Review: Sweet Mandarin Cook Book

Sweet Mandarin front cover hi resThis is a long overdue review of a fabulous book written by the team behind one of my favourite Manchester restaurants.

This book arrived on my desk way back in January, I was desperate to start trying the recipes, but it was weeks before I got a chance to dive in  and test it out.

Mr T senior died, I was ill, life got in the way and writing this review “fell off” my to do list. Until Friday night, when I turned to my current favourite recipe and realised in horror, as I turned the the soy sauce splashed pages I had never told you all what a brilliant book this is. The food splatters are perhaps an indication that this book has been well used. It fact, we cook from it at least a couple of times a month and every recipe we have tried has been easy to follow and delicious (almost as delicious as the food served at Sweet Mandarin itself, but not quite)

peninsula chicken recipeMany of the recipes are naturally gluten and dairy free, but wherever possible advice is given about substitutions or variations in the basic recipe. The Pork Rib Broth is delicious and the Steamed Mussels in Chinese Rice Wine were a huge hit when served to friends who “Don’t like Chinese food” – they are now converts – and proud owners of their own copy! Mr T has a particular fondness for the Peninsula -Style Chicken with Cashew Nuts, which is what we ate on Friday, with apologies to Helen and Lisa, we’ve tweaked the recipe slightly to add plenty of chopped spinach in addition to the carrots and spring onions (simply because I was too lazy to cook a side dish and the frozen spinach was handy)

peninsula chicken on plateI only just managed to take a quick photo as I dished up, poor Mr T does try to be patient when I whip out my phone to record our “eats”, but it was the end of a long week and he “needed” pampering and I had to admit I was pretty hungry too.

Manchester has more than its fair share of great Chinese restaurants (Mr T have eaten at most of them over the years), but Sweet Mandarin is worth seeking out, avoid China Town, head towards the Northern Quarter and enjoy a fabulous meal (here’s a map if you are tempted). The restaurant is particularly friendly for anyone on a special diet, with gluten and dairy free options and a great choice for vegetarians. If you can’t make it into Manchester, buy the book and recreate many of their specialities in your own kitchen, and if all else fails, you can find their delicious sauces in the “free from” aisle of most large supermarkets, Mr T recommends the Sweet Chilli Dipping Sauce!

Book Details

Published by Kyle Books at £18.99, find the Waterstones listing here.

Recipe: Multi Seed Crackers

chia crackers 2Just lately my Instagram feed has been full of people posting about chia seeds and questions about what to do with them. These tiny seeds are being described as “the latest health craze” and this piece from the Huffington Post is worth a read if you haven’t come across them before.

I first came across them while visiting a wholefood cafe in Philadelphia a few years back. Our soup came with a side dish of dips and amazingly crunchy little crackers. They were described”grain free,  multigrain crackers” on the menu. Intrigued, I asked the waitress if the chef might be interested in a recipe swap and in return for  emailing him a copy of my Marmalade Cake, he sent me this.

For a long time I couldn’t track down chia seeds in my local health food shop, but eventually found them online and now they are widely available. The recipe only works if you use the chia seeds, they absorb the liquid and help the mixture to bind. Believe me I tried without and the result weren’t as successful.

The recipe is based on cups, so if you don’t have a set of American measuring cups, grab yourself a small tea cup or a tablespoon measure and use that. This recipe makes about 15 crackers and they store well in an airtight tin. If you like them, double up the recipe and make a bigger batch. They are a delicious accompaniment to the vegan standby of hummus or guacamole, but equally good with cheese (and home made pickle of course). They are suitable for most “free from” diets, being gluten, grain, dairy, egg and nut free.

You can find the recipe by clicking here.

Yes, they look like bird food, reminiscent of the dry, tasteless “health food” bars I bought in the 1980’s. Don’t be fooled, they are crunchy, tasty and it’s almost impossible to stop at one. Don’t ask me how many I nibbled while trying to get a good photo (we wait all year for the sun to shine and then when it does we find reason to complain!!)



