Lifestyle: Happy Fortnightly Things #61

Woohoo, officially halfway through 2019! June went by in the blink of an eye (and probably a good thing considering the weather for most of it!) and we’re into July. Less than six months until Christmas (yes I went there…) and our main holiday of the year already over. But what a holiday it was, I’m tempted to rename this post Happy Monday: The Scotland Edition…

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  1. Our holiday. It deserves both a point of it’s own and several other points; it was wonderful. We started with a few days in Edinburgh (my all-time favourite place) and then did a mini roadtrip up the East Coast and then back down through the Carigorns. I absolutely loved it and am itching to explore more of Scotland. Maybe next year…
  2. Scottish seafood. Seriously amazing. One night in Edinburgh I declared I’d had the best bowl of mussels ever, only to take that back a few nights later. We had mussels by the bucketful, lobster, clams, langoustines and so much fish. Just gorgeous and so fresh. Oh, and also the best fish’n’chips ever too.
  3. Communal dining. We ended up doing two communal/family dining experiences during our holiday and both were lovely. It was great to talk to other diners about anything and everything – do you know of anything similar in London?
  4. Ticking off a bucket list item. One of the above communal dining nights was at Ballintaggart Farm, somewhere I’d wanted to visit since reading about it in a foodie magazine last summer. It was beautiful – absolutely faultless food, wonderful service and stunning scenery. So yep, ticked it off the bucket list, but now I absolutely have to stay there.
  5. Scottish strawberries. Some of the best I’ve ever tasted.
  6. Cheese and wine night. On one of the evenings we decided to cosy up in the little studio we’d booked with some local produce and a good bottle of Malbec. Turns out Scotland does cheese rather well, and venison salami is just as delicious as it sounds.
  7. Speaking of cheese, on one night my husband ordered a cheeseboard and couldn’t finish it. So I got dessert (a black lime tart FYI) and cheese. Best. Night. Ever.
  8. A curious dish of Sea Trout with Brie Risotto. Not a combination I’d have thought to put together (and one I was scared to order, but my other choice was tomato-ed) but it was absolutely delicious. Just the right amount of cheese to add richness without overwhelming the fish.
  9. Seeing a polar bear (or four!). As they’re W’s favourite animal we took a day to head to the Highland Wildlife Park, and I unexpectedly really enjoyed it. I thought the enclosures were some of the biggest and well thought out of zoos/parks I’d visited, the animals certainly seemed well cared for and the keepers were passionate and clearly loved ‘their’ animals. Seeing one cry as a litter of Artic Fox pups left their den for the first time showed that! I also may or may not have teared up at the sight of a pack of wolves…
  10. Not eating a bad meal *at all* during our trip. A combination of good luck and meticulous planning.
  11. Finally tracking down my dream dress. I’ve been looking for a linen, pinafore-style, button down midi in black for months and picked one up in the Urban Outfitters sale. It looks dreadful online so I’d not ordered it as an option, but promptly spent the saving (and some more) on a skirt as well.
  12. A vegan afternoon tea at Café Forty One. Part of a day out with my little sister before she starts full time work (how did THAT happen, still feels like she’s in primary school?!) – it was delicious, especially the savouries, and we followed up with Science Museum Lates.
  13. A green bowl of goodness. After over-indulging on holiday this was much needed – quinoa in a coriander-mint-spinach dressing with roasted broccoli, more spinach, avo, seeds, chilli and a little feta. Yum!
  14. An extra week off in London. Not as enjoyable as I had planned (came back from Scotland with a fun-spoiling stomach bug) but I managed a few days out, including a much awaited trip to Lina Stores. Good pasta, I tell you that!
  15. Afternoon tea with my best friend. We were invited to Whittard’s Tea Bar in Covent Garden to celebrate National Best Friend’s Day and it was the perfect day-date. More to come very soon!
  16. Gorgeous weather. Need I say more?!
  17. Actually, we also managed to have good weather in Scotland, which was a surprise. Despite carrying out raincoats *everywhere* we only got rained on once for around 20 minutes, and instead got a little sunburned.
  18. Barbeque with friends. Good company, delicious food and a few board games…
  19. Feeling inspired on Instagram for the first time in a while. Check out my feed and let me know what you think!
  20. Iced Chocolate. I’m sat in a coffee in Shoreditch (get me!) writing this with an iced chocolate and it’s wonderful.

Do you have any holiday plans for the summer? Hope you’re making the most of the lovely weather!

