The Chilli Diaries #3: tortiglioni al’arrabiata

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The third and final instalment of recipes that I made using my friend’s chillies from her very own chilli plant!

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After using four of the chillies for two types of curry dishes, I thought I’d do something different with my final chilli; a simple Italian classic, arrabiata. Whilst usually served with penne, I decided to use tortiglioni instead. This type of pasta has a thicker texture and wider holes, enabling it to gather more sauce-delicious!

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This (slightly altered) simple recipe from the BBC Food website uses very few ingredients and is really easy to make. The recipe states two red chillies but, given the strength of the chillies I was using, I thought it would be safer to stick with one…and I only had one left, anyway!

INGREDIENTS (serves 2)
•250g tortiglioni, penne or pasta of your choice
•6tbs olive oil
•2 crushed garlic cloves
•1-2 red chillies, de-seeded
•A handful of fresh basil, chopped
•1 can of chopped tomatoes
•Black pepper to season

METHOD
1) Boil the pasta, drain and set aside.
2) Heat the olive oil in a frying pan. Add the chilli and garlic to the pan. After about a minute, add the basil leaves and gently wilt them in the flavoured oil.
3) Remove the garlic, basil and chilli from the pan and set aside. Add the chopped tomatoes to the frying pan.
4) Put the garlic, basil and chilli back in the pan with the tomatoes. Simmer for at least 10 minutes, until the sauce has thickened a little.
5) Stir in the pasta and add black pepper to taste. Serve with a few shavings of vegetarian hard cheese (optional).

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By using the one chilli, it meant that the dish had a kick to it without overpowering the flavour. I’ve made three healthy meals from these five small chillies and a chilli plant is something that I’ll definitely be buying for myself. If I ever have a garden, that is!

The Chilli Diaries #2: spicy butternut squash & courgette curry

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The second recipe made using my friend Sarah’s lethal chillies from her very own chilli plant!

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This was another lazy Saturday night dish where I made use of available ingredients in my kitchen. I was tired, it was getting dark and there was no way I was leaving my cosy flat!

This dish is not too dissimilar from my sweet potato and chickpea curry, the main difference being that I added coconut milk to help ease the blow of those mighty chillies! I even used the last of Judith’s courgettes, still in brilliant condition after being in my fridge for a good few weeks!

INGREDIENTS (serves 2)
•1 medium sized butternut squash, peeled and chopped into chunks
•1/2 onion, roughly chopped
•1 crushed garlic clove
• 3 chopped coriander stalks
•2 chillies, de-seeded and chopped
•1 tbs grounder coriander
•2 tbs ground cumin
•1 tsp tumeric
•1 tbs black pepper
•juice of 1/2 a lemon
•1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
•2 tbs olive oil
•1 can of chopped tomatoes
•1-2 tsp sugar
•1 courgette, chopped
•1/2 cup of water
•a handful of fresh coriander leaves, chopped

METHOD
1) Gently boil the butternut squash for 10 minutes, drain and set aside.
2) Blitz the onion, garlic, lemon juice, chillies and herbs and spices in a food processor, forming a thick paste.
3) Heat the oil in a pan and add the paste, sizzling gently for 10 minutes.
4) Stir in the courgette and butternut squash for a couple of minutes then add the tomatoes and sugar. Cover and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes.
5) Uncover and stir in the coconut milk for 5 minutes then add water if necessary, to loosen up the sauce.
6) Serve on a bed of brown rice, sprinkling the fresh coriander on top.

Glass of water and tissues at the ready…

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The Chilli Diaries #1: Balinese tempeh curry

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My tolerance of spicy food has lowered significantly in recent years. I used to show off by ordering the hottest type of madras on the menu and adding chilli flakes to pizza, just because I could. However, these days you’re more likely to find me with a veggie tikka masala or a korma, incessantly de-seeding when preparing chilli-based dishes.

About three weeks ago my colleague, Sarah, gave me five red chillies picked from her chilli plant. These chillies were even smaller than they look in the picture above but Sarah warned me not to be fooled by their delicate appearance. She certainly wasn’t wrong! In these next few posts, I’ll be sharing the delicious vegetarian and vegan friendly dishes that I prepared with these little pieces of spice.

In my post, The Shoreditch Grocery, I wrote about the tempeh (fermented soy product) that I had purchased and used this as a key ingredient in a Balinese-style curry, a dish I ate many a time whilst holidaying in Bali last April.

