Just a quick note from me to say I’m now signing off until the New Year.
If I’m honest, the last month or so has exhausted me. I’ve been emotional and teary, and quite frankly a joy to live with. I’ve tried to do far too much, overworked myself in my career, my study, my blog. I’ve set the bar for myself too high and the beaten myself up when I ‘failed.’
I desperately need to recharge my batteries.
I have a whole fortnight off work. I’ve cut down the studying I planned to do (see, too much of a control freak to let myself have proper time off!). I’ve swiped my blog schedule clean. As of 1pm on Friday I’m officially out of the office, and will at least reserve a few days for total rest and relaxation.
The plan is to catch up on some zzz’s. Eat far too much food. Drink lots of wine. Catch up with friends and family. I might be feeling more unfestive than I ever have before, but I’m also looking forward to this Christmas period more than I can remember.
So to all my lovely readers, have an absolutely lovely Christmas, a very merry New Year, and I will see you (hopefully refreshed and replenished!) in 2017! x
One of the things I really love about blogging is the online community. I love being a part of it, and I’m hoping to see more of some of my favourite London bloggers over the next few months. Over 2016 there’s been a lot of ups and downs – there’s been drama, there’s been accusations. There’s been bitches about PRs, PRs bitching back. There’s been a huge move towards only “full-time” bloggers being seen as dedicated (something I’ve personally been a part of). But there’s also been some amazing positive moments. There’s been my favourite bloggers going viral, winning competitions, being invited to work with their all-time top brands, achieving personal goals.
And I for one think the quality of the blogging world has gone up drastically. Not too long ago I would scroll through my BL feed a bit absent-mindedly. Now there’s SO many posts which grab me that I need to read. So much inspiration out there. Here’s just a few of my favourite blog posts of 2016…
Little Miss Katy
I’ve loved Katy’s blog since she started it. Her writing style is like one big, happy chat and her images are stunning. She’s had a bit of a re-brand this year and now her Instagram makes me despise mine. For longer than I remember she’s been writing a Happy Monday post and it’s something I always look forward to (I’m not a Monday person) – and in November she asked for people to contribute via social media. She got a massive response and the resulting post was ridiculously uplifting.
I also am forever grateful to her Instagram Editing Guide – I can finally get away with taking photos of buildings and fixing the dodgy angles!
One of my favourite foodie bloggers, Miss Pond does easily achievable recipes you can actually see yourself making. One of my favourites of this year has been her Squash & Sausage Pasta – made with chorizo sausages it’s slightly spicy, super warming, quick and just yum. We usually skip the cheese (bar the compulsory grating or parmesan) but even then it’s becoming a regular. So many more recipes to try too…her Game Ragu looks delicious, and Fish Curry so comforting and fragrant.
I’m hoping to post my version of her pasta recipe linked above so keep an eye out!
I can’t remember when I first starting reading Bumpkin Betty, but I know I loved reading about her November wedding – her posts weren’t long after I got engaged and her style was just so unique. More recently she’s posted about re-wearing her wedding dress, something I am totally aiming at in some way or another. She’s also a pretty fab food blogger, running a monthly baking club (which I try to take part in as often as I can) and writing about cheese.
Oh, and she’s got a bun in the oven, quite literally! I’m SO excited to see her journey into motherhood.
I have to say, I love Becky. Both her blog and style are completely unique, not to mention she has an interest in burial grounds/graveyards which I do admit I am quite fascinated by. She’s currently studying for a Masters in Death, Religion and Culture – and it sounds SO interesting. I love reading about other people’s university experiences as mine was so maths-stats-finance focussed.
Now, this Instagram post made me cry. I’d been reading Josie’s blog for a while, loving her style and sense of humour. And it was clear she was suffering badly with her cystic fibrosis at the start of this year. She’s talked about it on her blog, but it was incredible that she was so, so poorly and managed to get her transplant. She looks amazing now, you’d never think she had as-major-as-it-gets surgery over the summer.
