Cooking From: A Review of Ottolenghi’s Simple

This is taking a slightly different format to my usual Cooking From posts. Whilst I usually include one of my favourite recipes from each book, with a review of how the recipe works and what changes I did/would make, I just can’t do that with Simple. There are too many excellent recipes to choose from, most of which I wouldn’t change at all.

 photo Ottolenghi Simple 2_zpshad0xv3c.jpgSince getting this for Christmas it’s become our most used cookbook of 2019, and it’s pretty much knocked my beloved Save with Jamie off top-spot for all-time favourite too (sorry Jamie!). Whenever we are stuck for inspiration for our weekly meal plan we’ll flick through this. If we want an interesting side, we’ll look in here. If we want to use up random freezer veg (looking at you edamame beans!) then this is the book we’ll grab first. Dinner parties, date nights, after-work meals, cosy weekend brunches. This book has done it all for us. I now need more of Ottolenghi’s books in my life.

Ottolenghi Simple is a collection of recipes that are ‘simple’ in one of five ways – Short on time”, “10 Ingredients or less”, “Make ahead”, “Pantry”, “Lazy” and “Easier than you think”- or a combination thereof. Colour coded, and sectioned roughly into chapters such as Cooked/Raw Veg, Meat & Fish etc. And there’s hardly any recipes I don’t want to cook as-is, or adapt to be tomato-free.

 

 

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Of the recipes we have so far cooked, there’s been not one dud. Nothing which has been ‘meh.’ Everything has been devoured in silence. Many have been declared ‘that was really, really tasty.’ If we want a delicious meal, we know we’ll find it in this book.

The Roasted Chicken with Preserved Lemon is the epitome of simple. And it’s also amazing. Yes it is covered in butter and so is a thousand more calories that your usual roast chicken – but I’d prefer to die happy and fat than thin and miserable. We don’t make it every time we have a roast chicken, but when we’re entertaining or just fancy something different from the norm then it’s delicious.

Two Bean Two Lime Salad introduced us to Kaffir Lime Leaves for the first time. So zingy and fresh, this was the recipe we picked for emptying our life of the half bag of lingering edaname beans – and I’ll now go out and buy more of the bleeding things just to make this again. It also makes eating green beans actually enjoyable, and is definitely one I’ll be keeping up my sleeve for summer BBQs.

New Potatoes with Peas and Coriander is bright green and glorious. A real celebration of peas. And good cold/reheated too.

 

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The Mackerel with Pistachio and Cardamon Salsa and Ginger Cream. Now this was a real celebration of mackerel (which is THE oily fish for those on a budget), and whilst sounding like an odd combination everything really worked well together. We served it with a little brown rice and it was a lovely light meal.

And then there was the Slow Cooked Lamb Shoulder with Mint and Cumin. Perhaps not the best recipe to make during the 24C heat of the Easter weekend (8 hours of the oven on made our flat pretty much unbearable) but it was well worth it. Incredibly tasty, so tender it fell apart when poked with a spoon. The best lamb I’ve ever made, and quite possibly the best lamb I’ve ever eaten.

We also used the leftovers in a Spiced Shepherd’s Pie with Butterbean Mash. There’s two ‘shepherd’s pie’ recipes in the book, both incorporating tahini into the topping. This was the simpler version, though we adapted it to use the leftovers rather than standard mince. The butterbean tahini topping was particularly good – and served with a salad made for something really rather tasty.

 

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Braised Eggs with Leeks and Za’atar was our brunch dish of choice for the Easter weekend, and what a choice it was too. Soft and sweet leeks, punchy za’atar, runny egg yolks and plenty of feta. Another variation on a ‘green’ shakshuka type dish which I’m totally here for. So much more exciting than the tomato-ey versions anyway.

We’ve also cooked a variety of other sides from the book – all good, all delicious. Next on my list are the Herb Fritters, Bridget Jones Salmon and pretty much the whole book…

To conclude. If you only ever want one recipe book in your life, it’s quite possible this one will do the job.

Are you an Ottolenghi fan?

Recipe: A Classic Lemon Drizzle Cake

If I had to choose a favourite cake, it would be a toss up between a really good carrot cake (no raisins, plenty of orange, covered in a cream cheese frosting) or a lemon drizzle. Soft and almost soggy with lemon and a good crystallised top. The lemon drizzle cake is also one of my favourite to bake – it’s super quick and easy, smells amazing in the oven and doesn’t need fancy decorating or piping.

 photo Lemon Drizzle Cake_zpsydshechd.jpg photo Lemon Drizzle Loaf Cake 5_zps3zsgblsw.jpg photo Lemon Drizzle Loaf Cake 8_zpsubcu8nhv.jpgI like my lemon drizzle cakes to be super citrussy and zingy – something sharp that will make you suck your cheeks in on first bite, but still sweet from the glaze. I also don’t stop at just adding lemons. The photographed version switched out one of the lemons for a lime, and I’ve also added oranges to the mix before. Anything citrus goes in my opinion! I’ve also added a spot of gin to the drizzle mix before which may or may not have gone down rather well…

