Shake it in the Sunshine!

The sun is shining and the skies are blue yet I am inside trying desperately to finish writing an assignment for a Management Training Programme i’m on and struggling to get past the first 500 words (only 1,500 to go!) I tried moving my office into the park but stared blankly at the page, only getting agitated and distracted by the slightest gust of wind or whirring leaf blower…

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Back home again and still feeling discontent, I do the usual root around in the kitchen.  Days like this can often lead to me picking and snacking my way through the contents of the fridge or cupboards with no structure to meal times at all, high on caffeine after a hundred cups of tea.

I came across a number of ingredients today however that brought on that sudden ‘milkshake’ urge and I told myself that bananas would be the potassium boost my brain needs to start functioning properly, RIGHT? So here you go….

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Banana and Coconut Shake

(makes 2 large shakes)

Easy to make, tastes like Summer…and only a tiny bit naughty.

3 Bananas

Drop of Milk

100 mls Coconut milk (20 tblsp of the coconut cream)

2 scoops Vanilla Ice Cream

Honey (optional)

Nutmeg

Pop the sliced bananas, ice cream and coconut cream (usually sits at the top of the tin) into the blender and give it a whizz. Add the coconut milk and dash of whole or semi skimmed milk then blend well.

Pour into a nice cold glass and finish with a sprinkling of nutmeg.

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My hungry, thirsty gap filled and my brain ready for action…

Knead to Know (Continued….)

A Simple Pasta Recipe (by hand!)

– this is the recipe, as pictured, in my previous post

2 Eggs

1 Egg yolk

1 tsp Salt

1 tsp Olive Oil

192 g Flour

32g Semolina

What you’ll need: pasta machine, sharp knife, two bowls, cling film, pastry brush, two baking trays and a delicious filling for your ravioli.

(Typically, pasta dough would be made on a spacious, clean work surface. However as this is a simple guide let’s do it in a bowl)

Sift your flour and semolina into a large bowl then make a well in the middle.

In a separate bowl add the yolks, eggs, salt and olive oil (*see below to add flavor at this point). Then use folk or whisk to beat ingredients.

Slowly pour the wet ingredients into the well and starting blending it together with the flour mix. It will seem too sticky and at this point I personally wondered if it could ever be a dough…but keep going! Add extra flour if this is the case or a drop of water if it is to stiff.

Kneading…

Once you have a ball of dough, it is time to knead! Very important to take time for this part of the process. Flour your work surface and make sure you have clean, dry hands.

Use the heel of your hand to roll out the dough with your fingers point to the sky, then use your knuckles to knead the dough back into itself in the shape of a ball. This is the chance to really put your heart and soul into the recipe- because you should repeat this for 10-15 minutes! (Great arm work out!)

Resting…

Put the dough ball into a plastic lock tight bag or bowl covered tightly in cling film, then rest for 30 minutes.

(During this time, set up your pasta machine, as mentioned in my previous post).

Shaping…

Roll the dough until it is about 1/2 inch thick then trim the edges so it is in the shape of a big rectangle.

I then cut this piece into 3 equal rectangles.

Roll your first piece through the machine on its number 1 setting, then fold the pasta sheet in half and toll again. Then move onto setting no. 2… and so on. You want the pasta to be the width of the machine rollers by the end. It will be pretty long too, so you will need to clear a nice runway for it!

As per my last post, I rolled to thinly in one instance, so I personally would not go higher than setting no. 5 for ravioli! (Each pasta shape will be different).

Filling…

Move the pasta machine out of the way and stretch the rolled ravioli dough out onto the surface and have your filling ready along with a pastry brush and small pot of hot water (this is the glue to stick the edges together!)

Put a teaspoon of filling about 3 fingers apart, all the way along your pasta…. then brush lightly with water down the edge closest to you and down both sides of the filling.

Now, very carefully fold the top edge over the filling and stick down on the water’s edge (closest to you).

Cut down the centre of each gap and and using two fingers press (from the filling outwards) any air bubbles. Make sure each ravioli is firmly sealed and that no pasta filling has leaked out of the side.

I then used a frilled pastry cutter to trim off the edge and create uniform shapes of the same size.

Now you are either ready to place your home made ravioli in a pan of boiling water and serve

or

Place on a floured baking tray and cover VERY tightly until you are ready to cook.