Review: A Great Value Tasting Menu @ Copper & Ink, Blackheath (SE London)

With some very good restaurants a short walk from our flat in Putney (including Home SW15, Bistro Vadouvan and Putney Pies) it’s rare we venture into Central London in search of a date night meal, let alone take a journey all the way out East (and into Zone 3 no less – falling outside our Z1-2 travelcard zone it’s got to be good if I’m paying extra to get there). But given I’ve followed Copper & Ink on Instagram since they announced their intent to open, my husband was a huge fan of owner and chef Tony on 2015’s Masterchef and their menu prices are nothing short of a bargain compared to standard fare in London – we booked in.

 photo Copper and Ink Review 7_zpsyqe3m9lv.jpgStylish and modern, the restaurant is okay but felt a little bare and soul-less when I arrived – although this was much improved when the lights were dimmed down slightly, much to the detriment of my photos. We ordered some wine for me, a Bramble cocktail for him and very quickly decided that the five-course tasting menu at £40 per head would have to be done. And we’d have to add a cheese course for good measure (this was charged at £8 for the two of us).

 

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Perfect. I do enjoy a tasting menu as it (1) removes the need for me to make choices and (2) means I get to try more from the menu. Both bonuses here as the standard menu had so many things I wanted to eat. Though actually if they could have just bought me a loaf of their bread and a much bigger bowl of the chicken fat butter I’d have gone home happy. Fat, but happy.

Actually, the bread and butter also brings my biggest complaint of the night. Why oh why, for a table of two, were we given three slices of bread?! This also reappeared with 5 biscuits on the cheese course – equal numbers please! Total minor niggle really, but if that’s the only thing I can complain about then it was clearly a good meal!

 photo Copper and Ink Review 2_zps2kdcinfq.jpgFirst course was a salt-baked onion with roasted peppers and a balsamic gel. It looked and sounded super simple but was surprisingly complex. The onion was soft with just a little bite to stop it falling apart, and it’s flavours super concentrated. The peppers were sweet and sharp without being over-powering, and I thought it was an excellent start to the meal. It was so nice to kick-off with something light and vegetable-focussed!

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The second course was my favourite – I could have eaten it over and over! Crab salad with gin cured trout, radishes and lemon caviar. The crab was an absolute delight, so fresh tasting and a really good amount of it. The trout was pure perfection, soft and succulent, and the lemon caviar added a beautiful burst of sharpness. Ours also came with some crab toille which introduced some much needed texture. I would go as far as saying that crab is one of my all-time favourite things to eat, so this was perfection.

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The third course was the ‘main’ of guinea fowl, with a pan-fried breast, a bon-bon made from the leg meat, morel, asparagus and mashed potato. Tony himself served us this dish, informing us that the mash was made with equal parts butter and mash. The flavours in this dish were insane, and the mash unsurprisingly some of the best I’ve ever eaten (I have a leaderboard of restaurants who do really good mash, and the top three are now Copper & Ink, Home SW15 and Pollen Street Social, no particular order). The ‘jus’ was definitely more of a gravy, and all the better for it – thick, glossy and full of flavour. The bon-bon was packed full of meat without being dry. I thought the breast was just a touch over cooked and the portion size maybe a tad small, but possibly only because it was so delicious. I was sad to finish it!

We were then firmly on pudding route – two desserts to go, and then our additional cheese board. I personally do feel that the cheese board was necessary as the portions are on the smaller side, but equally for the price it was still a bargain.

 photo Copper and Ink Review 6_zpszmvwwpym.jpgFirst dessert was classic flavours, with the modern deconstructed trend. I’m not usually a fan of deconstructed desserts, but I think it works for mille feuille as the pastry stays much crisper. The cherry sorbet was a complete celebration of the fruit, the almond creme patisserie was indulgent. I loved this dish and thought it hugely clever!

 

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We finished with a doughnut – but not just any doughnut! It was served with a mango puree/sauce (it was quite light and almost mousse like) a mango and chilli salsa (fruit, heat and sweet all perfectly balanced) and a coconut sorbet which bought the whole dish together. The doughnut perhaps wasn’t fried to order as it had a touch of heaviness about it, but it was delicious – fresh and naughty all at the same time.

The cheese selection of the night was a good one – a delicious gouda, one of the best blues I’ve ever eaten (a really good Stickleton), some goat’s cheese (a little ‘cavey’ for me) and a softer one which I also really enjoyed. Served with grapes, oatcakes (why the odd number?!) and quince paste it was again a small portion, but finish the meal off perfectly. We accompanied this with port (him) and a final glass of malbec (me) – the Copper & Ink wine list is nothing short of wonderful, with so many wines available by the (well-priced) glass.

Some delicious petit-four to finish, and we left more than a little disappointed that we live on the opposite side of London. It’s definitely a spot I’ll remember for a good-value treat meal in future!

Have you tried a new restaurant recently?

