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!

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Potato, Spinach and Quorn Breakfast Hash

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Every so often you cook something absolutely amazing, using only the ingredients kicking about your fridge, with no prior planning or thought given to it previously. This is very unusual for me as I love the build-up to a dish creation and I often spend a lot of time thinking about how I’ll cook it and what it’ll taste like. Obsessive? Perhaps. But Polka Dot Kitchen wouldn’t exist if this didn’t happen!

A couple of Sundays ago, we woke up at a leisurely hour and dragged ourselves from our bedroom to our l0unge, to slump on the sofa just in time for Sunday Brunch. We looooove Sunday Brunch. We used to love Something For The Weekend and I was absolutely devastated when the BBC cancelled it. Like, inconsolable. Then the stars aligned and good old Channel 4 picked it up and we didn’t have to face a lifetime of Sundays without Tim Lovejoy and Simon Rimmer talking about conservatories. Ahhh, bliss!

So this particular Sunday, we were running slightly low on breakfast supplies. And when I say low, I mean we didn’t have any milk, bread or butter. Three ingredients which pretty much top every breakfast dish ingredient list. We did pool together our change (about £1.47) and consider getting dressed and buying some hideously overpriced bits and bobs at the village shop but we decided NO. We Don’t Need It. I should mention, we spend pretty much all our lives saving for our Florida holidays (Floridays) the second of which is in a mere 90 days, so we are generally thrifty and always looking not to spend money. This is also the reason I haven’t been blogging as much as I used to; Florida planning is taking up all my time! We’re going for three weeks and so there are ESTA’s to do, hotel reviews to read, restaurant menus to peruse and the Disneyworld website to pore over and check I haven’t missed a single potential activity that could make our holiday EVEN BETTER. I’ll be doing a full food review on the Dibb (an awesome website for fellow Florida obsessives) and I’ll post a few on here too for those who are interested 🙂

WOW can we say tangent!? Going back (again) to that Sunday, we basically didn’t want to spend any money. But I fancied a nice breakfast. We hardly ever have a cooked breakfast as I’m overly keen on toast with marmite but that day I really fancied one. So I perused our cupboards, did a quick google to see if anyone had ever put roughly these ingredients together, discovered they hadn’t so threw some oil in a pan and cracked on with it.

I started, as many recipes do, with some sliced onion. I love slicing onion like this as they take hardly any time to chop. I can’t be doing with finely chopped onion (even though that is how I prefer my onion) as it just takes soooo long and the chunks are never even anyway 😦 I fried the onion slices in a pan with some olive oil, seasoning and garlic. While that was cooking, I cubed some potatoes that, judging by the sheer size of the sprouts coming out of them, had almost become living beings. They went into the microwave for about 4 minutes for a lazy boy boil and I then added them to a new pan with some more olive oil and seasoning.

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I wanted them to get all crispy and browned and I knew they wouldn’t if they were squished in the other pan with the onions. Two pans Morgan!

The onions were looking nicely browned by this time so I added in some spinach and a load more garlic. God I love garlic.

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I was feeling like this badboy needed some meat (and when I say meat, obviously I mean “meat”) so I grabbed whatever frozen Quorn delights were lurking in the bottom of the freezer, gave them a quick microwave to thaw a bit and chucked them in with the onions. We had Quorn fillets and sausages but I think most fake meat would work! Facon would work. Mmmmm.

The potatoes were now nicely browned and crisp, the onions were caramalised, the spinach was fully flavoured and the fake meat was browning away nicely. I tipped the onion/spinach/Quorn mix into the potatoes, added a tiny bit more salt and pepper and let it all come together while I cooked the eggs. I did consider adding some chopped tomatoes to the pan to moisten it all up a bit but honestly, it was so good on it’s own! But tomatoes would be nice if you wanted more of a liquidy hash.

