Life update!

Uh oh. Naughty blogger alert. It’s been a very long time since I last blogged…an awkwardly long time, in fact. Can I just say in my defence though, a lot has happened in these last 18 months! Most importantly…

I got married!!

Actual married. In Walt Disney World, like we always dreamed, with 30 of our amazing friends and family. It was absolutely incredible and I will be doing a post shortly about the wedding itself as we’ve got all our professional photos back now, and if I’m honest I look for opportunities to share them wherever and whenever I can.

Here’s a sneak peek…

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Another thing that happened was losing 2 stone and reaching my Slimming World target!

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It took a year and a half but I hit target August 2016 and felt incredible on my wedding day in October. Yay!

I then ate all the food during our 3 week Orlando/Bahamas honeymoon food-filled bonaza, carried on during the run up to Christmas, over Christmas, and let’s be honest, after Christmas. So I have put some back on, but it’s totes manageable and I’m getting back into the SW mindset now after a few months being a lot more leniant. Which actually felt so good and enjoyable after being so strict for so long!

So I thought to ease myself back into blogging, I’d delve back into the archives and share some more of the Slimming World meals I eat regularly. Thanks to my keen Instagram usage I’ve got many a dinner documented, so it’s just a case of remembering what it actually was. I’m also going to share some of the awesome food we ate during our Christmas 2015 trip to Orlando where we planned our wedding, and during the wedding trip itself. While it’s not Slimming World (Obviously! Can you imagine, ‘Let me just work out the syns in this table-sized platter of 30 garlic shrimp, loaded mashed potato skins and butter drenched green beans.’) it was all delicious and needs to be shared. It’s all about balance anyway – I lost weight so I could look amazing on my wedding day and eat what I wanted on my honeymoon, but I couldn’t eat like that all the time as I think I’d possibly maybe die. Or at least weigh 70 stone.

Here we go, then!

First up is this delicious tomato and basil pasta. Quorn sausages are hidden underneath, and I topped it with my HEXA cheese, chopped basil and 1 syn of balsamic glaze. Easy, simple, delicious.

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Curry fakeaway night! I used the Slimming World spicy tikka sauce from Iceland but it was quite thin and watery so I added some passata to thicken it up, and then a Muller light coconut yoghurt to make it more korma-esque. It was really nice after that! I used tinned mock duck and chickpeas as the protein, teamed with double carbs and a medley of speedy spinach and courgette. So good!

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A classic SW breakfast! I believe this was created as a result of feeling slightly hungover one Saturday morning…oops.

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SW arancini with roasted cauliflower, salad and spicy tomato sauce. I make the arancini using leftover Slimming World risotto, but it would work with just leftover rice too. I shape the cold, leftover rice into balls, add a cube of reduced fat cheddar or mozarella into the centre, and then shape the ball of rice around it. I then dip them in beaten egg, and again in breadcrumbs (2 slices of wholemeal bread blitzed up makes enough for 2 people’s worth of arancini – around 8 balls if you’re doing them this size) and bake them on a tray in the oven with a bit of fry light. They go all crispy on the outside and the cheese melts and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable experience!

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This was butternut squash and bacon carbonara. The recipe is roughly the SW carbonara with quark and eggs, but I added roasted butternut squash which not only adds a lovely sweet flavour, but also bulks out the meal and ensures you’re getting that 1/3rd speed. Basically roast cubed bnut squash for about half an hour until it’s soft and getting browned, then stir it in with the sauce (quark, eggs, garlic, bacon, seasoning) and add it all to the pasta. So good. I need to make this again!

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This was a breakfast/brunch recipe that I discovered last summer and basically made every weekend for about 6 months. It’s based on one of Joe Wicks’ Lean in 15 recipes – sweet potato cakes with spinach, sausace (or bacon) and a soft poached egg. I love it because it’s super easy and if you’re mega organised you can make 10 at once and freeze them, but I’m not so I didn’t. But one day I will. You just peel and cube 2 sweet pots, microwave them for 8 minutes, add chopped onion, garlic and seasoning, and shape them into patties. Dry fry them for 5 minutes or so until browned, wilt the spinach and add the chopped sausage or bacon (this can cook while you’re microwaving the sweet potato) and then poach your egg! So simple and so good – a great way of avoiding using your HEXB in the morning which is something I really struggle with as I live for toast/cereal/porridge/anything that requires a HEXB.

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A typical work lunch for me! The big tub is couscous with veggies in, smoked mackerel in tomato sauce, and boiled eggs. I obviously add water to the oats once at work cause ain’t nobody got time for dry oats, and I keep a tub of Nutella in my drawer to add that all important chocolate hit to my porridge.

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I went through a Cocoa Shreddies phase for a while and it was really good. This was a desk breakfast (deskfast?) with yoghurt, fruit and choc shot.

