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The Scoop

Food and nutrition blog

About the blog  St Helen's award-winning food

Healthy Eating Week

14 June

This week is the British Nutrition Foundation’s ‘Healthy Eating Week’, which is a dedicated week in the year to encourage organisations across the UK (including workplaces, universities, and schools) to focus on healthy eating, drinking and physical activity.

At the heart of BNF Healthy Eating Week are five health challenges:

  • Have breakfast
  • Have 5+ A DAY
  • Drink plenty
  • Get active
  • Sleep well

Breakfast helps get the day off to a good start by providing some of the energy and nutrients the body needs for good health (e.g. starchy carbohydrates, fibre, B vitamins, calcium and iron). It is also a great opportunity to get at least one of your 5 A DAY and having breakfast, particularly one which includes protein, may help you to stave off hunger and reduce snacking on less healthy foods.

Have at least five portions of vegetables and fruit every day – choose a variety!

It is important to have at least 5 A DAY as vegetables and fruit provide a range of different vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals (e.g. polyphenols) needed for health, as well as fibre which is important for the digestive system and can help reduce the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer. Variety is key, as each type of vegetable or fruit provides different amounts and combinations of nutrients.

Have at least 6-8 unsweetened drinks every day – water is the best choice. The body is about 60% water and this is needed for many different functions, such as regulating body temperature. We are constantly losing water through our skin when we sweat, our lungs when we breathe and when we go to the loo, so it is important to drink plenty throughout the day to avoid dehydration. Mild dehydration can make it difficult to concentrate and cause headaches and tiredness.

What counts?

In the UK, it is recommended that we have 6-8 drinks every day, in addition to any water provided by food. The exact amount of fluid an individual needs will depend on many factors including age, activity levels and the weather. The following are all healthier drink options:

  • water (this is the best option for a regular drink)
  • lower fat milks
  • unsweetened beverages (e.g. tea, coffee, sugar-free drinks)

If you find water boring, try adding a sprig of mint and lime or cucumber to your water bottle. A few frozen berries will turn it into ‘fruity water’, which is much better than sugary squash or juice. Ice cubes help too.

What about fruit/vegetable juices and smoothies?

100% fruit/vegetable juices and smoothies should be limited to no more than a combined maximum of 150ml a day as they contain free sugars. Drinks that contain free sugars (other examples include soft drinks, sweetened milk drinks,

energy and sports drinks) contribute to calorie intake and increase the risk of tooth decay if consumed regularly.

Drinks and dental health:

  • Fizzy drinks are the largest single source of sugar consumption for children aged 11-18 in the UK, and they provide an average of 29% of daily sugar intake, so switching to healthier alternatives is a must.
  • Sugar-free fizz is still bad for teeth: The fizz in sugar-free drinks is still acidic, and can cause tooth erosion, so it's much better to switch to tooth-friendly alternatives like water, milk, or a small serving of watered-down fruit juice (but this is best consumed with a meal, to avoid the erosive acidity of the fruit juice).

Get active every day - move more! Physical activity is beneficial because it can help you to maintain energy balance, improve heart health and strengthen muscles and bones,  improve sleep, relieve stress and lift mood.

It can be difficult to maintain enthusiasm for physical activity on rainy days such as today, so try some behavioural psychology for a minute! Come up with some intentions which you can write down, or repeat out loud to yourself. An example would be: 'When I feel tired I just need to remember that going for a run will make me feel stronger and more energetic' or 'I can still go for a run/walk if it’s raining because I have a waterproof jacket and I’ll soon warm up.' Research has shown that by having these words to hand will help motivate you when the weather is bad or when you feel tired.

Benefits of 150 minutes moderate physical activity per week (source: NHS)

  • up to a 35% lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke
  • up to a 50% lower risk of type 2 diabetes
  • up to a 50% lower risk of colon cancer
  • up to a 20% lower risk of breast cancer
  • a 30% lower risk of early death
  • up to an 83% lower risk of osteoarthritis
  • up to a 68% lower risk of hip fracture
  • a 30% lower risk of falls (among older adults)
  • up to a 30% lower risk of depression
  • up to a 30% lower risk of dementia

Get the sleep you need every night. A healthy lifestyle includes getting enough good quality sleep. Regular lack of sleep can affect your health, making you more vulnerable to colds and infections and is linked to serious health conditions such as obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and may also lead to depression and anxiety. Sleep is also important for cognitive skills such as communicating well, memory and creative thinking.

If you want to improve your sleep, you could try:

  • establishing a regular routine for going to bed and waking up;
  • avoiding heavy meals, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol late at night;
  • making your bedroom ‘sleep friendly’ – a dark, quiet and cool environment will make it easier to sleep;
  • turning off all devices at least 1 hour before bedtime and keeping technology (e.g. TVs, tablets and smartphones) out of the bedroom;
  • being physically active in the day

Can getting enough sleep help me maintain a healthy bodyweight?

Not getting enough sleep has been linked to a higher intake of calories, eating more snacks and snacking on less healthy foods. Being sleep deprived can also change levels of hormones involved in appetite, making us feel hungrier. These factors can increase the chance of weight gain, which could lead to obesity.

When you’re tired, you’re more likely to snack! Make sure you choose healthier snack options. We should all be aiming for 30g fibre per day. You might want to try:

  • A bowl of fruit salad (2.1g fibre)
  • 3 handfuls of homemade baked vegetable crisps
  • 3 handfuls of plain popcorn sprinkled with chilli powder (1.9g fibre)
  • A small handful of nuts and seeds (1.2g fibre)
  • 3 rice cakes spread with a tablespoon of nut butter (no added salt or sugar) (2.7g fibre)
  • A crumpet with low-fat spread (1.6g fibre)
  • A small, low-fat fruit yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons of reduced fat hummus and vegetable crudités (6.6g fibre)

An evening of Mediterranean street food and antipasti

6 June

It was the turn of teaching and support staff to don their aprons and get cooking in the Food and Nutrition room on a warm evening in late May. After a short demonstration by myself, our keen cooks prepared and presented an appetizing array of dishes from Italy, Turkey and Spain. It was a fun evening, enhanced by wine pairing by Tim Bailey and a chance for staff to switch off from exam marking and enjoy good food and company.

We hope you enjoy some of the recipes and photographs!

Mrs Alpers












(Makes 10 medium or 16 small arancini)

  • 800ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • 250g arborio rice
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Very generous pinch of saffron
  • 50g parmesan or vegetarian alternative, grated
  • 150g mozzarella, chopped into small chunks
  • Fillings of your choice (eg sundried tomato, basil, ham)
  • 1 egg
  • 170g plain flour
  • 500g dried breadcrumbs
  • Vegetable oil, if frying. Olive oil spray if baking.


If you are using leftover risotto, skip this step. Otherwise, bring the stock to the boil in a medium pan, then tip in the rice, salt and saffron. Bring back up to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer on a medium heat until the stock has been absorbed. Stir in the grated parmesan and season to taste, then leave to cool completely, preferably in the fridge – you can spread it out on a tray to hasten this if necessary.

Stir the mozzarella into the cool rice and check the seasoning. Roll a tablespoonful between wet palms to form a ball of your chosen size. Poke a hole in the middle and spoon your filling in, then plug the hole with extra rice. Repeat until all the rice is used up.

Beat together the egg, flour and enough water to make a thick batter (about 175ml), and season. Put the breadcrumbs on to a plate.

Deep fry: Heat the oil in a deep pan, no more than a third full, to 170C, or until a breadcrumb sizzles on contact. As it is heating, dip each rice ball into the batter to coat, then into the breadcrumbs, heaping them on top until it is well covered. Cook in batches until golden brown, making sure the oil comes back up to temperature between batches, and drain on kitchen towel. Sprinkle with a little salt while still warm and serve hot or cold.

Oven bake: Preheat oven to 180 deg C. Place arancini on baking tray lined with parchment. Use an olive oil spray to coat the arancini and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden.


  • Buffalo mozzarella
  • Mint leaves
  • Parma ham or prosciutto
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar


Quarter a fig (you could also use peaches or melon), pinch apart a little buffalo mozzarella, take a mint leaf then wrap a slice of Parma ham or prosciutto around everything and stab together on forks or cocktail sticks. Finish by drizzling over a little extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar if you like.



  • 5 red peppers, quartered and de-seeded (or a jar of roasted peppers)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbsp thyme leaves
  • ¾ tsp sweet smoked paprika
  • ¼ tsp chilli flakes
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 60g walnut halves, lightly roasted and roughly chopped
  • Salt


  • 100ml olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, skin on and lightly crushed
  • 3 thyme sprigs
  • 2x400g tins butterbeans, drained and rinsed


Pre-heat oven to 220deg fan.