I quickly fried two eggs and added them to the top of two hulking piles of hash. The verdict? LIFE-CHANGING. I found that the onions had flavoured the whole dish with a good, solid savoury taste and the minced garlic and super posh garlic oil (see Foodies Festival post!) had really made it all come alive. Ben actually said, and I quote, “This is the best breakfast I’ve had outside of America.” !!! Big words!! I was one smug store-cupboard chef that morning!!

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*I haven’t added amounts as it was very much just chucking whatever I had in. I will say that I probably made enough for four and between two of us…we ate it all. Just sayin’. If I make it again I will record all measurements like a proper food blogger 🙂

Foodies Festival 2013

Another year, another wonderful day out at the Foodies Festival!

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This is the third year in a row we’ve been to a Foodies Festival! Last year we went to Brighton and in 2011 we went to Hampton Court Palace for the first time and absolutely loved it.

This years second May Bank Holiday (seriously, what was all that about?) loomed quickly and without warning and I completely ran out of time to arrange any fun activities for us. We’re a bit skint at the moment as 90% of our disposable income is whisked away into our Florida savings account every month, so we aren’t left with very much. Obviously I’m not complaining about this as a Floriday is the number 1 thing to save for, in my humble opinion, but it does leave us with very little leeway for doing anything else the rest of the year. (In case you’re wondering, the other 10% of mine goes on ribeye steak and Ben’s probably goes on Strongbow.) So the Bank Holiday was stretching out ahead of me, three looooong days of sunshine, with the slightly depressing knowledge that we had absolutely nothing planned. We managed to scrounge together some friends on the Saturday and had a very enjoyable day but Sunday dawned with nothing planned and I was still keen for some proper Bank Holiday fun. Straight onto Twitter and Facebook it was then and by 10am I’d found what I thought was the perfect solution – Foodie’s Festival was tweeting a link to their ticket website! However, 10am was a smidge late to be getting up, getting ready and driving to London for the day with enough time to make the most of the tickets. Sunday was promising the better weather but Monday was looking a lot more feasible for us so we plumped for that. Two tickets were purchased at a 2 for 1 rate thanks to my extraordinary ability to find cheap tickets for events online and we were all set!

We had a really lovely day at the festival and I was so glad we’d got cheap tickets. The weather was gorgeous, the crowds were at an acceptable level and most importantly, there was an absolute ton of free food. Winner!

I took my new SLR like a real food blogger to document the day. Here are some highlights!

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Car slash bar. Can’t go wrong. Unfortunately I was driving so couldn’t partake in any alcoholic beverages but Benj, bless his soul, took one for the team and forced a few down.

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He looooooved this Dorset Cider. I loved the rudimentary signs!

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One of the many, many cheese tasting stalls. You could tell which ones were most generous with the samples by the amount of people swarming around in the front like milk-starved puppies.

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Raclette! Always wanted to try it but never have! It looked delicious but I just wasn’t feeling the price tag. Anything that involves meat, potato and melted cheese is a sure winner though, no?

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This was the tagine stall. There was a mixture of stalls selling products and offering free samples, versus the actual food vendors who were just selling ready-to-eat food. I loved them both equally, in different ways. We chuckled at this one as it was painfully obvious which of the massive pans of tagine were vegetarian! Bless them for trying 😦 I told Benj to get some because I felt bad for the guys cooking it but he wasn’t feeling it.

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One of the many, many, MANY oil stalls. These were my absolute favourite genre of stall; I could quite happily just eat bread and oil/balsamic vinegar for the rest of my life so I was a happy bunny whenever we stumbled upon one of these. Ben, on the other hand, was pretty much over oil by about 3/4 of the way through the festival and said he might be physically sick if he had any more. Oil fatigue. It happens.

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This was the English Provender Company stall and we got really excited when we realised we actually had some of these chutneys in our fridge! We’ve tried the caramelised onion one and the fig and pear one at Christmas and we loved both, so delicious! Chutney was probably second after oil in terms of market saturation at the festival but again, I’m a big chutney fan so I was all over it.

