Recipe: Courgette & Orange Loaf Cake

I promised a recipe for this Courgette & Orange Loaf Cake a few weeks ago (when I spoke about my favourite ways to use up a courgette glut) – and here it is. In fact this is probably perfectly timed, as courgettes are still coming through, but I have noticed them starting to be a little more bitter, more ‘woolly’ and not their best. This recipe will certainly transform below-par courgettes into something delicious.

 photo Courgette Orange Loaf Cake_zps789aalfg.jpgPacked with citrus flavours (I added lemon zest as well as orange for a real zingy hit) you’d never guess this is filled with a vegetable. I mean, it’s still not a healthy cake by any means, but it is slightly less guilt-inducing! The courgette doesn’t really impact much flavour, but what it does bring to the party is an amazing texture. The loaf cake is moist and tender, but still has a good ‘cake’ feel. It’s not mushy by any means! And it also seems to taste really well, in fact it was almost even beter after a day in the fridge (I wouldn’t usually keep cakes in the fridge, but cream cheese frosting and the UK heatwave wasn’t a combination I wanted to try out!).

 photo Courgette amp Orange Loaf Cake 5_zpsn5m9gfsz.jpg photo Courgette amp Orange Loaf Cake 18_zps8bqddjvz.jpg photo Courgette amp Orange Loaf Cake 15_zpsuhv0k6uw.jpgRecipe (makes a large 900g loaf tin- though I made mine in mini-loaf tins for ease of portioning out to various offices – based on a BBC Good Food recipe)

  • 350g courgettes
  • 200g soft brown sugar
  • 125ml sunflower oil
  • 3 eggs
  • grated zest 2 oranges
  • grated zest 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp orange extract (we used Dr Oetker*)
  • 300g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Frosting – I wasn’t too impressed with my attempt at the frosting and so won’t give the recipe, but next time I’d try this recipe

Lightly oil and line a 900g loaf tin. Finely grate the courgettes (no need to peel unless the skin is particular though), then squeeze out as much liquid as you can with your hands. I also let the grated courgettes sit in a sieve, weighted with a bowl filled with baking beans, whilst I weighed everything else out.

Stir the courgettes with the sugar, oil, eggs, zest, and orange extract, then fold in the flour and baking powder. Like with banana bread it’s really important not to overmix or the texture will be doughy and not particularly cake-like. I found the mix was particularly dry and stiff, but don’t worry as the courgettes release a lot of water as the cake cooks.

Scrape the mixture into the tin and bake for 50 minutes at 180C, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean (mine needed an extra ten minutes). Remove from the tin after a few minutes, and the cool on a wire rack. Make sure the cake is completely cool before icing with your chosen frosting.

 photo Courgette amp Orange Loaf Cake 12_zpshmh8ruae.jpg photo Courgette amp Orange Loaf Cake 3_zpscup8eypb.jpgThis Courgette & Orange Loaf went down a storm when I took it into the office – it’s actually been my most popular bake and disappeared before lunch. I was very glad I’d left a slice at home for me to enjoy later or I wouldn’t have got a look in…

Are you a fan of vegetable cakes? Would you choose to bake with courgette?

Lifestyle: Happy Fortnightly Things #45

Happy Monday!

