How to prepare matcha tea


I don't have a great relationship with green tea or matcha. I knew it was good for me in some way (It's green, it must be right?) but goodness me, I just couldn't get down with the taste of it at all. Turns out that not all matcha is the same and I was just pouring boiling water on it like a good old cup of builders, scorching the stuff so it was bitter and chalky as I didn't realise how to prepare it properly.

Thankfully Brighton-based company, OMGtea (Organic Matcha Green Tea to you), have given me a bit of an education. What caught my interest was that the company comes from a really interesting background, it isn't just a tea company at all really. Founder Katherine Swift began research into green teas when her mother was diagnosed with cancer due to the beneficial health properties. As well as sourcing and selling premium, traceable matcha tea, OMGtea will also be supporting scientific and medical research into preventing degenerative disease and extending health and life span. They do this by donating a percentage of profits from sales to the Healthy Life Foundation.


Matcha being high in antioxidants, calming and detoxifying is resonably common knowledge but I had no idea it burns calories and is anti-ageing. And Lord knows I could do with better memory too. If the claims stack up, then I'm prescribing myself a cup of this daily, sod the face cream. I mean, matcha has 137 times more antioxidants and 10 times the nutritional benefit of regularly brewed green tea. If you are interested in the science then Google away my friend.

There are a few ways to prepare matcha, but the best way seems to be with the traditional bamboo whisk. I tried both a handheld milk frother and mini steel whisk but they just didn't break the matcha clumps as well as the fine bamboo.


How to prepare matcha tea
  1. Measure 1 tsp of matcha powder and sift it into a small bowl (you may not have enough space to whisk in a cup). 
  2. Add about a tablespoon of just off the boil water. Don't use boiling water!
  3. Using the bamboo whisk, mix the matcha into a paste using a "W" motion. 
  4. Once totally smooth with no clumps (seriously, DO NOT scrimp this step), add a little more water and whisk again to create a froth, then top up with water to finish your drink.
My favourite ways of using matcha



Although I like to drink this without milk, I also enjoy adding a dash of almond milk. For some reason milk alternatives taste better with matcha (almond, hazelnut, even coconut milks). The fattiness of cow's milk doesn't sit well with me for this.


On these hot days, instead of adding more hot water in step 4, I'll use cold almond or hazelnut milk then use a handheld milk frother to create foam and finally add ice cubes for a chilled latte. SO GOOD.


One of my favourite Jamie Oliver recipes is a Green Tea salmon with miso greens and coconut rice from his 15 minutes (or what I call, 30 Minutes and a Shedload of Washing Up) book. I used the OMGtea matcha instead and it definitely improved it.  I'll definitely be looking at cooking with matcha a lot more, with its mix of earthy and zesty notes.

Find out more and view the range at omgteas.co.uk

I was sent samples for review. Words and thoughts, as always, my own.

REVIEW: Wahaca, Brighton



Wahaca has been the long awaited opening that has got Brighton a bit excited. Thomasina Miers, who won Masterchef back in 2005, has built her empire of restaurants on her love of Mexican food and travel. It's a substantial chain that has seen one of the biggest successes from the show's winners.



The atmosphere here is fun, bright and lively. A mash up of graphic prints (back pat for the genius who found velour dogtooth bucket seats - you hero), neon, illustrations and type. Overall it does smack of chain restaurant as it's so slick and formulaic, but it has been very well done and a gold star for the bathroom too. A nice touch is that each of their locations features bespoke art from different creatives and in Brighton these are from Mexican street artist Mazatl. Hey, anyone that invests in creatives gets my vote.


Drinks are great. The large bar area is prime for those dropping in for booze, nibbles and a game of foosball. I enjoyed my pretty hibiscus Margarita and gin and tonic from the lengthy cocktail list. There's also fresh pressed juices, Mexican beer and quite extensive tequila menu with a selection of all three types; Blanco, Reposado and AƱejo. They are all 100% blue agave too unlike inferior brands that can contain just 50%. I wouldn't mind going back for the tequila flight to learn a little more even though I did go on a tequila bender with Clio Roccas* once, who is now a Tequileira, so have already been sold to the cause. This time though we opted for a sip of a super smooth and smoky Mezcal which you have to try.