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Until the next time! x

 

 

 

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My 26th Birthday (or, Why I Have The Best Boyfriend In The World, Ever)

Okay so, I know I’ve been painfully slack on the blogging front recently. I’m not going to sit here and make excuses, I’d only be lying to myself *sob*

But, actually I do have a really good reason. You see folks, in just under TWO WEEKS, myself and the boy are off on our 2nd Once In A Lifetime trip to Florida, for three WHOLE weeks!!! That is a long time. And do you know what was an even longer time? The time that elapsed from when we made the actual booking waaaaay back in May 2012 (you may remember a blog post from around this time describing said booking) to this very moment. It was like 528 days. But now it’s really, really close, REALLY close actually, and to be perfectly honest I’m struggling to get excited for posting about food when there are park hours to be checked, itineraries to finalise and Halloween costumes to complete. Oh yes, we’ll be there for Halloween 😀 We’re attending Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party on actual All Hallows Eve which is pretty exciting and whats even more exciting, is the fact that we’re dressing up as Ariel and Eric to commemorate the occasion. Don’t worry, everyone dresses up at the party, we won’t be the only weirdo’s. We’ll actually be tiny fish in a vast sea of weirdo’s, yay!!

Anyway. So all my time has been taken up in planning and getting ridiculously excited for our holiday 🙂 But here I am with an extra special post, possibly the most important post Polka Dot Kitchen has ever or will ever see, all thanks to my very lovely boy Ben.

A few weeks ago with my 26th birthday looming, Benj started teasing me. He kept saying he was getting all these exciting emails and he was getting sooooo excited but oh no, what a shame, he couldn’t share them with me. This went on and on for 2 very long weeks and then he stopped mentioning it. Aaaaand relax!

So it was my birthday yesterday and I was absolutely spoiled rotten by all my lovely friends and family 🙂

First of all, my adorable parents absolutely blew it out of the water with this super cute personalised phone case:

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My whole life, summed up on the back of a phone. Slightly depressing but scarily accurate.

My best friend and Florida holiday planning partner in crime Victoria outdid herself with this trio of awesome gifts; all for my upcoming holiday 🙂 So cute. Carousel of Progress absolutely is the best attraction in all of Walt Disney World, I can’t wait to go on it whilst wearing my shirt!!

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I also got a plethora of dollars from my amazing work colleagues, grandparents and brother 🙂 My spending money is looking pretty healthy now, lots of Haunted Mansion merchandise and Dole Whips on my horizon!

And then it was time for Benji’s gifts. First, I was treated to a looovely gift pack of Yankee Candles, my absolute faves 🙂 Such a pretty burner!

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Next up was a pretty mind-blowing leopard print knife. We had his ‘n’ hers blue and pink knives but my pink one unfortunately got thrown out at some point and I’ve been using theblue one ever since. So happy to have my own!!

Then came this beauty. My very own pasta maker!! As an unashamed Italian food obsessive, I’ve wanted a pasta maker for a very long time now. I can’t wait to make egg yolk ravioli, spinach and ricotta tortellini, five cheese ravioli with browned butter and fried sage….ooooh the possibilities are endless! Such a good gift!! Also shown are aforementioned Yankee Candles and, ooh, a random bottle of wine! Gotta be done!

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But, this was not my main present. After the excitement of the pasta maker and my excited speech about all the different kinds of filled pasta I’m going to make (not unlike the above sentence) Ben produced six pink envelopes and handed them to me, saying, ‘these might be something to do with the emails.’ Exciting times indeed.

With baited breath, I opened the first envelope (they were numbered 1-6). The card read, To Libby, from Cynthia. A small postcard sized piece of paper fell out, which Ben quickly grabbed out of my hand. I looked at him quizzically.

“Do you know who Cynthia is?”

“Ummm, no I don’t think so…”

But as he handed the postcard back to me and I saw what was written at the bottom, I knew who Cynthia was! OF COURSE I KNOW WHO CYNTHIA IS!!

TFP, aka The Food Pornographer, probably the first food blog I ever read and certainly the one I have been reading the longest. The postcard was handwritten, from her to me, with a cute little message and some lovely birthday well wishes.

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Well, I was gobsmacked. I did NOT see that coming. He then handed me envelope 2 and I ripped it open with the over-the-top enthusiasm of a long-term Atkins dieter tucking into a baked potato.

When I saw the names written at the bottom I did a little squeal of excitement. Tina, Mal and Murphy!

And this adorable photo!

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I was getting a bit emotional now. I was struggling to comprehend the enormity of what he’d done and how much work had gone into this. I was also overcome with the fact that my favourite food bloggers had actually written my name. Having read these ladies’ blogs for like 5 years, I was slightly starstruck!!

And it was only going to get better!! Envelope 3 was from the totally cool and DOWNRIGHT HILARIOUS McKenzie from Grilled Cheese Social who had written me an adorable little note and told me she loved my blog!! This was almost too much. I had the food-blogger-birthday-messages sweats.

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How damn cute is that?

Next up is one of the superstars of the Disney blogging world, author of Disney Food Blog ( my number 1 source of all things Disney food-based and a site I check multiple times a day…yes, I’m too cool for school) AJ!!

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THEN things got insane. I had my fingers crossed about who could maybe, possibly be in the next 2 envelopes and they DID NOT DISAPPOINT. Envelope 5 was a lovely note with beautifully neat, teeny tiny writing and I almost knew who it was before I read the name at the bottom but surely he hadn’t managed to get her??

He had!! The sweetest, most thoughtful note ever from the amazing Angela at Oh She Glows 🙂 Highlights include Angela saying she’s read my blog and thinks I’m hilarious (!!!) saying that she’s found a kindred spirit in me as she also thinks about lunch whilst eating breakfast AND the fact that she signed off with peace, love and plants. I actually love her. I was full on sniffling like a little girl at this point and Ben was pretty close himself!

