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Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Food: Cinnabon recipe - Perfect Cinnamon Buns

I'm on the quest to make perfect cinnamon buns. The last recipe I made is great, but since trying a Cinnabon, the last time I was at Piccadilly Circus,  I'm determined to make my homemade ones more like them. There are two types of cinnamon bun - one originates in North Europe and is without icing, the second, more indulgent version, is American and is complete with cream cheese icing. Unfortunately, for my waistline, I prefer the American version.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Life: Brick Lane Food Market

Martin and I went to Brick Lane yesterday. We'd seen London Coffee Festival being advertised and we were keen to go. Unfortunately everyone else in London seemed to have had the same idea, and being far more organised than the two of us, had already pre-bought their tickets. We decided that we didn't want to spend the whole of our Sunday queuing on the off chance that they might release some more tickets, so we went for a wander around Brick Lane instead.

Brick Lane is such an interesting and exciting place to visit. It's full of some of the best curry houses in London, and you can watch delcious bagels being made in front of your eyes. For once we bypassed the bagels in search of our lunch in the huge food market. There was so much on offer it was impossible to choose!

I started with a refreshing and creamy coconut Pina Colada.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Food: Jerk Chicken Recipe

jerk chicken
I couldn't resist quickly adding this post as the weather's been so nice lately. It's a recipe for very spicy jerk chicken which makes a great alternative to sausages and burgers on the BBQ. It's just as easy to cook in the oven though. For a really authentic flavour, you'll need to use scotch bonnet chillies. But be warned; they're incredibly spicy. Just remove the seeds or use fewer chilies if you prefer less spice.

Serves 4
8 chicken thighs or legs (bone in)
1 bunch of spring onions (or 1 white onion), chopped
2 tsp ground all spice
1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped finely
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 scotch bonnet chillies
1 thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
Juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper

1. It's much easier to make the marinade if you have a food processor - simply whizz the ingredients together. Otherwise, you'll just need to chop the ingredients up very finely and then combine them in a bowl. Check the flavour - add a little more sugar if it's too sharp.
2. Slash the chicken deeply in a couple of places with a knife. Place the chicken into a sandwich bag, add the marinade. Allow to marinade for a minimum of 2 hours and a maximum of overnight.
2. Cook slowly over indirect heat on your BBQ for 30-40 minutes, until tender and blackened.  Otherwise, preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Place the chicken on a wire rack on an oven tray and cook for 1 hour, turning over the chicken half way. It's nice for the chicken to be a nice dark brown colour when you remove it as it'll taste more caramelised.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Cookbook Review: The World Food Cafe

The World Food Cafe Cookbook
I love cookbooks. Buying me a new cookbook is a failsafe birthday present. I read them like novels; from cover to cover. Inevitably, however, I only ever end up make 3-5 recipes from each book and then I remember them as old favourites and return to them again and again. I always seem to forget that all the other recipes exist. It's probably because I've got distracted by another cookbook. Do you find that the same thing happens to you? For any specific recipe or method I need (e.g. how to make homemade buttermilk), I'll just search for it on BBC Good Food rather than check out my encyclopaedic recipe books. Bad I know, but it's just so much quicker.

The World Food Cafe cookbook finally arrived from Amazon. It cost £9.59 (link) and, reassuringly, it's very highly rated. It's really the diary of a married couple's travels around much of the world. They don't attempt to comprehensively list all the recipes from a particular region - they merely give their particular favourites. The book itself is complemented by Chris Caldicott's beautiful photography of particular areas e.g. local tribes men in Africa. If I had to have one negative, it would be that I would prefer more photos of the dishes themselves. Most of the recipes are unfamiliar to me and I would appreciate a photo of the end dish so I know what I'm aiming for.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Beauty: Coconut Oil

As part of my healthy eating plan, I decided to buy a bottle of coconut oil. To be honest, before I read about it on the keepinghealthygettingstylish blog, I didn't even know that this product existed. Having looked in the oil section of the supermarket, I couldn't spot coconut oil anywhere. Instead, I spotted a bottle in the cosmetics aisle. I was a little dubious about eating it because of its location. But having researched it fully online, I see that it is perfectly safe to consume. However, the first problem I am faced with is how on earth I get it out of its bottle?! Coconut oil is solid at room temperature. I've only managed to get it out of the neck of the bottle by using the end of a spoon. What will I do when I reach the end of the bottle? Am I going to have to soak the bottle in hot water every time I want to use it?