 photo Happy Things 2_zpstx894dal.png

    1. A lovely second Hen Do with my family (and family to be!). I arranged an afternoon tea for something more sedate that my grandma’s would enjoy, and it was lovely to have everyone together.
    2. Getting my exams out of the way (again). I’ve spoken less about studying these past few months as I was only doing a ‘little’ exam this sitting given the wedding is in less than three weeks, but I’m now free from it all again! Fingers crossed it went well as then I’ll only have one left to go…
    3. Making the *best* curry I’ve ever made. The photos turned out terribly, but I will be posting a recipe as soon as I can.
    4. Emptying out our freezer. We’re aiming to completely clear it and start again, which has meant discovering some new things (hello random pork chops!) and also some cheap food shopping weeks!
    5. Experimenting with photography again. I actually love it when we have darker evenings as I find it quite difficult to shoot when light is so unpredictable – dark evenings suit my style more I find. I’m especially proud of some upcoming coffee cupcakes which were shot during a particularly gloomy thunderstorm…
    6. The smell of paint. We’ve (or rather W) has made some giant light-up letters for the wedding. We’ve painted them copper but I loved having the smell of fresh paint in the flat. Is that weird?!
    7. Managing to grab the last of this dress in my size in a gorgeous bottle-green colour. It fits so well and looks/feels a lot more expensive than £20…
    8. Watching Mulan. It’s one of my three favourite Disney films (1st = Jungle Book, 2nd = Beauty & The Beast) and I love it. The songs are *amazing* and I can’t wait for the live action one to be produced.
    9. Bake Off! It’s back and I am loving it. I did think the last series on the BBC (how was it two years ago?!) was a little flat, but I’m loving the new one. I’ve also been baking along, stay tuned on my Instagram!
    10. Cosy evenings. Now it’s cooler in the evenings I can bear to wear PJs and fluffy socks – and it’s made me evenings 10x more enjoyable!

Are you enjoying the start of Autumn? What’s making you smile at the moment?

Recipe: Chipotle Chicken Tacos with Sweetcorn & Avocado Salsa (+ 5 Favourite Ways to Use up Roast Chicken)

Bad Millennial alert, but I hated avo until a couple of months ago. Now I can’t get enough of the stuff, and this is the recipe which converted me!

 photo Chicken Tacos with Sweetcorn amp Avocado Salsa 3_zpslaqquyzd.jpgMost Sundays in our house involve a roast of some sort, even if it’s just the two of us eating. In fact, especially if it’s just the two of us eating – purely because we get yummy leftovers for a few days. A whole chicken is invariably our meat of choice, it’s generally the cheapest option and the leftovers are SO versatile. From a large bird we tend to get our Sunday dinner out of one, plus two more dinners, some stock and a couple of lunches (or another dinner) too. Bargain!

Whether you’re roasting your own chicken or buying one of the pre-cooking rotisserie ones from the supermarket (love the garlicky ones!) you can do SO much with the leftovers. Such, have chicken sandwiches for the rest of the week, but you could also get inventive. And these chicken tacos are my all-time favourite…

The Corn & Avocado salsa recipe is based on this one from Chelsea’s Messy Apron, and it’s bladdddyyyy delish! I’ve simplified it down as I prefer to bulk out the chicken filling with onion, I’ve ditched any tomato and kept it really simple and just tossed the veggies in some lime juice and a spot of seasoning. I don’t think it needs anything else as the flavours are so light and fresh!

 photo Chicken Tacos with Sweetcorn amp Avocado Salsa 3_zpslaqquyzd.jpgRecipe – serves 2

  • 2 servings leftover roast chicken, shredded – around 2 medium handfuls
  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • 1 tsp chipotle paste
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime (half the juice goes into the chicken, half in the salsa)
  • 2 avocados, diced
  • 150g sweetcorn
  • 1 pack fresh coriander, chopped
  • 6 soft tacos
  • Soured cream and/or feta, to serve

First up, prep your sweetcorn by popping it into a dry frying pan over a high heat until it’s a little charred. We actually use frozen sweetcorn and defrost it in the pan this way – if you’re using tinned you may want to rinse it as I find the water can sometimes make the salsa over-sweet. Allow the corn to cool in the pan.

Meanwhile, take another pan and heat over a medium heat. Add a little oil and a pinch of salt, then fry the onion until beginning to soft. Add in the chipotle paste and stir to combine – you could also add in other spices such as cumin, paprika and coriander just here, or a little extra chilli. Throw in your chicken and stir-fry until piping hot, before squeezing in the juice of half a lime.