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Finally, envelope 6! Could it be!? The queen mother of food blogs!?

Yep, it was! Kath Younger herself!! This card contained TWO postcards; a handwritten note and a photo of Kath with the note! I was actually besides myself with excitement. I read Kath’s blog every day when she used to post aaallll the time and now I look forward to my Saturday morning catch-up session when I read all her latest posts with my tea and toast 🙂 She wrote such a sweet note and she even said at the end she hopes I get my polka dot kitchen one day soon. How nice is that.

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So after I’d re-read all the cards a million times and pounced on Ben with kisses and hugs, I asked him how he’d managed it! He said he’d just kind of had the idea, stalked the blogs from the blogroll and emailed all the ladies! Just like that haha! He was so pleased that everyone he emailed, replied back and went out of their way to help him. The blogging community really is the best.

Soooo I wish I hadn’t been so slack with my own blog lately, if I’d known all these heavy hitters were checking it out I would have made more effort!!

Oh well. One of the best presents I’ve ever had (apart from when Ben booked a surprise trip to Disneyland Paris naturally, but it would take a lot to beat that little gem!) and thank you so much Ben for organising it and all the lovely bloggers for taking the time to respond. You’ve made one beginner blogger very, very happy 🙂

Thank you so much!

New Years Eve 2012

As mentioned last year, I’m just not a fan of New Years Eve. It annoys me. Christmas, however…now you’re talking! I love every little thing about the festive season and it always begins, for me, November 1st, not a moment later. It would begin slightly earlier but alas, Halloween is also a very big part of my life and I just can’t encroach on those fun, spooky and ghoul-filled happenings.

Ahhhh, Christmas. Decorations, fairy lights, Christmas music that I start listening to in November and get sick of by November the 12th but continue to blare out in my car nonetheless, lie-ins, family time, the Christmas Radio Times, TV specials, parties, special sparkly outfits, cinnamon candles, bucks fizz, red nail polish, gift-wrapping, the smells of mince pies baking in the oven, The Snowman, and most importantly, the endless amounts of delicious party food, cheeseboards, crisps and general nibbly bits that are happily available at every house you visit for two glorious weeks.

Christmas Eve was always my favourite day as a child, I preferred it to Christmas Day! Something about the dizzying levels of anticipation that built up throughout the day until I felt I would burst just made it the best day for me.

We had a lovely Christmas this year. Myself and Ben were lucky enough to have a good two weeks off together and then I had a few more days on my own once he went back to work. I felt seriously relaxed by the end of the break and happy that we’d seen so many of our friends and family. I was spoilt rotten this year with prezzies and we also both got so many lovely presents for our flat from our thoughtful families 🙂 I’m sure many of the kitchen gadgets will be appearing on the blog over the next few months!

The only thing I don’t like about Christmas is that it seems to get shorter every year 😦 This year, by the end of Boxing Day I was seeing people’s Facebook status’s expressing their desire to take their tree’s down and ‘get the house back to normal’!! I was shocked!! Our decs stayed up til January the 6th, the day before I went back to work, and let me tell you it was a very emotional day. I think our flat looks so bare without our trees (yes, we had two trees!!) and I’ve found I’m severely lacking in ornaments now I’ve boxed all the Christmas ones! I definitely need to get some new ones. Me and Ben are also at war over our Yankee Candles; I feel cinnamon is a year-round smell as I absolutely love it, whereas Benj feels it is now time to put away the cinnamon scents and bring out the lemon/linen/general Spring like fragrances. We’ve yet to come to a compromise…

We spent New Years Eve in our lovely flat, just the two of us. I was very, very pleased we’d made this decision once the day arrived, as it was freezing cold and watching the rain fall through our windows was a lot more enjoyable than being out in it 🙂

So, what was on the menu? Obviously, I wanted to cook something special, something we don’t have very often. For me, this is steak. I only ever have steak if we go out to eat and it is a bit of a treat for me. We also decided on potato dauphinoise, our absolute favourite side-dish in the history of side-dishes. Ben asked for mushroom wellington and we added tenderstem broccoli to finish off our main course. I really wanted scallops for my starter and I had the genius idea to use Linda McCartney fish-free prawns in Ben’s starter, so we could have the same thing! We opted to use a chocolate fondue kit that we’d received for Christmas as our dessert, although we silently resigned ourselves to the fact that we almost definitely wouldn’t be able to manage it, we never can!

I used my new Canon EOS 1100D to take the photos this evening and I was extremely pleased by how they came out even with my minimal photography knowledge, what a fantastic camera! Thank you Santa 🙂

The makings of a perfect evening 🙂

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No New Years Eve would be complete without a shot!

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And carrying on with the Disney theme, Ben used our beautiful Mickey bottle opener to crack open some cider as we began cooking.