“Friends come and go, some stay forever, some friendships happen and they’re completely unexpected.” This quote from Em’s post on friendship has really stuck in my mind since I read it. This year, having graduated and moved to another new city, friendship was a major worry. I was terrified I’d make a mess of moving in with W (we’re both still alive, so it’s clearly going well!), I was scared I’d lose the close friends I’d made at university. Her post is so honest and quite uplifting. And as for me? I’ve not only kept hold of my closest relationships, I’ve also made a whole new friendship group.
I’ve loved reading about Jen’s journey through her medical degree, and finding out she got an actual, proper job as a real doctor was such a proud moment. I’ve never met her, but I get the feeling from reading her blog that she is amazing at it. Also, didn’t she look gorgeous at her graduation ball?! I’m so jealous of her dress…
There’s been so many other blog posts I’ve loved this year. I follow a huge amount of blogs on Bloglovin and spend a good chunk of my week flicking through my feed and seeing what my favourites have been up to. It’s simply impossible for me to even list my favourite bloggers, yet alone all of the posts I’ve loved in the last year – these are just some of them!
Who are your favourite bloggers? What kind of blog posts would you like to see more of from me?
Throughout December, in an attempt to stop Christmas taking over entirely, I’m putting together a few posts to review my 2016. They’ll range from the best things I’ve eaten, to the places I’ve visited and the things I’ve bought. And of course, this one was the one I looked forward to most. The one where I deliberated the most about the entires, debated retrying things and basically umm-ed and ahh-ed about everything. That’s right, it’s the food one.
Food is a huge part of my life. I am definitely one of those people who “lives to eat” rather than eats to live. I can (and often do!) think about food most of the day. Whether it’s what to make for dinner that night, next Tuesday or on my next date night, to which restaurant I want to visit – I love food. The majority of my day dreams feature food, and probably a fair chunk of my actual overnight dreams too.
Discovering A Liking For Beetroot
This Autumn I’ve had three new food obsessions. Goat’s cheese. Butternut squash. And beetroot. All three were things I was convinced I didn’t like only a few months ago, and now there’s not a week going by when at least one of them isn’t on the menu. Risotto is obviously my go-to and works beautifully for both the squash and the beetroot (and if you want to stir in a spot of goat’s cheese, well I’m not complaining!). Whilst it’s not exactly the most attractive of dishes, beetroot risotto really hit the mark between comforting and hearty, but different and special enough for date-night. The black pudding scattered over the top might not have improved the look of the dish, but it tasted damn good – as I knew it would thanks to the salad W had whipped up the week before. Roasted beetroot, crispy fried black pudding, chunks of oozy and slightly smelly goat’s cheese, crushed walnuts and a few leaves for vitamins. Yum.
S’mores Concept Dessert
Far fancier than something I’d ever attempt, W is definitely the pastry chef in this relationship. For a cosy date night-in he made a twist on the traditional S’mores – and it was a good’un! Biscuit base, a perfect scoop of homemade chocolate and whisky ice-cream (so smooth and creamy it was more mousse-like that ice-cream), covered in Italian meringue and blowtorched for a toasted marshmallow flavour. So, so good. And the ice-cream kept me going for the next fortnight.
If you’ve read any of my posts previously, you’d have probably guessed burgers would feature highly on here. I love them – the messier and cheesier the better. I’ve made it my mission to find my ultimate burger, but I’ve had a few this year that have come close. Mac & Wild’s Venimoo was damn delicious, but it suffered due to it’s size. Burger & Cocktails was more of a fast-food kinda feel, but mac’n’cheese in a burger was an idea that deserves a prize. Plus they did the best onion rings I have ever, ever eaten. And chocolate-orange-alcoholic milkshakes. The new GBK menu also has a Camembert burger which I seriously, seriously loved.
Next on my list – Honest, Patty & Bun and Bleeker Street. Anywhere else?!
A photo posted by Chloe Ellen (@ninegrandstudent) on
Cheese, Cheese & More Cheese
2016 will be forever remembered as the year I discovered cheese. I mean, properly discovered. Before I would nibble on a little bit of (extra mature) cheddar, and maybe (at a push) a little brie. Now I’ve leap-frogged all levels of cheese and will happily eat the smelliest of blues, the ooziest of bries, the…goatiest (?!) of goat’s. I definitely blame thank France for kick-starting my love of cheese. I can’t explain how much I’m looking forward to Christmas and all the festive cheeseboards!