The point is, once you’ve got the basic sponge mixture down (the unzested mix could also be used for some delicious cupcakes, just add a spot of vanilla essence and cover in buttercream) you add the zest of 2 citrus fruits. Once baked, poke with a skewer and pour over a mix of sugar and the juice of those two fruits.

 photo Lemon Drizzle Loaf Cake 16_zpsolkwo115.jpg photo Lemon Drizzle Loaf Cake 17_zpsc8yeshyy.jpg photo Lemon Drizzle Loaf Cake 18_zps6dgg2xdm.jpg photo Lemon Drizzle Loaf Cake  9_zpshnaek7pv.jpgRecipe – 8-10 generous slices

Using a loaf tin makes it perfect for sharing in the office too, thin slices cut in half means I’d get a good 20 servings out of this recipe which is enough to keep my team happy!

  • 225g unsalted butter, softened
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • finely grated zest 2 lemons (or 1 lemon + one other citrus fruit)
  • for the drizzle topping – juice 2 lemons (or 1 lemon + one other citrus fruit and 125g caster sugar

Beat together the butter and sugar until pale and creamy (top tip – beat the butter on it’s own first to make sure it is soft enough), then gradually beat in the eggs. Sift in 225g self-raising flour, then add the lemon zest and mix until well combined. Pour the mixture into a greased and lined 900g loaf time, and level the top. Bake for 50-55 mins at 180C until a skewer comes out clean.

While the cake is cooling in its tin, mix together the ingredients for the drizzle.  Prick the warm cake all over with a skewer (go most of the way through the cake but try to avoid going through to the tin entirely) then pour over the drizzle – the juice will sink in and the sugar will form a lovely, crisp topping. Make sure all of the cake is covered. Leave in the tin until completely cool, then remove and serve.

 photo Lemon Drizzle Loaf Cake  13_zpsd70rasl5.jpgAnd that’s it. My favourite cake, in all it’s glory!

What is your go-to cake choice?

Food: Cooking with Comté and a Cheese, Onion, Bacon & Apple Tart [invited event]

I love cheese. It’s a fact I often use when asked to describe myself (along with wine, walking and dogs – I’m a right party animal me). But anyway, cheese. I’ve not always been a lover of the stuff, and up until a few years ago my limit was some mature cheddar and a grating of Parmesan in a risotto. Fortunately I’ve seen the error of my ways and now aim to fuel my cheese habit as often as possible.

 photo Cooking with Comte_zps8tszsko0.jpgOf course, I jumped at the chance of attending an evening cookery class entirely based on cheese. Comté to be exact. We started the night learning a bit more about this French cheese, and I now know that no two batches will ever taste the same. It’s an unpasteurised cheese made with milk from grass-fed cows and so each batch will be subtly flavoured with what the cows have been eating, as well as slightly differently coloured over the year. It can also be aged for different lengths of time, with older cheeses being stronger, crumblier and with a grainy texture not dissimilar to a good Parmigiano Reggiano – yum! I have to say if I was eating the cheese as-is I’d go for an older Comté, but the younger cheeses melt beautifully and work wonderfully in cooking.

 photo Cooking with Comte Cheese 5_zps9iucvwlg.jpg photo Cooking with Comte Cheese 3_zpswcbkhwj3.jpg photo Cooking with Comte Cheese 1_zps0xcwjhxj.jpgTake these little parcels for example. Filled with a good amount of cheese, some prosciutto and some sage before being baked to a crisp finish, they really are as irresistible as they sound. I know, I ate 5! Perfect with a glass or two of fizz…

Throughout the evening we made two dishes, trying not to eat handfuls of cheese as we went. The first was a really simple (yet really not photogenic!) baked asparagus dish. Asparagus was blanched, a cheese sauce mixed up (and flavoured with Worcestershire sauce and mustard before being enriched with an egg yolk) and poured over the veg. It was then covered in Comté before being baked-then-grilled to bubbling golden perfection. Not only did this convert me to asparagus a little more, it was bloody delish! I have no shame in admitting that I mopped up some of the cheesy sauce with baguette after all the greens had gone.

 photo Cooking with Comte Cheese 8_zpsgou1bbuc.jpg photo Cooking with Comte Cheese 17_zpspbxok1a4.jpg photo Cooking with Comte Cheese 16_zpsrtngibha.jpgFortunately for my waist line our second course was a little lighter and fresher. A salad made of broad beans (which has taught me I’m too lazy, and podded ones are SO much better), prosciutto, hazelnuts, mixed salad leaves and some more of that lovely Comté. Covered in a light lemony vinaigrette it would make the perfect Saturday lunch. Sadly I had to leave the event before attempting to make my own version, but I stole a forkful of the chef’s and it was lovely – a glorious mix and flavours and textures.