Recipe: Tomato-Free Chicken Tikka Masala (made with Nomato Sauce)

One of the things I *really* miss being allergic to tomatoes is a good Indian takeaway. This was a (rare) treat at home growing up, and I do associate the smell and sensation of “I have eaten far too much” with a lot of happy childhood memories. The poppadoms and chutney, the sharing of various curries and sides, the debate about whether garlic or plain naan is best (garlic, always!). I’ve found a good few tomato-free pizza options recently (if you’re in SW London I highly recommend Battersea Pi for eating in, and Dynamo for takeaway) but Indian is definitely one I avoid.

 photo Chicken Tikka Masala_zpsdmddfvcm.jpg photo Tomato Free Chicken Tikka Masala 5_zps30x382jz.jpgAnd so I’ve developed my own recipes. Many are based on coconut milk (this Keralan style curry with chickpeas and pineapple is a favourite) but this one uses my nomato sauce and is more aligned with the takeaway curries I remember. It’s absolutely filled with flavour and is just that little bit heavy and greasy – which is perfect for a cheeky curry night. However if you do want to keep it slightly lighter and healthier omitting the cream is an easy way to do this.

It is, however, a fairly ingredient heavy recipe. I’ve tried a few different recipes, but this is the one that works best. Using just curry powder doesn’t quite cut it and won’t give you that curry house kind-of experience. This is the real deal. It’s not a recipe which needs hours in the kitchen though there is some marinating time. It’s fairly hands off and the sauce could be made ahead and reheated last minute – so I reckon it would be perfect for entertaining too. Add some sides, pile everything in the middle of the table and let everyone help themselves. My idea of a perfect night in!

 photo Tomato Free Chicken Tikka Masala 3_zps1agzry4e.jpg photo Tomato Free Chicken Tikka Masala 4_zpsfhaoxmvb.jpgRecipe (serves 2 with some extra sauce to freeze, easily scaled up)

    • 2 small/1 large chicken breast, cut into large pieces
    • 100ml natural yoghurt
    • Juice 1 lemon
    • Spices for the marinade – 2 tsp garam masala, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp coriander seeds, ½ tsp hot chilli powder, ½ tsp hot paprika, generous pinch of ground turmeric, 3 garlic cloves (crushed), 3cm piece fresh ginger (finely chopped)
    • 1 onion
    • Spices for the sauce – 2 tsp garam masala, ½ tsp ground fenugreek, 1 whole star anise, ½ tsp ground turmeric, 3cm piece fresh ginger (finely chopped), 2 garlic cloves (crushed)
    • 25g ground almonds
    • Around 200g of nomato sauce (or a can of chopped tomatoes, omit the chicken stock if so)
    • 100ml chicken stock, hot
    • 50ml single cream

First up, get the chicken marinating. Add the cumin and coriander seeds to a pestle and mortar and grind until crushed, then simply mix the yoghurt, lemon juice and marinade spices together, then add the chicken and ensure it is all coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours – we’d usually do this in the morning and then cook at around 7pm.

For the sauce, heat a little oil (or ghee if you have any), add the onion and cook for 10 minutes until softened and starting to brown. Add the sauce spices and ginger and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes more. Stir in the nomato sauce (or a tin of chopped tomatoes) and stock, then simmer for ten or so minutes before fishing out the star anise. Whizz the sauce with a stick blender until smooth, then return the pan to the heat and turn it to low. Stir in the ground almonds, and continue to cook whilst stirring often until you have a thick sauce. This can be made ahead – it freezes really well too.

When ready to eat, heat the grill to high. Thread the chicken pieces onto metal skewers and grill for 5 minutes on each side or until cooked through and lightly charred. Return the sauce to the heat, stir in the cream and heat through. Serve the chicken and sauce alongside some rice, naan and whatever other sides you’d like. I can never resist onion bharjis…
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Are you a curry fan? What’s your go-to Indian takeaway order?

Lifestyle: Happy Fortnightly Things #60

June already – we’re nearly halfway through 2019 and I have to say it’s sped by for me! I’ve been crazyyyy busy with studying (up until April anyway) and then work that I feel like I’ve barely had time to stop and breathe. I’m hoping things are slightly less hectic over summer as quite frankly I could do with a break…

These last two weeks have been fairly uneventful. We *finally* emptied and fully defrosted the freezer so my priority has been filling it back up again (something about having a freezer full of healthy homemade meals makes me so happy) and there’s been some much needed catch ups with family and friends.

