"Merry Making" Matcha Margaritas with Sesame Seared Tuna and Miso Dipping Sauce

Our last leg of our Christmas caper around the world stopping in Japan with Matcha Margaritas and Sesame Seared Tuna for some Eastern festive promise

Twas' the night before Christmas (well nearly) when all through the house, the kitchen was stirring ready to feed all those mouths!

Another Christmas is here, they do sneak up on me so. 2 days to go and the madness seems to always ramp up a gear: the last minute dash to John Lewis, the panic that the mince pies may run out despite there already being 36 in the cupboard, oh and those people that just want to 'pop round'. Inevitably the pop round (whether you want to see the 'popper rounders' or not) will last a lot longer than you anticipated. A cup of tea will turn into a second cup of tea and a mince pie, and then a third, and before you know it is cocktail o'clock. Ring the changes instead of opening a bottle of plonk or having YET ANOTHER glass of prosecco and have a go at this matcha masterpiece.

Matcha is a natural antioxidant so I do feel like a mega wrong'un mixing this with tequila. However, it may interest you to know that it lowers cholesterol and boosts metabolism which can only be a good thing at this time of year - amiright?! It also contain jalapeno which too, is meant to speed up metabolism. Guys, I'm basically giving you a cocktail with mega health benefits *coughs*. You are welcome. Full of pastry, butter, sugar and all the good things this can only be the tonic you are in need of.

Matcha has a very natural earthy taste which goes hand in hand with the wonderfully fresh taste of seared tuna. The miso dipping sauce is deep and rich and really brings this cocktail and canape partnership together -  like Rudolph and Father Christmas. 

Talking of partnerships - big shout out to Postcards Home for joining me on this little trio of blog posts. They have ensured that all these food pics look super luscious with their array of homewares and table decor. Featured this week is the Zen Onsen Cushion £45 which we have used as a table cloth.

So that's all from me this year my cherubs. Thank you for joining me in 2016. I wish you all the merriest of Christmases and lots of good fortune for the New Year. Now go and sit down, grab one of my cocktails and eat an entire brie. See you in 2017!!

"Merry Making" Matcha Margaritas

75 ml matcha green tea

50ml white tequila

Half a lime

2/3 slices jalepeno

Squeeze of honey

1/4 tsp matcha powder

Salt and lime slice to garnish

1) Muddle the lime and jalepeno in the bottom of a cocktail shaker.

2) Add the green tea, tequila and honey. Add ice, put the lid on the shaker and shake for about 20 secs.

3) Run the other lime half around the rim of a champagne saucer, turn the glass upside down in a saucer of salt  and cover so you have a salty rim...

4) Strain the cocktail into the salty glass and garnish with a slice of lime.

Sesame Seared Tuna with Miso Dipping Sauce

Make 10-15 skewers

15 mini bamboo skewers

1 large fresh and sustainably sourced tuna steak

3 tbsp white and black sesame seeds

Drizzle sesame oil

1 tbsp mirin

1 tbsp rice vinegar

1/2 tbsp miso paste

1) Cut the tuna into 2cm squared lengths - so it looks like a rectangular block/baton, so when you cut it up you have squares of tuna.

2) Make a mixture of the white and black sesame seeds on a plate.

3) Roll your tuna batons in the sesame seeds.

4) Heat the sesame oil in a frying pan so it is smoking hot. Fry the tuna on each of the 4 sides until the white sesame seeds begin to turn golden - about 1 minute on each side.

5) Remove the tuna from the pan and slice into half cm slices and spear onto the bamboo skewers.

6) To make the dipping sauce mix together the miso, mirin and rice vinegar in a bowl so all is combined. 

7) Serve the sauce in a little pot or ramekin with a few sesame seeds sprinkled on top. Serve with the tuna skewers and a truck load of matcha margaritas.

Miso and Sesame Seared Tuna Bites 5.jpg

"Warm Your Cockles" Whisky Chai Sour with Spicy Paneer Skewers and Mango Dipping Sauce

Off to India we go this week with chai and paneer on the menu as we explore week 2 of our travel inspired cockatil and canape recipe with Postcards Home

So I'm hoping your cheeks are still rosy from our visit to Morocco last week and you are ready for week 2 of our taste of Christmas from around the world with Postcards Home. 1 week nearer to Christmas and my search for wrapping paper that is £8 for two metres or so see through you can see the actual present through it continues. Any ideas send them my way!! Due to mammoth bathroom renovation (it's not mammoth but seems it as my patient and grafting husband is doing it all himself when he's not a work), there simply isn't the space for a Christmas tree, what with all the grout and hammers about. Our lovely hand made wreath will more than suffice. At least the days of flushing the loo with a bucket are behind us. Only hope I can find room for the obligatory wrapping and wine evening I have planned for myself. Bliss.

This year, I have bought all my presents from independent retailers, like the beautifully colourful and small but perfectly formed Postcards Home (all the beautiful homeware you see in these images can be bought from there). There is something that makes me all warm inside knowing that someone maybe in their garage or sitting room has received an email and glee has lit up on their face (hey, maybe they've done a little dance too) as they receive that order. They can craft, curate and creatively channel their energy into sending a bit of something they care deeply about to others. Taking pleasure in the things that really matter. This, my friends, is what life is all about.