Chocolate Bark

chocolate barkThis recipe is so virtuous –  it almost qualifies as health food – but not quite! I thought I’d lost my “baking mojo”, a diet which is largely sugar, grain and dairy free  means searching extra hard for inspiration, but thanks to Instagram I’ve discovered some delicious new recipes. Most of the meals  we’ve been enjoying come  from American bloggers, which means a renewed love of the “cups” measuring system and occasional frustration at the lack of a decent local wholefood store.

Free from dairy, sugar and gluten and made with ingredients which are said to have health promoting properties this chocolate bar has become a regular in our house. You can find the recipe over at The Holistic Ingredient Blog, which has become my favourite “go to” website for recipe inspiration. Amy is also an active “Instagrammer” and her daily photos are truly inspiring. We’ve been eating a lot better since I discovered her blog.

To the basic recipe I added dried pistachios, dried cranberries and a few toasted, flaked  almonds. Keep it in the fridge because it’s not as stable as shop bought chocolate. To sweeten, I used maple syrup, which we use regularly in place of sugar. I never use artificial sweetener or “natural “alternatives like Stevia, I just don’t trust food which was created in a lab. Where only “real sugar” will do, I use organic, fairtrade  raw cane sugar. Most shop bought or restaurant food just tastes too sweet for me these days. The once special treat of tea and cake in a favourite cafe has become a bit of a disappointment. Gluten free cakes often taste of highly artificial,  dairy free spread instead of butter and are far too sweet for my taste buds. Is that a bad thing? Probably not. Instead my “treat” has become a well made cup of coffee and I could fill a whole other blog post with my gripes about the lack of decent coffee (often the result of being poorly brewed rather than poor quality!)



This chocolate  recipe calls for  cacao powder and cacoa nibs as well as coconut oil, which you might not be familiar with, but these three ingredients have become store cupboard staples in our house. Coconut oil is brilliant for frying and baking and is said to have many health benefits, Joanna Blythman wrote this piece for the Guardian which is a good introduction to this increasing popular oil. Booja Booja Cacoa Nibs are expensive I’ll admit, but a little goes a long way and they’re great for throwing into home made granola (we’re fans of this recipe from the Botanical Baker, which I tweak a bit to suit our taste). Urvashi’s blog is another regular read and her love of natural and botanical ingredients gives some of her recipes a delicious and unexpected twist.

All the ingredients were bought from Waitrose, including Willie’s Cacao powder, which is superb for all kinds of baking, again it’s expensive, but you only need a little and sometimes in life, you get what you pay for. If you haven’t come across Willie’s chocolate before, you’re in for a treat, do check out the videos and recipes  on the website and you’ll understand why I’m a fan.

Photo Credit: Andrea Ellison Photography

Photo Credit: Andrea Ellison Photography

Making this chocolate bar from scratch got me thinking about the food we eat and the inescapable truth, that the   pleasure of eating something you’ve made yourself, using the finest and most ethical ingredients you can find is a hard and expensive business, but it’s a price I’m willing to pay. Our household food bill comes in at under £70 a week and almost everything we eat is cooked from scratch. I’ll admit, the local Indian Take Away is a treat and Mr T’s fondness for a”proper” fish and chips rack up the budget, but they’re occasional treats. For 20 years I was a working Mum, but we still ate evening meals cooked from scratch and we’d have to be seriously hard up before I would give up my local salads, grown right here in the village by The Veg Men or free range meat from local producers. Quite frankly I’d rather go without!

This started out as a quick post about a bar of chocolate, so apologies for the rather longer  meander through my commitment to real food, but it’s something on my mind a lot  at the moment.  You may like to know this chocolate is great to serve at the end of a meal served with a fine coffee or broken  into chunks and served over ice cream. I’ve even used it in my gluten free choc chip cookie recipe. I store it in the fridge, but for baking I keep some in the freezer, where it doesn’t seem to come to any harm.

Photo Credit: The Holistic Ingredient

Don’t forget, the recipe isn’t mine – you can find it over at The Holistic Ingredient Blog – pop over there now, and while you’re there, check out her “A Nourishing Kitchen” e- book, which is on my birthday list!





Recipe: Homage to Manchester Tart

jammy coconut thumbprintsAs a child I loved Manchester Tart, the combination of sticky sweet jam, pastry and the exotic coconut on top  was hard to resist and I always had second helpings.