Prep your avo at the last minute, dicing it and then adding to a pop with the lime zest, remaining juice and a little salt. Toss in the cooled sweetcorn and plenty of coriander, then serve alongside the chicken with some taco wraps, soured cream and feta. And that’s it! My current favourite Monday-night supper of super-easy Chipotle Chicken Tacos with Corn and Avocado Salsa!

 photo Roast Chicken and Leftovers1_zpsrqiaohag.jpg photo Roast Chicken and Leftovers3_zps5xnu8rm4.jpg And if you don’t fancy tacos? Here are another five of my favourite ways to use up leftover roast chicken:

  • Pie, ideally one combining Chicken, Ham & Leek. I’ll be posting an updated version of this recipe soon!
  • French-style salad – heated chicken combined with lentils, green beans, salad leaves and a soft-boiled egg in a vinaigrette dressing. So, so good!
  • Pasta bakes – mushroomy if possible!
  • Stir-fries. You just can’t go wrong with adding shredded chicken into noodles.
  • Sweetcorn Bacon and Chicken Chowder. This is one of my favourite recipes, and I always like to have a tub leftover to freeze as it’s just so comforting.

Are you a fan of cooking a roast and using up the leftovers? What’s your go-to use for roast chicken?

Review: Royal China, Queensway*

Don’t judge, but I may have (nearly) made it to the age of 25 without ever trying a Chinese. I’m not even sure why! Don’t get me know, we had the occasional takeaway as a treat growing up, but more often than not it was fish’n’chips (my go-to was a Pukka pie, I love them!) or the very occasional Indian – made even rarer when I developed my tomato allergy. We just never ordered Chinese.

 photo Royal China Restaurant Review 1_zpsjftdvbvz.jpgWe were recently invited to try out the menu at the Queenway branch of the Royal China restaurant group and let me tell you, I’m now definitely going to consider Chinese we do order in from now on – my eyes have been opened to a whole new cuisine and I’m gutted I’d missed out before!

Royal China is an award-winning restaurant chain with branches across London. They’re most famous for their Dim Sum menu (which I’d have really loved to sample, but unfortunately I have very few weekends free right now!), but they also have some really quite unique dishes available. That said, being first-timers we played it safe with our choices – maybe next time we’ll be more daring!

 photo Royal China Restaurant Review 17_zpsimk0p7ia.jpgArriving at the restaurant, I was pleasantly surprised by how large the dining area was – and how full it was at just 7pm. A lot of people seemed to be just finishing their meals, with it near emptying soon after we sat down, but by the time we left it was again near-full with a buzzy atmosphere. Service really depending on the staff you got at the time. Our waitress who sat us down asked us if we wanted a drink immediately, we requested tap water ‘for now’ and she obliged, though took the drinks menu with her never to be seen again. This contrasted greatly with a waiter who was, quite frankly, delightful. Pleased to advise on dishes that might be suited to a ‘first-timer,’ not laughing at my chopstick ability and even offering to take photos and move out of the light for me. I’d seen some reviews detailing really bad service and, whilst it was brisk, efficient and not particularly friendly (above waiter aside) I didn’t have any real complaints.

 photo Royal China Restaurant Review 6_zpsdheizxbc.jpgWe started with some Crispy Aromatic Duck with the usual pancakes and accompaniments. We went for the half duck (£25.80) but felt the quarter would have definitely served two fine if you’d wanted another couple of starters to share or richer main courses. The duck arrived in one piece, then was swiftly taken to one side and shredded in front of us. This meat it was as fresh as could be and it certainly showed – the fleshier pieces were moist and tender, the crispy parts not showing even a hint of sogginess. The sauce was strongly flavoured, sharp and sweet in equal measures which balanced the rich meat well. There was just the right amount of pancakes for the duck, though we noted we ran out of cucumber a little quickly. My one big complaint here is that we were assembling on cold plates, which rendered serving warm pancakes pointless as they were always cold by the time we’d filled them.

We decided to ‘go by the pictures’ when ordered our mains, shameful as I feel that is! We ordered a couple of meat dishes to share, along with a vegetable ‘side dish’ and some egg fried rice.