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    1. Solo pizza night. I finally picked up Sainsbury’s current tomato-free offering – a Fig, Prosciutto and Gorgonzola combination which was super cheesy. I enjoyed half of it with a large salad, then the rest worked wonderfully cold in lunchboxes (not vegan, but beating food waste!) the next day.
    2. Fresh mango. I can’t stomach mango juice or mango flavoured things (it was the last thing I drank before coming down with a very bad stomach bug last summer) but fresh mango I’m currently loving! I really love it in salads right now, so fresh and tasty…
    3. Raspberry Gin. We picked some up that’s made in Northamptonshire and it is delicious. Definitely going to be my summer drink of choice!
    4. Some good #yearofveganlunches salads. I’ve been adding a harissa-lemon dressing to cooked lentils and serving with roasted figs and coconut, or some roasted beetroot. So good.
    5. Finding a reduced packet of Mini Eggs. I definitely didn’t eat enough of them at Easter…
    6. Picking up some of the country’s best (in my opinion) pies AND my favourite local sausages from a butchers in Canterbury. That place is probably the thing I miss most from uni, apart from my friends of course!
    7. Amazon Prime. Because when a board game you’ve wanted for a while price-drops by 80% I want to get my hands on it asap.
    8. Getting dates in the diary for lots of dinners with friends. There’s going to be a lot of cooking in the next few months!
    9. Seeing one of my plants grow lots of new leaves. Makes up the the slow death of the aloe vera plant…
    10. A really good sandwich – milano salami, garlic mayonnaise and roasted fennel in baguette. The perfect Saturday lunch!

What’s made you smile recently?

Review: Fancy Pub Grub at The Royal Oak, Marylebone

I feel like this pub has managed to get itself a bit of a bad rep recently thanks to the reported ‘misbehaviour’ of former head Chef Dan Doherty – indeed after trying and failing to get a booking last year being able to secure on last-minute and being the only table eating was a bit of a surprise, even for a Monday… Which brings be onto a spoiler. This place is definitely worth a visit. The food was stunning, despite the slightly odd and empty atmosphere, and I’d highly recommend you go. It was so empty I’m concerned it may not be there for much longer, and so I’m imploring anyone looking for good quality but not overly cheffy food to head there whilst you can.

 photo Royal Oak Review_zpsjkg4sddj.jpgIt was pretty empty, service was friendly but it was lacking a buzz I’d have enjoyed. I felt like the whole pub could hear my friend telling us about his recent break-up and so that is something to bear in mind. Hopefully it was just a one-off when we visited as otherwise there’s some very talented people in the kitchen going to waste.

We kicked off with a couple of starters. Everyone else on the table went for what seems to be the restaurant signature – the Nduja Scotch Egg. Nduja is one of those things that sometimes comes containing tomatoes, sometimes not, so I tend to avoid it for ease. And I was quite gutted, as these scotch eggs looked a perfect example of their type – crisp coating, and a gloriously runny yolk. Apparently the nduja was particularly spicy which worked well.

 

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 photo Royal Oak Marylebone 2_zps0nhwfrdc.jpgI didn’t, though, feel short-changed with my choice. A salad of fresh peas, pea puree, mint, ricotta and sourdough croutons was light, tasty and really bloody delicious. The kind of thing I could have eaten 10 times over. Simple yet refined cooking at it’s best. Perhaps pushing the ‘pub grub’ definition a tad too far, but the scotch egg was firmly in that camp.

And then mains. Again we had some duplicate ordering, with 2 lamb and 2 steak coming to our table.

 

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The Lamb Breast was served with roasted new potatoes, peas and asparagus. It looked delightfully green (many places give just a token amount of green veg at the moment) and as a lamb lover I did have a touch of order envy. However breast can often be a touch too greasy and whilst one plate seemed perfectly cooked, the other piece didn’t look like it had seen the oven long enough to fully render down.

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 photo Royal Oak Marylebone 8_zpstyx8efy9.jpgThe Bavette Steak was my pick, and it came with duck-fat potatoes, watercress and smother in wild-garlic butter. This was beautiful. The steak was cooked to a rare perfection, blushing pink but well-rested to avoid any weeping. The potatoes were glorious – many thin layers all combined and roasted to produce something crisp yet melting and oh so good. Who needs thrice cooked chips when you can have these?! And wild garlic butter? I could have eaten it by the spoonful. Garlicky without being overpowering, perfectly seasoned. It also went perfectly with the steak.

Portion sizes were generous, so we didn’t manage to even look at the pudding list much to my regret. Maybe next time…

Do you have any gastropub recommendations?