The menu contains the tacos, tostadas, enchiladas and quesadillas you'd expect with both classic and modern interpretations. When I think of Mexican food I think of vibrant flavours, contrasting textures, acidity, heat... on the whole though the food was lacking those highlights and that punch. Most successful was the Pasilla chicken tacos that had good smoke from the chargrill and a decent level of heat in the (intentionally!) burnt habanero salsa. With a soft tortilla I like some crunch from a salad or radish which this had too.


The steak in the tacos was beautifully tender. The rest of the elements were simple but as the steak was so good, I didn't mind. 


Empanadas I adore. These were stuffed with an earthy mushroom and sweetcorn filling. The pastry could have been crisper, but were enjoyable none the less. Is cauliflower cheese a Mexican dish? No idea, but this was a pleasant side dish. Not much heat or the promised smoke, but fine. It's cauliflower cheese.



I was looking particularly forward to the raw salmon tostadas which looked the part but the lime and tamari were a no-show. The textures were all quite similar really and a bit slimy by nature. Again the sweet potato and feta Taquitos were not crispy and there were no discernible flavours coming through, maybe having too many elements so they became muddied. 

Service was as enthusiastic as an X Factor first audition. I was taken aback at first but really warmed to the bounding friendliness. Although I normally prefer things a little more low-key, it suits the fun style of the restaurant and the atmosphere. All the staff seemed really upbeat and welcoming and if they keep it up could be a real USP of this place.


Churros for dessert are a given. These were light and crisp. With chocolate and caramel sauce, I can't see who couldn't enjoy these. 

I don't get the spoons though. Horrible to eat with and to hold. If I'm out at a restaurant, the last thing I want to eat with is oversized toddler cutlery. The only thing this could be is a marketing hook (something about a spoon amnesty) but instead of stealing these for a free taco, next time I'll be bringing my own dessert cutlery from home. 

It's hard not to be overly critical of the London chains that are moving into Brighton. Many are fiercely anticipated and coming from the big smoke, you naturally put them on a pedestal. The super-hyped Polpo has so far been disappointing to many people I speak to, and I know I'm not the only one praying that Franco Manca (opening soon) remains true to their original quality and craft despite the big buy-out and expansion. MeatLiquor brought something quite new to the city and continues to thrive and I think Wahaca should also do really well here, the relaxed, fun and inexpensive nature suits the city and and we lack many large venue options.

I did enjoy my visit here, although I'd expected the food to be a little better, I'd certainly come back to make a bigger dent in the tequila menu and try some of the larger dishes.

Wahaca Brighton
North Street
Brighton

I dined as a guest of Wahaca. *This is my only shameless celebrity namedrop, I promise.

REVIEW: Baker and Spice, Brighton


Brighton is sure the hot ticket for the London chains at the moment with Polpo, Wahaca and Franco Manca being the latest to the city. Baker and Spice is the first of the small chain's bakery cafes to be located outside of London. To be honest, until they turned up here, I'd never heard of them, but they are just a small chain of five. Starting from a small bakery and patisserie, they expanded to bunch and casual eating and Brighton will be the first of the restaurants to offer a wider menu and evening dining. Unfortunately due to the kitchen size, the cakes and pastries for this branch are not produced on-site as they are in their other branches, but delivered fresh from their Chelsea store every morning.


I've always loved this location. A foot-fall nightmare it may be, but it's a quirky, narrow little building with a charming, sun-trap courtyard to the front and three floors which keep an intimate feel. There's also a large outside space in the square to the front. Its all had a lick of paint and been tastefully refurbished throughout.

They offer a pretty extensive all day brunch menu, with some great options like French toast, plenty of egg choices and a stunning pink granola. For some reason, it may have been the sun and the sea on the walk in or the ghost of the abruptly departed Fishy Fishy still in the room, we ordered an entirely pescatarian meal from the lunch menu instead.


