HOMEMADE GNOCCHI

Summer so far has been pretty ok. Well, for London anyway. We’ve had quite a few hot and sunny days in a row and that’s quite a novelty. However, the beautiful weather broke last week and instead of sunshine we for thunder and lightning then high winds and heavy rain. Oddly, it was quite nice. There’s something kind of comforting about the rain lashing against the windows when you’re tucked up in your nice warm home.

Anyway, when the weather is like that I no longer want salads and steamed veg. I was comfort food. I want carbs. I suddenly thought a plate of gnocchi would be perfect, but I didn’t want to go out in the rain to buy it. Instead, I realised I had the ingredients to make my own gnocchi in my kitchen.  Essentially all you need is potatoes, flour and eggs.

So I switched my oven on to 190C/170C Fan/375F/Gas5, pricked a couple of large baking potatoes (about 500g) with a fork and placed them in the oven until they were soft. This took about an hour.

I removed them from the oven and placed them on the side to cool a little. Then I scattered 100g of plain flour onto a clean work surface, added a little salt and a grating of nutmeg. Once the potatoes had cooled down, I sliced them in half lengthways, scooped out the flesh then pushed it through a ricer onto the flour.

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Then I made a well in the centre and added an egg, then mixed it all together until it became a soft dough.
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I put the dough to one side while I cleaned my work surface then used the rest of the flour to dust it again. I retuned the dough to the flour, flattened it into a square about 1.5cm thick, then cut it into strips about 1.5cm wie. Then I rolled them into sausage shapes and cut them at an angle into 1cm-wide pieces.

I rolled a fork over each piece, pressing my thumb into the back, then put the finished gnocchi on a flour-dusted tray.

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The thing I really love about gnocchi is how quick they are to cook. I boiled a pan of salted water, turned it down to a simmer then tipped in half the gnocchi pieces. Meanwhile, on another burner, I started to heat up a frying pan with a little rapeseed oil.

After a couple of minutes, the potato dumplings started to rise to the surface of the water. I scooped them out with a slotted spoon and transferred them to the frying pan to add a little texture to the outside.

IMG_20150718_212915I find that gnocchi that is simply cooked in the water becomes a little boring to eat. I like the texture of them being a little crispy on the outside but still soft and fluffy on the inside. Then you can add them to whatever sauce you like. I sometimes like them with pesto, toasted pine nuts and some parmesan. Or with a creamy wild mushroom sauce. Or my favourite way…with a creamy blue cheese with toasted pecans.

This is so easy. First, I place pecans (alternatively you can use walnuts) in a dry frying pan over medium heat, keeping an eye on them to make sure they don’t burn. When they start to colour, take them off the heat and transfer to a plate.

In a pan, add some single cream, your favourite blue cheese, (I used Roquefort), a grating of fresh nutmeg, salt and pepper, then stir through for a couple of minutes. I keep some of the blue cheese aside to add to the top. Then when the gnocchi is ready, I tip it and the pecans into the sauce and serve. Perfect comfort food!

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I made enough for two portions so with the gnocchi I didn’t eat, I froze it. The best way to do this is to play the gnocchi on a plate and place it in the freezer until each piece has frozen, then transfer to a freezer bag. You don’t have to defrost it before cooking, you simply add the frozen dumplings to boiling water and wait for them to rise to the surface. They just take a couple of minutes longer than usual. But its still pretty fast. Perfect to have in the freezer for those nights when you come home from work and don’t have the energy to cook. This is a delicious meal that is ready-made and takes just minutes to cook!

The following ingredients made two servings of gnocchi as a main course…
500g large Désirée potatoes
170g plain flour
½ tsp fine salt
Pinch of nutmeg (optional)
1 small egg

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DIM SUMMER AT PING PONG

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Ping Pong is a contemporary Chinese Dim Sum restaurant in London. There are 8 of them dotted across the capital: Soho, Westbourne Grove, Wembley, Southbank, Westfield Stratford, St. Katharine Docks, St Christopher’s Place and St Paul’s.

