BUTTERNUT SQUASH & SAGE RISOTTO

Butternut squash risotto

You know those really irritating people in January who go all ‘holier than thou’? The ones that were so much fun in December suddenly spend all of January banging on about the benefits of kale and quinoa whilst swigging from their NutriBullet cups on their way to the gym or hot yoga. Twitter and instagram are full of them. The magazines are full of articles about them. You can’t escape them. Annoyingly, I am one of them!

As you may have seen from my last post, I decided to start 2015 with a healthy new outlook. I’m usually the one moaning about those ‘kale types’, whilst I take another bite of my burger and wash it down with gin.  I have always been of the belief that January is depressing enough without depriving oneself of all your favourite foods.

However, this year I felt a little different.  I actually felt like my body was crying out for vegetables and was genuinely a little fed up of the constant stream of butter, cream, cheese, pastry, cake and chocolate. Unlike me, I know, but its how I felt.  So I decided to cut out the crap for a while, and focus on healthier meals. No more bacon rolls on my way into the office, no more biscuits at 11am, no more burgers at lunchtime, crisps and chocolate at 4pm and then off out for a rich three-course meal in the evening, to come home and have a cheeky wee chocolate Hob Nob or two before going to bed.

I thought I’d suffer, I thought it would be hard, I thought I’d have constant cravings…but I didn’t. One week in I realised I hadn’t had any meat, but I wasn’t missing it so I decided to carry on the way I was.  This is now my third week with no meat and I’m still not missing it. In fact, I’m rather enjoying coming up with new things to do with vegetables.  Talking of which, I had a butternut squash in my kitchen last night (I don’t know quite why I said it like that, it sounds like it popped round for a visit!) Anyway, I often turn this into soup or chop it up, roast it and serve with salad, toasted pecans and blue cheese…mmmmmmm. However, last night I decided to make a risotto out of it. I didn’t want to use white risotto rice so I used this brown risotto rice from Biona Organic. Obviously if you want to use white risotto rice, you can, and it would take a hell of a lot less time than this one did to cook.

This recipe serves 4 regular portions or 3 large portions. I ate it in 3.

INGREDIENTS
1 x butternut squash, diced (mine was about 350g after I peeled it and diced it)
1 x white onion, diced
3 x garlic cloves, chopped
1 litre vegetable stock
200g brown risotto rice
a few sage leaves, chopped (be careful, its a very strong flavour)
nutmeg (optional)
salt & pepper to season
2 tbsp olive oil

Begin by pre-heating the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.

Place the diced butternut squash on a baking tray and drizzle with a tbsp of olive oil. Grate some fresh nutmeg over the squash (optional, but it really does taste good if you have it) and season with salt and pepper. Toss to mix then place in the oven for about 20 minutes until tender and starting to brown around the edges.

Meanwhile, heat the other tbsp of oil in a large pan and add the chopped onion and garlic and cook for a few minutes until the onion is soft and translucent.

Add the rice and stir through until it is coated in the oil. Then add about two ladles of vegetable stock and simmer until it has been absorbed. Add more stock, a ladleful at a time, stirring gently until it is absorbed before adding more.

After about 50 minutes (30 minutes if using white rice), add the butternut squash and the sage and continue to add stock. If you run out of stock and you feel the rice still needs more liquid to absorb, just add some boiling water from the kettle.

This took me about 90 minutes to cook as the rice just didn’t seem to want to cook! Obviously its different with white risotto rice so if you want to eat the night to cook this, use white! If you’re cooking for the next day, this brown rice really is lovely.

Season with salt and pepper and garnish with more sage leaves. I also grated a little more nutneg over the top and stirred it through.

And there you have it…a really lovely, warming, delicious and creamy dish that is perfect for a cold winter’s night.

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NEW YEAR CLEANSE

After weeks of gorging on copious amounts of cheese, chocolate, cake, burgers, pastry, Christmas dinner, roast potatoes, bacon wrapped dates, Eggs Royale and more cheese in the run up to and over Christmas…

Christmas…my body felt the need for some clean and healthy foods.  I hated feeling so sluggish and lethargic and I hate when my clothes feel too close for comfort!