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Don’t be fooled by its shrivelled appearance; tempeh has a chewier texture and contains more flavour than tofu. I based my recipe on this one from The Food Show, alternating the chicken for tempeh (obviously) and I swapped lemon juice for a chopped lemongrass stalk.

INGREDIENTS (makes 4 portions)
•2 tbs olive oil
•1 pack of tempeh, chopped
•3 cloves of garlic, crushed
•2 red chillies, de-seeded
•1/4 cup cashew nuts
•1 tsp tumeric
•1 stalk of lemongrass, chopped
•1 tbs dark soy sauce
•1 tbs fresh grated ginger
•1 tbs brown sugar
•A handful of green beans
•200g coconut milk
•1/2 cup of water

METHOD
1) Put the onion, garlic, chillies, cashew nuts, turmeric, lemongrass, soy sauce, ginger and sugar in a food processor or mortar and pestle and blend or grind to form a smooth paste.
2) Heat the oil in a heavy-based pot or pan and add the spice paste. Fry this, stirring to prevent sticking, for 4-5 minutes to let the flavours develop and until the sugar caramelises. Add the green beans and tempeh and cook for a further 15 minutes.
3) Add the coconut milk and water, reduce the heat to low. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened (about 10 to 15 minutes).

I served this with steamed rice. The curries I had in Bali were far milder than this; I needed to sip water and wipe my eyes after every mouthful thanks to those powerful little chillies!! It still made a tasty meal though which lasted me the whole week. Perhaps I’m beginning to build up my resilience to spicy food once again!

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Man vs Veggie

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Can an avid meat-eater and strict vegetarian ever cohabit in sheer harmony? That’s the question I’ve been mulling over recently.

Four and a half years ago, Tom and I embarked on our first date. The drinks were flowing. There was laughter and flirtation, when all of a sudden, Tom made a food-related suggestion.
“Let’s go for a curry. I know this place that does an amazing lamb balti!”
My smile wavered. “Well the thing is Tom… I’m actually a vegetarian.”
Silence. He put down his pint. The colour drained from his face. I swear I even saw the glimmer of a tear forming in his eye. How could we possibly progress from this moment of doom?!!

After compromising on a Domino’s takeaway, we made it through and here we are several years later. I can’t deny the fact that Tom well and truly earned his place in my veggie little world. Having spent 25 years of his life never once having to concern himself with anything remotely veggie-related, he adapted. He amended his cooking habits. He broadened his horizons. On one of our earlier dates he even rustled up a delicious homemade vegetable lasagne. I knew from that point that he was a keeper.

So how have we managed to make it through? In all honesty, the small matter of a 200 mile distance has probably played a part. You see until January of this year, Tom remained living in Liverpool, whilst I had moved to London back in September 2009. That’s over three years of veggie/meat domestic-related arguments that we’ve saved ourselves from.

Now that’s not to say it’s been all hearts and flowers. There have been times when our differing dietary requirements have caused ructions, particularly when dining out. For instance, for my birthday two years ago, Tom offered to take me out for a meal at a restaurant of my choice. I fancied something of Italian origin, preferably where I could eat a goats’ cheese-based pasta dish (fussy, I know). After hours of online research, I found a lovely looking place in Soho and Tom booked us a table.

After a few drinks in Soho first, we merrily headed to the restaurant. We ordered a bottle of wine and our starters instantly. I opted for the veggie panini which looked delicious when it arrived. As I chomped my way through it, something did not seem quite right. Upon closer inspection, I realised that there was a pink, flesh-like substance within the bread. Ham. HAM!!!! Feeling traumatised and nauseous, I immediately retreated to the bathroom. The staff apologised profusely for inadvertently serving me the ham panini, offering to bring me the correct food on the house. But by this point, the damage was done and I just wanted to leave. Tom was not impressed. Actually he was furious, blaming me for not making my order clear enough, as well as making the poor waitress feel bad. We travelled home in silence, him stopping off for a Domino’s pizza and me buying a tofu curry from the Wasabi stand outside Liverpool Street station. Happy birthday, me.

Holidays abroad can also raise tensions. France was particularly difficult, seemingly vegetarianism and the French do not mix. Tom was very supportive, even though it meant we were dining in Italian restaurants most nights which, considering we were in Paris, did not feel quite right. To thank him for being so supportive, I suggested that we dine out at a traditional French restaurant one night, even though I knew that my choices would be limited. There was a dish on the menu called ‘plates de legumes’. Feeling optimistic, I made the assumption that this would be some sort of fancy, creative vegetable concoction. Not quite. It was, rather literally, a plate of vegetables. Nothing more, nothing less.

