The bare bones of the plants we eat

Category Archive: Cereals or grains

Jovita’s Banana Cake

Posted by vilb 1 Comment

I am back again to blog after a long break and with a very simple recipe to take that chill out of my bones. Here in London, it is supposed to be spring, but brrr there is still a very sharp nip in the air, but the landscape is beautiful with almost all the trees unfurling their pale green leaves after the long hard winter.

This cake always takes me back to my days at The Natural History Museum when I used to share the student’s room with Jovita and Neil. With rich pickings to be had in the common room with all kinds of food brought back by colleagues from far flung field trips, we also experimented with putting different ingredients together to not only add spice to our ever hungry senses but also create new dishes.

First concocted by Jovita, I have modified her original recipe to suit busier lifestyles without compromising on nutrition or taste. It takes about 10 minutes to put together and around 35 to 40 minutes to bake.


5 Bananas
Half a cup of oil
1 cup dark or light brown Muscovado sugar.
1 and a half to 2 cups of Jumbo oats
3 eggs beaten well
Quarter teaspoon of cinnamon powder
Good pinch of clove powder
Good pinch of nutmeg powder
1 heaped teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of vanilla essence


A grated apple or chopped up pear adds a twist and makes it less sweet. A handful of roughly chopped walnuts, pecans or dried fruit makes it richer and really tasty. I use dried fruit steeped in brandy and these include raisins, sultanas, mixed peel, currants, cherries and stem ginger. As the dried fruit mixture gets used, I top it up with a fresh lot and brandy, so there is always a big bottle on hand to dip into. If you prefer not to have alcohol just use the dried fruits and nuts.


Lightly mash the bananas with a fork. Add the sugar, oats, oil, beaten eggs, spice powders, vanilla and baking powder and just mix to combine all the ingredients. Do not beat or stir vigorously. If the consistency is very runny just add more oats so it still flows and transfer into an oiled 8 by 8 inches cake tin or dish.
Bake at 180 degrees C for 35 to 40 minutes. To check if baked, a thin knife or skewer inserted in the centre of the cake should come out clean of any batter or cake particles.

Transformation of the humble banana!


Oil – I use the best olive oil I can afford as it is going into my stomach
Sugars – other sugars can be used but I prefer muscovado sugars as it is unrefined and not only makes the cake moist but also gives it a rich toffee like caramel taste.
Oats – Best to use the old fashioned jumbo oats as the oval flakes give the cake a lighter texture. This is because the flakes are larger and keeps its shape and so traps some air pockets between them. You can mix some semolina or bread crumbs instead of just using oats. Here again the taste of oats between brands vary so try what suits your palette.

If using a fan oven bake at 160 degrees C.

Tania’s versions of the Irish Brown Bread

Posted by t4ni4 2 Comments

I’ve made this delicious and easy to make soda bread a couple of times since Vilma posted the recipe. I could not avoid altering the ingredients according to what I had in my cupboard at the time and also I knew I wanted to add some crunchy seeds anyway.

First successful bake: using a random amount of hemp seeds, wheat bran and strong flour instead of extra coarse wholemeal flour and using a mixture of milk, buttermilk and yoghurt to make up the 290ml of liquid required. I did not note down the exact amount of the ‘new’ ingredients, but remembered to keep the proportions mentioned in the original recipe.

Second successful bake: replacing the 113g of extra coarse wholemeal flour by 5g hemp seeds, 5g linseeds, 5g wheat bran, 98g strong flour and adding 1 tbsp treacle which gave a nice brown colour to my bread but also made it a tiny bit sweet. The picture talks by itself!

Have anyone tried other variations of this recipe? Please share your results with all of us!

Irish brown bread
Irish brown bread

Noel and Mary’s Irish Brown Bread

Posted by vilb 2 Comments

Sitting on a wooden bench in the ring fort of Cahercommaun, with our lunch all laid out in front of us, is an experience I will always treasure. The remains of this triple stone-fort is perched at the edge of a steep inland cliff, and overlooks a wooded valley that just stretches into the horizon. This is part of the Burren in county Clare in the Republic of Ireland. Noel (Senior) who was showing me around this rugged and sometimes surreal landscape had packed us a picnic lunch. Half a loaf of his homemade soda bread, a big chunk of local cheese, pats of butter from the Burren’s happy cows, two big slices of Mary’s (his wife) fruit cake and two flasks of tea. I had also picked up two more slices of cake, a tangy lemon and gooey ginger, from the farmers market in Ballyvaughan, in case we got hungry while we walked up the hill.