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We were passing the Baking Theatre at about 12pm and I dragged Benj to a couple of seats after realising the next demonstration involved savoury baked goods! We aren’t really sweet people so I wasn’t expecting to get involved with the Baking Theatre but I could not pass up the chance to get involved with savoury food. Excitement levels were quite high as we waited for it to start and I excitedly whispered to Ben, ‘it’s like Food Network right in front of me!’

Our demonstration was run by a really lovely lady called Christine Videl who owns Made In Provence, a company that sells jams, chutneys and other traditional produce, handmade by local artisans in a small area of Provence near where she grew up. Christine cooked cheesy twists, strawberry and rosemary pavlova and rosemary biscuits in the short time she was in the theatre. I loved listening to her stories and seeing her prepare the food and the smell of the cheesy twists baking was just incredible! I thought the demonstration was really well set up too, with TV screens behind Christine showing her work surface so we didn’t miss anything. I was impressed by how quickly she whipped up the three items and we will probably recreate the cheesy twists at some point; shop-bought puff pastry, gruyere cheese and olive tapenade were all united in about 4 minutes to create a really rather majestic savoury nibble. We were invited to try the recipes Christine created and it was a bit of a bunfight but I managed to snag the last piece. Result!

We ended our day with a little sit down on the lawn near the front entrance of the festival, where they had bands and singers performing on the stage.

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Although I wasn’t technically meant to be spending any money, I really am powerless in the face of posh food and money seems to be no object when it comes to trying new and exciting culinary treats. Here are the goodies we purchased throughout the day, lovingly arranged on our kitchen counter when we got home.

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From left: Chan Cham hot sauce (Ben’s contribution) BLACK TRUFFLE OIL, garlic oil, Joe and Sephs Feta and Italian Herb popcorn (!) and our evening snack, the oils arranged on a plate with olives and pita.

Can you tell from my description which item I was most excited for? Tough, isn’t it!

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I’d never tried truffle oil before but I’d aaaaalways wanted to and I was so excited to see it on one of the oil stalls. I dipped a cube of bread into the little dish and pretty much died and went to heaven. I’d never tried anything like it, what an incredible taste! I bought a tiny bottle of it for £5 which I thought was quite reasonable as it will last a long time. I chatted to the guy for a while about the different uses for the oil and he recommended a few drops in mashed potato which sounds fantastic! I do need to buy a potato ricer before I try that though, lumpy mash with truffle oil!? Sacrilege!

We had a fantastic day at the Foodie’s Festival and will no doubt be returning to one of the locations next year. We’re actually off to London tomorrow for the V Delicious Vegetarian exhibition (exciting!) and the FF is on Clapham Common! Tempting to pop in for a few samples but hopefully the V Delicious exhibition will keep us busy 🙂

BBQ Pulled ‘Pork’ (Seitan!)

It was Ben’s birthday a couple of weeks ago and as one of his (many!) presents, I bought him some vital wheat gluten flour. ‘Great gift…’ I hear you cry! But, it was in fact, an awesome gift. Because vital wheat gluten is pretty pricey and it’s not something he’d ever order from himself so he was chuffed to bits when he opened it, mainly because I think he then knew he had many seitan-based dinners on the horizon.

The first thing I wanted to make with the flour was BBQ Pulled Seitan 😀 We were watching Diners, Drive Ins and Dives (when are we not) and for probably the 276th time, I watched somebody making pulled pork. It always looks soooooo good! I decided I wanted to recreate it for Benj and what better meat substitute than seitan? Seriously, there IS no better meat substitute. Seitan is chewy, textured and just plain MEATY! And it takes on flavour really, really well.

We decided to turn the BBQ pulled seitan into an entire American evening, complete with Disney videos on Youtube (our newest obsession)  and summer-y drinks. To accompany the rolls, we made chilli cheese fries and had onion rings, corn on the cob and coleslaw on the side.

