This is the start of a new series on the blog, looking at just one ingredient and what it adds to cooking, food and health.

Lemon, Citrus limon

Lemons were the first thing that came to my mind when I thought of this series. They are one of my favourite ingredients, adding refreshing, bright, zesty flavour to such a wide range of dishes, both sweet and savoury. I love their fresh smell and sharp taste and most often use them just as they are, squeezed over lightly poached salmon fillets, rice dishes or salads. They will always very simply and easily liven up a dish.

Lemons are thankfully abundant in supply. The lemon tree is native to Asia but is also grown in the warmer European countries, North West America and the Middle East, and in these climates produces fruit all year round. For cooler and more changeable climates, such as here in the UK, when winter descends they give us an air of summer to lift the dark days a little. Just looking at them is cheering and a glass bowl of them on the table can be as brightening as fresh flowers, and their zesty scent is awakening and enlivening. It is this uplifting element that is used in aromatherapy to help with low moods, and it is also said to be detoxifying (although there is no scientific evidence to support this). Lemons, like other citrus fruit, are well known for their health benefits, being rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, both of which help to strengthen the immune system, which is why your wise mother or grandmother will suggest hot water with honey and lemon when you’re under the weather. Whilst oranges contain more vitamin C, lemons have less calories and sugar, making them a great choice, particularly if you are watching your sugar intake (but perhaps avoid the honey!).

Aside from the huge array of recipes lemons are used in, one of the great culinary benefits is that lemon juice prevents certain foods from browning when oxidised, such as apples and avocado. So no brown apple sauce or avocado salad dressing. The juice is great whisked with extra virgin olive oil and seasoning for a very simple salad dressing, or as the base for a dressing with other ingredients such as garlic and herbs. I use lemons most with fish, squeezed over freshly cooked fish or smoked salmon, or sliced and stuffed into whole fish before baking. I also sometimes like to pair them with chicken.

Of course lemons are as crucial to beverages as they are to food, their juice being used for squash and lemonade, and the fruit is great sliced and added to drinks such as Coca Cola, Pimms or vodka and a mixer. Plain water is transformed into something quite different and much more inviting when served in a glass jug with ice and lemon slices. In the summer I like the combination of lemon slices and ripe strawberries to infuse and flavour the water.

Lemons really are one of the most versatile ingredients you can keep in your fridge, so be sure to always pick up a lemon or two with your weekly shop!

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Hey everyone! You may have seen me over the past week or so on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and if you have and said hello thank you, I’ve had a lovely welcome back. After a long break I’m finally ready to start blogging again and I can’t wait to get started. Lots of love, Julia x

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Pepped Veg 1

The usual colds are starting to go round now and I’ve been feeling a little under the weather of late, trying to fend off sneezes and snivels. I’ve been taking the herbal remedy Echinacea, which really seems to be effective, along with vitamin C and zinc. Last night after another day at work I felt the need for a real boost of vegetables so I opted for a healthy dinner of low fat turkey steaks and a huge bowlful of sautéed vegetables, pepped up with garlic and a good few drops of Tabasco Sauce. I have to say it was really tasty and great to feed a cold with; the vegetable dish is definitely one I’m going to be repeating through the winter months.

You really don’t need a recipe for this as you can opt for any amount and combination of vegetables you like, but I’ll tell you what I did to give you a guideline. It was just me for dinner last night but I did make a huge portion with lots of broccoli as I seem to be having something of a love affair with it of late, which is great as it’s so good for you. I heated some olive oil over a medium heat in a big stir fry pan and chopped and threw in one red pepper, one leek, one small onion and a whole head of broccoli including the stalk. The stalk is perfectly edible and, so I’ve discovered, really tasty with a contrasting texture to the broccoli head so I always make a point of using it now. I just trim the sides with a sharp knife to ‘peel’ it and then chop it into small cubes. I added a crushed garlic clove to the vegetables and sautéed them until they were al dente. I then added drops of Tabasco Sauce until I was happy with the taste and kick. The turkey steaks I just sliced, seasoned and pan fried in olive oil until cooked through. To be honest the meal would easily have fed two people but it was so good I had two portions; so much for my intention of saving some for lunch today!