To add beetroot to your pasta dough:

(3 beetroots used for the recipe measurements above)

Keep the skins on your beetroots, trims the leaves off and place on a parchment lined, piece of tin foil. Cover in olive oil and tightly wrap in the foil and put on baking tray.

Roast for 20-30 minutes in hot oven (around 200 C), or until you can put a knife right through them.

Once they are done, leave the beetroots to cool down before rubbing the skins off (I use rubber gloves for this as they can stain your skin).

Pop the cooled down, skinless beetroots in a blender and blitz until you have a great looking, smooth, puree.

*Add a few tablespoons of the puree in with the egg yolks and wet ingredients- then continue with the recipe for making dough as above.

(If you are not ready to make the dough then put the puree into a jar and keep in fridge. Use within two days).

Knead to Know!

 The Highs & Lows of Making Fresh Pasta

The thought of making pasta from scratch, has always been a daunting one to me! The first hurdle being the machine, the second, making it produce something that vaguely resembles the texture & taste of the Italian staple….Well, for £20 I invested in a very smart looking Kitchen Craft Pasta Machine and it was not only simple to put together (with no instructions might I add) but also looks pretty damn professional too.

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I had it stuck in my mind to make a bright pink, beetroot ravioli for my dinner party, given the Valentine’s theme and the seasonality of the vegetable. A starter that I thought could be impressive and delicious. I have never made pasta before and so a little practice was necessary. Two days before the dinner party, I asked the chef in the restaurant I work what the best recipe would be for beetroot ravioli, to which he replied;

“Go with tagliatelle! Ravioli is going to really stress you out… it takes practice. Trust me.”

– needless to say, I didn’t listen. Stubborn as a mule, I decided I WOULD make ravioli and it WOULD be successful.

I finished work that night at 1am and unable to sleep (riddled with anxiety over this promise to myself) I make 3 batches of ravioli until 3:30 in the morning. “Madness!” I hear you say, but at least by the next day I felt much more confident in what I was doing and relaxed into the idea a whole lot more.

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I googled and googled prior to this, to see what the easiest recipe was out there. Increased desperation as I failed to find one that I thought was suitable;

“How to make fresh pasta?”

“How to make fresh beetroot pasta?”

“How to make fresh, beetroot ravioli?”

“When to add the beetroot in, when making fresh ravioli?”

“What is the best filling for beetroot ravioli?”

….endless! I became crazed with it, until finally, I ended up combining 3 different recipes. One was by Valentine Warner whose filling of beetroot, nutmeg and ricotta (with a sage butter sauce) was by far the simplest and most delicious sounding. Martha Stewart helped with the ‘when to add the beetroot’ part of the process and I used the measurements and technique given on an Italian Housewife’s blog (the Underdog prevailed!)

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The batches I made that night were rolled out, trimmed into rectangles and covered tightly in cling film ready to be put through the machine, fill and cook the next day- the final test!

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Beginners luck?

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So far, so good!

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What a joy to have in front of me a successful trial of ravioli making. I popped them into the water and there was none of the potential ‘explosion’ when they hit the boiling water. The filling stayed tightly in the pocket and colour stayed bright and vibrant.

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They even tasted pretty good too with the basic ricotta filling that I was using for these guinea pigs. This however, is as far as this success story goes…

The Chef is Always Right…

Morning of the dinner party and I follow the exact same steps. I make the pasta dough, cover in cling film and return it to fridge and get on with making the filling. Following Valentine’s recipe, I made sure to drain the ricotta well and the grated beetroot, aware that any excess water could cause damage to the pasta dough.

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At 5pm I start putting the doughy rectangles through the machine but I notice that one of them has formed a slightly hard skin… OH NO!!!  There was a small air hole in the cling film. Exposing the dough to air is a total no-no, you simply cannot work with it when it is dried out. I learnt this the hard way, I rolled it through the machine several times but it looked more and more like crusty playdough, with cracks all over it (I had a habit of not putting the lids on my playdough as a child incidentally so am all too familiar with this texture!) Not ideal. Luckily I had the other two batches and so feeling panicked, I hurriedly starting winding it through and thankfully it looked just as it had the day before.

For some reason, I had rolled the dough far too thin however (I am guessing you do not need to go to the smallest settings on the machine when rolling for ravioli?) so it was much harder to handle and kept sticking. I used flour where possible to help prevent total ruination and kept going. Roll out, fill, brush with water around the edges and fold. I was getting into a pickle because time was ticking… One hour later, I had 3 trays of ravioli’s that looked….well, not at all like they had when I tried it the first time. I decided I would remain optimistic,  put them back in the fridge (VERY tightly covered in cling film) and start to clean up the bright pink mess.