First up, I had to actually make the seitan! I used the Fat Free Vegan BBQ Seitan Ribz recipe as I figured I was going to be chopping the meat up into little pieces at the end anyway.

Here are the dry and wet ingredients ready to be mixed…Ben said it looked pretty disgusting. He is correct.

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The dough comes together very quickly and is super hard to knead. It doesn’t knead like normal bread dough, it kind of just forms a ball and then stays like that. I couldn’t really flatten the shape or make it fit the size of the tray like the recipe said to, so I just formed it into a rectangle and left it! Onto an oiled tray and into the oven for 15 minutes; I had no idea what was expected to come out but hoped for the best.

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I think it looks a bit like brains :/

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15 minutes later I pulled what can only be described as a BEAST out of the oven. Eeek! This photo was taken as it had started to deflate too, it was HUGE!

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We flipped it over and popped it back into the oven for 5 minutes to give it a chance to CALM THE HELL DOWN.

When I took it out again it was slightly less terrifying and I was able to baste it with BBQ sauce and put it back into the oven for its’ final hit of heat. The next time I took it out, it actually looked pretty good! And it smelled AMAZING. So if you do try this recipe, you just really need to persevere with the seitan because it is a funny old thing but it does come together eventually.

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Close-up! See, appetising!!

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I left the seitan to cool for a little while before I sliced it up. Whilst I waited, I indulged in a little of this:

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(Passionfruit juice and vodka)

And Benj indulged in a little of this:

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(Margarita)

It was Saturday night! Hey, can you tell we like Disney? I’m not sure it’s obvious enough.

Once about 10 minutes had passed, I sliced up the seitan into lots of small chunks. I wanted to get the look and feel of pulled pork but it was tricky because the seitan didn’t ‘pull apart’ as such, I just had to do it manually. But once it was all doused in BBQ sauce and sticky, it really looked the part.

 

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I then popped it into a pan and fried it on high for a few minutes to encourage some crisping and browning of the edges, before adding a liberal amount of BBQ sauce. It all came together beautifully in the pan and with a bit of added water to make the BBQ sauce go further, it was starting to look fantastic.

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See?

We served the pulled seitan with the aforementioned sides and I was so pleased with how it turned out. Ben never thought he’d be able to sample this authentic American delight and here he was, with a plate in front of him!!

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For the chilli cheese fries, I just used some leftover frozen chips we had in the freezer, topped with veggie chilli (veggie mince, taco seasoning, chilli powder and passata) and my homemade nacho cheese sauce which I have perfected over recent months and I’m now very proud of!! It’s a basic roux, with added plastic cheese slices, garlic and a few glugs of brine from a jar of jalapeno peppers. The brine gives it a lovely heat and to me, it tasted exactly like the plasticy nacho cheese sauce found in many an Orlando restaurant/quick-service place. Try it, it’s so easy! We tried to buy Squeeze Cheeze to make our lives even easier but tragically, Asda didn’t have any 😦 I topped the cheese fries with some chopped spring onion, but you have to call them scallions to make it all authentic and American.

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We then have corn on the cob, beautifully cooked by Benjamin with liberal amounts of butter and salt and some oven baked onion rings, which I dipped in sour cream. A lot of sour cream. Like, half the tub. I served the pulled seitan on buttered white rolls as although this goes against everything I’ve ever been told about carbs (go brown wherever possible) that is how they are always served on TV. I topped them with some coleslaw (not homemade as we really couldn’t be bothered to wash the new food processor we have recently acquired) – plain for me and a mango jalapeno variety for Benj.

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This was a proper, trashy, down-home American meal and we absolutely loved it. Better still, we made enough for two nights so enjoyed exactly the same treat the following evening! Best Bank Holiday ever!! If you are a vegetarian just gagging to experience the full, unadulterated beauty of pulled pork, please try these. 🙂

Japanese Gyoza

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Sometimes, I get a food craving. A really really strong, can’t-think-about-anything-else food craving where I actually have to abandon all other eating plans and satisfy it.