Pepped Veg 2

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image

I do like a quick and easy pasta dish for a mid-week dinner, especially when it’s as comforting and tasty as this one. The other great thing about pasta dishes is that they are generally very adaptable so if you haven’t gone food shopping yet you’re bound to find something in the back of your fridge or cupboard that you can add to or substitute ingredients. In this recipe, for instance, you could use as little or as much bacon as you like or omit it altogether, and I’m certain that a little leftover chicken thrown in would be fabulous. Just make sure to thoroughly reheat the chicken in the pan until piping hot all the way through.

Stilton, Broccoli & Smoked Bacon Pasta

Serves 2
160g pasta such as fusilli
4-6 rashes of smoked bacon
80g Blue Stilton
2tbls cream cheese
Approx. 200g broccoli

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and then add the pasta and simmer until al dente.

Roughly chop the broccoli and steam or simmer (I put it in the same pan as the pasta about 4 minutes before it was due to be drained.

While the pasta is cooking cut the rind and excess fat off the bacon and cut it into slices. Sautée it in a pan with a dash of olive oil over a medium heat until cooked.

Add the Stilton and cream cheese to the bacon and stir until the cheese melts. Add 2-4 tablespoons of the pasta cooking water to losing the mixture and form a sauce consistency. Add the drained pasta and broccoli to the pan and mix well to coat it in the sauce. Season to taste and serve immediately.

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I figured a return to food blogging wasn’t really legitimate until I post about, well, food. So here we have a quick, easy and totally scrummy recipe for a little something sweet to have with your mid-morning coffee.

Lemon Curd and Chocolate Twists

Makes 8

375g puff pastry, ready rolled

Lemon Curd

Chocolate spread

Preheat the oven to 200c/180c fan

Lay the pastry with the longer sides facing you cut it down the middle using a sharp knife so that you have two equal pieces of pastry. Spread the chocolate spread over the bottom half of one piece of pastry then bring the top half down over the bottom so that it’s folded in half lengthways with the chocolate spread sandwiched in between. Repeat on the other piece of pastry with the lemon curd.

Twists 1

Using the knife, cut each piece of pastry into four strips. Very gently twist each strip, taking care not to squeeze the filling out, and then place them on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Bake them for 10-15 minutes, until golden.

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Turning Leaves

It feels a little strange to be on this blog, in this space, typing these words. Time has past, the blog has stood still, waiting patiently for me. I’m finding my way back, fingertips feeling for keys, mind reaching for the words turning in my mind. I’ve had a long break and it’s been long enough.

It’s kind of inevitable that this is the time of year that I would feel the inspiration and desire to start writing again. Autumn is the season I embrace the quickest and firmest with almost overnight changes to home, attire and cooking. At the first sense of change in the air I pull chocolate leather boots over skinny jeans, paint my nails with deep blackcurrent polish, light sweet and spicy scented candles, slowly cook sausages in a pan until they turn brown and sticky, and beat butter into creamy mash. I look forward to the festivities of Halloween and Bonfire Night and to planning Christmas. Autumn, the season of change, blows in on a cooler breeze, curling in and around the trees, the flowers, the earth. There is nothing unaffected by its touch; the animals and even we feel its presence.

Autumn is not the only inspiration I have right now. I’ve been spending a lot of time this summer by the sea surrounded by the English countryside. Time with friends and family, time alone, time to reach inward and time to look outward. I can think of nowhere better to connect with inner creativity. This summer I have been painting the sea with oil pastels, capturing the beauty of my surroundings through my camera lens, creating pirate adventure days (with a three year old, I should add). And I’m very much looking forward to writing and sharing with you once again.

Yes, it feels a little strange to be here. But it feels like I’ve come home.

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