The Salt and Pepper Squid had a nicely crisp and light batter which was perfectly seasoned. The squid itself was a little tough and chewy but the salad was dressed and the lime mayo had the ideal sharpness to cut through the fry. I really appreciate it when the squid is scored properly too, which this was, as it makes the texture far more pleasant.


My cod fishcake was enjoyable with plenty of fresh dill. The poached egg on top was spot on and the huge salad on the side made this a really substantial feed. Unfortunately the hollandaise has congealed and cooked, having been poured on a hot fishcake and plate, or probably rested under the pass a little too long which was a shame.


My four year old son is now of an age where I let him chose what he wants on a menu and I could guarantee this fish mad boy would choose the pan fried cod (having eaten most of the squid too - I'm never taking him to an expensive shellfish restaurant!). This again was a decent portion with sauteed potatoes, cherry tomatoes and samphire. There's isn't a kids menu here, which isn't a problem for us, but they do offer smaller portions for the mains which is handy.

The food was well presented with simple, pleasant dishes and we enjoyed our meal. It was good to be able to bring my kid to a place that wasn't child focused but naturally still had plenty of options for young diners. And there are always pancakes or pastries for the little ones that are more difficult to please. This style in general does well to cater for mixed groups (it's graduation day gold for appeasing the whole family, including that really difficult aunt everyone seems to have). But Brighton seems keen on statement dishes and concept dining. Everything here seems to need a hook of some sort but I think there is always room for more relaxed options that have been nicely done.

I think what they will struggle with is confusing the diner though. There is far too much on offer and the mindset seems to still be catering for the London market or not with this location in mind. As well as brunch and lunch, another menu will soon be added for dinner. There are also takeaway displays with salads, another for their pastries and breads and another for sandwiches as well as walls of their own products for sale. There's quite a lot to take in and sometimes this works for a restaurant, capturing the all day market. But often it can bamboozle diners with too much choice. The takeaway service will really struggle here, it's just not the right space or location for it at all, despite offering healthy, fresh options to go.

Prices are just about ok. They are probably only a pound or two higher than their Brighton competitors but on some items they need to take a look. £9 for avocado on toast must be a typo.

Time will tell if Baker and Spice finds it's groove by the seaside and they seem keen to watch and learn from their diners. If they tweak their offering, this is a really attractive space with pleasant, straight-forward food.

bakerandspice.uk.com
40 East Street
Brighton
BN1 1HL

I was a guest of Baker & Spice, words and thoughts, as always, are my own.

OrganicUnboxed RECIPE: Roast Pork belly slices with potatoes


Mr GF, who thinks I'm turning him vegan with my streamlining of our meat consumption recently (I'm not, I'm just trying to buy better, less often), thought it was his birthday or something when he saw we were having this for dinner. 

It's simple to prepare and great if you are self employed at home like me ideal to throw it together in 5 then pop in the oven for 1.5 hrs. The potatoes will cook in the pork fat too so the flavour is fantastic. 

This was another of my #organicunboxed recipes that I created with my mystery box of ingredients. The pork was from The Well Hung Meat Company based in Devon. Their animals are grass fed and dry aged on the bone for up to 28 days. Plus they don't use any freaky chemicals, opting for traditional and sustainable farming instead. I know full well that had I bought this meat in the supermarket, the amount of water released in cooking would have been quite considerable. Plus the flavour of this meat was superb. I don't think all produce needs to be organic but one area that does benefit is meat. 

Serves 2-3
500g Pork belly slices
4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
Small red onion, chopped
2 sprigs of rosemary
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200C

In a baking tray, lay the potatoes in a single layer. Scatter over the red onion then lay the pork strips on top. 

Break the sprigs of rosemary into a few pieces then tuck between the meat and potatoes.

Season with freshly ground black pepper and drizzle with olive oil.

Roast for 1.5 hrs, tuning the meat half way through.

Remove pork strips, keep warm and rest for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, return the potatoes to the oven to crisp up a little. 

OraganicUnboxed RECIPE: Penne alla Gin



No, these aren't desperate times for a hard working mother. I'm not sloshing liquid sin in every meal I create (just yet).

