Travel: Where to Eat in Edinburgh

Oh Edinburgh. This place is my all-time favourite – I honestly love it. I have actually tried on more than one occasion to secure a job up there, but the powers above don’t agree. I’d also be wary of living there as I’d worry I’d lose the magic, if you understand what I mean? But why do I love it so much? It’s a hard on to answer, but the mix of buildings, the winding streets, the green spaces and the plethora of good food options all help!

 photo Where to Eat Edinburgh_zpsmydaltr7.jpgThis was actually our fourth trip to Edinburgh as a couple, and we’ve each been a couple of times separately too. We’ve definitely got a good feel for the city and where does the best food – through good luck and plenty of research! Here’s our top places…

 photo Loudons Edinburgh 5_zpspcfbxesf.jpg photo Loudons Edinburgh 6_zpswetbf3fs.jpg photo Loudons Edinburgh 2_zpsiyxwmo8q.jpgFor Breakfast, Brunch or Lunch: Loudons (link)

This was a place I was *really* pleased to find. The recently opened New Waverley branch was a short walk from our apartment, and conveniently placed partway up the Royal Mile. Well priced, a vast selected of breakfast dishes and a really interesting lunch menu too – anywhere that does mac’n’cheese on toast is a good’un in my books!

I highly recommend their Benny’s – my classic with smoked salmon was rich with a perfect hollandaise and couldn’t-be-better runny yolks. My husband also loved his massive Benny stack which came with haggis, black pudding, bacon, tomato chutney and the compulsory poached eggs…

 photo Hula Juice Bar Edinburgh  4_zpsdhp4bw1f.jpg photo Hula Juice Bar Edinburgh  5_zpsmzwnkpmq.jpg photo Hula Juice Bar Edinburgh  8_zpsmktemrni.jpgFor Brunch or Snacking: Hula Juice Bar (link)

This has been our go-to for years. Whilst I am very, very sad about the removed of the cheese-on-toast side to their soups (if their Haggis & Potato Soup is available you must order it), we still squeezed in multiple visits into our trip. Their smoothies are yum (favourites are the Nutty Professor and the Frangipani), the bakes on point. They also do really, really good porridge with a healthy portion of Nutella…

 photo The Gardeners Cottage Edinburgh  7_zpsqtirzflm.jpg photo The Gardeners Cottage Edinburgh  9_zps5n3stxdb.jpgFor a Fancy Dinner: Gardener’s Cottage (link)

I’m going to be doing a full review of this place, but if you’re a foodie then this is my biggest recommendation. The building was once a derelict cottage on one side of Calton Hill, and is now home to some bloody good cooking. The seating is communal style, there’s limited choice (particularly in the evenings) and you absolutely have to book – and pretty much everything we ate was delicious. Go hungry though, we ordered the five course dinner, but it turned into more like eight…

For a Really Fancy Dinner: The Kitchen (link)

This is where W took me on the weekend we got engaged, and it’s got it’s Michelin Star for very good reason. I still think about the dish involving the pig ear (3.5 years on!). Pricey but if you’re celebrating then why not?!

 photo The Outsider Edinburgh 5_zpsfbgxmz8z.jpg photo The Outsider Edinburgh 3_zpscvijcmwr.jpg photo The Outsider Edinburgh 1_zpszxqrxxzu.jpg photo The Outsider Edinburgh 6_zpsc7ioljq9.jpgFor Dinner with a View: The Outsider (link)

I really, really loved this place. What looks like a slightly shabby modern pub on the street opens up as you walk through – big windows with a lovely sunset view of the castle. Service was super-friendly – despite the only waiting staff we saw being rushed off her feet with a nearly full restaurant.

I ate a delicious dish of Sea Trout with Brie Risotto which was flavoursome, indulgent and yet still quite light, and W enjoyed a Hake Fillet with Chorizo and White Bean Broth. My Lime Tart to finish was delicious, and the *massive* cheeseboard W ordered was a gorgeous selection of cheeses, some very good oatcake, apple, grapes, quince paste AND a massive wedge of sourdough. Best thing was he couldn’t finish it, so I had to help. #winning!

This is another one where they will be a full review…

For Ice-Cream: Mary’s Milk Bar (link)

I have no idea why it’s taken me so long to visit Mary’s as it’s somewhat an institution, but we finally did. SO. GOOD. We somehow managed to arrive just as the sun broke through the cloud, so didn’t have to queue (by the time we’d ordered the queue was down the street) but it would be worth queueing for. Creamy gelato, crucially not too soft, and some really interesting flavours.

