Thursday, 28 November 2013

Cold Days and Hot Chocolate

The other day I was very lucky to have a day off that matched up with an old friend, so we  both hopped on a train and caught up.

The first couple of hours of our day together was spent at the Pig Idea Feast in my last post, but it seemed far too early to call it a day after that so we went for a wander. We walked across the river to the Southbank, probably my favourite place to be in London. It feels like a second home.

Although it's not even December we thought that it would be rude not to browse around the Christmas Market. I managed to stop myself buying anything except a mug of delicious raspberry hot chocolate. Who knew that a squirt of raspberry flavoured syrup could make hot chocolate taste so good?!

We got peckish again after a wander and went to my favourite place to hide with a drink on the Southbank. Benugo Bar and Kitchen at the BFI. Strangely none of my friends had ever been there before I took them, I think because the entrance is on the side of the building a lot of people just walk past. More fool them. The bar is filled with an eclectic mix of cosy sofas and they do some nice nibbles.

We had salt & pepper squid which was tasty and not a bit chewy, sweetcorn pakoras that I adored and eventually chilli sausage rolls which only suffered from me being too full to enjoy them as I'd eaten all the rest before they arrived.

We caught up on what we've both been up to, how work and studying is and our plans for Christmas, although it doesn't seem fair that I'm working and he's going to see family in Brazil. We also had a lovely long wander down memory lane recounting our stories of big family meals and how wonderful it is that sitting down for food brings everyone together. It made me so nostalgic for those days and so hopeful that in the future I'll spend many more meal times surrounded by friends and family.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The Pig Idea Feast

As luck would have it, I was off work on the 21st of November, the day of the Pig Idea Feast in Trafalgar Square.

For those of you who haven't heard of the Pig Idea, it is basically a lot of common sense. They are campaigning to change the rules about feeding catering waste to pigs. This is not only a cheaper option but also very environmentally friendly as we'll be growing less grain to feed pigs and saving the rain forests from being cut down to grow all of this pig food.

If you want to know more go to their website here

A bunch of celebrity chefs and yummy restaurants clubbed together, fed some pigs on catering waste, cooked lots of yummy things and gave them away to the public. On top of that they had lots of cooking demonstrations to fill my head with delicious porky things that I can't cook at home because my husband is a vegetarian. 

It seems the brains behind the idea are Tristan Stewart, a campaigner for reducing reducing food waste and Thomasina Miers, Masterchef winner and founder of the delicious Wahaca.

Bearing that in mind we decided to start at the Wahaca stand where we whizzed through the queue in minutes and were presented with pork pibil tacos. As a massive Wahaca fan I am very familiar with these tasty, juicy treats. In a most unladylike way, with the wind whipping my hair around, I scooped up my taco and tucked in, getting delicious porky taco juice all down my face. If I could have licked my own face afterwards I would. I love the savoury-tangyness added by the pickled red onion on top and the blast of freshness from the big handful of coriander. It was tough not to just get back in that queue for another...

In the interests of trying new things (and having a big appetite), I jumped into another queue. I had 3 queues to choose from and being impatient chose the shortest queue. This was a great idea.

The first thing I was treated to was a Brazillian pulled pork slider from Cabana. Oh my goodness. It was the best slider of my life. The spicy barbecue sauce that they used had so much more depth than the cloying barbecue sauce used by so many people and the little cheesy fluffy bun was perfect. I'll definitely be trying out one of their restaurants in the not too distant future.

Further down the queue was Pizza East, manning their impressive looking wood fired ovens in the background. They treated us to a lovely roast pork belly pizza. It was exactly how I like my pizzas. Thin crusted, slightly charred around the edges, lots of topping but not too much cheese. The crackling on top was mind-blowing too. Thanks to the wind I ended up with it slapping me in the face, but I didn't mind. It was another moment where I wished for a long enough tongue to reach my chin and not waste a bit of the pizza goodness.

Unfortunately after that the food ran out, and I was so looking forward to trying a pork cassoulet and braised pork cheeks with mash. I guess my waistline is grateful that I didn't. 

I think it's important to remember that although it is very easy to be side tracked by thinking that this event was an awesome opportunity for tasty free food, it is also advertising a very sensible campaign which I really think more people should sign up to. 

