January Roundup

Boy am I glad that’s over. January is the hangover after the party, the unpacking of a suitcase after a holiday, the washing up after a three course dinner party. In other words, it’s rubbish. It’s the month that no-one wants, the unwanted accidental child that you just have to learn to live with. Actually, I find February even worse but I can come to that later.

January has been great for food though. Firstly, I’ve been able to eat all the naughty treats leftover from Christmas. The remnants of a Terry’s Chocolate Orange and some Twiglets are still lurking though. What is it about certain foods that can only be eaten at Christmas? Then I had my birthday, which obviously meant chocolate cake. I also finally bought the first Deliciously Ella book, only a year late, and it has changed my life. OK, maybe not my life but it changed my bank balance as obviously I insisted on buying all the fancy ingredients from it straight away. I’ve got the second book now too which has just been released and I love it already so expect more from that.

Here are some of my favourite things in January:

  • I’ve been loving rice bowls this month. I won’t bore you now as there is already a whole post dedicated to the recipe but they’re great to take to work as they fill you up and you can mix and match the toppings each day. I always like things like this for lunch. I’m not a big fan of sandwiches and only really like smelly sandwich fillings like cheese and pickled onion which doesn’t go down too well in the office.
  • Smoothies. Particularly green ones. I had a couple of these after Christmas to try and get my skin and digestive system back where it should be and actually became a bit addicted. I know this sounds strange and a bit ‘look at me I’m a health guru’ (I’m totally not) but it’s true. I really like them and miss them if I go without for a couple of days. What on earth has happened to me?
  • Hummus is another thing that has been frequently shovelled into my face this month. I’ve made loads of varieties and actually I’ve grown bored of it now so will likely lay off it for a bit. I’m in a sort of chickpea induced coma.
  • Deliciously Ella’s raw brownies. See previous post, I really can’t gush about them anymore. Just try them and thank me later.
  • Maple Cinnamon Pecans. You have to try these. Tip a packet of pecans into a baking tray, drizzle over 2 tablespoons of maple syrup, a teaspoon of cinnamon and a good pinch of sea salt then bake for 10 minutes. Amazing.
  • I have been enjoying blogging more than I could have even anticipated. I’ve loved sharing recipes and thoughts and it’s so nice to have people reading my posts and enjoying what I’m writing. Thank you to everyone who has read any of my posts this month!

I’ve lived in the comfiest pair of M&S pjs and got myself back into liquid eye liner this month. But that’s not really relevant.

If you missed any of January’s posts, you can see them all here:

Recipe Review: Nigella Lawson’s Lemon Pavlova / Recipe: New Year Green Smoothie / What I Ate in a Day #1 / Recipe: Sea Bass with Sweet Chilli Veg and Noodles / Recipe Review: Nigella Lawson’s Nutella Cake / Recipe: Blueberry Breakfast Pancakes / My Thoughts on Dieting / Recipe: DIY Rice Bowl / What I Ate in a Day #2 / Recipe: Beef Brisket Chilli / Recipe Review: Deliciously Ella’s Raw Brownies / Recipe: Balsamic Onion Hummus / #Foodporn: Episode One

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#FoodPorn: Episode One

We spend a while trying to decide where to go to eat. We want burgers and have been told that Five Guys and GBK are both the places to be. We are virgins to both. After some deliberation we decide that GBK looks a little nicer so in we walk. ‘We’ is Tyler and I. He’s my fiancé and he’s taking me for a burger as a birthday request. Easily pleased, me.

So we are greeted by one of the hipsters who seem to like working here, very pleasant, and taken to a nice booth where we are presented with the menu. My heart is beating faster now as I am so close to burger time and have been waiting all day for this. But then, it hits me, the sudden crushing realisation that there are a multitude of burgers available and I can only choose one. Well, obviously if I wanted to I could ask for one of everything but I do have some dignity and the restaurant will only be open for another few hours. Panic sets in. I brush off the chicken burgers with no hesitation. The salads don’t even deserve a glance. I want beef. That decision was easy. The rest, it appears, is not. I’ve heard great things about the Kiwi burger, but I’m not in the mood for egg so that gets ditched despite the initial interest. I seriously consider the Taxidriver, with its tempting inclusion of an onion ring then decide I can order onions rings anyway. The Don burger is a real contender at this point, as is the Blazing Sombrero. I mentally prepare myself for the fact that I have to make a decision and eventually I play ‘ip, dip, doo’ and find myself ordering the Blazing Sombrero, a beef patty with smoked Applewood cheese, chorizo relish, tortilla chips, mayo, rocket and pickled onions, along with some sweet potato fries and a portion of onions rings. Oh and a strawberry and elderflower fizzy drink. Decisions are tough and in one single train of thought I hate the fact that I’m an adult and have to choose things myself then realise that I would never have such excitement in my life if I didn’t. I mean, as a kid I really only ate a limited number of things and didn’t eat my first burger until I was 19. Weird, right?