After all the faff with accessing the stuff, I want to know what all the fuss is about. The Internet is full of hugely detailed scientific explantations, but I'm going to list the uses which actually mean something to me.

- high smoke point - it is essential that you use an oil with a high smoke point for frying otherwise your pan with emit horrible smoky fumes. Coconut oil is perfect for stir fries and makes a much healthier, dairy free alternative to butter.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Food: Dinner Party

We were having two of our good friends over for dinner, Andy and Fi, over the weekend. This meant that I had to slightly relax the ultra healthy food that I've been cooking up recently. I'm sure they would have appreciated it all the same, but dinner parties are supposed to be relatively decadent. As the weather has been so lovely the last couple of days, finally, I wanted to make a more summery dish. I was initially going to make roast chicken but I decided to use the chicken instead to make Martin's favourite dish, chicken and saffron rice. I'd cooked up a large quinoa salad at lunch time, so I added some of that as a side and also a quick carrot and orange salad that I had rustled up. 

For dessert I scanned BBC Good Food for some ideas. BBC Good Food is one of the best food websites around. The number of user reviews means that you're pretty much guaranteed that the recipe will work, it's is been highly rated. I decided to make a reduced fat lemon tart. I'm usually not keen on reduced fat desserts because you can tell that they're the diet version due to lack of flavour or an unusual texture compared with the full fat version. However, because this particular recipe had 38 five star reviews, I thought I'd give it a go, and, with just over 180 calories per portion, how can you go wrong?

I had a bit of a disaster initially, as I stupidly didn't measure the size of my tin, so I didn't make enough pastry. I tried, in vain, to roll it out between two pieces of cling film to make it thinner. But no, the pastry wasn't having any of it and I ended up making a second, larger batch. This time it worked perfectly. However, on blind baking, I sampled a little excess pastry and realised I'd forgotten to add icing sugar. Doh. I was not happy! Having already made a previous attempt, I gave up at this point and just carried on with recipe. Luckily I'd made my pastry nice and thin, and the highly lemony filling more than disguised this error. The end result was a beautifully crisp pastry tart with a soft, moreish, oh so lemony, filling.

Chicken and Saffron Rice

It's hard to describe what this dish is like as it involves such an unusual combination of flavours such as paprika, golden syrup, saffron, tomato ketchup, risotto rice and chicken. But honestly, please take my word for it that it's delicious and give it a go! It's effectively a chicken and rice bake. 

chicken and saffron rice

Friday, 19 April 2013

Food: granola bars

Further to the success of my fruit nuggets, I thought I'd have a go at making some more portable energy foods. I decided upon granola bars. I love granola. It's full of oats, fruit and honey. I usually eat shop bought granola with yoghurt and a little honey as a tasty breakfast alternative.

The granola bars below are great for breakfast on the go, and for providing a long term energy fix during the day. Ok, they're not super healthy owing to the inclusion of butter and sugar. However, the granola bars' butter and sugar content compares very favourably with most other cakes/biscuits. Plus you have the added benefit of slow burn oats and healthy dried fruits. The dried fruits add a natural sweetness to the bars so less sugar is needed.

The recipe below makes deliciously chewy granola bars. Feel free to use any combination of dried fruits, nuts and seeds - the end result will be absolutely delicious, I promise! The recipe below is just a guide so you use the correct quantities.

