One cannot think well, love well, sleep well if one has not……

 Dating is hard. Like, really hard. If you’re the one in a million that managed to marry your high-school sweetheart and has never had to date, then in the most polite way possible; Sod off. This blog is not for you.

 For the rest of us poor unfortunate souls, even those of you who are now sat in marital/co-habitual bliss, there’s a feeling we all know well. The stomach churning fear of not being liked. For both men and women alike there’s the pressure of feeling like you have to be hilariously funny, intelligent but not intimidatingly so and let’s not forget jaw dropping-ly good looking. It’s almost like if the other person see’s even one tiny flaw then they’ll run screaming in the other direction never to be seen again. No matter how hard we try to mask the crazy, we’ve all heard those stories of dates going horrifyingly wrong, some of us, lucky as we are, have even lived through them. A personal highlight of mine being that recently someone rounded off a date with asking me”Are you aware that you’re assertive boarding on, you know, bolshy?” For the record, yes I am thanks.

So why oh why do we make this experience even worse for ourselves by adding in the pressure of eating. David Attenborough is always saying on Planet Earth that creatures both great and small are at their most vulnerable whilst eating and I can sympathise with this feeling. I’m certainly not at my most gracious or sleek whilst covered in pizza or whilst gorging myself on cheese. Am I the only one who finds it nigh on impossible to be at maximum level of whit whilst elegantly consuming food!? Especially as I physically can’t chew and talk. My mother would know and would still tell me off, even now.

There’s all sorts of nightmarish etiquette to consider, for example, I had a very awkward recent interaction where I made a joke about the fact that I always eat pizza with a knife and fork, to which the poor man I was sat with then assumed I was judging him for eating to sharing board we were digging into with his hands. It was most definitely finger food, I’m just weird. Cue much awkward conversation and me downing my glass of wine. You never end up ordering what you actually want, you make a snap decision because you’re worrying that the other person will find you boring or you’re taking too long to pick or you don’t actually like the cuisine of the pan-asian-thai-mexican fusion place you stupidly chose because you’re pretending to be “adventurous”. You could cook together but that will lead to the other person immediately having to see your house and the fact that you’re actually secretly a control freak who micro manages other people cooking (*cough cough*). Don’t even get me started on the amount of times I’ve nervously and recklessly declared I love camping because conversation was running dry. Which, for the record, I don’t. I hate it.

It’s a minefield out there people.

I opened the debate up to the many and asked all those who’d listen whether they thought eating on the first date was a good idea, some reeled away in shock and horror citing hatred of the sound of others chewing, or that they would eat but would always pick a “healthier” option than what they would normally go for. Things such as spaghetti, seafood and garlic were all big no nos for obvious reasons. So was cooking for someone on the first date, mainly due to the amount of stories I heard of people mutilating themselves and ending up with their first date in A&E. Not ideal really is it? Meeting for coffee seemed to be a nice middle ground but who goes for coffee after 5pm which is when most dates happen?

Rather reassuringly though most people said that they would be OK with eating on the first date because at the end of the day, we all gotta eat and why should we be ashamed of how we do it? So let us all be inspired by those of us brave enough to order seafood linguine with extra garlic bread, supposedly finding the right person means they’ll like you no matter what you eat……right?

How do you measure a year?

 

“Five-hundred, twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure – measure a year?

In daylights (365)? In sunsets (same)? In midnight’s (see before)? In cups of coffee (too many to count)?”

The opening lyrics to one of my favourite songs struck me as an apt opening on my reflection of the year this blog has now been alive. Rent puts it perfectly, how do you measure a year? Should I measure it in successes? That actually, when I write them down are bigger than I ever thought they could be, or is it more accurate to work in failures? Which were also many and some, may argue, more spectacular. There were times I cried too much over silly things, rushed into even sillier decisions and there was an unfortunate incident with a window. Please don’t ask.

Whilst, I like to think, I am a positive person, it is actually very easy to get wrapped up in the loss’s we suffer every day; I’ve drifted apart from friends whom I thought I would always be close, I’ve not been to the gym anywhere near as often as I wrote in my aims for the year and even though I promised myself I’d be more sensible in 2016/17 still made some spectacularly stupid choices. I’ve loved, lost, celebrated and mourned all throughout this year, however, one thing that has always kept me focused was this blog. It sounds ridiculous because I probably don’t post on it anywhere near as often as I should, or, more importantly, so much as I’d like. Loving food and writing about food has defined my year and defined me. I have thrown myself off of heights that used to scare me…….literally, I jumped out of a plane, which, incidentally was funded by a foodie adventure. I’ve reviewed places I used to revere and have cooked things harder than I thought I could achieve. I whipped my first real meringue, hosted my own supper club for 35 very loved one’s, made a dessert worthy of MasterChef Australia and for the first time focused in on what I’d like to do with my life. Be around food.

I’ve managed to involve food in all areas of my being, I’ve hosted friends and family, catered for work events, cooked for charity and baked recipes I knew would fail just so that I could be real in my writing. I started this originally as a channel to discuss my love of food but it’s become so much more. It’s become something that has given me confidence in really low times and brought me back down to earth when I was probably becoming too lofty, and, whilst it sounds about as sickening as eating three sticky toffee puddings in a row it’s also very true.

I could wax lyrical about how much this blog has meant to me, but I should probably focus on the food and write about my foodie highs and lows this year:

Lows

Start with the bad news eh?