A photo posted by Chloe Ellen (@ninegrandstudent) on
Influx of White Pizzas
Oh, how I’m loving that “pizza bianca” is now becoming more popular here! I had so, so many tomato-free options in Rome, so to have even some of them over here is a delight. Franco Manca has become my fav after discovering them in Brighton (apparently they open in Putney early next year – I’ll be the one camping outside!). The Dynamo is a dangerous three-minute walk from my flat with a total of 3 white pizzas on the menu. I had a special the last time I visited – smoken chicken, pancetta, herbs, mushrooms, plenty of cheese, truffle. The dream pizza.
Now, I’m scared of fish. I love eating it, more often that not it’s my favourite dish on the menu. But sometimes my body just doesn’t like it. The last three times I’ve been properly sick I’ve eaten fish. And fishy sick is probably the worst kind of sick. I have no idea why it can make me so violently ill, but it definitely puts me off!
That said, I’ve been pushing myself to try cooking it a bit more and (grabs the nearest wooden object) it’s been over a year since it made me ill. I’ve perfected Jamie’s Fish Pie (solution = add more cheese). And my Chorizo-Crusted Cod was delicious!
Throughout December, in an attempt to stop Christmas taking over entirely, I’m putting together a few posts to review my 2016. The best one (favourite eats – obviously!) will be going live on Thursday but today it’s time to talk all about my fashion and beauty favourites from the year.
This was kind of a difficult post to write, really, as I can’t actually remember much about the first few months at all. Then we hit exam season and I was lucky if I found time to moisturise my face, let alone put on makeup. My final-year of university saw me wear jeans more times than I think I had done in my entire life. Then I started work. My makeup is in a bit of a rut and I alternate between suits and pyjamas. All that said, this has been the year I’ve really experimented with foundation. I’ve found two of my all-time favourite lipsticks. I bought a graduation dress I love. My workwear wardrobe is perfect for both my corporate profession and my style. And I’m slowly, slowly updating my hairstyle.
Trying to grow out shorter, choppier layers is a slow process. So is going from a side parting to a centre one. It’s leaving me with some horrific hair days, but slowly they are becoming less frequent. When I have a REALLY good hair day it’s obvious. Take last Friday for instance. Randomly my third day hair looked pretty much perfect. Curls, volume, falling just right. I had so many compliments and it made my day. Saturday evening, on the other hand, it was horrific. Though to be fair I had walked in the wind and rain around the park (twice) waiting for the dog to do his business…
Next step is to figure out what I’m doing with the colour. I love coppery tones, but trying to keep it that colour is so difficult. Especially as L’Oreal seems intent on discontinuing any shades I grow to love.
Best Beauty Bits
I’ve picked up quite a few favourite bits and pieces this year. I’ve found a range of haircare that my hair seems to love and which doesn’t upset my bank balance (Dove, FYI, full review to come at some point). I picked up my go-to foundation, though I’m still on the hunt for one which may make the cut for my wedding day makeup. I’ve found my perfect bold lip in the form of MAC Diva. I’ve finally found a concealer that will hide my under-eye circles.
The Christmas Dresses
For the past five years (and I say that a little red-faced) I’ve worn the exact same dress at Christmas; a plum jumper dress. Warm and cosy and forgiving on the tummy department, it was my safe option. And I’d never found the perfect Christmas dress. Something festive yet comfortable, smart enough to feel special but casual enough to roll about on the floor with the dog.
This year, I’ve found two.
The first I came across back in October, spying it on the rack in Next. In all sizes but the one I needed. I stalked their website for weeks, made trips on a twice-weekly basis to the five stores within walking distance from work. And it finally appeared one day. It fits perfectly, is SO comfy and makes me feel super slim (even after Bill’s Mac’n’Cheese on Sunday!). It’s the perfect length, feeling sassy yet demure enough for Christmas morning church.