This happened the other day with Japanese gyoza. I was chatting innocently to the girls at work about the wonders of Wagamama and how I hadn’t been in ages. When I used to work in Basingstoke I would go quite often as the restaurant was about 5 minutes from my office but since I started my new job, I haven’t been once. Which is very, very distressing. Although, I did get into the quite expensive and extremely calorific habit of just grabbing a take-out box of my favourite dish Amai Udon on my way back to the office, after a lunchhour spent browsing the shops. Not very good at all! So maybe it isn’t such a bad thing that I’ve had to go cold turkey, on reflection.

Anyway. Myself and Ben had a gig on the Saturday (this was the Thursday) IN Basingstoke and although I knew we should go somewhere cheap for dinner beforehand, the lure of Wagamamas was extremely strong and quite difficult to ignore. I realise that to most people Wagamamas is a cheap option, however, last time we went I accidentally got two side dishes* AS WELL AS my main meal, plus we both had wine and beer. So the bill was like £50. Not even slightly cheap.

*I find it really hard not to order the gyoza when I visit Wagamamas and then I saw they had salt and pepper squid so obviously I had to get that too. In my defence.

So I was chatting to the girls at work about how amazing the food at Wagamamas was and what a shame we were going to Wetherspoons instead in order to keep costs down, when the craving hit me. Hard, suddenly, and out of the blue. I had to have gyoza. Right now. This was like 5pm so as I drove home I was mentally rifling through our cupboards to see if we had anything remotely Japanese-y that I could make gyoza with. We actually had baked potatoes and veggie chicken kievs on the meal plan for that night, but that went out the window and it was all about the Asian food.

I remembered seeing The Hairy Bikers make gyoza a couple of weeks before on their new gourmet cooking show and it looked so easy! I Googled the recipe and lo and behold, water and flour!!!! Easy peasy pie. I whipped up a batch of dough (if you can call it that) and left it out to prove for a bit whilst I made a filling.

We didn’t have any ginger or rice wine vinegar or anything helpfully Asian like that so I had to make do with sesame oil, garlic and soy sauce. I defrosted some Quorn chicken chunks, chopped them up into small pieces and chucked them in our wok with some garlic and sesame oil. I then added shredded lettuce (cabbage would have been much preferred but we didn’t have any!) and some chopped red onion. I fried it all for a few minutes before tasting it and I actually couldn’t believe how nice it was! I was seriously impressed with myself.

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The dough had been proving for about half an hour and it was ready to go. I divided it into 4 pieces (having halved the original Hairy Bikers recipe as I didn’t want to make enough for 8 people!) and rolled each section out super duper thin, with plenty of flour. I then used my cookie cutter to cut nice round circles out and stacked them all up into a pile, with flour in between each disc so they wouldn’t stick.

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Benj was eager to help with the gyoza making so after a brief viewing of ‘How to Make Gyoza’ videos on Youtube, we felt ready to give it a go.

And, honestly, it was so unbelievably easy!! I couldn’t believe it! We had the whole stack of about 28 gyozos done and dusted in about 15 minutes!

You take a disc, rub cold water around the edges and put a small spoonful of filling in the middle. It is then just a case of folding the dough around the filling and pleating it all the way, which sounds hard but once you’ve watched someone else do it, you’re sorted!

Ben’s hands expertly pleating the gyoza dough.

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Here is around half the batch we made, sitting pretty in the frying pan about to be seared! You need to sear the gyoza on the bottom until they are golden brown and crispy, before steaming them. This is a very important step! Otherwise you’ll have soggy gyoza! Surely everyones worst nightmare?? I know it’s mine.