But that’s not the end of the Comté talk. At the end of the evening I was lucky enough to be given a goody bag containing a big block of the stuff – and so I’ve been spending the last week coming up with the best ways to use it. I know, a hard job but someone’s gotta do it! My favourite so far has been this open tart with soft onions, sliced apple, lightly crisp bacon and plenty of cheese. It’s super easy and makes for an impressive looking dish – a big portion is photographed here but you could also do some dainty circles of pastry for a smart starter. Served with a salad (dressing should be something sharp to counteract the richness of the tart) it’s been a go-to during the slightly cold start to May.

 photo Cooking with Comte Cheese 24_zpslzfmelnw.jpg photo Cooking with Comte Cheese  22_zps3m9p1q6g.jpgRecipe: Makes 2 Large Tarts (enough for dinner for 2) or 4-6 Small Ones (for starters)

  • 2 onions (3 if they are small), finely sliced
  • a knob of butter
  • 1 garlic clove
  • a pinch of dried thyme
  • 1 apple, thinly sliced (we used a mandoline to do this)
  • 2 rashes of bacon, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dijon mustard
  • 50g Comté, sliced thinly (or more, if you’re a big cheese fan!)
  • 1/2 pack of ready-rolled puff pastry
  • 1 tsp milk

First, melt your butter in a frying pan and fry the onions until soft, adding a pinch of salt, and the garlic and thyme. Once done transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool slightly, whilst frying your bacon in the same pan.

Pop the pastry on a sheet of greaseproof paper, and thinly spread the mustard over the top, leaving a border of around 1cm at each edge. Spread the onions over the mustard, followed by the bacon. Top with the apple slices, and finish with the cheese and a good grinding of black pepper. Brush the milk around the edges of the pastry, and then bake at 190C for around 20 minutes.

Serve hot/warm with a freshly dressed salad and a glass of chilled white – if you made this kind of lunch for me of a weekend I’d love you forever!
 photo Cooking with Comte Cheese 21_zps63sf15ex.jpg

* I was invited to attend a cookery class with Comté Cheese and received a goody bag with some cheese on the night. I wasn’t paid, or asked to write a blog post/pop anything up on social media, but I have done because I love cheese!

Are you a cheese fan? Do you go for the piles of cheese-and-biscuits approach or do you look for interesting recipes to use it in?

Review: Half’n’Half Pizzas at Battersea Pi, Clapham

I suffer, quite chronically, with the problem of not being able to choose what to eat. In a chain restaurant I’m generally good as I have my go-to choices (until they remove it from the menu, as happened to me in Bella Italia last week with my favourite pasta dish…) but the problem comes out when I’m presented with a “I-want-to-eat-everything-on-this” menu in more independent places. Battersea Pi went someway towards solving this problem, as they allowed me to choose two pizzas in one.

 photo Battersea Pi_zpsqaodfl3i.jpg(I could have chosen 3 if we’d had a big pizza to share, but I couldn’t persuade my husband to go without tomato-based pizzas…)

After putting a shout-out on Twitter for recommended pizza places in SW London I had shouts for Dynamo (I LOVE their Stelvio pizza, but the service in the Putney restaurant has deteriorated to the point we only order via Deliveroo), Franco Manca (they’ve taken their tomato-free pizza off the menu – the courgette and basil one was delicious) and 400 Rabbits (so yum, but just too far!) – and then this place dropped onto my radar. Just down-the-road-and-round-the-corner from Clapham Junction it’s super easy for us to get to, offers 3 or so tomato-free options on their standard menu, and the toppings just sounded yummy. It was an easy choice for my post-exam ritual of a pizza night!

And as it was potentially to be the last post-exam pizza (I need another excuse if I end up qualifying this time around!) we decided to go all out. A carafe of the “fancier” (read: not the cheapest) rose on the menu was ordered, and it was delightful. A very pale, almost golden colour and absolutely delicious. And we even went all out with starters too…

 photo Battersea Pi Pizzeria Review 2_zpshk7qlm16.jpg photo Battersea Pi Pizzeria Review  1_zpsdnfj1ezu.jpgBruschetta with Lardo, Parmesan and Honey were outrageously simple (and totally unphotogenic) but also outrageously delicious. The lardo was fantastic quality, the bread crispy without causing fear for my teeth and I could have eaten several plates along with the aforementioned wine.

My choice, Arancini with Pancetta, Spinach, Scamorza and Leek (or leak, as both the online and printed menu read), were just as good. The rice was still slightly al-dente, the outsides perfectly crisp and there was blobs of melting cheese throughout. The pancetta, though delicious, I felt could have been taken out to make these veggie friendly – and my biggest point of criticism for the food was that I’d have avoided serving these in a bowl on top of salad leaves, as it made them very wilted and unpleasant. Either on a plate, or in a bowl without salad!

And then the main event. The pizza.

We both went for the ‘regular’ size with half’n’half toppings. And trust me, these pizzas are big. W managed all of us but complained of being full for the remainder of the evening. I enjoyed two large slices for lunch the next day – and as a side note the base reheated perfectly without going soggy, greasy or chewy.

 photo Battersea Pi Pizzeria Review  6_zpsqzrev3l0.jpg photo Battersea Pi Pizzeria Review  8_zpssicduyrz.jpgW went for two tomatoey options – the No. 3 (Nduja, Ricotta, Mint and Jalapeno Jam) and the No.7 (Lebanese Spiced Lamb with Turkish Yoghurt and Parsley). “They were delicious” is the answer I got when I was penning up this post and asked for his opinion so there you go!