These biscuits were developed to satisfy my craving for this school day favourite and Mr T has already requested a second batch be baked this weekend, so join me in the kitchen, set aside 20 minutes and pop a tray of these in the oven. Best of all, they’re gluten free and dairy free so I can indulge my sweet tooth and remember all those delicious, stodgy school dinners.

You’ll find the recipe here

If you’re looking for a modern take on the traditional Manchester Tart, there is agreat recipe on the Great British Chefs website.

Friday Bake: Choc Chip Cookies

plate of cookiesThis simple recipe meets all my requirements in a cookie. They’re crunchy on the outside, but still slightly soft and chewy in the centre.

Using orange flavoured chocolate drops adds an element of surprise to the unwary; it’s never a bad thing to elicit an “ooh” over the tea pot!

Of course, they’re gluten and dairy free too – but that’s an aside – first and most importantly they taste great. If you need a quick recipe to make with your little ones, these are ideal. From start to finish, you can have a batch on the kitchen table within half an hour.

You’ll probably have most of the ingredients in your store cupboard. Do look out for the Beyond Dark chocolate drops, they are great quality. The taste is delicious and they hold their shape well for baking which is very important in a choc chip cookie.

This recipe makes 12, just enough to nibble a couple while still warm from the oven and then serve to friends with a pot of tea!

You can find the recipe here. Along with a few rather “under par” photos taken on my phone!! Believe me when I say my baking is far superior to my photgraphy skills!

Recipe: Salads with a Twist

I love beetroot, jewel colours, tiny globes of sweet flavour which brighten up winter mealtimes. Yet, for most people, mention beetroot and their first thought is the vinegar steeped slices bought from the supermarket. If you can get hold of fresh beetroot it’s truly delicious, easy to cook, versatile and very good for you. You can even eat the tiny young leaves in a salad.

LOWRESthenaturalvegmen_3143Earlier this week, I picked up a bunch of tiny, overwintered beetroot from the Veg Men (I wrote about them here). I decided to make a salad for lunch, using up a few left overs from the fridge, added some slivers of Gabriel Blue (a ewe’s milk cheese) bought from my favourite Cockermouth deli last weekend and a few slices of baked beetroot. Looking for a bit of added “crunch” I made some candied nuts as a gluten free alternative to croutons. Here’s how you can recreate your own version. Mix and match your flavours to suit what you have. Think of it as a twist on the classic goats cheese salad you find on so many restaurant menus and experiment.

sliced beetrootThe Basics

150g of mixed salad leaves (either home grown or find a local producer)

100g candied walnuts or pecans (see below for instructions)

75g goats cheese (I used a blue ewe’s milk because that’s what I had – and I didn’t weigh it – a small handful should suffice) chopped into small cubes.

3 or 4 small baked beetroot (see below for instructions)

A simple dressing made with 3 tablespoons  walnut oil and 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar


Whisk together the oil and vinegar to make the dressing. Shred the salad leaves, slice the beetroot and combine all the ingredients in a large salad bowl. Leave to stand for a few minutes for the flavours to develop beofre serving.cheese and walnut salad

Candied Nuts

The ideal nut for this salad would be walnuts –  the eagle eyed among you will spot I used pecans – that’s what I had in the cupboard! To be honest, that’s what I’d use again, the flavour of cooked pecans worked really well with the blue cheese.

1 tablespoon of dark muscovado sugar

3 tablespoons of water

100g nuts

Mix the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat until the sugar has dissolved, add the nuts and stir until well covered in the syrup.

Pour onto a baking tray lined with silicone paper or baking parchment and cook at gas mark 6 for about 5-7 minutes. Start checking after five minutes, you want the nuts cooked, but not burnt. Leave to cool. The nuts can be stored in an airtight jar for about a week. They make a great snack too.

As a variation you could substitute maple syrup for the sugar, add a little ground ginger, plenty of sea salt and perhaps even a little paprika. Combine with a small bag of mixed nuts and make the perfect gluten free nibble to serve with drinks. These may take a little longer to cook, in my oven I give them 10 minues.