Cooking From: Triple Chocolate Cookies from Lucy Bakes by Lucy Cufflin [gifted]

Around 18 months ago I was invited to attend a festive baking workshop with Lucy, and she kindly gave all of the participants a pre-release copy of her book: Lucy Bakes. I haven’t spoken about it all that much, apart from featuring a slightly edited version of the Peanut Butter Fudge, but it is one of my favourite baking books. There’s nothing overly fancy in it, but what there is are basic and delicious recipes that create minimal washing up. And the recipes work. Always. It might not be one I cook from directly all the time, but if I need to check the ratios for a sponge, an ideal oven temperature, optimum baking times etc this book is the book I turn to.

 photo Triple Choc Cookies_zpswbkgl1tn.jpgThe book is essentially my baking bible. It would be ideal for beginners to baking, and I think it’s even suitable for cooking with kids as most of the recipes will both appeal and be suitably short to keep them occupied. The nutella cake in particular I image would be a hit! But for me the winner has to be the soft cookie recipe. It’s a super-simple recipe giving huge America style cookies which are soft and chewy and just totally delicious. The full recipe given is for a basic dough, then there’s loads of flavouring suggestions – but of course I went for the double chocolate version, and then added more chocolate to make triple chocolate cookies. Because why the hell not?!

Of course you could add any kind of chocolate chunk or other addition you want – nuts work amazingly well in cookies, as do pretzels. If you want a non-chocolatey dough then replace the cocoa powder with more flour…

 photo Lucy Bakes Chocolate Chip Cookies  10_zpsizryb1pc.jpg photo Lucy Bakes Chocolate Chip Cookies  8_zpske045blo.jpgRecipe (makes around 15 good sized cookies)

  • 125g salted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 5g bicarbonate of soda
  • 100g white chocolate chunks
  • 100g milk or dark chocolate chunks

Beat together the butter and sugar until soft and creamy, then add the egg and vanilla extract. Add the flour, cocoa and bicarbonate of sofa and stir until you have a stiff dough. Stir through the chocolate chunks, and then roll the dough into around 15 balls (each should weight around 45g). Flatten slightly, then pop onto lined baking trays (they do spread lots when cooking) and bake for 8-10 minutes at 190C – a shorted cooking time gives a softer cookie. Allow to cool on a wire wrack, though they are delicious served warm and gooey with a glass of milk or a hot chocolate…

 photo Lucy Bakes Chocolate Chip Cookies  14_zpsea6l2zth.jpg photo Lucy Bakes Chocolate Chip Cookies  4_zpsghod3ohf.jpgOther recipes worth trying: the Rose & Poppyseed Cake, Honey Lavender Flapjack, Florentine Bars, Peanut Butter Crispy Squares and the Potato and Onion Seed Bread. All delicious!

*I was gifted a copy of this book directly by the author at an invited workshop in 2017. There was no request to feature the book or workshop on my blog, and this isn’t a paid feature.

What is your go-to cookbook for baking?

Recipe: Spring Vegetable Pasta Salad #YearOfVeganLunches

In all honesty? I’m a little surprised I’m still going with this whole ‘year of vegan lunches’ challenge – I was expecting to get fed up/bored/stuck for ideas by now and revert to throwing feta or tzatziki at everything (although I’m determined to find a decent vegan recipe for the latter as it’s a big staple for me during summer). But it’s been a tad easier than I was expecting. Bean stews, chickpea soups, quinoa salad (recipe as linked might need a slight adjustment to be fully vegan). A Deliciously Ella potato and lentil dish.

 photo Vegan Spring Vegetable Salad_zpsgqtcikyi.jpgThe only thing is these recipes all tend to be quite hearty and warming, with the exception of the salad. And when the weather gets slightly warmer I’m not really feeling a comforting stew – and I also need options I can eat at my desk without needing to use the canteen microwaves (because unfortunately there are some times when I can go weeks without leaving my desk at lunchtime). Pasta salads were a go to when I wasn’t eating vegan, so I’ve been working on adapting some of my favourites and creating new ones. And this one is a winner.

 photo Spring Green Pasta Salad  11_zpst3vwhb80.jpg photo Spring Green Pasta Salad  5_zpsgkkzuood.jpg photo Spring Green Pasta Salad  9_zpsuehjl0tv.jpgPlenty of pasta (because carbs), and even more crisp green veggies. Handfuls of whatever summery herb I have lying around. A bright and zippy lemon dressing. Perhaps some crunch from almonds or pistachios. Protein in the form of chickpeas (pictured plate is lacking them due to a storecupboard/shopping list error). It’s carby plant-based goodness,vibrant and can be adapted to (1) whatever is seasonal and (2) whatever is in your fridge. The dressing also keeps beautifully in a jar and has become my go-to dressing whenever plain leaves seem a little boring. So make extra.