I’m not normally a fan of chains but I do like Ping Pong. More often than not, when I eat out I have very rich meals, usually basted in butter, but when I’m trying to stay healthy but still want to go out for dinner, I can go to Ping Pong and have a really tasty meal which is also relatively healthy.  As long as I stick to the steamed dumplings and edamame of course.  They also add seasonal dishes to their menu now and then, so when I do go back, I can discover new dishes. On top of all that, its not expensive.

Ping Pong currently have a new summer menu…‘Dim Summer’. So last week, after a particularly stressful day at work, my good friend Naomi and I went to the Soho branch on Great Marlborough Street to check it out.  Luckily for us, its also a two minute walk from our office on Carnaby Street.

As soon as we sat down, we ordered a bottle of wine and started reading through the menu. If you’re not familiar with Ping Pong, you are given a pencil and a sheet with all the dishes listed with a box next to them. You simply tick what you would like and hand it to your server.

Bao take centre stage on the new summer menu. They have three specials…
Griddled smoked duck Bao served with lollo rosso lettuce, cucumber, pickled carrot and mooli, hoi sin sauce with roasted sesame seeds.
Chilli Prawn Bao with a chilli coating served with avocado, pickled carrot and mooli, lollo rosso lettuce, tuna flakes and plum mustard sauce.
Chargrilled Vegetables Bao with aubergine, courgette and shiitake mushrooms, with lollo rosso lettuce, pickled carrot and mooli, seaweed flakes and chinkiang chilli bean sauce.

We wanted to try all three varieties but at £13.50 for the prawn and duck baos, and £10.50 for the vegetable ones, it would add up quickly.  Also, you get three of each kind and we didn’t want 9 baos! I asked the waiter if we could have one of each rather than picking just one type, but he explained that instead of the baos coming already filled, you build your own instead. I asked him which ones he would go for and he immediately said the prawn ones…

Build your own bao

The buns arrived in a steamer and the ingredients on a separate dish, ready for you to assemble them however you like them.

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I’m so glad we opted for the prawn baos, the fried king prawns were large and juicy and the crispy chilli coating added that necessary crunch that worked in contrast with the soft steamed bun. The chilli wasn’t too hot at all, more a pleasant warmth. Naomi and I wolfed down one each and then suddenly our table filled with all our other dishes.

Personally I would have preferred that the dishes were a little more staggered. Tables for two aren’t quite big enough when you have your plates, your glasses, bottles of wine and water, three bamboo steamers and several other dishes all crammed onto them. We felt like we were having to eat fast in order to try everything while it was still hot. I would have liked to have taken my time to enjoy two or three dishes at a time. But that’s just a small niggle. First world problems, huh?

We ordered three different steamed dumplings…Har gao – king prawn and bamboo shoot dumplings (left), edamame and truffle dumpling (centre) and scallop, king prawn and shiitake steamed dumplings (right).

three dumplings

I really enjoyed all of them. The dumpling skins were thin enough without being too fragile and falling apart, as can sometimes happen in some dim sum restaurants.  The winners for me were the scallop, king prawn and shiitake dumplings. The soft flavour of the scallops really came through then you get the shiitake at the end. I would definitely order these again. I really enjoyed the edamame and truffle however, I didn’t get much of the truffle. But I love edamame so these were delicious.

We ordered a couple of fried options too…Beef gyoza dumplings – wheat flour pastry, shiitake mushroom and beef with chinkiang vinegar and ginger.  And Potato and Edamame cakes – fluffy potato, soya beans and a crisp coating with chilli bean sauce.

fried dumplings

I loved the potato and edamame cakes. They were soft and fluffy inside and beautifully crispy on the outside and just the right amount of edamame inside. I don’t really eat beef anymore so I only had a small bite of the beef gyoza. I actually prefer fried dumplings…I am Glaswegian afterall! So I enjoyed the crispy texture of the dunpling skin however, I’m not the best person to make a judgement on the filling. To me it tasted of a beef meatball. I didn’t pick up the shiitake mushrooms. Saying that, Naomi really enjoyed them so she finished them off.