  • Everyone’s obsession with coconut: Especially in 2016, coconut was freaking everywhere. In puddings, savouries, in oils and butters. Frankly, I want it no-where so if we could move onto another ‘health food’ craze that would be grand
  • Chia Seeds: See above
  • Being deemed a snob: I’ve loved writing about food but it does now seem to have given me a label of ‘food snob’. I think the term you’re looking for is; ‘has taste’18871429_10154779643851849_1716247826_n
  • Brexit: Well that just ruined everything didn’t it
  • Cheese Soufflé: Imagine going to your dream restaurant, you’ve thought about this day for years, you practically wet yourself you’re that excited. You sit down, someone is literally employed to pull your chair out for you. The first course is the restaurants signature dish. They’ve served it since the dark ages of when Michelin first existed, it’s renowned across the world as a delicacy and…………. you HATE it. Not just don’t like it, but literally can’t stand it, think it tastes, looks, smells hideous. You begin to question your palate, who you are, what you think you know and why on earth you’re being allowed in a restaurant with not only 1 or 2 but 3 Michelin stars. You’ve loved the chef since you can remember and yet you hate his signature dish? Is there anything more disappointing? It’s ok though because the rest of the menu makes up for it. Panic over.  

Highs18816171_10154779647211849_1029948589_n

  • Eating at my first Michelin starred restaurant: I was actually nervous walking in,what if they realised I “didn’t belong”, made even worse by hating the first course and jumping out my skin when someone was there to push my chair in. I had to be banned by my Mother from taking photos but it was bloody amazing. Sadly since 18834751_10154779650491849_1794121632_nwe went it’s come out he doesn’t pay his staff minimum wage. Shame on you.
  • The Wick at both ends: This was probably my first real invited review and again I was so nervous, I loved every second of it, took some of the best photos I’ve ever taken and felt so privileged. The food was pretty decent too
  • Running my own supper club: Spurred on by friends, loved ones and unlucky boyfriend of the time I was encouraged into running a supper club for 35. It was extremely stressful but wonderful and an experience I’ll never forget and can’t wait to repeat
  • The first time somebody asked my advice on a recipe: “Oh you know about these things” Hoping that no-one realises I learn most of my stuff from MasterChef Australia

Thank you to everyone who’s helped me. Those that I see every day and those that I don’t. Thank you for putting up with me and I can’t wait for my next foodie adventure.

A story of salmon….

It’s a Sunday night, I’m sat in my dining room, glass of wine in hand, staring at the wasteland that used to be my kitchen. The top of a food processor is discarded on the floor, knives strewn all over, half chopped bunches of coriander and parsley looking sad on top of the cooker and a singular, mangled & lonely lemon. The utter devastation of my kitchen is all down to one man, one man whose face is grinning at me frustratingly from the front cover of the book I got this weeks dreaded recipe from. Jamie Oliver. I say his name with narrowed eyes and a hiss in my voice due to my current state stress.

The reason I’m in desperate need of yet another glass of wine (this would be my third large, so sorry Mother) is that I challenged myself to do one of Jamie’s 30 minute meals and actually try and make it in 30 minutes. I knew this probably wasn’t going to be possible but I didn’t realise quite how infuriating and anxiety inducing it would be.

I took my time carefully going through the book and picking which recipe I was going to wage war on. After discussion with one of the housemates we settled on ‘Crispy Salmon, Jazzed-up rice, baby courgette salad, gorgeous guacamole, berry spritzer’.

My first annoyance with this recipe is that it has over 20 ingredients. OVER 20 JAMIE. This is supposed to be a mid week meal, now some of these are staple ingredients that you probably have in your your cupboard but on the other hand how many people, on average, have fennel seeds just lying around? As usual I will go through the recipe step by step below but I’m just going to put it out there this recipe took nearly 50 minutes. Which is not 30. It also takes 8000 different pans, chopping boards, food processor etc. Oh, and finally, the straw that broke the camel’s back was serving rice on a chopping board, this is not normal or productive. In any way.

Ingredients:

SALMON
2 long peppers, red & yellow
A bunch of spring onions
2 fresh red chillies
1 x 1kg fillet of salmon, skin on, scaled and pin-boned
1 lemon
Fennel seeds

SALAD                                                                                                 RICE
1 lemon                                                                                                1 mug of basmati rice
A couple of sprigs of fresh mint                                                     1/2 a 450g jar of red peppers
1-2 red chillies                                                                                    A few sprigs of fresh basil
400g baby courgettes                                                                        Balsamic vinegar

GUACAMOLE                                                                                     EXTRAS
4 spring onions                                                                                  1 pack of tortilla wraps
A small bunch of fresh coriander                                                  1 tub of soured cream
1 fresh red chilli
1 clove of garlic
2 limes
2-3 small ripe avocados
1 handful of cherry tomatoes

SPRITZER
1 punnet of blueberries blackberries, or strawberries
Ice cubes
A few sprigs of fresh mint
A bottle of sparkling water

DISCLAIMER – So, to be honest with you reader; I did not use baby courgettes, shocking and appalling I know but my local morrisons only had full sized courgettes. Plus I hate fennel. I loathe it in all it’s ani-seedy forms and so I didn’t use the fennel seeds on top of the salmon. Also shocking. Finally, Morrisons let me down again and refused to sell me 1kg of salmon and so I had to settle for salmon fillets.

TO START – Get all your ingredients and equipment ready. Fill and boil the kettle. Turn the grill up full whack. Put a saucepan on a medium heat. Put the standard blade in the food processor

Let the panic begin. Does this count in the 30 minutes or do I actually have to be cooking for it to take 30 minutes!? My grill is awful it’s going to take 30 bloody minutes to heat up

SALMON – Pour a couple of lugs of olive oil into a large roasting tray. Halve and deseed the red pepper. Slice the pepper and the bunch of spring onions into 2 cm pieces. Roughly chop the chillies. Drizzle olive oil over both sides of the salmon, season and finely grate over some lemon zest. Rub these flavours all over the salmon, then wash your hands. If necessary, halve the salmon so it fits in the roasting tray, then lay skin side up and arrange the slices vegetables around it. Whack under the grill on the middle shelf and set the timer for 14 minutes.