We ate our way through the lot and washed it down with the tea, while all around us the music of silence played its variations, interrupted now and again by the lone call of the cuckoo and our voices. The bread was just delicious and when Noel told me how easy it was to make, I was hooked and have made five loaves since I got back to London.

With Noel’s permission, here is the recipe that both he and Mary I am told take turns to make. It takes around 10 minutes to put the ingredients together and about half an hour to bake.

Ingredients (makes 1 loaf)

  • 170g/6 oz self raising flour
  • 113g/4 oz Howard’s extra coarse wholemeal flour
  • 1 tablespoon of wheat germ
  • 1 tablespoon of pinhead oatmeal
  • Pinch of salt
  • Half a teaspoon of baking soda also known as sodium bicarbonate
  • 290ml/half a pint of buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon of sunflower oil
  • 1 egg


Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl so that the baking soda is evenly distributed. In a separate bowl, lightly whisk the egg, oil and buttermilk and add to the dry ingredients. Mix quickly and spoon the mixture into an oiled loaf tin. Spread evenly and smooth the top. Bake at 200 degrees C for about 30 minutes and test with a skewer. If it comes out clean, take it out as it is done and cool on a wire rack. Enjoy this yeast free bread!

Brown Soda Bread
Eat when slightly warm when the butter just melts.


As we cannot get Howard’s flour in London, I used the strong whole meal, stone ground, organic bread flour instead. Baking soda not only produces the carbon dioxide which influences the texture of the bread, but also sodium carbonate, which is strongly alkaline and can give bread a bitter soapy taste. To neutralise this, acid ingredients like buttermilk, live yoghurt, brown sugar, molasses, fruit juice, vinegar or chocolate are added. A rule of thumb is half a teaspoon of baking soda is neutralized by 1 cup/240 ml of fermented milk, (buttermilk or yoghurt) or 1 teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar.

This evening I did not have buttermilk so used live yoghurt instead and when I next bake will add very small pieces of jalapeño peppers to see what it tastes like – or maybe jalapeño with chocolate?

Quinoa – Inca gold

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Lake Titicaca, for me even the name has a ring to it. The first time I read about this lake was when we covered all the Great Lakes of the world in our geography class in School. We had a good teacher in Sr Hazel and a great textbook in Jasper Stembridges’s -The world, A general regional geography. I managed to salvage this textbook from my school days, all 532 pages and well sellotaped covers, with its emphasis on the human side of geography. I still enjoy reading how man is conditioned by his environment and how, he in turn, responds to this environment.

12,500 feet above sea level and high up in the Andes mountains, Lake Titicaca straddles both Peru and Bolivia. This is believed to be the place or the area around where quinoa, pronounced Keen-wah, was first domesticated. Since Tania has been blogging a lot about these little protein rich seeds, I thought I would share some bare bones of this plant. Although considered a cereal it is not a true cereal like rice, wheat or corn to name just a few as it does not belong to the grass family. Quinoa is really a false cereal like amaranth and buckwheat, and unlike the true cereals are far superior in proteins and also gluten-free.

Quinoa plants near Cachora, Apurímac, Peru. Altitude: 3800m
Quinoa plants near Cachora, Apurímac, Peru. Altitude: 3800m

A beautiful plant to look at, you can imagine a whole field of this growing at this high altitude and arid conditions. This ancient staple plant of the Incas, with archaeological evidence of its use dating back to 5000 BC, the plant has evolved and adapted to protect itself from the intense UV radiation and arid conditions. Bitter tasting saponins also deter the birds. The seeds can range from white, yellow, grey, light brown, pink, black or red but what we get most commonly on the market are the white or red quinoa and sometimes the black.

Broccoli and quinoa bake

Posted by t4ni4 2 Comments

Here I am again … with another quinoa recipe. Despite what some of you might think, I do have other ingredients in my kitchen and not just quinoa but I was trying to come up with a different version of the spinach and quinoa bake. So, as soon as I felt that ray of inspiration coming I put my Marimekko apron and armed with the digital camera in one hand and the knife on the other I ‘invented’ the following recipe with a cabbage cousin (cabbage and broccoli are both from the Brassicaceae family). As usual, feel free to replace some of the ingredients, for example change the broccoli by another vegetable or the smoked salmon by another fish or any other source of protein (cheese is the first one that comes to my mind … mmhhh pieces of halloumi or feta!). As I learnt from my mother: you have to think about the colours when choosing your ingredients … the eyes are the first ones ‘tasting’ the food!