I, of course, went for the “white base” options – the No.2 (Roasted Butternut Squash, Sage and Sausage) and the No. 6 (Rosemary Goat’s Cheese, Crispy Kale and Caramelised Red Onion). I was expected chunks of roasted squash, so a puree as a sauce confused me slightly (especially as it’s billed to have a white base!), but it was delicious and the sweet nuttiness really worked well with the sage, mozzarella and sausage. I found it unexpectedly spicy, but still tasty.

The No.6 was a revelation! Whilst really not attractive to look at, the crispy kale worked wonderfully on a pizza, adding an amazing crunchy texture and a slight bitterness which worked so well with the creamy goat’s cheese. Red Onion and Goat’s Cheese is a combination I love anyway (check out my comforting pasta recipe here) and to have it on a pizza was pretty much a dream come true.

The bases were delicious – less greasy that those from the Dynamo, but less doughy and more flavourful that those from Franco Manca. I’d put them fairly close in flavour to the ones I make at home, though obviously these guys have a *massive* pizza oven and I have a temperamental oven that seems to leak more heat into the flat that it retains. Toppings were just enough – not scanty, but not enough to overload the base and make it soggy or impossible to eat. Nothing worse than a soggy bottom. I personally would have liked a little more cheese, but I’m a bit of cheese fiend right now!

 photo Battersea Pi Pizzeria Review  7_zps0xjch8aq.jpgWe declined the offer of seeing the dessert menu (and it’s only online, so I’m not sure what they offer) but I know I’ll be back. They were very ready to make changes to pizzas for dietary requirements, there’s vegan options and it was also a lovely, relaxing and friendly place to be.  Though next time I’m 100% persuading my hubby to get one of the giant pizzas…

Where’s your favourite pizza spot? Do you struggle to choose what to order?

Cooking From: Stewed Spinach Eggs from The Little Swedish Kitchen (Rachel Khoo)

This is the recipe that, having seen on Instagram, made me buy this book. I’m a sucker for a good egg recipe that isn’t a tomato-ey shakshuka and this is basically my dream brunch dish. Lots of green veg, indulgently creamy, runny egg yolks and a hint of heat and sharp from the pickle. Perfect with a big stack of hot buttered sourdough and a cuppa for a lazy Sunday morning.

 photo Spinach Eggs_zpsytsyfkxn.jpgThe entire book is basically perfect for lazy weekend reading. It’s not really a book I’d pick up for meal planning inspiration for weekday nights (with the exception of the Smoked Sausage Stroganoff), but it’s something I’d dip in and out of for weekend cooking. I’m desperate to try out Rachel’s recipe for Swedish Meatballs (she has both a regular and a vegan version in the book, both looking and sounding delicious). The Chocolate Cake The Dog Ate is another vegan recipe in the book which I’ll be making soon – and don’t worry, the dog suffered no ill effects.

The whole book is full of delicious sounding recipes, nothing is overly complex, but it does feel like this is one to take your time over. What really pulls me in is the photography. It’s not fussy, there’s no fancy plating, but it’s beautiful and rustic, and there’s plenty of landscapes and non-food photographs too. It really is a beautiful book, worthy of any coffee table for sure!

And that brings me onto this recipe. It’s no surprise it has been used by many foodie magazines highlighting the book, it’s visually stunning! The vibrant green and pinks and the golden egg yolks just make an attractive dish. And it tastes as good as it looks. I will say I am tempted to add some plain flour to thicken the mix when I next make it, as despite some fairly long simmering ours was still a little watery. But there will definitely be a next time! I loved the sharp pickle with the eggs, and loved getting a good portion of green leafy vegetables into my first meal of the day. Whilst the book serves 4, we scaled the recipe by two-thirds-ish and still used four eggs and this was perfect for a late breakfast. I rather think one egg per person is a tad stingy!

 photo IMG_1655_zpsksznqrqb.jpg photo IMG_1659_zpsvmojjwyq.jpgRecipe (serves 2 for breakfast)

  • 350g frozen spinach, we used a mix of wholeleaf and chopped
  • 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • large knob of butter
  • 100ml single cream
  • 100ml milk
  • whole nutmeg
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 packet of fresh dill (and the same of chives, though we didn’t have any)
  • for the pickle: 1 small fresh red chilli (deseeded and thinly sliced), 1 small red onion (peeled and finely chopped), 1 tbsp white wine vinegar and a pinch of sugar

First make the pickle. Put the chilli and red onion into a glass or ceramic bowl with the vinegar, 2 tablespoons of water, a pinch of salt and the sugar. Mix well and leave to sit whilst you cook the rest of the dish.