Friends arrive and feeling very anxious about the bloody Ravioli I start apologising in advance. Patiently they all waited at the table while I boiled 3 at a time (now worried they would explode or stick together). I could see the filling through the pasta on some of the rogue ‘thin’ pieces and because some of the water HAD leaked through, they were also sticky! Concurrently, I melted the butter in the frying pan in order to brown the sage leaves and yes, Chef was right, I was stressed! Finally, after 18 beetroot & ricotta Ravioli’s had gone to the table, in all of their flawed glory… the final two batches turned out perfectly. Lucky Emily and Skippy, the last to be served!

My friends all very politely told me that they tasted delicious and so with that boost of confidence (legitimate or not), I shall definitely be giving it another go. It is really fun when you take it slowly and when you get it right, it tastes far superior to anything you could buy in the shops.

There are a couple of lessons here for me though: either I cook better in the middle of the night and should only do so in future or I handle everything with a little more care and precision, check for air pockets, get a much drier filling and try not to lose my cool over the stove. The latter being the likely answer.

Click  here for the simple pasta recipe I used- https://shuffleinthepantry.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/767/
 
Why don’t you give it a try and let me know how your pasta turns out! 

Be My Guest!

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I love hosting and entertaining, getting friends together and enjoying food & drink in an intimate environment is my ‘happy place’! On Friday night, I held a dinner party for a group of my oldest girlfriends from school to celebrate Valentine’s day.

About a month ago, when I first emailed the gang to get a date in the diary I had just bought Supper Club, which is all about the joys of entertaining in your own home. Kirstin Rodgers however, entertains strangers with her Supper Clubs. She is a skilled cook, with much experience in catering for large groups of people, unlike me! She is also responsible for getting the Underground Restaurant craze fired up in the UK! However much I love to cook and bake, a group of more than 5 can come with it’s complexities and in turn, result in lost sleep leading up to the big day. So I came up with some pointers below, that help make the process a whole lot more efficient and enjoyable from start to finish.

In Advance

  • Invites! I personally email my invites to guests, as that is the most reliable form of communication with a large group of friends. As much as I would adore to use pen and paper at all times, it is not always viable time wise and can be expensive. My mum introduced me to the fabulous ‘Paperless Post’ which is ideal for any occasion. You can also see when the mail has been read and the guest can respond by the click of button. It adds charm & ease right from the start of the organising…
  • Putting your menu together– firstly, I would find out if there are any dietary requirements within your party. No point finding out once it’s too late and throwing you into a panic! When you have confirmation of this, start piecing together your seasonal menu using books, magazine tear outs, Pinterest…Keeping in mind your own level of skill and experience (I should mentioned my first attempt at making fresh ravioli on the day of was daring to say the least and resulted in a few fails, disaster! Read my next blog on pasta to hear ALL about that).

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(For Friday night, I printed out my menu’s and on the back of each one I put a different Love poem. Adding a romantic twist!)
  • Music- make a playlist that last lasts at least 4 hours, so you don’t have to worry about fiddling around with the ipod during the night. Bear in mind that this music is for your guests too and so you have to think about what they would enjoy? Choosing something like ‘Death Metal’ wouldn’t be everyones cup of tea for instance…
  • Shopping lists- a few days before the party I go through all the recipes and make a note of ingredients, I then go through the cupboards and start crossing off anything I might already have. Once I have a list of things to buy, I split the list into 3; ‘Fresh Produce’, ‘Supermarket’ & ‘To Drink’. Doing this keeps it all clear and concise and ensures that nothing is overlooked! 

The Day Before

  • Start Shopping– Head to the Supermarket with that list you have made and buy your condiments, juices, dairy produce etc. 
  • Got Everything? Do a count of all your crockery, glassware and cutlery to make sure you have enough. I realised the day before that I was short of one set, so lucky I checked! Phew!

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  • Your table- get your table ready and arrange your seating plan. Name places are lovely ‘extra detail’. Think about who should be next to who, things in common, any newcomers to the group? It is important to give this some thought so that you get the dynamic right.