Granola bars

granola bars
Serves 14

200g porridge oats
100g butter
100g dried figs/dates/apricots
50g sesame seeds
50g chopped almonds
50ml runny honey
100g pumpkin or sunflower seeds
100g light brown sugar

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Food: Initial thoughts on new food changes plus fruit nuggets recipe

It's been an interesting few days giving up refined sugars and processed carbs. It started with our big weekly food shop. On an average week, our trolley starts out healthy enough - a reasonable mix of fruit, vegetables and chicken. Then all my good intentions fail when I inevitably add a mixture of the following to trolley: Kit Kats, shortbread, any Cadbury's chocolate, bagels, Ben and Jerry's etc etc etc. Martin is much better than me. He never craves these high sugar foods, he'll eat them if they're around but he won't be pushing for their inclusion in our trolley.

Our latest food shop
Firstly, I'd like to say that it has been much easier than I anticipated. I thought I'd be craving sugary food but I've realised that as long as I make an effort to make/eat tasty alternatives, then I really don't feel like I'm missing out. It's no wonder people fall off the bandwagon when they only have lettuce to look forward to for dinner. However, if you create a delicious quinoa salad (quick and easy to do), then not only are you rewarded with a tasty meal but you also feel very full. So far I've made homemade quinoa, granola bars, chili con carne and fruit nuggets. With such tasty food, this food change can hardly be called a diet!

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

First Quinoa Recipe

I've been carrying out a lot of research into quinoa. This grain is a complete unknown to me. I've only ever had it in some preprepared MandS salads. Firstly, I wanted to find out if it lived up to all the hype.
Today, the term 'superfood' is constantly thrown about and I've always been quite reluctant to get on board. Many superfoods are over priced and I'm still doubtful as to whether they convey much higher health benefits than their less expensive alternatives. The goji berry is the perfect example. I stumbled across this small pink, oblong berry in a mix of other dried berries. After taking a handful of berries I was surprised by the over riding bitterness and endeavoured to sample each berry individually to work out which one was causing it. It was the goji berry. I've now made a mental note to never eat goji berries again.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Food: New Food Changes

I'm off to Egypt in a couple of weeks. Martin's parents are kindly taking us with them, together with his newly married brother Chris and his wife, Rachel. In addition to lots of sun (finally!), it also means the dreaded bikini. Depending on how I'm feeling this thought can either make me feel ok or completely panicked. Although my recent gym going has led to increased tone, I feel like the effect it's having has plateaued. I was talking to Amisah who works at my local gym and he said that I need to make changes to my diet to see further improvements. My aim isn't to lose weight, it's to just get a bit healthier. Especially as I'm not someone who can just cut whole food groups out, because I end up craving them more than ever. The thought of Atkins, Dukan, Weight Watchers etc fills me with dread. I also love eating out, so I'm not about to start a diet which really restricts where I can go.

Most of my meals are relatively low in fat, but the problem I have is the number of carbs and snacks I eat. I will quite happily eat spaghetti bolognese and eat all the spaghetti and none of the sauce. Martin thinks I'm mad. I'll also finish my dinner and then five minutes later I'll be rooting around for the next thing to eat. I'm terrible with obvious things like chocolate and biscuits, but it's also more bizarre things like endless bowls of cereal (as many as 10 bowls in a day). I don't intend to cut out 'bad things' altogether. It's more that I'll be choosing more carefully what unhealthy things I put into my body. This means eating fewer Percy Pigs and Haribo and more homecooked carrot cake and flapjacks which is great as I love any excuse to bake.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to firstly try to reduce my carbohydrate intake and secondly, the carbs that I do eat, will hopefully be of the wholegrain variety. This means wholemeal pitta bread, sweet potatoes, quinoa (I've just learned how to pronounce it properly - it's keen-wah), and brown rice. Unfortunately my local supermarket is thwarting my efforts slightly. I have so far tried and failed to hunt down quinoa, edamame beans and agave syrup. I also intend to up my protein intake. I tried cottage cheese for the first time yesterday, which was happily surprisingly yummy (like lumpy yoghurt). I think I have been put off it previously due its name and links to diet. I'm not sure if I'll venture into protein powder; they sound quite alarming. I will, however, be on the hunt for naturally protein-rich foods. This means lots of pulses and beans. I'm hoping that these new foods will open up my mind to a new way of cooking too. I recently ate at the most amazing vegetarian cafe (a review to follow shortly), and the kind lady there recommended me the World Food Cafe cookbook which she uses for inspiration for all her recipes. I'm just waiting for it to arrive from Amazon. I can't wait!