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I seared them for about two minutes on a high heat. Oooh, they smelt so good! I then turned the heat right down and added 100ml of water to the pan. It hisses and spits a bit so be careful! I got Ben to add the water as he’s brave like that 😉 I put the lid on the pan and steamed the gyoza for another two minutes before serving them with dipping sauces; soy sauce and sweet chilli and garlic. Both were lovely but soy sauce always wins for me!

We were so unbelievably proud of our creations, they could have come straight from the Wagamama kitchen!!

Check these bad boys:

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The bottoms were crispy and crunchy and provided a lovely contrast to the slightly gooey texture of the steamed dough. The filling tasted delicious with the extra cooking time and I can’t recommend it enough! I was so impressed with the ease and simplicity of these treats and how professional and restaurant-y they turned out.

I can’t wait to make these again, I think they’ll be even nicer when I have the correct ingredients! I’m going to research yummy fillings and make sure I have everything before I start cooking. But for a weeknight indulgence with no prior planning and no extra ingredients purchased, I think we did pretty good! 😀

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Pretzel Pie


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It is not often I make desserts, but when I do, I try to ensure they involve as many of my favourite ingredients as possible. As soon as I saw this pie, I knew it was meant to be. Chocolate? Good. Peanut butter? Goood. Cream cheese filling and pretzel base!? Gooooooood!

I originally came across a version of this pie on Come Dine With Me (which is on in our lounge 90% of the time) and when Dave Lamb listed all the ingredients, I suddenly started paying a lot more attention. The actual recipe was on the Channel 4 website but as with all CDWM recipes it was a bit wishy washy and this, coupled with the fact that under every entry Channel 4 writes something about how none of the recipes are tested so you could be gambling just like the contestants on the show, slightly put me off. I set my sights on finding a more refined version on t’interwebs.

And this is it! Nadia G’s Peanut Butter Pie from her show Bitchin Kitchen, which is coincidentally starting on Food Network in the UK tonight! I got really excited when I saw the advert as I’d spent all week obsessing over this pie and reading reviews, blogs etc of the show and her book. She seems like a pretty hilarious chef and her book has got great reviews so I’m excited to watch her show later on.

So, the pie. The recipe can be found here, although I did tweak it slightly as I found the ingredients weren’t enough to fill my pie dish. Disaster. Although, not really, as I ended up almost doubling the recipe so we were eating chocolate peanut butter cream cheese pretzel pie for days, which is in no way a bad thing. Although it is quite bad for my diet. Which ended on or about January 3rd, but that’s another story.

The pie crust consists of whizzed up salted pretzels, brown sugar and melted butter. Do pie crusts really get any better than that?

Not sure why I took a photo of this, possibly to show my delightful tablespoon/teaspoon measuring cups?

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Here is the pie crust, all mixed together. This is when I ran into difficulties; I realised this was not going to fill my pie dish so I added more and more pretzels, butter and sugar until it seemed like a good amount.

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I then smoothed the mixture into the dish and all up the edges to form a lovely pretzel-y crust.

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See?

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I popped that into the fridge to chill while I worked on the peanut butter filling. This is a no bake pie, so all it involves is a bit of chilling!

The peanut butter filling consists of smooth PB, cream cheese, whipped cream and brown sugar. Again, I wasn’t sure the amounts would fill my dish so I doubled them. I got to use my brand new American measuring cups which Ben bought me in Asda and make me feel like the Barefoot Contessa. ‘Add a cup of heavy cream!’ etc. She says that all the time, trust me. (Barefoot Contessa is on in our lounge the 10% of the time Come Dine With Me isn’t.)

All the goodies in the bowl!

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I mixed all these up and then carefully folded in the whipped cream. The recipe calls for 35 percent whipping cream but I just used double and it worked fine. When I was finished, I swirled the peanut butter filling into the pie dish, put it in the fridge to chill and started my final layer, the chocolate whipped cream.