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  • Drinks– Go on a booze run to your off license with your ‘Drinks’ list; having decided on your menu at this point, go for wine’s that compliment the meal. I asked the lady in the shop near me to recommend good wines having told her my menu and she was unbelievably helpful. We got the task done in under 15 minutes! A bottle of prosecco or champagne as an apreratif is a good starting point, 1 glass each as people are arriving is a nice gesture. 3 bottles of red & 3 white’s for the table for a group of 9/10 people (it is roughly 5 glasses per bottle by the way!) and there is nearly always at least 1 beer drinker in the group, so I like to have a 6 pack in the fridge just in case.

On The Day

  • Get cooking! Anything you can cook in advance and put in the fridge, then do it! I made the fresh ravilioli & filling, chocolate puddings and herb crust for the lamb as early as I could, that way I had an organised mise en place and was ready to go once guests have arrived.
  • Flower arrangements- do it yourself! It is a really nice touch to have fresh flowers on the table and I like to buy a few bunches from the market and put little posies together myself. I think 3 different flowers, with some sort of greenery works perfectly. Old jam jars are the perfect vase for a small arrangement and add a rustic flavour…buy flowers on the morning of, otherwise they will start to look a little sad.

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(I used Anenomies, Hyacinths and Roses brought together with Solidago. It’s colour theme was romance but that hint of yellow remind us that spring is on its way!)
  • Fresh produce-Your 3rd and final list. It is so much more cost effective to buy all your fresh fruit and vegetables from either a green grocer, or if you are lucky… a fresh fruit & vegetable stall in a local market or farmers market. On the day, I wake up at 7am and get straight to my local to pick out the best before it goes. You can sleep tomorrow… so an early rise is definitely necessary to get everything done.
  • Hoover! I am a messy cook, so once everything is set, it is essential that I hoover the kitchen/living area and make sure the kitchen is looking acceptable (especially as my kitchen and living room are all in the same space). Get rid of any bin bags and dirty tea towels too, very off putting.
  • Atmosphere. Just before the guests arrive and once you are dressed and ready, it is time to get everything just right. Music on, not too loud. Turn the lights down a bit and get  some candles going (just be careful not to put them in any precarious places).

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Now It’s Showtime!

We Ate…

Starter

Beetroot Ravioli with Ricotta & Sage Butter

Main Course

Herb Crusted Lamb with roast potatoes, Kale & Beetroot Top

Dessert

Molten Chocolate Pudding with Amaretto Cream

&

Cheese Board with Chilli Jam

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We Drank…

Moet & Chandon Rose Imperial

Glorioso, Reserva 2006 & Cosme Palacio, Rioja 2008

Pazo Do Mar, Ribeiro Blanco 2010

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We Listened…

My love-themed playlist starting with 1940’s early blues, moving onto 1950’s (Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone…), then the swinging 60’s with Elvis & Ray Charles. The tempo progressively became more energetic, which coincided perfectly with the gradual volume increase and liveliness of my guests.

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We Played…

‘Apples to Apples’ provided by my friend Parker, the Games Master. A hilarious game, especially when tipsy.

P.S. It definitely helps to know your opponents in this one!

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And One For The Road…

Mmmm, Amaretto Sours

(Made by me but special thanks to my friend & colleague Chris who kindly text me the recipe, on demand, at 01:00 a.m. Gotta love him!)

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Why don’t you let us into some of your dinner party secrets….

Thank you Molly, Emily, Parker, Charlotte, Simon, Rupert, Lara & Skippy for being wonderful guests.

(Readers, I apologise for the lack of quality and of photographs but I was having far too much fun to snap!)

Pancakes For Everyone!

Today is Shrove Tuesday, or as it is deliciously known… Pancake day!!

Falling the day before ‘Ash Wednesday’, it is the meant to be our last day of indulgence before lent. Shrove comes from the word shrive, which means ‘to confess’. So I must confess now, that I LOVE pancakes..

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When I was at school, we would celebrate this day by selling pancakes on a trestle table outside the H.E. room, to the other classes. Choice of Nutella or lemon & sugar would greet us along with a paper plate that was soon to become very soggy and unappealing. Unless I am mistaken, if you had no change, you could put your name down as though it were an ‘honesty bar’. For weeks they’d chase us for that £1.50 (or whatever it was), the pancake ladies hunting each fellow classmate down like hardened professionals. It was always the best cooks in the class chosen to be in charge of batter and ‘flipping’. The lesser experienced of the class would sit with the tupperware boxes of change, clip board of names (of the soon-to-be-in-debt) as well as organising the long lines of very greedy school girls. I mainly remember taking the indulgence bit to the extreme as though I had never been fed and I am guessing it has had a lasting effect on me.