So we leave the heady cardamon scented souks of Morocco with all the haggling hustle and bustle behind us, as this week we head to India for some cocktails and canapes. These are impressive yet doable and pack the flavour punch to wow the discerning Christmas party guest. India is a place very close to my heart (and we in fact went to visit Lucy from Postcards Home while we were there), so it feels only right that one of our Santa-like stop off should be here.

Chai means 'tea' in India and is as central to their culture as it has become in ours. On our travels to India last year, it was the first thing that was thrust into our hands as we entered hotels and guest houses. A bit different from a cup of the old builders this tea is served in much smaller cups. Made with a strong black tea base, such as Assam, it is blended lovingly with spices such as ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg and cloves and enough sugar to buzz you right through the day, Like how we serve tea though, it is completely down to individual taste and different homes serve different spice blends and amounts of sugar. The deep tones of chai complement bourbon super well which is why it makes a whiskey sour so very well indeed. Chai. Is. The. Taste. Of. Christmas.

"What goes well with chai?" I hear you cry - well paneer of course. Duh. Well spiced paneer to be exact.  Panner is a protein packed cheese that can be cooked and doesn't melt. Almost like a cross between tofu and feta, The tikka inspired dry spice and finish to these little flavour punching pokers goes wonderfully with the whisky sour and slathered in mango dipping sauce, there really is no such thing as three's a crowd.

"Warm Your Cockles" Whisky Chai Sour

50ml Jack Daniels

25ml lemon juice

75ml Chai syrup

1 egg white

Ice

Cinnamon stick and star anise to garnish. Don't eat these. They taste like wood.

For the Chai Syrup: 

200g granulated sugar

6 Chai teabags (these are readily available in the supermarket) or heaped teaspoons of loose Masala Chai.

240ml water

  • Bring the water to the boil and let the teabags or tea seep for 5 mins. Like a giant cup of tea. Remove the bags and stir the sugar until it dissolves. Keep in an air tight container

For the Paneer Skewers 

Makes about 20

For the marinade

300ml plain yogurt

4 cloves garlic

1 tsp chilli powder

1 tsp garam masala

Juice of 1 lemon

Glug of olive oil

2 tsp cumin

Thumb sized piece ginger grated

For the skewers:

2 packs paneer (600g) - you get this from the cheese section in the supermarket

Small cocktail sticks or bamboo skewers (soak in water for 15 mins before use)

2 red onions cut into 1cm cubed chunks

2 red peppers cut into 1cm cubed chunks

2 green peppers cut into 1 cm cubed chunks

  • Chop up the paneer to 1 cm cubed chunks. Mix all the marinade ingredients in a bowl and add the paneer. Cover in cling film and put in the fridge for half an hour.
  • Skewer up by threading the veg and panner alternatively on the skewers.
  • Heat a frying pan to a medium to high heat, once hot put a few skewers on at a time turning as each side begins to char. I did this with my fingers but do use tongs if the wooden skewers get too hot. Be carful!
  • Serve with the Mango Dipping Sauce below.

For the Mango Dipping Sauce:

250ml plain yogurt

3 tsp mango chutney

1 tsp cumin

A few pinches of cayenne pepper to taste

Squeeze lemmon juice

Fresh mango to garnish cut into small cubes. (I grant you a massive faff cutting one of these up for a garnish but the fruity fresh hit you get when you hook one on a paneer skewer is delicious.

Salt and pepper to season

  • Put all in ingredients in a bowl and mix together. Add the cayenne pepper last and to taste - it gets spicy quickly. Put in a small dish alongside the paneer skewers. Garnish with small mango cubes on top to serve

Embroidered Scarf (used as tablecloth) £34

Green and Silver Christmas Stocking £25

Enamel Orange Plate from £10.50

All available from Postcards Home

"Rosy Cheeks" Rose, Grapefruit & Gin Cocktail with Moroccan Spiced Nuts

Take the effort out of hosting this Christmas with our series of impressive yet doable cocktails and canapes in collaboration with Postcards Home.

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Phew - we have nearly made it to the end of 2016! It's been a bit of a mixed bag, wherever you are in the world, to say the least which is why as we wind down work-wise, crank up party-wise and prepare to spend some well earned time with friends and family we are going to do it at full speed. Take the brakes off, open up the fizz and grab those dancing shoes, this is the month about getting together with loved ones and sharing festive cheer.

To celebrate the December festivities we have teamed up with our friends over at Postcards Home to bring you a taste of Christmas from around the world. If you haven't got a clue what to buy your mum, bestie or brother in law for Christmas yet, look no further than Postcards Home.

Postcards Home is an online treasure chest of homeware and gifts born from a love of travel and design. Based in London town, they work with independent designers and social enterprises globally to bring completely unique and gorgeous things right to your door. And boy oh boy do they have some gifts that to be quite frank, you will want to snaffle for yourself instead of wrapping them and putting them under the tree for others - I'm looking at you Zen Onsen Cushion and you Prism Bead Necklace

Over the next 3 weeks we will be bringing you festive gift ideas along with three IMPRESSIVE YET DOABLE cocktail recipes and three canapé recipes inspired by our favourite places around the World; India, Japan and Morocco.