Luckily, I got a NutriBullet for Christmas. If you haven’t heard of this, its a ‘nutrition extractor’. Basically, it completely breaks down your food with its 600 watt motor, pulverising and liquefying all the essential nutrition. I first heard about it earlier this year when my friends Jan and Mark got one and they loved it. Then I was flicking through the channels and came across a shopping channel that was demonstrating how it works. (You can see a very cheesy video here) In a slightly hypnotic fashion, I ended up watching as the demonstrator blitzed all sorts of ingredients together to create a ‘Nutri Blast’. I had to have one!

So on Boxing Day I headed to Whole Foods to stock up on vegetables, berries, seeds and powders for my NutriBullet. They recommend filling half the cup with a green leafy vegetable, then top up the rest with fruit and vegetables and then add water to the stated level. My first ‘Nutri Blast’ was a base of cavolo nero with raspberries, blueberries, white grapes and goji berries…

NutriBullet

Granted, the colour is not at all appealing, and I did add a splash of orange juice in at the end as it wasn’t quite as sweet as I would have liked it.

I have tried many variants and at the moment I’m rather liking one that I make with a base of spinach with added strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, goji berries, a teaspoon of beetroot powder, all whizzed up with coconut water.

As soon as I returned to London after the Christmas break I did a big food shop, buying everything my body was craving.

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So for the last week or so, as you can see from my Instagram, I have been making a variety of healthy dishes.

I am starting my days with hot water and lemon, then making a ‘Nutri Blast’ to have on my way to work (I am chopping up fruit and freezing it so as to reduce any waste). To be honest, those drinks really fill me up so I don’t find myself snacking on crisps, chocolate or biscuits at 11am like I did before.

At the weekend, instead of having my usual fry-up or Eggs Royale, I’m having avocado on toast topped with a poached egg.

Avocado & poached egg

For lunch, going clockwise: grilled salmon on couscous with pomegranate seeds, chopped pistachios, lambs lettuce, baby kale and asparagus. Then griddled halloumi (reduced fat) with quinoa, tomatoes, asparagus, peppers, palm hearts, spinach, rocket and thyme with a lemon, honey and olive oil dressing.  Then roasted butternut squash with spinach, lambs lettuce, feta, toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds, cucumber, roasted tomatoes and peppers, and lastly whole wheat penne pasta with sliced brussel sprouts, red pepper, red onion, garlic and thyme, fried off with a little sherry and a milk and flour mix.
Salads

And again, these meals are keeping me going throughout the afternoon.  Maybe about 4pm I snack on some almonds or a have a couple of oatcakes spread with Light Philadelphia.

For dinner I have something simple and light, like dusted lemon sole (from most supermarkets, steamed vegetables and roasted tomatoes with garlic and basil. Or tonight I made a spinach, tomato and feta frittata which was surprisingly delicious.

Dinners

If I fancy something a little sweet afterwards I am slightly obsessed with Rachel’s low-fat Raspberry yoghurt, although I’m not sure how low fat it is when you eat the whole carton in one sitting! I do try to stop myself doing this.  I also love just simple Greek yoghurt with a little runny honey drizzled over the top.

Greek yoghurt with honey

At the moment, I feel great. I feel lighter and cleaner and oddly I’m not craving chocolate or cakes or biscuits.  And I realised earlier today that I haven’t eaten meat for a week.  Not on purpose, I just didn’t feel like it. Yes, its only been a week and I’m sure I will get back into eating all of these things soon enough, but its nice to know I can stop and not struggle. I’m also curious to see how long I can keep it up, and if my clothes start to feel a little less tight, that would also be a nice bonus!

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PORTER & RYE, GLASGOW

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On Friday night my good friend Maggie and I met up for dinner at one of Glasgow’s newest restaurant, Porter & Rye. Situated in the hip Finnieston end of Argyle Street, Porter & Rye is being heralded as Glasgow’s first ‘molecular restaurant’, serving fine dry-aged meats, small plate dining and classic mixed drinks.

Porter & Rye is the sister restaurant of The Finnieston, just a few doors down the road and is the latest venture from Kained Holdings who also own Lebowski’s and The Crafty Pig.

The restaurant itself wouldn’t look at all out of place in London…exposed brick walls, tiled floors, filament lightbulbs, a dry-ageing cabinet in the bar area with cuts of meat hanging in it… It was packed full, even though it had opened just 9 days earlier. Word has obviously got around.