Despite crepes being my absolute favourites whether it is Shrove or not, I found this incredible vintage inspiration courtesy of Aunt Jemima. Her thick buttermilk pancakes with bacon! An absolutely must-try when next cooking up a storm for breakfast.
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…and just incase any of you are feeling extra-specially fruity today, here are some other great recipes to try out from some modern day domestic Goddesses.

Beetroot Crêpes with Blood Orange Sauce (pictured below)

Classic crêpes suzette

Ricotta Pancakes 

Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce 

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Somewhere else in the world people are celebrating…

“Powder Day”

It is a tradition in a village called Tolox in Malaga, Southern Spain, to throw talcum powder at each other the day before lent during a huge celebration they call El Dias de los Povlos! It is said to be a tradition for young men to seduce girls (a questionable tactic!) and originated in the 16th Century when a Moorish girl and Christian girl who lived in this village were fighting over the same man. The girls both worked as bakers and began to throw more & more flour at each other as the argument escalated. Today men use this as a chance to proclaim their love for local ladies and will try with all of their will to track them down and talc them up!

A far cry from all of us stuffing our faces with gluten and sugar but whatever rocks your boat I suppose!

Excellent Choice, Madam.

Two of my favourite wines from a selection tried in January. Enjoy!

A Gulp of Spanish Red…

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Bodegas Palacio, Glorioso Reserva 2006

Region: Rioja, Spain.  

Classification: DOCa Rioja

Grape Variety: Tempranillo

ABV: 13.5%

Vintage: 2006

Initially discovered at Christmas thanks to my dad, Glorioso Reserva really was the wine of the festive period for me. Quaffing it along with cheese platters, foie gras and red meats but really very perfect on its own too. From the Bodegas Palacio in Northern Spain (not far from Pamplona- famous for the running of the bulls!) it is aged in Bordeaux style barrels of French Oak. I stopped to pick a bottle of it up last week on my way to a friends for dinner and she was a huge fan. It is so easy to drink, silky smooth and really coats the whole mouth with a welcomed warmth. Dark, fruity and delicious.

Bodegas Palacio, Glorioso Crianza 2007 is also worth a try and in my opinion, a wine best enjoyed with food. Also medium bodied, fruity and elegant with a touch more tanin about it than the last.

Interesting Fact: Spanish Wine

Spain’s strict wine laws ensure cultivation, production, ageing and quality of wine is maintained in the ever growing industry. There are two categories that Spanish wine’s may fall under; ‘Table Wine’ or ‘Quality Wine’, the latter generally being held in the higher regard.

DOCa stands for Denominación de Origen Calificada and is the credit given to wines that have achieved the highest quality over a long period of time. The only two regions to be considered worthy of this status are Rioja and Priorat in South West Spain.

…and a Splash of French White!

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Domaine La Condamine L’Evêque

Region:  Languedoc, France. 

Classification: IGP Côtes de Thongue

Grape Variety: Viognier 

ABV: 12.5%

Vintage: 2010

Produced by a family run vineyard in a village called Nezignan L’Eveque in the Rhone Valley, Southern France, this Viognier was recommended to me in my local wine shop. I was really looking for a dry white to go with fish and this full bodied, aromatic wine did fit the bill.  If you aren’t keen on rich, heady wines that are more yellow in colour, then this is probably not for you and my boyfriend and I both agreed that while this is a wine we loved with food, perhaps we wouldn’t necessarily chose it as an aperitif.

Having never heard of it before, only a few days later I found it again on the wine list in my local Pan-Asian restaurant and I felt very confident in choosing it with this meal. Turned out it was an absolutely perfect match for spicy tuna, seabass sashimi and  fragrant chicken curry.

Interesting Fact: The Viognier Grape

Pronounced ‘Vee-ohn-yay’, this varietal is a real challenge to grow! It is susceptible to disease and unpredictable so the producers work hard to get it right and this can be an expensive & timely process. It is because of this that it is considered one of the most prized varietals. 30 years ago,  this wine was almost extinct but in the last few years has become a more fashionable, popular choice.