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We had made the dauph earlier on in the day and as is my style, used a completely new recipe/technique in an ongoing attempt to make the perfect dauphinoise potatoes. If my memory serves me correctly, this time we:

1. Sliced the potatoes really thin (using the RocketChef…see below)

2. Boiled the cream/milk mixture til it was hot, with about 4 garlic gloves crushed in there (I’m not even joking.)

3. Started to then boil the sliced potatoes in the hot cream mixture to start them off but got impatient at the tiny amounts of potato we could boil at any one time due to the size of our saucepan, gave up and just chucked the potatoes back into the dish. So technically, 1/5 of the potatoes had been boiled for a bit in cream but the rest went in the oven raw. I also HEAVILY seasoned each layer of potato, mixed them around a bit with a wooden spoon and then heavily seasoned again. We do not like bland dauph!

I then cooked them extremely low, like 120, for 2 hours. One hour covered in foil, one without. While they were cooking, we cracked on with the rest of the dinner!

I made Ben’s mushroom wellington first of all. I panfried a washed, dried portobello mushroom with a garlic clove just to give it some flavour. I then laid the portobello mushroom on a square of ready-made puff pastry and this formed the base of the wellington. I topped it with a mixture of spinach, chopped onions and chopped mushrooms which was all sauteed together for about 20 minutes with garlic and lots of salt and pepper. Finally, I added a big spoonful of cream cheese to the top of the mushroom mixture and covered the whole thing with another square of puff pastry. It was very easy to make and I hoped that the addition of cream cheese would elevate it to something quite special. Ben loves mushrooms and he REALLY loves pastry, so he was pretty psyched.

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Next up were our starters. Scallops in a garlic butter gratin for me, prawn-free prawns in a garlic butter for Benj! I mixed together butter, lots of crushed garlic, parsley and chilli flakes.

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We then realised we needed bread crumbs and we didn’t have a food processor. Enter – RocketChef!! I don’t know if anyone else has come across this little beauty but it’s a kitchen gadget from the 80’s we were kindly gifted by my Aunt, alongside a number of other exciting and very niche appliances. We’re going to have to really think about which appliances we’ll use going forward; at the moment we’ve got a whole two cupboards devoted to gadgets that I’m really not convinced we’ll ever need! But we shall see. The RocketChef, however, is a definite keeper. It’s amazing. Ben played around with the different blade options and in no time at all, we had fine breadcrumbs. We also used it later on with a different attachment to slice our potatoes!! Plus I love how catchy and just obviously 80’s the name RocketChef is. I like to pretend it was the star prize on The Price Is Right or something and we were lucky enough to win it 😀

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I mixed the breadcrumbs in with the butter and saved a bit to top the ramekin dishes before we baked them. I then layered flash-fried scallops in one ramekin and the veggie prawns in another, dotted the butter mixture around them and the starters were done! Super easy.

With most of our prep work done, we settled down to play the Big Fat Quiz Of The Year via 4OD, pens and paper in hand.

Not before we had a bit of this:

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(I was dancing to Single Ladies, can you tell?)

And a bit of this:

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At about 9.30 after the Quiz finished (neither of us can remember who won…but I do know I did better than I have ever done!!) we wandered back into the kitchen to start final proceedings on dinner.

We roasted the broccoli and I cooked my steak, on a frying pan, 2.5 minutes on each side for medium rare. It was perfect! I used St Agur for my blue cheese sauce and at 10pm we were ready to eat. We’d eaten late on purpose as I often get really tired after a big meal and just want to sleep so if we’d have eaten at 6 I wouldn’t have seen midnight!!

We ate at our dining table with some of Ben’s favourite folk music playing and lots of lovely scented candles burning. Perfect 🙂

The starter was, quite frankly, phenomenal. That much butter in a single starter should possibly be illegal but oh my god, was it amazing. The scallops had almost been poached in the butter and as a result were silky and soft. I also loved the fact that we were both eating nearly the same thing – that almost never happens!

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Then, the main event…mushroom wellington, dauphinoise potatoes and tenderstem broccoli for Benjamin.

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The pastry was flaky and buttery, the mushroom firm and garlicy and the mushroom mixture and cream cheese helped keep it all moist and flavourful on the inside. I was ridiculously pleased with how this turned out and I’ll be whipping this bad boy out if we ever have a posh dinner party as I think it really looks the part!

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And, my steak. Sainsburys Taste the Difference sirloin, medium rare. With only salt and pepper as seasonings, the flavour of the beef shone through. I’ve waxed lyrical about my love affair with steak and blue cheese sauce but the combination really is divine! And the dauph? The best yet!! Cooking the potato soooo slooowwlllyyy meant we were rewarded for our patience with rich, soft, creamy potatoes and a silky smooth sauce that did not curdle, I repeat, DID NOT CURDLE! It was a miracle. And they were also lovely the following day!

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Perfectly cooked. I can’t remember which chef told me 2.5 minutes on each side for medium rare, I think it may have been Mr Ramsey, but it is the best advice. A searing hot pan too! Things got a little smokey but we are blessed with an extractor fan, a window and a large kitchen so it really wasn’t an issue.

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As predicted, we were way too full for dessert, I could barely manage to drag myself out of my chair and move the 3 foot to the sofa. We finished eating and clearing away at about 11.15, so there was just enough time to write out our resolutions for the coming year, reflect on the highs and lows of 2012 and grab a glass of bubbly before the countdown started. We welcomed in the New Year in our beautiful new flat, congratulating ourselves on a fantastic end to 2012 and cheer’sing to 2013.