I surprisingly enjoyed the egg-fried rice (£4.50). I was surprisingly because my only previous exposure to it was dubious school dinners where it was not good. The rice was fluffy, the egg not overcooked and it perfectly edible. Perhaps a little more seasoning wouldn’t have hurt, but when enjoyed alongside other dishes it was absolutely fine.

 photo Royal China Restaurant Review 19_zpsgpk1ioxl.jpg photo Royal China Restaurant Review 20_zps1nzpyl6t.jpgOur first meat dish was Lemon Chicken (£11.80). I have to say this was not to my taste at all, but having said that I’m not sure it would be anywhere. I found the sauce very sweet, and likened it to something I’d have liked with some cake or ice-cream, not chicken! The little bit of chicken I nibbled on was very well cooked, tender and soft with a pleasingly crisp coating. This was perhaps a bad choice on my part, as W enjoyed the dish a lot more.

On the side we enjoyed the Chinese Broccoli with Ginger (£11.80). Other than the price making me wince a little, I did find this dish exceptionally difficult to eat with chopsticks, but it was crunchy and flavourful and went perfectly with our next dish.

 photo Royal China Restaurant Review 14_zps5jnkatby.jpg photo Royal China Restaurant Review 15_zpshcpvt4is.jpgBeef with Cashew Nuts (£12.80) was our most successful main order, and I really loved the sauce. It was rich, well-balanced and had a good salty kick. Most of the beef was melt-in-the-mouth tender, and all of the vegetables had clearly been cooked for their allotted time as nothing was under or over done. I did have an issue with some pieces of very chewy beef, suggesting more care could have been taken with trimming and preparing before cooking, but I still really enjoyed it. It went really well with both the egg-fried rice and the broccoli, and I’d definitely re-order.

So, my overall impressions of Royal China? It was fine, and a great introduction to Chinese food. I found the prices to be a little high and I probably wouldn’t rush back, but it wasn’t a bad experience (if it was closer to home I probably would have felt differently about going back). The prices were perhaps a tad high, though I thought the duck was really reasonable. I may had also felt differently had I ordered things more to my taste, or knew more about what food I might enjoy. I know Crispy Beef is something I now really need to try, so maybe I will head back to try Royal China’s version…

*We were invited to dine at Royal China in exchange for an honest review. All photos are my own, unless marked otherwise, and my opinions are as always honest!

Are you a fan of Chinese food? What dishes should I try next?!

Cooking From: Blackberry & Custard Biscuits (Sweet by Ottolenghi)

Confession time! The actual recipe in Sweet (by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh) is for Rhubarb & Custard Biscuits and, whilst I’m sure they are utterly delicious, it just isn’t the season for rhubarb. I’ll be making them for sure next spring, but for now we’re using the very much in season (and very foragable, unless you live in London!) blackberry. We actually bought blacberries in our weekly shop, expecting the first weekend of September to be cool enough for a crumble – wrong. The heatwave made a brief (albeit slightly cooler) reappearance and so biscuits it was.

 photo Blackberry Custard Biscuits_zpsox78ji5s.jpgAnd what delicious biscuits they are. Sweet custardy biscuits, made with Bird’s custard powder so that they taste of my childhood. Tart homemade blackberry jam, beaten into buttercream and used to sandwich the biscuits. It all combines beaitfully, with the vanilla-sweetness tempering down the sharpness of the berries. It tastes like a bowl of crumble and custard, but it’s far easier to eat. Almost too easy, as the batch disappeared rather quickly…

And the other recipes in this cookbook are just as good, though I confess we’ve used it very sparingly over the year. It aims to “bring the Ottolenghi hallmarks of fresh, evocative ingredients, exotic spices and complex flavourings – including fig, rose petal, saffron, aniseed, orange blossom, pistachio and cardamom – to indulgent cakes, biscuits, tarts, puddings, cheesecakes and ice cream.” It certainly delivers, and in part that’s why we’ve not used this book as much as I’d like. Quite a few recipes seem to request more unusual ingredients, or use a more time consuming method, and quite often we bake as a random, spur-of-the-moment decision. Having tried this recipe, however, I know I need to make more of an effort to thumb through and use it more.