I’m sorry, since when was a ‘lug’ a form of measurement!? Last time I checked if I was lugging something, I was punching it. What do you mean wash my hands Jamie I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR WASHING

RICE – Put the rice into a medium saucepan with a pinch of salt and cover by 1.5cm with boiling water. Put the lid on, then turn the heat right up and leave to cook for 7 minutes. Once cooked, take off the heat and leave to steam for 7 minutes, still covered with the lid.

My mother drilled the Delia Smith recipe for cooking rice into me from a young age, old friends, housemates and even ex boyfriends have begged me for the recipe and the secret to cooking rice. I feel like i’m betraying St Delia by cooking rice differently! 7 minutes!? What madness is this!? But i’ll behave and follow the recipe

SALAD – Squeeze the juice of ½ a lemon into a large serving bowl and add a couple of lugs of extra virgin olive oil and a good pinch of salt & pepper. Finely chop the mint leaves and ½ a chilli and add to the bowl. Speed-peel as much of the baby courgettes as you can over the dressing and put whatever is left behind on a large wooden chopping board. Take the bowl of salad to the table but don’t toss until right before you are ready to serve.

Speed-peel my courgettes and half my fingers at the same time as I realise that I’ve already used a good whack of my time17622816_10154605410801849_311581703_o

RICE – Roughly chop and mix the jarred peppers and mint leaves on the chopping board with the remaining courgette. Add a pinch of salt & pepper, a good lug of extra virgin olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

I’m sorry. Did you just tell me to pour liquid on a chopping board………this feels like madne….oh yep….look what happened……..

SPRITZER – Blitz the berries to a puree in the food processor. Half fill a large jug with ice cubes and rip the leaves from a few sprigs of mint. Put a sieve on top of the jug and quickly push the blitzed berries through, using the back of a spoon. Discard whatever is left behind, then top the jug up with sparkling water, stir and take to the table. Quickly rinse out the processor

This spritzer is utterly pointless and a massive waste of your precious minutes in this challenge. By sieving the puree you take out ALL THE FLAVOUR and so it becomes pointless and just a jug of sparkling water.

SALMON – When the 14 minutes are up, take the tray out of the oven. Using a knife and your fingers carefully peel the skin away from the flesh and flip it over. Add a pinch of salt and the fennel seeds. Turn the peppers over, then put the tray back under the grill and cook for a further 5 minutes or until the skin is really crispy.

Whilst severely burning your fingers

GUACAMOLE – Trim the spring onions and put then into the processor with most of the coriander, the chilli, a peeled clove of garlic, the juice of one of your limes and a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Whiz up while you stone the avocados and quarter the tomatoes. Stop whizzing, and squeeze the avocado flesh out of its skin into the processor. Add the tomatoes and pulse until chunky. Put into a bowl and add more seasoning or lime juice to taste if needed. Take to the table with a few wedges of lime for squeezing over.

I DON’T HAVE TIME TO WASH ALL THE BLOOMING TINY STRAWBERRY SEEDS OUT OF THE FREAKING PROCESSOR. Really starting to feel the stress here as oh look it’s been 30 minutes, there’s stuff everywhere and nope I’m no where near done

RICE – Quickly fluff up the rice with a fork, then tip over the board of chopped veg and gently mix together. Take to the table. Put a griddle pan on a high heat

Whilst getting rice everywhere. Also I don’t know why my rice can’t be mixed with all these ingredients in a nice bowl, like a normal person, why does it need to be flat surface that means stuff goes everywhere!?!?!?!?!

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SALMON
– Use tongs to carefully turn the crispy salmon skin back over. Season with salt & pepper and cook for a further 5 minutes

I feel like you told me earlier to cook the skin until crispy. This salmon is getting a lot of cooking time and the skin is no longer nicely crispy, it’s bordering on burnt

EXTRAS – Warm the tortillas one at a time in the griddle pan for a few seconds on each side. Tip the soured cream into a bowl, drizzle over a little extra virgin olive oil and take to the table.

As if I have time for this rubbish

TO SERVE Take the salmon straight to the table and serve with the lovely salad

Lovely, stress inducing salad.
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As I said above, this entire process takes longer than 30 minutes. However, whilst I’ve be-moaned most of this the recipe itself in principle is actually great. Apart from the stupid spritzer, don’t waste your time or money (let’s face it, berries aren’t cheap). I’ve never used balsamic vinegar with rice but it’s amazing and I’ve never achieved crispy salmon skin before so know how to do it now. Rice goes in a bowl though Jamie. A bowl.

Mixing it up: The Wick At Both Ends

Small plates are so in right now. They’re so in and cool that after eating some small plates last week I hit peak relevance on Monday night at 6 pm and the rest of a week was a write off after that.
I have to admit I am completely guilty of jumping on the bandwagon of teeny tiny plates of food, I’m not sure if it’s because it makes me feel as if I can eat four times as many because they’re small (that makes sense…right?) or because I’m a habitual food sharer and get ratty if people don’t want to give me some of whatever they’re eating. Sharing is caring people.

Myself and the perpetually patient housemates were lucky enough to be invited to the Wick At Both Ends to try out their latest new menu and we ate them out of house and home. Shockingly.

They’re new menu is catchily called Wick ‘n’ Mix, it’s stuffed full of dishes and price depends on how many you want. We obviously went for seven small dishes (the most they offer in a group deal) for £22 and then because we were scared this wasn’t enough we added another three for £12….and chips….just in case.

We went for:

Venison shepherd’s pie

Why not start with one of the best eh? Rich and meaty this was a dish of pure delight. Topped with perfectly creamy mash this was a stand out dish for us, pretty much faultless

Potted ham with burnt apple and sourdoughwick10

Potted things are always a funny one aren’t they? A bit like a fancy pate really. This one was one a pretty good potted thing, it matched well with the burnt apple puree and was a light and slightly more refreshing option than our others

wick2Tempura cauliflower

The best dish. By a mile. Perfectly crispy and tasty there’s not a right lot else to say about this, except next time I’m going to order four, for me. In fact, please deliver me some, right now. Please.