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Patty & Bun - Central London

This weekend I was popping into London to catch up with a few uni friends. I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I was in dire need of a Christmas jumper to wear at work on Christmas day and a couple of pairs of PJs.

A trip to Primark was inevitable.

Shopping (especially battling through the crowds of Primark on Oxford St) is hungry work. I had to make sure hubby and I had something filling for lunch. I've recently been working my way through all the trendy, and tasty. new burger places in London, so it seemed like a good time to continue.

We ducked into St Christopher's Place, hidden by the side of Selfridges and strolled over to Patty and Bun. There was a small queue outside, but after about 15-20 minutes we were shown inside.

Patty and Bun is a small room, intentionally sparsely decorated with cute little drawings of spatulas and such like on cardboard boxes mounted on the walls. It's cosy inside, but even though we were sharing a table with another couple it didn't feel too cramped.

The menu is pretty simple. A choice of burgers (including lamb and chicken), chicken wings, salad and fries.

I went for a Smokey Robinson burger, which was a deliciously juicy and meaty medium-rare beef patty with crisp smokey bacon, cheese, (the most delicious) caramelised onions, tomato, lettuce, ketchup and smokey mayo on a brioche bun. The bun didn't fall apart and collected all of the meat juices, but the caramelised onions were the heroes of the burger. Obviously not rushed they were beautifully sweet and yet savoury. I've never had such good onions in a burger.

Hubby went for the portobello mushroom burger. As a vegetarian he usually begrudgingly orders the veggie option and puts up with it. This burger was so good that he inhaled it before I could take a picture and said he wanted to come back for another. I think the really special thing about it was the tarragon mayonnaise and garlic butter. This was paired with a side of rosemary salt fries, I only got a chance to try one, but again hubby said they were pretty amazing.

The reason I didn't eat the fries was the real highlight of lunch. The chicken wings. To paraphrase a well known advert these were not just any chicken wings, they were confit chicken wings with BBQ sauce. They came with a rich, tangy BBQ sauce topped with fresh crunchy spring onions. The skin was deliciously crispy, while the flesh was tasty and succulent. I could have eaten a million of these. In fact I'd happily go back to have just chicken wings.

Usually I'd get grumpy having to queue outside for food, and grumpier at having a slightly wobbly chair to balance on, but even with that this was clearly the tastiest lunch I've had in a long time, and by far the best burger and chicken wings that I have had in my life. What was even more special was seeing my, usually ambivalent about food, husband relishing his delicious lunch and wanting to go back for more.

We'll definitely be back.


Thursday, 14 November 2013

Apple Pie Cake

I have yet to meet someone who doesn't like apples, or apple-based desserts. My personal favourite is a rich, buttery apple tarte tatin, but usually if I have to take a dessert to a friend's house I'll make a tasty apple pie. It's quick, easy and always delicious.

Hubby was given a big bag of windfall apples from someone at work. Unfortunately I was so busy with work that I left them a couple of days and had to think of something quick to do with them before my carrier bag of apples turned into a carrier bag of cider.

I have really fond memories of "helping" my Mum in the kitchen when I was younger by eating the apple peel as she cooked apple pies. Another lovely memory I have is of all the moist, delicious apple cakes I ate at my Grandparents' house in the summer. My grandparents had a big apricot tree and two fig trees so the neighbours would help themselves to those and in turn leave these delicious cakes on the doorstep to be eaten after tea.

I guess when I saw these apples I wanted to recreate some happy memories, and not being able to choose I came across a recipe which seemed to combine the two.

Based on a Mary Berry recipe, this produces a delicious moist cake full of tangy, gooey apple. The long cooking time at a low heat means that while the middle stays moist the outside becomes like a pie crust. The best of both worlds.

I think this is best served warm on its own, with ice cream or drizzled with custard. It does pretty well being popped in the microwave to heat up a couple of days after baking.

What I Used...
3-4 cooking apples (about 250g after coring and peeling)
225g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
225g vanilla sugar
150g melted butter
2 large eggs
Lemon juice (optional)

How I Did It...