The second is my work-party dress* – and I’m not sneak peak on here as I’d sooner keep the whole outfit under wraps until then! For the price I think it’s excellent quality, and it looks smart enough for the office under a black jacket. It’s quite different to what I would usually go for (bodycon is not my thing!) but the lace means it doesn’t look too clingy. I’m looking forward to pairing it with my new KoKo Couture Clutch* (another bargain, though deceptively small), a red lip and heels. Quiz have some lovely things in right now – and so much is in the sale too!
I actually felt really stressed about finding a dress to wear for my graduation ceremony. I wanted it to fit (seeing as most of my clothes at the time were pre-weight loss). I wanted it to reflect my personality (i.e. it needed to be floral). I wanted something classic, something I’d be happy to wear again, but equally something special and not “every-day.” I was lucky; I decided on the first dress I tried. And I loved it.
A photo posted by Chloe Ellen (@ninegrandstudent) on
One thing I’ve discovered and LOVED this year is cord pinafores. Practical (because who doesn’t love pockets?!), warm and cosy and so easy to wear, my favourite are the Topshop ones. Pricey but I’ve found they wash extremely well, and the halter-neck style of straps is more flattery than some of the other styles. I’ve got one in burgundy and one in black – worn with either a jumper or a stripy t-shirt I could probably live in them!
They also hide food babies extremely well. Win win!
Oh, yep, just a little one here! Way back in May, before we’d set a date and a massive 2.5 years before our wedding, I put down a deposit on my dress. I’m lucky enough to be getting a bespoke design from a British designer and I’m SO excited to be part of the process. Eeek!
So yep, it’s been a pretty good (and hugely expensive!) year shopping-wise. Next on my list is to find a pair of work trousers I feel comfortable in, and the perfect pair of pointed ankle boots. Wish me luck!
Hands up who else can’t believe how quickly December crept up on us?! These past two weeks have been pretty full-on again. Lots of celebrating, an awful lot of food, more than a little cheeky shopping and cramming in study whenever I could too. I’m SO looking forward to a few weeks off over Christmas and New Year now, I seriously need to recharge my batteries!
Here’s what’s been making me happy recently…
Birthdayyyyy! I turned 23 at the beginning of the month and had a lovely, lovely chilled few days celebrating.
Mulled cider. My favourite winter-y tipple, there’s a pub in Leadenhall Market that does this perfectly.
A new Kindle. My parents treated me for my birthday. I’m so, so grateful and it was sorely needed after mine decided to die a slow and painful death over November.
Getting positive feedback on my first assignment. Yes, I failed it, but it was clear I’d mis-read a question and I know exactly where I need to work on. Feeling motivated now!
Honest burgers. Again. I met one of my besties after work and it was DELISH!
The best eggs I’ve eaten. Ever. The yolk porn was insane.
Seeing The Lion King. It was just amazing. I cried.
Spending a fortune (worth of gift cards!) on New Look. I’m just hoping it all fits…
Making new blog friends. I headed over to a Co-Op and Sorted Food event last week and met Tanya for the first time. We drank too much prosecco and had a ball.
Ginger, Orange & Chocolate Cookies. My new favourite treat.
I’m not quite sure what it is about this Christmas, but I’m looking forward to it more than I have done in a while!
I’m normally a bit of a scrooge. I hate Christmas songs playing in the shops from mid-October, hate how busy things are, and I can’t stand the smell of mince pies. Yet this year I threw on Heart Christmas (my new fav radio station), my festive jumper and begged to put the tree up on the 1st December. I think it’s a combination of working full-time (and having two weeks off over Christmas, roll on 5pm on the 23rd!) and it being my first Christmas living with W – it just feels so magical and exciting!
We picked up our tree a few weeks ago – getting a bit of a bargain in the process. It’s a 7fter – tall, but as it’s a “slim” tree it fits quite nicely in it’s designated corner and doesn’t overwhelm the room. It’s box is also pretty compact. A bit of a relief, really, considering I wasn’t thinking and ordered it to store. In the City. Trust me, getting a Christmas tree home on the Tube isn’t the easiest of tasks…
Our colour scheme is a *little* confused this year, as we didn’t want to fork out for a load of new baubles. Turns out a certain someone had forgotten about playing “indoor cricket” last January with wrapping paper and tree decorations, so quite a few hadn’t survived. It was a case of mum to the rescue, and she treated us to a gorgeous box of rose-gold baubles. I’m hoping to ditch all of the red decorations next year and go full-on copper-y colours.
