Lifestyle: Foodie Highlights of 2016

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-of-2016Food 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.

 photo Beetroot Black Pudding Salad 2_zpsq5tslwoj.jpg photo Beetroot Black Pudding Salad 3_zps5eq9xeis.jpg photo Beetroot Risotto 2_zpsffbszj6d.jpg

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.

 photo Date Night 12_zpselppf3gj.jpg photo Date Night 14_zpsodyvjv1p.jpg

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.

 photo Mac amp Wild Restaurant Review 6_zpstwyntjax.jpg photo Burgers and Cocktails Review Brighton 5_zps8hj9ltnn.jpg photo Burgers and Cocktails Review Brighton 1_zps0y4a8vum.jpg

Burgers!

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?!

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!

Couldn’t resist another pizza date!

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.

Of course, I’ve been making my own to. Turns out black pudding on pizza is a real winner!

Getting Over My Fish Fear

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!

 photo Nutella Stuffed Giant Cookie 6_zps62l0aavy.jpg photo Nutella Stuffed Giant Cookie 9_zps7ukewio1.jpg photo Smores Brownie 18_zpsv8bx5oqr.jpg

Other Worthy Mentions

There’s been far too many good eats this year to fit into this posts, but several do deserve a mention. Eating a crumpet topped with a poached egg at Tiny Tim’s (genius). My dad’s Malteaser Blondies. The perfect Bonfire Night snack of S’mores Brownies.  A Peanut Butter Bakewell Tart that was wonderfully instagrammable. And a gloriously gooey nutella-stuffed cookie dough dessert. Oh, and it wouldn’t be me talking about my favourite foods if it didn’t include mac’n’cheese. Almost my ultimate comfort food (risotto edges just ahead), I’m constantly looking for different recipes. I’ve tried healthier versions, I’ve added cauliflower and even created a beer’n’bacon mac

What’s been your foodie highlight of 2016?

 

Recipe: Ultimate Cheese Toastie

I know. I know exactly what you’re thinking.

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.

cheese-toastieThis 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.

 photo Ultimate Cheese Toastie 8_zpsahdwsuwl.jpg photo Ultimate Cheese Toastie 5_zpsysupz1ml.jpgThen 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.

 photo Ultimate Cheese Toastie 3_zpsvo7x4hox.jpgIngredients

  • 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!

 photo Ultimate Cheese Toastie 12_zpspid8zyjp.jpgIt’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?

Recipe: S’mores Brownies

Yup, S’mores brownies. I’ll pause for a second to let that sink in.

smores-browniesS’mores brownies. Super fudgy chocolate brownies (with milk chocolate chips, because chocolate), baked on a digestive biscuit crust and topped with toasted mini marshmallows.

S’mores have been a major love of mine since my Girl Guide days. Contrary to popular belief, we never went camping camping, and our weekly base was in the town centre. That didn’t stop us having fire pits in the church-hall courtyard, and s’mores always made an appearance. We tended to go for the easy option of setting fire to toasting marshmallows and sandwiching between chocolate-covered digestive biscuits, though I’ve since discovered that spreading digestives with nutella is a rather delicious alternative. These brownies pretty much recreate those s’mores, but in a bigger and slightly more convenient way for eating in a ladylike fashion.

 photo Smores Brownie 3_zpsblhgp7ea.jpg photo Smores Brownie 6_zpsvzlee95q.jpgI was originally invited by The Co-Op to do some spooky Halloween-themed baking, but a migraine put an end to that so we compromised on Bonfire Bakes instead – just as well as the marshmallows instead the box were crying out for a flame and some chocolate. With the inclusion of a free-from brownie mix, we set about recreating one of our favourite Autumnal treats.

The buttery biscuit base of these s’more brownies  is crispy and crumbly – and the flakes of sea salt running through (which was originally a total accident, I meant to grab the finely milled stuff) break things up, stopping it from being too sweet. Whilst we used a mix for the brownie layer, you could easily use any of your favourite recipes (even lighten it up with my lower-fat mayonnaise brownies – old post alert!). Last year W first created a s’more brownie and added a good measure of whisky to the brownies before baking, definitely worth a try… You underbake the brownies, even more so than usual, popping a good layer of mashmallows and then baking for a few minutes longer. If you liked the scorched effect, pop under the grill or a blowtorch for a few seconds too. Yum.

 photo Smores Brownie 1_zpshdmpguq3.jpg photo Smores Brownie 19_zpskt1ljroc.jpgIngredients

  • For the crust: 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, 8 digestives, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1/3 teaspoon sea salt flakes
  • For the brownies: use your favourite recipe designed for a 20cm square pan
  • A bag of mini marshmallows (around 100-150g)

To make the crust: Preheat the oven to 160°C and line an 20x20cm pan. Melt the butter in a small pan. Crush the biscuits (I find using a mini food processor the quickiest and tidiest way, though bashing with a rolling pin will always be a great stress reliever!), then mix with the sugar and salt. Pour in the melted butter and stir until well combined. Pour into the lined pan, and press evenly along the bottom and sides – the amounts here make for quite a thin base, but increase the proportions if you want more of a crunch. Bake for around 18-20 minutes until lightly golden and staring to crisp. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.