1. Heat a fan assisted oven to 140 degrees C.

2. Butter and flour a small baking tin (this was 20cm). I've never had to line a baking tin, this always works perfectly for me.

3. Peel, core and thickly slice apples. If you're going to leave them for a while mix some lemon juice in to stop them browning.

4. Mix the flour, baking powder, sugar, eggs and melted butter together. You'll get quite a thick batter.

5. Put 3/4 of the mixture in the bottom of the tin.

6. Pile on the apples, thicker in the middle of the cake. It seems like a lot of apples but trust the recipe.

7. Spread the last of the batter over the apples. It should just about cover them. If it doesn't reach the edges don't panic... it will sort itself out in the oven.

8. Bake for 1hr 30 - 1hr 45, or until a skewer poked in the middle comes out clean.

Mary Berry uses almond essence and flaked almonds which sounds lovely, but I think this would also be nice with cinnamon, or sprinkled with brown sugar before baking.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Liar Liar Pants on Fire

Last night I found out that my husband has been lying to me for over a year.

He can cook.

Really, really well.

Since I've met him he's claimed that cooking isn't his strong point. He's admitted that he can just about follow a recipe, but that's it.

Last night the truth came out.

He made a pumpkin and sage risotto. It was the best risotto I have ever eaten. Not only was it delicious but it was also perfectly seasoned and cooked to the perfect al-dente texture.

He claims that all of this was luck. I don't believe that luck could produce something so scrummy. I'd have happily paid for this in a restaurant and gone back again and again.

I am such a lucky girl to come home from work to such a fabulous dinner.

If you want to have a go at making this, hubby followed this Hugh-Fearnley Whittingstall recipe. The only real difference was that we had already roasted our pumpkin so just added it a few minutes before the end.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Bedroom Dreams

Following on from yesterday I've been day-dreaming about the bedroom I'd most love to be having night-dreams in...

I love twinkly fairy lights wrapped around headboards, There's something about the soft light they give that makes everything feel so much more romantic. Like having lots of little candles lit, but with a much smaller chance of setting the whole place on fire. As well as having normal fairy lights I've been thinking about having some more unusual ones dotted around. These Moroccan style lights from would be lovely around a dressing table.

Recently I've been falling in love with big, thick, cabled knitted blankets. I keep telling myself that I'm going to knit one for myself but I simply can't find a wool that I love enough. Until I find the perfect wool I'll keep cuddling them in shops. I've also seen some adorable knitted cushion covers, which once I get around to knitting a blanket, I'll be knitting to finish the look.

I've also become a bit fed up with having a mix-match of bedroom furniture. We bought cheap pine chests of drawers which I stained a light grey colour myself, I think they're wonderful. The finishing touch that they still need are some pretty ceramic knobs. I'm hoping to replace our battered bedside table with something similar.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Spare Room Sort Out

Last night we had our first overnight guests since we've started living together around a year ago. Before we moved into our last flat Andrew emptied a storage unit he had, so we had a spare room full of loads of boxes of unsorted bits and bobs.

With the nature of how doctor's jobs change Andrew had years of finishing work late on a Tuesday evening in one part of the country and having to move overnight to start his new job on the Wednesday. This means just throwing things into boxes with the aim of sorting them out in the future, but never really getting around to it.

Over the last year I'd say that he's sorted out and disposed of over half of all of the random stuff. There were over 2 large moving boxes of bits to be shredded and boxes upon boxes of free mugs and stationary from conferences and drug companies. Our last flat move in August was a big kick up the bottom to get rid of loads of stuff.

Living near a major airport we've really had to get our acts together and get our spare room sorted, as lots of people want to come and stay the night before a holiday. By sorted I mean at least dig out room for a bed.

We got our bed from Ikea. I was really impressed because the mattresses come all rolled up, so we could fit a double bed and a double mattress in our VW Golf. Unfortunately we didn't remember that Ikea beds are slightly different sizes to normal beds, so we have a bit of an issue with fitted sheets. It's one of their cheaper frames, but I adore it's swirly, romantic headboard. Perfect for twirling fairy lights around.

It's still full of boxes and needs a little sorting out, but it's so nice to have a spare bed and finally be able to let people stay over.