Remember when vodka sauce was the thing for pasta? (it happened, I promise you, it happened). And if it still seems strange to you, then think of how common wine is to add to your pasta sauces. This is based on the dish penne alla vodka, a rich, creamy sauce. The alcohol isn't really a strong taste, it just seems to amplify the tomatoes and give them an edge.

I like vodka sauce with spice, mainly as vodka has a mild taste in cooking it needs another element for interest. But gin has more character so I think it's best left alone. Same story with the pancetta commonly found in this dish. But the cream and butter? Well, that remains.

This is a dish I have created for #organicUnboxed campaign, so it's totally good for you*



Serves 4

(all ingredients I used were obviously organic!)
10g Butter
1 tbs olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
500ml of passata or a 400g tin of tomatoes, blended
170ml of gin (I used Juniper Green Organic gin)
150ml single cream
400g dried penne pasta
Freshly grated Parmesan to serve

Heat the butter and olive oil in a saucepan and gently fry the onion until softened but not coloured. Add the garlic and continue to cook for a minute.

Add the passata or blended tin of tomatoes, season well and reduce for 10 minutes.

Add the gin and reduce a little for 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and add the cream. Check seasoning.

Stir through drained pasta. And serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.


 *OK, probably not.

OrganicUnboxed



Do you choose organic foods? It's a nice idea isn't it?

I really do worry about what goes into food production, more so now I have the responsibility of two small children to feed. Consumer demands for cheaper food and well, demand for food in general, must mean corners get cut or additional processes are applied to our food chain. You read some pretty freaky stuff in the press. So I was really interested to be part of #organicunboxed campaign to learn a bit more about organic foods and try some new products out too.


The Organic Trade Board sent me a mystery box of produce to create recipes with - think middleclass Can't Cook Won't Cook. I assumed it would be more meat, fish and dairy based as I delved in, some ingredients and brands I found I already use, but they sent me ORGANIC GIN! I was already sold :)

The campaign aims to inspire the nation to try more organic cooking, and will include recipes and videos from well known chefs and will be launched by health food queen Madeleine Shaw.

Money no object, I would probably convert everything I can organic but that's just not practical for my family at the moment. But selective organic products don't cost the Earth and I have a fab indie food shop that's opened round the corner. And some frankly just taste better or really are worth investing in. I'd put meat in that class and we've really cut back on meat consumption here, for health, but also to be able to buy a lot better. Organic meat does cost considerably more but then it costs more to produce meat in a respectful way that isn't also pumped full of water and Lord-only-knows-what. Plus I can really tell the taste difference in decent meat so am happy to eat it less and enjoy it more.

Cheap staples like grains I've swapped to organic anyway and the local shop I've already mentioned sells lots of organic veg for little more that supermarket prices. I walk past all the time so it's convenient anyway. I am also thinking to swap over most of my dairy to organic too, especially for my milk guzzling kids.

But why should we really buy organic?
  • Organic crops are obviously exposed to fewer pesticides. GM crops and ingredients are banned in organic farming as are hydrogenated fats, artificial pesticides and some crazy chemicals I can't even spell. 
  • I know animals are cute, but I still like eating them. Even so, I absolutely think they should be reared with respect and care. Meat labelling can be quite misleading. Freedom, welfare, red tractor…even "free range" may not be your idea of being free to roam. Organic livestock, however, are truly free range, meaning they have more space to roam and enjoy high welfare standards. 
  • Organic dairy cows are pasture fed which really comes through in the taste 
  • Supporting farmers and food producers, particularly British and local ones is really important. Organic farming is great for farmers and more environmentally friendly. 
  • Recent research has shown that organic crops are up to 60% higher in a number of key antioxidants and that both organic milk and meat contain around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. You are what you eat and all that.

Anyway as part of the #OrganicUnboxed I was challenged to devise some organic dish recipes with my mystery ingredient box. These will follow in separate posts over the next few days. And no, I didn't just drink the bottle of gin. 