Red pepper hummus with wick4focaccia

Roll your eyes if you’d like, hummus is just hummus I hear you cry. No, no, dear friend. Hummus can be terribly bland or terribly good, this one was terribly good for example. Ever so slightly spicy the texture was en pointe, kudos, and I could have eaten a loaf of the foccacia.

wick3Garlic prawns

I love getting my hands dirty when it comes to food so serving prawns whole like this is always a winner.

 

 

Pork belly with wild rice and almonds

I forgot about this dish. Sorry, I was too busy drooling over the cauliflower

Celeriac with horseradishwick5

I’m not going to lie I feel slightly betrayed by this dish. When deciding upon our marathon amounts of food I defended celeriac. I pushed for it to be included in our gargantuan line up. Waxed lyrical about how tender and tasty it could be given the chance. However, this celeriac wasn’t great. The horseradish we were promised wasn’t apparent in the sauce and it was under cooked. Needless to say I got questioned on why we didn’t just order more cauliflower

Duck nuggets with rhubarb ketchupwick9

Probably one of my most favourite phrases to say. Go on. Say it out loud. Duuuuuck Nuuugget. Also one of my most favourite things to eat it would appear. Who knew deep friend duck tastes so good.

Musselswick11

Another slight let down here on the mussel front. The housemates LOVE mussels, go nuts for them and these were slightly underwhelming, it’s fine I just wafted the duck nuggets under their noses

Curried monkfish with sweetcorn

Now, I’m probably not the best person to comment on this as I loathe sweetcorn, but the actual monkfish itself was amazing, meaty and slightly spicy, can I have a plate of just the monkfish?

 

wick8

Whilst there were definitely a few slips in the dishes, I’m still a little bitter about the celeriac, overall the food was pretty damn good. They managed to bring out all ten plates of food to us at the same time, all hot and very obviously just cooked so I’m impressed. If I was that chef I probably would have been cursing us. It’s also worth mentioning that our waitress was so lovely it looked like the management had stolen her right out of a Disney film.
To conclude; please make the shepherds pie into a massive sharing dish rather than a small plate, it’s too good to just have a couple of spoonfuls and next time I’ll just have to order more duck nuggets and did I mention the cauliflower?

Getting my veg on

I must admit I have been feeling guilty. Now, feeling guilty is sadly nothing new for me, in fact, it’s how I’ve spent vast swathes of my life feeling over the years. Guilty that I wasn’t doing well enough at school, that I wasn’t a good enough friend/girlfriend/worker/writer, that someone misunderstood what I meant, that the relationship hadn’t worked because I just hadn’t tried hard enough etc. All of this negative guilt has lead to some interesting behavioural choices over the years and a tendency to message my housemates on a regular basis and ask them if in fact my nightmare of them no longer wanting to be friends with me because I am so annoying is coming true. It never is FYI. However, whilst all of this sounds self-pitying, self-serving even, my over-heightened sense of guilt does do me some favours every now and again.
I feel particularly guilty if I buy a £3 chicken from Morrisons, and whilst I can’t always afford organic, hand-fed, hand-plucked, cuddled by farmers chickens, I should probably be more thoughtful about where my food has come from and the life that it’s lead to get to my plate. It has been proven time and time again that the amount of meat we are eating is having a direct impact on our environment and everyone’s seen the hideous documentaries about chickens living in cages. So, one of my new year’s resolutions is to be more conscious of what I eat.

I tried to be veggie for a while last year and failed so miserably that I ended up sat in my room at 2am drunkenly crooning softly to a box of KFC. However, this year I’m trying again, not  because I think meat is unhealthy or that I need to restrict myself but because it makes me a more conscious eater. If I’m specifically avoiding an ingredient then I will think much more carefully and sustainably about the others involved. Currently I’m a week in, which is better than I did last year, and I’m feeling much more positive about it. I’m eating more fresh vegetables and am aiming to be much more adventurous in the ways I cook them. Just don’t ask me to walk past the rotisserie chickens in Morrisons, they smell so gosh darn good.

Every Sunday we eat together as a house, it’s become a bit of a thing for us, we call it family dinner and it’s something we’ve managed to stick to even when things are tough and life is trying. This week for Sunday dinner I’m creating something new, it’s easy to do my usual chicken (Can you tell I like chicken by the way) but as meat isn’t an option right now it’s time to think outside the box. After trawling through the internet and considering many options I’ve gone for a mushroom wellington. Pastry solves a myriad of ‘crappy week’ problems and is always a favourite in the house. We also all adore mushrooms and, for good measure, I’m sure I can find a way to sneak cheese in there somewhere.


Mushroom Wellington:

Ingredients, serves 3:

  • 3 large Portobello Mushrooms
  • Spinach
    Depends how spinachy you want it, but remember spinach is hideously annoying in the fact it shrinks like the wicked witch of the west when faced with water
  • Enough puff pastry to surround said large mushrooms, around 2 sheets of pre rolled puff pastry
    Don’t pretend you make your own puff pastry
  • 4 or five button/closed cup/chestnut mushrooms
  • Half a white or red onion
    Some people have a preference
  • Cheese of your choice
    Now yes, I realise this is horrifyingly vague, but some people wouldn’t appreciate me dictating that this recipe needs intensely strong blue cheese (which is great) some people would prefer the meltier quality of brie or the tang of a cheddar. So yes, cheese of your choice. The quantity is also dependent on how much you like of said cheese.
  • Butter
    Because what doesn’t need butter
  • Oregano
  • Salt and pepper
    Obviously

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees and line a tray with either non stick tinfoil or baking paper
    This WILL stick, don’t be tempted to not use anything, you’ll end up crying over losing the pastry bottom, sad.