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Maggie was especially excited to be out as it was her first night out she’d had since she had her beautiful baby girl Katie 3 months ago. So when I arrived, Maggie was already at the table, studying the menu.

Our waitress was delightful and immediately talked us through their cuts of meat. However, Maggie and I weren’t really in the mood for steak so we decided to order a selection of small plates and sides. We also ordered a bottle of Malbec but the waitress suggested that might not work with what we ordered so she expertly talked us through the wine list until we decided on another bottle of red.

The first dish that jumped out at us was Pan-Fried King Scallops with citrus beetroot tartare, seaweed and scallop roe salt, lemon foam and grapefruit gel (£14.95). I asked how many scallops you get in a portion and I was told there were 3. The waitress did explain that they were hand-dived scallops from the Ethical Shellfish Company, caught fresh every morning off Mull.

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These were beautiful…huge, tender, juicy, meaty, perfectly cooked and the beetroot tartare added a lovely zesty earthiness to them.

The Free-Range Kilduncan Farm Crispy Duck Egg served with an onion consommé, tarragon oil and crispy onions (£5.95) was next up.

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The plate came with the egg in the middle then the waitress poured in the consommé and drizzled the tarragon oil around the edge of the plate.  The egg had a good golden crust with a rich runny yolk and the onion consommé and crispy onions were delicious with it. I really enjoyed this dish.

The Knochraich Farm crowdie cheese bon bons served with a butternut squash trio, parmesan air and Amaretti crumb (£5.95) sounded promising and were indeed tasty but we both felt there wasn’t enough of a crisp crust to them. We also didn’t really taste the butternut squash as the cheese dominated the dish.  That isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the cheese was delicious, I just would have liked the butternut squash to have come through a bit more.

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The side dishes we ordered (all £3 each) were Bone Marrow Mac ‘n’ Cheese…

IMG_20150102_223346Absolutely bloody delicious! This had crispy bacon lardons throughout and to be honest, I could have ordered another one. In fact, if I lived in Glasgow I’d be in Porter & Rye all the time ordering this.  We also ordered the Wild Winter Mushrooms, buttered kale and truffle salt fries…all lovely.

For pudding we ordered two which we shared. Carrot cake with caramelised carrot purée, cinnamon aired white chocolate and Longlay Farm buttermilk ice cream. (£5.95)

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This was a very good take on a traditional carrot cake.  The sponge itself was beautiful…moist, dense and bursting with spices. It was one of the best carrot cake sponges I’ve tasted in a long time. The air dried cinnamon white chocolate was a bit odd and I’m not sure it necessarily went with carrot cake. I could taste the cinnamon which was nice, but not the white chocolate. Maggie and I could be philistines but we both said we kind of missed a bit of cream cheese frosting with our carrot cake.

We also ordered Dark Chocolate Mousse with Clementine sorbet, burnt orange purée and hazelnut praline. (£6.95)

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Delicious rich, dense chocolate…not really as light and airy as a mousse normally is, but that didn’t matter at all, it was lovely. The Clementine sorbet was superb, it was bursting with zingy flavour and complimented the chocolate perfectly, as did the hazelnut praline.

We had a fantastic night at Porter & Rye and I will definitely be back.  The service was spot on. Our waitress was incredibly friendly and very knowledgeable about each dish and the wine list. She was also there when we wanted her but didn’t bother us when we didn’t.  We thoroughly enjoyed the food and I’d love to sample more of the menu. They clearly know what they are doing and I reckon they could probably produce a fantastic steak so I’d like to come back for that.  If you’re in Glasgow anytime soon, this is well worth a visit.

Porter & Rye, 1131 Argyle Street, Glasgow G3 8ND.
Twitter: @PorterAndRye

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MINCE PIE MASTERCLASS AT BREAD AHEAD

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On Friday night, I had the pleasure of attending Bread Ahead‘s mince pie masterclass, courtesy of my friend Felicity.  Bread Ahead is a bakery and school set up by Matt Jones (founder of Flour Power), situated in the heart of Borough Market, London.  Together with co-owner Justin Gellatly (former Head Baker at St John’s Bakery) and seasoned baking tutor Aidan Chapman (‘Bread Guru’ at River Cottage, as seen on Channel 4), they aim to create a centre of excellence for real artisan baking.