I feel so lucky to finally be living with my boy after nearly 9 years as a couple and every day I wake up and can’t believe we’re actually in here. I’m also thrilled to have such an incredible new job that has already exceeded my expectations by sending me to Bali for a week last November (still can’t believe that!!). I’m looking forward to a lot of things in 2013; first and foremost our 3 week trip to Florida in October which I just know is going to be spectacular. It’s the Happiest Place On Earth!! I’ve already started the planning spreadsheet so I’ll be spending a lot of my 2013 evenings tucked up on the sofa, Orlando guidebooks surrounding me and The Dibb on my laptop. I can’t even wait!! I’m also excited about the possibility that we may be getting a furry friend to join us in our new flat this year…I’ve wanted a kitten for so long and we are lucky enough to have found a flat that allows pets (SCORE!!) so we’ll be doing lots of research and I’ll be trying to persuade Benj that these beautiful babies make the perfect pets 😉 We’ll probably wait til after Florida though as I wouldn’t want t0 leave her all on her lonesome for so long!

Happy New Year everyone! Here’s to a fantastic 2013 🙂

Garlic Mushroom Nutroast and My First Roast Dinner!

Yes, I had got to the age of 25 and never made a proper, full blown, British Roast Dinner. Pretty shocking really considering how much I love food/cooking, but roasts have never been one of my favourite meals and I just wasn’t fussed! But, now we are moved out and in our lovely new flat, I decided the time had come for me to tackle this most British of lunches. I asked Ben what vegetarian delicacy he wanted me to conjure up, thinking he’d say mushroom wellington, an exciting pie or some kind of bake. His answer? Nutroast! Well, if that is what the boy wants, that is what the boy will get!

I Googled extensively to find the best nutroast recipe in the world but none were quite what I wanted, so I combined two! My recipe is mainly this Hairy Biker’s Nut and Spinach Roast, with the addition of a garlicy, mushroom stuffing, as seen in this recipe. I just loved the idea of buttery, garlicy mushrooms nestling in the middle of the nut mixture and I thought it would help to keep it all lovely and moist. The Hairy Biker’s recipe was really good and we had most of the ingredients on hand; only really having to purchase the chopped nuts and cashews. I made a few substitutions like using parmesan cheese instead of Gruyere and eliminating the mint (because I don’t like it!) and the sundried tomatoes (too expensive!!) and I really don’t think it made any difference. I hardly ever follow recipes exactly, I think they are made to be played with!

All the ingredients in the bowl, ready to be mixed! I had to buy the bowl whilst in Sainsburys because I realised we didn’t actually have one…or a kitchen scales…so it was quite an expensive shop if I’m honest.

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It smelt really lovely with all the fresh ingredients and herbs, I was feeling very virtuous mixing it altogether! Ben chopped the mushrooms using our super duper hand-me-down food chopper which has CHANGED OUR LIVES!! We used to stand there for hours chopping mushrooms insanely small as I can’t stand them anything bigger, so this gadget is a real life saver!

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Frying them in butter, garlic and olive oil…in our defence, this was just before Christmas and therefore the gluttony was absolutely acceptable! The butter kept them really moist and juicy…yum.

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Once all the ingredients for the nutroast were mixed together, we put half the mixture in a greased loaf tin before adding the layer of mushroom filling. It was looking really promising!

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I then added the second half of the mixture and put it aside for a bit while I cooked my potatoes. My first ever roast potatoes!! How exciting. After some indecisive Googling, I selected Nigella’s roast potato recipe, figuring that if they were a complete fail there were plenty of other people’s to try! I had faith in Nigella though, she’s too pretty to get things wrong in my personal opinion.

Here are the little beauties, waiting to boil! I had no idea how many potatoes to boil to feed two people so I erred on the side of caution and did…an obscene amount.

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Here they are, post fluffing!!! That was some serious fluffing. I also added a bit of flour to help along the fluffing process and it definitely did!! As you can see I made a bit of a mess…

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We chucked the poor babes into a roasting tray filled with molten hot olive oil and the sizzling was merciless, I almost felt bad for them.
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45 minutes later…they looked like this!

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They bought a whole new meaning to the words ‘fluffy potato’ and I was immensely proud of them. And also slightly embarrassed to admit there were only 2 or 3 left once we’d had our lunch…oops.

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Everything then started to happen really quickly; the potatoes were ready but the nutroast needed a few more minutes. My yorkshires and stuffing was ready to go but the peas and broccoli was yet to be boiled. My roasted vegetables were beautiful, apart from the sprouts which were like burnt little fingernails. Nice! This resulted in a pretty stressful 5 minutes with both of us shuffling around our kitchen, opening oven doors, poking forks into things and apologising for repeated bumps. We decided to just eat the sprouts straight from the baking tray because they were actually delicious but I couldn’t bear to put them on my perfect plates.

Finally though, every item apart from the nutroast was ready, so Ben started plating up whilst I wrestled the nutty beast from it’s bed.

To be fair, I didn’t have to wrestle it; thanks to my over zealous buttering it slipped cleanly out of the loaf tin with a gentle tap! No-one was more surprised than me and we stepped back for a few seconds to take in this miraculous coming together of nut and vegetable.

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It really was a thing of beauty. I was so pleased it had not only held together but actually looked like a nutroast loaf!! We quickly realised the brown crispy bits were the best and there was a gentle jostle whilst cutting to ensure we each got our fair share.