We both loved the Chicken and mushroom rice pot – slow-cooked chicken and vegetables with garlic, ginger and soy with chinese mushrooms and black fungus served with jasmine rice.

Chicken and mushroom rice

This pot was packed full of flavour, the chicken was so tender and with such generous chunks of mushrooms, I was in heaven!

One of my favourite dishes of the evening, the honey-soy chicken wings were simply divine.

Honey soy chicken wings

Sticky, sweet, salty coating with tender, moist meat. I could have eaten these all by myself.

After all that food, we needed a little break so we asked our waiter if we could have 15 minutes until our pudding came.  I’m glad we did as the chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream was wonderful.

Chocolate fondant

The fondant itself was perfect. It was soft, rich and velvety, not too sweet, gooey in the middle and just the perfect way to round off a great meal. Its worth mentioning the vanilla ice cream too, it was the best vanilla ice cream I’ve tasted. Very similar to Green & Blacks. If they use G&B, then well played. If not, I’d love to know how they make it.

We had a great meal at Ping Pong. The restaurant itself was buzzing, our waiter was friendly and knowledgeable about the menu and we loved our food. I will definitely be back soon for more of those crispy prawn baos and the chicken wings. Oh, and the chocolate fondant! Fortunately for me, I work two minutes away so I can pop in for lunch soon.

If you fancy trying out the Dim Summer menu, it will be available across all Ping Pong’s restaurants in London until the 31st August. For more information and to find out where your nearest restaurant is, click here.

Disclaimer – I dined as a guest of the restaurant, but all opinions are my own.

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NASU DENGAKU (MISO GLAZED AUBERGINE)

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I absolutely adore aubergines. I could eat them every day, and often do. I’m always on the lookout for new recipes for them. A recent discovery was Sabrina Ghayour’s incredible recipe for Kashk-e-Bedemjan – aubergines with caramelised onions and whey. It BLEW MY MIND! You can find the recipe for this in her brilliant book Persiana.

Aaaanyway, one of my all-time favourite ways to make aubergines is by slathering them in a miso glaze and cooking them until they’re caramelised, sweet, salty, soft, smoky and creamy. This is a Japanese dish called Nasu Dengaku.

I am a great lover of any dish that is quick and easy to make, that also tastes delicious. In the evenings after work I don’t always have the energy or time to make anything lengthy or complicated, but this is so easy. If you look online, you will find lots of different ways to make this dish, and I’m sure each way works well. The recipe below is just the way I’ve found works well for me. I don’t add sake (mainly because I never had it in the house so got used to not using it), I also don’t add as much sugar as others, and I don’t like to fry mine so I guess this way is a little healthier. For me, its the perfect dish to make when I get home from work as it is ready in 30 minutes.

INGREDIENTS
1 aubergine/eggplant
2 tbsp white miso
1 tbsp mirin (rice wine)
1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp sesame oil
Sesame seeds
Spring onion, sliced

I simply cut an aubergine lengthways then cross the flesh, making sure not to cut right through the skin.  I then drizzle a little sesame oil over the top, add a little sea salt, place on a baking tray and pop it in the oven at 180°C/350°F for approx 15/20 minutes or until soft.

IMG_20150527_232659Meanwhile I mix the white miso and mirin in a small pan and simmer over a medium heat for about 2 minutes.  Then I stir in a teaspoon of brown sugar and turn down the heat. (If you want to add in more sugar, you can of course, this is just to my personal taste.)

When the aubergine is soft, I take it out the oven and turn on the grill/broiler.  I spoon the miso glaze over the top of the aubergine halves then pop them under the grill/broiler for about 3-5 minutes, or until the glaze bubbles.