To make the brownies: Increase the oven temperature to 180°C and prepare the brownie layer. As I said, we were lazy and used a mix but just go for your favourite recipe, adding whisky if you fancy. Pour the batter over the crust and spread out evenly. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes depending on how gooey you like your brownies.

To make the marshmallow layer: Leave the oven on. Arrange the marshmallows over the top of the part-baked brownies. Continue to bake for 5 or so minutes, until the marshmallows are melted and light brown on top and the brownies are cooked to your liking. If you fancy the more charred marshmallow taste, grill or blowtorch for another minute. Just be careful if blowtorching – a quote from W: “I didn’t notice it was on fire…”

 photo Smores Brownie 13_zps3hwewmjj.jpg photo Smores Brownie 10_zpscwioytzb.jpgThese really are utterly delicious – sweet, sticky and insanely moreish. We’ve pretty much decided that making these will become a little bit of a Bonfire night tradition, as will wrapping them up and taking them with us to watch a local fireworks display. S’mores brownies. I want s’more right now…

What’s your favourite Autumnal treat? Did you celebrate Bonfire Night?

Recipe: My Ultimate Homemade Pizza Base

I love me a pizza. Franco Manca is becoming a date-night favourite when I meet W from his studio, and having The Dynamo a whopping 3 minute walk away is down-right dangerous. The good news? I’ve finally perfected my perfect at-home pizza base. Not only does it taste great, it’s super easy to make, fitting in around our schedule and making homemade pizza all too easy on a work night.

 photo Pizza Dough_zpswwofx8v6.jpgIt does “take a while” but in all honesty there’s hardly any hands-on work. The vast majority of the time involves bunging it in the fridge and forgetting about it – the actual prep you could do in the morning or (if you’re more sleep-inclined) the night before. If you want to me majorly organised then you could even go as far as part-cooking the bases in advance and freezing. Now that’s given me the idea of holding a pizza party…

The slow-rise is essential for creating an almost sourdough-flavoured base. It’s puffed up, slightly crisp on the base, and soft and chewy. This is not your takeaway American-style base, it’s not ‘deep-pan’ and it’s not ‘thin and crispy.’ It’s proper, pillowy, Italian homemade pizza. Maybe not ovely authentic, but it tastes good and fits in with my lifestyle. Basically, it’s a big thumbs up from me. Here I’ve showcased two toppings. One is my Spicy Lamb, perfect for leftover Sunday roast meat. The second is a fresher take on my Black Pudding & Goat’s cheese, using less meat, more cheese and a little courgette to lighten things up. Leaving the black-pudding off and going courgette+cheese (+fresh basil if I have any) is also super good. And my go-to comfort food pizza option? Red pepper pesto and chorizo slices is always a winner!

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 300g strong white bread flour
  • 6g salt
  • 3g dried yeast
  • 200ml water (warm, but not too hot)

 photo Ultimate Homemade Pizza Dough 2_zpstz8qclr6.jpgPut the flour, salt and yeast into a large bowl, and then pour in 150ml of warm water. Stir the wateruntil a rough ball forms, then bring it together with your hands. The dough will be sticky, and you will get messy and annoyed with it. Sorry!

Knead the dough. I like to alternate between normal kneading and stretching it in the air, over and over again. You should end up with a smooth, not-so-sticky dough after around 10 minutes. Once you get to this (or even before if you feel like your arms are about to fall off, or you need to run and get to work on time) place the into a clean and well-floured bowl, cover the bowl with clingfilm and throw in the fridge.

After around 10 hours (i.e. when you get in from work), the dough should have doubled in size. Gently press all the air out of the dough using your hands, adding in a little flour if it’s still super-sticky. Split into two, and on a floured work surface press out a section of the dough into a rough circle. I tend to do this by hand rather than use a rolling pin (mainly to save on the washing up) – again I tend to do it up in the air, letting the weight of the dough stretch it out. Lay the dough on a floured surface and then begin to work on the second piece. After this, the first will have had chance to rest, you can stretch it again – you want super-thin sections, but also a thicker ‘crust’ around the edge. Repeat with the second piece.

Heat up a large, dry non-stick frying pan over a medium heat, and then carefully lay in one pizza base at a time. Cook the bases for 2-3 minute per side. Each side of the base should be a pale biege colour, with a few dark brown spots – I cook at a slightly lower temperature for longer just to get the base a little crispier, but if you prefer a stronger “wood-fired” flavour and texture then cook for less over a high heat. Repeat for the other base.