My very first roast dinner, plated up beautifully for one very hungry boy 🙂

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It got a double thumbs up from Ben and he actually leapt out of his chair, came round to my side and kissed my hand before returning! Quite the reaction!

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This was my plate; I’m a very naughty girl and have an unnatural hatred for peas so I passed on them and took extra carrots. We did have gravy obviously, but it would have ruined the photos so I waited til afterwards to drown my plate in the dark, rich liquid. Otherwise this would have been a ridiculously dry meal. The nutroast? It was fantastic. The Hairy Bikers got exactly the right mixture of herbs and ingredients so the end result was intensely flavoured, while still allowing the flavour of the nuts to shine through. You could really taste the grated carrot too which I enjoyed, it kept it quite fresh and interesting. We had the rest of the nutroast sliced for sandwiches the rest of the week, with lovely brown seeded bread and a squirt of naughty ketchup. Delicious!

Some more close-ups just so you feel you were actually on the plate with the rest of the food.

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As with all roast dinners, 2 hours of prep/cooking resulted in about 8 minutes of eating before the crumbs and drops on the plates served as the only reminder of what was once there. This was slightly depressing and left me a bit deflated but then I remembered we had the rest of the nutroast for sandwiches!!

I feel my first roast dinner was a resounding success and whilst this isn’t a recipe to be making every single Sunday as it is a bit labour-intensive, I’ll definitely be keeping this combination recipe in my repertoire for the future.

P.S As I have been so good all year, Santa bought me a brand new Canon EOS 1100d/Rebel T3 for Christmas! So brace yourselves for some photos on this blog that are actually not taken with my iPhone!! Exciting times 🙂

Homemade Christmas Gifts – Cookies In A Jar, Chocolate Truffles and Chocolate Bark

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We moved into our new flat on the 24th November, one month before Christmas. With buying new furniture, appliances and home bits and bobs, together with the initial costs of rent and deposits, we realised we’d be pretty skint for Christmas! So, we decided to try out a few homemade gift ideas I’d seen online for our friends and family. Although we had the best intentions, what actually happened was we made all the homemade gifts (which were not as cheap as we thought they’d be…) and also got everyone additional presents because we kept seeing things they’d like. So, it didn’t really work out how we planned but I really enjoyed making the gifts and everyone we gave them to absolutely loved them. In fact, they couldn’t believe we’d made them! So I was really pleased with how it all turned out.

My favourite one was the Cookies In A Jar which went down an absolute treat 😀 I used this recipe from Chocablog, mainly because it was English so I didn’t have to convert the measurements! The idea is all the dry ingredients are layered beautifully in the jar and you just need to add an egg, butter and vanilla extract, mix it up in a bowl and voila, you have cookies!

They used chocolate chips as part of the ingredients but I decided we would go one better and make the cookies all colourful and festive! I chose white chocolate, pecans and dried cranberries and the result was really lovely and Christmassy. Funny story – a friend of ours picked up a couple of the Ikea Kilner jars for us to practice on and I began layering the ingredients in the jars, only to find the layers were really not going very far! I’d pretty much finished adding all the ingredients and I was only 1/4 of the way up the jar, what was going on!? I need to add that I was extremely jetlagged at this point after returning from Bali the previous day (amazing work trip, Bali food post coming up in the New Year!!) so was really not in the mood for this to be going wrong for no rational reason. I then double checked the barcode number on the Ikea website and it all became clear when I read out the jar size to Ben – “1.8 L.” The recipe I was working for called for a 1 L and we hadn’t realised it was twice the size. Oops! We went to Ikea the following day to stock up on the correct size jars and we still have that 1.8 L jar on top of the fridge, 1/4 0f the way full with cookie ingredients, to be used on a rainy day. Bonus!

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Aren’t they beautiful!? I was really pleased with how they came out! I designed the labels in InDesign with a simple snowflake design and the one on the back had the recipe and timings on it. The bows are from Wilkinsons and are actually tree decorations – very handy because they had green wire attached which made it super easy to tie them to the jars! And obviously, they are red polka dot, so very me/very Polka Dot Kitchen!

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The ingredients layered up perfectly and I added enough chocolate chunks to fill the jar and stop the contents from shifting too much in transition.

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Overall, this was a fantastic Christmas gift and all our friends and family loved it. My colleague has already baked the cookies and she said they were delicious and didn’t last very long at all! A very successful present, I recommend. We didn’t work out all the costings but the jars were 80p each, the bows were 25p and I would estimate the ingredients to be about £2.50/£3? Most of which is the pecans which are one of the most expensive nuts I’ve ever come across!! The nice thing about these though is that the recipe is really flexible; you can really add whatever toppings you like to the base ingredients and I think they’d turn out perfectly!

We also made chocolate truffles with various toppings/coatings and piled 6/7 in a smaller kilner jar as a gift. I followed Gordon Ramsey’s recipe minus the honey and mint and they turned out perfectly, if a little moist. I substituted 250ml double cream for the single as I’d bought a big carton of double but I didn’t think that would affect the consistency? I guess it did! Anyway, they were tricky to work with but we froze the baking dish for 20 minutes or so before making the mixture into truffles and that firmed it up nicely. We dipped some of the truffles in cocoa powder, some in melted white chocolate and some in chopped mixed nuts. They were beautiful! I very cleverly didn’t take a photograph of the finished truffles in the jars but here are a few photos of the creation process!

