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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food: Why Buy a Degustabox Subscription?

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

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

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

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

Discovering New Brands

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

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

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

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

Trying Exclusive Products

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

Rediscovering Old Favourites

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

The Surprise Factor

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

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

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

Food: All The Courgette Recipes (including a Courgette, Mint & Feta Puff Pastry Tart)

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll probably have gotten the impression that I love courgette (or zucchini if you’re over the pond!) – and you’d be right! My all-time favourite summer veg, it’s got a weekly place on our shopping list, and I nearly bit my boss’ arm off when he offered me some homegrown in his garden. It’s the perfect vegetable to cram into risottos or pasta dishes, it’s great used to bulk out sauces, it makes delicious chutney and it’s even good in cake. What more could you want in a vegetable?!

 photo Courgette Recipes_zpswmcoregu.jpgA lot of people don’t quite understand my love for courgettes, and when quizzed they’ve only had them boiled (ick!) or roasted, with little flavour added and care taken. Treated nicely a courgette is tender, almost sweet and has the most beautiful subtle flavour. I honestly love them – and this post includes just a few of my favourite ways to use them!

 photo Courgette Fritters 1_zpsttnvfkrw.jpgCourgette Fritters

I blogged about courgette fritters a few years ago, and it’s a recipe I still use to this day. Sometimes I’ll add feta, sometimes I’ll throw in a spring onion. I love adding mint (courgette and mint goes SO well together!), sometimes I’ll spice them up a little. Yum! I also love these cold as a little lunchbox filler…

 photo Courgette Risotto 2_zpslzqwzso4.jpgCourgette Risotto

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll know that my all-time favourite comfort food is, without question, a risotto. I love the creaminess, the carb overload, the cheesiness. The fact that I can thrown whatever I have in the fridge in and it will always taste good. My Courgette Risotto is subtle but combines lemon and basil along with plenty of Parmesan – lush!

Courgette Pasta

Adding courgette to pasta dishes is my go-to way of using them. I’ve added a couple of grated ones to my tomato-free Bolognese sauce (they cook down to virtually nothing, bulking out the source with even more veg and adding another subtle layer of flavour). My favourite summer pasta recipe is a copy-cat version of a Bella Italia dish, but I also love roasting courgette strips for barely five minutes, then mixing into pasta along with peas, lemon juice and feta…

My favourite courgette pasta dish though? A take on this recipe by Half Baked Harvest. I fried courgette slices for around 15 minutes over a medium heat, sloshed in some wine and garlic, mashed a little with the back of a spoon, and continued to cook (on a lower heat) whilst I boiled some pasta. Adding the pasta with a good ladle of cooking water, butter and parmesan combined it all into a thick and flavourful sauce. Finished with more cheese and some torn basil it was simple, tasty and just the kind of honest bowl of food I like to eat.

Griddled Courgette Salad

One thing I *don’t* like is raw courgette – I find it a weird texture, a tad bitter and just not that enjoyable. However, grill it, dress it, leave it to cool and then serve in a salad is something I can totally get on board with. I like to throw thin-ish slices on my George Foreman (well, fake cheapy one!), then pop into a bowl when soft. Toss with lemon, olive oil and plenty of seasoning then allow to cool (the courgettes soak up this dressing like a sponge) before tossing with salad leaves. Perfect as a side, but I’ll also add a little feta and maybe some pumpkin seeds to turn this into a lunchtime meal.

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Courgette & Orange Loaf Cake

I feel a bit mean including this one, as I’m not actually going to give you the recipe! What I will say is that courgette cake is absolutely delicious, and the recipe is worth waiting for (I’ll post it soon, I promise!). This loaf cake was like a lighter version of carrot cake, less heavily spiced with cinnamon, but zingier from the orange. I took it into work and there was only two slices left at lunchtime, which says it all!

