Did you know it’s Christmas time again?

“Do you remember the year that Nigella told us all to brine our turkeys?”

“No Erin. Normal people don’t remember that”

Because I’m me, I do remember. I vividly remember the year that Nigella told the nation to dunk our turkeys in vats of salt water to let them become succulent and moist. That year, sales of plastic tubs soared in November as people used them to test run their turkey soaking, only to realise turkeys are massive and don’t fit in tubs. Then the public looked balefully at their baths wondering if that was the best way to make sure their turkeys were completed submerged in their salty, salty soak.

Every year we all feel a slight impending sense of doom around Christmas food, how are we going to impress this year? Are canapes still in? Have we catered for all the allergens around the table? What if people don’t actually like apricot and pistachio stuffing!?

So what should we expect this year when diving into December, what madness has Heston created for Waitrose this year?

Once more unto the breach  

“Austerity is over”

Philip Hammond said the words and apparently Christmas food has heard him, and whilst I am undeniably dubious about the reality of his words out in the real world it would appear that we’re not in for a very healthy Christmas. Luxury is back baby. We want rich, decadent stuffed joints of meat, giant sausages wrapped in bacon because bite sized is done and desserts with molten, glittery saucy centres and we want it now.

Desserts

The focus this year is on all things sweet, sticky, caramelly (yes people, salted caramel is officially here to stay) and decadent. M & S is doing some ridiculous chocolate pine cone covered in glitter spray, Good Food magazine is giving our recipes for show stopping Christmas cakes and Waitrose have decided hiding oranges in the middle of their puddings is “festive”

Wreaths are everywhere

And I mean everywhere, puddings are shaped into wreaths, stuffing is shaped into wreaths, turkey is being reconstituted into wreath shapes and it’s all very odd. I get that wreaths are lovely and festive but wreaths are for hanging on my front door not for eating.
In terms of plant wreaths, they are also everywhere, but only half naked wreaths, we’ve taken the traditional and, of course, made it hipster by exposing half of the twisted wood or wire.

Extra fancy stuffing

Stick fruit, nuts and the kitchen sink in it. Heston has apparently been inspired by wassailing this year so wassail we will, especially in stuffing. So think apples people, apples are everywhere. It will also be shaped weirdly, be it in wreath or bundt the lowly stuffing ball is no more.

Panic stations are go

It landed with a thud on my floor. A weighty thud that with it held a warning, I could almost smell it coming but each year it gets earlier and earlier and I am always slightly shocked. How is it here already!? How are we already talking about it? With these questions the sweats, shakes and nerves start, why haven’t I started planning? Why haven’t I already bought anything and WHY OH WHY haven’t I got my sprouts on yet? I’m talking about Christmas.
The thud was my Christmas editions of ‘Good Food’ and ‘Delicious’ magazines. It’s here. Ground control to Major Tom. Panic stations are go. Oy with the poodles already.  


Christmas. We all love it, well no, that’s a lie, I love it. I love the glittery, the sparkly, the huggy warmth that is Christmas but Christmas as a foodie comes with a certain level of expectation, a level of decadence and class that normal people could never understand. So this year I’m getting ahead of the game and doing my research, what can I do this year that will set me apart and let me tell you it’s hard diving into the murky world of food trends. Once you’ve waded through the piles of chia seeds no-one wants and batted away the fanatics who tell you that you should be used cold pressed avocado oil for everything you start to actually get somewhere, so here’s a list of the things you can expect to see on supermarket shelves and in restaurants this Christmas, buckle up it’s not all smooth sailing

  • The 70’s are back Oh yes, i’m talking prawn cocktails, things that aren’t pineapple un-necessarily shaped into being a pineapple and everything stuffed. However, the main 70’s thing we’ve decided to bring back (for reasons best to know to no-one) is the Black Forest Gateau. Who knows why but this chocolatey, cherry, creamy mess is back with a vengeance, expect to see it murdered by chefs everywhere, lining the shelves in Tesco’s in January and turned into a panettone by Heston for Waitrose.

