This is a fun, easy way to make cheese at home, and really worth trying. It’s delicious on sourdough toast with honey.


Filed under Recipe, Savoury

Churn, Baby, Churn! Strawberry Frozen Yoghurt

I look outside. The sky is leaden and overbearing, then it starts to lash with rain. Yup, the Great British Summer is well and truly underway, which means we’ve been enjoying the downpour for about a week now. In fact, we enjoyed Midsummer yesterday, with a flash of sun in London, which swiftly turned to cats and dogs.

But ’twas not ever thus…we were all lulled into a false sense of hope with a few weeks of sun earlier in the summer, then – wham! – the rains came, and kept coming. I often find myself wandering around humming that classic Eurythmics track Here Comes the Rain Again. Seems really rather fitting.

However…let us not forget those spectacular sunny days in late spring and early summer that we did enjoy. Why so relevant to us now? Well, it’s more than a mere memory, as it gave all those fields of soft fruit here in Britain a bit of a kick start, so we are now enjoying a bumper crop of sweet, delicious berries. I’ve been ignoring the imports, and heading straight for the fruit from Kent and Sussex.

Last summer, I made a superb strawberry sorbet (and it was superb – not being big headed), so I thought this time I would do a variation on a theme, and make strawberry frozen yoghurt. I love frozen yoghurt, as it is light and refreshing, with a welcome icy tang – perfect for a hot day. Pair this with delicious fruit and it’s a winning combination.

This recipe is one from David Leibovitz, but I pared down the method to make a bit more “mash up the fruit, then whizz in the blender, then freeze”.

So apart from macerating the fruit (the benefits of maceration explained here), it doesn’t need any cooking or messing around with hot sugar syrup. Thus, it’s perfect to make when you’re busy with other things. Plus, the colour is hot pink, so guaranteed to brighten up those rainy days.

To make strawberry frozen yoghurt (adapted from David Leibovitz):

• 450g strawberries(*)
• 130g white sugar
• 2 teaspoons vodka or limoncello
• 240g natural yogurt
• 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Put the strawberries, sugar and vodka/limoncello in a bowl, and mash roughly. Leave to stand, covered, at room temperature until the sugar has dissolved (at least 30 minutes, but as long as you can manage).

Throw the strawberry mixture, lemon juice and yoghurt in a blender. Blitz until smooth. If you don’t like seeds, pass through a strainer. If you don’t care, just leave them in.

Chill the mixture in the fridge, then freeze according to your ice cream machine.

(*) Weight after removing stalks and any bad bits.

Worth making? Love it. Love it. Love it. Quick, fresh and delicious, cream and tangy – the essence of summer. Love it!


Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things

Spicy Mixed Bean Stew

I don’t cook very much using beans, which is odd given that they are tasty, I like them and they are very healthy. For example, I love the things Wahaca do with beans – their black bean and cheese quesadillas as divine and I frequently over-order them. But I just don’t cook much with beans at home. So, it’s time to change that.

This recipe is nothing more than “a collecting of things in the kitchen” but the result is surprisingly good. It involves minimal effort, provided that you have the wherewithal to be a little organised and make sure things are left to soak or simmer for the requisite amount of time. Really, don’t skimp on soaking the beans. I can’t speak from personal experience, but if you don’t do it properly, I have read about people who have suffered all manner of “digestive issues” (which I take to mean nasty cramps) from eating undercooked beans. So whenever that thought pops into my mind, and I’m not sure if beans are cooked enough, I leave them boiling a little bit longer. Just in case. But let’s move on.

I’ve been looking for a way to use up a selection of mixed beans (“Wholesome 107 10 bean mix”) I bought in Waitrose about six months ago. They looked quite attractive in the packet – black-eyed beans, black turtle beans, butter beans, haricot beans, lima beans, pinto beans, red kidney beans, rose cocoa beans, alubia beans and mung beans. Sort of like this:

Probably the reason I am not so into cooking with beans is that when you’re home at night and hungry right then, the idea of soaking beans and waiting doesn’t really work (and besides, I don’t own a pressure cooker). However, this is a great recipe that lasts a couple of days, and has also been a great hit at lunch, topped with some natural yoghurt and a little grated cheddar in my groovy new lunchbox.