  2. In a large frying pan put a generous pat of butter, salt, pepper and turn onto a medium heat to melt butter
    Who says butter pat!? Surely it’s knob…..oh wait….probably shouldn’t say that

  3. Once butter is melted place each of the portobello mushrooms face down in the pan, flip after a couple of minutes to that all surfaces are browned slightly
    Don’t over fry at this stage, this would be a disaster as it’s going to spend 40 minutes in the oven soon

  4. Move pan off the heat once the portobello mushrooms are cooked, chop closed cup mushrooms, onion and garlic as finely as possible. Add more butter to pan and fry all of these together
    Notice a theme in this recipe? Butter. This is NOT a dieting recipe. I repeat, abandon hope all ye who diet here

  5. Once mushrooms, onion and garlic are all browned add in around a tablespoon of oregano and then stir spinach in until wilted
    Always use more spinach that you think as it shrinks into absolutely nothing

  6. Put mushroom, spinach and onion mixture aside to cool. Light dust a surface with flour and lay out sheet of puff pastry
    Inevitably spill flour and cover the surface, yourself, the floor, ceiling, windows, neighbour’s house in flour in the process15995369_10154379735231849_1321945653_n

  7. Spoon three evenly distributed portions of spinach mixture onto the pastry with large gaps in between, place a slice of favoured cheese on top, lay mushroom flat side down over cheese and layer another slice of cheese. Repeat on all three spinach piles
    Don’t be tempted by putting toooo much cheese, remember this stuff melts and will go everywhere

  8. 15995657_10154379735406849_410709532_nLay second layer of pastry over all three piles and cut so three evenly sized parcels are formed. Fork the edges of each parcel and brush with egg. Pierce a hole in the top of each parcel to finish
    No egg wash = no golden brown = sad. Don’t forget the egg wash

  9. Place parcels in the pre-heated oven for around 40 minutes until golden brown and enjoy!
    GOOEY CHEESE JOY

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Please feel free to email any feedback on this recipe or your favourite veggie recipes to erin_lawlor@hotmail.co.uk

 

O come oh ye faithful…

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Supposedly.
Now, don’t worry this isn’t a disparaging piece about the terrible consumerist nature of Christmas because, whilst I know I should care. I don’t. I love Christmas, I love it in all it’s glittery, tinsel covered tackiness. As soon as December the 1st rolls round I am the person to stand on my chair and start singing Deck the Halls as loudly as I physically can and religiously start buying everyone around me a tiny Christmas trees for their desks or rooms, just because.

However, there is one thing that instills an ever so slight feeling of dread in me. What on earth am I going to make for my annual Christmas do?
Our house is a wonderful hub of people and as we always love a good reason to celebrate and so naturally we set ourselves the task of hosting a Christmas party. One housemate will be bullied into making a mound of sausages wrapped in bacon (Her signature dish and somehow manages to make them taste even better than normal pigs in blankets) and other lovely housemate has a bit of a thing for cocktail sticks so will inevitably spend hours in the kitchen painstakingly threading anything that stands still long enough onto cocktail sticks.

Whilst these are two amazing options we need a whole smorgasbord of treats. Is everyone totally over Turkey? Crackers about cranberries? What are the Christmas trends this year!? Am I supposed to salt brine-deepfatfry-claybake my turkey this year, must all of my veggie-troubles be heritage, sourced from farms that only reap what they sew at midnight every third blue moon. 2016 was the year we all went mad for fermentation, dear lord am I going to end up staying awake till 3am the night before my Christmas do staring into a pot of kimchi getting high off the fumes and wondering how I can make it Christmassy?

I put a call out to my usual Facebook audience to ask for advice on what they like at Christmas. The resounding answer was: sausages wrapped in bacon, everywhere. As long as there were sausages in bacon they didn’t care what else there was. Some people even went a step further and demanded the addition of cheese to the already tasty treat. Now, everyone knows how I love cheese. If you’ve known me longer than 30 seconds I’ve probably already waxed lyrical about how much I love cheese in all it’s glory. However, and just hear me out here, I’m not sure it belongs on a sausage wrapped in bacon. One of the joys of eating pigs in blankets is that you can eat tonnes of them, with the addition and cheese would they become too intense and then limit the number I’d be able to eat?
There were cries for all things pastry, from flakey sausage rolls to filo filled with cranberry and brie. Tiny steak filled delights and homemade cheese straws were all demanded.

As always there was the inevitable debate between goose and turkey, personally I’m team turkey, cooking goose leads to everything being covered in a fine film of fat, the tray, the oven, you, the cat, everything. Lines were drawn over parsnips were wrong or right and please don’t get me started on the war I started and friendships I lost over posting saying that the only place bread sauce belonged was in the bin. Which, by the way I stand by.

To conclude this experiment lead me to believe that I am over complicating my choices for the Christmas do and that everyone will be completely happy as long as there’s food and tonnes of it. The more the better, but, there better be sausages wrapped in bacon or there will be anarchy.

Silversmiths Review: The battle of the roasts

What makes a great Sunday lunch great? Is it drowning the entire plate in gravy? The delight of slicing into that first crispy fluffy potato? Is it the meat that gets your juices flowing? Or is the only way Yorkshire? As in…pudding.

It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t enjoy a roast dinner done well. I never actually had roast dinner on a Sunday when I was growing up (I was a deprived child), it was one of the big things when moving out that I attempted to integrate into my life. That and 60p vodka mixers.  Curious about what I should be doing with my roast to keep it ‘en trend’ I’ve posed the question to the masses about what makes a good roast many times and yet whilst we all have very different opinions about what should and shouldn’t be there (cauliflower cheese seems to be a point of contention, plus chicken or beef) it seems to be a resounding fact that nothing beats Mum’s roast. No restaurant can even come close. So, when a wonderful friend of mine put a call of action out on Facebook for a gang of us to join her in trying the new Sunday roast offering from Silversmiths I jumped at the idea that I could see for myself if the homemade roast was the only way.