Bread Ahead has a bread stall in Borough Market and they opened their bakery school in February 2014, offering a wide range of baking experiences for the beginner to the expert baker. Classes include everything from An Introduction To Sourdough to a Patisserie Workshop, Nordic Baking to Gluten Free Baking.

When I arrived on Friday night, I was warmly greeted and offered tea or coffee while I waited for the rest of the class to arrive. Our working area was all set up and soon we were all standing at our stations with our aprons on, ready to bake.

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Our tutors for the night were Aiden Chapman and Louise Gellatly (Justin’s wife) who talked us through each step of the process.  Aiden began by explaining how they make their mincemeat. As it takes a good amount of time, we were using a batch they had made earlier.

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The recipe they use for mince pies is Justin’s mother’s recipe which has been passed down through the generations. It includes the mincemeat which they have been ‘feeding’ with booze for months. If you want to try out this recipe but you don’t have time to make the mincemeat, you can of course use shop-bought, either straight from the jar or you can customise it yourself, adding more of what you like. If you are using your own or shop bought, jump straight to the pastry part of the recipe.

For the mincemeat
500g cooking apples
500g suet
500g sultanas
500g currants
500g raisins
500g dark brown sugar
zest & juice of 4 lemons
zest & juice of 4 oranges
125g nibbed or flaked almonds
3tbsp ground mixed spice
2tbsp ground cinnamon
2tsp grated nutmeg
250ml brandy
50ml dark rum

For the pie crust
375g strong plain bread flour, plus extra for dusting
225g cold unsalted butter, cubed, plus extra for greasing
150g caster sugar
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
1 egg, beaten, to glaze
2tbsp demerara sugar

First make the mincemeat (or you can of course buy some!). Peel and core the cooking apples and chop them into small dice, then put them into a very large bowl, big enough to fit all the ingredients in.  Add all the ingredients (except the brandy and rum) into the bowl and mix together. Cover then leave overnight in a cool place (not the fridge).

Preheat the oven to 120°C/100°C Fan/250°F/Gas ½.

Place the mincemeat mixture into a large, deep roasting tray. Cover with foil and put into the oven for about 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes. Once baked, take out of the oven and cool for about 30 minutes. Stir in the brandy and rum and place in sterilised jars.

Next make the pie crust. Put the flour, butter and caster sugar into a large mixing bowl and mix together with your fingers as you would when making a crumble. When the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, add the egg and egg yolk and slowly mix in.

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Bring the dough together with your hands, then when its silky and smooth, flatten a little, wrap in clingfilm (plastic wrap) or greaseproof paper and place in the fridge for 3-4 hours or overnight. (As we were in a class ours were only in the fridge for about 30 minutes).

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Once properly chilled, butter and flour a 12-hole deep muffin tray.  Take the pastry out of the fridge and let it soften for about 1½ hours, then roll it out on a floured surface to 5-6mm thick. (As our pastry was only in the fridge for about 30 minutes, we rolled ours straight away).

Using a 10cm cutter, cut out 12 circles for the base of the pies, re-rolling when necessary. Re-roll the pastry again, then using a 7cm cutter, cut out 12 circles for the tops. (This pastry was surprisingly pliable and robust).

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Line the holes in the muffin tray with the larger circles of pastry, making sure there is about 1-2mm of overhang.

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Grab some of the mincemeat mixture, enough to form a ball about the size of a golf ball, roll it between your hands then place into each pastry case.

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Place the smaller circles of pastry on top of each pastry case and push down around the mincemeat mixture and tuck them in.

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Fold the extra overhang over the top circle of pastry and brush the top of each pie with eggwash.

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Sprinkle with demerara sugar and leave to rest in the oven for 2 hours.

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Preheat the oven to 160°C/140°C Fan/320°F/Gas 3 and bake the pies for about 40 minutes, until golden brown.

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Once out of the oven, leave them in the tin for about 5 minutes, then take them out carefully, releasing them all the way round first with a small palette or cutlery knife. Place on a wire rack to cool, although they are best served warm straight away or cooled and re-warmed later. They store well in an airtight container for about 2 weeks.