To kick things off - let's disappear to the brightly bustling souks of Morocco. Let the heady aromas of cinnamon, cumin and rose warmly waft over you, as I share a recipe for my Rosy Cheeks Cocktail and moorish Moroccan Spiced Nuts. You'll have to try VERY hard to keep your sticky mitts out of the bowl, as these are beyond scoffable.

Rosy Cheeks

Makes 1

50ml gin

25ml rose syrup (Make it or buy it)

Squeeze lemon juice

50ml pink grapefruit juice 

1 cardamon pod

Splash soda water

Dried rose petals for garnish

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Method

  1. Crush the cardamon pod a little in the bottle of your cocktail shaker
  2. Add all the ingredients to the shaker with ice and shake well.
  3. Serve in a tumbler over ice and garnish with dried rose petals

Moroccan Spiced Nuts

Makes a good bowlful

400g mixed unsalted nuts (blanched or light colour work best)

2 tbsp runny honey

2 tbsp light brown sugar

1 tsp salt

2 tsp cumin

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground coriander

½ tsp cayenne pepper

½ tsp smoked paprika

¼ tsp mixed spice

¼ tsp ground ginger

2 pinches black pepper

Method

  1. Heat oven to 150C and line a baking tin with greaseproof paper, pour over the nuts and toast for 10 mins, then pour into a mixing bowl.

  2. Meanwhile put a small pan over a low heat and mix together the honey and spices.

  3. Remove the nuts from the oven and pour into a separate bowl. Pour over the honey and spice mix and mix until coated. Leave to cool a little and then scatter over the sugar and salt.

  4. Enjoy with a Rosy Cheeks or 3.

They keep in an airtight container for a couple of weeks.

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Camel Cushion £40 and Enamel Mint Plate from £10.50 available from Postcards Home.

Salted Caramel Chocolate and Oreo Tart

If you can smash up a packet of biscuits with a rolling pin/bottle of gin/ cookbook and have a little patience, this is as impressive and doable as it gets.

Sometimes life calls for food that hits every single spot.  The sort of food I would align with back scratches, popping great hunks of bubble wrap or running your toes through grass in the summertime. The food that engulfs you in a feeling of satisfaction, better than any back scratch will. This is one of those foods. I'm often asked what is the best thing you have ever cooked, I think this may be it my friends. This tart WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE. I've baked pies, whipped mousses, stumbled with crumbles and aced ice cream, but this pudding is trumps the lot. This pudding hits every sweet craving and meal-rounding-off feeling you will ever have. I think its the combination of crunchy (by far my favourite texture) buttery biscuit base, with the smooth rich velvety salted caramel in the middle topped with dark bitter sweet choc that does it. Safe to say, I think this may be better than sex. RECIPE AND VLOG BELOW FOR YOUR VIEWING PLEASURE!

 

This pudding is too simply a joy to make, It involves bashing biscuits, melting, shit loads of cream and more bowl licking than your arteries will thank you for, but meh, everything in moderation eh?

Perfect for gatherings and soirees, it serves around 8-12 people (depending on greed levels) and also great for the 'I'll bring pudding' line which you inevitably over enthusiastically send in a text to help your host, regret, and then do a mad corner shop dash for Ben and Jerry's and chocolate buttons to sprinkle on top. You can transport this dirty beast of a pud in it's tin, quite safely, unless you eat it en route first. This genuinely happened to me once.

Ingredients:

2 packets Oreo biscuits

100g melted butter

300ml cream (180ml for the caramel and 120ml for the chocolate glaze)

100g butter

120ml water

200g icing sugar

150g 70% dark chocolate

1. Crush the packets of of Oreos in a freezer bag with a rolling pin. Add the melted butter, mix and then press into the tin. Put in the fridge for half an hour to set.

2. Meanwhile make the salted caramel (watch the video for extra good step by step guidance). Add the the cream and 100g butter to a small pan and melt gently. Once melted, set aside.

3. In a medium pan, pour in the icing sugar and water, stir on a medium heat until the sugar is dissolved and you can see a cloudy mixture. Stop stirring and turn the heat up high. It will now begin to boil. DO NOT be tempted to STIR. It crystalises the sugar. Watch the caramel like a hawk until it begins to change colour. This will be about 3 to 5 mins. Once it turns a deep orange ocre colour, remove from the heat and add the cream and butter mixture. Be careful as it is hot! Put back on the heat until you have a smooth caramel. Add the salt and stir.

4. Take the biscuit case out of the fridge and pour in the caramel. Put back in the fridge until the caramel is set.

5. Meanwhile melt the chocolate and 120ml cream together gently until you have a smooth chocolate glaze. Once the caramel has set remove from the fridge and smooth over the chocolate. The chocolate mixture should still be slightly warm, this will help it spread. Put back in the fridge until set.

6. Serve with salt flakes on top. Only do this just before serving as the salt will dissolve.

7. Don't eat the whole thing at once. Or do. You won't regret it.

Vlog: Shredded Sprout Salad with Walnuts, Bacon, Apple and Citrus Dressing

Super Doable

Have a sprout renaissance this January and help banish that Chrinch (Christmas Extra Inch).