Put the spinach, onion and butter into a large frying pan. Place on a very gentle heat and cook, covered, for 5 minutes. Uncover, stir and continue to fry for another 5–10 minutes, until the water from the spinach has evaporated. Add the cream, milk, a generous grating of nutmeg and some freshly ground pepper. Cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring at intervals. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking. Make four wells for the eggs. Crack in the eggs and continue to cook for 5 minutes or until the egg whites have just set.

Just before serving, toss the dill (and chives) with the chilli and red onion. Sprinkle over the spinach and eggs and serve immediately.

 photo IMG_1658_zps3zbmpwgg.jpgAs I said, I do think this is an absolutely delicious brunch recipe – I especially loved the spicy pickle, although next time I’d take charge of the chopping as I felt my husband left it a tad chunky given the short pickling time! The herbs added so much vibrance-y and freshness to the flavour, and of course you can never, ever go wrong with some runny eggs!

What’s your favourite at-home brunch recipe?

Recipe: Vegan Chocolate Cake

This year was the year that I planned to do *all* the Easter baking. The first Easter weekend in four years that wasn’t immediately before an exam period, the first time I could actually enjoy the bank holiday without feeling guilty. I wanted to make Hot Cross Buns, bread, fancy-pants lamb dishes, and I had a real desire to make Lemon-y cookies. I managed to do exactly none of that.

 photo Vegan Chocolate Cake_zpsjipcyg4w.jpgI could make excuses (and to be fair, it was too hot to be inside baking over the Bank Holiday weekend!) but in all honesty? I couldn’t be bothered. It was the first time in what felt like a long time that I could truly relax, and I just wanted to sit. To read a book without feeling guilty. Have a bath without taking study notes with me. To binge watch something anything (Fleabag was the series of choice, SO good!). Baking was quite far down on the list, and so this was the only thing that I made.

A birthday cake for my dad, veganised so my sister could enjoy it. Chocolate-y because it was Easter after all. If it hadn’t have been a birthday cake I probably would have decorated with mini-eggs. And, y’ano, vegan.

As far as vegan cakes go, this one is pretty “normal” – there’s no weird substitute ingredients, no flaxseed pretending to be egg. I don’t have anything against those ingredients, but I also don’t tend to find that they necessarily work in the way they are intending, and I find getting them evenly incorporated in to get an even rise quite tricky. So this is pretty basic. Milk and butter swapped out for plant-milk (we used Oatly) and Flora spread. It works. It rises (to the point we did have to prise one layer off the over rack above). It’s light and airy and tasty. The buttercream is rich and chocolately and indulgent. Even better was this stayed fresh (covered with an upturned salad bowl…) for a good few days, which I was quite impressed by. My only criticism is that it was super-crumbly and so virtually impossible to slice neatly.

 photo Vegan Chocolate Cake 18_zpspwtpjlky.jpg photo Vegan Chocolate Cake 13_zpsc3boeqhz.jpgIngredients (makes an 8 inch sponge, giving 10 generous slices)

  • 300ml vegan milk
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar (we used apple cider as that’s what was lying around)
  • 150g vegan spread (we used Flora)
  • 60g golden syrup
  • 1 tsp instant coffee
  • 275g plain flour
  • 170g sugar
  • 4 tbsp cocoa powder (we used raw cacao powder)
  • 2.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • For enough frosting for the middle/top – 75g vegan spread (again, Flora worked fine), 180g icing sugar, 4 tbsp cocoa powder, 2 tbsp vegan milk

Stir the vinegar into the milk and set aside, stirring every so often. Some plant milks will thicken and slightly curdle which is fine (this is the same as turning dairy milk into buttermilk) however oat milk is unlikely to do this! In a pan over a low heat, melt the spread, golden syrup and coffee granules together. I added a tiny splash of boiling water to encourage the coffee to dissolve. Along to cool slightly, then stir in the milk mixture.

Weigh the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) into a large mixing bowl and whisk together – whisking will incorporate some air without the need for sifting.  Gradually pour the milk and melted margarine mixture over the flour mixture and stir well until it becomes a smooth batter.

Divide the mixture between two greased and line sandwich tins (8 inches in diameter) and bake for around 30 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. I found that these did crack a little, but as you’re piling on the buttercream it doesn’t matter!

Allow the cakes to cool completely on a wire rack before making the buttercream. Beat the spread in a bowl until soft and creamy, then add in half of the icing sugar and beat until smooth. Add the rest of the icing sugar and the cocoa powder and beat until smooth and thick, then gradually beat in up to 2 tbsp of milk (you may not need it all) until the icing is a soft and spreadable consistency. Spread over the top of one cake, sandwich the other on top, and spread the rest of the icing on top. If you want to add icing on the sides, I’d multiply all of the buttercream ingredients by 1.5(ish).
 photo Vegan Chocolate Cake 3_zpsatde0rhb.jpg

Did you do any baking over the Bank Holiday weekend? Are there any other vegan bakes you’d like to see?