I’ve also invested in decent wrapping paper (it’s not just wrapping paper, it’s Marks & Spencer wrapping paper…), I’ve gotten all my presents bought and wrapped wayyyy ahead of time. Last year we were frantically wrapping on Christmas Eve, so this isn’t like me at all!
Of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas without trying out some of Costa’s festive drinks. I found the Toasted Marshmallow Hot Chocolate insanely sweet, to the point of having a headache about half an hour later – though the glittery marshmallows almost made up for it! The Orange Hot Choc, however, is by far my favourite. So yum. We also indulged in some of their Christmas foodie items. We were a little let down by the Pigs in Blankets Panini – it only being sausages and bacon rather than an actual pig in blanket. Better was the Christmas Dinner Toastie, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
(My work canteen does an actual Pigs in Blanket panini, for less than my lunch allowance. It’s so, so good. Very dangerous, I had three this week!)
Now all I need to do is find me an advent calendar and catch up on all the chocolate I haven’t eaten!
You don’t need a recipe for a cheese toastie. You just make a cheese sandwich, butter the outside and fry. And you’d be right. And it’d be nice. Just nice. Fine. It’d do, it would fill a hole, it would go well with a bowl of soup.
This isn’t a cheese toastie you’d want to dip in your soup. This is the ultimate in cheese toasties. The cheese toastie that I wasn’t going to blog about, but it was so damn bloody good that I couldn’t resist. This is the kind of cheese toastie I was still talking about a good week later. The cheese toastie that makes you wonder why you ever ate a plain one in the first place.
First of all there’s the fact that it’s perfectly, perfectly cooked. A perfectly cooked toastie is golden and crisp, with molten gooey cheese that spills out. After far too many burnt toasties, toasties with rubbery cheese, toasties that were pale and flabby – I turned to Jamie. I slowed the process down. Even just doing this method with basic cheese isn’t a quick five minute snack. You have to cook the first side slowly on a low heat until crisp. Then flip and do the same to the other. Then pop in the oven. It’s worth the wait.
Then there’s the flavours. It’s packed with cheese. Sliced mature cheddar makes up the bulk, a grating of parmesan adds sharpness. There’s a whack of heat from the mustard. A creaminess from mayonnaise – which spread thinly is my must-have in any cheese toastie. It just adds that extra level of flavour, texture and richness that nothing else can. Then the best bit. My quick onion chutney. It’s my new favourite thing. (I have a lot of new favourites right now!) It’s sweet and sharp, soft in texture and ridiculously easy to make. It’s gorgeous stirred into pasta with goat’s cheese. Great with pate. And wonderful in a cheese toastie. The quantities here make enough for two toasties – but it keeps well in the fridge for a week or so, and I imagine you could pile it into sterilised jars too. Maybe. I’m not quite domesticated enough for that.
Now, a quick word about the cheese. The cheddar needs to be strong, it needs to be mature. It needs to be sliced (grated melts too quickly, then goes greasy). My favourite at the moment is the Wyke Farm one in the green packaging. So strong, quickly crumbly and just yum.
So my ultimate cheese toastie? Good bread (I only regret the plastic sandwich slide in these pictures!). Mayo. Mustard. Duo of cheeses. Lots of the cheese. A good helping of onion chutney. Fry gently. Bake. Serve.
2 slices of good bread
Mature cheddar, sliced – enough slices to cover a slice of bread
A small handful of grated parmesan
1 tsp mayonnaise
1 tsp mustard
Plenty of butter
Onion chutney – knob of butter, 1 red onion, 1 garlic clove, pinch of thyme, salt, pepper 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp honey
Start by making the chutney – at least an hour in advance. Thinly slice the onion. Peel the garlic clove and cut in half. Pop both into a small pan with the butter, thyme, salt and pepper. Pop the lid on a sweat over a low heat for at least twenty minutes – you want the onions completely soft. Dig out and discard the garlic clove. Add the balsamic and honey, increase the temperature and bubble away for 5 or so minutes – until reduced and sticky. Make sure to stir and keep an eye out for burning!