Mix peppers and oil and spread out on a large parchment-lined baking tray. Roast for 15 minutes and then add garlic. Continue to roast for another 15 minutes until the skin of the peppers is soft and starting to blacken.

Place the peppers in a food processor, along with the garlic, thyme leaves, paprika, chilli flakes, vinegar, walnuts and ½ tsp salt. Blitz to form a rough paste and set aside.

To make the mash, place oil in saucepan on medium heat. Add garlic clove and thyme sprigs and fry very gently for 2-3 minutes until the garlic begins to caramelise. Discard the garlic and set the sprigs of thyme aside, along with 2 tsp of the oil. Pour the remaining oil into a food processor with the butterbeans, 1 Tbsp water and ½ tsp salt. Blitz until smooth, adding a little more water if you need to. Spread out on a large platter or a few plates, creating a natural rim around the edge, and spoon the red pepper sauce into the centre. Top with the crispy thyme sprigs and their oil.

Anzac biscuits

24 April

Anzac Day, 25 April, is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand, commemorating Australians and New Zealanders who served and died in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations. It was originally conceived to honour the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who served in the Gallipoli Campaign in the First World War.

The Anzac biscuit is a sweet oat biscuit made using rolled oats, flour, coconut, sugar, butter, golden syrup, baking soda and boiling water. Supposedly, the biscuits were sent by wives and women's groups to soldiers abroad because the biscuits lasted for a long time, due to the high sugar content. However, some food historians argue that they were really only eaten at fetes and other public events such as parades, where they were sold to raise money to support the war effort. At the time they were often called 'soldier's biscuits', sold to fundraise for New Zealand troops in the war.

Here is the recipe being baked by Year 7 and 8 students this week in food and nutrition lessons.


85g porridge oats

85g desiccated coconut

100g plain flour

100g caster sugar

100g butter

1 tbsp golden syrup

3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda


Heat oven to 180 C/fan 160 C/Gas 4. Put the oats, coconut, flour and sugar in a bowl. Melt the butter in a small pan and stir in the golden syrup. Add the bicarbonate of soda to 2 tbsp boiling water, then stir into the golden syrup and butter mixture.

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the butter and golden syrup mixture. Stir gently to incorporate the dry ingredients.

Put dessert spoonsful of the mixture on to baking parchment on baking sheets, about 2.5cm/1in apart to allow room for spreading. Bake in batches for 8-10 minutes until golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Designing menus using local ingredients

27 March

The landlocked county of Oxfordshire has been providing inspiration for Year 9 students who have been designing menus based around local foods. Whilst seafood has been off the menu, other interesting ingredients have been discovered. These include local honey, cheeses, berries, chilli jam, rapeseed oil, rhubarb, asparagus, smoked trout, lamb and even kid goat! We have sourced herbs from the school gardens, eggs from home, cheeses and honey from local farm shops and nearer the summer berries, salad leaves and fresh peas will be available locally.

We hope you enjoy the photographs of some of our experimentation. Niamh and Aoife designed a sorrel sorbet with honey poached rhubarb, mini meringues and berries. Emily and Kate used smoked trout and asparagus in their summery tart.  Freya and Lil made their own pastry to construct their beetroot and goats’ cheese tart, followed by lavender and raspberry mousse with lavender shortbread. Pippa and Annabel chose a vegetarian main course: a spiral vegetable tart with chill jam. 


Sports and Spanish

5 March

We have had a fun (and very busy!) week in food and nutrition, with two cooking sessions for our Spanish exchange students and a session on ‘healthy snacks for sport’ with our sports scholars.

On Friday our Spanish visitors were introduced to the great British scone, whipping up a batch in 30 minutes and experimenting with their placement of cream and jam (deciding that the Cornish method of jam then cream made the most sense).

On Monday our sports scholars learned how to save money by producing their own energy-fuelled sports snacks. From cherry and apricot fruit nuggets to a breakfast super-shake, they all agreed that they will go home and try some of the recipes. A shop-bought energy ball costs around £1.75 whilst a home-made version is less than quarter of the cost. We also discussed how to select a healthy plate of food at lunch and Mrs Alpers showed some photographs of a well-proportioned plate, following the Eatwell Guide. Scroll down to find the recipes. We couldn’t prepare the bliss-balls at school (because they contain nuts) but you could try them at home. They are a great source of protein, unsaturated fats, fibre, calcium and Vitamin E.

No-bake orange, date and coconut bliss balls

They are quite energy dense so one or two would be sufficient to give you some energy for a sports match. These are great to keep in the freezer and they only take about 10 minutes to defrost. If you don’t have measuring cups, you can use a measuring jug. 250ml is 1 cup.


  • 2/3 cup almonds
  • 2/3 cup medjool or other soft dates, pitted
  • 4 tbsp pumpkin seeds, toasted
  • 2 tbsp sunflower seeds, toasted
  • 1/2 cup coconut threads or dessicated coconut
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted
  • 4 tbsp macadamia or walnuts, chopped
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 oranges, zested and juiced (about 1/4 cup)
  • To dust: cocoa powder or finely chopped pistachio nuts, sesame seeds or coconut


  • Place all ingredients except cocoa powder (or other coating of choice) in a food processor and blend until a chunky paste forms.
  • Roll into small balls, about 3cm in diameter.
  • Roll in cocoa, pistachios, sesame seeds or coconut if desired.
  • Store in an airtight container where they will keep for several days, or freeze.

Breakfast super shake


  • 100ml full-fat milk
  • 2 tbsp natural yogurt
  • 1 banana
  • 150 frozen fruits of the forest
  • 50g blueberries – can be frozen
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp goji berries
  • 1 tsp mixed seeds
  • 1 tsp honey


Put the ingredients in a blender and blitz until smooth. Pour into a glass and enjoy.

Dried fruit energy nuggets


  • 50g soft dried apricot
  • 100g soft dried date
  • 50g dried cherry
  • 2 tsp coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp toasted sesame seed


Whizz apricots with dates and cherries in a food processor until very finely chopped. Tip into a bowl and use your hands to work in coconut oil. Shape the mix into walnut-sized balls. Then roll in sesame seeds. Store in an airtight container until you need a quick energy fix.

Dark chocolate, banana and rye muffins

These are low in added sugar. To make them taste sweeter make sure the bananas are ripe.


  • 50ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 150g rye flour
  • 100g spelt flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 200ml coconut milk
  • 80 ml maple syrup
  • 3 medium or 2 large ripe bananas, mashed
  • 50g dark chocolate, roughly chopped


  • Heat oven to 180 degrees (centigrade). Put 12 muffin cases in a muffin tin.
  • In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients except the chocolate. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, eggs, coconut milk and maple syrup, then stir in the bananas. Pour the wet ingredients onto the dry and stir to combine. Add the chocolate, then spoon into the prepared cases.
  • Bake in the centre of the oven for 20-25 minutes or until cooked.
  • These will keep for 3-4 days in an airtight container or freeze for up to 3 months.

Homemade cliff bars (no bake)


  • 11/4 cups rice crispies
  • 1 cup quick cooking oats
  • 2 tbsp ground flaxseed
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped dried fruit (eg raisins, dried cranberries etc)
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/3 cup local honey
  • 1/2 cup tahini paste
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, optional


  • Combine the rice cereal, oats, flaxseed meal, dried fruit and seeds in a large bowl.
  • Combine the honey and tahini paste in a small bowl and heat in a microwave-safe bowl for 30-60 seconds until melted. Stir in vanilla and pour over the dry ingredients in the large bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon until everything is coated.
  • Press mixture firmly into and 8-inch square pan, cool and then chill for at least 30 minutes to help it set.
  • Cut into 12 bars, wrap in cling film and keep refrigerated.


Chocolate chip cookie: replace the dried fruit with chocolate chips or cacao nibs.

Pumpkin-cranberry: use chopped cranberries for the dried fruit and pumpkin seeds.

Bacon is not a vegetable

28 February

Learning how to cook and knowing how to achieve a healthy, balanced diet will be invaluable as a skill to carry forward when you leave school. Whilst women were freed from their apron strings decades ago, today’s reality is that many of us are putting our health in the hands of large food producing corporations and it’s not doing us or the environment a lot of good.

In a short but focused series of practical lessons Lower Sixth have the opportunity to have a taste of life as a student and learn to cook healthily on a budget, avoiding years of pot noodles and frozen pizzas. The handbook that they take with them provides a short guide to independent living and nutrition, for the time when the school lunches and the family meals are a thing of the past. There is also a handy page of top tips for students, generously offered by the teaching staff.