To finish off, I sprinkle with sesame seeds and spring onion and serve warm.

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This dish really is insanely tasty. Its soft and creamy, its sweet and salty, its absolutely divine.

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SWEETENED LABNEH WITH MIXED BERRIES

labneh3One of my favourite desserts is Greek yoghurt with mixed berries and honey. Very simple, but delicious. Recently, I had labneh, a strained yoghurt, in a salad and remembered how much I liked it.  So yesterday, I decided to strain the Greek yoghurt I had in my fridge, and make it into labneh instead. I sweetened it slightly with honey and a little vanilla extract before I strained it, then just topped with more honey, some mixed berries and some raspberry coulis.  I decided to top it off with pistachios to add some colour. The labneh was thick and creamy, the berries were sweet and juicy, the honey added to the sweetness and the pistachios added some lovely crunch to the dish.

This serves 2-3 people, depending on how hungry you are.

For the labneh
500g tub of Greek youghurt (I used 0% fat) or natural yoghurt
1 tbsp runny honey
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the topping
200g raspberries
1tbsp icing/confectioners sugar
Handful of strawberries/blackberries/blueberrries…whatever you prefer
1 tbsp runny honey
Handful of unsalted pistachio kernels
A few fresh mint leaves

To make the labneh, you need to start this dish the day before you want it, as the yoghurt needs time to strain.

Simply add the yoghurt to a mixing bowl, squeeze about 1 tbsp of runny honey into the bowl, and 1 tsp of vanilla extract and mix together.

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Over another mixing bowl, place a sieve and line it with a large piece of muslin. Pour the yoghurt mix onto the muslin cloth

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Then tie a knot in the cloth so it looks a bit like this…

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Then place it in the fridge overnight or for a few hours. The longer it strains, the thicker it gets.  If you don’t have time to leave it overnight, just leave it for as long as you can, then wrap a clean tea towel around the muslin and twist and squeeze it until all the excess liquid has been squeezed out into the bowl.

Once its ready, untie the muslin and gently remove the labneh.  It should be thick and resemble cream cheese. Place this on a serving dish.

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To make the raspberry sauce, place 150g of the raspberries, the icing sugar and a splash of water in a food processor and blitz until smooth. Strain through a sieve to remove the seeds and add a squeeze of lemon juice (if you have some), then put to one side.

Then its just a case of assembling the dish.  I start by drizzling some more honey over the labneh…

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Then just scatter your choice of berries on top and around it, pour the raspberry sauce over the berries and then add some chopped pistachios and garnish with some fresh mint.

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And there you have it…a creamy, delicious, healthy dessert!

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‘HEALTHY’ SALTED CARAMEL CHOCOLATE CUPS

CupsMy diet has changed quite dramatically recently. I’m not sure when or even if I will return to how I was eating last year and I’m well aware the name of my blog doesn’t match how I’m eating at the moment, so for the time being I’m looking for healthier alternatives.

Recently I was trawling through instagram and found a photo of these salted caramel chocolate cups which came from a recipe on Kalifornia Love.  The chocolate is made from raw cacao, coconut oil and a little maple syrup and the ‘salted caramel’ is made from dates blitzed with water and salt. That’s it!

I had all the ingredients in my kitchen cupboard so I thought I’d try them out. Wow! They blew me away. First of all, there is no added sugar , the sweetness comes from the dates and a little maple syrup. Dates have been a revelation for me over the last few months. I never ate them before but they are fast becoming my go-to sweet treat now that I’ve cut back on refined sugar and chocolate. They’re still high in natural sugar so I don’t eat them day and night but I always have a box of Medjool dates in the cupboard. Secondly, these chocolate cups taste amazing. Truly amazing. I was so shocked when I tried the first one, then quickly popped a second in my mouth. Then a third. You get the picture.  I really need to learn some self restraint!  My friend Carmen popped round to my flat and she tried them too and also loved them, immediately asking me for the recipe.