Easy peasy tricolour quinoa bake to be eaten hot or cold, as main dish or pic nic snack, for two or more people.

Broccoli and quinoa bake


  • 120 g smoked salmon trimmings
  • 1 small broccoli head
  • 1 tbsp capers
  • 80 g or ½ cup quinoa
  • ½ fresh chilli
  • 2 eggs


Wash and drain the quinoa, place it in the pan with 1 1/3 cup of water, bring to the boil and then lower the heat and cook for about 15 minutes until all the water is absorbed. In the meantime, cut the broccoli into small florets, place in a small pan, add boiling water and cook at a medium heat for about 3 minutes, drain the little green trees. Finely chop half of a fresh chilli (or a whole one if you like to spice things up!). Mix all the ingredients, add salt and pepper to taste. Place in a loaf tin and bake for approximately 40 minutes at 180 ºC / Gas 4. Eat hot or cold. Serves 2 small stomachs like mine or maybe just one if you like big portions (like my friend Elena does!)

Pancake Tuesday on a Wednesday

Posted by vilb 4 Comments

This morning at work, Suzy asked Yeliz if she had made any pancakes yesterday as it was pancake Tuesday. In the Christian calendar this is the last day of indulgence before the ritual fasting associated with Lent. Historically it was the last day to use and eat “rich” foods like eggs, milk and sugar and pancakes were the most convenient way to use up these ingredients. A last fling before the long fast.of Lent.
Overhearing this conversation was Saimir who had never eaten a freshly made pancake and asked if they could make some during their lunch break. Now, this is a GP surgery, and the kitchen is not kitted out to cook food, but just to heat things up. Both Yeliz and Suzy were still up for it and by then word got round and expectations were running high. But, we did not have a frying pan but luckily across the road is Roneford, the catering supply company, and Saimir very generously bought a nice ceramic frying pan that he said the girls could borrow to make the pancakes.

Rough approximations and fed 16 people with 1 pancake each, well 3 greedy ones had 2 each.

  • 3 cups plain flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 desert spoons sugar
  • 4 ½ cups milk
  • Butter for cooking (a small knob each time)
  • Lemons

Three lots were made as we did not have any mixing bowls, just small soup bowls and a small saucepan. Both were used to mix the ingredients. Roughly one cup of flour to 1 egg and a cup and a half of milk and 1 desert spoon of sugar were used each time round and mixed and gently hand whisked with a fork for around 5-8 minutes. We do not have a whisk. At one time Suzy had flour in the bowl and then added the egg and milk and gradually blended them together until smooth and at the other time she beat the egg and milk together and then added the flour. Yeliz and Saimir did the cooking and served the pancakes with a twist of lemon juice sprinkled over with sugar and they were delicious.

We could have done with more but then time is limited and an hour does not last forever.

Quinua chaufa

Posted by t4ni4 4 Comments

Following Vilma’s comment on quinoa and her question about ‘pesque’ I asked my mum if she knew what pesque was, she remembered from her childhood in Cuzco, Peru that they called pesque the cooked quinoa that was given to baby chicks. Beside that she wrote some comments (in Spanish) that I have translated below.

Maria wrote:

“To the marvellous qualities of this tiny grain I have to add the beauty of its plants, spikes of 2.5 – 3 meters high that appear like lovely bunch of flowers in different shades that go from crimson red to yellow and orange … all of which you can see in the Andean fields.
Regarding its nutritious value it has as many or even more proteines than red meat. The cuisine Novo Andina (Andean-Peruvian nouvelle cuisine) is wisely using this ingredient to give colour to salads with white, red or black quinoa, to make crusty buttered see food, lamb or pork meat or even in bakery. I have to add that NASA includes quinoa amongst the food given to astronauts.”

While chefs in Peru are experimenting with quinoa … how much do we dare to experiment in our kitchens? Just by replacing some ingredients we could be reinventing dishes and that is how I ended up making ‘Quinua chaufa’ (stir fried quinoa). The original dish I took my inspiration from is ‘Arroz chaufa’ (stir fried rice) which is something you will find in any ‘chifa’ which is how we call the Chinese restaurants in Peru. I don’t know how much chifa’s food are a fusion of Peruvian and Chinese culture, and I would guess that chifa’s dishes might not all be like in China (I haven’t been to China to compared though) and the stir fried rice or noodles in Peru are not like the ones I had here in London. Anyhow, now that you know a bit of the story behind the dish here is my recipe, now enjoy your cooking!