I’ve used a combination of lightly cooked peas and other veggies and some raw sugarsnap peas – I just love these raw as the texture and flavor is so fresh. If you prefer them softer just blanch along with the frozen peas.

 photo Spring Green Pasta Salad  13_zpseroyruko.jpg photo Spring Green Pasta Salad  10_zpslquvubib.jpg photo Spring Green Pasta Salad  7_zpszq7len7v.jpgRecipe (makes 2 days worth of generous lunches for the two of us)

  • 200g small-shaped pasta – orzo works particular well
  • 100g frozen peas
  • 100g broad beans, blanched and podded (if you’re not keen then double up the peas)
  • 100g sugarsnap peas, thinly sliced lengthways
  • 1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 bunch of spring onions, finely sliced
  • 100g radishes, finely sliced
  • 1 handful of fresh herbs – mint, parsley, basil and dill all work well, a mixture works best but go with what you have
  • To serve – handful salad leaves (spinach is particularly good), some chopped nuts (almonds or pistachios work super well) or seeds
  • For the dressing – 3 lemons (zest and juice), 75ml oil (I used a roughly half-and-half mixture of olive and vegetable), 1 tsp of maple syrup (or honey depending on how you stand), 1 tsp Dijon mustard, plenty of salt and pepper
  • Other possible additions: grilled courgette slices, roasted broccoli, blanched asparagus

First up, prep the dressing. Simply pop all of the ingredients into a small blender (I used our mini chopper) and whizz until fully combined. If you are doing by hand just whisk really well. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.

Then cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet, adding the frozen peas for the last two minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water, then transfer to a large non-metal bowl or some Tupperware. Add in the dressing, vegetables and herbs and toss together. Serve at room temperature with extra salad leaves and some chopped nuts.

 photo Spring Green Pasta Salad  2_zpsyeybcqgu.jpg photo Spring Green Pasta Salad  6_zps8b7fxlzh.jpgThis is honestly the perfect at-desk lunch – fresh and tasty, light enough to avoid the post-eating slump and can be transferred plate to mouth with one hand (great for super busy days!). Did I mention that its delicious?! I know it will be a regular feature in my lunchbox over the next few months…

Do you have a go-to pasta salad recipe?

Lifestyle: Happy Fortnightly Things #59

Oh, how I love Bank Holiday Mondays – that extra day almost makes me feel as though I’ve had a week off! After a crazy few weeks at work it was definitely needed!

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  1. More recipes from Ottolenghi Simple. I know, I’m obsessed. This time I’m loving the Harissa and Confit Garlic Roast Potatoes. Roasties will never be the same again…
  2. Making a really good Chicken Tikka Masala. It tastes just like the takeaway curries of my childhood (before the tomato allergy!) but with a lot more spice and flavour. I think my recipe is just about there so I’ll get it written up soon!
  3. Reading and loving a book that’s a little out of my comfort zone. I’m in the process of joining two book clubs (though can’t make the first meet of one of them, sob!) and one of the books wasn’t really my thing. I’m a lover of gritty crime novels, but trying something new was fun!
  4. A new floor table for next to our dining table. (1) I no longer need to put the full light on when I want to see what I’m eating and (2) it fits our smart bulb so I can get Alexa to turn the light on/off (or different colours!) for me. It’s the little things!
  5. Sainsbury’s have started to make own-brand Lactofree milk. It saves me 50p a week (which isn’t something to be scoffed at if added up over the year).
  6. Finding the perfect khaki-green shirt dress in H&M. A good midi-length, decent material and a really nice belt – all for under £25! I justified it using the money saved on own-brand milk (see point 5)!
  7. Getting good feedback on presentations at work. I’m having free trouble with imposter syndrome at the moment so I’m trying to concentrate on that – any tips on how to feel more confident in your abilities?!
  8. Knowing I get to eat my all-time favourite salad tonight – it’s a combination of blue cheese, leftover brisket, mint, apple, pear and croutons and it is the oddest and most delicious bowl ever…
  9. Racing against the clock to cook one of Jamie’s 15 minute meals. Has anyone ever managed it?!
  10. An absolutely delicious meal at Copper & Ink. I’ve wanted to go since wayyyyy before it opened and it didn’t disappoint. Well worth the journey of nearly an hour from my place!

What’s been putting a spring in your step lately?

Recipe: From-Scratch Pork Belly Bao

Bao is one of the London restaurants that has been on my bucket list for forever. I’ve wanted to go for years and for various reasons I’ve just never made it – and having made my own Bao I now want to go even more because I have an idea about what I’m missing. Pale buns that are slightly sticky to touch, bao are soft and fluffy, almost cloud like. Quite soft and airy and filled with delicious fillings they are a really ‘me’ meal as I love picky bits and customising what I’m eating.

 photo Pork Belly Bao_zpsh9kmlhqf.jpgAnd these bao buns are certainly delicious, stuffed with melt-in-the-mouth glazed pork belly that’s both sticky and slightly crispy, soft and succulent, sweet, salty and spicy. We added freshness in the form of cucumber, spring onions and carrots (you could lightly pickle these) and some crunchiness from some peanuts, but it’s the pork belly that’s the star of the show here. And the buns of course.