Courgette, Feta & Mint Tart

This is probably my favourite courgette recipe of 2018 – and it’s super simple too making use of ready-rolled pastry. The mint adds such a nice and fresh flavour, but if you’re not a fan you could leave it out, or even try mixing it up with basil or dill. The key is to not arrange the courgette strips ‘prettily’ but pile them on and just ensure they are reasonably evenly distributed around the tart. Some of them will catch and lightly char in the oven, others will soften and caramelise. The feta adds seasoning, and the base of the tart is lovely and crisp. The perfect picnic treat!

 photo Courgette Feta and Mint Pastry Tart 8_zps2gt7ztlm.jpgRecipe (Serves 4 as a picnic snack or light lunch)

  • 2 small courgettes
  • 1/2 pack ready-rolled puff pastry
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2-3 tbsp creme fraiche, I used low-fat
  • 3 spring onions, finely sliced
  • Some fresh mint, leaves only
  • Some feta, as much or as little as you like
  • Some olive oil, for drizzling

First off, simply peel thecourgettes with a veg peeler so you’ve got lots of long strips. Toss through a pinch of salt, then pop in a sieve, put a bowl on top and weigh it down with something heavy (I used a packet of rice!). Leave the courgettes for around 20 minutes, and preheat a baking tray in the oven. When the courgettes are ready, take the pastry and score an edge around 1cm from the borders. Brush the edges with a little beaten egg yolk, then mix the remaining egg yolk with the creme fraiche, spring onions and a handful of chopped mint. Spread the mixture over the middle of the pastry, and then top with the courgette strips. Sprinkle over some feta, drizzle with a little olive oil, carefully slide onto the hot tray and bake at 200C for around 25 minutes, or until golden and crispy. Serve warm or at room temperature – it’s delish!

 photo Courgette Feta and Mint Pastry Tart 5_zpsfrikxu3a.jpgI’m still going mad for different courgette recipes – next I’m hoping to try this frittata recipe to add to my list of lunchbox fillers, I also want to try adding it to a bean burger. I’ve also seen a couple of dips made from courgette around, which I HAVE to try before summer is out. I imagine it will be perfect with homemade pittas…oh, and I love them stir-fried for a few minutes, then dresses in a soy-garlic-ginger dressing. SO good, it’s a great light lunch option served with a little brown rice.

Are you are courgette/zucchini fan? What’s your favourite way to cook them?

Recipe: Vegan Coconut & Lime Ice-Cream

In case you haven’t heard, it’s been HOT in London over the last few days weeks months. It certainly feels like months now! The heatwave well and truly set in around June time, and it seems as though it’s here to stay. Luckily we’ve had a bit of rain and a few days of cooler weather just to remind us we are in the UK, but otherwise it’s been a solid few months of sunshine, sweaty Tube journeys and hiding in each shady spot we find. And eating ice-cream. Lots of ice-cream.

 photo Vegan Coconut IceCream_zps5tu770nn.jpgI’ve been trying to make homemade ice-cream a little more often this summer. I mean, given we have an ice-cream maker (the KitchenAid attachment) we have no excuse! We’ve found it so fun creating our favourite flavours, including an amazing brown-butter caramel drizzle (so, so good!) – but this is the first non-traditional one we’ve tried. We usually make an egg-custard base and go from there, but this is a cheat which involves no heat at all (which is wonderful, really, given it’s been too hot to consider cooking and baking recently). It’s super-simple, super-easy and only takes a few ingredients. Add in some of your time (most of it is spent waiting at the freezer until it’s ready!) and you’ve got some delicious vegan ice-cream that’s the perfect combination of indulgently creamy and refreshingly lime-y.

I’m not at all claiming that this is ‘healthy’ ice-cream, it’s still got heck of a lot of sugar and fat in it, but it does make my tummy happier than your standard dairy ice-cream whilst still being just as creamy and delicious. I also find the zingy-ness of the lime makes it super-refreshing and thirst-quenching, ideal on a hot day!

 photo Vegan Coconut and Lime Ice-Cream6_zpsnexmaszs.jpg photo Vegan Coconut and Lime Ice-Cream10_zpsddzzwabm.jpgRecipe (makes around 6 greedy servings)

  • 400ml coconut milk, shaken well
  • 2 limes, zest and juice
  • 60g sugar, caster is best here as it dissolves easier
  • Optional – some vegan yoghurt, just to increase the creaminess slightly

This recipe is really easy – simply mix all of the ingredients together, making sure the sugar is fully dissolved. Chill for thirty minutes, then churn in your ice-cream machine until frozen and ice-cream-like (around 20 minutes). Freeze until needed, and serve with extra lime zest. It’s also great served with gingerut biscuits!