Mrs Alpers

Top tips for students from St Helen’s staff:

My nephew is managing on a budget in London. He has ‘chicken’ weeks and 'mince' weeks. For chicken, he roasts a whole chicken – the largest reasonably priced one he can find – then uses the cold meat over a couple of days in a variety of dishes. For mince, he cooks a huge bolognaise mix with lots of tiny chopped veggies added then turns that into cottage pie, chilli, burritos etc during the week. Mrs Stringer

Remember that herbs and spices elevate the simplest of meals. Ditto condiments – Worcester sauce, mayo, mint sauce, pesto, tabasco. Cut herbs can be kept in the freezer till you need them. Buy seasonal fruit and veg. Don't do a food shop when you're hungry. Stay hydrated. When in doubt – improvise. Mr Verjee

As important as buying cheap food is not wasting the food you have. Some items go off quickly and before you know it, you’re throwing them away. Stock your cupboard with items that will not go off – pasta, rice, potato, tins of beans, anchovies. Other things that last ages are chorizo, eggs and cheese. Get good at some simple recipes using these, such as: puttanesca, bean and chorizo stew, baked potato, omelettes. But don’t forget the importance of fresh nutrition. Mr Odell

If you have a local bakery, go in just before closing time and ask if they are giving away (or selling cheaply) any bread or other foods. You might strike up a regular deal! Togarashi seasoning (a Japanese blend of spices, seaweed and sesame seeds) makes rice, noodles, vegetables etc super tasty. Use lentils or chickpeas in curries, chillies, pasta sauces – they are really cheap and good for you! Learn how to make a proper Italian tomato sauce, which you can then use as a base for so many dishes, such as tuna pasta, puttanesca pasta, as a pizza sauce, a sauce for meatballs, a base for a bean and sausage stew etc. Mrs Alpers

[If you have a blender] Use frozen spinach cubes in smoothies to act as ice cubes; more affordable than fresh spinach, packed full of nutrients, and won’t impact on the flavour of your smoothie! No scurvy for you. For a tasty and affordable snack: cheapest supermarket brand noodles plus a crumbled stock cube (ie Oxo vegetable stock) is a delicious but not necessarily nutritious bite. Buy punnets of grapes when they’re on offer/reduced and put them in the freezer: when you need a little something sweet but you have run out of chocolate Hobnobs you can munch on some frozen grapes. It’s like having bite-size portions of sorbet! Miss Stephenson

Clubbing together with friends for occasional Sunday roast, lots of healthy veg and if each person brings one thing, actually not too expensive and fun and sociable!! Mrs Scott-Malden

Use quorn or soya mince to make spaghetti bolognese. Lower in fat and much cheaper than meat! Mrs Homan

Wine doesn’t count as one of your five a day! Marmite makes everything taste good. Don’t throw away squidgy veg, put it in a soup. Adding chilli powder hides a multitude of sins. Mrs Washer

Porridge becomes your friend. Chickpea curry – so versatile. Don’t rely on meat. Eggs are great.  Cook en mass at the weekend eg veg chilli, and portion up for freezing or refrigerating. Frozen fish and chicken are much cheaper than fresh. (Frozen fish needs to be cooked from frozen; frozen chicken needs to be defrosted in a fridge the day or night before you need it). St Helen's Old Girls at Birmingham

If you are able to plan your menu a few days ahead and then shop for it you will end up with a much healthier range of foods and fewer takeaways which are expensive on a student budget and perhaps not as nutritionally beneficial. Mrs Bedford

Think about what you’re going to eat across the week before you go shopping, it saves money and reduces the number of times you have to shop in a week. Buy/take some herbs/sauces to uni so you can add different flavours to bland dishes like pasta. Mrs Stubley

Avoid getting take-away unless you really need to. Go to the reduced section of the local supermarket at about 5 p.m. in the evening. Make big portions and freeze them. Make a meal plan for the week. Buy own-brand products where possible. Mme Probert

Buying a whole chicken then roasting it and having the leftovers for the next few days is better value and means you can afford a better class of chicken than just buying breasts etc. Batch cooking is your friend if you have access to freezer space. Don't buy lunches out, make a sandwich instead. In a shared house, taking it in turns to cook for everybody is much more sociable than everyone cooking for themselves and means you get to improve your cooking skills no end. Don’t go to Waitrose!! Mrs Watson

Get a whiteboard planner divided into the days of the week and plan every day's meal before you do the weekly shop. Then you can buy exactly what you need for meal cooking and never have a panic because the only thing on offer for dinner is cheese or cereal! I use mine religiously, and I buy less chocolate... Ms Thompson

Why learn to cook?

11 February

Here are eight reasons why cooking is an essential life skill for everyone:

  • Cooking our own food from scratch is closely linked with better health outcomes such as a lower risk of obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
  • Home cooked food contains less sugar, fat, salt, additives and preservatives than industrially produced food.
  • Cooking provides opportunities for socialising and shared meals where we learn to listen, take turns and eat more mindfully than if we were eating on the go.
  • It is better for the environment because we are limiting the amount of packaging and industrial waste.
  • It’s fun, sociable and a creative outlet.
  • It is much less expensive to cook meals from scratch.
  • It gives you independence and confidence if you don’t have to rely on others or corporations to provide you with a basic human need.

Mrs Alpers learning how to cook pasta in Italy.
You're never too old (or young) to learn!













Pollen, M. (2013). Cooked.
Wolfson, J. and Bleich, S. (2014). Is cooking at home associated with better diet quality or weight-loss intention? Public Health Nutrition, 18(08), pp.1397-1406.

The Meringue Challenge

29 January

Improving food presentation skills was the focus of last week’s Year 9 lessons. Students were given a few meringues, a selection of fruit, some chocolate and some double cream to present as creatively and expertly as they could in the time given. This is all in preparation for the Create and Cook competition which kicks off this spring. As the Year 9 menus develop we will post recipes and photos on this blog post. We hope you enjoy the photos of the meringue challenge!

Mrs Alpers

Happy new year!

17 January 2019

Year 8 have continued to research and prepare recipes from around the world. From Greece to Cyprus to Lebanon and as far away as China, students have been bringing in an interesting array of ingredients to prepare authentic versions of sweet dishes. We hope you enjoy some of the photographs of their work. We have included a delicious recipe for Melomakarona from Greece which was ably prepared by Megan and Grace. It involves baking small spiced and orange-scented cookies, which are then dipped in a honey syrup and left to cool.

Year 9 are currently researching which foods are grown and produced in Oxfordshire. They will then be creating exciting menus based on locally sourced produce, similar to the way chefs develop their menus around the best seasonal ingredients. Recipes and photographs will follow next month.

Mrs Alpers

Melomakarona recipe

(You need to use cup measurements where 250ml = 1 cup).

This recipe makes a lot of cookies, so you could halve it.

For the cookies:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ cup brandy (or whiskey)
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • ¼ cup orange juice

For the syrup:

  • 1 cup honey
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 cup water

For the garnish:

  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon


  • Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F/Gas 4). In a bowl combine flour, baking powder and baking soda. Mix well together.
  • In a separate bowl combine oil, sugar, brandy, orange juice and orange rind. Incorporate mixture into the flour. It should be easy to knead.
  • Knead lightly. Get a heaped dessert spoon full of the dough and roll it into an oval shape (it should be thick, 2-3cm high). Place on a greased baking tray and put it in the oven for 20 minutes or until light brown.
  • To make the syrup combine the sugar, water and honey in a saucepan and boil for five minutes. Take it off the heat and allow to cool.
  • Dip the cookies in the syrup and then place on a serving plate. Then put them in a large, shallow (but not too shallow) serving bowl and pour the remaining syrup in over the top so it collects at the bottom and the cookies bathe in the golden honey syrup (eat the ones at the bottom first). Garnish with chopped walnuts and cinnamon.

Around the world in tasty ways!

7 December

Year 8 have excelled this week, preparing and presenting dishes from around the world. From China to the Czech Republic, from Japan to Jamaica, students have planned, shopped for and cooked a huge range of dishes.

Highlights have included Spanakopita (Greek phyllo parcels with spinach and feta), several sushi plates, a delicious Cypriot dish of chicken stuffed with lemon, feta, sundried tomatoes and herbs, Chinese ginger pork with stir fried greens, Udon noodles with shitake mushrooms and Calamari with spicy rice.