  • The forgotten meal returns I’m not being funny but literally no-one cares about breakfast on Christmas day. It’s the thing that gets in the way of opening Christmas presents on Christmas morning right? Apparently this year that’s wrong. Brunch is big this year (as if you didn’t know, have you been sleeping under a rock) and Christmas appears to be no exception. Supermarkets have jumped on the trend by creating brunch to go staples for us all to take home so we don’t have to stress about perfectly poaching an egg whilst balancing keeping Granny’s sherry topped up and starting to peel the carrots

  • There’s a new root in town A couple of years ago it was Kale, last year it was Beetroot, this year Celeriac is having it’s day in the sun. It’s in soups, rostis, roasts and just about everything else on restaurant menus everywhere this year. Long live the celeriac unless it’s cooked badly because then it’s bloody awful

     

  • The rise of the vegan We’ve gone meat free mad this year, 2017 has definitely been a turning point for the non carnivores amongst us. Vegan options are cropping up just about everywhere. Including Christmas, Seitan (or wheat meat as it’s sometimes called. Yes you read that right, wheat meat) turkey galore this year, restaurants and supermarkets alike have noticed this though so don’t worry when a surprise vegan knocks on the door then you should be covered

 

Things that are on the outs this year include:

  •  ‘Hygge’ which has been replaced by it’s equally ridiculous cousins ‘Lagom‘ and ‘Ikigai’

  • Upside down Christmas trees but who isn’t glad that they’re gone right? They were terrible
  • Completely brining our Turkeys Another one I’m not sad to see the back of

 

A return to coffee shop challenges

Two months.

Sixty days.

Eighty seven thousand six hundred minutes since I last posted on this blog.

The blog that has pretty much defined who I am for the last nearly two years. I pride myself on writing about food, being honest about my overwhelming love of cheese, the fact that I screw up very regularly in the kitchen and I have a completely irrational loathing of all things coconut.
The reason that it’s taken me so long to sit and actually pen (well more like type) my feelings is the huge career decision I made two months ago. I left my loving, wonderful, magazine family and dove back in, head first, to the world of hospitality. I hadn’t been able to stop thinking about being back in a restaurant or cafe for months and knew that I wasn’t completely involved in the job I was doing. I needed to be surrounded by the world that I was writing about, I needed to be involved in creating, making and developing food. Whilst I don’t regret my decision the main reason that I’ve struggled to write about this journey is because whilst those who know me best congratulated me, a piece of feedback that just kept cropping up was:
“Well……don’t you think that’s just a bit of a step backwards”

There’s a self deprecating story I now like to tell, normally after a glass of wine, in which I was once told on a date; that was I aware I was “assertive….bordering on bolshy” to which I had very similar feelings. Namely, I wanted to scream and shout “how the heck am I supposed to react to that?!” Do you want me to say “No. No I’m not aware of my nuisances and this one very blunt comment will make me change my entire perspective on myself. Thank you.” Or am I supposed to stand my ground and say “Screw you. I’m happy to be bossy and yes most horrifyingly of all, I’m happy to serve you your croissant and coffee every morning”. In reality neither on those things happened but trust me, I wish it could have been the second one.
When I first sat down to write this blog I wanted to write all about the hilarious things that I’ve learnt since going back into hospitality (Which trust me are many). I stared at the screen for days, sometimes driving myself insane till 4am trying to sound funny and witty, but I couldn’t make light of this transition until I’d expressed this annoyance, and I couldn’t not address the ease of which people told me this was a horrible decision and the judgement of the service industry in general. I guess in their eyes I had it all, I was working with one of the most well reputed, fun, cool companies. I had a “real job”.
The reality is I’ve never been ashamed to be a waitress, or a server, or Front of House or whatever you’d like to label it. I wear my badge of working in hospitality with pride. My job means I get to see customers at their best, their most excited, engaged and most importantly at their worst, at their saddest, most vulnerable and I feel privileged that I get to bring that person a cup of tea or a loaf of bread and see their day brighten. No matter what language you speak, country you come from or up bringing you’ve had I have yet to meet someone who can resist talking about food they love or have a day improved by being given something amazing to eat or drink. 

So, I’m using this platform that I’ve spent two years working on, building up somewhat of a reputation for to ask you, implore you, to remember that your waitress, barmen, manager, baker, butcher and cocktail maker are a human being just like you. We have pride and some of us (Shock- horror) have chosen to make this industry our career. Take the time to remember that whilst you’re spending your hard earned money with us, we’re also putting our heart and soul into your ethically sourced, hand-reared, single origin flat white and yes we do read your trip-advisor reviews and yes they are taken seriously. Some of the strongest people I’ve met have been in the service industry, the first women I worked for and worked with as a waitress is still a constant inspiration to me, it takes true grit and skill to run a successful cafe or restaurant. Ask us our opinion on what you should order, engage with us like we’re people and trust me you’ll get great service and remember we’ve probably been here and been on our feet for many hours, working, just like you. 

I’m lucky to be surrounded by people who love me and I can come home to and scream out my frustrations at, the ones who didn’t roll their eyes at me when they found out I’d got “another job” or taken my massive “bolt back to safety” but the main thing I’ve learnt since returning to hospitality is please remember that you’re not being served by a robot, that person handing you your coffee is a person. 

Oh, and please don’t order a half caff-soy-mocha. That isn’t a thing.

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.