We all left the class with a box packed full of 12 mince pies and one frangipane and mincemeat tart. As I sat on the tube on my way home, my lap being warmed by the hot mince pies inside the box, the smell of pastry and Christmas spices filled the carriage. I couldn’t wait to get home so I could tuck in.

The mince pies were still warm when I got home so I added a dollop of extra thick cream and curled up on the sofa to savour it.

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I must admit, I’m not normally a huge fan of mince pies but these really were delicious. The pastry was sweet, crunchy and beautifully crumbly and the filling was sticky, fruity and full of Christmas spice.

I really enjoyed this class and I would love to try out a couple of their other classes. If you would like attend one of Bread Ahead’s courses and workshops, click here to see the list of what they offer. Or you can contact them on info@breadahead.com if you have any questions.

Bread Ahead, 3 Cathedral Street, London SE1 9DE.
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CICCHETTI, COVENT GARDEN

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Covent Garden ha always been a bit of a tourist trap, with restaurants to match. I avoided it for years but its turned a corner lately with restaurants like Opera Tavern, Hawksmoor and Mishkins and now, Cicchetti.  Owned by the San Carlo Group, with the help of Italian chef Aldo Zilli, Cicchetti opened its second London restaurant on Wellington Street in October, with an entrance on Catherine Street also.

This is an old school Italian restaurant with waiters in white jackets bustling back and forth, laden with plates of delicious looking food. Although the restaurant was full when I walked in the one thing I did notice was marble. There is a lot of marble!

We were made instantly welcome by the various Italian waiters that greeted us from the door to our table. Once my friends and I sat down, our waiter introduced himself, then rather proudly produced a glass cloche, encasing a bulbous black truffle. It turned out that this was going to be the theme of our evening.

Cichetti’s menu is rather huge and its very hard to pick what to order as I could easily work my way through everything. Luckily, my best friend Paul and I love the same foods so at least I knew we could order a good number of different dishes to try.

We started with the buratta with shaved truffle and parma ham.

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The fresh and slightly sour, soft buratta melted in my mouth and with the saltiness of the parma ham and the earthiness of the truffles, it was heaven.

Heath’s tuna tartare arrived next. Prepared at our table, it tasted unbelievably fresh and zingy. It is probably the best I’ve ever tasted. Unfortunately, as Heath was the only non-meat eater at the table, we couldn’t really dig in, we had to give him something of his own!

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Next to arrive on our table were these cheese and truffle croquettes. A fine, crispy coating envelopes a soft, cheesy filling and then the truffle aroma hits your nose and your taste buds. Wow, these are good.

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Lilly saw a plate of fried courgettes going past to another table so we ordered a portion. They were really tasty but it was a large portion and by the end of it, I felt quite greasy.

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We weren’t sure what to order next but our waiter enthusiastically recommended the Truffle and Pecorino Ravioli.

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WOW! This was incredible. Generously sized ravioli topped with a creamy sauce, truffle oil and a few shavings of black truffle. You could smell it before it arrived and as soon as the dish landed on the table, four forks immediately descended into the creamy softness. Then silence, as we closed our eyes and enjoyed the moment.  It was like eating fluffy light clouds of truffle. It was sensational. Before we finished, we had ordered another portion.

Before the next portion of the truffle ravioli turned up, our Gorgonzola gnocchi turned up…in a parmesan basket!

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This was also fantastic. Soft, pillowy gnocchi in a creamy, salty Gorgonzola sauce and a crispy parmesan basket, it really was a wonderful dish, and if we hadn’t had the truffle ravioli just before it, I would have thought it was the dish of the night.

Just when we thought we’d eaten everything we’d ordered, the wild mushroom and truffle bruschetta turned up. We’d forgotten we’d ordered it and to be honest, we were pretty full by that point.

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It was very nice, and I’m sure it would have tasted great had it arrived at the start of the night, but we’d had so many fantastic dishes by that point that it remains rather unremarkable in my memory. In truth, the ravioli and the gnocchi stood out so much that everything else paled in comparison.

Of course, we still had a tiny space for dessert but couldn’t decide what to order so we got the selection plate.

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Between the four of us we managed to polish off the tiramisu, pistachio cake, chocolate cake and mille‑feuille and a lemon sorbet. The ones that stood out for me personally were the tiramisu and the mille-feuille.