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I bought both the Rioja Reserve (£13.00) and the Vin de Pays/ Viognier (£9.50) from Oddbins

http://www.oddbins.com

For a Rainy Day…

I woke up bright an early this morning to blue skies, so decided to don some warm clothes and go for a walk. Five minutes in and grey clouds appeared as if by magic. Drizzle soon followed. Back home now and ready for a cosy day inside.

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The books I am browsing through at the moment are particular handy on a day when the weather can’t decided what it’s doing….

1. Drink Me by Matt Walls (see blog post here)

2. Supper Club by Kerstin Rodgers; secret restaurants & underground supper clubs! Sounds amazing! Ex-Rock band photographer Kerstin Rodgers was one of the first people to start this dining phenomenon in the UK. This book is full of quirky illustrations and ideas for starting your own ‘Supper Club’, (which I am currently in the process of organising for my friends and I- you’ll hear more about this next month). Along with her yummy recipes and personal photographs it is a really fun book with plenty of hosting and culinary tips polished off with a directory of people doing this in their homes worldwide. So you too can venture into the unknown….

3. Baking Bible by Annie Bell; I love baking but have so much to learn. I make mistakes (often) and get very frustrated when I see the sponge sinking in the oven. Annie Bell was a food writer for Vogue, The Independent & more, who has gone on to write books like ‘The Camping Cookbook’ & ‘Soup Glorious Soup’. This is her ‘bible’ of 200 very trustworthy recipes for cakes, puddings, bread, tarts… the list goes on. It is pretty much fail-safe & easy to understand for beginners, yet still exciting and enticing for the more experienced. Totally delicious.

4. Eat London: All About Food by Peters Prescott & Terence Conran; If you live, or have visited London, then you may have realised that there are restaurants and cafes popping up at two-a-penny. This is the ultimate directory for someone wanting to discover old and new put together by the well-known Terence Conran. Plenty of recipes to keep you entertained in between reviews and a front cover that doubles up as a big map of London, so no worries about getting lost whilst in the depths of Dulwich, looking for a butchers!

5. Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo; Following her perfectly kitsch, Paris based TV show. Rachel Khoo has let us into the secrets of her life, style and recipes. Her illustrations are adorable and thankfully there are no overly complicated methods or long winded techniques to try and follow. If she can make it work, so very well, in such a small and intimate space then there is nothing stopping us all from trying it out….follow her lead. Oh and her ‘madeleines à la crème au citron’, are a must! Mmm.

6. The Simple Things; a glorious monthly magazine of all things home & garden with recipes, crafts and inspirations! A total gem. WHSmith sell the mag, but you can also look on their website to find out about the subscription. January was filled to the brim with pasta making, lantern stitching and home made pizza nights! The February Issue 6 is out now. This could be the only reason I venture into the rain again today!

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A small Arpeggio coffee from my Nespresso machine sets me up nicely for the day ahead. My pastel pink cup is from Ikea, perfect for espresso’s but also for desserts like ice cream, or a mousse! I am not sure if they are in stock at the moment, but a lovely alternative are the Ikea 365+ pastel espresso cup and saucer.


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My candle of the moment is Roses by Diptyque. It is so gorgeous and fills the entire room in seconds. For me the smell of Roses reminds me of my childhood. It is nostalgic, romantic and puts a gentle arm around me in times of need. Diptyque candles are not cheap but they are, in my opinion very, very good. Their standard size are £40 and the mini candles are £20. I got this mini Rose for Christmas, they make a really special present!

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Listening to Classic FM. Yup, tis’ true. I EVEN downloaded the app! This is coming from the same person who used to squirm when anyone (my sister!) put it on in the car, I thought it had to be ‘cool’ music or nothing at all. How things have changed. All I want on a day at home, is to have classical music playing quietly in the background. I find it so unbelievably calming and so does the cat…

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Daffodils are ALREADY in bloom in some parts of the UK. My mum excitedly informed me of such a carpet of sunshine spotted on a walk at the weekend. I decided to get myself a few bunches to have a big, early dose of Spring time in my home! Tesco’s currently have £1 a bunch on offer so forget S.A.D. and treat yourself.

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Right then, I have procrastinated enough. On with some writing!

And have a great day come rain or shine…

Juicy Business


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Post Christmas and New Year many people desire to shed a few pounds and having one or two ‘juicing days’ is a great way to kick start this, without needing to cut down too much during the whole week.