The blue cheese ice-cream in particular was wonderful – just a hint of blue cheese, then a stronger flavour in some mouthfuls, never over-powering. I’m wishing I could have some more of this! I paired it with a Cinnamon ice-cream which was the perfect balance of spicy and sweet. W’s choice of Peanut Butter & Paprika (so good!) with Whisky Marmalade (needed more whisky) was also solid.

Other Recommendations

In the past we’ve also had good meals at Urban Angel, The Dogs, and Pickles – though it’s been a good few years since we’ve visited these spots. I’ve also got The White Horse firmly earmarked for our next visit, and I really want to visit Makars Gourmet Mash bar too. Stockbridge Market on Sundays is a great visit, particularly if you have cooking facilities (the pie stall looked so good), and they also have plenty of street food options – the queue for the Japanese dumplings was huge, so I imagine they’re good…

Have you ever visited Edinburgh? Where do you recommend?

Recipe: One-Pan Cauliflower Salad for my #YearofVeganLunchboxes Challenge [AD – gifted]

One of the main things I’ve learnt so far on my #YearofVeganLunches challenge is that I need to get some decent variety of base carb in. Sure I could eat orzo most weeks, but it’s not the most nutritious of choices. Quinoa is great, but my digestive system doesn’t seem to want it to often. Couscous is just plain boring to have more often than monthly. Right now I have a bit of a thing for bulgur wheat – and this recipe shows it off wonderfully.

 photo Cauliflower Salad_zpsjybqtm09.jpg photo Cauliflower Salad  5_zpsewzuyajs.jpgAnd to be honest the star of the show really is the cauliflower anyway. Roasted to perfection so it’s tender, slightly charred and almost nutty, and basted in plenty of ginger, garlic and za’tar to make it sing. You may think you hate cauliflower but this recipe may make you think again. The best thing, though, is that it’s just so EASY. A few minutes of chopping and then it happily sits in the oven all in one dish, before being drenched in lemon juice. It’s wonderful warm (and if you’re not vegan I highly recommend sprinkling with a spot of feta in that case) but just as good cold with some almonds for additional crunch. Next time I’m going to whip up a quick tahini dressing to serve on the side I think, but it was delicious just as written too. And super easy too…

 photo Cauliflower Salad  12_zpslfxfwnzx.jpg photo Cauliflower Salad  15_zpstcqpk9jx.jpg photo Cauliflower Salad  11_zps2jyj7zdj.jpg photo Cauliflower Salad  13_zpsmqcfntjw.jpgAll-in-one-tin recipes are my thing right now, whether it’s for lunch prep or dinners. I have every single one of Rukmini Iyer’s Roasting Tin books and her latest release, The Quick Roasting Tin, is my favourite. In it is a Thyme & Sesame Cauliflower Tabbouleh which inspired this recipe – but to be honest I can see myself cooking my way through the book. And to make it even easier, Harts of Stur sent me over some of the Pyrex Cook & Go storage range. These make meal prep SO easy, I’m already tempted to order more. We have a couple of the small and medium boxes and they are SO useful. I can cook a batch of a one-pan meal, let it cool then pop the lid on and whack it in the fridge. The smaller ones I’ll then just take to work the next day. For a recipe like this the medium sized box we have is a little too small for the full recipe, so we split the amounts in half and roasted each separately. This worked quite well as we had half for dinner with feta, and then was able to stir the watercress and radishes through the cooled lunch serving before storing overnight. Having said that one of the large boxes is definitely going on my wishlist!

Recipe (serves 4 generously, adapted from The Quick Roasting Tin)

  • 150g bulgur wheat
  • 300-350ml of vegetable stock (suitable for vegans if necessary)
  • 1 large red onion, finely sliced
  • 3cm fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 tbsp za’tar, plus an addtional tsp to sprinkle at the end
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 large cauliflower – leaves roughly chopped, and florets separately (and chopped into small pieces)
  • 2 lemons, zest and juice
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Around 8 radishes, sliced thinly
  • 1 bag of watercress, roughly chopped
  • a few handfuls of baby spinach
  • a handful of blanched almonds
  • Feta to serve (optional)

Tip the bulgur wheat into the roasting tin and pour over the stock. Scatter over the onion and cauliflower leaves. In a bowl, rub the olive oil, ginger, garlic and za’tar over the cauliflower florets, then scatter into the roasting tin. Pop the tin into the oven and roast at 200C for 20-30 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender and the bulgur wheat is cooked – start with only 300ml of stock and add a little more mid-way through cooking if needed. Remove from the oven and stir through the lemon zest and juice, watercress and radishes. Serve scattered with almonds, extra za’tar and feta (if using).