Now it’s time to build your sandwich. Spread one side of bread with around half the mayo, then top with all the mustard. Lay over the slices of cheese, then spoon over the chutney. Sprinkle with parmesan. Spread the remaining mayonnaise over the over slice of bread and sandwich together (mayo on the inside). Butter the top outside of the sandwich and pop into a pan, butter-side down. Place over a low-medium heat for around five minutes.
Spread the top slice with more butter and, when the bottom is golden and crisp, flip over. Cook for around 3 minutes, then pop into the oven at 180C for around five minutes. Your toastie will be crisp, golden and oozing with cheesy goodness!
It’s a messy one, to the point I often use a knife and fork. But I can guarantee it’ll be one of the best toasties you’ll have ever eaten. It’s becoming a study day habit…
Are you a cheese fan? What would be in your ultimate cheese toastie?
November is normally one of my favourite months. It’s normally cold and crisp. I love Bonfire night; wrapping up warm to watch fireworks and scorch my face by getting too close to the flames. I love wandering around London and sniffing the first whiffs of Mulled Wine. I love buying presents, choosing wrapping paper, getting ready for Christmas. I love cosying up with a good bowl of comforting food.
This November has been different.
I’ve kept up a smile, a happy appearance (W would say differently, it’s his shoulder I cry on!). But I’ve really struggled with November this year.
I found it grey, the weather pretty miserable. Even on dry days, the biting wind of Fenchurch Street all but killed off my lunchtime strolls. I resented it being dark in the mornings and dark in the evenings, even dark during the days on one horrific Monday. I felt overwelmed with all I had to learn for my job, the amount of studying I need to do before my exam in April. I missed my university housemates, felt lonely and isolated. I felt pressured and fed up of wedding planning. I began to hate my appearance; frizzy hair, spotty and flaky skin, growing wobbly bits. All in all, it hasn’t been my best month.
It’s made me all the more grateful for the little things, the tiny bits that make me smile, make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Whether it’s ready a good blog post, understand a section in my course notes or making the perfect cup of tea (rarer that you’d think!), focusing on these has kept me from throwing the towel in and hibernating until Spring…
A photo posted by Chloe Ellen (@ninegrandstudent) on
Brunch & Babes
One grey and drizzly Sunday morning was certainly cheered up with brunch and catch-ups with some of my favourite blogging girls – and some new favourites too. We headed over to Cambridge St Kitchen for instagrammable dishes and plenty of chatting, all in celebration of Jasmin’s birthday. And it really cheered me up. I’d been feeling a little lonely over the past few weeks so it couldn’t have come at a better time!
The brunch was, we all agreed, “fine.” Nothing special, not really worth the 60+ minutes wait, bitter coffee and my toast was burnt. The cafe itself was lovely, the staff friendly if slow, and my poached eggs were yolk-porn perfection. Not bad, not great.
We followed with a ‘cake quest’ – picking up the much-hyped Cronut and then a good wander around Victoria and across the park to work at least some of it off. Verdict on the Cronut? Insanely indulgent, deceptively filling, wonderfully sweet yet balanced. November’s flavour (yep, wish I hadn’t known about the monthly flavours!) was Cherry & White Almond, and the frangipane notes work well against the sharp jam and sweet dough. I’m not convinced it’s worth the hype, but it was good. Though it hasn’t replaced my love for Co-Op doughnuts…
Moving in together means there’s little room for romance in our day-to-day lives. However right at the start of the month W surprised me with date night. He cooked a super-fancy meal, we turned off all distractions and really enjoyed each other’s company. And with him in the kitchen, I’m a lucky girl. Pan-roasted venision with celeriac puree and blackberry pan jus, followed by his S’mores concept dessert. Homemade chocolate and whisky ice-cream, buttery biscuit base, mashmallow-y meringue blow-torched to give that toasted flavour. Yum.