There are around 100 recipes, and a lot of them are very original – you’re not going to find basic brownies. Instead there’s brownies laced with tahini and halva – and as soon as I can find some halva I’ll be making them. There might not be your usual choc-chip cookies, but there are “Chocolate O Cookies” which are said to be the ultimate homemade Oreo. There’s a coffee and cardamon pound cake which sounds delicious. There’s several cheesecake recipes, many desserts we’d prepare for a dinner party (I’ve genuinely already started planning a feast for our next New Year’s Eve dinner – despite not having any guests yet!). Whilst we’ve not really used this, I can imagine it will be a book that will become well-thumbed over the years. Now I just need to get hold of some of Ottolenghi’s savoury cookbooks…

 photo Blackberry and Custard Biscuits 15_zpssfwr42xd.jpg photo Blackberry and Custard Biscuits 12_zpsqspu1gi6.jpg photo Blackberry and Custard Biscuits 18_zpsonjwyria.jpgRecipe (makes around 15)

  • 175g flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 65g custard powder
  • 65g icing (confectioner’s) sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 170g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • For the icing: 1 small stick of rhubarb (or 2 handfuls of blackberries – roughly 70g of fruit), 65g unsalted butter, 130g icing sugar, and 1/2 tsp lemon juice

If you making the rhubarb icing: spread pieces of rhubarb on tray and roast at 180C for 30 minutes, or until soft. Remove from oven and cool, then puree in food processor before adding butter. Add icing sugar and lemon juice and continue to process for a few minutes until it thickens. Transfer to a small bowl and let sit in the fridge to firm up. To make our blackberry filling, we popped the blackberries in a small pan with a tiny splash of water and simmered until soft, pureed, passed through a sieve to remove the pips, and then added butter and continued as per the recipe.

For the cookies, cream the butter with the flour, custard powder, icing sugar and salt on low speed til the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Increase speed to medium and beat for about 30 seconds until a dough forms. Roll dough into balls about 3cm round – they should weigh about 15g. Place on lined trays about 4cm apart. Dip the back prongs of a small fork in the extra flour and then press firmly but gently into the back of each ball so that the cookie flattens. Bake at 170C on lined baking trays for about 25 minutes, let cool on trays for about 5 minutes then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

To assemble, spread 15g of icing on the flat side of a cookie and sandwich with the flat side of another. The forked sides should be facing out. Store in an airtight container if you manage not to eat them immediately.

 photo Blackberry and Custard Biscuits 8_zpsajnh5wwy.jpg photo Blackberry and Custard Biscuits 20_zps78yop1qu.jpgThese we found were the perfect afternoon snack for a weekend. Lovely with a cup of tea (I’m favouring Yorkshire’s Biscuit Brew at the moment), they were light, sweet and had a really comforting taste coming from the custard powder. The biscuits really melted in the mouth too! I’m looking forward to next year’s rhubarb season when I can try the full recipe…

Have you tried any of Ottolenghi’s books? Which do you recommend? 

Recipe: Cheat’s Chocolate Mousse

One of my all-time favourite desserts is a chocolate mouse. My go-to recipe involves Mars Bars, but the one I’m writing about today is super-simple, super-quick and a total cheat. There’s no separating and whisking of eggs. There’s no melting chocolate. It doesn’t have to be left to set for hours, though does benefit from a session chillin’ in the fridge.

 photo Cheats Chocolate Mousse_zpstugauofq.jpgBasically, grab a pot of cream from the corner shop and you can make an impromptu chocolate mousse providing you, like me, keep some hot chocolate powder in the house. I favour a Swiss brand, Caotina Original (this isn’t a sponsored post btw!) as it’s ridiculously chocolately and indulgent without being over rich. We bulk by it each time we visit Switzerland, or get friends who visit to grab us a pack.

 photo Cheats Chocolate Mousse 8_zpsizvmvvki.jpgRecipe – generously serves 2-3

  • 300ml double cream
  • 6 heaped tsp of hot chocolate powder, or more to taste

First up, whip your cream into soft peaks. I find the best texture is achieved by hand, but you could use a stand mixer or electric hand whisk if you want. Once whipped, sift over the hot chocolate powder and gently fold through to combine, being careful not to knock any air out. Chill until ready to serve.

And that’s it! This cheat’s chocolate mousse, made with no-eggs and just hot chocolate powder, is so ridiculously easy. In fact, it’s dangerously easy as it’s all too quick and simple to make if you fancy a treat!
 photo Cheats Chocolate Mousse 1_zpsbfx7jyi0.jpg

What’s your go-to dessert?