We sit and wait. I’m excited, full of eager anticipation of what’s to come. Thankfully the hipsters are on the ball and we get our food really quickly. My strawberry and elderflower drink is delightful, but it’s a drink so let’s move on. The sweet potato fries have arrived with a baconnaise dip. Yes, you read that correctly. The fries and dip are amazing; sweet, salty, soft, crispy, baconny (made that one up), and everything else you want from a good chip. Tyler has skinny fries, also good but hard to dip as they are so thin. The onion rings are crispy and the onion within still has some bite. And here it is. The birthday burger. The pinnacle of birthday lunches. I could have chosen to go anywhere and I chose to be here. My hands are itchy and my legs are restless as I prepare myself for this moment.

The bun has a wonderfully glossy finish, I can see the cheese oozing over the beef patty and it is well stocked with delicious goodies. I pick it up and juice runs down my hand like a flowing river of beefy goodness. I forget where I am and lick it off, earning a scornful look from Tyler and completely disregarding it. I’m in the zone. This is my moment. My teeth sink into the bun, a sesame seed clings to my cheek. I don’t care, I will deal with that later. More juice runs out of the burger and soaks into the bottom of the bun. I feel the patty crumble beneath the weight of my bite and can taste the salty, smokiness of the cheese, the intense savouriness of the beef and a little tingle from the chorizo relish. This is pure burger pleasure. I rest the burger back on my plate as I enjoy my first bite, relishing in all the flavours and textures that come with it. Tyler realises how much this means to me and leaves me to it for a few moments before he brings me back down to reality and we discuss the merits of my burger compared to his chicken option. It does look good, I give him that, but I think mine is better. I continue to munch my way through my burger, fries and onions rings, feeling a huge burden of sadness once it is all gone. I’m so contently full, as one should be on their birthday. I want a milkshake but give it a miss at the risk of my stomach exploding. I spend the rest of the day looking back at my GBK experience with fondness, telling all who will listen about my incredible burger.

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The Blazing Sombrero Burger from GBK

There are, of course, other great burgers out there but they can be really hard to get right. I mean, I love a McDonald’s as much as the next person (is there a petition out there somewhere to make the Big Tasty permanent?), but I wouldn’t choose to go to McDonalds on my birthday, Big Tasty season or not. They are just over processed and mass produced. Tasty, without doubt, but not special. I do love a good homemade burger too. The appropriately named Insanity Burgers from Jamie Oliver’s Comfort Food book are out of this world good. I could eat burgers on a weekly basis and love mine with as much crammed in as possible. Give me bacon, tomato, lettuce, cheese, more cheese, pickles, sauces, onion rings, the lot. The way to my heart is, without doubt, via a good burger.

You can check out the GBK website by clicking here and if you want to make the most epic burger at home, a link to Jamie’s recipe is here, but be warned: they are addictive! Enjoy!

Recipe: Balsamic Onion Hummus

Hummus is the modern day holy grail of food stuffs, great for dunking, spreading and dolloping. You can buy or make so many different varieties and serve it in loads of different ways. I love my hummus with salted tortilla chips as a snack, or used as a topping for a rice bowl or salad. This one has soft, melting onions cooked in balsamic vinegar whizzed into it to make it delicately sweet and sour.

Makes a large bowlful

What you need:

  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp runny honey
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 400g tin of chickpeas, drained
  • 1 tbsp tahini
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tbsp water

What you do:

  • Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the sliced onions. Cook over a lowish heat until the onions are wonderfully soft, about 15 minutes. Then chuck in the garlic and cook for a minute more.
  • Next, add the honey and balsamic vinegar and cook for a couple of minutes until you have a jammy consistency that is lusciously dark and gleaming. Leave this to one side to cool.
  • In a food processor, pulse together the chickpeas, tahini, cumin, paprika, extra virgin olive oil, water and the cooled onion mixture with a good pinch of salt and pepper. You can keep it chunky or make it really smooth, I like something in between, which really is the only setting my food processor has. I should really upgrade to a better model. I top my hummus with some more extra virgin olive oil and paprika, but you don’t have to. Why would you buy it when it’s this easy to make?