The photographic step by step guide to make Quinua chaufa.


  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 chicken breast
  • 1 bunch of spring onions
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger (about 3 cm )
  • Soya sauce to taste
  • Salt to taste


Start by boiling the chicken breast, you will then have to shred it (if you boil it with something else like that lost carrot hiding in the fridge and that lonely little onion you can then use that chicken stock for a soup or another preparation!). Wash and drain the quinoa and toast on a hot pan until the grains are brown-ish and a lovely smell comes out of them. Add 2 cups of boiling water, cover the pan, turn the heat to the minimum and cook for about 15 minutes until the water is all absorbed. While the quinoa cooks fry the shredded chicken in a little bit of oil (wish a dash of soya sauce if you like). Keeping an eye on the chicken sun tanning in the pan wash and finely chop the spring onions and grate the ginger or chop it very finely. Whisk the eggs with some salt and pepper and make an omelette with them, you can optionally add some of your chopped spring onions to the omelette while it’s cooking, when done use a wooden spoon or spatula to ‘chop’ your omelette. Now you add to your fluffy quinoa the shredded chicken, pieces of omelette, ginger and spring onions, mix everything, add soya sauce to taste and some salt if you must. Eat as soon as it is ready! This recipe can have so many variations depending what you have in your fridge and what you like, here are some examples: replace the chicken by any other (edible) bird such as turkey or by any meat such as bacon strips (roasted meat leftovers are great for this dish!), if you are vegetarian replace the bird or meat pieces by mushrooms or tofu fried with crushed garlic. Your turn to come up with other vegetables that will work out well with this dish!

Fabulous quinoa!

Posted by t4ni4 5 Comments

Together with a couple of colleagues we have decided to share our food (or cooking experiments), once a week one cook for the 3 of us and brings the meal to work to have lunch together. Today was my turn, and I thought I would use the occasion to introduce a new ingredient to them: quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa). It was not a random choice, quinoa is produced in the Andes, I am Peruvian-Belgian and the mountains are very special to me. I made a delicious (yes, I have to admit it!) and very nutritious ‘bake’ with quinoa and spinach (Spinacia oleracea). See the recipe below! Did you know that those two ingredients are botanically related ? Both plants are from the Amaranthaceae family. Although quinoa leaves are edible you might only find the seeds in some supermarkets and health food shops in the UK, and those seeds come mainly from Bolivia and Peru. What is quite surprising for me is that when I was in Peru people in the coast or amazonian region would not know and eat quinoa (thought to be food for the poor?) and now that there is a whole wave of ‘Peruvian nouvelle cuisine’ more Peruvians are starting to appreciate quinoa in its different varieties (white, golden, red), forms (grain, flour, flaked, popped) and recipes (sweet or savoury). I have made with good success: chocolate cake with quinoa (ideal for coeliacs), quinoa madeleines, quinotto (like risotto but with quinoa instead of rice), quinua and courgette bake … the possibilities are endless! I forgot to take a picture of my bake, but here is the recipe …

Quinoa and spinach bake (recipe for 3-4 people)


  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 450 g spinach
  • 200 g feta cheese, chopped
  • 1 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg, grated
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3 eggs
  • Salt & pepper


I first tried the quinoa and spinach bake from a friend who made it for a picnic (you can eat it hot, warm or cold). I looked for the recipe on the web and then modified it to my taste. Wash, drain and cook a cup of quinoa. Put in the pan enough water to cover the grains and a bit more, put the lid on, turn the heat down as soon as it boils and turn the heat off when most of the water has been used up (the rest of it will be absorbed by the quinoa or evaporate). Meanwhile, chop 1 onion (I don’t mind if white or red) and 2-3 garlic cloves (depending how much you like garlic), gently fry them until they become nicely caramelised. Add 450 g of spinach (I’ve used packed baby spinach, if using a fresh bunch wash and chop it first), cook for a few minutes, turn off the heat and add the cooked quinoa, about 200 g feta or salad cheese chopped, 1 tsp cinnamon powder, 1 tsp cumin powder, ½ tsp grated nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste, 3 beaten eggs, 1 tsp baking powder.  Place the mixture in a cake tin or similar and put in the oven at 180⁰C/Gas  4/350⁰F for 40 minutes or until set.

Optional: add some grated parmesan to the mixture, put some strips of feta or salad cheese on top of the mixture before baking it.