For more information follow www.facebook.com/organicuk  http://www.organicukfood.com/organicunboxed or watch their video featuring Madeleine Shaw:


I was sent Organic ingredients to produce some recipes. Words, thoughts and recipes are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Hemsley + Hemsley Good + Simple, Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley


This is the second pretty book from healthy eating queens, Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley - the pretty sisters that made the spiralizer last year's must-have kitchen gadget.

But it's not just all nice dresses, lipstick and fluff, I cooked a straight three weeks from this book and think it may have even changed the way I eat for good. Although I thought I ate quite well before, this is a different way of cooking for me that I, and thankfully my family, are really enjoying. Hey, I'm not throwing the bread bin and pasta cupboard out anytime soon but what I have learnt brings a greater nutritional balance to my table which can only be a good thing.

There is a section at the front of the book about their principles of eating well which is sensible, sound advice, then some sort of "reboot" eating plan that personally I just skimmed through as it doesn't suit my lifestyle. What I do like is this movement toward a more positive and nutrition based food attitude rather than faddy diets. Even exercise is leaning towards fit over thin. It's all good.


The title, Good and Simple rings true; there is nothing in here that is particularly tasking to make and everything is nutrition focused. Healthy eating in the current fashion can be quite expensive with cult ingredients but the recipe lists in this book are generally sensible with only a handful of health food shop items. You won't find the need to source any obscure Bulgarian grain that is only harvested by moonlight on the last day of October, thankfully.


As we all know, low fat cooking is so old hat. It's all about eating with nutrition and health in mind but I still have a slight calorie conscious hangover from the 90s that was bothering me during making the quinoa kettle porridge. 8 tablespoons of coconut oil as well as energy packed nuts, dried fruits and coconut, I dread to think of the tally at the end. Still, it was easy to prepare and what parent of small children wouldn't want a grab and go breakfast that isn't a slice of toast? This really did keep me powered until lunch, which for someone that gets up at 5.30 these days (darn you baby!) is no mean feat.


For such a simple recipe, I was most surprised by the quick dahl. It was absolutely delicious and packed with flavour. Even the "you're not turning me vegan are you?" husband loved this. Also, I wasn't sure about serving it with a raw white cabbage slaw but the textural contrast and sharp notes was the ideal partner to the dahl. I've made this four times so far and my fondness isn't waning.


The fish curry again was straight forward. Luckily I have quite a decent larder so didn't need to buy anything special for the curry paste and I made enough to freeze for next time. The coconut milk and tomato based sauce was thick, silky and indulgent with good flavour. Cauliflower rice is something I've turned my nose up at before but now trying it I'm totally on board. I didn't miss real rice at all. Who'd have thought it!

Broccoli rice was another new one on me and good with a simple salmon dish. Also heros of the mid-week were a chicken tray bake with watercress salsa verde and a fiery quinoa biryani.


I'm really loving raw and alternative baking so was keen to try the date and tahini "fudge". The texture was melting, really lovely but the flavour was so soapy from the coconut oil. I have a feeling it was the brand I was using though as I've sourced a much milder version now. Still, the teeny tiny squares stored in the freezer satisfied any sweet cravings I had and the bitterness of the dark tahini I used suited my taste.

Some of the recipes are a bit too simple, the sprout salad was dull, liver and bacon quite standard, I have no need for sandwich recipes and a slice of cucumber with cream cheese on or roasted sprout on a stick won't be featuring at any of my dinner parties anytime soon.

However their version of pesto has come in handy with my own cooking for jazzing up some dishes and the sauces and dips section are also worth trying.

Luckily I'm not really one for dessert or sweet things but was surprised by the amount of cakes and desserts included. See you don't have to swear off the treats!


The book was well laid out and attractive but does contain a few issues. I found some inconsistencies like the recipe method not mentioning one of the listed ingredients and I get really irritated by abbreviations in recipes. EVOO, ACV... it makes the content seem unfinished. 


Will eating these recipes make you as pretty as a H+H girl? No. But the book contains sound ideas for sustainable healthy eating which is a welcome break from the kale and chia brigade.

Hemsley + Hemsley Good + Simple is published by Ebury Press and costs £25.



I received a copy for review but all words and opinions are my own.