Here is Poppy and Elizabeth’s Cypriot chicken recipe:

Cypriot Stuffed Chicken


  • Small bunch of flat leaf parsley
  • Small bunch of fresh basil
  • 1 small jar of sun-dried tomatoes in oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ½ a pack of Feta cheese
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 4 chicken breasts


Finely chop the herbs, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, feta and lemon zest. Mix together.

Slice a ‘pocket’ into the chicken breasts and stuff with the mixture.

Pan fry the chicken breasts for around 10 minutes on each side in a little olive oil over a medium heat until cooked through (use the tip of a knife to cut a small slit in the thickest part of one of the chicken breasts to check it is not pink in the middle).

Nutrition for teenaged girls: a Year 9 investigation

29 November

Nutrient needs are at their greatest in adolescence. Teenagers are growing rapidly, adding to their muscle and bone mass. It is hard to imagine that one day we will age, but it’s really important to consider the long term as well as the short term benefits of a healthy, balanced diet.

Did you know that almost 50% of teenaged girls in the UK are below the lower recommended intake of iron? Or that we only have until our early 20s to fully develop our bone density? Now is the time to create healthy habits for life to minimise the risks of type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease or osteoporosis (weak bones).

  • DO eat breakfast (for ideas, see an earlier blog post). It will stop you snacking on sugary foods at break time and will give you the energy to concentrate in lessons.
  • DO try to include dairy in your diet. Milk is a really low fat, low sugar product. If you are allergic to or really don’t like cow’s milk, choose a plant based alternative that is fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Yogurt is also a good source of calcium, but check the sugar content on sweetened fruit yogurts.
  • Choose wholegrains. Go for brown rice, wholemeal pasta, wholegrain bread.
  • Try to limit snacking. You don’t want to fill up on sweet, salty or fatty foods and lose your appetite for proper meals.
  • Drink water!
  • If you are vegetarian or vegan, make sure you are getting the nutrients you need, especially iron, zinc, calcium and vitamin B12. See the British Dietetic Association for useful fact sheets.
  • Finally, but most importantly, LEARN TO COOK!

Year 9 were given the task of creating the perfect meal for a teenaged girl. Students had to consider a good source of iron, fibre, protein, slow release carbohydrate and calcium as well as colour, texture and flavour to add interest.

Dishes they selected and cooked included wholemeal pita pockets filled with spiced lamb, minty yogurt dressing, lettuce and mango chutney; chilli con carne and brown rice; wholemeal pasta with smoked salmon and herbs; turkey burgers with sweet potato fries; courgette fritters with homemade chilli jam; teriyaki salmon, noodles and a Thai bean salad.


Bonfire Night food & traditions

14 November

Classic Bonfire Night food is eaten during November, so it is mostly used to keep you warm when you’re outside. Toasted and baked food with lots of spices and ginger are popular, as well roasted meat. Toffee is also a favourite with many recipes such as the classic toffee apple and waffles very much appreciated on a cold night.

The actual bonfire is used to cook many of the most traditional foods eaten on the day; potatoes wrapped in foil and soups heated up in the flames are given to the people who come to see the fireworks. Sausages and marshmallows are also cooked in the fire. The traditional cake for the day is Parkin cake; a sticky cake with oatmeal, ginger and syrup.

For our Bonfire Night recipes, we made toffee apples, chocolate fudge and honeycomb (also known as cinder toffee) fit for the occasion! Although rather sweet, they were perfect to enjoy on a cold Autumn night.

Madeleine, Year 9

Cinder Toffee (honeycomb) from BBC Food


Butter, for greasing

200g caster sugar

5 tbsp golden syrup

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda


- Grease a 20cm square tin with the butter.

- Mix caster sugar and golden syrup in a deep saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar has melted. Try not to let the mixture bubble until the sugar grains have disappeared.

- Once completely melted, turn up the heat a little and simmer until you have an amber-coloured caramel (this won’t take long), then as quickly as you can turn off the heat, tip in 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda and beat in with a wooden spoon until it has all disappeared and the mixture is foaming. Scrape into the tin immediately but be careful as the mixture will be very hot.

- The mixture will continue bubbling in the tin, simply leave it and in about 1 hour-1 hour 30 minutes the honeycomb will be hard and ready to crumble or snap into chunks.

Chocolate Fudge from BBC Good Food


300ml whole milk

350g caster sugar

100g unsalted butter

1 tsp vanilla extract

100g dark chocolate, chopped

Optional toppings

Chopped nuts, toffee pieces, mini chocolate buttons


- Line an 18cm square tin with greaseproof paper.

- Put the milk, sugar and butter in a heavy-based saucepan. Heat gently, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved and the butter has melted.

- Bring to the boil for 15-20 minutes, still stirring all the time. The mixture will bubble up – when it does, take it off the heat and keep stirring it until it sinks back down. Then return it to the heat.

- Take the temperature after 15 minutes (continuing to stir or it will burn on the bottom). Once it reaches 115C on a temperature probe, remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and a good pinch of sea salt. Leave to cool for 5 minutes.

- Stir in the chopped chocolate and the mixture and keep stirring until the chocolate has melted. Quickly pour the mixture into your prepared tin and leave to set at room temperature.

- Before the fudge has completely set, you can add rows of different toppings like nuts, toffees or mini chocolate buttons – just scatter them over the surface and gently press into the fudge until they stick. Make sure the fudge is only slightly warm when you do this – if it’s too hot the toppings can melt. Once set, cut the fudge into small pieces and store in a sealed container.

Fabulous fruit

8 November

Year 9 students have swapped roles with their teacher this week and have been educating their peers about the nutritional and culinary role of fruit. Tropical fruit (mango, passionfruit, pineapple, bananas), stone fruit (peaches and plums), vine fruit (kiwi and grapes), those belonging to the rose family (apples), citrus fruit (lemons and oranges), berries (strawberries and raspberries) and pomegranate have all been squeezed, sliced, pureed, de-seeded, peeled and even stamped on. (Thanks to Ella for her video of crushing grapes in bare feet!)

The students showed creativity, flair and some well-honed knife skills to present tricks such as hulling a strawberry with a straw, de-seeding a pomegranate, making delicious smoothies and juices (watermelon and lime – yum!), fruit kebabs, roasted peaches and grapes, fruit garnishes and lemonade.

We certainly left the lesson feeling revived with vitamin C and antioxidants warding off those winter bugs. Remember to eat a ‘rainbow’ of fruit and vegetables every day. It is very easy to do at lunchtime at school with all those colourful salads, fruit baskets and fruit salad.

Emily’s easy roasted peaches: Take fresh peaches, cut in half (removing stone) and lay in a roasting tray. Drizzle with a little honey or syrup and a sprinkling of vanilla. Roast for about 20 minutes and serve with yogurt, cream or ice-cream. You can do the same with plums.

Annabel and Pippa’s berry smoothie: blend fresh or frozen raspberries and strawberries and a banana with some natural yogurt, milk and a squeeze of honey. If your fruit was fresh, add a few ice cubes before blending until smooth.

Kate’s watermelon ‘mocktail’: Scoop the flesh out of half a watermelon and blend with ice cubes, a squeezed lime and a little apple juice for sweetness. Serve in a glass with a slice of watermelon to garnish and a straw.


It's pumpkin time!

30 October

The use of pumpkins as a symbol for Halloween is a relatively modern American import to Britain. Traditionally, turnips and swedes were used to carve out faces and apples were used for apple-bobbing and making toffee apples. The large pumpkins we use for carving are not particularly tasty, but you can use any carved out flesh for soup.

In the UK, pumpkin and squash choices are limited to butternut squash and, if we are lucky, a few other varieties in more specialist supermarkets. I am forever on the hunt for the grey-skinned ‘crown pumpkin’ I grew up eating in New Zealand. It has a darker orange, drier and richer-tasting flesh than a butternut squash and in my opinion is far superior.

Other than soup, what else can you cook with pumpkin? You can roast it and make a salad with toasted pumpkin seeds and crumbled feta, or search for Yotam Ottolenghi recipes using squash and pumpkin. You can use the puree along with chickpeas, garlic and tahini to make pumpkin hummus. Pumpkin puree adds moisture and a delicate flavour to muffins, cakes and pies. You can halve and scoop out the seeds of smaller squash and pumpkins then stuff with various fillings and bake (see Jamie Oliver for recipes).

In our cooking and blogging club this week we cooked down a butternut squash into a puree which was used to make these delicious pumpkin and chocolate chip cookies. They are lightly spiced and the pumpkin adds a softness to the cookies, with only a subtle pumpkin flavour coming through. Enjoy!