Welcome to my first vlog post! Shooting this was entertaining in it’s own right. If you could see on the other side of the camera (which is my iPhone) you would see the dodgiest rigging that I’m sure is similar in all the ways Ridley Scott makes films…the camera is strapped to a spindly tripod perched on a picnic hamper and my boyfriend’s iPhone is lodged in the back of my tights connected to a mic that is somewhere clipped amongst the zebra print layers, to record my mutterings.

So this is all about sprouts. And before you cast sprouts out with the novelty USB hoover and One Direction body sprays left over from Christmas, think again. Sprouts make an awesome salad leaf when shredded. It’s like a cross between a really crunchy lettuce and kale. Combined with bacon, apples and walnuts and a tangy citrus vinaigrette, this has sprinklings of a Waldorf salad about it. Serve as a light starter or combine with some grilled chicken for a filling and positively Chrinch (Christmas Extra Inch) busting main.

Serves 6-8

20-30 Brussel sprouts

6-8 rashers smoked bacon

3 spring onions

2 handfuls nuts (I used walnuts, any will do - almonds, pine nuts, toasted seeds even)

2 small eating apples

1 orange

1 lemon

4-6 tbsp cider vinegar

4-6 tbsp olive oil

50g grated parmesan (you can buy it in a bag)

Salt and pepper

1) Shred your sprouts! Bung them in a  food processor with the slicing attachment or chop finely by hand.

2) Chop the bacon into smallish bits - not too small mind! Fry on a high heat.

3) Meanwhile make the dressing. Squeeze the lemon and orange into a bowl. Add the cider vinegar, then add the olive oil, whisking as you pour. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4) When the bacon is crispy, remove from the heat and set aside.

5) Chop the apple into small pieces. Roughly chop the walnuts.

6) Find a large bowl and tip in the shredded sprouts. Add the bacon, apple, walnuts, chopped spring onions and scatter over the Parmesan. Tip over the dressing and mix everything together until incorporated.

Christmas Jaffa Cakes

Oh good grief. What. A. Month.

I know that I am far from alone by saying that Christmas needs to bloody well hurry up and get here, pronto. A heady combination of excitement and  exhaustion has set in well and truly. The party invites are so very pleasant though. I was filled right up by jolly rambunctious Christmas spirit when, on Saturday night, an entire brass band came into the pub. 150 people entered into the most in choral football chant-esque version of The Twelve Days of Christmas I have ever heard. It was amazing and I felt jingle bells go all the way from my tippy toes through to my Father Christmas hatted head. The very crystallisation of Christmas then and there. The slightly chubby trumpet player made me grin from ear to ear and it was great to see such a collection being made for charity.

The parties are great but boy do I love sitting on the sofa at this time of year. Especially when the tree is up. Pine tree wafts, fairy lights and squashy cushions are an inviting combination that are, quite frankly, impossible to resist. Shove a glass of red in my hand or cup of tea and that's me set. Sealed to the sofa. Forever. What cup of tea (or glass or red wine for that matter) isn't complete without a biscuit? At this time of year the combination of cranberry, orange and chocolate is hard to beat. In a take on a classic British tea time staple, I give you my Christmas Jaffa Cakes. To be eaten in multiples of 3 whilst you seal yourself to the sofa with Home Alone on in the background writing your Christmas cards. Red wine or tea? I leave that choice to you.

An important note to add that inspiration for this recipe was taken from wonderful friend Sian, who made a smashing batch of regular homemade Jaffas last week at work and they were snaffled in an instant.

If you can't be arsed to faff around with making cranberry jelly yourself, do use a packet one instead and follow the instructions on that.

You can also freeze the base bits or the cake bits if you will for up to a couple of months. Defrost thoroughly before finishing with jelly and chocolate.

Makes 12

Ingredients:

2 eggs

50g plain flour, sieved

50g caster sugar

200ml cranberry juice (from a carton is fine)

2 gelatine leaves

200g dark chocolate

30g melted butter

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Handful of dried cranberries

Orange oil or extract (you can get this from the home baking section in the supermarket. Failing that the fine zest of half an orange)

Kit:

A shallow fairy cake tin.

An empty metal tea light holder

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C.

  2. For the jelly, put the gelatine leaves in water to soften. Place the cranberry juice in a pan with a teaspoon of sugar and warm and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat.

  3. Squeeze out the water from the gelatine laves and add to the pan, stir until dissolved. Pour the liquid into a dish so you have a flat and thin layer of jelly - about half a centimetre. Put in the fridge to set.

  4. Fill a pan with about 2-3 cm of boiling water and reduce the heat so it simmers. Put a heatproof bowl over the top and add the sugar and eggs. Whisk with an electric whisk for a few minutes until it is thick and creamy. You should have trails left by the beaters in the mixture.

  5. Remove from the heat and beat in the flour until thick and well combined.

  6. Melt the butter and brush in each of the holes in your tin. Put the tin in the fridge so the butter solidifies. It should only take a couple of minutes.

  7. Once hard, remove from the fridge and spoon the batter into each hole until each is half filled. Place in the oven for around 8-10 mins until golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin.

  8. Meanwhile melt the chocolate. Add a few drops of orange extract or the zest of half an orange along with half a teaspoon of cinnamon. Stir into the chocolate. I find it good to have a taste and add more orange/cinnamon as you see fit! Leave the chocolate to cool a little before spreading on the cakes as it will melt the jelly !