If you don’t have an ice-cream maker, chill for around 3-4 hours, whisking every half an hour, then freeze until needed.

 photo Vegan Coconut and Lime Ice-Cream7_zpswdltgpal.jpgThis has become a real favourite recipe, and now I’m itching to try other coconut milk ice-creams. Next I’ll be doing a chocolate version, which I’m hoping will be like a frozen Bounty bar!

Have you tried making your own ice-cream?

Food: Recent Eats #3

Given my impromptu break from blogging, I thought I’d do a quick run-through of all the delicious things I’ve been trying lately – and some of the not so delicious too! We’re both quite experimental cooks, so if there’s a particular fruit/veg in season, or some kind of new ingredient we find, we tend to add it to our weekly shop and do *something* with it. Added to this some of the PR gifts I am lucky enough to receive (they’re all clearly marked in this post) and we get to try new foodie bits quite regularly. Some are really, really not to our taste, others become firm favourites. Let’s see what made the cut recently!

 photo Recent Eats 3_zps7lhwsbkq.jpgDegustabox*

In short, Degustabox is a subscription box that sends out a variety of shelf-stable food items, some which are new to the market or are a little bit innovative. Others are well-known, but to be honest that wouldn’t put me off – for example this month we received a tub of Cadbury’s Highlights hot chocolate powder. We all know and love Cadbury’s, but I’m certainly not complaining about receiving that!

More excitingly, we received some Rosie’s Pig Flat Tyre Rhubarb Cider which I really enjoyed – it was fruity, sharp (not overly sweet) and a perfect summer evening drink. I also really enjoyed the raw Salted Caramel Brownie from Pulsin – it was very brownie like, not overly sweet and the perfect non-guilty treat. The London Crisp Company had included a couple of packets, which always goes down well (though W snaffled the salt’n’vinegar, so we’re currently not speaking…). I’m also super excited to try the mixes by Capsicana, I’m still not eating red meat after my illness, but I’m going to find the courage to try the Brazilian spice mix with some beef soon. Not so successful was the Salad Cream. Sorry Heinz, I’m just not a fan!

Other things included a Miso soup mix and some cheesy rice crackers – these have gone to live in my desk at work for when I forget my lunch or need an extra snack. There was also some sparkling Ribena, and an iced coffee with added protein – coffee sends both of us a bit jittery, so I’ll be giving this to a friend who will appreciate it more.

Head over to my Instagram profile and have a look at my story highlights to see everything included in this month’s box!

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Cooking with Pork Fillet

Not a cut of pork I’ve been too familiar with in the past, we picked up a fillet and have done a couple of things with it (one will serve the two of us generously!). We stir-fried it in a Thai dish which was delicious, and we also wrapped it in a mix of spinach and parma ham, encased in pastry and served as a Wellington. Yummy and a lot cheaper than you’d expect!

Jamie Oliver’s Bean Burgers

(Picture by Delicious Magazine Australia, who published the recipe)

I have been wanting to make decent bean burgers for years, but so often they are either too mushy, too bland, too ‘raw spicy’, or just too difficult to fry. However this is definitely the best recipe I’ve tried – it’s got a decent texture, it fries pretty well (and also works from frozen too). I do tend to fry in my oven-proof pan, then throw in the oven when I finish off a salad, and I also tend to leave off the seeds – but they’re still damn good. I love to serve with pink pickled onions in pittas…

Speaking of Pittas, these bean burgers work *really* well in the BFree Pittas.* I find these pittas to be super tasty – not quite as good as homemade, but really good when you want to fill them. They hold together reasonably well, taste almost grilled, and are thin enough so they don’t take over from the main event. I’ve also really enjoyed them filled with a Mexican grilled chicken and salad concoction. They are also wheat and gluten free as far as I’m aware!

Sourdough Bread*

We recently attended another workshop at Bread Ahead Bakery (read about the Doughnut one here) – all about Sourdough. It was quite technical, I came out feeling as though I’d been back to school, but it was wonderful too. We came home with lots of bread, which we enjoyed as a posh chicken sandwich, toasted with avo and (using the rye bread) spread with cream cheese and topped with smoked salmon and cucumber.

I’ll be doing a full review post in a few weeks, but if you’re interested in starting to bake more sourdough then I highly, highly recommend you try this class. If you want a bit of baking fun, maybe try one of their other classes as it was more intense than the Doughnut one.