Silversmiths is one of Sheffield’s more fancy offerings. It’s the type of place that I’d make my parents take me or an anniversary dinner (for those of you who have those anniversary things, currently my longest anniversary is with Taylor Swift songs, ten years Swifty, ten years). So we met at 1 pm on Sunday and gave it a run for it’s money.

I must admit I was hugely curious as I walked in, due to the fact that I knew Silversmiths had undergone a huge face lift that they’d managed to turn around in an inordinately short amount of time. 5 days kind of short. Insanity.
The entire restaurant now looks like a completely different venue in a really great way. It’s light, open and friendly whilst still feeling upmarket and classy. The dark red has been replaced with white and the new table layout is a winner. It doesn’t matter that there are relatively speaking a lot of tables in quite a small area it doesn’t feel horrendously overcrowded and you still have enough room to breathe. It’s now the type of place I can imagine fancy businessmen having important lunch meetings or ladies who lunch meeting for fizz and fancy food.

We were greeted by a lovely server, I think birds may actually dress this girl in a morning she was so lovely and we immediately got down to the hard work of picking a drink. As Silversmiths prides itself on sourcing things locally I had to go for a Yorkshire tea gin (had too, right!? Right). The drinks took a while to arrive but when they did the gin lived up to expectations and was drank far, far far too quickly.

We all decided to go for mains and desserts (not my normal way round, give me a starter any day) but I was desperate to get on with the roast and had spotted a Yorkshire Parkin that seemed right up my street for dessert.
There was a range of styles of roast, from price topping Venison, to pork belly, chicken, beef, veggie, if you wanted a protein as your showstopper Silversmiths probably have it on their menu.
We all ordered, five beef, chicken and a pork. Disney princess waitress (seriously, she was that nice) had to come back and inform us that they only had three beef left (impressive to say that they’d only been open for around an hour) so grudgingly I swapped to chicken (stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes) and our host swapped to pork. It’s selfless acts like this that will guarantee me a seat in heaven. The food wait was I’m not going to lie, pretty long, the man sat next to me started to look pretty tasty, but the food arrived piping hot and there was definitely enough of it. So whilst the wait is forgivable, sadly there were a few things that are harder to forgive. One member of our table had to send the roast beef back, which, to give them their due was handled impressively by owner Justin and was replaced with a lovely looking rolled lamb. The other thing that I am having trouble dealing with is the lack of roast potatoes. Now, I don’t know if this is just personal taste and while I love all forms of potatoes, i’m a bit like all teachers in this regard. I have a favourite. Whether I should or not, I do and it’s roasties. The duchess potato thing was delightful and buttery and the new potatoes were….slightly misplaced and at the end of the day, a new potato, Silversmiths oh Silversmiths I craved a crispy, fluffy roastie to mop up mi’ gravy.

On a lighter note, my chicken was delicious, loved the sun-dried tomatoes and they had managed to get a good caramelisation on the outside. The stuffing was also great, more please. The veg were pleasantly al dente without being raw and the Yorkshires were great in all their Yorkshirey goodness. There was also a good amount of veggies between two which is something I’ve noticed a lot of places skimp out on.silversmiths4

Whilst my main was great, if lacking in roasties (but hey this might be personal taste) it is not a cheap meal by any stretch of the imagination. I do understand paying for quality and for the most part Silversmiths do deliver, but if you’re looking for a place to become a regular for Sunday dinner this may not be it. If the rents are up and you’re looking for some slightly posher grub then go for it! I’m still a fan of cauliflower cheese on my roast though so it’s still in debate if home cooked is the way forward…..

Gin, marvelous gin

When I came to Uni at the tender age of 19 I remember walking into my first proper city club. I goggled in awe at the sticky floor, the hoards of drunk lust filled teenagers and most importantly the fact that I could legitimately buy a Vodka mixer for 60p. 60 people. Now, this “Vodka” in question was undoubtedly paint stripper and I’m pretty sure has massively reduced my levels of intelligence but it seemed like the epitome of a good night out at such a young age. Having grown up in a tiny town that had only one also tiny club this was a whole new world for me.

Now, luckily, for both me and my liver, my tastes have become more refined. I haven’t been inside the hallowed halls of that fateful club in around four years and have done my time of sitting outside on the curb waiting for taxis with my box of cheesy chips and gravy.
These days I grace much more reputable establishments and stick to a diet of dry white wine, prosecco and of course gin. I love gin. I’m not ashamed to say it. I used to only associate gin with an elderly relative of mine but as I’ve grown so has my love for “Mother’s ruin”. Luckily I live with two other women who share a love of gin as well (something I don’t think our mothers are actually too happy about), so when I was invited to a gin and food pairing I nearly cried with joy and rang said two wonderful women and demanded they come with me.
The other amazing aspect of this supper club was that it was created and executed by a MasterChef contestant. Anyone who’s been in a room for longer than a millisecond will know that I have an overwhelming and completely unhealthy obsession with MasterChef. Both Australian and British, so I nearly fell off my chair when the lovely Chris Hale from this years MasterChef sent me an invite.


We donned our glad rags and had a wonderful evening, there were four wonderful courses and more gin than I care to talk about. We left giddy and very, very tipsy.
The evening started with:

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Canapes

gin7As every good evening should it started with canapes and yes of course, gin. We were greeted with a play on a Tom Collins, which was sharp, sour and wonderfully moreish. There was thyme and a very silly paper straw (which, honestly, does anyone really use these!?) and it was completely delicious. gin8
The canapes were a black pepper tuille and potted chicken which was everything you want
a chicken mayo sandwich to be and I ate about twelve of them. Then there was a crispy bruschetta topped with tomato, mozzarella and basil, another favourite of mine, again too many were consumed and finally a fig, polenta and goats cheese bite. Which, if I’m completely honest, I didn’t eat one of due to my utter loathing of goats cheese. Sorry Chris.