I have worshipped my Le Duo Magimix juicer, ever since I got it a couple of Summer’s ago. It was a really hot June and I was juicing for my life; beetroot, lemon, carrots, apples, ginger and raspberries to garnish… trying out loads of different refreshing and healthy drinks. I reckon a lot of people think you need lots of time to do it, but really it can be quick and effortless, although cleaning up the equipment can be a bit of a bore. Best thing I find is to make a big batch and decant into several bottles, which will keep me going for a few days makes the whole process all the more worthwhile. If you share a fridge with others, then labelling the juices with ingredients and a date too might be a good idea.

In the beginning I was desperately trying to get a simple green apple juice but kept on battling with the ‘oxidation reaction’ i.e. it was going brown within 2 minutes. Although there is no harm in that it totally changes the flavour, the sharpness and appearance and adding lemon was not cutting it. One day, I was talking about this to a friend of mine when she emerged from a cupboard with a little tub of Vitamin C powder (scientifically called, ascorbic acid). “This is the trick” she said and so it was….

Adding even the smallest pinch to your juice right at the beginning will preserve the freshest taste and keeps your apple juice bright green, it also gives your body an extra boost!

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I store my juices in a glass bottles and they keep for a couple of days. You can get yourself a ‘Korken‘ bottle with stopper from Ikea or the swing top glass bottles from Butlers. They also do a very cool looking ‘Refill‘ one which I have my eye on for a next purchase! My only advice would be that if you are planning to put these in the dishwasher, the swing top will loosen a little and might fall out eventually. Hand washing is advisable, especially with the easy cleaning methods mentioned in this post.

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Health Benefits

I asked my mum (a Dietician), to help me summarise the health benefits of juicing and they seem pretty endless so i’ll keep it short and sweet.

Juices are great for keeping you hydrated! In winter months in particular we tend to be in and out of rooms and transport with central heating, wearing layers of clothes leading to perspiration and therefore loss of fluid. It is important to keep our levels topped up for healthy skin and essential bodily functions as well as for keeping the viruses at bay!

If you were looking to lose or control your weight, it is not a bad idea to supplement a meal now and again with a nutritional juice. If you are serious about it then it would be great at this point to get yourself a recipe book to aid you along, show you different options and diversify your diet. The book I use is called Smooth and Juicy by Joanna Farrow.

Fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables provide the vitamins & minerals for general health. In the summer there is an abundance of produce, making ‘being healthy’ readily available, which I believe we take for granted. It is however, during these Winter months, when we still need the same nutrients (if not more) so juicing using seasonal root vegetables, citrus fruits & tree fruits is a good base to work on. I get my fruit and veg from my local market, where it is always seasonal and very well priced.

To find out what fruits and vegetables are in season, I found a fun chart on the Eat Seasonably website.

Recipes from Friends!

My boyfriend Isaac loves any juice with ginger in, as it give things a kick.

“My favourite is beetroot, apple and ginger. I drink it in the mornings for a fresh start to the day”

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India is a bit of a domestic goddess, she told me about her juice of the moment which she makes daily in her Breville Juicer!

“Really good for fighting a cold! It is kale, spinach, romaine, parsley, cucumber, celery, apple, lemon, ginger. I like it with a dash of olive oil at the end and sometimes I will add other tinctures like aloe or flax seed oil…”

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My friend Tilly and I share the same favourite. This yummy juice is cucumber, celery, apples, lime and ginger (pictured). The crispy, zingy green apples really wake you up, so this is the perfect energising drink for an early morning.

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More than a juice…

Susie wakes up to a breakfast smoothie.

Soya milk, mixed berries and low fat natural yogurt. My inspiration for it was Jamba Juice’s ‘Bright Eyed & Blueberry’”

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…and Fearne (who is about to become a yummy mummy!) is craving this delicious combo!

“I first put some crushed ice in the blender, then add a handful of blueberries, half an avocado, a skinned kiwi, some kale, and sometimes a bit of papaya too. Them some chia seeds which are so good for you! Top all of this off with a big splash of almond milk. I drink this every morning before breakfast so even if I have an unhealthy day I’ve had a load of vitamins in one go in the morning!”

Tips for the clean up!

  • Milton (used for cleaning babies bottles), in liquid or tablet form. Follow instructions on the label in terms of dosage and pop it in the bottle once you have finished with your juice.
  • Dishwasher tablet broken up, with boiling water and shake shake shake!
  • It is probably worthwhile investing in some bottle brushes, the ones you might use for a baby’s bottle.
  • A spatula is a good tool for scraping out the bits of fruit from the juicer after use. With the Le Duo, MagicMix juicer, they provide something very like a spatula for this (seen here), which makes all the difference.
  • Lastly, clean the juicer straight away otherwise it really is harder to get the dried fruit and veg out. In the Summer especially that would be a breeding ground for fruit flies, so stick it straight in the washbowl before sitting back to enjoy!