Ben & Jerry’s ‘Diet’ Ice-Cream

It’s true! It doesn’t sound like it should be right, but our loyal friends Ben and Jerry have indeed launched a Moophoria range which is billed to have 50% less fat that similar ice-creams. I like to enjoy my ice-cream without worrying about calories, so I’d never have bought this, but we tried the Caramel Cookie Fix at SCOOP and really, really enjoyed it. You couldn’t tell it was low-fat and the textures were spot on. I’ll be buying more!

SCOOP, by the way, is an exhibition all about the history of ice-cream. It’s short and sweet (quite literally), but was a good way to spend 45 minutes in Kings Cross and involved spending 5 minutes in a giant freezer (perfect during the heatwave – worth the entry fee for this alone). You get to make your own ‘cheats’ ice-cream, try some glow-in-the-dark stuff and buy some unusual flavours (Dandelion anyone?!) when you’re done. I also learned so much about my favourite cold treat, so it’s well worth it.

As an added extra, my go-to ice-cream this summer has been Sicilian Lemon Curd & British Raspberry Ice Cream from the Co-Op. It’s like a fancy raspberry ripple and is SO good!

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Botonique*

I mentioned this alcohol-free drink for wine lovers a while back, but thought I’d be a little more detailed here. Basically it’s soft drink that’s designed to mimic wine – in that it’s not too sweet, has a more complex flavour and enhances food. It’s also got a blend of vitamins, minerals and amino acids meant to replace those usedup in dealing with alcohol – whilst I’m not overly convinced by the science behind this, I did find the drink super thirst-quenching on a hot afternoon. It is, however, very botanical and fragrant which put my friends off. I was the only person who actually liked this, but I have to say I’d happily buy another bottle. There’s a Rose version too which I’m desperate to try…

Ed’s Milkshakes

When I agree to meet a friend for a drink, the heatwave made us change our minds towards iced coffee. Then nowhere had ice. We ended up going to Ed’s and ordering milkshakes – not only did the metal cup feel wonderful to hold, but my Nutella Milkshake (made with fro-yo rather than ice-cream for apparently 90% less fat – yikes!) was absolutely delicious. Thick, creamy and absolutely full of Nutella flavour. Yum yum yum…

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Trying Our First Ever Chinese

Yep, I’ve nearly reached the age of 25 and I’d never eaten a Chinese before last weekend! Embarrassing I know, but now I’ve tried it I’ll definitely be back! We were invited to try out the menu at Royal China* and on the whole it was a success. There were dishes that weren’t to our taste, but Crispy Aromatic Duck? New favourite thing! I’ll be reviewing the restaurant in full so keep your eyes peeled – but what is your go-to Chinese dish? I need to know what I should try next!

Dr Oetker’s “Yes It’s Pizza” Vegetable Based Pizzas (link)*

This is pizza, but not as you know it. A unique new range of vegetable dough based pizzas, with further tasty toppings create a really vibrant pizza – and I’m not kidding, the beetroot base is BRIGHT! I had to keep checking the packaging to make sure I wasn’t eating tomato!

The pizza doesn’t taste too strongly of beetroot, the cheese is nicely flavoured, and the toppings of courgette, peppers and ham is a really good combo. I certainly enjoyed it and would be happy to eat it again and again!

Cold Brew Tea

I know Twinnings have recently launched something as it’s all over my Instagram (not sponsored – I’ve not been involved with the campaign!), but Sainsbury’s have also launched their own brand rather of cold-brew teabags. The flavour combos are a bit more limited, but they are a *lot* cheaper and I’m a fan. The one with Watermelon and Lime has been a winner so far…

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Courgettes

After announcing loudly at work that courgettes are my favourite vegetable (try living that down in an all-male team…) my boss presented me the next day with some monsters he’d grown himself. Absolutely huge (one only fitted into my fridge at an angle) – so I’ve eaten a lot of courgette recently. Think tarts, soups, pastas and even cake. Of course my Courgette Risotto featured too…I’ll be doing a post with some of my favourite courgette recipes soon.

*Items marked were gifted – but all opinions are my own. No money exchanged hands for this post!

What foodie things have you tried lately? Has anyone tried the new Malteser Buttons? I’m determined to get my hands on some!

Food: 5 Quick & Easy Summer Lunches

I’m one of those people that will pretty much always bring their own lunch to the office. Despite getting a really generous allowance in our office canteen each day, I’d sooner control what I’m eating (and how much, our servers are more than generous!). I also can’t imagine ever feeling comfortable with buying lunch everyday – at £5 (at least) near our office the thought of spending upwards of £100 a month on lunches alone is pretty horrific compared to our modest food shop budget.