He also surprised me with flowers. And remembered to buy us a vase to put them in. I found a good’un!
I know I said that the month was pretty grey and miserable (and it was!), but there were some gorgeously sunny days. Every time the sun made an appearance I insisted on wrapping up warm and heading out to make the most of it – which is pretty easy when we live right next to a gorgeous little park.
I’m on the go a lot. I rarely sit down and truly relax. I work full-time. I study on the tube. I get home and exercise. I either cook or wash-up (because adulting). I either blog or study. I sleep. I get up early. Repeat.
One Saturday we made the effort to really take some time to chill out, relax and start the weekend properly. We planned to shop on Friday evening (we usually go pre-9am on Saturdays, because me and busy shops is not a good combo). We didn’t set an alarm, we had giant mugs of tea in bed, we made scrambled eggs. Separately, because he likes a firmer-set scramble, I like part-cooked softly set eggs. Bliss.
Right when Instagram is full of salads, of healthy dishes, of vegan “free-from everything” meals – I post a picture of a crisp sandwich that I had for lunch. With S’mores brownie on the side. I have no shame! In all honesty I’d been craving a crisp sandwich for months, it was the first lunchtime in a long time I was on my own, and so I indulged. White ‘plastic’ sandwich bread, proper salted butter (no of that spread nonsense), salt’n’vinegar crisps. So bad, so good. Messy, crunchy, slightly greasy and a full-on carb overload. I only regret that it’s not socially acceptable to do in the office…
And speaking of S’mores Brownie, that was a definitely highlight of November for sure… I took some wrapped up to our local Firework celebration. The perfect snack!
Stocking Up My Freezer
A few weeks back Abel & Cole offered to send me one of their new student recipe boxes*. A veggie recipe making six portions, along with potatoes and some seasonal fruit – all for £14.50. I normally think recipe boxes are a bit overpriced, but actually I’m really impressed with this one.
I originally got sent their Mushroom & Leek Risotto Box – which sounded super-yum. Unfortunately Royal Mail, ahem, royally mucked up and I only got my hands on the box a week after it was sent. I rescued what I could and made a yum potato and leek soup (plus stock up my cupboard with arborio rice) and had apples for snacks for a few days.
They then sent over their Squash Scouse (hand-delivered). And I now have it stashed away in my freezer for evenings where I just want to leave something to heat up and cosy up with a warm bowl. It made eight massive portions (and I didn’t even use all the ingredients), the veggie flavours were simple yet stunning and it is super-filling. We’ve had it on it’s own, with chicken and with spicy sausages. Yum!
Despite the greyness, the dampness, the shorter days – it’s been so lovely to get out and about and really explore some more of London. I loved wandering around Victoria with the blogging girls, I loved have a browse around Spitalfields with W – it took alllllll my willpower to ignore Bleecker Street burgers! Though my Christmas dinner toastie (cheers Costa) was pretty yum…
Have you tried any of the coffeeshops Christmas specials? What was your highlight of November?
Cliched I know, but I genuinely feel like my life is flashing by before my eyes!
This time last year I was battling my way through the final year of my degree, sobbing my heart out with each final-stage job rejection and confused as to why W was acting secretly and my mum was hardly talking to me. Fast forward to now. I graduated with a First (and by a good margin too!), got offered two graduate jobs, am working in a job I love, and I’m living in London with my fiancé. Because a secretive long-term boyfriend and a shift mum meant a proposal was in motion, of course! I look back to last November/December and I just can’t believe how much my life has changed. I’m pretty much a full blown adult!
(I say that wearing my PJs, whilst drinking a hot chocolate that’s more marshmallows than drink…)
I turned 23 yesterday and it got me thinking – I have so much I want to do, several different bucket lists, and I really should start getting them ticked off. It also made me realise that life is passing me by quickly. In under two years I’ll be married and, whilst that in itself is the start of something very exciting, I equally want to make the most of these next two years, of being engaged and of having slightly less of those big scary responsibilities!
Get married. At least I know I’ll tick something off!
Get a dog. Or at least set up a doggy share…
Be at least a little bit closer to buying a house.
Paint a painting.