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Most recently, we went on holiday to Singapore where Chinese cuisine is highly prominent. Unfortunately for me, vegetarianism does not play a prominent role within Chinese cuisine. I knew that Tom had his heart set on eating at the traditional hawker markets so in order to be supportive, I suggested that we venture to the ones in Chinatown. After all, surely I’d be able to find plenty of vegetable rice and noodle dishes. I was in luck (or so I thought) as I saw several stands with the word ‘vegetarian’ on. However, I soon realised that ‘vegetarian’ to the Chinese simply means any meat dish with a few vegetables on the side. Soon enough, my senses had a meltdown as the sight and smells of all the meat, combined with the humidity, meant I had to leave. We ended up in a nearby cafe; still authentic in its Chinese origins but at least they served a plate of tofu.

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Tom and I have now been living together for over 8 months and are starting to accept and understand eachother’s differing views, opting to cook and eat separately most of the time. Admittedly, I don’t like it when he cooks meat and stinks out the flat, nor does he particularly like it when I make him eat my bizarre tofu concoctions. Nonetheless, relationships are all about give and take and we’ve managed to make it work.

So what does this mean for the future? Whilst still a long way off, I can only imagine the inevitable arguments about the food at our reception, should we ever decide to tie the not (I just know that he would want a hog roast). But for the meantime, we’re making it work, proving that meat-eaters and vegetarians can, in fact, cohabit in harmony. Just about!

The problem with pesto…

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Basil is one of my favourite herbs so it comes as no surprise that I’ve always been quite partial to a spot of fresh pesto with some pasta or bread. However, it was several years into my vegetarianism that I realised that pesto contained Parmesan and if course, Parmesan contains calf rennet. Not so vegetarian. Most DECENT restaurants are quite astute to this and will provide pesto-based dishes with a vegetarian cheese, whilst others probably wouldn’t even realise that Parmesan is not a veggie’s best friend. I’ve tried making my own pesto many a time by omitting the cheese but what I normally end up with can only be described as a soggy, oily mess. However, tonight I think I finally cracked it..

In my post, Vegetarians and Hard Cheese, I talked about a batch of vegetarian style Parmesan that I bought from Waitrose so used this to form part of the recipe. After initially blitzing the basil, oil, garlic and pine nuts, the mixture tasted somewhat peculiar. It was only when I mixed in the grated cheese that I realised what an important ingredient the cheese is when making pesto. I kept adding more and more cheese until I had it just the way I wanted it!

INGREDIENTS (serves 2)
•25g basil leaves
•1/2 tbs pine nuts
•3tbs olive oil
•1/2 clove crushed garlic
•drop of lemon juice
•A pinch of black pepper
•40g finely grated vegetarian hard cheese

METHOD
1) Mix the basil, garlic, olive oil and pine nuts in a blender to form a rich, thick paste.
2) Stir in the cheese, lemon juice and black pepper. Done.

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I served this with some whole wheat conchiglie pasta from The Shoreditch Grocery and a few rocket leaves, giving it a slightly healthier feel!

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Soup-er Sundays

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My soup eating habits have changed drastically over the past few years. I used to find a simple can of Heinz tomato soup the most comforting thing in the world. I then came to understand the high levels of sugar and salt contained within a can so I decided to switch to the fresh tubs of soup instead. I even trained myself to not need bread with my soup, in order to save on my calorie and carb intake. I loved the convenience of those tubs and one tub would provide me with lunch for two days.

However, after gaining a blender at the start of the year I thought it would make sense to start making my own soups. After all, what could be more liberating than being in control of exactly what I put into my food?! As I work long hours, I don’t have the time or energy to be preparing my lunch in the evenings. Hence why my Sundays have become dominated by cooking up HUGE batches of soup to last me the week.

I experiment with my own soup recipes and keep them as low calorie and low carb as possible. So no white potato and no cream for me. My recent soup endeavours have included tomato and basil, curried sweet potato, roasted red pepper and lentil, and yesterday’s batch; carrot and coriander.

Now yesterday I was a tad hungover. I was really not in the mood to spend a long time making soup when all I really wanted to do was to doze off during Come Dine With Me repeats. So I cut a few corners with this carrot and coriander soup recipe but nevertheless, it still tasted delicious and comforting. I would normally use an onion when soup making but I forgot to get one from the shop and really couldn’t face going out again in the rain!