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Washing Up Score: 4/10 – still worth it rather than buying a tub of over processed, gritty stuff that parades itself as hummus. Oops, did I just show a hint of food snobbery? Sorry, not sorry.

Recipe Review: Deliciously Ella’s Raw Brownies

Real brownies should be squidgy, dense and intensely chocolatey. They should stick to the roof of your mouth in the most satisfying way and provide a moment of serenity and calm in the way that other foods just can’t. Brownies are one of those things that everyone loves, they’re ridiculously easy to make and even easier to devour. Ella Woodward, or Deliciously Ella as she is more often known, has managed to take all the great things that make a good brownie and completely transform it without the need of refined sugar, unnecessary fat or an oven. Her raw brownies are an absolute triumph and are fast becoming one of my favourite things. These feature in her first book, which I would recommend to anyone and everyone, and on her blog, which you can view here. Thank me later.

To make these brownies you simply tip 140g of pecans into a food processor and whizz them around until they form a crumbly mixture, then add 400g of pitted medjool dates, 3 tablespoons of cacao powder and 2 tablespoons of maple syrup. Process again until the mixture forms a glorious, sticky mess. Now, try not to eat it all straight away and instead press it into a tin. Pop it into the freezer for an hour to set, take it out, cut the slab into squares or fingers and store in the fridge. You then have a delicious, yet nutritious, snack or dessert any time you need it.

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Making these brownies really couldn’t be easier. Yes, you will need a loan to buy the ingredients, but the rewards are more than worth it. I’m never one to preach about quality of ingredients as everyone has their own budget that they need to stick to, but there is a reason why certain things need to be used here. The dates need to be medjool dates, not just so that you can feel smug as you add them to your trolley, but because all other kinds of dates are drier and therefore will not provide the required amount of stickiness which acts as the glue to keep the brownies together. The cacao powder is not only much better for you than cocoa powder, the taste is just so different. Cacao powder is insanely chocolatey and surprisingly not as bitter as cocoa powder, plus you need to use much less of it so it lasts longer despite the initial eye watering cost. I’m a complete convert now and don’t think I will ever buy cocoa again.

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I need to thank Ella for bringing these brownies into my life. There is still a time and a place for the traditional brownie (with Oreos baked into them please), but these really are just as good and have the advantage of being healthy. I’m not sure I will ever be able to make it through an afternoon at work without one now.

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Washing Up Score: 2/10 – Under normal circumstances, I would rather eat cat food than wash up my food processor, but the fact that these are made in less than 5 minutes means I feel so smug when I’ve made them that even cutting my hand on the processor blade can’t bring me down from this chocolate high.

Recipe: Beef Brisket Chilli

There’s chilli. Then there’s this chilli. Let me tell you how good it is: On the road it would be a red Ferrari, overtaking all the little Peugeot 206’s and the VW Beetles. In the wild it would be the mighty lion, preying on the antelope and showing them who’s boss. If it were featured in a Marks and Spencer’s advert it would be accompanied by graphics of exploding chillies, upbeat classical music and a sexy narrator telling you how delicious it is. And she would be right.

This is my signature dinner and even though it’s not fancy or showy, it is so bloomin’ tasty that I’m proud to serve it to anyone who comes for dinner. The ingredients list looks long but it may well be stuff you already have, and if you do have to buy all the spices they can be used in so many different dishes that it’s worth it anyway. Likewise, it looks like it takes a long time but it’s ridiculously easy and your oven does all the work.

Serves 4

What you need:

For the spice rub:

  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp celery salt
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • pinch of black pepper

For the chilli:

  • 700g beef brisket joint
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 tsp chipotle chilli paste
  • 1 400g tin red kidney beans, drained
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 600g passata
  • 3 tbsp BBQ sauce
  • ½ tsp sugar

What you do:

  1. Start by mixing all the spices together to make a nice, fragrant blend of flavours. Put half to one side.
  2. Use half of the spice rub to massage into your brisket. If you buy a rolled joint like I usually do then unroll it so you have a long, flat(ish) piece of beef. Really work the spices in to the meat to ensure maximum flavour. If I have time I leave this to rest for a few hours, if I’m more eager for my dinner then I don’t. I can’t say I notice a difference in the end result.
  3. Heat the oil in a large, oven-proof casserole dish then sear the brisket on both sides so that it develops a nice spicy crust. This should only take a couple of minutes. Once seared, remove it to a plate to rest.
  4. Next, add the onion, peppers, garlic and chilli to the pan along with the other half of the spice rub and cook for a couple of minutes until the vegetables start to soften. Once you get to this stage, add the chipotle chilli paste, the tin of kidney beans and the tomato puree and cook for a couple of minutes more. I urge you to get some chipotle chilli paste, it’s an amazing ingredient, full of deep, smoky flavours and an easy way to spice up any dish.
  5. Now add the passata, the BBQ sauce (I’m talking about the kind you have with chips and stuff, just trust me on this) and the sugar, bring to a simmer then add the brisket back to the casserole, burying it beneath the sauce. Put the lid on and place the dish into an oven pre-heated to 150°c and leave it to work its magic for at least three hours. Do check it every now and again and make sure it’s not drying out, you can add a splash of water if it is.
  6. It’s ready when the brisket buckles at the slightest touch from a wooden spoon. Remove the meat, shred it up and put it back into the chilli. Give it a good stir, a little seasoning and serve however you like. I like mine with white rice, tortilla chips, sour cream and cheddar cheese. Leftovers make a great topping for nachos too, tried and tested!

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I love this meal so much. The meat is tender and full of flavour, the vegetables are silky soft and melt into the wonderfully spiced sauce, which has such a depth of flavour and a good kick from the different types of chilli that have been used. I make this a lot and never get bored of eating it.

Washing Up Score: 5/5 – It’s all done in one pot. But it’s a very heavy pot and my delicate little arms (pah!) struggle to carry it to the washing up bowl. The struggle is real.

What I Ate In A Day #2

From breakfast through to an evening snack, this is what I ate on a cold day, which was an early shift at work followed by a chilled evening at home on my own. I had a fairly interesting food day and kept most of it pretty healthy, not because I’m on any kind of diet plan, I’m just really into this kind of food at the moment and owe a lot of the current interest to Ella Woodward, or Deliciously Ella as she goes by on Instagram and whatnot. If you haven’t heard of her (have you been hiding under a rock for the past year?) then you should check her out. I’m going to be talking more about her and her book another time so I won’t go into it right now but you should know that she’s pretty awesome.

Breakfast – Deliciously Ella Recipe One. This is the mint chocolate milkshake from her book, which I have been dying to make. I’m not gonna lie, it wasn’t as epic as I was expecting it to be, but I had such high expectations set from the raw brownies I made (more on those later) that I couldn’t help but feel a little deflated by this milkshake. I’m not saying it isn’t good, it is. It’s really good. But it does still taste of banana and dates when I guess I was expecting, by some miracle, for it to taste like a Frijj milkshake. Obviously that was never going to happen as they are a concoction of sugar and fat, whereas my version here contained banana, avocado, dates, raw cacao powder, mint and coconut milk, so really healthy and nourishing. It gave me loads of energy and kept me bright and bushy tailed till lunch, but it’s really not the most photogenic of breakfasts so apologies for that.

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Lunch – A rice bowl filled with the yummiest of things. The base for this was made with brown rice and black beans which I had cooked with garlic, chilli, tomato puree and cumin. I then topped it with some wilted kale and pomegranate salad (Deliciously Ella Recipe Two), red pepper hummus (Deliciously Ella Recipe Three), some slices of tomato, smashed avocado and feta cheese. There are no words to describe how good this is. You can see my Rice Bowl recipe post for more inspiration.

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PM Snack – Deliciously Ella Recipe Four – Raw Brownies. I ate two of these as they are just so good, and what’s even better is that I don’t need to feel guilty about it or condemn myself to half an hour on the exercise bike as a punishment. These actually deserve their own blog post so I will save myself for now and tease you with this picture. Yum!

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Dinner – Pasta with Peas, Pancetta and Ricotta. It was just me eating tonight and I really wanted some warming, hearty pasta. Pasta is one of my favourite foods. When it’s dark and miserable outside, I love to get the windows all steamed up with something hot going on in the kitchen. Get your minds out of the gutters, I am of course talking about cooking pasta. It makes such a great basis for a quick and easy dinner. For this, I just cooked some wholewheat penne and some peas in salted, boiling water. In another pan, I fried off cubes of pancetta with some minced garlic and when everything was cooked I tipped the pasta and peas into the pancetta and garlic and added a bit of crème fraiche and some ricotta, seasoned well, stirred a lot, then tipped it into a waiting bowl and ate it greedily, alone on the sofa.