  9. Take the jelly out of the fridge and cut small rounds out with the upside down tealight holder. Sometimes it helps to put a little hole in the base of the holder so you don't get an air lock when you press out the jelly. Place a little round on each cake.

  10. Cover each cake in chocolate and put a few dried cranberries on each.

  11. Enjoy, stuck to the sofa with tea/wine.

Christmas Gift List

Stuck for gift ideas? This little lot are perfect for an impressive and doable christmas for you and any foodie fanatic friends you have.

It's nearly the end of November. The shops have started playing 'Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree' on a loop which is enough to make anyone turn on their heel, make a swift exit via a booze outlet and hide under the duvet with red wine teeth until this rather prolonged "festive period" has cracked through the New Year threshold and the fairy lights are tangled away in bubble wrap for another year.

After talking to people I've also realised that before it has even reached December, I am a gift giving failure. No, I didn't start my Christmas present buying in the January sales, nor have I been astute enough to think enough about my loved ones through the 30 degree summer heat as to what they may want to find wrapped under the Christmas tree.

However, I am far from lost now. I was asked to put my dream gift list together by Glimt which is just the most divine way to find and buy gifts for all sorts of people. Glimt are all about giving presents that you would want to receive yourself. Fully of sexy, stylish and bang on perfect presents, you will find it hard not to buy a whole sleigh-full for yourself. Handily categorised by person, colour, interest and occasion I can guarantee that you will find something for everyone -even the person you got in office Secret Santa who you have barely exchanged a word with as well as those nearest and dearest who you spend everyday with and still struggle to think of a gift for. Looking at you boyfriends and girlfriends the globe over.

For me this has to be one of the most indulgent and fun ways to spend an afternoon - putting together a list of things ideal to give your foodie friends and hosts with the most. Everything I have chosen follows my ethos of 'impressive yet doable' meaning that managing all things food related (and the bloat that inevitably accompanies it) over this festive period will be as easy and scoffing down your first mince pie. Even if it is before December.

Cream Tea Towels

There really will be no excuses not to help with the washing up after Christmas lunch with these gorgeous 50% linen 50% cotton tea towels

 

Joseph Joseph Nest Plus 9

Super useful and stackable for easy storage. So bright too. Perfect to jazz up any kitchen calamities!

Wiltshire Liberty Print Oven Gloves

If you have to have oven gloves slung over your shoulder whilst cooking up a storm, make them feature.

Nativity Christmas Biscuit Tin

Perfect for sharing with all the family with your feet up and a cup of tea.

LSA Champagne Saucers

Drink all those festive bubbles in traditional and elegant style.

Falcon Enamelware Bake Set

Save on washing up with these dishes, stylish enough to go straight from the oven to the table. Available in a lovely jolly and festive red too.

Blue Regal Peacock Earthenware Cake Plate

Perfect for serving any Christmas cake whether homemade or not!

Purple Tatum Cotton Pyjamas

Eaten too much? Everyone loves an elasticated waistband. Perfect for wearing on the sofa with your 9th Christmas film.

Orange Cinnamon And Spice Gin

When you don't have enough time to make cocktails for your guests, this is a nice little shortcut to creating a G&T with a festive twist.

Succulent Ceramic Planter

Lasts and lasts unlike fresh cut flowers for the whole of Christmas. Bold and easy to look after Impressive as a table centrepiece.

Wall Couture Clock

Timing is everything when cooking up a storm...

The Hungover Cookbook

When your head hurts too much to even think what to cobble together from the fridge, let this book be your guide.

Kenwood kMix Triblade Hand Blender

Like the magic wand of the kitchen, you can whisk eggs, make sauces and chop all sorts with this invaluable time saving kitchen gadget.

Notre Monde Slice Tray

Serving the bubbles with ease and style on this spacious and elegant tray.

L'Atelier du Vin Classic Corkscrew

Super effortless bottle opening. Quick to crack open an bottle with this baby.



Spicy Pumpkin Soup with Cheesy Toasts

Soups are simple, doable and tasty. This can be made with butternut squash too. Be really fancy pants and serve in tiny little pumpkins. If not, bowls are just as good. 

Never one to be completely on time with anything, I'm afraid to say I missed on the goulish, penny-sweet-laden and pumpkin-ish Halloween bandwagon last week. The bandwagon steamed right past without me noticing. No sexy witch/ cat/ pumpkin outfit for me panic bought on Amazon or arising with an agonising punch hangover and black face paint over those once white bed sheets. One thing I am pleased to say I am still on time with are pumpkins and butternut squashes.

Autumn brings a bounty of fleshy, earthy and filling root veg which not only taste great, they last aaaaages in the cupboard or fridge. Which is another reason I figure it's finer than fine to share this recipe with you this week. Pumpkins and squashes are EVERYWHERE, and nice and cheap because of that. Pumpkins and squashes are very similar, both with a soft, nutty and buttery taste. The squash is ever so slightly sweeter and smoother, in case you were wondering the difference.

They make excellent soup because they have such a comfort factor to them and are robust so can carry a good hit of spice. I'm actually not that big a fan of spicy food. But it's somehow needed in this soup. I was also up against a pumpkin/ squash hater at the dining table. Insanity I know. My dad declared that he hated pumpkin. Based on the solid foundation that he thought 'it may taste like marrow'....! Ever rising to the challenge to convert a food hater, I wanted to convince him otherwise with this soup. It worked. So get down to the green grocer, try not to trip over the root veg, I tell you it will be everywhere and make a soup everyone will like. Well in time for Halloween 2016.