Review: A Classic Yet Modern Afternoon Tea at Hide Ground, Mayfair

I’m a real lover of a good afternoon tea – and by good I don’t necessarily mean super-fancy, but just good tasting and good quality food, ideally with a little twist to make it super special. Maybe it’s fancy (and pretty) pastry work, unusual sandwich combos, cocktails or just a gorgeous sitting room, I see afternoon tea as a special occasion.

 photo Hide Afternoon Tea_zpsmuliuj8v.jpgIt’s something I like to treat my mum to every now and then, and so it has to be good! Last year we went for the Wyld Afternoon Tea at Dandelyan (now Lyaness, and a similar menu is still available which I hope to try very soon), and this year I had originally booked the Mary Poppin’s Tea at Aquashard. After seeing multiple bad reviews and having difficulty in getting confirmation that they could provide suitable treats given our dietary requirements, I chickened out fairly last minute and needed a new option. And booking in for afternoon tea, on a Saturday, in London, at short notice – it’s fairly difficult. Luckily newly Michelin-starred Hide had availability and were wonderful in reassuring me on the allergy front, so I booked and looked forward to seeing THAT staircase.

 photo Hide Afternoon Tea 16_zpsonulolps.jpgWhilst I’m not usually a fan of cancelling restaurant bookings (especially one I’d struggled to make as it does get booked up), I can say I definitely made the right decision here. Our afternoon at Hide couldn’t be faulted, it was such a lovely experience.

The afternoon tea started with the tea choice – and whilst my mum played it safe with the English Breakfast (it’s the northerner in her!) I tried two beautiful teas. The first was a Black Leopard, which was delicious. I had it with a splash of milk and thoroughly enjoyed it as something a little different. The second was a Milky Blue Oolong. I wasn’t convinced by this at first (it smells and tastes a little like rice pudding!) but weirdly I’ve craved it ever since. I imagine it would be wonderfully comforting before bed…

The food all arrived at once, two savoury snacks, a plate of sandwiches, scones, patisserie and some candy-floss.

 photo Hide Afternoon Tea 2_zpsyq7i48jo.jpg photo Hide Afternoon Tea  1_zpsq4osl1gr.jpg photo Hide Afternoon Tea  10_zpsi0juw3rk.jpgOur savouries were a delightful gougere, which I would describe as a warm savoury profiterole filled with a thick cheese sauce – and yes, it’s as good as it sounds. We also enjoyed a snack of a smoked egg yolk with white asapargus and truffle – this had some crunchy toast crumbs inside and reminded me of a boiled egg and soldiers, just super fancy. I was slightly jealous that my mum got two of these, as she doesn’t eat cheese!

Sandwiches were wrapped in paper, which had kept them fresh and soft. No dried out bread here! There was only three finger sandwiches, and my one criticsm of this afternoon tea is that I didn’t feel overly fully when I left. I’d have loved the option to replenish the sandwich plate as they were delicious! The Salmon with Picked Cucumber was the star for me, with just the right amount of salmon to avoid being overly slimy. The “cheese and chutney” was delightful, with the cheese being grated and mixed with the butter and chutney so it (1) stayed in the bread upon biting and (2) wasn’t cloying. I also loved the Chicken with Tarragon Mayonnaise, it was light and flavourful. Just another one of each and I’d have been a very happy girl!

 photo Hide Afternoon Tea 15_zpsrflqssz8.jpg photo Hide Afternoon Tea 8_zpsomqxquuu.jpg photo Hide Afternoon Tea 17_zpshpq4a1tv.jpgScones were wrapped and so still warm when we got to them – and they broke perfectly in half (the sign of a good scone!). Served with clotted cream and a superb Strawberry and Hibiscus Jam I was a happy girl, and the dried fruit used as so moist I didn’t have to sit and pick it out…

And then on to patisserie. Again, portion sizes aren’t huge here and I felt another cake wouldn’t have gone amiss. The chocolate tart was impossible to eat neatly thanks to the chocolate soil, but it was rich, indulgent and yummy so we didn’t really care! The Glazed Lemon Verbena Sponge really did steal the show – it was light, moist and so zesty.

We finished by enjoying our candyfloss, which definitely reminded me of my childhood (in particular the summer fete my primary school used to host). Instead of the vivid pink of my youth it was undyed, and they adorn with various herbs. Definitely the grown-up version, but also so nostalgic!

 photo Hide Afternoon Tea 3_zpsoq1fpufw.jpgService was friendly, efficient and they were absolutely happy for us to linger and chat – just what you want for afternoon tea! And of course the restaurant was just beautiful. I’ve heard tale of the many millions spent on renovating it and I have to say it’s created the most spectacular effect. The staircase was stunning, the toilets so luxurious (with the most amazing smelling candle that I *think* was created specially for them – gutted!). I also spied the cheese trolley, so that’s clearly a reason to go back…

In short, if you’re looking for a traditional yet modern afternoon tea, I’d highly recommend Hide. I’d just maybe plan in a decent sized early-lunch beforehand!

Are you an afternoon tea fan? Where would you recommend for me next time?