Make good progress with my professional exams – finishing them is looking very unlikely unfortunately!
Volunteer. I’m planning on helping out at a ‘Supper Circle’ in the new year, cooking meals for families in need.
Go glamping. I’m not into tents, but something a bit more glamorous might be more my cup of tea…
A bit of a varied list! Who knows if I’ll be able to afford some of the bigger items, and right now I cannot imagine hosting Christmas dinner in our little flat (where would everyone go?!). But I’m going to try my damn hardest to tick as many of these off as I can before I turn 25. Note that finding a grey hair is not on the list!
Being 22 turned out to be the best year of my life, and I’m hoping the rest of my twenties continue along in the same vein! What do you want to tick off in the next few years?
I love risotto. The carbines of the rice, the creaminess of the whole dish, the cheesiness. The fact you can eat with a fork, bowl in hand, snuggled on the sofa. A bowl of risotto is my ultimate comfort food and my go-to meal if I’ve had a bad day.
And it so happens that the one bad thing about living with W is that I can’t indulge my passion for mushroom risotto. I’ve loved all things mushroom since my early teens and despite trying, nothing will convince my fiance to eat them. Rather than give up my risotto love-affair, we’ve come to the agreement that I can try numerous other recipes on him. This is the second and was the one I was most nervous about – the last time I tried butternut squash (four years ago) I hated it. I’ve pretty much avoided it, apart from in spicier soups, ever since. Now it’s my new obsession.
This butternut squash risotto is slightly different from my usual recipes in that some of the squash is blended down, which adds an extra creaminess and cuts down the need (though not my desire!) for excessive cheese. The goat’s cheese stirred through adds a savoury tang which in my opinion is completely necessary against the sweetness of the squash. The celery adds a bit of bite. The roasted squash adds texture and a different layer of flavour. And of course, it’s scattered with parmesan for that salty kick.
This meal was only made better than I timed it to perfection. It was just ready for dolloping into bowls when W walked through the flat doors AND Bake Off was just starting. Doesn’t get much better than that! It does take a little bit longer than my standard risottos, just under an hour, but that’s because of the faff that comes with prepping a squash. It’s completely worth it and standing there stirring (with wine) counts as therapy, right?!
Ingredients (for 2)
1 small butternut squash
750ml stock (we usually use chicken as I have a minor reaction to most vegetable stock cudes)
30g unsalted butter
2 celery sticks
4 garlic cloves
3 dried bay leaf
150g risotto rice
2 tsp soft goat’s cheese
parmesan to serve
Peel the squash and separate the rounded send from the slender top. Chop the slender end into 2cm cubes, toss in a little oil, season lightly and roast in the oven with two cloves of garlic (peeled and halved) at 200C, stirring occasionally, until golden brown on the outside and soft in the centre. I found this took around the same length as the risotto did to cook. Cut the fatter end in half and scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Again, chop the flesh into 2cm pieces and pop into a small pan with the stock and bay leaves. Poach on a gentle heat whilst the risotto cooks.
Finely chop the onion and celery, then fry gently in the butter until soft. Add the garlic and risotto rice and increase the heat slightly – stir constantly for around two minutes before adding a ladle of stock from the pan (try not to add any of the squash). Keep stirring until the stock is absorbed, add another ladle and repeat until the rice is almost cooked; around twenty minutes.
Discard the bay leaves and transfer the poached squash into a blender. Process until smooth, then add to the risotto along with the goats cheese. Stir to combine, season with plenty of black epper, cover and leave to rest for 4-5 minutes. Divide into bowls, scatter with the roasted squash pieces and finish with a lot of little parmesan.
This was the perfect warming dinner for a cold Autumnal night – which really took us by surprise here in London in early October! All of a sudden the balmy summer evenings were gone, I needed a scarf to walk home in, and I just made it to the flat in the light. I do love Autumn, but I also miss the lighter evenings. Still, not too long to Christmas now… #24sleepstilSanta! We also found this recipe great for using up a super-cheap pumpkin following halloween. At 30p I couldn’t resist!
What’s your ultimate cosy-night-in comfort food? Also, how on earth do I get someone to eat mushrooms?!