Note: You can get these little pumpkins at this time of year - mine were from Lidl of all places.  They are a bit tricky to actually eat - looking better as a table decoration or serving vessel as I have done. So what I did is use one separate large pumpkin to make the soup and just carved the little ones out for serving.

This soup lasts up to 3 days in the fridge or can be frozen and lasts up to 3 months.

Approx 1.75 kg butternut squash or pumpkin

2 garlic cloves crushed or finely chopped

1 onion sliced

5 medium sized carrots chopped roughly

2 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

Olive oil

1 tbsp butter

800ml chicken or veg stock

Salt and pepper

Creme fraiche for serving

For the cheesy toasts - (quantity really depends on how greedy you are!).  Bread for toasting and a couple of handfuls of grated cheese. I used parmesan and a mature cheddar. Stilton would be nice too.

1. Peel and chop the pumpkin/ squash into approx 2cm cubes (rough chopping is fine!)

2) Heat a good glug of olive oil in a large heavy bottom pan and add the garlic and onion. Cook until soft on a medium/ low heat.

3) Add the butter and wait until melted.Add in the coriander and chilli flakes and stir. Cook for 5 minutes.

4) Add the carrots and chopped squash and stir until coated in the oil and spice mix. Add the stock, bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and cover.

5) Cook until the veg is soft. You test this by poking in a knife to the veg, if it feels soft or falls apart it is done.

6) Put the mixture in a liquidiser or liquidise with a hand blender until smooth.

7) If serving in tiny pumpkins, you can serve with round cheesy toasts. First toast the bread, then cut into rounds - just stamp the rounds out with an upside down mug. Cover in cheese and grill. If not, just make regular cheese on toast.

7) Serve the soup in the hollowed out tiny pumpkins with the rounds on  top or serve in bowls with chunky cheesy toasts on the side and a dollop of creme fraiche.

Winter Aperol Spritz

Aperol Spritz is really as simple as 1,2,3 (1 part soda, 2 parts Aperol & 3 parts prosecco. To make it even more impressive and ready for the chillier times, I have given it my winter twist.

I have an unhealthy love for red wine and coffee. I am certain I'll be buried with a French press in one hand and a bottle of Claret in the other. There really wasn't any more room in my life for another beverage devotion. Until I met Aperol. Things then changed. I now have to deal with a drinks related love triangle in my life.

 

I was lucky enough to be invited to an Aperol Masterclass last week at The Cocktail Trading Company in Soho, London. I must admit that I thought I was pretty damn good at making an Aperol Spritz. It's not hard. Really. 1,2,3 (1 part soda, 2 parts Aperol & 3 parts prosecco). Don't be put off by the bright orange, it is delicious. A lovely bittersweet flavour with a nice warming hit. And as you can see from the recipe below, not just for the balmy summertime.

However, our mixologist was incredible. I really hadn't given mixologists in the past enough credit. They are like behind the bar chefs. He taught us all about taste, how our brains work when drinking and tasting and secret flavour combinations which barmen keep up their sleeves to tackle even the most discerning of taste buds.

Aperol was created in 1919 as Campari's mellow little brother. Lower in alcohol (11%) the orange flavour is not nearly as harsh. Combining Aperol with prosecco is like a little bit of boozy alchemy. The sweet and sour aromatic compounds of the Aperol mix with the sweet carbonation of the prosecco to create a citrusy, light and refreshing drink.

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Refreshing for summer and also perfect for winter. The orange lends itself to being the perfect bedfellow for all those warming winter spices - nutmeg, cinnamon, star anise and clove. As we move into winter my drinks love triangle, just got pimped. 

Sadly I had to leave the masterclass early, but went home and created this little recipe below. Zesty, warm and the most stunning rosy colour, this cocktail slips down rather too easily...!

Winter Aperol Spritz or "Rosy Cheeks"

winteraperolspritz.jpg

Makes 2

200ml port

1 cinnamon stick

1 star anise

4 cloves

3 tblsp sugar

A thumb size piece of orange peel

Slices of orange to serve

A bottle of prosecco

Ice

2 large wine glasses

1) Put the port, spices, sugar and orange peel into a pan and bring to the boil.

2) Reduce the heat so the liquid is simmering. Reduce until you have a thick porty syrup. Remove from the heat to cool. To cool quickly, put the pan in a sink of cold water.

3) The serve: Fill a large wine glass with ice to the top. Add 50 ml of the port syrup to the glass. Then add 50ml Aperol. Top the glass up with approx 100ml prosecco (or just do it by eye) and stir. Top up with ice if needed.

You can make a batch of the port syrup, it will last up to 6 months if kept in an air tight bottle.

If you wanted to just make a delicious and regular Aperol Spritz click here to watch a rather entertaining way of doing it!

winteraperolspritz.jpg
winteraperolspritz.jpg

The Italian Blog : Part Two

After rolling out hangovers pounding in the midday heat from James and Robyn's wedding we rolled onto the next meal - a lovely little place called Ristorante da Cesare just north of Maratea with a tiled floor that I wanted to lift straight off the floor and into my pokey bathroom in Hackney. Any drive around this quiet piece of coastline is sublime - rugged, quiet and with views to die for. It is all overlooked by a rather foreboding statue of Jesus, which our charmingly hairy and stout hotel manager informs us is only just shy height wise of the one in Rio de Janerio.