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Beautiful! These were also very warmly welcomed by our friends and family and everyone who has tried them so far has loved them! We gave our friend Jason a jar on Boxing Day and they didn’t even make it back to his house!

Finally, we made white chocolate bark. This seriously is the easiest treat to make, ever. We had leftover white chocolate from making the truffles so I melted it, spread it on a baking tray quite thickly and sprinkled mixed chopped nuts, cashew nuts and dried cranberries all over. An hour in the fridge and it was set enough for me to break into pieces and pop into a couple of jars. Once again I was a very bad blogger and forgot to photograph it but I did somehow take some photos of it waiting to go into the jar!?

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chocolate bark

There we have it! Three beautiful homemade gifts that I’m sure your friends and family will appreciate so much due to the love and thought that has gone into them 🙂 Merry Christmas everyone! Christmas and general 2012 in review posts coming up!

The Orange Tree – Torquay

We just got back from a delightful weekend away to celebrate our anniversary. Eight years! Goodness me. We visited the English Riviera and stayed in the adorable town of Paignton; partly because we love a good seaside visit and partly because I got some bargain hotel prices during the Christmas Travelodge sale. £12 a room cannot be scoffed at. The hotel was more than adequate and after a slightly tense arrival where we discovered the carpark was full and we’d have to park my beautiful red Nissan Micra Marilyn a few roads away in a decidedly dodgy spot, we had a wonderful stay there.

But obviously the most important part of this trip, as with all trips, was the food! We ate at some lovely places and I’ll be sharing all the details in good time but I have to start with the highlight of the weekend – our meal at The Orange Tree restaurant in Torquay.

I booked a table online a couple of weeks ago after being warned that it gets very busy on Friday and Saturday evenings. Our table was booked for 7.30pm and we arrived promptly after getting absolutely soaked from the rain beating down outside.

We were greeted warmly, relieved of our coats and led inside the cosy eatery to a lovely table for two. We noted that the tables were nicely spaced apart which we were very pleased about; nothing worse than feeling like you are essentially dining with the couple next to you! We ordered our drinks and perused the menu which was looking amazing. After ordering our starters we were bought out warm parmesan and olive bread with butter. This warranted a photo although I am apologising in advance for the photographs of this meal – the restaurant was very dark and intimate and I really didn’t want to blind our fellow diners with the flash. I promise my other photos from this trip are better! A bit better.

After a pleasant wait, our starters were bought out. I chose the ‘Gevrik’ Goats Cheese with Red Currant and Fig Chutney – Cornish Goats Cheese Parcel baked in crisp Filo Pastry accompanied by Red Currant and Fig Chutney.

Oh, it was pretty! The goats cheese was incased in the crunchy, buttery filo pastry and it was perfectly melty and gooey inside. The chutney was sweet and fragrant and provided the perfect accompaniment to the cheese. Pretty much my perfect starter!

Ben chose the Tian of English Asparagus – Tian of Asparagus Mousse with Tomato Chutney and Parmesan Crisp, served with Tempura baked Asparagus Spears. He was wary of ordering this as he’d spotted that the veggie main course was asparagus based and quite frankly he wasn’t sure if he wanted that much asparagus in his life. I thought he’d choose the goats cheese but as the waitress asked what he’d like he changed his mind and plumped for the asparagus. He was really pleased he did as his starter was delightful.

The mousse was creamy and fluffy with a delicate asparagus flavour and the tempura was light and crispy. There was no denying this was a lot of asparagus but he really enjoyed all the different textures and flavours. As the waitress told us, you have to make the most of them while they’re in season! The parmesan crisp was gone in a matter of seconds as anything cheese-based generally is on borrowed time when it’s around Ben, but I am assured it was divine.

We had a nice 10/15 minute break between our starters and main courses which I have to say we really appreciated. You don’t often get this at restaurants but I love the opportunity to relax in between eating and savour the experience of actually being in the restaurant.

Our main courses were presented to us and I was instantly a very happy girl! These photographs really are getting better and better, don’t you just love the increasingly jaundice tint!?

I, of course, ordered the Grilled Prime ‘South Devon’ Fillet Steak with a Devon Blue Cheese Sauce. I have mentioned numerous times (possibly too many?) that steak and blue cheese sauce is my idea of heaven and I find myself going to restaurants specifically to have this dish. Very sad and repetitive and not very food blog friendly but I just can’t seem to stop.

(In fact, I talk about steak and blue cheese sauce so much and eat it so often that there may be a post coming up discussing my deep and unflinching love for this seriously underrated food combination.)

Anyway, The Orange Tree’s version was right up there with the best. A thick, generous fillet with an impressive girth, perfectly cooked medium rare. I am aware that a good steak should not require a sauce but what food is not enhanced by a sauce comprised entirely of blue cheese and cream? This blue cheese sauce was thick, creamy and most importantly, salty!

You can see how perfectly the steak was cooked and even though I had to sacrifice all some of the vegetables in order to finish it, I did. What bravery!