After all the stress of identifying the individual bean types (which it turned out were listed on the back…duh!), the rest of the recipe is a doddle, if you can commit to popping into the kitchen every thirty minutes for a couple of hours. I fried up some onion, garlic and red pepper, added some spice to get a bit of a kick, then added tomatoes plus a few mustard seeds (for appearance and a bit of flavour). After leaving the lot to simmer very, very gently for a couple of hours, it was rich, thick and tasty, and actually needs very little in the way of additional seasoning. Indeed, you would do well to add as little salt as possible, so that the sweetness of the peppers and tomatoes comes through, and match that with some good, tangy cheese for a tasty meal. Add a few baked tortilla chips for a very faux-Mexican experience.

My suggestion? Make loads, and feel virtuous about how healthy your lunch is at work during the week.

To make spicy bean stew:

2-3 cups mixed beans
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 3 garlic cloves, chopped
• 1 red pepper, very thinly sliced
• 1 teaspoon piment d’espelette or paprika
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1 tin chopped tomatoes
• 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
• zest of one lemon
• 1/2 stock cube
• plain yoghurt, grated cheddar and chopped coriander, to serve

Soak the beans overnight in cold water. The next day, drain, rinse well, then add fresh water and cook the beans according to instructions (usually – boil for 15 minutes, then simmer for about 1-2 hours until tender).

Meanwhile, heat the oil in another pot and add the onion. Cook gently until golden brown, then add the garlic, stir well, and a minute later, add the pepper. Cook until the pepper is soft, then add the spices. Cook for another minute, then add a splash of water – the spices will form a “paste”. Keep cooking until the water has cooked off, and the spice paste looks oily.

Add the tinned tomatoes, cooked beans, mustard seeds, lemon zest, stock cube and a cup of water to the spice mixture, and cook over a gentle heat until the beans are tender and the mixture has reduced to a thick sauce.

Serve topped with spoonfuls of plain yoghurt, grated cheese and some chopped coriander.


Filed under Recipe, Savoury

Grilled Figs with Honey

When I was on holiday recently, I saw fig trees dotted across the Umbrian landscape. I kept looking for ripe figs, but without success. All very frustrating, as when I was on holiday in the French Pyrenees two years ago, the trees there were covered in deep purple figs that just fell off the tree into your hand. I guess that it’s just a lesson that if you want figs, you need to wait until the end of summer…

One rather curious thing about London is that you do come across a fair few fig trees. While I have yet to find one that actually yields ripe fruit, in warm weather, you still get that rich, sweet aroma of figs from their leaves. Walk past the National Portrait Gallery on the north side of Trafalgar Square or through many of London’s parks and you know what I mean.

Even if our local trees are holding out on me, the local fruit shop has come through. I have been buying quite a lot recently, either eating them raw, or using them as the basis of very simple desserts. Figs are great in a pie with a light custard filling, similar to an apricot tart, but as desserts go, it doesn’t get much easier than grilled figs, served with a spoonful of thick natural yoghurt.

Per person:

• 1 ripe fig, quartered
• 1 teaspoon runny honey (I used orange blossom)
• 1 generous tablespoon natural Greek yoghurt

Lay the figs skin-side down on a heatproof dish and drizzle with the honey.

Grill on a medium heat for 2-3 minutes, until the figs are just starting to brown at the edges.

Remove from under the grill, transfer to a plate, and serve with the yoghurt. If any juice has leaked from the figs, drizzle over the yoghurt.

Leave a comment

Filed under Recipe, Sweet Things

Beetroot with Yoghurt and Lemon Relish

Finally, I have made something savoury! This is a salad from Ottolenghi’s new cook book Plenty – a beetroot salad with a fresh lemon-tomato relish and served with a swirl of Greek yoghurt. I need a few new summer staples, and this recipe just called out for me to try it.

I really love beetroot. The colour is amazing and it always brightens up dishes (and actually makes a good natural food dye if you like things hot pink), and the flavour is delicious. At the moment, the market stalls are starting to see baby beetroot. These are wonderfully sweet, and I can happily cook them and eat them on their own. You also get two vegetables in one – the familiar root, and the leaves, which are bright green traced with pink.

