Trying out The Spicery (part 2)

I’ve slowly been getting used to my new kitchen, unpacking more and cooking simple meals. So tonight I decided to be a little more adventurous and make the chilli from the last The Spicery meal set again with the “halva cake” spice pack. I’ve had halva before at a Lebanese restaurant – but it was a pistachio and sesame based dessert. I was quite intrigued by this being an orange halva, though according to the information on the packet “halva” just means “sweet” and is actually used to describe a range of different treats. The halva this time seemed to be a sweet orange cake with a spicy syrup poured over the top.



The chilli last time was for minced beef and kidney beans in a spicy tomato sauce. This time I did not use any mince, not even the vegetarian alternative I used last time, and instead added some mixed peppers to bulk it out a bit.


Ingredients required (versus actually used): Oranges, Eggs, Butter (dairy free replacement), sugar (plain white granulated sugar – no indication of type to use in the ingredients list but assumed granulated due to instructions), ground almonds (chopped almonds), polenta (there was no indication on the packet suggesting what form to buy the polenta in but all I could find was ready made polenta anyway), runny honey

The chilli was done with things lying about in my store cupboard, and I used the supermarket for the halva so cannot comment on sourcing from a smaller, more local store. I also lost the receipt so no indication of price, although it was not too expensive.

Cooking Process

I started the halva first, creaming together the dairy free spread and the sugar. I picked white granulated sugar to make this easy. The eggs were then beaten in before the recipe demanded mixing up dry ingredients in a different bowl and adding them together. I did not want to use another bowl, so I just tipped in the spices, crumbled in the polenta and the almonds. I have just noticed I was supposed to add a pinch of salt. I did not. I then faced a problem – the recipe wanted orange zest and juice. I have neither grater nor juicer. The latter was easy to work around, but for the former problem I had to get the zest using a knife which was a clumsy, awkward way of doing things. I mixed it all in. The mixture was very wet, and there were lumps of polenta in it that I couldn’t get to mix in. I had a bad feeling about this. I contemplated putting it through the food processor to mince it all up but could not quite be bothered, so tipped it in the tin and put it in the oven.

Then I started on the syrup for the cake, and made the chilli alongside it. The chilli was just as easy to make the second time as the first and I enjoyed playing with the recipe. The spices required were also really common which I was so glad for – I had not being planning on making this until this evening, so it was great to be able to make it all out of the store cupboard, and in one pan even! No special equipment and nothing fiddly or time consuming – I could safely ignore it most of the time and leave it to its own devices. The syrup slowly reduced, the cake finished cooking. I took out the cake to cool whilst I made the rest of supper and let the syrup reduce more. Then I faced my second major problem. The recipe said I needed to strain the syrup over the mixture. I did not have any muslin cloth. I have a tea strainer, but I was concerned about using the sticky syrup on it. So I just poured it on as best as I could whilst holding the spices back with a fork. What else was there to do? The cake did not look anything like the picture and I was read to write it off as a disaster. It wasn’t particularly fun to make either – too fiddly and delicate for me. It did smell good though. Meanwhile, the chilli was the easiest, least fussy thing ever.

Equipment used: One bowl, a pan, a saucepan, a bunch of cutlery, a chopping board, a cake tin


Chilli with paprika chips and peasThis was my supper tonight! The chilli turned out great. I could have perhaps done with adding more peppers, but adding them in any capacity was a good choice. I am loving how versatile how this recipe is – I think it would be easy to play with this according to what’s in your cupboard. I think fried mushrooms would have been good, or using a tin of chopped tomatoes instead of passata. Perhaps mixing up different types of beans? Anyway, I am definitely putting this recipe in my recipe book and will be making it again. Its quick and simple to make, tastes good and is versatile. What else could you want? Also I have lots more leftover. I put it in my freezer to heat up after work if I don’t want to cook – I think it will freeze really well which only improves its versality. (I hope it does at least!)

Orange HalvaThe halva did not turn out as great. In the interests of honesty, I will put a picture, even if nots particularly tasty looking. It definitely went wrong, and it’s probably all on me. (Though honestly- all the supermarket sold was ready made polenta, what else was I supposed to have used?) (I think the dairy free spread may have been a bit too greasy for the recipe too.) It’s not quite a cake, to say the least. I was nervous digging in, but was actually pleasantly surprised by the taste and even the texture. The chopped almonds had sunk to the bottom forming a sweet, crunchy layer, topped with a moist, spongy layer of sort-of-cake. All soaked in sweet, spicy syrup. I preferred the Lebanese halva I had – with its curious mix of bitterness and sweetness, but as a significantly sweeter, warmer version this was very good. I won’t be making it again, and the thought of eating it all makes me feel a little ill (it’s so rich and sweet!) I’ll put it in the fridge though and with that much sugar, I’m sure it will keep. (I think it may go quite nice after chilling actually – it may set into a nice slice/candy like chunks.)