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Evening Snack – Mango. I like to cut the sides of my mango away from the stone and eat the juicy, golden flesh with a teaspoon. There’s something about the exotic taste of mango that makes me forget it’s a dreary winter’s night in Kent and I can almost feel the tropical sun on my skin and hear waves crashing on pale sands. I like to treasure such moments and using a little spoon to eat the mango extends the whole lovely process so I can go to bed feeling blissfully content. In other news, hands up who likes my super tacky leopard print knife?

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What a nice day of eating I have had. *insert happy little sleepy face here*

Recipe: DIY Rice Bowl

This is not so much a recipe but a few suggestions for a delicious and nutritious lunch or dinner. It all starts with a base of rice and beans then you top it with yummy ingredients to give you a bowl of food that punches you right in the mouth. In a good way, of course. It’s entirely up to you how healthy or unhealthy you wish to make this, but you should know that it’s a fantastic opportunity to up your 5-a-day without having to eat a single lettuce leaf. Unless you want to obviously, in which case be my guest.

Serves 2-4 (depending on what you put on top really)

What you need:

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
  • 400g tin of kidney beans
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 250g cooked brown rice
  • A selection of delicious goodies to top it with, see suggestions below

What you do:

  1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and cook the garlic and chilli for just a minute, then add the tin of kidney beans that have been drained. Cook the beans for a couple of minutes until the skins start to burst, which allows all the lovely flavours to really penetrate.
  2. Add the tomato puree and cumin and cook for a minute or so to remove the floury taste from the puree, then add the rice and stir well to combine everything together. This can be eaten hot, warm or cold so do the next part as and when you please. I like it best just a little above room temperature. When you’re ready, put the rice and bean mixture into a bowl. This serves two so if it’s just you eating, store the other half in the fridge once it’s cold and have it another time.

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Now rice and beans alone does not an exciting lunch make. I started by adding some sweetcorn to bring some sunshine to a gloomy January day.

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Next, I mashed half an avocado with some lime juice and a sprinkling of Himalayan pink salt and added this. You really don’t need to rush out to buy pink salt, I just like it as it looks pretty on my kitchen side. Plus, all the cool people use it and I so desperately want to be cool.

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For an extra hit of colour, I added half a chopped tomato and sprinkled this with some salt too.

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Next, some hummus. This is a homemade red pepper and paprika hummus which is amazing but you can use any type, either bought (I won’t judge) or made from scratch.

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Then I chucked on some cubes of feta cheese, which I adore. You could totally leave out the cheese if you wanted to keep this really healthy, but feta is one of the lowest calorie cheeses, plus it’s so highly flavoured that you don’t really need that much to pack a punch of salty flavour.

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For greed alone, and the fact that I had some in the cupboard that needed using up, I had a warm flatbread on the side. You really don’t need it, but it was so good to scoop everything up with.

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I finished off with a little squeeze of lime to brighten it all up and dug in. There are so many strong, punchy flavours, that this doesn’t even feel like healthy food but it really is. Trust me when I say this is good!

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The world is your rice bowl, so go wild with the toppings. Here are some ideas to get the juices flowing:

  • Swap the kidney beans in the base for black beans, chickpeas or any other kind of bean for a change
  • Likewise, you don’t have to use brown rice, you could use white or swap it for quinoa, buckwheat or any other kind of grain that takes your fancy
  • Try adding some mango chunks on top of the rice to add a tropical, fruity twist
  • Olives would be great, especially some lovely garlicky ones
  • Slices of fried chorizo would be delicious and fit in quite well with my slightly Mexican theme
  • Leftover pulled pork  – er hello, who has leftover pulled pork? Would be good though wouldn’t it?
  • Chicken, either leftover from the Sunday roast and shredded or you can buy packs of chunks already prepared
  • Some spinach leaves would add a hit of green goodness
  • Roasted vegetables, especially sweet potato would be so good
  • Toasted pine nuts add a glorious crunch and nutty flavour
  • Hard boiled eggs would be a great protein option
  • Try some steamed broccoli on top if you wanted something green

Let me know if anyone tries any of the suggestions above and what your favourite combos are. Enjoy!