My opinion is that beetroot combines wonderfully with yoghurt and dill, so for me this recipe is perfect. You start by preparing a tomato-based relish, which includes corriander, dill, roasted bell peppers and lemon, so it has lots of flavours. However, rather than mixing the sauce, beetroot and yoghurt and ending up with a Pepto-Bismol effect, just spoon the salad and the yoghurt into a serving dish and swirl slightly for a pretty raspberry-ripple effect. This looked amazing in the late evening sunshine – the colour of garnets, with flecks of red, green and yellow and flashes of creamy-white – and it was a big hit with my diners too.

For the recipe, see here. I found this quite easy to follow – I cooked the beetroot the evening before, so the next day I just had to make the tomato sauce and allow it to cool before combining everything.

However, I did make two improvisations – I didn’t have any preserved lemon, so I used the skin of a fresh lemon, which I cut into small pieces, and soaked in lemon juice and salt for half an hour. This tasted good, but I think if I were to make this again, I would just use the zest of 1/2 lemon in place of the preserved lemon, rather than chopped peel. Ah well, live and learn! Secondly, I added the herbs (parsley, corriander and dill) to the cold tomato sauce, so that they would not cook and thus would keep their freshness. And it worked!

Worth making? If you have the time or are organised to plan ahead, then this is a great dish to prepare, and it makes a lovely change from “normal” beetroot salads. Just make sure to get the relish right for your tastes. However, the time you need means that you can’t magic this up at short notice, which is worth knowing if you’ve got to pull together  dish in a hurry. But this one I will make again.


Filed under Recipe, Savoury

On Location: Frae (Islington, London)

Frozen yoghurt. These two simple words usually suggest one thing to me – the frozen “treat” for people on a diet and who seek to deny themselves the pleasures of life. They want ice-cream, but they are settling for a poor substitute. Very LA, some sort of “fun lite”.

I had this thought in my mind when, on a warm Friday afternoon, I passed Frae on Camden Passage in Islington. The store looks quite funky, all whites and lime greens, and is tucked between the cool boutiques and trendy antique stores. What the heck, let’s try it, I thought.

Frae offers plain (“naked”) or green tea flavours, and is vocal about their all-natural product (a good thing) and the fact they are low cal and 100% fat free (less appealing to me – you see why I’ve always through of this as a diet thing?). But the fun part is that you can then pimp your frozen yoghurt with a variety of toppings – fresh fruit, granola, cookies, brownies etc. There was even chopped-up mochi – the most innovative topping I’ve seen for a while by quite some way.

In the end, I played it safe and went for blueberries and blackberries. I got a bit tongue-tied, and my initial request was to blurt out the Scottish terms for each, blaeberries and brambles(*), my Scottish accent drawing a blank from the Aussie behind the counter. I found this all the more amusing given that Frae claims that its name comes from the old Scots word for “from”. Once we finally understood each other, I was able to wander off into the sunshine with my frozen yoghurt forming a lovely peak and studded with ripe fruit. I think I should point out that by the time I took the picture, I had tried it and it had melted a little, but it did originally look picture-perfect.

I have to say, this stuff was good. All my doubts vanished. The reason? Frae’s offering is obviously yoghurt and not a fake ice-cream. It still has a nice, sharp, acidic tang of natural yoghurt and tastes very fresh. I thought the combination with the fresh fruit was absolutely delicious, while also being quite light. I am a person that usually has fruit sorbets in the hot weather, and I can happily see myself eating this. It almost felt healthy, and I suspect it might actually have been good for me. Just a little bit.

Would I go back? Yes! I am definitely a frozen yoghurt convert. I want to try the green tea flavour (after my recently flirtation with making green tea truffles) and just eat more of the plain stuff topped with fruit. I see this as a new summer food – I’ll have it in addition to ice-cream, just don’t ask me to choose between them.

(*) I still instinctively think of fruits and vegetables by the names we called them in Scotland when I was a child, hence to me blackberries are brambles, and blueberries are blaeberries. And what my English friends call swede, I call turnip, and what they call turnip, I call white turnip. Food and culture, eh?

Frae, 27 Camden Passage, London N1 8EA. Tel: 020 7704 6538. Tube: Angel.

LondonEats locations map here.

1 Comment

Filed under London, On Location