Bring my own lunches allows me to save money, up my veggie intake (because vitamins), and choose exactly what I want to eat. I tend to make enough of the same thing to last 2 or 3 days, simply as it’s easier, but also never making enough for the whole week. I certainly don’t want to eat the same lunch every single day! These next few recipes are just some of the ones in my regular rotation…

 photo Roots Collective Blends 3_zpsioqo0b5n.jpgFalafel

Homemade falafel are one of my favourite lunches, whether I’m in the office or at home. They’re also great to have on stand-by as a snack or emergency dinner (I freeze them and heat in the oven from frozen). I usually serve them with a giant salad and some kind of grain, though I do love them piled into wraps with hummous or yoghurt….

 photo Beetroot Yoghurt Salad4_zpse0iui9zo.jpgBeetroot and Yoghurt Salad

I absolutely cannot get enough of this salad. Based on this BBC Good Food recipe, it’s creamy and tangy from the yoghurt, spicy from the harissa, earthy from the beetroot and crunchy due to the chickpeas. Mint leaves add freshness and served with homemade pitta bread it’s the perfect low-fuss light lunch. I sometimes add extra green to this in the form of spinach, watercress and/or rocket, I can imagine it being the perfect side for a BBQ too…

This is the only recipe in this post that I can’t imagine working well as a lunch-box – ideally you’d want the veggies to be warm and the yoghurt fridge-cool. But it is the perfect weekend lunch, and one I know I’ll be making again and again…

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Spicy Lamb Sausage Rolls

One of my favourite bakes of 2018 so far, these spicy sausage rolls are perfect for lunch on the go. I’m determined to fill my freezer with them ready for impromptu picnics in the sun! Hot with harissa, flaky pastry and flavourful filling, they are a far cry from the soggy sausage rolls you can buy from certain high-street retailers…

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Frittata (any kind!)

It might be a mouthful of a recipe title, but this is so super-easy and quick to make. Packed full of protein, I love this in my lunchbox for work, or warm on a study day. Perfect served with a simple green salad, you can find my recipe for one including chorizo here. If I fancy a change, I also LOVE this recipe. I kid myself the amount of kale makes it healthy, but given I also pile in a mountain of feta I’m not too sure…

I recently wrote a post about my favourite frittata recipes (including an amazing Pesto, Spaghetti and Spinach one) so if that’s your kinda thing then check it out!

 photo Asian Quinoa Salad7_zpsiyerfhuz.jpg photo Asian Quinoa Salad4_zpsgijjuqz7.jpgQuinoa Salad

All hail the quinoa salad! Quinoa is quite often my grain of choice at lunchtime – it’s filling, light and doesn’t irritate my stomach. It’s also a great base for loads of different flavour combinations, though my favourite way to eat it is slathered in a ginger-y, zingy peanut butter dressing together with plenty of crunch fresh veggies (see this recipe). I also can’t say no to a salad which combines quinoa with citrus flavours, feta, nuts and pomegranate seeds

What do you usually make for lunch?

Recipe: Lemon, Courgette & Kale Pasta

We all have that one dish in a restaurant that we always order, no matter what. Whilst in most places I do try to order something different each time, in Bella Italia I always, always go for the Pollo Siciliana.  Pasta tubes with chicken, courgette, and spinach in a creamy tarragon and lemon sauce, it’s zingy, indulgent and totally yummy. I always say I’ll try something else but I find it pretty irresistible!

 photo Lemon Courgette Pasta_zpsz0vx7np3.jpgIt’s also a dish I find myself craving quite often, but eating out costs pennies and this gal is saving for a wedding after all – so I made it myself. This one isn’t *quite* the same as the original, but it’s super quick to make and satisfies the craving. I’ve cut out the chicken to make it meat-free, and switched out the spinach for kale as I prefer the texture. I’ve also added peas to up the veg content. The result is a dish that’s super zingy with lemon and packed full of veg. I’ve kept the flavour intense by slowly frying garlic and dried tarragon, adding a splash of white wine and using the best quality pasta I could find. It’s relatively guilt-free too – with the cream limited to a single splash and no cheese added. The perfect mid-week meal!