Lifestyle: Happy Things #44

Another Sunday evening when I’m going to moan about being too hot – it’s the start of September, I should be getting ready for Autumn but even the thought of wearing a jumper is making me sweat. Though I have at least managed to wear a cardigan outside recently which is an improvement… A lot has happened since my last Happy post (especially as I missed one, whoops!) so this is a bumper one. It’s certainly been a good few weeks.

    1. Being able to say “we get married NEXT MONTH” – after being engaged since the end of 2015 this feels crazy! So excited to be a wife…
    2. On more wedding-related news, we’ve had our respective stag and hen dos. He came back with all hair/beard/eyebrows still in-tact which was my biggest worry, so that was good. And my hen (or at least part I, with part II to come!) was amazing. My girls did a wonderful job at planning at day that was perfect for me, though unfortunately my night out was cut short when my mum took ill – but hey, what’s another Happy Things post without praising our ambulance service?!
    3. The meal on my hen deserves a special mention – I wouldn’t be a food blogger if meals weren’t a highlight. However my Confit Duck Leg with a Plum and Ginger Glaze was extraordinary. One of the best things I’ve eaten all year.
    4. All the foodie magazines. Recently I’ve been able to get a copy of the Sainsbury’s magazine through work, which takes our regular foodie magazines up to 3 per month, plus anything else I can get my hands on. So much inspiration. And it’s meant we’ve definitely kept up our goal of cooking at least one new dish a week…
    5. Speaking of new food, August’s Degustabox arrived and was just as good as July’s. I’m a big fan of the Crooked alcoholic soda!
    6. Making a batch of Noodle Salad for lunchboxes. It was loosely based on this recipe, but I’ll be posting my own version soon!
    7. Hosting a dinner party for friends. I made a selection of tips (Tumeric Hummus, Courgette & Tahini and a Whipped Feta) and served with breads – I could have just eaten that. So fun to catch up over some delicious food.
    8. Picking up a new favourite dress from Warehouse. My previous favourite shrunk but they’ve been great about refunding it, fingers crossed this one doesn’t suffer the same problem!
    9. This Trout Pizza from Waitrose is still a favourite, I’ll be gutted when it’s no longer available…
    10. A few days of cooler weather. We enjoyed some comfort food (this Cauliflower Cheese Risotto is a great option!), and I even pulled out the fluffy socks. Sadly it hasn’t lasted!

What have you been up to lately?

Food: Why Buy a Degustabox Subscription?

Recently I’ve been gifted an ongoing monthly subscription to Degustabox* in exchange for some honest reviews – and whilst I’ve not yet reviewed a full box (you can see an overview of July’s box here, as well as in my Instagram Story highlights on my profile) today I’m going to talk about whether the boxes are worth it.

 photo Degustabox August 4_zpszzgwe8gs.jpgSo, what is a Degustabox?

It’s a monthly box containing new releases or loved favourites from trusted big brands, smaller more independent suppliers and upcoming foodie start-ups. At a cost of £12.99 a month you get a fairly hefty box containing a good selection of items (10-15 according to their site). I do get a combination of the alcohol and non-alcohol box, but even so I’ve been pretty impressed with the quantity of items I’ve received. In the latest box (received at the end of August) we received a box of Dorset Cereals granola, some hemp milk from Good Hemp, some Illy instant coffee, 2 Gunna drinks, some Crooked alcholic soda, 2 packs of Maggi noodles (including a delicious Sticky Duck flavour), a tin of tuna fillets, some LioBites dried fruit snacks and some *delicious* cereal bars from Boka. Not bad if you ask me!

But why exactly do I love receiving my box? Read on to find out…

Discovering New Brands

I’m really quite bad at sticking to what I know. If I was buying coffee I’d rarely stray away from brands that I’ve grown up with (despite knowing it’s not the best coffee). If I was looking for an alcoholic treat I’d generally avoid ‘cans’ as it reminds me too much of being a teenager. However Degustabox has introduced me to some fab brands which I’d never have tried otherwise – both the Crooked alcoholic soda in the August box and the Rosie’s Pig Rhubarb Cider in the July box are going to become firm favourites.