Thank you to all of my lovely friends who shared their recipes, I hope everyone enjoys trying them out.

Please feel free to comment below & tell us what you like?

Fancy A Drink?

I adore wine. Red or White and sometimes Rose (but did some damage with cheap bottles & sunshine as a teenager so it’s no longer my first choice!) I can’t say I have a favourite bottle at the moment but definitely have my ‘go to’ options. That is getting a little boring though and I am now at the point of wanting to move on from the norm.

My dad has great taste in wine, so I have always been around the good stuff. It wasn’t until recently that I wished to explore the different grape varieties and viticulture to get to know what I love, appreciate and dislike in some rare cases. I long to confidently recommend a bottle when at a restaurant with friends or pair the perfect glass when I am cooking a meal. I started the year planning a wine course and am currently looking into options for tastings around London as well doing my own research and I have come to realise that you can really learn a lot from simply stepping into a nice wine merchants and asking a few questions. Tell them what you are eating? What you like? What you don’t? If they are working there for the passion of it all then most likely they will be keen to offer advice and this will definitely help to get you off the usual suspects and try something new.

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In my local off licence just yesterday I picked up a nice bottle of Rioja and as I was talking to the very informative chap at the counter I spotted this book, ‘DRINK ME!’ by Matt Walls. It was immediately appealing, not only because of the recycled-look, cool cover and graphics or reasonable price but because Matt states in the first paragraph that it is “a guide for people who drink a bit and know a little but would like to know more.” – simply put, that’s me!

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I can already recommend grabbing a copy from a local book shop or on Amazon, especially if you are a newcomer to all of this and petrified at the thought of tucking into the heavier read that is the ‘Wine Encyclopeda’ which believe me, I have attempted.

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Matt's blog is also a good platform to start picking up helpful hints and recommendations without much effort involved on your part. He keeps it concise and leaves out the gumpf.

Hopefully this is the start of a wonderful (& potentially boozy!) journey and I look forward to sharing some of the treasures I find along the way.

Find out more about the book, the blog and the expert here-

http://www.mattwalls.co.uk
@mattwallswine

Get Me To The Farmers’ Market….

It is Sunday morning at 9:30am, there is 15 cm of snow on the ground and it is still falling thick. Not a person to be seen on the roads nor streets but waiting tenaciously under the tarpaulins at the top of Ascot High Street, is the Farmers’ Market.

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Ascot’s Farmers’ Market runs on the 3rd Sunday of every month all year round and the produce really is the best. It is part of the Thames Valley  Farmer’s Co-Operative, which you can find information about here -their motto to bring ‘local food, to local people’.

Slipping and sliding all the way there in my inappropriate footwear was worth it, because not only do you get to sample some of their delights (homemade fudge, sausage baps, goats cheese & chilli jam), you have to admire their love of excellent produce.

These days it is easy to forget where food comes from and at the Farmers’ Market food is produced for flavour and not to feed the masses. The prices are comparable with that of supermarkets but you really can taste the difference!

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With several dedicated butchers on hand to explain the heritage of the meat (pork, beef, chicken…) you come away feeling more knowledgable and satisfied. I had a brief discussion about pork chop with a farmer from Reading, who explained about the distribution of fat and demand for leaner cuts resulting in essentially flavourless meats. Personally I would much rather eat less meat with better flavour than a huge great chunk of meat which tastes of nothing, which is why seeking out these kind of market’s is worthwhile to me.

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Huddled together, with freezing fingers and toes is just part and parcel for the farmers, who rely on our custom for their livelihood. Some of them deliver of course if you can’t wait until the next month’s outing or make the most of it on the day and stock up your freezer.

Check out their website and find out when and where your local Farmers’ Market is. I promise you won’t be disappointed because this is what food should taste like…. and not a horse in sight, not even on the race course!

Thames Valley Farmers’ Market Co-operative assesses all producers before they’re accredited to trade at our markets. This means you can be sure you’re buying food and drink from the people who’ve grown, reared, baked and made it, all to the highest standards. All our markets are FARMA certified.