Wednesday, 22 January 2020

EASY DIY PIZZAS WITH SHOW-STOPPING TOPPINGS



Pizza is one of those foods that is universally liked, the kind of comfort food that will always hit the spot and I am yet to meet someone that doesn’t like it. As dish it is also super adaptable and versatile - you can make it dairy, gluten or meat free, you can have a tomato or cream base and you can go as simple or as extravagant as you like when it comes to the toppings. Plus as I found out last weekend it is also super fun and easy to make pizza at home if you fancy a bit dough shaping and coming up with fun things to put on them.

Admittedly a bit of planning is necessary (mainly thawing the excellent pre-made dough I got from The Northern Dough Co.) and the different topping elements do take some time to prep (sautéing the mushrooms, mixing up the truffle mascarpone and the like) so not perhaps a cooking project for a weekday but perfect for the weekend when you can take your time at the supermarket, getting all the different bits and bobs and having a blissful few hours in the kitchen!

I was super, super impressed with the end result, the toppings were incredibly, and am 100 percent going to re-create this exact feast soon again, especially when the pre-made dough is so good and easy to handle!


THE DOUGH

Sold in packs of 2, you can find The Northern Dough Co’s amazing frozen pizza bases at Sainsbury’s and Waitrose. Defrost them over night in the fridge and you are pretty much good to go! All you need additionally is a bit of flour, a flat surface and a rolling pin and you can start rolling out the dough balls into lovely thin pizza bases! Make sure you also flour the baking tray you are using to bake them on so you can easily slide them off once the pizza is ready and cooked through.

The packaging says around 10 minutes in the oven at 250 Celsius but some of the pizzas took a little longer so just keep an eye on yours to make sure you get a nicely browned and not soggy bottom! The end result in terms of dough was pretty damn amazing considering the zero effort on my part that was involved in making the dough and I will for sure buy their bases again, particularly considering the price which is a very decent £2.5 for two!


THE TOPPINGS

PIZZA TOPPED WITH TRUFFLED MASCARPONE & MUSHROOMS


INGREDIENTS:
  • 150g mascarpone 
  • Truffle oil
  • 200g mushrooms, sliced
  • Parmesan or another hard Italian cheese

METHOD:
  • Sauté the mushrooms in a little oil until cooked and transfer to a bowl.
  • In another bowl mix the mascarpone with the truffle oil. This will require a little elbow grease to get to a nice creamy consistency. Add as much truffle oil as you like, depending on how strong your truffle oil is and how intense you want the truffle flavour to be.
  • Get your pizza base (ready on the baking tray) and spread on the truffle mascarpone mixture evenly
  • Top with the cooked mushrooms
  • Grate some parmesan on top to finish it all off for extra cheesy goodness!
  • Bake in the oven for around 12 minutes or until the base is cooked and the cheesy, creamy top is bubbling.


PIZZA TOPPED WITH FRESH FIGS, GOATS CHEESE AND BALSAMIC GLAZE


INGREDIENTS
  • 4 fresh figs
  • Mozzarella 
  • Passata (a big jar will be enough for both pizzas) 
  • 1 log of hard goats cheese, sliced
  • Balsamic glaze (available at most supermarkets, I got this Sainsbury’s one)

METHOD

  • Spread the passata evenly across the pizza base. 
  • Thinly slice the fresh figs
  • Tear mozzarella and dot around the base (eyeball exact quantity here, you can tell when there is enough on the pizza)
  • Top with goats cheese disks and sliced figs, distributing them evenly.
  • Drizzle with balsamic glaze and bake in the oven for around 12 to 14 minutes
  • I added drizzle of the balsamic glaze as finishing touch once the pizza was out of the oven - just about the perfect marriage of sweet and savoury flavours in my eyes but this is of course optional!


PIZZA FLORENTINE WITH SPINACH, OLIVES AND EGG

INGREDIENTS
  • 1 egg
  • 150g spinach 
  • Passata
  • Mozzarella
  • Parmesan
  • 100g sliced black olives

METHOD
  • Spread the passata evenly across the base. 
  • Boil your kettle and pour hot water over the spinach in a colander to wilt it. 
  • Use some kitchen towels to pat the spinach dry and remove any excess moisture.
  • Evenly spread the spinach and olives on the tomato base
  • Dot with the mozzarella and give the parmesan a good shave to top the base.
  • Bake for around 6 minutes before removing from the oven. Now it’s time to add your egg in the middle of the pizza! Return to the oven and cook for a further 5 minutes.

And enjoy!

Monday, 20 January 2020

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

CENTRAL LONDON’S BEST SPOTS FOR A GLASS OF WINE


Being in central London can be a total nightmare but is a necessity we all have to face once in a while. Why is it so bad? Well central London tends to be heaving with annoying tourists blissfully blocking your way, is filled with overpriced and mediocre eating and drinking venues and altogether usually does not present itself as an area I would choose to travel to if I was after a relaxed glass of wine with a friend. 