 photo Green Vegetable Pasta with Lemon White Wine Sauce 5_zpsbglqmto5.jpg

 photo Green Vegetable Pasta with Lemon White Wine Sauce 5_zpsbglqmto5.jpg
Recipe (Serves 1)

  • 50g good quality pasta
  • 1 medium courgette
  • 2 handfuls kale, thick stems trimmed and discarded
  • 1 handful frozen peas
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/2 tsp dried tarragon
  • Pinch dried chilli flakes
  • Splash of white wine
  • Splash of cream (double or single works fine – as does creme fraiche, mascapone etc)

First up, slice the courgette thinly (around the thickness of a £1 coin). Fry in a little olive oil with some black pepper until starting to soften, then set aside. In the same pan add a little more olive oil, turn the heat down as low as possible and add the crushed garlic clove, the tarragon and the chilli. Allow to cook slowly for around 10 minutes, adding the lemon zest halfway through, whilst you boil the pasta and steam the kale.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain and reserve a mug of the pasta water. Turn the heat up on the garlic and add the wine, before allowing to almost fully evaporate. Add in the pasta, steamed kale, peas and courgette, along with the lemon juice and plenty of black pepper. Toss together until the peas and defrosted and warmed through, adding pasta water if necessary to loosen. Stir through a splash of cream, and serve immediately. Ideally with a glass of wine and your favourite TV series.

 photo Green Vegetable Pasta with Lemon White Wine Sauce 2_zpsynlmk1na.jpg

 photo Green Vegetable Pasta with Lemon White Wine Sauce 4_zps88jc76na.jpgCourgettes are one of my favourite summer vegetables, and this is a great way of using them up. Next on my list is this recipe from Half Baked Harvest.

Do you have a go-to meal when eating out, or do you prefer to try something new?

Food: Eating Meat More Ethically

Before I start, I should make it clear that this isn’t going to be a debate about whether you *can* eat meat completely ethically. Eating meat or not is a personal choice for each and every one of us to make, and one thing I don’t care for is pressure to do one thing or the other. What I do care for, however, is making sure what ever I eat makes me feel good both in terms of health, yumminess and ethically.

If you are completely against eating meat, this post probably isn’t for you. I eat meat. I find my body and mind becomes unhappy without it, and so I eat it. I also grew up with grandparents running a smallholding, so I’m comfortable with the idea of meat production and have been around that kind of thing from a fairly young age. If you’re not particularly comfortable with that idea, I’d suggest stopping reading now.

Buy Higher Quality Meat

Our goal over the next year or so is to transition to only buying meat from our butches, who assure us their producing farms rear happy and healthy animals. It means a lot to me that the meat I eat has been raised well, has seen sunshine, ran around in fields. The issue with this approach is, of course, the price. It is expensive.

For some meats, the quality of butcher-bought items far outshines it’s supermarket equivalent. In particular I find pork and steak to be infinitely better sourced from our butcher. Chicken breasts and mince I’m more on the fence about, though there is still a difference. I don’t dare try a whole roast chicken from the butcher as of yet, as I know it will bring on childhood memories and there’ll be no going back.

By buying higher quality meat, not only do I feel better about the life that animal was able to have, I’m also able to support smaller, local business and farms. Any time my money has gone to ‘Bob the Butcher round the corner’ rather than Tescos is good for me!

Become a ‘Flexitarian’ or Part-Time Vegetarian

Whether you see this as a ‘failed vegetarian’ or not, this is something I personally have seen become a lot more common recently. I have a friend who eats and cooks only vegetarian dishes at home, but will eat meat whilst eating out. I myself try to eat vegetarian breakfast and lunches at least 6 days a week, and a vegetarian dinner a couple of times a week (I’d love to up the dinners, but W isn’t quite on board!).

Some of my favourite veggie meals are Courgette, Pea & Feta Pasta, Risotto (I love Beetroot risotto, though Mushroom will always be my favourite! Make sure you used veggie friendly cheese though…), Chickpea Curry and Falafel.

Bulk out Meat-based Meals

This is kind of similar to eating less meat, but handy if you’ve got a member of your household who isn’t too fond of eating full-on veggie meals! In essence, you’re making the same meals as before, but using less meat – say around half. You can then bulk it out with veggies and pulses, so you’re still eating a ‘meat’ meal but with less impact to the environmental and your purse.