What sorts of foods do you recommend? Have you got any particular favourite healthy recipes?

World Food Cafe Cookbook

Monday, 15 April 2013

Music: Favourite playlist - 15th April

I love listening to music and creating playlists to suit my every mood. I've been feeling very relaxed lately and so wanted to make a chilled out playlist. I'm listening to a lot of Daughter (they've recently brought out their first album, If You Leave), Foals and Sbtrkt.

1. Radioactive - Imagine Dragons
2. Full circle - Half Moon Run
3. Fade - Vocal - Jackwob
4. My number - Foals
5. Landfill - Daughter
6. Nests - Keaton Henson
7. Set Fire to the Third bar - Snow Patrol
8. Hold on (feat. Sampha) - Sbtrkt
9. Winter - Daughter
10. Late night - Foals
11. Bottled up Tight - Luke Sital-Singh
12. Attracting Flies - AlunaGeorge
13. Spanish Sahara - Foals
14. Shiver - Lucy Rose
15. Form - Polica

For slightly more upbeat stuff, try Metronomy (The English Riviera) and Caribou (Swim).

Caribou - Swim
Metronomy - French Riviera 


Life: Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle
It was my birthday last Thursday and my boyfriend and I took a mini break to Edinburgh. I'm always on the look out for a bargain and love making my money go as far as possible. We were therefore very happy when my friend Sharenja told me a about a website called Airbnb (link). Airbnb has quickly become my favourite website followed closely by Trip Advisor and, (a very guilty pleasure), mail online.

For those who haven't discovered it yet, I implore you to check it out. It's basically a huge network where people display their properties or spare rooms from all round the world and you pay to stay there for as long as you like. You just need to state what dates, how many people and whether you want the whole house or just a bed room. The great thing about Airbnb is that the value for money is exceptional. Our stay was cheaper than the local Premier Inn and in a much better location. Plus you have the added benefit of use of the entire place. The reviews previous people leave (detailing their experience of the place/host) mean that you have no worries before you turn up. The properties are also star rated in terms of cleanliness, location etc.

After lots of surfing I selected Calim's place (link). It has a perfect location (on the Royal Mile) literally 10 minutes walk from all of Edinburgh's notable sites. But what really stood out for me, was the incredible decor. You must check out the pics. I think Calim should set up his own interior design place. It was such an eclectic mix of old and new. One thing to note is the bed room. Calim's flat doesn't actually have one - rather it's a 'bed box'. I personally loved it. It brought back memories of my childhood dens. I have real insomnia when staying in places which aren't my home. However, I managed a good eight hours sleep in the 'bed box'. Calim was an exceptionally generous host. He left us milk, fresh bread, conserves, orange juice, tea and coffee. He was also very accommodating in that he allowed us to store our luggage at his on the last day so we didn't have to drag it around with us all day. Calim also has great taste in music, check out Matthew Halsall's latest album (Fletcher Moss Park) for very chilled out, back ground music.

Matthew Halsall - Fletcher Moss Park



Sitting Room

Beautiful Parkay Flooring

Bed Box

We were keen to make the most of our two and half day stay. We went on a ghost tour, which I needed a lot of persuasion to go on. I don't believe in ghosts, but I do get quite easily freaked out about things, so I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to sleep if I saw anything too creepy. Luckily it wasn't too scary. It was fascinating hearing all about the different torture methods that were once used. The picture below shows some of them. Can you guess what they're used for?

Torture Instruments

We also went on a coach tour (another guilty pleasure). We visited Loch Lomond and had a loch boat cruise. Unfortunately, the weather was dreadful and it was hard to see anything!

A cold, misty and wet Loch Lomond

This is me unimpressed by the weather. Martin delights in taking unattractive pics of me.

The more I go on city breaks, the more I realise they're not for me. I really enjoy initially wandering around and eating lots (!), but after that I'm dying to do something a bit more exploratory. As such, we climbed Arthur's seat, a magnificent escarpment, just on the edge of Edinburgh.