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Starter

The starter was delicious. Completely, utterly delicious. There wasn’t enough of it. Why are starters always so small, WE WANT MORE STARTER!!!! It was a cured salmon with a slick of tarragon mayo, something horseraishy and gin and tonic jelly (which should be a thing that there is more of in the world). The salmon was melt in the mouth amazing and the various different kinds of mayo were the perfect accompaniment. I didn’t eat the edible flower, they are as useful as a paper straw to me. More salmon please.

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Main

Now usually, I have a slight problem with eating cute animals (go ahead, tut at me, for if I eat meat I shouldn’t mind eating cute things. Well I do) but Chris Hale could make me change my mind and have me out hunting for Bambi’s mum myself. The main was a Venison Bourguignon with pomme puree, pickled blackberries and celeriac crisps. More Chris. We demand more. More pomme puree goodness, more venison (yes I’m crying for more) and definitely more celeriac thingies. This course came with a mahoosive shot of Sloe Gin, which is actually my least favourite kind of gin but paired perfectly with the Bourguignon. More Chris. More.

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Dessert

Now by this stage in the evening we were incredibly giggly and had far, far, far too much gin. Dessert was essentially a very large gin and tonic which whilst needed some crunch or maybe some cake to soak up even a tiny bit of the gin we’d drank it was a very tasty Gin and Tonic sorbet!
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Overall the evening was a complete success, Chris was a wonderful chef and host and I think I proposed twice to the bar manager who kept plying us with Gin. We love you.
So thank you to Pop Up North for a great evening and I can’t wait to see more from you guys!

How to make the perfect….

Perfect is a funny word isn’t it? It’s the epitome of success, if something is ‘perfect’ it is without flaw, not a stain to it’s name, there is no higher accolade than perfect. It’s a surprisingly tricky job to not find a flaw in something though and so often it comes down to personal taste. The term perfect is even more tricky when applied to food. Is there such thing as a perfect avocado? I’ve never found one and I’ve been eating avocados waaaay before people started mashing them on toast. Is there a food without flaw? I don’t think so.
However, Felicity Cloake, the wonderful, amusing, talented Felicity Cloake writes one of my favourite columns for The Guardian online (go on, tut at me for reading The Guardian. I don’t care), “How to cook the perfect….”  I enjoy the reading of it, she breaks all the things she makes down into smaller bite sized nuggets of how to make it, does her research into how different people make said delectable treat and comes to a conclusion. Everything always looks brilliant but I’ve never really tried to make one. Until now *insert dramatic music here*.

Now, I love Indian food. I love northern Indian thick saucy curries to southern Indian fishy delights, I love Paneer in all it’s glory and could eat bhajis for days. Above all though, above everything I love naan. Naan bread for me is comfort food in the extreme: fluffy, slightly doughy but crispy in places with the gorgeous oniony tang of nigella seeds (no, no, not Nigella wearing lacy underwear kind of nigella).
However, I’ve watched enough documentaries about Indian cuisine to know that it ‘aint easy to make naan, it’s something that requires a recipe passed down through the generations, full of secrets and magic and most importantly: a tandoor oven. A magical contraption that you stick the naans to the wall of and you fish them out with a long stick. Firstly, I don’t have one of these and secondly I should definitely never be trusted with a large stick. I would cause way too much damage. So when the hero that is Felicity Cloake wrote a recipe for how to create the ‘Perfect Naan Bread’ I was intrigued. How would she weave such wizardry without a tandoor oven. The answer: She doesn’t.

Read about my adventures below:

Ingredients:

1.5 tsp fast-action yeast

1 tsp sugar

150ml warm water

300g strong white bread flour, plus extra to dust

1 tsp salt

5 tbsp natural yoghurt

2 tbsp melted ghee or butter, plus extra to brush

A little vegetable oil, to grease

1 tsp nigella (black onion), sesame or poppy seeds (optional)

  1. naan1Put the yeast, sugar and two tablespoons of warm water in a bowl and stir well. Leave until it begins to froth.
    Now this seems relatively simple. Unless your brain is on about 12 other things and you do it wrong. Three times. When you don’t notice the fact it says 2 tablespoons of water and you only notice the 150ml of warm water. Why isn’t my yeast frothing and activating like it should!?!?!? Oh yea. Idiot
  2. Put the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and whisk to combinenaan2.
    Whisk Felicity? Really. Does whisking flour seem like a good idea to you? Let me tell you. It’s not

  3. Stir the yoghurt into the yeast mixture
    You sir, are disgusting

  4. naan3Make a well in the middle of the flour and pour it in, plus the melted ghee. Mix, then gradually stir in the water to make a soft, sticky mixture that is just firm enough to call a dough, but not at all dry.
    Whoa, whoa, whoa Felicity. We didn’t specify it had to be ghee!!! I only have butter. Am I already setting myself up for an unsatisfactory product?
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  5. Tip out on a lightly floured surface and knead for about five minutes until smooth and a little less sticky, then put in a large, lightly oiled bowl and turn to coat. Cover and leave in a draught-free place (the airing cupboard, or an unlit oven) until doubled in size: roughly 90–120 minutes.
    I blame Mother for not teaching me how to knead properly. I’ve never really done it. Neither of us have warm hands (we have warm hearts you see) so I’ve never had a need to knead! Is this less sticky!? It’s no longer coating my hands in dough so I’m going to vote yes
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  6. naan7Tip the dough back out onto the lightly floured surface and knock the air out, then divide into eight balls
    This is assuming you have a giant surface to be able to pour said dough back out onto. You can barely swing a cat in my kitchen (i’ve never understood why you’d want to do this anyway) so involved an insane amount of cleaning as you go. Annoying