Oh and these little beauties take minutes to make. Minutes! You can make a batch, freeze them and then just grab and go anytime you need a sweet treat. Perfect.

For the chocolate
6 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil, melted
6 tbsp raw cacao powder
1.5 tbsp maple syrup

For the salted caramel
A handful of Medjool dates, I used about 5 or 6 large ones
1/2 tsp sea salt
4 tbsp water

Simply mix the melted coconut oil, cacao powder and maple syrup in a small bowl.

Line up cupcake cases (I used very small ones) and pour a bit of the chocolate into each of them. (I found that the chocolate mixture started to solidify quite quickly. It poured easily into the first few cups then I had to spoon it into the rest.)

Chocolate cups 1

Place in freezer until the chocolate is solid (about five minutes).

Meanwhile place the dates, water and salt into a blender (I used my NutriBullet) and blitz.
Add the mixture on top of the chocolate.

Chocolate cups

Then pour more chocolate on top until it covers the caramel. (I had to re-heat the chocolate mixture over a bain-marie to make it pourable again).

Place back in fridge and let it solidify completely for about 5 minutes. And then your cups are ready to be devoured!

Cups

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TOASTED MUESLI

1I really notice a huge difference in my eating habits over the course of a day, based on what I have for breakfast. Sometimes I skip it, then I end up snacking by 10am. Or if I eat too early, at about 7.30/8am, I’m still hungry at 10ish and I start snacking.

However, if I eat something healthy, something with low GI, it sustains me throughout the morning and I don’t feel the need to snack. Now, obviously, you would think that knowing this, I would do it every day. I don’t of course. I’m my own worst enemy. It really depends on my frame of mind. At the moment, I am trying to eat a lot eat better, so with that in mind, I decided to make a batch of my favourite healthy breakfast…toasted muesli.

This is incredibly easy to make and can be stored in an airtight container for at least a month. The amounts in the ingredients are just a rough estimate. It really depends on how much you like each item. If you don’t like something, take it out or substitute it for something else. If you like raisins and sultanas, add them. I don’t so I use dried cranberries instead and usually dried blueberries. The other day when I was shopping I couldn’t find blueberries so I got goji berries instead. Or you can add dates or dried apricots…its totally up to you.

Ingredients
300g rolled oats
125ml apple juice
2 tbsp vegetable oil
60g raw almonds
40g pumpkin seeds
100g sunflower seeds
20g sesame seeds
30g flaked coconut
30g dried goji berries
60g dried cranberries

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Preheat the oven to 160°C / 140°C (fan) / 315°F / Gas 2-3.

Place all the ingredients, except for the dried fruit, in a large bowl and stir well to combine.

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Spread the mixture evenly over a large baking tray and place in the oven for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until lightly browned. (keep an eye on it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve forgotten about it and burnt it!)

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Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Then transfer to an airtight container. When you’re ready to eat it, add whatever fruit you like to it. In this case I added dried cranberries, chopped dried apricots and goji berries. If I have some pomegranate in the house, I’ll add fresh pomegranate seeds too. I often have it with milk but its delicious served with natural yoghurt instead. Its totally up to you.

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This is a really delicious breakfast, and so good for you. The oats will provide slow releasing energy throughout the morning, keeping you full until lunch. The seeds provide iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium, arguably the four most important minerals our bodies need. The almonds are high in vitamin E, are a natural antioxidant and also come packed with a whole host of other important nutrients. They’re low in saturated fat and high in protein. In this case I’ve used goji berries which contain beta-carotene, a high concentration of vitamin C and 18 kinds of amino acids. A perfect start to the day!

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I really hope you like it.