Mrs Alpers

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

This is an American recipe, which uses cup measures rather than grams and ounces. An American cup size is the equivalent of 236ml, so if you don’t have cup measures you could use a measuring jug. These are a soft baked cookie and are great eaten warm!


2 cups plain flour

1 tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp nutmeg

¼ tsp allspice

¼ tsp ground ginger

½ tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 cup caster sugar

½ cup vegetable oil

1 cup pumpkin puree (you can buy it canned in some shops, or you can boil then mash your own pumpkin or squash. 1 cup is about half a small butternut squash)

1 tsp vanilla

1 large egg

1 cup plain chocolate chips


1. Turn oven on 180 deg C /170 fan/Gas 4. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper

2. Mix dry ingredients together in small bowl

3. Mix sugar, oil, pumpkin, vanilla and egg until smooth in large bowl

4. Add dry ingredients to the wet and stir until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips

5. Drop tablespoons of mixture on trays, leaving about an inch between cookies

6. Bake for 12 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean

The rise of hybrid food products

1 October

In cooking club this week we made monuts, or duffins, which is basically cross between a doughnut and a muffin. This led me to thinking about hybrid food products.

Science is opening more and more possibilities that our ancestors have never seen before, for example hybrid cars, and some chefs are following this trend. Yes, there are hybrid cross-bread plants, but I am talking about innovative food products where two foods are ‘morphed’ into each other. You’ve probably heard of cronuts (a cross between croissant and a donut) and ice cream cakes (I think you can probably guess what this is made of!), but there are more and more hybrid bakery products popping up such as the ‘Cretzel’ (a croissant pretzel) and ‘bagnut’ (bagel doughnut hybrid).

Even the pop star Justin Timberlake, posted on Instagram about his new hybrid creation, a ‘braspberry’ (a raspberry with a blueberry in its centre).

But why are they becoming so popular? Well, people are excited to see what they can make by combining their favourite foods, and to show the world of social media what they’ve made.

So next time you have to choose between your two favourite snacks, why not have both?

Thanks and enjoy,
Leni, 9J

Below: a 'cretzel' and a 'duffin'.









Mug cakes!

21 September

This week in cooking and blogging club we made mug cakes, which are quick and easy cakes made in a mug and baked in the microwave. We made lots of different flavours including apple, banana, carrot, and chocolate. The aim was to find the best one.

There were several things we had to prepare: the carrots needed grating, the banana needed mashing and Mrs Woodley had to make us an apple puree using the school apples. We prepared a mug cake each and ended up with about two of each flavour. After baking (and exploding) some mug cakes, it was time for the best part: tasting!

First up was the carrot cake. The flavour was good, with a hint of cinnamon, however the texture was a little stodgy. We think it could’ve done with a few more seconds in the microwave, or perhaps the juice from the carrot diluted the batter a little. Next was the apple. This one was very interesting, it was like a cross between an apple pie and a cake. In the mug were layers of apple puree and cake, like a trifle. The texture of the cake was nice and fluffy, and the apple puree was tangy and fresh. After that was the banana. We thought that overall it had the best texture; firm but still light and moist. However, the flavour was a little bland. We could taste the banana, but it definitely needed sweetening. Finally, there was the chocolate cake. The chocolate cake also had a very good texture, and was extremely rich. The bottom of the mug contained a surprise chocolate sauce, which we could drizzle over the top of each portion.

Overall the chocolate cake was the winner. Although probably the simplest recipe, nothing could beat the good old taste of chocolate. We all thought that the chocolate sauce was an amazing addition to the cake, which made it obvious that the chocolate mug cake was the winner!

History of the mug cake

The first traces of the mug cake date back to 1840s, when the first cupcakes were made. The original cupcakes were baked in coffee cups, hence the name. They started out as tests, to test the heat of the oven. Soon, in 1967, the microwave was invented, which made mug cakes much faster to cook. However, the mug cake didn’t become popular until 50 years later. But now, with the use of the internet, there are thousands of exotic mug cake recipes to try. Mug cakes have even become so popular that supermarket chains, (even Tesco) sell their own ready-to-mix mug cakes. They are very quick to make and are perfect for an almost-instant dessert (as long as you own a microwave!).

The winning recipe:

Chocolate mug cake (BBC food)


4 tbsp self-raising flour

4 tbsp caster sugar

2 tbsp cocoa powder

1 medium egg

3 tbsp milk

3 tbsp vegetable oil or sunflower oil

A few drops of vanilla essence or other essence (orange or peppermint work well)

2 tbsp chocolate chips, nuts, or raisins etc. (optional)


  1. Add 4 tbsp self-raising flour, 4 tbsp caster sugar and 2 tbsp cocoa powder to the largest mug you have (to stop it overflowing in the microwave) and mix.

  2. Add 1 medium egg and mix in as much as you can, but don't worry if there's still dry mix left.

  3. Add the 3 tbsp milk, 3 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil and a few drops of vanilla essence and mix until smooth, before adding 2 tbsp chocolate chips, nuts, or raisins, if using, and mix again.

  4. Centre your mug in the middle of the microwave oven and cook on High for 1½ -2 mins, or until it has stopped rising and is firm to the touch.

Our banana and chocolate mud cakes are pictured above.

Chelsea, 10M

Waste not

11 September

Global hunger is on the rise again for the first time in over a decade, with 11% of the world population going hungry. 4.4 million tons of household food is wasted every year in the UK, so what can we do about it?

Year 9 will be coming up with ways they can reduce food waste in the next few weeks and will be creating recipes using food which might have otherwise been wasted. Supermarkets are slowly coming on board in their effort to reduce food waste, selling foods reaching their expiry date at a fraction of the cost. Food safety regulations are very strict and date-marking often means that products which are perfectly safe to eat are thrown away. You have to be more careful of use-by dates, though, as these foods such as meat and fish are sometimes not safe to consume after the date.

What can we do to avoid wasting food?

  • Autumn is a great time to cook something for free! Collect apples, blackberries and plums and make jam, cakes, puddings or freeze for use in the winter.

  • When you serve yourself lunch at school, try to be mindful of the amount you will actually eat and avoid leaving food which will be scraped into the bin.

  • Check the dates on food so you know what needs using up first.

  • If you help with the grocery shopping, try to plan meals so you only buy what you need.

  • Go to the website for great ideas for recipes and tips to reduce food waste.

How can you help with hunger?

There are several charities making a difference locally and internationally. These are just two of them: – working worldwide to carry out lifesaving programmes in nutrition, food security, water, sanitation and hygiene.< > - using food which might have been wasted to help hungry people in the UK. – using food which might have been wasted to help hungry people in the UK.

Perhaps you could try some of these recipes, which use fruit you will find on trees and in the brambles this autumn. The next blog post will be student-led as our cooking club swings back into action after the summer break.

Happy cooking,

Mrs Alpers


Apple and Bramble Crumble (from Love Food, Hate Waste)

Crumble topping

240g plain flour or half plain, half wholemeal

120g caster sugar

120g unsalted butter

60g oats

Fruity filling

600g apples

230g brambles (or blackberries)

60g demerara sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp allspice


Heat oven to 190C.

Tip the flour and sugar into a large bowl. Add the butter and rub into the flour using your fingertips to make a light breadcrumb texture.

Do not overwork it or the crumble will become heavy. Gently mix in the oats and set aside.

Peel, core and cut the apples into small wedges and place in ovenproof dish. Add the brambles, placing them evenly between the apples. Sprinkle with all spice, cinnamon and sugar. Bake in the oven for 5 minutes.

Remove from oven and sprinkle crumble mixture on top. Place back in the oven and cook for 20-25 minutes.


Plums and Blackberries with Rosemary Syrup (from BBC Food)


100g golden caster sugar

50g light muscovado sugar

2 lemons, pared zest and juice

4 short sprigs rosemary

4 ripe plums, halved and stoned

300g ripe blackberries


Put the sugars into a saucepan with 250ml/9fl oz cold water. Heat gently and stir until the sugars have dissolved, then bring to the boil and simmer for 10 mins to reduce slightly.

Add the lemon zest and juice, rosemary and plum halves, bring back to a simmer and cook gently for 10 mins until the plums start to soften. Tip the blackberries into the pan and stir gently to warm through. Serve in bowls with scoops of ice cream.


Dorset apple traybake


450g cooking apples (such as Bramley)

Juice of ½ lemon

225g butter, softened

280g golden caster sugar

4 eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

350g self-raising flour

2 tsp baking powder

Demerara sugar, to sprinkle


Heat oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Butter and line a rectangular baking tin (approx 27cm x 20cm) with parchment paper. Peel, core and thinly slice the apples then squeeze the lemon juice over. Set to one side.