If using for a lunch, allow the roasted mix to cool before stirring through the extras, I recommend adding a little extra olive oil too. I imagine this would also be amazing scattered with some pomegranate seeds too!
 photo Cauliflower Salad  7_zps01vjclvz.jpg

 What is your go-to lunchbox?

Eating Out: The London Afternoon Tea Guide

Regular readers will know that I just love an afternoon tea – I love it for the chance it gives to sit down and have a really good catch up. The chance to eat lots of little bits. The chance to really enjoy different speciality teas. In order to celebrate Afternoon Tea Week (running from 12-18th August 2019) I’ve put together a little guide of London afternoon teas I’ve enjoyed so far.

 photo Afternoon Tea Guide_zpsmhqyybfm.jpg photo Dandelyan Wyld Afternoon Tea 1_zpslgodecrs.jpg photo Dandelyan Wyld Afternoon Tea 16_zpsh6izs6ka.jpgThe Boozy One

And my favourite (so far)! Now rebranded as Lyanness, the bar at Sea Containers hotel on the Southbank serves up an afternoon tea based around cocktails. When we visited the quantity of alcohol was perfect matched with the delicious food, and it was just a glorious few hours. This would make an absolutely perfect hen do spot, and it’s definitely somewhere I’d revisit for afternoon tea. In fact I’m thinking of going for my birthday later in the year!

The Vegan One

I’ve not yet done a full review (not gifted), but back in June I treated my sister to afternoon tea at a vegan-only patisserie and cafe – Cafe Forty One at La Suite West in Kensington. Whilst the patisserie side disappointed us slightly, the sandwiches and scones really were excellent. We loved the non-alcoholic fizz too! If you want a fully vegan option in Instagrammable surroundings this is definitely one to go for…

 photo Whittard Afternoon Tea 10_zps5ug1lwgz.jpg photo Whittard Afternoon Tea 17_zpsbahrzabr.jpgThe Bargain One [gifted]

Until I was invited to review I wasn’t aware Whittard had a tea bar in Covent Garden, let alone served afternoon tea at a rather bargain price – yes the full afternoon tea is £30pp but you can get the Grocer’s Set (£45 and easily serves two) or opt for scones and sandwiches or scones and cakes for £15-£17. Not bad at all, and it really is an oasis of calm in that area of London! We definitely enjoyed our Grocer’s Tea, the sausage rolls were absolutely delicious!

 photo Hide Afternoon Tea  16_zpsonulolps.jpg photo Hide Afternoon Tea  1_zpsq4osl1gr.jpg photo Hide Afternoon Tea  2_zpsyq7i48jo.jpg photo Hide Afternoon Tea  3_zpsoq1fpufw.jpgThe Michelin-Starred One

Oh, I did love the afternoon tea at Hide Ground! Not only did I get to stare at that iconic staircase but it really was an indulgent and high-class experience. Some really specialty teas were available (this place kick-started my Milk Oolong obsession) and the food was just so delicious. Definitely the best savourites I’ve ever enjoyed with an afternoon tea, the coddled egg was wonderful, the cheese puff sublime and the sandwiches spot on. We even got candyfloss!

The Ones Outside of London

I’ve also been lucky enough to sample a couple of afternoon teas outside of London – because why not! The atmosphere at Beckworth Emporium (Northants) might not be that relaxing as the venue is now super-popular, but I’ve never had a bad experience there. We enjoyed the Chocolate Afternoon Tea at Whittlebury Hall (also Northants), although a mix-up meant we never got the choc-chip scones I was so looking forward to. Just off the M1 is Catthorpe Manor, which is where I had one of my hen-dos – at £15pp this was a bargain and a really beautiful spot. And of course there’s the classic Tiny Tim’s in Canterbury. I’m not the hugest fan of this place to be honest, I don’t find the scones to be well made at all and it’s overpriced for the quality, but it is a must-do Canterbury experience!

And that’s my quick little round-up. I’m hoping to squeeze in another afternoon tea before the end of the month, and I’m sure I’ll keep sampling what London has to offer. Now the only question is…

Where do you recommend for Afternoon Tea?

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 photo Copper and Ink Review 4_zpsrcpidxkm.jpg

 

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

 photo Copper and Ink Review  5_zpsarikutzv.jpg

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Have you tried a new restaurant recently?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have any gastropub recommendations?

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?

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?