This was Ben’s vegetarian main course – Vine Tomato and Asparagus Tart – Puff Pastry Tart of roasted Vine Tomatoes and char-grilled Asparagus finished with Roquette, Parmesan Shavings and Rosemary Oil. I didn’t get to try the tart (and quite frankly I had enough food to contend with on my own plate) but he cleared his plate and I think I actually saw a hint of saliva fall from his mouth when I showed him the photo a couple of days later.

We were bought out accompaniments of garlic roasted new potatoes, spring onion mash and carrot and green bean batons to go with our chosen dishes which we found complimented them perfectly. We felt the portion sizes overall were very generous, especially for the prices!

Once we’d finished eating our lovely waitress came over and removed our plates and said she would give us a few moments for our food to settle before we looked at the dessert menu. We knew there was absolutely no way we could manage dessert though so we just sat back and enjoyed the last few minutes of our special dinner. When she came back with the menus we told her unfortunately we were stuffed and she looked very disappointed! Not as disappointed as we were, believe me. I’d seen photos of the desserts online and they looked incredible!

We were then getting ready to ask for the bill when our waitress bought us out a little surprise!

How amazing is that!! We were so surprised and so pleased, we thanked our waitress profusely and she thanked us for choosing to celebrate our anniversary with them! Obviously my special occasion dessert stomach came into action and we were able to force down the beautifully prepared bites of chocolate fudge and almond cake with minimal effort. What a lovely, thoughtful gesture.

We were even more pleased when we received the bill! Our meal came to £57 which included drinks and 2 courses each which we thought was extremely reasonable for the quality of food, atmosphere and ambience in the restaurant and the great service we received.

I would recommend The Orange Tree to anyone who is celebrating a special occasion or even just wanting a nice dinner out, there is a reason it is the number 1 restaurant in Torquay on TripAdvisor!

Thank you for making our anniversary celebration so special, we hope to come back and visit one day!

Seitan Roulade with Spinach, Red Onions and Mushrooms

Finally. I finally made seitan roulade. Really impressive, posh looking seitan roulade!

I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life to make seitan roulade for Benj. Ever since we first sampled this king of fake meats many moons ago, I’ve been keen to attempt it at home and impress Ben with a tastes-just-like-meat-but-isn’t treat. Ironically, when asked if there is anything he misses now he’s a veggie, the only thing he says he very very (very!) occasionally longs for is fish. It’s notoriously tricky to replicate fish so I pretty much ignore him and pretend he craves a huge fillet of steak with potatoes and veg (possibly because I think that is what I would miss most?) Hence the constant need to recreate this combination of food in a vegetarian way.

This roulade was a belated birthday meal for him, having received my vital wheat gluten a few days after his birthday. I based the roulade on a combination of the Post Punk Kitchen Seitan Roast and the infamous ‘Seitan O Greatness’ recipe that everyone and their Mum has made.

Apologies but due to time elapsed since cooking and slackness of note-taking during, I am unable to provide a recipe. I’d say it’s more the Seitan O Greatness though with a few modifications (no tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce or cumin, for example.) Once I had made the seitan itself I faced the difficult task of flattening it out enough into a shape suitable for being stuffed and rolled. The dough was really elastic and stubborn and every time I kneaded a section out it would just spring back into the original shape. A LOT of elbow grease was required and I was beginning to think I’d done something terribly wrong as it was looking less and less likely this ball of dough was ever going to be edible. But, I persevered and was eventually rewarded with a submissive rectangle of dough sitting pretty on the counter, waiting for the stuffing to be applied.

I don’t particularly like shiiitakes OR leeks and so chose to use my current favourite tart filling of caramalised red onions, finely chopped mushrooms and lots and lots of garlic and herbs. I also added wilted spinach as I thought it would provide a nice punch of colour amongst all the brown.

Once cooked, I applied the mixture to the dough and spread it all out.

Yummers! I then rolled the dough around the filling and wrapped it up in tinfoil…like a big sweet.

It went into the oven for about an hour, during which time I was obsessively poking forks into it to see what was going on in there. Honestly, the suspense! After an hour it was ‘firm to the touch’ as advised by PPK so I took it out, unwrapped the tinfoil and we looked on in amazement at what had happened. The dough was crisp and crunchy on the inside, a lovely golden brown colour. The dough nearest the stuffing and obviously the stuffing itself was moist and soft, creating a lovely contrast of textures. I sliced it into big, greedy, 2 inch or so wide rounds and placed it proudly on the plates alongside my BEST EVER potato dauphinoise (I added cheese and although technically you shouldn’t, it really took it above and beyond!) and Ben’s all time favourite vegetable, broccoli.

The texture was a little spongy as I think I overcooked it ever so slightly but this was easy to overlook due to the amazing taste! The stuffing infused the actual seitan making it very herby and garlicy which was fabulous. Paired with the potatoes, the broccoli and a big glass of wine, this was a very special celebration meal and I know Ben thoroughly enjoyed it. I am pleased that my first forey into seitan-making was a success and I feel like I started with the trickiest recipe so everything now will be a doddle! In theory. If I did make the roulade again I would make sure to double wrap the tinfoil as I feel it could have held together better, but that’s just me being annoyingly critical. I also think a sauce of some kind would be lovely with this, any suggestions?

I have promised that our next adventure with seitan will be a far trashier one – currently thinking along the lines of seitan ‘ribz’ or buffalo seitan wingless ‘wingz’!