Of course, you could use my bao bun recipe and then fill with whatever takes your fancy. Fried chicken would be wonderful with some spicy sauces, and I think some kind of aubergine version will keep any meat-eater or veggie happy! I’m also really tempted to try a fish finger version in the same vein as my cheat’s fish tacos

Now these pork belly tacos are a bit of a labour of love, and they take a lot of time. They aren’t particularly hands on, but the pork needs to be started the morning before the night you want to eat it – so if you want it for a Saturday dinner you’ll need to start marinating on the Friday morning, before cooking it on the Friday evening and refrigerating overnight. It’s not exactly a quick meal, but its worth it! The buns take around 2.5 hours from start to finish, but again a good part of that is rising time. I was surprised at how easy they actually were to make, so don’t be intimidated – give it a go! This would be perfect for a Bank Holiday cooking project this weekend…

 photo Pork Belly Bao Buns  5_zpsmfgekhmb.jpg photo Pork Belly Bao Buns  3_zpslxtnbnq8.jpgFor the Ginger, Garlic & Soy Marinated Pork Belly (to fill 6 bao buns, serves 2 for dinner)

  • around 400-500g piece of pork belly, skin removed (use it to make crackling if you’re as against food waste as me)
  • 100ml dark soy sauce
  • 50ml mirin
  • 25ml sesame oil
  • 50g brown sugar
  • 1 thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 5 cloves of garlic, crushes
  • 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes

In a bowl that comfortably fits the pork belly, whisk together all the ingredients for the marinade. Add the pork belly, cover with cling-film, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours (ideally 6-8). Turn every hour or so to keep all sides soaking in the marinade. Once ready, wrap the pork tightly in foil and cook at 150C for 2 hours, and reserve the marinade in the fridge. Turn the oven up to 220C and continue cooking for 20-30 minutes until golden and slightly crisp. Allow to cool, and then refridgerate overnight. Bring up to room temperature for around an hour before eating.

To serve, heat the marinade in a small pan under reduced by around half. Slice the pork belly (you want the slices to be around 1cm thick) and add to the marinade until hot and glazed with the sauce. Serve piled into the bao buns with thinly sliced cucumber, spring onions and carrot, and some chopped peanuts.

 photo Pork Belly Bao Buns  4_zps2juvpv0a.jpg photo Pork Belly Bao Buns  6_zpss55dtxbe.jpgFor the Bao Buns (makes 9 buns)

  • 265g plain white flour (unbleached will give you more pure white bao which are more traditional), plus a little extra for dusting
  • pinch of salt
  • 4g dried yeast
  • 20g caster sugar
  • 8g baking powder
  • 25ml milk
  • 100-125ml warm water (start with 100ml and add a splash more if the dough seems dry – we ended up using closer to 130ml)
  • 10g lard, melted (for vegetarian/vegan buns, use butter or vegetable oil)
  • a little vegetable oil, for greasing

Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a large bowl, and stir the milk, water (use 100ml for now) and the lard/butter/oil together in a jug. Gradually add the wet ingredients to the dry, mixing and kneading together with your hand in a claw shape. Once combined knead well for 5 or so minutes, adding more water if the dough feels overly dry. By the end of the kneading it should be smooth but slightly tacky.

Dust the kneaded dough with around 1 tbsp of flour, then shape into a ball. Coat with a small amount of vegetable oil, then pop into a bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Leave to rise for around 90 minutes, it should double in size.

Once risen, it’s time to shape! There are a few ways to shape bao buns, but we went for the ‘slider’ shape – in my opinion this is both the easiest to shape and probably the most mess-free to eat too! Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until around 0.5cm thick, and cut out circles around 10cm in diameter. The dough is quite difficult to re-roll, so make sure you’re tactical with where you’re placing the cutter! Lightly brush the top of each circle with a little bit of vegetable oil, then place a chopstick across the middle at a slight angle, before folding over the bao to form a semi-circle. Be quite gentle as you don’t want to seal it! Once you’ve shaped all of your dough cover with a damp cloth for around half an hour, before steaming – ours took around 10 minutes in a bamboo steamer. Serve stuffed with delicious fillings and enjoy!