By far and away, however, my favourite brand I’ve discovered is Capsicana. We had a packet of their
Brazilian Smoked Paprika & Spices in the July box – we used it to marinate some yellow-sticker steaks before serving with a black bean and sweet potato salad. It was delicious – a tad too spicy given we used the whole of the packet between two, but we really enjoyed the more unusual flavour profile. We’ll be checking out more of their products for sure!

 photo Degustabox August 1_zpsvrzusd6r.jpgForcing Me To Try New Things

Similar to the point above, I know what I like. I stick to the usual cornflakes and weetabix when buying cereal, if I buy non-dairy milk it’s always hazelnut. The Dorset Cereals has opened my eyes to the world of granola possibilities (I mean, raspberries, toasted spelt and popped buckwheat?! Yum!), whilst trying Hemp Milk has been interesting – it might not be something I’d jump at buying again, but it wasn’t too bad.

Trying Exclusive Products

Whether they are new releases not available in shops yet, or products only generally available for retailers to buy in bulk, there’s been a couple of exciting things pop up in my boxes. As a child I LOVED mixing ribena with lemonade, so the bottles of sparkling Ribena in the July box made me smile. Likewise we’ve also received some lower-sugar Rowntree sweets which I’ve not spotted on the shelves yet…

Rediscovering Old Favourites

It’s not all new and exciting products in the boxes – some are old and exciting too! Whilst a pot of Cadbury’s Instant Hot Chocolate certainly isn’t ground-breaking, having a tub on my desk at work is perfect for when a sweet-tooth hits mid-afternoon. In fact given I’ve been exclusively drinking a rather more calorific Swiss hot chocolate for the last year, I’d forgotten how much I enjoy this lighter version…

The Surprise Factor

Generally our meals are planned with military precision to avoid food waste and minimise our shopping bill – Degustabox gives us a bit of a surprise and allows us to experiment a bit more. Whether it’s a bag of fancy crisps we would never have otherwise picked up (the London Crisp salt’n’vinegar is lush!) or random spice mixes, we know we’ll have something new and exciting to try.
 photo Degustabox August 3_zpscdejk0e9.jpg

*I received a monthly Degustabox in return for some honest reviews and social media posts, but as always all thoughts and opinions are my own. If you wanted to give them a try you can use the code N63R7 to get a cheeky discount!

Are you a fan of trying out new brands and products? Would you subscribe to Degustabox?

Recipe: Indulgent Cauliflower Cheese Risotto

Interestingly, when I first posted this on Instagram describing it as a Cauliflower Risotto I got lots of comments assuming I’d replaced the rice with cauliflower. Whilst that did give me the idea for my Low-Carb Mushroom Risotto, this  recipe is far from as virtuous.

 photo Cauliflower Cheese Risotto_zpsuubwk5mw.jpgInstead, this dish combines the creamy, luxurious texture of a perfectly cooked risotto, with the decadent flavours of the gooiest cauliflower cheese. It’s not low-carb, it’s far from low-fat, and it’s also my least authentic risotto recipe. But this dish is bloody delicious. The perfect comfort food on a cold night, the risotto flavour that almost replaced mushroom as my all-time favourite.

It starts off as a pretty standard risotto, albeit there is finely chopped cauliflower stalks sautéed in with the onion and celery. Cauliflower florets (alongside any smaller leaves) are roasted, then tossed in butter. Some are stirred into the risotto, others are left as a garnish. To add to the cauliflower cheese elements of this risotto, cheddar is added alongside parmesan – Italians would be horrified, but I do feel it works well here.