The aftermath
Not as much cleaning as the full meal before – it was less stressful making fewer dishes and there was more time to clean as I went. With the chilli taking care of itself, and the syrup requiring little attention I could clean then. The syrup is glued to my saucepan though, which is concerning as it’s my only one. I am soaking it in warm water and hoping for the best.

Trying out The Spicery

Opening my box from The SpiceryMy sister bought her boyfriend a curry subscription from The Spicery. This meant that every month they’d get the spices and instructions for a full Indian meal. And they have been enjoying it greatly. Curry did not appeal to me but I was talking to my sister about it and it came up that The Spicery did a world foods subscription. This perked my interest. It is a current goal of mine to try as many world foods as possible, however I am hindered by my location, money and from simple shyness.

So, world foods. I liked the sound of being able to try different cuisines in the comfort of my own home, and the meals are all set so there would be no confusion over how you’re supposed to eat it, and the spices being given means no scrounging around trying to find some unusual spice, and then having the rest of the bottle sit in your cupboard until it expires. Basically: a great idea. The spicery offers three different boxes- an explorer, a family friendly, and a vegetarian. It quickly became apparent through looking at their past/current boxes that boxes are fixed and not customisable based on a customers preference. Less fussily, it also became apparent that dairy ingredients were prominent in the recipes. I do not eat dairy.

I still wanted to give it a go so I headed for their sales page and picked up a few boxes for cheap to try. I wanted to see a) if ingredients for the recipes could be bought locally i.e. from a small, local supermarket versus a large superstore b) how the boxes faired with customisation i.e. by substituting dairy ingredients for non and c) just how it worked in general- would the food be nice? Would it be easy to make/follow the instructions? Would it take a long time to make and require a lot of cleanup?

My box arrived today. I was pleased to see they’ve done it so it fits through the letterbox- good to know that I wouldn’t miss a box whilst at work. Inside I have my two meals and a dessert- chilli hot dogs, Mexican fajitas and halva cake. Each packet contains spices for the meal. The packet then gives information about the meal, an ingredients list, spice details and the recipe itself.

Tonight I made the chilli dogs and its accompanying dessert for a family friendly American themed meal.


Main meal: Chilli Dogs with American Mustard, Sweetcorn relish & Potato Salad

Ingredients required (versus actually used): frankfurters, minced beef (quorn mince), new potatoes (ordinary white potatoes), garlic, onion, spring onions, kidney beans (color not given so I used red), passata, white wine vinegar, sugar, cornflour, mayonnaise, sweetcorn, hot dog buns

Most ingredients were found at local store. Hot dogs were bought at larger supermarket, as local ones were significantly poorer quality.

Dessert: Peach and Blueberry Cobbler

Ingredients required (actually used): peaches (tinned peaches), blueberries, sugar, lime, self raising flour (all purpose flour modified to make), unsalted butter (dairy free spread), natural yogurt (soya yogurt)

All ingredients found at local store.

Total spent on ingredients for this meal: £13.70 (I had some bits lying about but not many. A better stocked store cupboard would admittedly lower this.)

Cooking Process

I needed supper to be ready by 6pm, so surveying the instructions I decided to start at 4pm. I started with the Chilli, as this needed an hour to cook. This was simple and quick to make and I left it to simmer and thicken as I turned my attention to the Cobbler.

This started out easily enough- mixing fruit and spices in a baking dish, then setting it aside to make the topping. The topping made me miss my food processor, as I had to rub dairy free spread into flour with my hands. I added the yogurt to this and all was going well until I was told to add 30 grates of nutmeg to the mix. They had given me a packet of three whole spices to play with- ginger, nutmeg and cassia. However, I have never handled whole spices so I was just guessing as to what the nutmeg was, based on an idea I had that it was a nut, and by smell. As I grated it I began to doubt myself. It did not smell as I expected. Also, 30 grates was not giving a lot of nutmeg. In fact it was barely giving any at all. Was I doing it wrong or was this not nutmeg? I kept my pithy 30 grates of maybe-nutmeg anyway and mixed it up before spooning the topping in big clumps on top of the fruit base, not nearly as evenly as the picture suggested I should. Then, a little impulsively, I shoved the third whole spice into the fruit mix, grabbed the grated nutmeg out the cupboard and sprinkled it generously on top. I put in the oven and then paused to tidy, before I began work on the relishes. The first step was to boil the potatoes. So once they had been cut up and dumped in the pan I gave the kitchen a proper clean. Easy enough with a dishwasher, but the thought of doing it all by hand was not welcome. By this point the Chilli was done, the Cobbler was cooking and the relishes were started and it was 5pm. One hour until supper time.