Because of (yet another) unexpected change to my future jobs, we'll be moving again in another 6 months. I'm hoping that will give us the perfect opportunity to have a little clear out of some more stuff and finally get things properly organised.

Once we've moved again I want to start replacing our mismatched, cheap and falling apart furniture with some bits that look nicer together. I keep trawling around second hand furniture shops falling in love with vintage pieces but daren't buy anything nice when so many things get damaged while moving. For now I'll have to satisfy my longing for pretty interiors with Pinterest. *Sighs*

If any one has any tips of anywhere other than my beloved Ikea to find cheap but pretty furniture and interiors bits and bobs I'd love some tips.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Burger & Lobster - Soho

What meal invokes more of a feeling of celebration than a big plate of lobster? I can't think of anything. In fact it's probably such of a celebratory dish in my mind because I also associate it with being so expensive that I could only possibly order it on the most special of occasions.

Not anymore. 

Burger & Lobster is now a small chain of restaurants that have blown the preconception that lobster has to be expensive out of the water.

Expensive or not lobster is still a treat, and as hubby has never had it before I decided to treat him to lobster on his birthday. I'd been here once before with a university friend and was just as impressed this time. 

The Soho restaurant is huge with a big bar stretched along one wall and a massive multi-story lobster tank. The whole place feels very informal with simple wooden tables and no fancy crockery/cutlery/tablecloth set up. There's no need for a menu as there is a choice of 3 things. Burger, lobster or lobster roll, all identically priced at £20. For those with a massive appetite there are always some monster lobsters priced individually on the board. There is however a great little menu of cocktails, matched to go with each of the choices. 

As far as I'm concerned they may as well have called the place Lobster & Lobster, because I'm simply never going to choose anything else. Hubby and I both ordered grilled lobster. 

The lobster comes with crisp skinny fries, a generous side salad and a gravy boat filled with deliciously naughty garlic butter. The lobster itself already has it's claws cracked so all that I needed to do was snap where the cracks were and use my little pointy stick to get the lobster out. 

Last time I went I was given a plastic bib, and I don't know if it's because I looked tidier this time or perhaps they forgot, but I wasn't given a bib this time. This led to much dabbing of garlic butter and lobster splatters on my dress. Next time I think I'll ask, as I definitely saw other people wearing them.

They might have desserts, but both times I've been here I've been far too full to even think about eating anything else. Next time I go I'll keep a look out.

I'll definitely be back for a third time, and I might even stray from my usual habits and have the lobster roll that I've heard so many good things about.


Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Birthday Day Out

Last week, for hubby's birthday, we decided we'd have a big day out in London. We're less than an hour away and yet we hardly ever go.

To be honest it started as a bit of a disaster. We decided that it would be a lovely idea to go to the Natural History Museum. We like the dinosaurs. Unfortunately we both completely forgot that it was half term. The queues to get in were insane! We scrapped that idea, and similarly the Science museum and ended up having a day of pigging out and wandering around.

A birthday lunch has to be special and what's more special than lobster? We pootled off to Burger Lobster (which deserves it's own post later this week) and stuffed ourselves silly.

After that we had a wander around Covent Garden, peeked in the Apple store and had a nosey in the Royal Opera House. Hubby has never been before, so I'll have to try and find some not-to-expensive tickets for something there.

We made the most of the lack of rain and took a stroll along the river to Blackfriars bridge, crossed over and walked back towards the Southbank Centre. We stopped for a lemonade in the cosy bar of the BFI while we decided what to do next.

After quickly consulting google we found lots of recommendations for hot chocolate at Cafe Vergnano. Never one to miss the opportunity for a nice hot choccie we decided to see if the hype was true. It is. The hot chocolate was so thick and rich it felt as if we were drinking melted chocolate. I'm glad I went for a small one I'd probably have passed out from chocolate overload!

While having my hot chocolate I (kind of) accidentally ended up eavesdropping on a man who looked just like Barney from How I Met Your Mother chatting up a pretty girl. It was cringe-worthy and hysterical at the same time. I think he actually thought he was Barney. I'm not sure if telling girls about all the other women who want to sleep with you actually works as a chat up line, but he sure thought it did.