Food: My #YearofVeganLunches Challenge

I’ve mentioned this more on my Instagram grid that on here, but one of my goals for the year is to aim to make all of my lunchboxes vegan throughout the year. I’m doing this for a few reasons – but mainly to prove a point after someone mockingly bet me I couldn’t eat many vegan dishes. I’m stubborn, me. It’s also to cut down on the amount of meat I eat, although a lot of my lunchboxes were veggie anyway, and to remove the unnecessary cheese. Lunch looks a bit boring, add a generous helping of feta. Pasta? Grate half a block of Parmesan on it. You get the picture.

 photo Vegan Lunches_zpsdg4bkab1.jpgThat said, I’m not being overly strict. I don’t want to end up dreading lunchtime and craving the canteen’s chips instead. I don’t want to give up on this challenge a few months in. And so it’s onto the self-imposed ‘rules’…

  • The challenge is for lunchboxes only, which means eating out, weekends and study days tend not to fall under the challenge. I’ve actually found myself picking more vegan options on these days anyway, but I needed to lift the restriction when eating out as vegan + tomato allergy ain’t as easy as you’d imagine!
  • Ignore pasta, as long as the sauces and accompaniments are vegan. I know you can get vegan pasta, but we have so much of it anyway (as we buy in bulk) so I’m not sweating it for this challenge. As long as I don’t serve up a mac’n’cheese (with proper milk/cheese!) I kinda feel that’s okay! Though I do have some vegan chickpea pasta to try out from my latest Degustabox (gifted) so we’ll see how that goes…
  • Avoiding waste trumps this challenge. Whilst I’m no longer creating my lunchboxes around planned leftovers (they go into dinners instead) I will still refuse to see waste just because ‘its not vegan’ if it can otherwise be thrown into my lunchbox. Case in point was a delicious yoghurt based dressing from a Taco Salad (this recipe) a few weeks ago. It went wonderfully over the bean mix I had in my lunchbox that week, but would have ended up down the drain if not. Likewise if there’s a bit of feta going to waste in the fridge (because it comes in packs that are generally far too big) then I would sooner eat it in a lunch than throw it out!
  • No meat substitutes (and I’m not crazy about the amount of sugar in the Oatly cream and creme fraiche substitutes either…). Though I have to say I’m curious about pulled peas…

And so far, this approach is working out really well for me. I’ve had some damn tasty lunches – highlights have been a mushroom and lentil stew/soup combo (I’ve since re-made this as more of a stew with borlotti beans and leeks and have five portions stashed in the freezer), an amaaaazzzzing chickpea soup with tahini and a surprisingly tasty throw-together salad of lentils, kale and roasted broccoli. The sort of thing I’d have thrown feta on top of without a moments thought, but actually was all the better without it.

Have you tried going vegan, or eating more vegan options?

Recipe: Curried Haddock Chowder

Chowder. My biggest food love of 2018. We discovered it on honeymoon, when I managed to eat probably 7 bowls of the stuff over the trip (and given food was a big part of the trip, anything repeated even twice had to be good!). Whilst I haven’t recreated the New England Clam version that absolutely has my heart, this version has become a regular on our meal plan.

 photo Curried Chowder_zpsryikvxl4.jpgIt’s fairly budget friendly, which gives it a big advantage over the clam version. It’s also fairly quick to make which makes it the absolute perfect afterwork supper. This recipe makes 2 massive bowlfuls, and it’s wonderful hearty. Chunks of veg and fish, and the most beautiful spiced broth. You can vary the spicing to suit your tastes, but I tend to go on the hotter end of the spectrum – mainly because every time I’ve made it one or both of us has been suffering from a cold. And the best thing is that it could be easily bulked up. Add naan bread if you’re super hungry, and a handful of prawns stirred in would be amazing too. In fact, I think I might have to try that tonight…

 photo Curried Haddock Chowder 6_zpsvvaboctk.jpg photo Curried Haddock Chowder 8_zpsgcizsct5.jpgRecipe (serves 2, or would stretch to 3 if served with some naan bread)

  • 2 fillets of smoked haddock (I used frozen and defrosted in the fridge during the day)
  • 1 onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 small leek
  • 1 celery stick
  • 2 medium potatoes (around 250g)
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1 tbsp of curry powder (if you don’t have any of the other spices, up this to 2 tbsp)
  • ½ tsp of ground cumin
  • ½ tsp of ground coriander
  • ½ tsp of turmeric
  • 400ml of stock (I normally use chicken, but vegetable or fish would also work well)
  • 50-1000ml of cream, depending on how creamy you would like it
  • Large handful of fresh coriander, chopped

First up, chop your veg. Finely dice the onion, carrot and celery, and finely slice the leek. Peel the potato and cut into dice, about 3-4cm cubed. In a large pan, heat a splash of olive oil and add the onions, carrot, celery, and chilli with a pinch of salt, and sweat for 10-12 minutes. When the vegetables are soft, add the spices and stir in. Fry for 2 minutes, then add the stock and diced potatoes. Simmer for 15 minutes until the potatoes are almost cooked.