Arthur's Seat

On the tour we were also supposed to do a tour of Doune Castle (where Monty Python was filmed), but I've visited lots of castles (I'm from Kenilworth and have visited Kenilworth and Warwick castle lots of times), so we went to explore instead. I'm so glad we did. We found a beautiful, bubbling river and spent a happy half hour skimming stones.

Doune Castle

In terms of food and drink, which of course I must mention, we hugely enjoyed cocktails at Bon Vivant, coffee at the Brew Lab, scottish shortbread and fudge. We ate dinner at the Witchery which was unfortunately more style over substance. It has incredible candle lit, medieval surroundings, but my main was awful. It was pumpkin pie and sweet potato chips which in reality consisted of filo pastry filled with hard squares of pumpkin and equally hard sweet potato chips. We enjoyed dinner the following night at Hotel Missoni much more. I ate a delicious ricotta and taleggio ravioli followed by an incredible poached pear, honey comb ice cream and amaretto jelly dessert. 

Poached Pear Dessert

So there concludes a hugely enjoyable stay. Only slightly marred by the disastrous attempt to get home. We took the train up (4 and a half hours journey time) and had decided to treat ourselves to a flight home. However, said flight was more than 4 hours delayed and we ended up getting home at 4am! Wish we'd just got the train. 

Monday, 8 April 2013

Restaurant Review: The Marylebone Hotel, London

afternoon tea at the marylebone hotel 

My friend Lucy and I fancied a treat, so after trawling website after website for opinions on the best afternoon tea in London we picked The Marylebone Hotel. We were also keen to try it as they had a special offer on of two teas for £25 as opposed to their usual price of £25 per head.
The afternoon tea was great in that it felt like a really special occasion. We were shown to a huge sofa with a coffee table laid out ready for afternoon tea. You would never think that we were on a 2 for £25 offer. The staff were extremely attentive and keen to assist, although prone to forgetting to bring us extra jam or water when we asked for it! However, I really enjoyed the explanation of the tea options. I also loved the fact that we could order as many different types of tea as we wanted. I was very grateful that they changed my sandwiches to suit my dietary needs of no fish and mustard at short notice. 

The sandwiches themselves were tasty if a little dry around the corners. The scones unfortunately were bizarre. They looked beautifully golden but were underdone (somehow!) in the middle - very doughy indeed. Lovely jam and clotted cream accompaniments, though. There was a nice selection of cakes. I sometimes find that afternoon tea can be pretty restrictive and boring. However, we were offered bakewell tart, operetta and a passion fruit panacotta. The portion sizes were large so we ended up taking any uneaten food home. My boyfriend hugely appreciated that! It's hard to summarise The Marylebone. In terms of value for money and feeling special, however, it was perfect.

If you're keen to try out this offer, you can find it here. The offer runs until the 30th June. I really do recommend it. The experience itself was fabulous.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Food: Spanish Omelette

I had so many potatoes left over from dinner a few nights ago and was going to make a bubble and squeak type thing. But then I realised that I didn't have any cabbage or spring onions. Very unhelpful. On examining our very empty fridge (the locusts had visited over Easter), I realised that the only useable food item in there was eggs. Then it came to me....Spanish omelette. I'm seriously pleased with this recipe. It's super tasty while hot, even tastier when served cold and makes a great picnic dish (as it's easily sliced up and transported).

Serves 4

6 large eggs
500g potatoes, cooked (either boiled, or like ours were, roasted)
1 onion, finely chopped
100ml olive oil
Plenty of salt and pepper

1. Begin by sauteeing the onions in the olive oil on a low heat for 15 minutes. You don't want the onions to colour at all.
2. Slice the potatoes into approximately 0.5cm thick pieces and add to the oil and onions.
3. Continue to cook gently for another 10 minutes.

4. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and season generously with salt and pepper. Add the hot potatoes and onions to the eggs.

5. Place an omelette pan on the heat with a little oil and pour the eggy mixture into it. Cook for a couple of minutes until golden brown, then place the pan under the grill to cook the other half.
6. Allow your omelette to cool slightly before slicing into large slices.