Cauliflower Cheese Risotto. I dreamt it up on a rainy commute home from work, but it’s become a favourite.

 photo Cauliflower Risotto 5_zpsbs1kse1p.jpgRecipe (serves 2 generously)

  • 50g butter
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, or a pinch of dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf, dried or fresh
  • 1 onion
  • 1 stick celery
  • 1 small cauliflower, or half a larger one – stalk finely chopped, florets broken into small-medium pieces and the smaller leaves retained
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 150g risotto rice
  • 1 litre of vegetable stock
  • 1 handful each of parmesan and cheddar, finely grated, plus extra parmesan to serve

Melt half of the butter in a large saucepan, then fry the onion, celery and chopped cauliflower stalk along with the thyme and bay leaf over a low heat for around 10 minutes, or until softened. Add the garlic and fry for 2-3 minutes, then increase the heat and add the risotto rice. Toast, stirring constantly, for 1 minute then add around 100ml of the stock. Stir continually until absorbed, add more stock – then continue adding stock gradually and stirring until the rice is cooked – around 20 minutes. You may not need all of the stock, or you may need to use a little additional hot water.

Meanwhile, toss the cauliflower florets in a little oil and lots of salt and black pepper. Spread out on a baking tray and roast at 180C for 10 minutes. Add the smaller leaves, stir and continue to roast for another 10 minutes, or until tender and golden (if some of the smaller florets and browner and crispier this is fine). Once done, toss the cauliflower with the remaining butter. Add most of the cauliflower to the cooked risotto, retaining the leaves and a few florets for garnish.

Once cooked, remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the cheddar and parmesan. Cover with a lid and leave to stand for 5 minutes, then serve with extra parmesan.

 photo Cauliflower Risotto 7_zpsvljtjfzs.jpgThat’s it, Cauliflower Cheese Risotto. It combines two of my favourite foods in the most spectacular way, resulting in an indulgent, creamy, cheesy dish. My idea of heaven.

Are you a risotto or cauliflower cheese fan?

Restaurant Review: Pizza Union, Kings Cross

This review should really be titled “what to eat when you’re really hangry in King’s Cross and don’t fancy a McDonalds.” Because in that situation I always, always recommend Pizza Union. Speedy service, excellent value and tasty pizza to boot, it’s a great option that’s just a short walk away from the station (especially if you get the right exit out of St Pancras!).

 photo Pizza Union_zpseorlm4hn.jpgI’ve eaten a lot of pizza, both in Italy and in London. I’ve eaten really bad pizza (so far Pizza Pilgrims has been my least-loved), I’ve eaten absolutely amazing pizza (get The Stelvio at Dynamo, you won’t be disappointed! Best. Pizza. Ever). I know what I like in a pizza. I like a sourdough crust that’s got a bit of crispness, isn’t soggy and has good flavour in it’s own right. It should be topped evenly with sauce, cheese and other tasty things, but not overloaded. Pizza Union is a little different to my preferred pizza, in that it’s a thinner crust and really rather crispy dry. But it is tasty, and doesn’t leave me feeling so full I can’t face boarding a train.

 photo Pizza Union Review 2_zpsd1ze64cp.jpgThe average pizza costs around £6 which is pretty bargainous if you ask me – and the margherita gives change from £4 which is probably cheaper than a meal at McDs these days (I haven’t eaten one since the night we got engaged. Let’s just say it wasn’t the romantic night it should have been!). You order at the counter, grab a buzzer, take your seat then collect your pizza when it’s ready. I enjoyed a glass of pretty good prosecco whilst I waited, at £3.70 it would be rude not to! W also spoke very highly of his frozen raspberry mojito slushie…

And then the pizza arrived.

A Calabria for him (tomato sauce, mozzarella, mascarpone, Nduja spicy sausage, rocket, £5.95) and a Milano for me (white base with mozzarella, gorgonzola, pancetta, mushrooms, and rosemary, £5.95).

 photo Pizza Union Review 7_zpszlulfvwu.jpg photo Pizza Union Review 9_zpspxgwwliq.jpg photo Pizza Union Review 11_zpsxc02b93s.jpgThe bases were thin and crispy, my bacon also nicely crisp. Not too much mushrooms (because whilst I love them, I find they go cold super-quickly on pizza), and a great salty and slightly funky hit from the blue cheese. A really good white pizza, especially for the price. W hoovered up his pretty quickly too.

My only regret? We didn’t save enough room for the Dolce – a ring of pizza dough encasing nutella and mascapone. Maybe this is a reason to go back!

Where’s your favourite pizza place?