Wednesday, 11 June 2014

The Soccer Fiesta

It's almost here: June 12th, the start of the FIFA World Cup.

Potato fries, wedges, nachos, pizza, chicken wings, burgers; all have pride of place in sport bars, pubs and house parties. For the joy of the sport lies in bonhomie and beer accompanied by platters of greasy, spicy finger foods. But such comfort food need not be uninspired or unhealthy. A few ingredients, a little creativity and you can have a fabulous spread of snacks and drinks that will keep the most discerning sport foodie delightfully satiated.

Nuts! Start with nuts; lay out numerous little bowls of nuts. Pick from our shelves for plain nuts or roasted flavoured options of all kinds. Or try some of the lovely options from our Healthy Alternatives range for indulgence without guilt. Lime n spicy soya snacks is one of our favourites! Or toss up these spicy peanuts. Coat peanuts, garlic cloves, oil and crushed chillies and roast for 25 minutes till crunchy. When cool, toss with lime zest, salt and sugar and serve with beer, mocktails or even iced teas for a super bar snack.

Dippy Chippi! No party of any kind is complete without deep bowls of crisp potato chips and an addictive dip. Pick from a range of wonderful dips on our shelves or look out for the lovely dips the food specialists at our stores stir up fresh daily. Want to get creative on your own? Try this creamy dip we swear by; stir caramelized onions and garlic into a mix of sour cream and goat’s cheese. Season with freshly ground black pepper and prepare for it to be completely wiped out before the game ends!

Canape! Another great snack involves canap├ęs of bread. Simply take flatbread with toppings exploding with flavour such as savoury olives, sausage, smoked cheese and spicy harissa. One option we love is to combine all of the above! Lightly fry some onions and tomatoes up with the harissa paste and chopped parsley. Spoon a little of the mixture onto bread or crackers and top with a slice of chorizo or sausages and olive. It goes great with beer and is also lovely with red wine such as a bold Syrah, perhaps?

Mighty munchy! For more substantial munchies, make open or closed sandwiches with the great selection of cold cuts, mayonnaise and mustards we have. Try these amazing pulled jerk chicken sandwiches. Slow cook or oven-braise chicken thighs with your favourite jerk seasoning until the meat is tender and easy to pull apart and pile high on crusty buns for an amazing slider. This filling is even better made the day before the game.

Sweets Victory! To celebrate your favourite team’s win, bring out a batch of sweet Cinnamon chips made from tortilla chips and a tub of your favourite ice cream flavour. Pick from the range of Haagen Dazs and London Dairy options at our stores. To make these addictive chips, lightly fryor bake flour tortilla chips to crisp them up to a puff-pastry-like texture, then sprinkle with cinnamon powder and caster sugar and serve as is or with a little pot of caramel sauce.

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Ever left a muskmelon to ripen in the fruit bowl? In a day or two, the most enchanting, inviting aroma will waft through the kitchen as it promises a sweet juiciness.

In the height of summer, a lot of advice and tips gets passed around listing the best ways to stay cool and avoid succumbing to the heat. But the most effective are the ones that advocate adequate consumption of cooling foods of which melons top the list. Their high water content and natural sweetness make them appealing to the taste buds while providing the body with the nutrients it needs. Muskmelons are low in calories, rich in anti-oxidants like beta-carotene while also being an excellent source of Vitamin A. On the other hand, the lycopene in watermelon is particularly great at protecting cardio-vascular health. This phytonutrient increases in concentration as the fruit ripens; going from whitish flesh to pink to red. Hence, to gain the most nutrition, it’s essential to consume fully ripe watermelons. With a 92% water content, the watermelon, as the name suggests, has a refreshing, thirst-quenching property that makes it a favourite among most people.

Like most fruits, eating ice cold melons straight up while letting its syrupy juice drip over the fingers can be one of life’s simple joys. Yet the heady sweetness of a muskmelon make it the perfect accompaniment to salty ingredients like shavings of pecorino cheese or rosettes of prosciutto. Similarly a squeeze of lime juice, torn mint or coriander leaves and crumbled feta work wonders on raising the flavour profile of a watermelon. 

For a creative twist, slice the watermelon across the middle into thick rings and then divide like a pizza. Top each ‘pizza’ slice with chopped kalamata olives, torn basil leaves, ricotta salata or feta, thin sliced red onions and drizzle with a simple vinaigrette. It’s a brilliant interpretation of a salad, pizza sure to please guests and kids alike. Or move away from European tastes with this Thai style melon salad. Using a melon baller, scoop the flesh of muskmelon into balls. Combine lime juice, thinly sliced bird’s eye chilli, fish sauce and sugar with a little water till the flavours are balanced. Marinate the fruit in this dressing for an hour in the fridge and serve chilled, garnished with torn mint and roasted peanuts.

The goodness of melons extends past its succulent flesh to its seeds as well. Usually spat out in annoyance, the seeds of both musk and watermelons are powerhouses of nutrients essential to maintaining immune and cardiovascular systems. The essential fatty acids are good for the skin and hair while reducing signs of aging. When cleaned, dried and roasted, these nutty seeds are great as a snack or a crunchy element in muffins, parfaits or salads. A combination of both seeds scattered on bread during baking makes for a great loaf.

