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!

chopping mushrooms

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!