Place the butter, caster sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour and baking powder into a large bowl and mix well until smooth. Spread half the mixture into the prepared tin. Arrange half the apples over the top of the mixture, then repeat the layers. Sprinkle over the demerara sugar. 3 Bake for 45-50 mins until golden and springy to the touch. Leave to cool for 10 mins, then turn out of tin and remove paper. Cut into bars or squares.

Abingdon Food Festival Bake-it competition

27 June

Katy (11L) won the Bake-it competition at the Abingdon Food Festival and tells all about her winning cake:

The theme for the Abingdon Food Festival's Bake-it competition was your favorite book. I chose Alice in Wonderland. The brief said that we needed to consider ways of making our cakes healthier, for example by cutting out wheat flour, using natural fats and sugars and including fruit and nuts in our cakes. I decided to make a cake that our whole family could eat by making it gluten and dairy-free. This was easier said than done since gluten free cakes are notorious for tasting a bit like chalk! I had a lot of fun trialing different recipes to create a flour blend that you couldn't tell was gluten free.

This was the final recipe:

100g ground almonds

70g rice flour

25g potato starch

5g tapioca flour

2 tsp baking powder

To create an unusual, Alice-in-Wonderland flavor combination I made a chocolate and lemon checkerboard sponge with lemon buttercream and homemade lemon curd. I decorated it with fondant icing, mini gluten and dairy free jam tarts and fondant mushrooms. 

It was really great to see everyone else's cakes on the day, including ones based on The Hobbit, Harry Potter and The BFG. For anyone who's thinking about entering next year - it's well worth it as the prize included a £50 Amazon voucher! 

Katy, 11L

Travel light, travel hungry

25 June

‘Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one's life’, said the food and travel writer Anthony Bourdain. What is your most vivid ‘food memory’? This is the question Year 8 were asked as part of their research into global cuisine. The flavours and aromas of food can transport us back to the place we first experienced it. It might be a fond memory, or it could be an experience we would not like to repeat. Below are a variety of responses to our question, from both students and staff.

Peony – France: 'I remember once eating snails in a very smart restaurant in Paris. I only wanted them for the garlic sauce, but my parents told me that I wasn’t allowed to eat only half the dish I then proceeded to eat snail after snail. It felt like eating slugs. I ate about three then stuffed the rest in my napkin.'

 Rachel – Spain: 'I ate tortilla (Spanish omelette) for breakfast, lunch and dinner for four days running!'

Emily – Florida: 'We went to Clearwater beach in Florida. On the menu was buffalo and alligator so we tried them and they were amazing. However, I was unable to finish my meal because of my jetlag and I fell right asleep on the table.'

Gabriela – Brazil: 'I loved the simple yet delicious dish, Feijoada. This meal is a bean stew on rice and contains a Brazilian ingredient called Farinheira, which is a kind of pork sausage. When I lived in Brazil I went to nursery school and ate it every single day. It was so good, no one would ever complain, but I did ask my parents why we ate the same food every single day!'

Pippa – Australia: 'When I went to Australia I was able to try crocodile, buffalo and kangaroo. The crocodile had a strange texture, almost like fish, but tasted really nice.'

Iona – Greece: 'Most of the things I remember we ate in Greece were meat-based, like Kreatopita, a meat pie with phyllo pastry, and Gyros, which are meat wraps with salad and tzatziki.'

Dr Pitkethly – Egypt: 'I used to take school trips to the Sinai desert with Wind Sand and Stars. We flew into Cairo and were picked up in jeeps which drove into central Cairo to pick up live chickens. Each of the 13 students had a live chicken in a sack and we travelled with these into the Sinai desert where we exchanged our motorised vehicles for camels. We trekked for four days down to St Catherine's monastery at the bottom of the Sinai Peninsula and then after one night in the monastery another five nights up to the eastern side opposite Saudi Arabia. We slept out under the stars without tents but in sleeping bags - you had to tie in your head so nothing else joined you in your sleeping bag at night! Each day, one or two of the chickens disappeared but the taste of fresh chicken cooked on scrub wood gathered in the desert was memorable.'

Mrs Stubley – Vietnam:  'I was working in London 20 odd years ago and I was lucky enough to be invited to a Vietnamese wedding reception. It was a great opportunity to talk about Vietnam with other guests and bring some of my historical knowledge up to date. I also decided to try all the dishes on offer and find out about the ingredients and cooking methods – they were delicious and Vietnamese food remains one of my favourite cuisines.'

Mrs Collett – Thailand and Italy: 'I have two really distinct memories linked to travel and food. The first is eating freshly caught BBQ fish in a beach restaurant in Phuket, Thailand. It was just four months after the tsunami which had devastated this community, but they had rebuilt and continued to welcome visitors – it felt an honour to be there. The second is simply Tuscan sausage pasta in Florence – the tastiest food I’ve ever had!'

Miss Doherty – Mongolia: How much would you pay for an apple?

'I spent four months in Mongolia, many years ago, where the staple diet is beef, goat, potatoes and cabbage. Initially, the Mongolian equivalent of a deep fried Cornish pasty was quite a treat and bread spread with butter and sprinkled with sugar a delicious breakfast; however, I quickly grew tired of this limited cuisine. There was some variety, but the staple ingredients were the same: meat, cabbage and flour. About a month into my stay, and craving something fresh, I was thrilled to see a Chinese pop-up market in town. My Mongolian friends warned me against buying anything from them saying they 'used chemicals' to grow their food, but I was craving something (superficially) healthy and my eye was drawn to a shiny green apple. To cut a long haggling story short, I had to have it. I am ashamed to admit how much I paid for my overly waxed and, were I in England, disappointing Granny Smith, but it was definitely worth it at the time! Adapting to a completely different diet made me realise that food and culture are so entwined – what you eat is as much about the nutritional needs of your body as it is about your identity.'

Mr Odell – Greece: 'It was the summer of 2010. Sat beneath the Grecian stars on a balmy night at a wonderful local Taverna, I decided to be brave and try the local delicacy, a dish affectionately named Kokoretsi; goat intestines wrapped about offal, brain, heart, lungs and/or kidneys. Mmmmm. Needless to say – it was horrible. I hid most of it under my spoon, like Mr Bean.'

Mr Hunt – Greece: 'Living on souvlaki while travelling in Greece in my gap year. Just the best street food: 300 Drachma (no idea what that would be in euros now) for a delicious little pork kebab; chunks of succulent and flavour-packed tomatoes; crisp lettuce; punchy tzatziki; a few skin-on chips; all wrapped in a warm, puffy pitta which is nothing like the vile cardboard we get in the supermarket. And recently the joy of re-living it from the Greek food stall in the Gloucester Green market in Oxford. 25 years just vanished in an instant.'

Mrs Washer – Ghana: 'I was in Ghana on a Disaster Relief Exercise with a small group of men from the three Armed Services. We were offered food at the Headquarters of the Ghanaian Army, including curried lambs testicles. I was the only one to try them – funnily enough. They were not particularly appetising and very chewy!!'

Mrs Alpers – Singapore: 'I grew up in New Zealand, which you might know is very far from anywhere else. People think it’s right next to Australia, but it’s still a three hour flight. When I was twelve my family went on holiday to Singapore and Malaysia for two weeks. My father tried to convince us to eat from the hawker (street food) stalls, but I am totally ashamed to say that all my brother, sister and I wanted to eat was McDonalds because you couldn’t get it in New Zealand! I have been to Singapore a number of times since and I am pleased to say I would eat the hawker food every time. Singapore is a real melting pot of cultures and cuisines and there is always something new to try.'

Revd Elizabeth: 'One of the great joys about travelling abroad is the opportunity to delve into foreign supermarkets and food shops. It's a myth that all supermarkets are the same the world over and they always provide a fascinating insight into subtle, or not so subtle, cultural differences. I get withdrawal symptoms if I am away from a kitchen for more than about two days so I always make a beeline for local food shops wherever I am, to make impromptu picnics, or to find ingredients to bring home. With the latter, you have to be a bit careful to make sure you are actually allowed to bring stuff back into the UK. Airline restrictions on liquids in luggage has scuppered my transportation of five-litre cans of extra virgin olive oil, or vast jars of local honey from around the Mediterranean in my hand-luggage, for example, but there are other things that I've found travel well and don't break the bank either.