By the end of the night, the four of us were leaning back in our chairs, cradling our full tummies, feeling content and happy. With food like this coupled with attentive, friendly and chatty staff, I think Cicchetti will do very well. Its been a few weeks since that meal and yet I am still thinking (and talking) about the truffle ravioli. Its not as cool as Polpo or Polpetto, but it does Italian food well. I will definitely be returning.

Cicchetti, 30 Wellington Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7BD
Mon – FrI: 8.00am-11.00pm, Sat: 9.00am-11.00pm, Sun: – 9.00am-10.00pm

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MY CHRISTMAS WISH LIST

So its nearly that time of the year again. I absolutely adore Christmas and I especially love the build up to it…booking my flight home, listening to Christmas songs, watching Christmas movies, the Christmas trees and lights sparkling all over London, buying presents for my friends and family, and especially decorating my home.  My flat turns into a Christmas grotto on the last weekend of November every year. Yes, you may think that’s a tad early, but I always spend Christmas at home in Scotland with my family so I technically only get to hang out in my personal grotto for a few weeks before I have to leave it.

Its also that time of the year when people are making Christmas lists. Now to be perfectly honest, I just want to be with my family over Christmas, eating Chocolate Oranges by the fire and watching movies. However, if I had to make a list of items I would love for Christmas, quite a few things come to mind! Mostly things I can’t afford, so they will have to stay in my head, but these are a few things I think are just wonderful.

First and foremost its the Copper Kitchenaid. I have been coveting this for a few months now. Isn’t it beautiful?? I have a photo of it on my phone which I gaze at probably at least once a day. Alas, its £615!!

Copper Kitchenaid

Its available to buy in Selfridges. I sometimes pop in there during my lunch hour or after work, just to look at it, maybe stroke it. But I can’t afford it and I’m not sure I could ever justify spending that amount on a mixer. However, I can still appreciate its beauty and still long to own one.

I also love these wine and cheese boxes from Entwine, a new company from Lancashire specialising in personalised wine and cheese gift boxes. They have a great selection of wines and the cheese is straight from their award-winning, local farmer.

Entwine

For each wine, they suggest the perfect cheese to accompany it, but it’s completely up to you how your box is made up. The boxes are shipped using a Royal Mail 24 hour service and can be delivered to the recipient on a date of your choosing. Perfect for a Christmas gift! Prices range from £22.06 to £50.96. To see the full range, click here.

Now, I love gin (and I’m pretty sure gin loves me) so this Ginvent Calender by Drinks by the Dram and Gin Foundry is a dream!

Gin

Behind each of the 24 windows lies a different 3cl sample of fantastic gin. There are market leaders and craft treats alongside new brands and even some hard to find gems. Again, this is something I wish I could have but I just don’t have a spare £114.95 lying around this close to Christmas to spend on myself. However, if you do, this sounds like the perfect way to get through December.

The wonderful House Of Hackney have a website I spend a lot of time staring at. I adore their prints, especially the Palmeral and I love this plate…

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Its £35 but I only ever buy one of each plate design. I don’t do matching. Why on earth would you limit yourself to just one crockery design?? You can find it here.

One of my favourite shops is Anthropologie. I absolutely adore it. Its so perfect, I feel like it was invented just for me. Up until recently I would go to their branch on Regent Street every pay day to buy myself one treat. As a result, my kitchen now looks like the store! One item I am loving at the moment is this Garonne Beverage Dispenser

drink dispenser

Yet again, this is another item I would love but cannot afford.  This stunning drinks dispenser is £398.

While I’m on Anthropologie, I am also slightly infatuated with these Twisted Twig Measuring Spoons (£24), this Turquoise Martini Glass (£32) and this Aureate Plumes Pitcher (£88)…

Anthropologie

Seeing as I have a thing about anything copper at the moment, I am in love with this Mauviel M’Passion Copper Whisking Bowl from Borough Kitchen.

Copper bowl

Apparently the copper reacts with egg whites to make perfect, stiff peaks. The rounded base makes it the perfect shape for mixing, and it can sit on most heat sources, too. Unfortunately, again, I don’t have a spare £65 to spend on yet another bowl, even if it was going to be the most beautiful bowl in my kitchen. But I can dream.  If you do want to buy one for yourself or a friend, you can find it here.