Although the floor tiles were a massive selling point, as was the fact that the restaurant was full to the rafters with locals enjoying their Sunday lunch in the shade too.  The chef at Cesare has bloody nailed it. The simplicity of thought and presentation really let the ingredients sing, much like a bloated Pavarotti. The wonderful 100% polyester Damask tablecloths, wafted straight in from 1983, just added to the charm. The swordfish ravioli was made with slightly thicker pasta than expected but gave it a strength to hold the tasty puree inside. The squid ink linguine looked stunning and was silky, rich but quite frankly I had concerns for what it would do to my insides…

The boys laid off the booze, Charlotte and I took one for the team and consumed a whole bottle of vino della casa and giggled all the way to the double espressos. Oh the espressos. Rich, full of sweet almost burnt flavours with a thick and silky crema that had just the right consistency you needed to like your lips after each sip.

Full to the rafters with squid ink, we headed back to the Maratea marina to a charming little gelato shop where we dabbled in flavours such as fig and ricotta, Straticella and pear. The chilly, creamy ice cream was finally the only thing that shut me up and stopped my wine induced giggle fit.

After lunch, we waved a sad goodbye to Will and Charlotte as they headed back home and drove north to Albanella for a few days in a villa. I’ve visited this villa before on a gloriously relaxing family holiday. Right in the heart of mozzarella country there are buffalo everywhere and each mozzarella farm comes with its own farm shop selling La Perla d’Italia. Brits usually blister this mozarella on pizzas shoved in a fan oven. This stuff is so far removed from the rubbery, pallid balls you get in supermarkets. This stuff tastes. Mild creamy and milky.  Like with most Italian food, best served simple. There was a fig tree bursting with the ripe end of season fruit which we gathered (well Gareth gathered) from the top of a creaky ladder and we served the mozzarella ripped gently with prosciutto, figs and a good glug of local olive oil.

We were joined by our friends Oscar and Rae at the villa for bottles of prosecco, some damn fine pizza in Paestum, japes on the beach and of course a tonne of Pasta al Pomodoro cooked by me. Try and find me a finer way to end a lovely Italian holiday – lunch on the patio with friends, views and a bloody massive homemade garlic bread. Bliss.

Impressive with what you can do with a packet of pasta and so doable it will take all of 20 mins

Inspired by the Pasta al Pomodoro at Ristorante Cesare, this dish is speedy, speedy, speedy and isn’t heavy as there is no cheese or cream (sad for some I know). There are 5 ingredients. Trust me even after a bottle of vino della casa you can plonk this together.

Serves 4 to 6

1 500g packet spaghetti or linguine

250g small or cherry tomatoes chopped in half

Large bunch of basil

2 cloves of crushed garlic

Olive oil

A 500g jar of passata/ tomato sauce

Salt and pepper

1)     Put a frying pan on a medium heat add a glug of olive oil cook the garlic until soft.

2)     Meanwhile bring a pan of salted water to the boil and add the spaghetti or linguine. Cook to packet instructions.

3)     Add the tomatoes to the garlic and cook for 5 mins or until soft.

4)     Chop the basil roughly.

5)     Drain the pasta when cooked and add back to the pan (not on the heat) and add the passata to heat through.

6)     Add the tomato and garlic to the pasta and stir through with the basil.

7)     Serve in bowls. Drizzle with olive oil before serving.


The Italian Blog : Part One

The excitement that normally surrounds a wedding in the UK is pretty full on.  Dresses, seating plans, what clanger will great Aunt Mildred wear on her head. And of course, the question on everyone’s lips, ‘Will it rain?’

In Italy, all but the last question applies. And for me, there are a lot more questions about food. Especially knowing in the true Italian way, there will be four courses, rather than three at any dinner, with the Italian penchant for shoving in a pasta course between starter and main. Because yes, that is needed.

My dear friend James, married the love of his life, Robyn, a couple of weeks ago in the stunning Italian coastal town of Maratea in Italy (a piece of coastline famously loved by old Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra and couldn’t have made our rather shitty hire car look any less like Michael Caine’s Lamborghini from the Italian Job). I used to sit next to James at work and I remember the Monday morning, after the Saturday night house party, that he met Robyn 5 years ago. Keen was an understatement. It was an honour to see these pint size stunners get married in such a heavenly spot, surrounded by old friends and a lot of pasta. The 33 degree heat, also allowed us to cling onto the last days of summer longer than my drizzled upon, London based pals. The food naturally was out of this world, with olive oil in abundance and the freshest most delicate seafood on every table.

In true Italian style, the wedding was a generously hosted celebration of a few days with more Aperol Spritzs and Negronis than you can shake an Italian hand gesture at. In the last year both of these have been part of a 1970s cocktail hour resurgence, with Shoreditch barmen, mixing them with too much ice and a lot of bushy beard. Oh boy in Italy, it is a different story. I’ve never seen someone’s gag reflex kick into action quite so quickly on a Negroni (equal parts Campari, sweet vermouth and gin). And on the Aperol Spritz front (2 parts Aperol, 3 parts Prosecco, 1 part soda) or simply ‘Spritz’ if we are being frightfully Italian about it, the soda water apparently, simply is redundant. In short, these bitter orange drinks pack the most pleasing Ferrari accelerated punch. And they always serve them with a barrage of salty snacks. For free – ciao bella!