I was beginning to feel fairly stressed. There was a lot to do, and a lot of different dishes to make and to keep track of.

I continued to cook, making up the mustard, the sweet corn relish and frying the hot dogs up. I finished in time for 6pm, but only just. I admit I stopped caring at around 5:45 and made the sweetcorn relish up lazily and only barely following instructions. There was too much to do and I had been in the kitchen for two hours, and I was done. I think it is quite obvious that a decent amount of cooking skill is needed for this and the fact I am better at baking showed through – I knew what to do once my dessert went a bit wrong, but I struggled with some of the relishes as the instructions were very simple, and what was happening did not always match what the instructions told me should be happening, and then I got lost.

Equipment used: 1 frying pan, two pots and more bowls, forks and spoons than I could keep count of.
Time taken: 2 hours and 5 minutes (roughly, and with a 15 minute break included)


Main Meal of Chilli Dogs with American Mustard, Sweet corn relish & Potato SaladThe Mustard did not turn out well. It was gloopy and bland. This may have been a fault on my part, I’m not sure. The rest of the meal was great though. It was fun assembling the hot dogs, and nothing was too spicy. My father vastly enjoyed the combination of the Chilli, sweet corn relish and hot dog, although he found the Potato Salad bland. My mother had just a hot dog with Chilli and relish and liked it, but loved the Potato Salad. I liked the hot dogs but also found the Potato Salad bland. There was food for Africa, and it was a little overwhelming. My father was a little surprised when I told him to leave room for dessert. “Dessert as well?!” was his general reaction.

Dessert of Peach and Blueberry cobblerHis tune changed once I revealed the Cobbler. The dough had gone golden brown and the blueberries had turned the fruit layer a rich purple. My father remarked that it smelt like spiced wine. We dug in and it was really good. My mix up with the spices hadn’t affected it, neither had the substitutions I made. It was delicious.

It was a lot of food though. Even with a huge amount leftover in the fridge, I feel a little overstuffed. The food was fairly heavy and rich and there was a lot of it, all at once, which was perhaps just too much. I imagine that if I were to do this when I was living alone I’d have enough food to last the week. The food seems suitable for keeping though. Also I’d like to make the cobbler again sometime, but they keep their spice mixes a secret. Which makes having the recipe for future use a bit silly (although I think you can buy the spices from them again, but that in itself is pretty cheeky) My father pointed out that such a popular recipe would probably be available online, which is true. [edit] And I can! I was looking over the packet they gave me again and noticed they do actually list the spices and their quantities for each spice mix, making this statement redundant. Sorry. I’m now quite impressed with their transparency, and looking forward to making this cobbler again. (And I’ll probably be sticking the nicely laminated recipe card in my recipe book for keeps!)[/edit]


Bonus image: cobbler served up with Soya Vanilla pudding/Vegan custard. So, so delicious.

The aftermath

Lots of cleaning. Lots and lots of cleaning. Doing such a mound of dishes by hand would not be fun.

*NOT sponsored

“This plane that flies in the sky, that twirls the wind, that walks in the clouds, has taken off but”

→ A couple of months ago I gave up chocolate. With that, I finally became completely dairy free. And I’m surprised at how well I am coping. It helps that the supermarket we go to has an impressive range of ingredients I thought I’d never be able to get hold of easily – vegetable shortening, dairy free margarine, soya yoghurts, xanthum gum, arrowroot powder and most types of alternative milks are all there. I mean, we’re hardly in a large city. Just a town in the countryside. So its really quite good. Of course, having a kitchen helps too. Yes, there are cravings. But they are feint, usually only when I’m in the supermarket and I am reminded of all the things I cannot have. On a day to day basis I am coping and even enjoying this. Chocolate is another matter – I miss it dearly but chocolate biscuits and rich hot chocolate do take the edge off. Really, its not too difficult when you don’t have to worry about contamination or “may contain traces of” I cook a lot for myself, because I have to, and I am putting a lot more thought into my food because of that. My bread baking is coming along nicely (I contacted my grand mother and she gave me a wonderful whole wheat recipe, which I make one week, then the next I make white bread which is the one I am struggling with but definitely getting better at) Soon I’ll be getting a food processor so I’ll start up making soups, pasta sauces and nut butters. I am, perhaps, having a little bit of fun with this.  Not seeing any health benefits yet, but hopefully in a little while. I do think the real challenge is still to come though, and that is how to be dairy free whilst at university. I admit to being slightly worried about that. I need to start learning how to make meal plans to make sure I don’t waste money shopping, or time, and get good always dairy-free food in me despite having little time. I need to figure out some sort of way of not letting stress cause me to relapse into eating chocolate. But that comes later. For now, its going unexpectedly well.

