Review: Afternoon Tea at the Whittard Tea Bar, Covent Garden [invited]

Afternoon Tea is one of my all-time favourite treats. It’s the perfect way to spend a few hours with a friend; catching up on all the gossip over plenty of yummy treats. I try to have one at least once a year with my best girlies, and it’s also something I like to treat my mum to. It’s the perfect present for a loved one– a lovely experience for them, some quality time and I get cake too!

 photo Whittard Afternoon Tea_zpsi1jthwpj.jpgWith that in mind what better way was there to celebrate National Best Friends Day (8th June) that with afternoon tea?! Whittard of Chelsea kindly offered me and my best friend an afternoon tea experience at their Tea Bar in Covent Garden and so this was an extra special trip, as I was introducing my bestest friend to his first ever afternoon tea experience. Yep, I’m not entirely sure how my husband has known me for so long and never been for afternoon tea before!

Located in busy Covent Garden, I’d never even thought to visit the Tea Bar before – Covent Garden is an area I truly try to avoid as a Londoner as it’s just too busy and crowded for me! However this little spot really is a calming oasis. Hidden away downstairs in the piazza it was quiet, there wasn’t a queue for tables and it’s definitely somewhere to bear in mind if you need a spot to escape the crowds.

We had the choice between the Whittard Tea (a sweeter option priced at £30 per person, with sandwiches, scones and plenty of cakes each) or the Grocer’s Tea. As we both try and avoid eating *too* much sugar we went for the Grocer’s priced at £45 per set, which generously fed the two of us. The lack of scones also meant we avoided the age-old British argument of cream then jam versus jam then cream!

 

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The next choice was to select a tea. The menu has over 100 difference choices and so took a while to read through the menu! I’d say there was something for everyone, with green, fruit and plenty of black options too. I opted for the Black Tea with Rose, which I found very refreshing. The Whisky Tea my husband went for was also delicious, tasting almost milky. One thing we did note and appreciate was being told the right length of time to brew our tea and, crucially, being given somewhere to place the filter when brewing had finished. Nothing worse than a stewed cuppa!

We were also treated to big glasses of chilled Pimms spiked with black tea – it was oh so refreshing on a very hot afternoon, and I loved the added taste of the tea.

 photo Whittard Afternoon Tea 1_zpsbwyfuk38.jpg photo Whittard Afternoon Tea 5_zpsl353ulil.jpg photo Whittard Afternoon Tea 10_zps5ug1lwgz.jpg photo Whittard Afternoon Tea 17_zpsbahrzabr.jpgOur tiered display of treats soon arrived and we got stuck into the savoury pastries first, as these were served warm. The Grocer’s Tea comes with a choice of sausage rolls and a tart, as well as the usual finger sandwiches. It’s topped with four small sweet treats too, so it’s not all savoury!

The two sausage rolls we had were both delicious, and I’d struggle to pick a favourite. The Beef, Carrot & Horseradish was so much lighter than any other meaty sausage roll I’ve tried, but full of flavour. The Chicken & Mushroom was intensely savoury yet the mushrooms weren’t over-powering – evidently as my mushroom-hating bestie wasn’t complaining!

The tart certainly looked delicious, but as it came topped with tomatoes I left sampling this one to W. It’s a shame this wasn’t offered to be swapped out for another sausage roll given I’d mentioned my allergy, but I’m sure had I specifically asked it would have been…

 photo Whittard Afternoon Tea 21_zps4nztr2dp.jpg photo Whittard Afternoon Tea 20_zps3ur280yn.jpgSandwiches were a tad disappointing. The fillings were generous and delicious, but I felt the bread was a touch on the dry side, particularly the white bread. However it was a very hot day, which won’t have helped! Our favourites were the Coronation Chicken (after I’d picked out the sultanas!) and Salmon with Lemon Cream cheese. I definitely appreciated the crusts being removed too!

After a short pause it was time to share the cakes! I loved the little selection we were given, as everything was varied in taste and texture. The only slightly below-par one was the shortbread with cream, as it was a little soggy and bland. The others were pretty good though! I particularly loved the Passionfruit Tart, and the Brownie with Caramel and Pear was also delicious.

 photo Whittard Afternoon Tea 27_zpstojqs1yq.jpg photo Whittard Afternoon Tea 12_zpssuxuw1us.jpg photo Whittard Afternoon Tea 26_zps6rttb3gq.jpg photo Whittard Afternoon Tea 25_zpsmftvjyte.jpgAfter we’d finished we were given plenty of time to sit, chat and finish up our pots of tea. It’s this part of the afternoon tea experience I love the most; when you’re too full and enjoying each other’s company too much to move.