I usually add lentils to bolognese to reduce the mince needed, and a decent chilli-con-carne just begs out for lots of beans (kidney, black and borlotti are my go-tos). Chickpeas add a great texture to curries, whilst adding an egg to a fish pie is a great way to up the protein.

Eat Local/In Season

This is important whether you’re vegetarian or whether you eat meat. There’s very little point in proudly proclaiming you’re helping the environment by not eating meat when you’re eating carrots from Spain, sugarsnap peas from the US, brocoli from Jordan, avocados from South America, if you’re eating Strawberries in the winter.

Eating seasonally is SO important. Eat what’s good at that moment will mean not only does it taste better, it’s also travelled less, and will likely be cheaper too. There’s something about a perfectly fresh British strawberry that is a million times better than one that has flown several hundred miles to get to your bowl of sugar and cream!

Choose Sustainable Meat & Fish

This is particularly important for fish – there’s so much overfishing going on, when it’s not at all necessary. Instead of cod, try pollack or coley. Oily fish like salmon can be replaced with mackerel. You’ll find these options are often so much cheaper – we can buy two mackerel fillets for less than £2 which is a great thrifty meal that’s packed full of proteins and good fats.

Use All of the Meat

Food wastage is my ultimate pet peeve. I hate it. I hate the thought of shops and restaurants throwing out perfectly good food (I’m the first to ask for a doggy bag when I can’t finish my meal!), it annoys me beyond words when we have to throw out food at home. We’ve taken to trying to use every single bit of meat we buy, getting the most value out of the money we spent.

The easiest example is a whole chicken. There’s not many Sundays that go by without us enjoying a Roast Dinner, and chicken is our go-to because, lets face it, it’s the cheapest. We’ll usually get a large chicken, which will serve us generous for our roast, and will also do at least two other evening meals (and usually either a couple of lunches or a meal for one). Not only this, but we’ll also use the carcass for making stock – and it’s not as difficult or as time consuming as you’d think. Sure, a three hour simmer makes the best stock, but I frequently only give it half an hour or so. And to make it even more thrifty? Don’t cut up fresh veggies to use making stock! We throw all the odds and ends (onion tops, celery hearts, carrot peels, even onion skins) into a bag in the freezer, then use this to make stock. One large bag of veg offcuts, one chicken carcass and around 3 litres of water, simmered for up to four hours on the lowest heat possible, will give the nicest chicken stock you’ve tasted – and all out of ingredients that would have otherwise been thrown away.

Basically, one chicken will do us a roast dinner, 2-3 evening meals and stock for 3 further meals. More ideas for using up leftover roast chicken will be coming up in a post soon, but read this for an initial guide…and know that my current favourite involves frying shredded chicken with chipotle paste and piling into tacos with an avocado and sweetcorn salsa. Delicious!

Are you a meat-eater, vegetarian or do you try to combine the best of both?

Food: Where to Eat in York (My Top 5 Places)

A year on from my trip to York (almost to the day, I believe!) and I’ve finally gotten round to getting this post live. Whenever we head off on any trip food is at the very front of our minds, and it was no exception when we went to York – albeit with the exam stress I planned a bit more last minute that I usually like to! I asked for recommendations, read plenty of blogs and reviews – and we ended up eating some wonderful meals. Here’s just the top 5…

Pig & Pastry

Highly recommended by Amanda, this was high on my list for somewhere to visit. It was a tad over-busy for my tastes (it’s popular with mums and buggies, and it’s titchy-tiny) but we sat outside in the Spring sunshine which was really rather pleasant.  W ordered the Chorizo Scrambled Eggs and, whilst the portion size wasn’t huge, it was good value for the price. The eggs weren’t the creamiest we’ve had, but far from the worst, and the chorizo was both perfectly tasty and perfectly cooked.

My breakfast, however, was better in terms of both portion size and taste. I went for a special, involving a toasted muffin, a spiraled Cumberland sausage and creamy Hollandaise sauce. It was buttery, herby and absolutely delicious. Even the slight over-charring on the sausage failed to put me off scraping the plate clean.

Betty’s

No trip up to York is complete without a trip to Betty’s, and I finally posted my full review earlier this month. We avoided the usual Afternoon Tea, instead sampling a selection of dishes from Betty’s Swiss heritage. In essence it was a lunch of cheesy carbs – can’t get better than that!