This required the melting of cream and chocolate in a bain-marie which I then chilled for a couple of hours in the fridge, before whipping together using my little hand mixer. I spread the mixture on top of the pie dish and ta da!

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I took it to our friends’ house that we were staying at over the weekend and I have to say, with the chocolate shavings on top I was pretty impressed with how it looked!

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And I was even more impressed when it actually held together as I sliced it!

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The pie itself was incredibly rich and creamy; I don’t actually enjoy fresh whipped cream all that much (I know, I’m weird) so it wasn’t really the ideal dessert for me. But, our friends absolutely loved it and even my peanut-butter-hating boyfriend enjoyed his slice, as well as the second he had a couple of days later! The peanut butter flavour wasn’t quite strong enough for me to be honest, I feel the cream really overpowered it and I’d like to be able to really get a proper, intense, OMGPEANUTBUTTER hit of PB. I didn’t realise it’d be quite so creamy when I first read the recipe.

I’ve got an idea in my head that seems to be more tart than pie, with layers of pure peanut butter, chocolate ganache and a crunchy pretzel/digestive biscuit base. So I might try that out soon, once we’ve recovered from the calorific bomb that was this dessert. I recommend the recipe though, just be prepared to tweak it to make it fit your pie dish. And add more peanut butter!

My Dad’s Corned Beef Hash


corned beef hash

I hardly ever had corned beef hash growing up; it wasn’t a dish on our regular circulation of dinners. But, my Dad would sometimes make it when my Mum was working late as a quick meal for himself and as I got older, I fell in love with it! I started having serious cravings for it last week so I bought all the ingredients and phoned him for a quick recipe recap before I made it. His method is simple and easy but I was obsessing about having lots of crispy bits on the bottom, so it took ages to cook and  was in the pan for about 20 minutes! If you don’t obsess over crispy bits it probably takes about 30 minutes from start to finish, perfect for week-night dinners. It is also incredibly cheap; although I was greedy and ate mine in two servings, it should really serve four. Corned beef is less than £2 for the tin, potatoes and onions are dead cheap and everything else is just bits and bobs of spices, sauces and flavours. The dish is very filling and perfect for wintery nights, I feel like I need to cook it again very soon!

Dad’s Corned Beef Hash 

(a very rough recipe as most things are according to your personal tastes!)

Serves 4 (or 2 greedy people/1 greedy person on 2 consecutive nights)

3 large potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 tin corned beef (I used Princes!)

1 chopped white onion

ketchup

worcestershire sauce

salt and pepper

1 egg per person, to serve

Boil the cubed potatoes until nearly cooked through. Start frying the onions in a frying pan with oil (I used Frylight as I’m still meant to be on a diet…I just keep forgetting…) and add the cubed potatoes once cooked through. Fry both until the potatoes are starting to get crispy around the edges and the onions are light brown. Cube the corned beef and add it to the potatoes and onions. I had a slight issue here as my frying pan was not big enough to hold all the food so I had to use a smaller one as a back-up and split the mixture. Bit of a nightmare and I don’t recommend it; use the biggest frying pan you have!!) Fry the corned beef until it is hot through (obviously it’s already cooked) and add as much worcestershire sauce and ketchup as you like. I added a fair bit of both as I like a strong tasting hash. I then cooked the hash for a futher 15/20 minutes to ensure I had a lot of crispy bits. Fry your egg, season the hash and serve the egg on top of the hash.

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Posh!! Not at all. Mine does look quite posh but that’s just because I have an amazing camera. The following evening, I ate my hash in a big bowl with a fork. Classy!

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If you grew up eating corned beef hash and you haven’t had it in years or if you’ve never tried it but quite like the concept, give this recipe a go! It’s insanely easy, cheap and quick to make. You could even go all out and serve it with baked beans or tinned spaghetti but I found the simple mixture of beef, potato and onion was quite enough. And the runny yolk on the egg is amazing mixed in! Enjoy 🙂