INGREDIENTS (makes 5-6 portions)
•2 stocks cubes with around 8 cups of water in a very large pan
• 800g carrots, peeled and chopped
•2 garlic cloves, crushed
•A pinch of paprika
•A pinch of black pepper
•A couple of handfuls of fresh coriander, roughly chopped

METHOD
1) Boil the carrots along with the garlic, paprika and pepper in a large pan for around 20 minutes.
2) Transfer to a blender and cook in batches. Add some of the coriander to each batch and pour each batch into a large tub so all the ingredients mix together.

And that’s it! 30 minutes of cooking and I now have healthy lunches to last the whole week. I need to get thinking about which type of soup to make next Sunday…

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Quick, easy and a little bit cheesy!

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There’s something about this time of year that almost makes me want to go into hibernation mode. The temperature plummets, the rain pours down, the nights draw in…all I really feel like doing is curling up in my warm flat with a good book and lots of hearty comfort food of the vegetarian variety! Which leads me to my inspiration for my latest concoction; tagliatelle in a goats cheese sauce with olives and sun-dried tomatoes.

I was tired after work and soaked through after getting caught in the rain without an umbrella for the umpteenth time. I wanted a dish that was minimum effort but maximum taste. I recalled a dish similar to this in an Italian restaurant I used to frequent when I lived in Liverpool called The Quarter , which is where I got the idea from.

This only took about 15 minutes to prepare and cook, making one large portion or two smaller portions.

INGREDIENTS
•250g tagliatelle
•2tbs olive oil
•1 clove of garlic, crushed
•100g soft goats cheese
•100ml single cream
•Around 8-10 black pitted olives
•4 large sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
•Black pepper and a couple of basil leaves to season and garnish

METHOD
1) Boil the tagliatelle, drain and set aside.
2) Heat the oil in a pan and gently sizzle the garlic for 2 minutes.
3) Crumble the goats cheese and add to the pan then stir in the cream. Stir until the cheese has melted into the cream, creating a thick sauce.
4) Add the olives and tomatoes then stir in the tagliatelle.
5) Season with black pepper then add the basil leaves to garnish.

Comfort food heaven!

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A vegan way to start the day

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What do you mainly use tofu for? Stir-fries, curries, casseroles I presume? Me too. Had you ever considered using tofu to replace eggs in a cooked breakfast? I know I hadn’t until last weekend!

When I’ve seen vegan breakfast options on menus, it’s usually the standard breakfast components such as beans, mushrooms, veggie sausages and some form of fried potato. Cafes appear to struggle to offer any replacement for the egg aspect of the breakfast which is why I was very intrigued to stumble upon this recipe on The Vegetarian Society website.

The tofu scramble was served with mushroom and tomato pitta boats and made enough for two large portions. I deviated slightly from the recipe and varied/omitted certain ingredients based on what I had available in my kitchen.

INGREDIENTS (mushroom & tomato boats)
•1 1/2 tbs olive oil
•325g chestnut mushrooms, quartered
•1 tsp ground cumin
•1/2 tsp black pepper
•2 crushed garlic cloves
•16 cherry tomatoes
•1 tsp mild paprika
•2 tsp dill
•2 wholemeal pitta breads

INGREDIENTS (tofu scramble)
•285g firm tofu, thoroughly drained and crumbled
•2 tbs olive oil
•1/2 onion, finely chopped
•1 small red pepper, finely chopped
•1/2 tsp tumeric
•black pepper and a dash of soy sauce to flavour

METHOD
1) For the mushroom & tomato boats: Heat the butter or oil in a medium-sized saucepan. Add the mushrooms and the spices and stir together. Cover and cook on a low heat for 6-7 minutes shaking the pan occasionally.

2) Add the garlic, tomatoes and paprika and cook uncovered for a further 5 minutes until the tomatoes start to split.

3) Combine the olive oil and dill in a small bowl. Grill the pitta slices, split open and brush the inside with the oil mixture and grill until slightly crispy.

4) Gently heat the oil then saute the onion and red pepper for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the crumbled tofu and turmeric, stirring well until heated through.

5) Place the tomato and mushroom mix on top of the pitta and alongside the tofu scramble.

Enjoy with a cup of green tea!

To say that this vegan breakfast surpassed my expectations would be an understatement. The egg wasn’t missed at all and my meat-eating boyfriend polished off every last crumb. I thought he might feel the need to grill up a load of sausages afterwards but the tofu seemed to more than satisfy him!