So go on, pick up the heaviest, aromatic melon you can find and cool off while also eating healthy!

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Monday, 2 June 2014

Berry Love

There is a simple joy in walking down the vegetable aisle of a store with berries of varied shapes, colours and flavours in neat little punnets. While they may be tiny, what they lack in size, they make up for in sheer flavour. Eaten simply by themselves, baked into pies, preserved as jams or enriched with a dollop of whipped cream, they are easily one of the widely consumed food groups in the world. From powdery, navy blueberries, deep dark blackberries, rich purple mulberries to ruby red raspberries, the variety is endless.

Regularly praised in glowing terms by doctors and foodies alike, the health benefits of berries match its culinary versatility. There are several powerful antioxidants present in berries, including anthocyanins, quercetin, and vitamin C. Anthocyanins give berries their vibrant color, reduce inflammation, and help prevent and manage arthritis. Anthocyanins work together with quercetin to help slow age-related memory-loss. Berries are ‘juicy foods’; great for losing weight because their high water content increases the volume while driving down the calories. 

But these nutritional benefits are excellent side effects to an ingredient that can just as easily be baked, pureed into a smoothie or reduced into syrup for introducing complex notes to any dish. While berries most naturally lend themselves to desserts, they work just as wonderfully in salads, main courses and beverages. 

For a stunning dinner, grill a smoky pork loin and serve it with spicy-sweet blackberry chutney. Or pair roasted beef tenderloin with a raspberry chimichurri. Coarsely blend raspberries, parsley, orange zest, garlic, lemon juice and cumin to make the condiment. Bake chicken thighs with rosemary, glazed in a blueberry-balsamic vinegar. Try a grilled cheese sandwich made with bacon strips, pear and raspberry, preserve in between slices of multi-grain bread; all of which are easily available at any of our stores.

Berry salads are another delicious way to enjoy this fruit. Break away from the same old salads with a berry panzanella; a salad with pieces of leftover baguette that soak up the juices of the fruit. Also use berries with savoury vegetables to add some creativity and zing to your salads. Try blueberry with cucumber and feta cheese, or strawberries with arugula and goat’s cheese.

Stay cool in high summer with berry infused waters, granitas and mojitos. Prepare a simple syrup of the berries to easily add flavour to iced teas or lemonade. Try a blueberry-mint lemonade or pair raspberries with rosemary in a martini. Or muddle a mixture of these berries and top with Prosecco for an elegant drink.

Of course, berries shine brightest in desserts and preserves; needing only basic pantry staples to highlight their delicious flavours. Pair with dark or white chocolate in cakes, puddings and cheesecakes. Use as the filling for tarts, cobblers and pies, topped with some softly whipped and sweetened cream. Add to yogurt and top with granola for a healthy sweet dish or place a mound of freshly cut mixed berries on top of a crisp meringue.

Luscious, homemade jams are another fabulous way to harvest the colours and flavours of berries. Being a true comfort food, they bring a little sunshine to the morning breakfast. A smear of chunky mulberry jam on warm, toasted bread is one of the best ways to start the day.

So go on, grab a punnet of your favourite berries and add colour and deliciousness to everyday meals!

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Asparagus is now available at our stores! One of the greatest culinary joys of a sunshiny summer, is tender, asparagus stalks in vivid green or creamy white. Pencil-thin or as thick as a thumb, it grows in shades of white, purple and green, with our stores stocking the green and white varieties. Green Asparagus with a slightly milder flavour is commonly available but the white asparagus is more rare and seasonal and considered a spring delicacy making it a rare treat.

Available in bundles, these fabulous vegetables are tender stalks that end in spear-like points and are highly nutritious. High in vitamins C, E and beta-carotene they are rich in anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.
A versatile vegetable, Asparagus can be grilled, blanched, batter-fried and even pickled. The French serve it with hollandaise, the Italians love it wrapped with prosciutto and served as a precursor to an Italian meal.

Many people new to Asparagus tend to feel intimidated by this vegetable. However it is not complicated. As Asparagus matures, the stems get woody from the base up. The woody part can be difficult to eat. So to prepare it, wash each spear individually under cold water, then simply hold each spear in two hands and gently bend. The stem will automatically snap off where the hard, woody sections of the stems start. The thinner spears need not be trimmed. This difference in texture can also be a good guide to how to use the woody, sweet stalks. Woody stalks need not go to waste, just add them to your stockpot.
For a simple yet elegant start to a meal, boil some thin asparagus till fork tender. Season it with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Top with shaved pecorino cheese and serve.

Asparagus pairs beautifully with beef. Combine them together in a stir-fry with Japanese seasonings for a quick weeknight dinner. Trick the kids into eating this healthy veggie by adding it into a macaroni and cheese meal. Or arrange the stalks like a wheel on a pizza with cheese and garlic. Choose the thicker spears, drape 3-4 with bacon strips and drizzle with a dressing of sesame oil, minced garlic, sesame seeds and brown sugar. Roast till the bacon is crispy and enjoy it as a rich, leisurely breakfast. Asparagus also fits right in with risotto, in tarts with goat’s cheese and creamy pasta dishes.

The season for good quality, fresh asparagus is short, which makes the vegetable that much more interesting. So be sure to include this lovely ingredient in your meals for divine flavours and lots of delicious nutrition!

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