As with all holidays, especially Italian holidays, one simply seems to roll from one feed to the next. Put a wedding into the occasion and you can see how I can arrived home nearly a stone heavier. The wedding breakfast was a stunner. We were sat outside at sunset with cool wine, and inviting looking swimming pool doomed for drunken skinny dipping later in the evening and an onslaught of Italian fayre.

Top of the dishes was ‘Patate alla lionese’, a crispier, porkier and olive oilier version of the traditionally French Lyonnaise potatoes which blew my little sunburnt head off they were so good. So I thought I would recreate it at home, and for you lot. This is really simple and is a perfect side dish for grilled meats or fishes. I served it alone with a crispy green salad and it was sublime.

Patate alla lionese

Serves 6 - 8:

800g new or Charlotte potatoes

1 red onion sliced

200g vine tomatoes

75g Proscuitto (rip each piece into 2/3 bits)

Olive oil

Salt and Pepper

1)   Bring a pan of water to the boil and season with a good pinch of salt.

2)   Add the potatoes and boil for 15 mins. Test with a knife, they should still be firm when you put the knife through but not crispy. Drain in a colander.

3)   Meanwhile bring a frying pan with a tablespoon of oil up to a medium heat and fry the proscuitto. Fry until just cooked and crinkly – this will only be about 2 minutes.

4)   Remove from the pan and set aside. Add more oil to the pan and add the onions. Fry until soft. Slice each tomato in half and then into slices, remove the wet seeds. Add to the onions and cook for 3-4 mins. Remove and set aside with the proscuitto

5)   Slice each of the potatoes up – the slices should be about half a cm thick.

6)   Add more oil (!) to the pan and heat until bubbling and lay down the slices. Cook for about 5 mins on each side. They should be golden brown and crispy. You may need to cook in batches, depending how big your pan is.

7)   When all potatoes are crispy and cooked, add the onion, tomatoes and prosciutto and stir through until warm. Season with salt and pepper.

8)   Serve with a salad. Mmmm crispy.

Kale and Roasted Carrot Salad with Feta, Pomegranate and Tahini Dressing.

Serves 4-6

I have, for all my sins recently joined the gym. A last ditch attempt to shed the old love handles before our wedding.  However, this goes against all my beliefs, genetic make up and personal strengths – both physical and mental. I am the sort of person, that when I get home at midnight after a wine and pudding laden dinner out with the girls and my boyfriend has taught himself to make home made chips in the new deep fat fryer (purchased for tempura and scotch egg making only you understand), and I am mid teeth clean, that I stop that, to eat said chips. With homemade ketchup made the week before.

The gym plays tricks on me you see. I am being very diligent and have sweated until I can’t see during Body Attack and spun until my legs turn to jelly. Last week I went to the torture chamber 4 times. I have surprised myself no end.

Naturally however, this gym business increases my appetite and I feel after the 8th plank my overly tight and perky aerobics instructor has made me do, I do deserve a reward. Now, as much as I would love to dive head first into a baguette of fresh, warm, buttery garlic bread, I MUST TRY TO RESIST. I MUST, I MUST.

I know I should be drinking something green and masticating on a dry chicken breast. As a compromise, I eat this salad. Full of greenery for vitamins and protein from the feta and tahini to feed my tired muscles, it fills me up after the gym and is really really tasty.  It is also really pretty, with the little jewels of pomegranate trickled over. So much so that both times I have eaten it, I have successfully avoided midnight chips and garlic bread. Well, for this week, at least.

Ingredients:

Half a Pomegranate

200g Kale

6 Carrots cuts into quarters lengthways - so you have 4 long pencils

200g Feta Cheese

4 Beetroot (golden or the purple ones) cut into quarters

1 Clove of Garlic

Juice of half a Lemon

3 tbsp Tahini

2 tbsp Pomegranate molasses or 1 tbsp honey

Large handful of roughly chopped flat leaf Parsley

Large handful of roughly chopped Mint

Pinch Salt & Pepper

Method:

1) Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Arrange the carrots on a baking tray, cover with a glug of olive oil and roast for 30 mins. The edges should have a slight tinge to them. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

2) Meanwhile blanche or steam the kale for 2 minutes until soft but still green. If you prefer you can leave the kale raw for this recipe. Then run immediately under cold running water in a colander until cold to stop it cooking. Squeeze out the water.

3) For the dressing, crush the garlic into a bowl. Add the lemon juice, tahini and pomegranate molasses or honey and mix well. Season to taste. If it is a bit thick, add water so you can drizzle it over.

4) The Construction (either split out onto individual plates or use a biiiig serving plate): 

  • Kale on the bottom
  • Followed by the beetroot
  • Lay on the carrots lengthways
  • Sprinkle over the mint and parsley
  • Spoon on the dressing
  • Crumble the feta over the top
  • Sprinkle over the pomegranate seeds

5) Enjoy. After the gym. Obviously.