To use a bamboo steamer, I pop the base of mine in a wok over a medium heat, and add boiling water to the wok to just under the middle of the base – and keep an eye on it during cooking to make sure it doesn’t boil dry. Pop each bao onto a square of greaseproof paper to cook. To remove the steamer from the wok use some cooking tongs – I pop the whole thing on a plate and bring to the table to keep the buns fresh and moist (they’ll stay warm for around 20 minutes in the steamer). Whatever you do don’t try to wash your bamboo steamer, simply wipe with a damp cloth, dry fully (I leave it out overnight) then pack away.

As the dough is quite difficult to re-roll, you may find you have spare dough. For this, roll in your hands into small balls (around large marble sized) and steam until cooked. Melt some butter in a frying pan, then dry the cooked dough balls until lightly crisp, before tossing in sugar and cinnamon for bao doughnuts. For the spare buns, they freeze well once cooked and cooled. Simply heat from frozen in the steamer for around 10 minutes. Alternatively have dessert bao – stuff with peanut butter and raspberry jam and thank me later…

 photo Pork Belly Bao Buns  2_zps9e1ypvfo.jpgI’m now dreaming of doing a bao party for a few friends. Imagine that! Loads of bao buns, a couple of different types of filling (I’m thinking this pork belly, some fried chicken and maybe a miso aubergine option…). And dessert bao of course.

Have you ever tried cooking bao? Or have you eaten it out in a restaurant?

Review: Nonna Tonda Pasta @ Market Hall, Victoria

Market Hall, both the Victoria and Fulham locations, may well be one of my favourite foodie things of the last few years. All of the joys of street food markets – getting to choose where/what you eat, not having to be guided by other’s choices, small portions so you can try ALLLLL the food – but without the bad bits. AKA no getting cold and wet thanks to the standard British weather.

 photo Market Hall Pasta_zpsaejvnvbl.jpgThese indoor dining halls are casual, a little bit chaotic (I’d advise going in with a vague plan and, at peak times, making sure everyone has a phone on them as I definitely think you could get lost in the crowds). Getting a table can be difficult but if you, like us, are all eating from the same vendor then bar seats at the serving area are usually available. Food is ordered and then collected when the handed-out buzzers sound, meaning it all arrives at different times. Along with the noise this doesn’t make it the best location for a girly catch up (if you’re in Victoria head to Hai Cenato for that) but it’s fun, it’s buzzy, and it delivers tasty food.

In Victoria there’s around 12 food traders – and so many of them are on my list to try. Roti King, Fanny’s, Bunshop, Monty’s Deli… I think I could live in Market Hall for a couple of months and not get bored of the food. However on a cold, wet and windy Saturday with a hungover husband in tow it was definitely time for some carby goodness.

Now I’ve got a bit of a thing for good pasta. I now can’t buy supermarket own-brand stuff, and I’ve eaten some amazing pastas in both Italy and London (Padella is well worth queuing for in my opinion, and Lina Stores is high on my list to try).  I was gutted last year when I missed out the chance to try to Fat Tony’s pop-up at the now-closed Bar Termini – it was hailed some of the best pasta that London has ever seen. So yep, sorely gutted to have missed out. And insanely excited that it’s the same guys behind Nonna Tonda at Market Hall.

 photo Pasta at Nonna Tonda Victoria 3_zpsekaw7tdo.jpg photo Pasta at Nonna Tonda Victoria 5_zpsavsovxdi.jpgYour choice is pretty much pasta, or pasta. Or maybe some pasta. If you’re not a pasta fan, move on.

I went classic and ordered the bucatini cacio e pepe – and it was glorious. The pasta was perfectly al dente with a good bit of bit but still soft and slippery – and bucatini is the perfect shape as the little hole absorbs plenty of the glorious cheesy, creamy, peppery sauce. How they make it this good with just water and cheese I’ll never know (I watched them make it, trying to learn tips, but they were so speedy!).

 photo Pasta at Nonna Tonda Victoria 1_zpsq6je76s9.jpgW went for something a little tomato-ey with shredded meat. It was a special on the day we visited, but it went down extremely well and certainly went some way to appeasing him (dragging him to a noisy dining hall with a hangover perhaps didn’t win me any wife points that weekend!).

I also want to mention the bread that was served with each bowl of pasta. I’m not sure what it was exactly (it wasn’t like any focaccia I’ve made or eaten before) but it was slightly oily, so light in crumb and just delicious. Perfect for mopping up leftover sauce.

 photo Pasta at Nonna Tonda Victoria 4_zpsxosmn6iv.jpgI’d like to say I’d be back to Nonna Tonda but, whilst I’d happily eat there again, there’s so many other places in Market Hall I’d like to try. For a foodie it’s a must-visit spot in London, and one I know I’ll be returning to time and time again.

Where would you choose to eat in Market Hall?