Baked Beetroot

Wash the beetroot, but don’t scrub. It’s important not to break the skin or the colour will “bleed”. Trim off the leaves, leaving about 1cm of stalk and  then trim the roots. Place in a shallow baking dish and add a little water (as a general rule I add a tablespoon for each beetroot). Cover with foil and bake at gas mark 2 for about an hour. The baking time depends on the size of your beetroots, “golf ball” size take about an hour, larger ones will take longer).

Once cooked, leave to cool before trimming the stalks and roots. You can then peel them if you wish and add them to salads, make a delicious dip or make a puree.

Veg Men salad

When I was a little girl, a “salad” meant a slice of lettuce, tomato, cucumber and if we were really pushing the boat out, slices of hard boiled egg. This would be smothered in Heinz salad dressing. Today, we eat some kind of salad almost every day. Even if you only have  a small plot or a window ledge, it’s easy enought o grow a few salad leaves. Even during the winter you’d be surprised what will grow.

Event: Sweet Mandarin Book Launch

Sweet Mandarin front cover hi resThis Saturday sees the launch event for Sweet Mandarin Cookbook at Waterstones, Manchester.

Helen and Lisa Tse  (the genius team behind one of my favourite Manchester restaurants) will be signing copies of their new book at Waterstones, Deansgate on Saturday 25 January,  from 2pm until 4pm. The twins will also be on hand to share their tips and tricks for cooking authentic Oriental cuisine as well as their experiences as successful businesswomen. My review copy arrived yesterday and I’ll be testing out some of the recipes shortly and will write a full review then.
But, if you can get yourself into Manchester on Saturday this is definitely one book launch not to be missed.

Book details:

Sweet Mandarin by Helen and Lisa Tse, published by Kyle Books, priced £18.99 on 24th January 2014. Photography: Gareth Morgans.

Recipe: Almond Biscuits

plate of amarettiFew of us can resist a biscuit, and after a morning hard at work in the garden (boy, it’s chilly out there) I came in to make a nice cuppa and indulge in a biscuit, but sadly the tin was empty. It seems I have been neglecting the baking this week!

If you need a quick biscuit fix, these definitely fit the bill and they fall into the category of “store cupboard standby” as I always have the ingredients to hand. You can have a batch ready to serve within half an hour of switching on the oven, which is just what I needed today.

I am reluctant to call them Amaretti, the ones I’ve eaten in Italy have a more bitter almond taste to them, At best, these are a soft, chewy version similar to the soft Amaretti Morbidi you sometimes find in Italian restaurants. Crisp and brown on the outside they hold up well to a quick dunk. They are also great to serve with ice cream or as the basis for a trifle.

You can find the recipe here. Best of all they’re naturally gluten and dairy free and low in fat so please most people.

This Week: At Home

august 23rd 2013This has been a week about the home. Harvesting vegetables, fighting to get to the ripening raspberries before the birds feast upon the glossy, red fruits (I don’t have the heart or the money to net them) . I’ve also been harvesting the nasturtium seeds ready for pickling (see below ).  I love nasturtiums,  they add splashes of bright colour around the vegetable patch and the leaves, flowers and seeds are delicious in salads. We also pickle the seeds, which you can use just like capers. I originally began to grow nasturtiums as a way of luring the butterflies away from laying their eggs on the kale and cabbages a few years back. This has proved very successful, but as you can see from the picture above, the cabbage whites are feasting on the juicy green leaves of  a few cabbage plants this year. I don’t feel I should complain though, we have loved watching the butterflies this year. The garden seems full of them and we’ve spotted at least 10 different varieties.

Baking a home coming cake for teen was a joy, it’s been too long since I baked a “proper” cake and the simple beating of butter and eggs calmed me down as I prepared all the paperwork for the dreaded tax return. On the subject of baking, I’ve added a book to my ever growing wish list, and I’m really hoping Mr T will take the hint and add this to my birthday gifts. “Small Plates, Sweet Treats”, written by Aran Goyoaga, the creator of the beautiful Cannellevanille blog, is bursting with natural, tasty gluten free foods. I’ve been living gluten free since last November, when tests revealed a sensitivity to some of my favourite foods. It’s been hard to find decent, creative recipes and discovering this blog was a revelation. Of course, it helps that the styling and photography are just superb. Do pay a visit, but be prepared to lose yourself for hours!