Add the cream and bring back to the boil. Tear in the haddock and simmer for five minutes, then add the coriander and stir in. I sometimes stir in some fresh spinach too for some extra greens. Season well with plenty of black pepper, then serve in bowls.

 photo Curried Haddock Chowder 4_zpskiun775u.jpgThis Curried Chowder is perfect on a winter’s night, I think I’m addicted to it! So comforting and flavourful, it could also be made in a big batch and served as part of an informal dinner party.

Have you ever tried chowder?

Review: Nose to Tail Eating at St John, Smithfield

Perhaps one of the least pretentious Michelin-starred restaurants in London (to the point we were debating whether it had one – it does), the slightly shabbier decor both inside and out means it’s all about the food at St John. Very industrial, and I was worried as the bar area was actually cold as we walked through, but thankfully the dining room was warm and a little comfier.

 photo St John_zpst2dxrxgc.jpgWe started with some great bread (though the butter was a tad too cold – perhaps it has also spent some time in the bar area!) and ordered what turned out to be a couple of glasses of some very nice red. The menu also wasn’t what I was expecting – I was expecting meat, and a lot of it, but there was also a fairly decent balance of fish and veg on there too. Not a huge amount of choice, and some options just far enough out there to really excite me. I’m the type of person to order the offal, the rabbit, the thing that you have to google, and I’d been looking forward to this meal since booking a few months prior.

And it was worth the wait. Again, there was a complete lack of pretentiousness. No showy-off plating of ingredients. Nothing cooked in a particularly fancy way. Just excellent quality ingredients, cooked quite right, paired with exactly the right flavours, and in properly big portions to boot.

 photo St John Restaurant Review 2_zps51eir7gr.jpgI ordered what is perhaps considered to be their signature dish as my starter. I’d been day-dreaming about it since booking and was honestly waking up in sweats in case it wasn’t on the menu (daily menus are published at 5pm, so you won’t know what you’re getting when you book). Fortunately for me, and possibly the sanity of those around me, it was very much on there. Roast bone marrow served with a parsley and caper salad was served undeniably simply, with some more excellent bread grilled to a dry yet not burnt toast. It was very much a get-stuck-in type dish, I was pushing and scraping the marrow out onto toast, and adding salad and seasoning as I saw fit. I was in a greasy mess by the end of it (not a first date dish) but a very happy greasy mess. The bone marrow was rich and comforting, the salad sharp and cutting through it exactly right.

 photo St John Restaurant Review 1_zpsb1ye6gfb.jpgMy husband went slightly more refined with a Pork Cheek and Dandelion Salad. Crispy and crunchy hunks of meat, and really pepperly leaves in a dressing strong with mustard. It wasn’t a dish for the faint-hearted and I thought the dressing was perhaps a tad over-powdering, but it was 100% something I’d eat a whole plate of.

Once I saw the main courses on offer they was never any doubt in what I was ordered. I’ve loved faggots since childhood and find they near impossible to get hold of in London, so I said yes please and thank you to Kid Faggots with Mash and Onion Gravy. Greens on the side, because I needed to reassure myself I had eaten at least one of my five-a-day during the meal. These combined of a mixture of heart, kidneys and liver all wrapped in caul fat. I felt the outside could have done with some crisping up, but it was a heart, delicious plateful that I didn’t want to end. The inside of the faggots was nicely textured – certainly not mush, and you could just about pick out the differing tastes and textures of the different elements. And despite it’s wishy-washy appearance, the sauce accompanying the onions was packed full of flavour. Not that you need a sauce, because that mash was certainly creamy and buttery enough to hold it’s own! Greens were also spectacular, buttery and a little bitter. Not necessary, but given there’s no additional veg on the plate they did add some balance.

 photo St John Restaurant Review 5_zpsjtzbucbg.jpg photo St John Restaurant Review 4_zpstxjnl391.jpg photo St John Restaurant Review 3_zpskrigyy7j.jpgW went for a Saddle of Pork dish with Red Cabbage, and this is the reason why I’ve not been able to buy pork since. It was quite honestly the best tasting bit of pig I’ve had the fortune to try, and no Sunday Roast will ever be the same again. Was it fancy? Certainly not. But it was damn tasty. As we ate they sold out of the salad cut, so moved on to serving the same dish but with another cut of pork. Nose to tail eating at it’s finest.

Though talking about the sides, I’m still a little bitter I couldn’t talk my husband into sharing the Welsh Rarebit with me. Next time.

 photo St John Restaurant Review 8_zpsddv2rngo.jpg photo St John Restaurant Review 7_zpse4mq2yeh.jpgTo be fair to him, I was struggling at this point. As was he – to the point he looked slightly panicked when they surprising him with a birthday treat of some (absolutely wonderful) ginger ice-cream. I stole a good few spoonfuls as it went perfectly with my Ginger Loaf with Butterscotch Sauce (also served with vanilla ice-cream, but the ginger was better). Surprisingly this wasn’t over-sweet, and was pretty much everything I always hope a Sticky Toffee Pudding would be…Eccles Cake with Cheese was also a good choice, and we rolled out of the restaurant too very full, very happy people.

Have you ever visited St John? Where’s the best meal you’ve had of 2019 so far?