The Veg Soc website has a wide array of innovative vegetarian and vegan recipes so I definitely recommend a browse. Even those omnivores out there may feel inspired to broaden their horizons! https://www.vegsoc.org/

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Broadway Bliss

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It was a Saturday morning. The sun was shining (sporadically at least). My tummy was rumbling. There was only one place I wanted to be; the quirky and eclectic Broadway Market. It had been several weeks since I’d last frequented my favourite corner of Hackney and I was in great need of some fresh, organic veggie food.

Veering off the very busy Mare Street, arriving at Broadway Market often feels like arriving at another world. In a city where EVERYONE is in a hurry, the opposite can be said for this area. Whilst undoubtedly still busy, no-one at the market ever appears to be in a rush. Pubs are overflowing with denim-clad hipster types sipping their Bulmers (who said midday is too early for a drink?!). Vintage looking ladies ride around on their even more vintage looking bicycles without a care in the world. The pavements are lined with smiley market-goers sipping on a can of beer and munching on some freshly bought food. Everyone is happy. Everyone looks like they could stay there all day. Live music fuels the happy-go-lucky, laid back atmosphere of Broadway Market.

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Vintage clothing, books, flowers and handmade jewellery are just a few of the types of stalls here.

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However, after skipping breakfast (terrible, I know) there was only one thing I was interested in….FOOD! I was in awe of these tomato focaccias and just had to buy one for the road.

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Leaving my boyfriend at the hog roast stall (sigh), I perused the many organic fruit and veg stalls and was particularly impressed with the juicy looking tomatoes and olive selection.

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Still deliberating over which type of street food to purchase, I was torn between a burger from The Veggie Table

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Some Eastern European and Middle Eastern-style food from Zakuski

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Or an Indian thali from Gujarati Rasoi

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Eventually, the smells of coriander and cumin became too enticing for me so I just had to opt for a thali. A creature of habit, this is my regular choice when visiting the market. The curries included mixed veg, potato and spinach and a dhal, along with rice and all the trimmings.

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We then went to relax in London Fields where I managed to polish off my thali in record time. Not only was it ridiculously delicious but I was also ridiculously hungry! Basking in the early September sunshine, my boyfriend and I reflected upon what a lovely day it had been. Then the inevitable happened. It started pouring down. We ran for cover but I don’t think it was as easy for the poor group of people near us who were enjoying a barbeque…!

http://www.broadwaymarket.co.uk/

Courgette & Tomato Linguine

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I love courgettes. Curries, casseroles, pizza, pasta, salad, roasts…These versatile greens can be added to just about any meal. So you can imagine my delight when my colleague, Sarah, offered to bring me some courgettes that her mother-in-law, Judith, had grown in her garden!

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As I was having a quiet Saturday night in front of the television with my boyfriend and best friend, I thought I’d use the courgettes in a hearty pasta-based dish. I referred to a tried and tested recipe from The BBC Good Food website which never fails to please! The sauce is based on a classic Italian tomato and bacon sauce, amatriciana. I used a ham substitute from The Shoreditch Grocery which gave the dish a slight smoky flavour and added a creaminess to the texture. The recipe below made enough for 3 very large portions.

INGREDIENTS
2 tbs olive oil, plus extra to serve
120g vegetarian ham, roughly chopped
4 medium sized courgettes chopped into chunks
2 garlic cloves, crushed
A pinch of dried chilli flakes
A pinch of caster sugar
1 tbs red wine vinegar
2 cans of good quality plum tomatoes (I like to use Tesco finest canned cherry toms)
500g linguine
A handful of fresh parsley, chopped

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METHOD
1) Heat the oil in a large pan and gently sizzle the vegetarian ham. Add the courgettes, sizzling for 4 minutes until golden.

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2) Add the chilli and sugar then stir in the red wine vinegar. Pour in the canned tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, turn up the heat and cook for 10 minutes.
3) While the sauce is simmering, cook the linguine and drain. Toss the pasta through the sauce, stirring through a drizzle of olive oil and parsley.

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I served this with a few shavings of vegetarian hard cheese and lots of garlic bread. There was most definitely no room for dessert!

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So I have to say a big thank you to Judith for the delicious courgettes! I’d love to grow my own but as I live in a ground floor flat on a busy road, I don’t think that’s going to be happening anytime soon. Best get saving for somewhere with a garden…!