The return of the Great British Bake Off was a wonderful highlight to tv viewing (and such a “chore”  to watch it again with the teen on Wednesday as she missed the first episode). Thirteen lovely contestants, all struggling to work under the pressure of tv cameras, filming direction and in strange kitchens. There is no way you’d persuade me to put myself through such torture!

The hooks and needles have been busy, with a couple of rather lovely knitting projects posted off to lovely editors. Look out for the Christmas issues of let’s Get Crafting, Craftseller and next month’s Homemade with Love, which all feature my work. Personally, I can’t wait for the new issue of Inside Crochet. The September issue is an “homage” to the Granny Square, which I am intrigued to see in print. You’ll also find a new design from me, which I really enjoyed pulling together. I am so lucky to work with some of the best editors in the business and to see my work styled and photographed beautifully makes all the pattern writing headaches worthwhile. I added two new patterns to Ravelry this week. The hearts are proving very popular and the the  hedgehogs have been appearing in a few places (including at knit group today – how happy that made me). I’m also working on a collection of patterns for Christmas (sneaky peek above, which hints at the colour scheme I’ve chosen for this year, a twist on the traditional red and green).

I have a huge pile of books by my bedside at the moment, I’m loving “Knit Nordic”. Don’t forget there’s still time to enter the giveaway, just leave a comment here or on facebook, or tweet me  a link to your favourite example of a toilet roll cover and I’ll add you to the draw. My favourite so far has to be a crochet Fez, I’m almost tempted to make one myself!

Here in the Uk, we’ve a Bank Holiday weekend to look forward to, this is a great excuse to catch up on some gardening and to pile up the cushions on the sofa for some “me knitting”. I’m hoping to finsh the Teen’s “Owls” jumper and start a pair of socks from Rachel Coopeys Knitted Sock Society. Published by Quail Books, this is a joy. Beautifully photographed and featuring Rowan’s new Fine Art sock yarn, this is just the most inspiring knitting book I’ve come across in a long time (and before you think I’m raving over a free review copy – rest assured – I paid for this one  all by myself).

pickled nasturtiums

Now, back to those pickled nasturtiums, I first came across a recipe for these in the River Cottage Preserves book and was delighted with the results. My recipe has tweaked the original a bit, but the basic idea is still the same.


Pick the seeds while they’re still green, rinse and then soak overnight in a brine solution (I use a tablespoon of salt to every 100 ml of water).

Drain and dry the seeds and pack into small jars, leaving 1-2 cm at the top.  I add a handful of peppercorns and some tiny sage leaves from a bush in the garden, then fill the jars with cider vinegar. Put the jars somewhere cool and dark for a month or so before you eat them.

*Do make sure to sterilise your jars first and use vinegar proof lids.

Happy Making!

T x


Midweek Baking: Storecupboard Favourites

Goats Cheese and Pesto Palmiers

These storecupboard palmiers sound very grand, but they’re quick and make me feel very lazy, just the thing for a spot of mid week baking. My family love them and have been known to hover, waiting impatiently for the kitchen timer to “ping” before squabbling over them, arguing over who will get the biggest or crispest. The teen has been making these since she was four years old and is a big fan of our Christmas version made with tomato puree and cheddar. In fact this is a very child friendly recipe and it’s very forgiving, as who really cares if the pesto is spread in a wonky fashion or an over enthusiastic cook is too generous with the cheese?

You will need:

1 ready rolled puff pastry sheet, a jar of pesto, 100g of hard goats cheese.*

Preheat the oven to gas 6 (or the equivalent for your cooker), it needs to be hot. Grease a  baking tray. Unwrap the pastry, unscrew the jar and grate the cheese.

Here comes the hard part – spread the pesto over the pastry, sprinkle on the cheese and roll up like a swiss roll, cut into rings (about the thickness of a finger will do). If you like you can brush them with a beaten egg before baking for about 20 minutes. They should be browned and bubbling when they’re done and the timing will vary.

Tidy up, stand back and wait for the compliments!

*If you’re feeling particularly virtuous, use home made rough puff pastry and your own pesto – but don’t beat yourself up if you sometimes resort to storecupboard standbys, we all need a few recipes like this up our sleeve and shouldn’t be ashamed to admit to them!

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