  7. Meanwhile, heat a non-stick frying pan over a very high heat for five minutes and put the oven on low. Prepare the melted ghee and any seeds to garnish.
    Crap. Forgot to melt more butter

  8. Flatten one of the balls and prod or roll it into a flat circle, slightly thicker around the edge. Pick it up by the top to stretch it slightly into a teardrop shape, then put it in the hot pan. When it starts to bubble, turn it over and cook until the other side is browned in patches. Turn it back over and cook until there are no doughy bits remaining.
    Prodding anything will never make it into a circle. I can’t remember the last time I stared at anything this intently, don’t burn, please don’t burn
    These are the tiniest naans I’ve ever seen

  9. Brush with melted ghee and sprinkle with seeds, if using, and put in the oven to keep warm while you make the other breads
    YOU SAID IT COULD BE BUTTER FELICITY. How much butter is too much butter? I’m not good at portion control when it comes to butter. Having to explain to housemate that nigella seeds aren’t actually named after Nigella Lawson is amusing.

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All in all whilst these naan breads tasted a lot better than I thought they would do which is great, however, were they the most perfect naan breads I’ve ever eaten, no. No Felicity they weren’t, however, I will still read your column at every opportunity possible.

Follow the crumble path

“I don’t mean to be a pain but I can’t eat that because….”

The words that 99% of home cooks dread to hear. Oh. God. Now I’m going to have to adapt. I’m going to have to work out how to use all these different complicated flour/dairy/nut/soy/meat/seafood/mollusc/animal/vegetable/mineral alternatives. The list is endless, with new allergens being discovered every single day. Having grown up with a brother who had a different allergic reaction each week (sand, people, the boy was allergic to sand) I realise that allergies are real. They are not just things that people make up and should be taken incredibly seriously. However, that also doesn’t mean that I don’t have beef with people who are like oh yea I don’t eat gluten for “health” reasons. 99% of these people are horribly misinformed and end up boring the rest of us with their tales of how quinoa porridge has like so totally changed their life. Go do some research of what is involved in a balanced diet and then come back to me.
When you don’t have money to burn and maybe don’t have a wealth of knowledge on such ‘alternatives’ it can be tricky. As a cook I love inclusive eating, I hate having to cook something different for the veggie or the celiac at the party, it feels alienating and silly. We live in a world FULL of amazing ingredients and I always attempt to think of having to change my cooking plan as a challenge rather than a kerfuffle.
So, we had housemates lovely celiac boyfriend over and I was determined to start practicing the dessert that I will be making for my supper club coming up in a couple of weeks. This dessert involved the full Masterchef Australia special of something frozen, something crumby, something fresh and some silly plating that involves it being off centre. I wasn’t planning on making my dessert gluten free but after having tasted it I may keep it this way. Here’s my recipe for honey semifreddo, cinnamon rice flour crumb and fresh strawberries:

Honey Semifreddo (disclaimer, this is based on Nigellas recipe, with a couple of alterations):

1 large egg
4 large egg yolks
150 grams runny honey (Nigella says 100g which I don’t think is sweet enough and she doesn’t specify what type of honey, I think runny works best personally!)
300 millilitres double cream

Rice Flour Crumb:
Right, so my recipe for this crumb is pretty darn unhelpful. A wise woman once taught be how to make crumble topping by if you can feel all of the ingredients in perfect harmony then it was a good crumble topping. I make crumbs in the same vein, it also depends on how crumbly you want to make this dessert, whether you want tonnes of crumb or whether you only want a sprinkling. So here’s the ingredients, be as wild or as restrained as you wish:

Rice Flour
Cinnamon
Demerara Sugar
Softened butter
Pecans/Dessicated coconut (optional, I’d obviously never use coconut because it’s gross but I can understand why people would think it belongs here)

To decorate:
Fresh strawberries (I used three on each plate, 2 whole and 1 chopped into four segments)
Fresh mint

Method:
Line a normal sized loaf tin with clingfilm
And panic because it is inevitably impossible to get the cling film wrinkle free

Beat the egg and egg yolks with the honey in a bowl, over a saucepan of gently simmering water, until the mixture is pale and thick
More panic because WHAT CONSTITUTES THICK!?!?!?! What’s thick to me might not be thick to you, ok it’s kinda got a ribbony texture

Whip the double cream until thick, and then gently fold in the egg and honey mixture
Damn you thickness, and why does cream always take longer to thicken that I think. DON’T SPLIT. DON’T SPLI….ok it’s ok. Should I leave the honey mixture to cool!?!?! Not sure, I’ll whack it in anyway, curse you Nigella and your amazing but vague recipes

Pour into tin, clingfilm over and leave to set in the freezer for between 2-3 hours
And realise that unlike masterchef you don’t just have empty freezers waiting for today’s semifreddo, no, no you will have to completely re arrange, drop half a bag of peas everywhere and end up with everything slightly melted to make a flat surface for this tin to sit

When semifreddo is nearly ready, heat oven to 180 C, put all the ingredients for crumb in a bowl and rub together with your fingertips until combined
Never use more than your fingertips or everything will end up slightly manky as the butter will start to melt. Plus take off rings, every time I forget and the I swear violently at getting my rings covered

Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper, tip out crumb onto tray and bake for around 15 minutes or until golden and crunchy, make sure to ruffle the crumb at least once
Isn’t ‘ruffle the crumb’ such a great turn of phrase

Take semifreddo out of freezer, serve with a generous crumb trail and the fresh strawberries and mint
Pretend you’re on masterchef but make sure you instagram quickly as the semifreddo WILL MELT
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