Add on any toppings, and then cook the pizzas for 5-7 minutes in an oven at 220 degrees. I’ve discovered that 1tbsp of creme fraiche mixed with black pepper and a small amount of parmesan makes for a divine topping, but for these black-pudding pizzas I simply spread with goat’s cheese to form a ‘sauce.’ You definitely don’t want the toppings to outshine the base here!

 photo Ultimate Homemade Pizza Dough 1_zpsaecak4qz.jpgAnd that’s is, perfect homemade pizza for two. Multiply up the quantities for more, freeze half of the dough (either shaped and part-cooked or just as it is) or one. And if you’re holding a pizza party? Part-cook, stack with greaseproof and keep in an air-tight container until the evening – then serve with a vast array of toppings. I’m thinking different pestos, meats, veg, maybe even the mac’n’cheese pizza topping I came across recently…

What’s your favourite pizza topping? Are you a fan of homemade pizza?

Recipe: Red Wine Braised Ox Cheeks

There’s few things I dislike about Autumn. Spiders are one of them (I HATE the things, some of the monsters in the Lake District were certainly scream-inducing!), and my craving for comfort food is another. It’s not that I don’t love Autumnal food. I do. It’s just that so often it takes a good few hours to cook, and that’s just not possible after work. So I stick to quicker things, dinners far less comforting, and get grumpy as a result.

 photo Ox Cheeks_zpsxujzazec.pngAll that’s changed.

Thanks to Debenhams, I’m now the proud owner of a pressure cooker*. And it makes stews in around half an hour. Add in the chopping, a bit of frying, thickening the sauce and making the mash/dumplings and you’ve got a heart bowl of comforting food in well under an hour. Boom.

 photo Ox Cheeks in Red Wine 9_zpsndjrtnxv.jpg photo Ox Cheeks in Red Wine 1_zpsywqzxyuj.jpg photo Ox Cheeks in Red Wine 3_zps0plqwrqr.jpgI have to admit, the pressure cooker scared me at first. This is by far and away the most technical bit of cooking equipment I have ever used. The strict safety warnings made me worry I was going to create something explosive. It just looks intimidating. It makes horrendous noises when letting the pressure out at the end of cooking. It took us no less than four attempts to do the ‘initial steam’ before first use. But it was worth it.

Boy, was it worth it. By cooking Ox Cheek in a pressure cooker we were able to break down the tough meat quickly, with the result so meltingly tender we divided it up with a spoon.Cheeks are a budget cut of meat (ours worked out at around £1.50 for a massive portion) that are made for slow cooking, and using a pressure cooker cuts this time down massively – I reckon this would take at least five hours normally. We cooked a whole cheek weighing half a kilo and that needed just over an hour to break down, cut into pieces you could do it in 30. Then there’s the sauce. So, so good. The braising gravy is infused with so much tasty flavour and then pureed (my new favourite trick!) to transform into a thick, glossy sauce that coats the meat, soaks into mash and begs to be mopped up with bread or just slurped with a spoon. I have no shame when it comes to gravy like this.

 photo Ox Cheeks in Red Wine 2_zps7u5mttki.jpgIngredients (Served two greedy people with leftovers)

  • 3 tbsp oil, separated
  • 1 large ox cheek (around 500g)
  • 1 onion
  • 3 celery sticks
  • 3 carrot
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1½ tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1½ tsp mustard
  • 400ml beef stock
  • 125ml red wine (we went for the cheapest Sainsbury’s had)
  • plenty of black pepper and salt, to season

Prepare the beef cheek: cut off any large, fatty membrane. Pat dry then cover with plain flour (seasoned with salt and pepper). Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Sear the beef cheek on each side until nicely browned.

 photo Ox Cheeks in Red Wine 4_zpszvubq49w.jpgTurn down the heat to medium and heat the remaining  oil. Add the onion and carrots. Sauté for 3 minutes until the onion isstarting to soften, then add the celery and garlic and continue to sauté for another 3 minutes. Pop the veg mixture into the cooker and place the beef cheek on top. Pour the wine into the frying pan and return to heat. Turn the heat up to high, bring to boil and let bubble for 1 minute whilst scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour the wine into the cooker, then all the remaining ingredients and season well.

Close up the pressure cooker, following all instructions, then cook on ‘high’ for around 1 hour – we used the ‘Stew’ setting on our cooker. When done, release the pressure and leave until ready to open before testing the meat. If the meat doesn’t fall apart when pressed with a spoon, give it a little longer.

Open the cooker and ladle out around half the veg. Discard any thyme stems and bay leaves. Use a blender to puree the veg, then add back to the cooker and stir well – it should thicken the sauce well. If it’s still a little thin, puree a bit more veg, if it’s too thin add a little stock or some water. Taste taste and season if necessary, then serve with mash and plenty of green vegetables.

 photo Ox Cheeks in Red Wine 6_zpsfdkqtp3e.jpgIn just over an hour we had a gorgeous comforting meal on the table, and having played around with the pressure cooker a little more we figured out cutting the meat up would give us the chance of cooking a stew in under 30 minutes. Can’t get better than that!

What’s your favourite comfort food? Have you tried using a pressure cooker?