Eventually we heaved ourselves up and explored the other part of the Tea Bar – the shop! We were kindly offered the chance to each pick the other a gift, however my husband offered to combine the amounts so I could pick up the glass teapot I’d admired on our way in (he knows me so well!). We complimented that by choosing some loose leaf tea after much sniffing and comparing. I’m definitely looking forward to a cup of Milk Oolong and a cheeky slice of cake on a weekend afternoon…

*Whittard kindly invited us to join them in their Tea Bar for Afternoon Tea, and gifted us some items from their store. No money was paid as part of this collaboration and, as always, all opinions are my own!

Are you a fan of Afternoon Tea? How do you like to catch up with your friends?

Recipe: Seasonal Green Vegetable Tart

A few weeks ago a colleague in the office stopped me and asked why I always make my own lunch. This turned into a conversation about how we (as in my husband and I) cook from scratch 99.5% of the time we eat at home, and rarely eat out midweek. Said colleague eats a home cooked meal maybe once a week.

 photo Green Vegetable Tart_zpsewzsyk9m.jpgAnd this made me sad – because for me there is so much joy in both cooking and eating.

In a similar vein, I had a week at work before our holiday where I was just super busy. Working late, but also several evening events. It meant that I didn’t eat at home for 6 nights in a row, and it definitely had a poor impact on my mental health. I was grumpy, I wasn’t sleeping, and I wasn’t finding the time to switch off. I was also spotty, headachey and with a bad stomach due to too much pub food.

Basically, cooking from scratch is 100% necessary for me to function both mentally and physically.

 photo Green Vegetable Tart  5_zpspwcqv2m1.jpg photo Green Vegetable Tart  3_zps62bxym19.jpg photo Green Vegetable Tart  2_zps98xufsu4.jpgAnd this recipe actually really sums that up – making it made me so happy! Taking some beautifully fresh veggies and fancy-ish cheese, then a fairly quick throw together and let then oven take care of it. The result is comforting, but also so full of veg. It feels light, particularly when eating with the herb salsa, but it’s more than filling enough to have without anything else. A definite favourite, making the most of some of this season’s finest British produce.

Inspired by a Waitrose recipe, the finished version of mine was a tad messy but just as delicious!

Recipe (serves 2 for dinner with a side salad)

  • ½ pack puff pastry (we used half of a 320g pack, ready rolled)
  • 1 tbsp milk, for brushing
  • 150g Swiss chard, stalks and leaves separated
  • 75g taleggio cheese, rind removed, sliced
  • 50g frozen peas
  • 150g asparagus, woody ends removed
  • For the salsa: ½ small pack parsley, 1 garlic clove, 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp grated parmesan

Unroll the pastry, lay on a baking tray and, using a sharp knife, score a border about 1cm in from the edge, taking care not to cut all the way through. Prick the central area with a fork and glaze the border with the milk. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes whilst you prep the veg.

Boil the chard stalks for 1 minute, then add the leaves before draining immediately and rinsing in cold water. Dry on a piece of kitchen towel to ensure excess water is removed. Once the pastry is ready, layer the chard, taleggio, frozen peas and asparagus over the centre. Sprinkle over 1 tbsp water, brush a little more milk around the edges, then bake for 15-20 minutes, until the tart is crisp and golden.

To make the salsa, finely chop the parsley leaves and crush the garlic clove. Mix with the olive oil and grated parmesan. Serve the tart drizzled with the salsa, and alongside a simple side salad for some extra greens. It also goes perfectly with a glass of chilled white!
 photo Green Vegetable Tart  4_zpsgqcslpik.jpg

What makes you love cooking?

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…
 photo Tomato Free Chicken Tikka Masala 1_zpsghf8u1gz.jpg photo Tomato Free Chicken Tikka Masala 2_zpsxpqhoci7.jpg

Are you a curry fan? What’s your go-to Indian takeaway order?

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.

 photo Royal Oak Marylebone 7_zpsilfi0slq.jpg

 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?

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?

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?

 

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?