I have a slight obsession with anything in the shape of a pineapple. I have a couple of pineapple-inspired candle holders and I am after this table lamp from Rocket St George. However, I also have my eye on these salt and pepper shakers that I saw on Pinterest which you can find here and here for about $35….

Salt & Pepper Pineapples

I also think these Mason jar measuring cups are really cute…
Mason

You can find them here for $12.99.

One of the lovely treats each Christmas is truffle brie. If you haven’t had it, look out for it in your local cheesemonger. It’s essentially a Brie de Meaux with a sandwich filling of crème fraîche, mascarpone and chopped black truffles. Its earthy, creamy, rich and decadent and I love it.

truffle brie

As a huge tea lover, I constantly have a cup of tea on the go. My favourite is White Tea, and I go through about two boxes of Clipper’s White Tea every week. With that in mind, I think this Teaspoon Tea Bag Squeezer (£15) from Alessi is a rather clever idea.

Alessi-Tea-Strainer

Simply dip the spoon into the tea cup, scoop up the bag and draw it out through the tapered handle!

Since I will no doubt be going on a full on detox in the New Year, I am desperate for this Nutribullet.

Nutribuller

My good friends Jan and Mark have this and they love it. They prepare all the fruit and veg every night before bed then in the morning they get up, blitz, then they go off to work with their healthy drinks. For £99.99 I think its actually pretty good value as everyone who has one seems to get a lot of use out of it.

This is just a silly little thing but I think its so cute…a baker’s necklace I saw on Etsy, with a mini Kitchenaid and a cupcake baking tin. At just £16.99, its the perfect gift for any baking-loving friends out there.

Kitchenaid chain

And as always…my ultimate Christmas treat…a dark Terry’s Chocolate Orange…

chocolate orange

Just the smell of a Chocolate Orange can transport me straight to Christmas morning, sitting on my bed with my brothers while we go through our stockings. At the bottom of each stocking is always a Chocolate Orange which we open instantly, much to the delight of our dog Jackson who can seem to smell it from downstairs! The aroma of a Chocolate Orange will forever hold a lifetime of precious memories for me. At the end of the day, if I get nothing but a Chocolate Orange and a Christmas with my family, I will feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

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WHITE HOT CHOCOLATE

White hot choc

I was watching the Food Network yesterday, (surprise surprise) and Ina was on, as always. I have a deep love for Ina, or the Barefoot Contessa as she is otherwise known.  I have expressed my love for her before and always take great pleasure watching her programmes. Yesterday, in an episode I have watched more times than I care to mention, she was making up a surprise basket of food and drink for her friends and one recipe that really caught my eye was for this white hot chocolate.

As I sat on my sofa…transfixed, and with my tummy starting to rumble…I quickly messaged my friend Cassie to make sure she was watching.  She was.  As my mouth watered, I vowed I would have to make that hot chocolate, and so I did.  Running through the rain to my local shop to get provisions, I kept the picture of that white hot chocolate in my head. Unfortunately I couldn’t find Grand Marnier but I had some Cointreau at home so I knew I could use that instead.

Ingredients
100ml/ just under half a cup double cream
125ml/ half a cup whole milk
100g/3.5oz white chocolate, I used Green & Blacks
1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste, I used Nielsen Massey. Or you can use vanilla extract (not essence!)
Splash of Grand Marnier or Cointreau

It was so easy…I poured the cream and milk in a pan and heated gently. As little bubbles appeared around the edge of the pan, I added in the chopped bar of white chocolate and stirred until it melted.

Then I added half a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste. If you’re using vanilla extract you could add a teaspoon, or however much you like, its up to you and your personal taste.

Next I added a good splash of Cointreau. Its not needed, but it does give a nice kick at the end. Again, add however much you want.

I whisked it up in the pan and poured the silky, creamy drink into a glass.  Then I sat on my sofa, savouring every sip.

Its very rich and creamy and oh so comforting…like a warm, silken embrace. You can obviously tinker about with the measurements to make it just how you like it. If you don’t want a heart attack you can of course omit the double cream, but please try this out if you can. It makes such a wonderful change from standard hot chocolate and its perfect for a cold winter’s day.

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