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BRUNCH AT M1LK, BALHAM

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I love brunch. There really is nothing better at the weekend than hanging out with your friends over good food and a few bloody mary’s/proseccos.  My weekend brunches are probably my favourite meals of the week and I love looking for new places to go. Recently, I was rather surprised when my friend Cassie, who rarely travels south of the river, suggested we have brunch at M1LK in Balham.  She had recently met a chef called Dan Ingram who worked there and had heard great things about it.

I used to live in Balham in what seems like another lifetime ago. Back then there were no delis, there was no Waitrose, there was nowhere nice to hang out except one little cafe but because it was the only place worth going at the weekends it was understandably impossible to get a table there. It’s a very different story now.

I arrived at M1LK, which is at the end of Hildreth Street Market, just a minute’s walk from Balham tube station, at 10.30am on a very cold morning, and met Cassie who was already standing in the queue holding a hot cup of coffee. Obviously, as is the case with everywhere I seem to want to eat in, you can’t book. Its a small place inside and they had put some seating outside but there was no way I was sitting in the freezing cold whilst eating my breakfast. So we queued until a table became available inside, catching up on the gossip whilst hopping from foot to foot, trying to stay warm.

As soon as we were ushered inside, I got really excited.

M1LK

Its very cosy and very buzzy. A neon pink ‘M1LK’ sign hangs on the white-washed, semi-stripped brick wall behind a counter adorned with incredible looking cakes and the odd doll’s head. Framed butterflies, old photos, floor to ceiling windows, mis-matched furniture and crockery, an open kitchen in the corner…I loved it instantly.

Inside

We sat down, ordered coffee and tea and were handed our menus.

Menu

I wanted to eat everything. We kept seeing food coming out of the kitchen and being placed on tables around us and everything looked amazing. I’m kind of off meat at the moment so I decided to order Burford Brown scrambled eggs on sourdough toast and sides of roast tomatoes, field mushrooms and hash browns. I had initially wanted the black cabbage and the smashed avocado as well but when I was ordering the waitress replied, “Is this for both of you? Or just you?”. So I ditched the cabbage and avocado.

M1LK scrambled egg

M1LK mushrooms

With hindsight it was just as well as I was stuffed with what I did order. It was so delicious. The eggs were perfectly cooked, the hash browns came with a mound of cheese on top! I’d go back for those alone to be honest. As I glanced around I noticed most people had a pile of cheese-topped hash browns on their tables.

Cassie went for probably the prettiest brunch dish I’ve ever seen…Baked eggs with Käsekrainer (a cheese-filled Austrian sausage), black cabbage, labneh and wild flowers.

M1LK baked eggs

She absolutely loved it. I tried a little (without the sausage) and the flavours were bold and punchy, it was heavenly.

Dan then came out of the kitchen to say hi to us and told us we had to try the pancakes with brûléed bananas, pecan brittle, maple syrup and coffee cream…

M1LK pancakes

It was absolutely divine but we were so stuffed we couldn’t finish it. I really want to go back so I can work my way through the menu.

M1LK source all their produce from independent, local, family-owned suppliers around London, and the Southeast. They bake cakes and cookies all day, everyday using organic flours and meals from UK co-ops and mills in Oxfordshire. They work closely with their butcher to source organic, heritage and rare-breed meats from individual farms in Sussex, Norfolk and Surrey.

This really is a fantastic little brunch spot and I’m so glad Cassie introduced me to it.  Its quirky, packed with atmosphere and great music, the food is fantastic and the (Workshop and Koppi) coffee is wonderful, the staff are really friendly and its just a lovely place to be.  One thing to bear in mind if you go…they don’t take cards, so bring cash.

And if you can’t get to Balham for some reason, the owners have just opened a new café in Clapham Common, Fields.

M1LK, 20 Bedford Hill / Hildreth Street, London, SW12 9RG
020 8772 9085
8am-5pm Monday – Saturday
9am-5pm Sunday

Twitter: @m1lkcoffee
Instagram: @m1lkcoffee

M1LK on Urbanspoon

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