Here is a list of some of my happy discoveries in the past:

1) Spices – mahlepi and mastic from Greece (used in baking), saffron from Andalucia, juniper berries from Umbria, cloves, peppercorns, cardamom from Karnataka 

2) Chocolate from anywhere – every country has its own unique chocolate as well as characteristic packaging. German and Dutch chocolate are top of my list, so far.

3) Biscuits – everyday-type packets, the equivalent of ordinary UK biscuits such as digestives. Foreign equivalents are always interestingly slightly different and the packaging is good for expanding your vocabulary, once you start looking at the ingredients list. I personally like those bags of small Italian biscuits 'per la prima colazione' for dipping in coffee, as well as packets of crisp, French, 'Petit Beurre' biscuits or 'galettes' which, no matter how simple they seem, always taste like heaven. My latest discovery was Russian biscuits made with condensed milk. (The Russians, like Winnie the Pooh, are keen on condensed milk and serve it to accompany oat or buckwheat 'kasha' for breakfast – delicious!) I particularly loved the fact that said condensed milk biscuits are moulded to resemble the tins!

4) Dried herbs – 'herbes de Provence' that actually come from Provence and taste like it; Cretan dittany for herb tea

5) Tea in general – German tea is particularly good. Look out for 'Weihnachtstee', if you are travelling in winter, or 'Kräutertee' – the Germans are keen on herb tea and there's a huge variety available.'

Travel light, travel hungry!

British Nutrition Foundation Healthy Eating Week 11-16 June

14 June

We are very lucky at St Helen’s to have such a range of nutritious choices at lunch, and students studying food and nutrition also prepare healthy food in practical lessons. However, it is good to be reminded that setting up healthy habits for life is crucial in adolescence. The four main challenges for Healthy Eating Week are:

Have at least 5 portions of fruits and vegetables per day

Drink plenty of fluids, especially water

Be physically active

Eat breakfast every day

7J had some brilliant ideas for getting more physical activity into your school day. Ideas included joining a sports club at school, walk quickly up the stairs to Latin, play ‘partner tag’ in the quad, jump up the science stairs, play hide and seek around school, walk or cycle to school, bounce on your trampoline at home (if you have one).

7L, 7M and 7K made their own layered salads in a jar, representing the correct proportions of a balanced diet.

Year 9 prepared chicken taquitos which are a colourful and healthy Mexican street food dish. Students said they were delicious and would definitely make them again. We have shared the recipe for you to try at home.

Chicken Taquitos - serves 4


1 tablespoon oil for frying

1 small onion, sliced

1 red pepper, sliced

½ teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon chilli powder

2 skinless chicken breasts

4 corn tortillas (or any tortilla)

Grated cheddar

Shredded lettuce

Soured cream


1 small avocado, cut into fine dice

1 lime

1 tablespoon red onion (finely chopped)

6 cherry tomatoes (finely chopped)

Chopped pickled jalapenos (optional)

Chopped coriander


To make the salsa, dice the avocado, squeeze over half the juice of the lime, finely chop the red onion, tomatoes, jalapenos and coriander and mix all the ingredients with a pinch of salt

To make the taquitos, finely slice the onion and peppers then heat a splash of oil in a pan. Fry on a medium/high heat until softened and slightly golden. Stir in the cumin and chilli powder and cook for a minute. Slice the chicken into thin strips and add to the pan. Cook until slightly golden brown and cooked through (about 5 minutes)

Lay out the tortillas and divide the chicken mix down the middle. Top with grated cheese and roll up into fat cigar shapes

Wipe the pan out with a paper towel and heat a little more oil. Add the tortillas and fry on both sides until crisp and golden. To serve, put a pile of lettuce on a plate. Sit a taquito on top then dollop with salsa, drizzle with soured cream and serve with the lime wedges. Scatter some coriander over to finish


23 May

Breaking the fast

One of five main messages of the British Nutrition Foundation’s Healthy Eating Week this year is to encourage teenagers to eat a nutritious breakfast every day. This advice is hardly new, and we all know that a good breakfast sets us up for the day and curbs the craving for less healthy snacks at break time, but there are still students who skip breakfast.

A healthy breakfast should provide around 20% of daily energy requirements and some of the nutrients the body needs for good health, such as starchy carbohydrate, fibre, B vitamins, iron and calcium. Some studies suggest that having a healthy breakfast can help to improve cognitive function and academic performance.

What is a healthy breakfast?

Depending on your preferences, a healthy breakfast could include wholegrain toast or cereals such as porridge, no added sugar muesli or Weetabix with or without fresh fruit, or perhaps you prefer scrambled or poached eggs on toast. A homemade smoothie can be a quick option for those who need to eat breakfast on the go and can be higher in fibre and lower in free sugars than fruit juice. It is a good idea to check the sugar content of many breakfast cereals as some can be as high as a cookie! As a general rule, look for cereals with 10g or less sugar per 100g (3g or less per 30g serving). It’s also important to hydrate at breakfast time; milk or water are excellent choices.

Year 7 Breakfast Café

Year 7 planned and prepared their own choice of breakfast recipes this week. French toast with fresh berries, omelettes and savoury brunch muffins were on the menu and students enjoyed setting the tables and sitting down for breakfast (even if 7K had to eat their breakfast after lunch!).

A new breakfast recipe to try:

Overnight Oats – serves 2 (recipe from BBC Food)

70g porridge oats

2 tbsp golden linseeds

2 ripe bananas

140g frozen raspberries

175g natural bio yogurt


Tip the oats and seeds into a bowl, and pour over 200ml boiling water and stir well. Add the bananas and three-quarters of the raspberries (chill the remainder), mash together, then cover and chill overnight.

The next day, layer the raspberry oats in two tumblers or bowls with the yogurt, top with the reserved raspberries and serve.

Create and Cook competition final

15 May

On Thursday 10 May, Alice and Abi (Year 9) were placed first in the Oxfordshire final of the Create and Cook competition held at Oxford Brookes University cookery school. Their menu was paella with local crayfish, asparagus and Cotswolds chorizo and a dessert of courgette and chocolate Brownie with raspberry sorbet. Alice writes about her experience of the day:

We arrived at Oxford Brookes and walked through the restaurant to our kitchen. It was all stainless steel and very professional and set up for four pairs. We put our aprons on and got our ingredients all ready and were introduced to the judges. Then, pair by pair, we went to be quizzed by the judges about our local ingredients. They were a bit apprehensive about how local paella could be, but otherwise seemed satisfied and wished us luck! 

We started cooking at 11 exactly and it was crazy right from the start. Abi started on the sorbet and I did the brownies, putting them to one side so we could serve them warm. We worked on the paella together and it was a manic blur of chorizo, stirring and sizzling. The judges were wandering around, giving us intrigued looks and asking cryptic questions which we tried to answer correctly, whilst trying not to burn the rice or trip over the photographer who had a habit of coming up behind us to photograph whatever we were doing. After a very manic last five minutes of plating up as neatly as possible, an hour and a half was up and we could relax… Sort of.

We were welcomed into the restaurant area by a lovely plate of sandwiches which we nervously ate, at the same time straining to hear what the judges were saying just out of earshot. After lunch, it was back to the kitchen to tidy up and then we were called outside to hear the results. We listened nervously as the judges critiqued the other pairs (quite harshly at times) and grew more and more nervous until they came to us. It was the head judge who delivered our feedback, telling us that we'd quashed his paella fears and that it was delicious, and asked for our brownie recipe on behalf of his daughter. Then, after a very suspenseful silence we were announced the winners! A great day was topped off by our goody bags, which included a cookbook, Oxfordshire honey and sauces.

Thank you very much to Mrs Woodley for helping us with the ingredients and equipment and Mrs Alpers for driving us there and for all her help and guidance throughout.

Alice, 9K

Our daily bread

3 May

Bread has been having a hard time of late and is sometimes blamed for being highly calorific and the cause of stomach upsets and bloating. Gluten, a protein found in wheat, is often cited as the cause of digestive problems, and more and more people are identifying themselves as gluten intolerant. Unfortunately, much of this advice is not backed up by evidence and some people are avoiding bread for no good reason.

What is good about bread?

It has been a staple food for thousands of years and if made with wholegrains adds a good amount of fibre to our diet. There  are well researched links between wholegrains and heart health, and bread (minus lashings of butter and mayo) is a versatile low fat, low sugar, high fibre food, which should form part of a balanced diet. By cutting out bread, you could miss out on valuable B vitamins, vitamin E, fibre and a wide range of minerals such as iron.

Why might some people be unable to eat bread?

Around 1% of the population has coeliac disease, where the immune system mistakes substances found inside gluten as a threat to the body and attacks them. Some people have a wheat allergy and would need to avoid bread made with wheat, but they can usually eat bread made with other grains.