We wandered a bit more and ended up in the ever-interesting little shop in the Southbank centre that's full of gifty bits. This time of year they have already filled half the store with adorable (and expensive) Christmas decorations. I fell in love with little baubles which looked like balls of yarn (which I'm going to try to make) and a little mountable stag's head covered in multicoloured wool. The most exciting thing in the whole shop was a tongue in cheek children's book called "H is for Hummus"... an alphabet book for the modern (middle class!) parent and child. I'll be remembering that as a gift for some of my friends.

As if we hadn't eaten enough over the day we decided to make the most of being near all kinds of yummy food that we can't get easily at home and stopped for some dim sum before getting the train home. I almost had to roll off the train and down the road to home afterwards... I was so stuffed.

After a bit of a disastrous start, it was a very lovely day.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Busy Me

I have had a really busy weekend of nightshifts, and now I'm reaping the rewards. I have 3 days off in a row... Hurrah!

The thing I love about working funny hours is the time I get off when everyone else is at work. It's got the potential to be such a productive time. While everyone else is working I can go to the doctor, the bank or walk around the shops without being squished in a crowd.

I'll be perfectly honest. I'm not always that productive.

My first day post nights was spent curled up in bed with the kitten imagining that I was an eskimo huddled under a pile of furs. I was too lazy to even cook dinner and we ended up having curry. Today was a little more productive. The in-laws are staying on Wednesday night before going to the airport so I needed to give the flat a really good clean. I haven't done as much as I'd like, but I've given the bathroom a really deep clean, done a huge pile of washing up and put on two loads of clothes washing. Tomorrow I can properly tackle the lounge, kitchen and make the new spare bed. I probably need to dig the bed out of all the boxes in the spare room too. Oh, and hide the Christmas presents elsewhere, it would be a bit of a surprise-ruiner if they found those in bags next to the bed.

I've also spent ages cooking a delicious homemade dinner to make up for last night. We're having one of my wintery favourites... stuffed savoy cabbage in a rich tomato sauce. It's been twice as much work as I had to make a vegetarian filling for the hubby. I created one with quorn, rice, spices, butter and stock. It's pretty delicious and might actually be nearly as good as my meaty filling.

I really should finish tidying but instead I'm going to curl up on the sofa with a cup of jasmine green tea, some revision and Taylor Swift playing in the background. I promise I'm actually revising and not just looking at the cute baby on the book cover!

Friday, 1 November 2013

Step by Step - November

All my life I have been teased for my love of lists. In fact as I've got older not only has the teasing got worse, but somehow it means that people think I'm organised and I get roped into doing lots and lots of organisational bits and bobs for people.

I know I'm really guilty of getting bogged down in lots of little bits that I've said I'll do for other people and don't always think about doing things for me, so from this month I'm going to do what I've seen lots of other bloggers do and set myself some goals to achieve. Little steps each month to more happiness and organisation for me.

1. Read a textbook. 

Okay I know that this doesn't seem like much fun, but I spend so much time doing stuff for other people I forget to do the basics. I'm a massive geek and I ordered myself a new textbook last week. I've been saying that I want to brush up on my neonatology for a while, so that's what I'm going to do.

2. Write Christmas cards.

I always get to halfway through December when I'm insanely busy at work and remember that I've forgotten to write the Christmas cards I bought. I have stacks of them and this year I'm going to get prepared earlier.

3. Take a walk.

Once I'm outside in the cold fresh air I love having a walk, and it always makes me feel so much better, but I always find too much stuff to do indoors. This month I need to take some outside time.

4. Use my proper camera.

Since I got an iPhone I've almost totally stopped using my real camera. It's not a fancy DSLR, but I used to love taking pictures on it. This month I'm going to take it out more.

5. Take a bath.

Before you jump to conclusions I shower every day! There's nothing nicer when it's cold out to have a relaxing soak in a hot bath. I want to do this with no phone, no emails, no reading work stuff, just listening to music.

6. Technology free day. 

I'm going to spend 1 day this month with no iPad, no laptop and no smartphone. That means no thinking about work emails, no ignoring hubby for reading blogs (oops) and no stressing myself out by accidentally landing on the Daily Fail website.