Skosh

We completely lucked out here, as I only heard of the place the week before our trip – and somehow managed to grab a table at the last minute. One of my best meals of 2017, it was utterly delicious. We had a selection of small and larger plates shared between us – it’s a seasonal menu, mainly British ingredients but with clever twists. Highlights were a cod, pineapple, coconut and lentil dish, and I also loved a mackerel and melon combination.

Read my full review here.

Pairings

This is the kind of place I really, really wish existed in London. We spent a good few hours in here, with a wine flight for me and a port flight for him, chatting about everything and anything. We also put together our very own cheese and meat platter – which was excellent value and the perfect size for a meal for two. Everything was beautifully fresh, even the bread. It also introduced me to Old Winchester Cheese (it’s a kind of cross between parmesan and cheddar and is my favourite cheese ever). The only downsides were the desserts which, whilst yummy, were rather overpriced.

 

Brew & Brownie

Despite my brunch at Pig & Pastry being super yummy, this turned out to be my favourite place in York. Perfectly located for a pit-stop for coffee and cake (or a brew and brownie!), the breakfast we had on our final day was also really good – and the portion size so generous it even defeated W.

Their Brownies were excellent, with a variety of flavours available daily – my personal favourite being the Terry’s Chocolate Orange one (something about that combination of flavours is just so delicious). Hot Chocolates were both rich and light at the same time, though the lightness was perhaps diminished at my insistence of having cream and marshmallows. I highly recommend you visit here, if just for cake.

Breakfasts were also excellent. I went for the pancakes, and a year on they remain some of the best I’ve ever, EVER eaten. They were served with syrup, yoghurt and a perfect tart fruit compote – and nope, I couldn’t finish them. I enjoyed trying though! W also couldn’t finish his (a very rare occurrence!). He had ordered the Black Pudding Stack (black pudding & smoked back bacon stacked with fried hen’s egg, cherry tomato, mustard dressing, toasts). It didn’t sound overly filling on paper, but it was huge. It looked absolutely delicious, but with roasted tomatoes I obviously couldn’t steal a bite…

Have you ever visited York? Where did you eat?

Recipe: Eggs en Cocotte (Baked Eggs in Creme Fraiche)

And this, my friends, is my all-time favourite way to eat eggs at home. I mean, I LOVE boiled eggs with soliders, I love scrambled eggs (especially with pesto and parmesan) but these are whole-new-level yummy. It’s got the gooey running yolk of the boiled egg, combined with the comforting creaminess that reminds me of a pile of scrambled eggs. Best of both worlds and I could quite literally eat them every day of the week.

It took me quite a while to get the timings down for these – I’d been sticking to the “safer” method of cooking the ramekins inside of a roasting tin of boiling water but actually I find it works better just popping the ramekins directly in the oven. Whatever method you choose, once you get your cooking times right (ovens can be funny creatures, the one in this flat DEFINITELY takes longer to cook things that our previous one) I  am pretty sure you’ll fall in love with these eggs too. Creamy, peppery, a little bit cheesy. They can be jazzed up and cooked on top of things (mushrooms and leeks both work really well). But whatever you do, serve with a giant pile of buttered toast.

Recipe – to make 1 pot (I like to serve one egg per pot, you could probably add two but I find the cooking times even more difficult to master)

  • A small amount of butter, to grease
  • 3 tablespoons creme fraiche seasoned with a little salt and plenty of black pepper
  • 1 medium egg
  • A small handful of grated parmesan

Heat the oven to 160C, and lightly grease a ramekin with butter. Add in one tablespoon of the seasoned creme fraiche, and sprinkle over a third of the grated cheese. Crack in the egg, spoon over the remaining creme fraiche (try to cover the yolk, but be careful not to burst it!), then cover with the remaining cheese. If you’re adding any veggies, saute them in butter and add in between this layer of creme fraiche and cheese. Pop onto the middle shelf of the oven and bake until the eggs are cooked to you liking.

I like quite runny eggs, with the white not-quite-set and mine take 10 minutes in my oven. I reckon you’d need 12 minutes for fully-set white, 15 minutes for set but still soft yolks, and 20 for a fully set egg.

And now I’m craving these eggs. It’s currently coming up to half past five on a Sunday evening, we have a roast chicken in the oven – is it appropriate to have a dish of these a snack?!

What’s your favourite way of eating eggs?