→ I bought some cookbooks to guide me along this dairy free thing. The first one was Go Dairy Free by Alisa Fleming which is an excellent information book and also has some good recipes focused on substitutes to handle cravings and recipes to get nutrients that you would otherwise get from milk. It’s a great information book and I have enjoyed some of the recipes but unfortunately it is very US centric. Thankfully I stumbled upon the The Intolerant Gourmet by Pippa Kendrick. I don’t usually buy UK recipe books as I am not a fan of the UK measurement system- preferring things in cups and spoons- but in this case I needed a book that used UK ingredients which overrode that. The book is a light hardcover and inside it is laid out clearly with beautiful photos and typography. I find it strange how its sectioned in seasons instead of in more traditional breakfast, dinner type labels but the index and the contents means its not too difficult to find what you are looking for. The recipes themselves look very tasty and use very accessible ingredients, although I wish there were more veggie ones. Nonetheless, I am eager to try what I can. Already I tried the pancakes the other day and they were delicious- my sister and I made our own variation by adding back in the egg, using gluten flour and adding in cinnamon and mixed spice. Once cooked, we stacked them up and poured syrup over them then dug in. It was so much fun.

→ On the subject of cook books, I was in a charity shop the other day scanning the books available when a slim volume entitled “our traditional cooking” caught my eye. I nearly skimmed past it but I was too curious as to what cooking it was referring to and bent down to pick it up. Flicking through the pages I found myself facing a recipe for “melk tart” I had, in this random charity shop in the UK, managed to find a traditional South African cookbook. Its a fantastic little book filled with all kinds of recipes, a lot of which have little anecdotes about where they came from. (One section mentioned riding an ostrich and visiting the caves in oudtshoorn- which brought up memories of when as a little girl we did exactly that!) I rather enjoyed reading about how to prepare ostrich eggs and other such things. Not all of it is entirely out of place in the modern world though. I shall be making the banana bread using this book soon and am hoping it turns out well! I am also drawn to putu (I had some sort of mealie meal based porridge drizzled with syrup for breakfast on the game lodge in Zimbabwe and it was divine. I think it may have been putu.) and koeksisters (despite how difficult they look to make.) I must have read through this little book several times since I got it, always picking up new things from it. It’s an utterly fascinating book and I am so glad I picked it up.

I sincerely wish its prequel was not only available on amazon for around £90. O_o

→ My Aunt from South Africa has been with us a week now and there are good moments and bad moments. Thus far she’s mostly being spending time with my mother, her sister, or relaxing around the home, which is nice. We have gone out a few times- we went to some gardens, did some shopping followed by a visit to a local ice cream farm (I had fruit ice of course, but it tasted exactly like ice cream. so. good.)  On Sunday we went to pick up my fathers friend from the airport, who is also visiting from South Africa for various reasons, and then we went to check out the RHS flower show, which was stupidly expensive but good fun. The weather has been brilliant for my Aunt, but on Sunday it turned temperamental and we ended up huddled under a marquee waiting for a massive storm to pass. Even that was fun.

But: for every easy going moment, where we just talk and relax and everything is fine, there are also arguments and tension. My Aunt has a temper to match my mother, and she is not afraid of expressing her opinions when maybe they aren’t wanted, because it comes across as passing judgement on our family which I don’t think it is her place too. This has caused some difficultly, especially with my sister. Its not unusual listening to arguments in this house, but it feels slightly sad that we see her so little, and when she is here we argue. I guess that’s family though? I do admit it is a little stifling at home for me now, but then this is probably more to do for the fact that I am not entirely enjoying being home since I came back from Malaysia.  I am frustrated, struggling to fit myself into this place where I don’t feel I fit any more, struggling to follow the rules of the house when I have my own ways of doing things (mostly regarding chores and food and all those little things) I move out to my own place at the end of August and cannot wait. I think it may be unfair to blame it entirely on my family of course – I am introverted so can deal with people a certain amount, but I need my own space to retreat to at the end of the day. On saying that, university starts in just two months, and that is not something I want to happen any sooner. I am, like always, conflicted as to how quickly time is passing.