Year 8 and 9 bread baking

This spring has seen Year 8 and 9 experimenting with bread and learning about the science behind yeast and fermentation. Year 8 students prepared a range of ‘breads from around the world’. These included focaccia and pizza from Italy, Swedish cinnamon buns and traditional pretzels.

Year 9 were treated to some delicious fresh sourdough bread in an enlightening talk given by Judith from Wild Baker. Sourdough is a bread made using the yeast naturally occurring on the flour which undergoes a long fermentation process, resulting in a deliciously tangy bread which is easier to digest than some of the modern supermarket breads we buy today. It was fascinating to see (and sniff!) some of her wild yeast starters from Egypt, San Francisco and Oxfordshire. The students were given a dried sourdough starter to take home and instructions for ‘feeding’ the yeast and bringing it back to life!

Mrs Alpers


Create and Cook - the work continues...

20 March 2018

Entries close in late March and students have been trialing their two course spring/summer themed menu in their Food and Nutrition lessons. The themes of food provenance, sustainability and seasonality are running through the course this term and students have been exploring their local farm shops, finding delicious ingredients such as smoked garlic, local cheeses, free range eggs, asparagus and Oxfordshire honey as a starting point for their recipe ideas.

Starting with the ingredient rather than the recipe is what all good chefs do and this idea is beginning to filter through to the students as they create their menus. Berry fruits have been a popular choice for dessert ideas, whilst locally reared beef and chicken have been on the menu too.

Mrs Alpers

Create and Cook competition

21 February

Cooking with local and seasonal food is the theme of ‘Create and Cook’, a competition held in Hampshire, Sussex, the Isle of Wight, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. The competition consists of creating a two-course menu using at least three local ingredients. It challenges students to learn more about the food closer to home. Cooking with local food means there is less travel to transport the food which is better for the environment.

We had to think about what local ingredients we wanted to use and decided to base our two recipes on summer grown fruit and vegetables. The main course was 'Dukkah crusted chicken', using locally-reared free-range chicken, courgettes and red pepper. The dessert we chose was blueberry, lime and ginger cheesecake, which will use locally grown blueberries. We made the ginger biscuits ourselves and chose flour from a local mill (Wessex Mill). We are having a class 'cook off' next week, and two students will be chosen to enter the Oxfordshire competition.

In theory lessons we learnt about how good chefs choose the best ingredients as a starting point, then they base their dishes on these ingredients, rather than choosing the recipe first. We also learnt about food provenance, sustainability and seasonality.

It was quite difficult to find locally grown fruits and vegetables in winter, but some students found honey, local cheese, free range eggs and smoked garlic which they used in their recipes.

We have included our dessert recipe as well as Holly and Sophie's chicken recipe for you to try at home.

Blueberry, lime and ginger cheesecakes (Georgie and Anna Y9)


10 ginger biscuits (such as ginger nuts i.e. not the thin ones) crushed

25g unsalted butter, melted

150g full-fat cream cheese

Finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed lime plus extra to decorate

150ml double cream

8 tbsp blueberry jam plus extra to serve (optional)


  1. Put the biscuit crumbs into a small bowl and pour over the melted butter. Fork together until the crumbs have absorbed all the butter. Divide the mixture into four portions and spoon each of these into a martini glass or tumbler. Pat down gently to compress the crumbs and make a firm base for the cheesecakes. Transfer to the fridge.
  2. Put the cream cheese, lime zest and double cream into a large mixing bowl and mix gently until the cream and cream cheese are just combined. Add the blueberry jam and gently stir it through the mixture so it is ripple through with swirls but not fully blended.
  3. Remove the glasses from the fridge and divide the cheesecake mixture between them. Chill for a minimum of one hour, or overnight, before serving.
  4. Decorate with lime zest and a dollop of extra jam to serve if desired.

Jamie Oliver’s Golden Chicken (Sophie and Holly Y9)

Locally grown foods: spinach, peas and free range chicken.



800g potatoes

3 onions

Olive oil

1 organic chicken stock cube

½ a bunch of fresh sage

100ml single cream

30g Parmesan cheese


4 x 120g skinless higher-welfare chicken breasts

A few sprigs of fresh rosemary

2 rashers of higher-welfare smoked streaky bacon


200g baby leeks

200g baby spinach

200g frozen peas


  1. Scrub the potatoes clean, finely slice in the processor or by hand, then tip into the medium pan and cover with boiling water and the lid.
  2. Peel the onions, finely slice in the processor or by hand, then tip into the roasting tray with 2 tablespoons of oil, crumble in the stock cube and season with sea salt and black pepper.
  3. Tear in the sage leaves and stir regularly, adding a splash of water if they start to catch.
  4. On a large sheet of greaseproof paper, toss the chicken with salt, pepper and the rosemary leaves, then fold the paper over and bash and flatten the chicken to 1.5cm thick with a rolling pin.
  5. Put into the frying pan with 1 tablespoon of oil, turning after 3 or 4 minutes, until golden and cooked through.
  6. Drain the potatoes well in a colander, then tip into the onion pan, stir together and arrange in a flat layer. Pour over the cream, then finely grate over the Parmesan and pop under the grill on the top shelf.
  7. Halve the leeks lengthways, rinse under the tap, then finely slice. Put into the empty lidded pan on a high heat with 1 tablespoon of oil, stirring often.
  8. Finely slice the bacon and add to the chicken pan, tossing regularly.
  9. Stir the spinach and peas into the leeks and once the spinach has wilted and the peas are tender, pile on a board or platter with the chicken and bacon on top. Serve with the gratin.

Swap that chocolate bar for these power-packed treats!

8 February

The challenge for the Year 9 cooking club was to find a sweet, but nutritious snack as an alternative to the ‘empty calories’ found in chocolate or cookies. It is true that dried fruit contains sugar, but because it is bound together with fibre it takes longer for your body to digest, releasing the sugars more slowly than ‘free’ or added sugars. Fibre also has the advantage of making you feel full and some dried fruits, such as apricots are a good source of iron. 46% of teenage girls in the UK consume less than the lower recommended nutrient intake of iron, so it is important that if you don’t eat red meat, you consider other sources of iron, such as fortified cereals, wholegrain bread and nuts such as cashews.

Sienna chose to make Raw Mango and Coconut Bites, a recipe by Madeleine Shaw, which were high in fibre, but low in added sugar. These are very easy to make if you have a food processor and they looked and tasted great, but as they are still rather sweet we thought that one or two would be enough! If you dislike coconut, you can replace it with ground almonds, but remember that any snack containing nuts is more suitable out of school, as St Helen's is nut free.


200g dried mango

Grated zest of 1 lime

180g desiccated coconut

2 Tbsp coconut oil

1tsp freshly grated ginger

A pinch of salt

2Tbsp sesame seeds, plus extra for rolling


  1. Soak the mango in a bowl of water for half an hour, then drain.
  2. Place the mango and the rest of the ingredients in a food processor and blend until fully combined.
  3. Mold the mixture into 5cm balls and roll each one in sesame seeds until fully covered. Refrigerate until firm.

Shivani baked these Oat, Coconut and Apricot Bars, adapted from a Deliciously Ella recipe, which were a fruitier and less sweet version of a flapjack. In Ella’s recipes she replaces sugar with alternatives such as honey, agave syrup or rice syrup. It is worthwhile noting that these still count as ‘free’ or ‘added’ sugars, but this recipe relies more on the natural sweetness of dried apricots, which are high in fibre and a good source of vitamin A, iron and potassium. Coconut oil has received a lot of marketing hype recently, but it actually contains more saturated fat than butter, so it should be eaten in moderation.

Shivani said she enjoyed the flavour of these oat bars, but they were a little dry so you might need to add another tablespoon of coconut oil or honey if the mixture is too crumbly. 


250g soft dried apricots, plus a handful extra for chunks

210g porridge oats

45g desiccated coconut

2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

2 tablespoons rice syrup or honey

Pinch of salt


  1. Preheat your oven to 170 o C and line a baking sheet with baking parchment.
  2. Put 3/4 of the dried apricots in a food processor along with the coconut oil, oats, rice syrup or honey, desiccated coconut and salt – blend until completely combined. Once combined, add the last 1/4 of dried apricots and give another very quick whizz to make nice chunks.
  3. Transfer the mixture to the baking tray and press down very well, making sure it is all evenly spread – I use half the baking sheet to make thicker bars.
  4. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until golden. Once baked, remove from the oven and cool down for 15-20 minutes before cutting into bars.