However, I have often ended up in need of exactly that lovely glass of wine in a nice atmosphere after a Saturday spent looking around the shops or straight after work on a Friday and for long had struggled to find places away from the crowds that offered a cosy and classy escape from the masses.

My below discoveries are not only places that will sell you a reasonably priced and good glass of vino but also offer a great atmosphere and some grub to wash it all down because as we all know I bloody love a nibble!

Especially during this rather grey and dull period following Christmas nothing can beat a good catch up with a friend and perhaps a little break from Dry January at one of these spots while we wait for spring to make an appearance


NEAR SELFRIDGES

SOURCED MARKET

Sourced Market, located behind Selfridges and tucked away from the madness that is Oxford street, is a lively cafe and deli during the day but transforms into a cosy wine bar at night. The setting is casual yet friendly with wine and nibbles ordered and picked up from one of their counters but it’s obvious that real attention has been paid to their wine list and the food to go with it.

We sampled their excellent cheese board, offering a fine selection of European cheeses and quince jelly, a delicious tortilla with feta, peas and mint and some wonderful olives, all washed down with some ice-cold Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, which you can also pick up from their deli to enjoy at home.

Prices are very reasonable at Sourced Market considering the location, basically in the midst of Mayfair and Marylebone, and it is the perfect refuel stop after some heavy retail therapy especially if you are after a down to earth and unpretentious spot where it’s all about good wine and good food.



COVENT GARDEN

10 CASES

I’ve walked past the 10 Cases bistro and wine bar on just about every lunch break since I started working at my current job and have been dying to try it for about that long too. On a quieter side street off Seven Dials and between Covent Garden and Tottenham Court Road, 10 Cases is a little piece of French bistro haven that you would never guess is only a 5-minute walk away from the crowded Covent Garden piazza.

Their premise is incredibly simple and charming, offering a short list of 10 white, 10 red, sparkling, rose and sweet wines of which everything is available by-the-glass/carafe/bottle and is always purchased in 10 Case orders.

That same straightforwardness applies to their food offering which is built around a monthly changing menu made from 3 starters, 3 main and 3 desserts as well as a range of wine-friendly tapas style dishes that are perfect to share.

You can book a table at the proper bistro but I adored the cave a vin walk in side of the restaurant, all dark wood, small tables and low lighting. It’s probably the most romantic place I’ve come across in London and we adored the wine and nibbles on offer, especially their out of this world polenta truffle fries. It’s a tiny place and a not so hidden gem so be prepared to wait, it will be worth it. A piece of French bistro culture in Central London everyone should try for themselves.


OXFORD CIRCUS

THE WIGMORE
I’ve already declared my love of The Wigmore in my post on the perfect Christmas in London and will stick to my verdict of it being the most universally appealing version of a pub that will please and excite any crowd or companion, a sort of idealised and sophisticated version of an old school pub without the price tag to match. I adore the amazing retro inspired interior, think plush dark green walls, lots of shiny brass and dark brown leather high stools. 

It’s got something a little ‘Mad Men’ about it, if Don Draper went to a pub in London it would be here, and you quickly forget that you are in fact literally next door to the worst tube entrance in the whole of London (yes looking at you Oxford Circus), the kind of watering hole that once you enter into through the thick velvet curtain by the entrance you will stay at many hours drinking their excellent house white wine. 

And please make sure you order a portion (or three) of utterly delicious thick Bloody Mary salt chips, they alone are a reason to visit the Wigmore, not that I need any more. Whether you are taking your mother, your lover or your friend I dare you to not have an absolute fantastic time at the Wigmore, I’ll see you at the bar.


TRAFALGAR SQUARE

TERROIRS 

On a bit of an unplanned bar crawl adventure one Saturday night before Christmas, Maddie and I were recommended Terroirs wine bar by a rather helpful (and dashing) sommelier at 10 cases and we would have been stupid to not follow his advice! Indeed, Terroirs turned out to be a buzzing wine bar that had an electric atmosphere on a busy Saturday night plus a great wine list to match.

On this occasion, we only tried the (nonetheless outstanding) bread and butter and couple of glasses of their house wine but I can’t wait to go back here to explore their seasonally changing small plates menu, Terroirs being a true gem particularly considering its slightly odd location by the Strand where culinary high points usually mean going to the huge Pizza Hut by Charing Cross station, not escaping to this little wine bar haven. One to revisit asap for me and one worth discovering by any wine lover.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

A DIY GERMAN FEAST


While I had my mum visiting I wanted to make the most of her being here so one Saturday night cooked up a little dinner inspired by my German culinary upbringing which was super easy to do and something a little different so I hope I can inspire you to give the recipes a go! Comfort food that is perfect for a chilly January evening with a bit of green thrown in for good measure and delicious when enjoyed with some white wine or water if you are on that Dry January drive! 


SPÄTZLE WITH EMMENTHAL & SLOW ROASTED ONIONS


This is technically a Swiss dish but as Spätzle (basically really condensed egg noodles) are also typically German I am totally claiming this dish as part of my German feast. My mum brought a packet over but you can also get them online. Failing that I reckon you can get away with a short pasta like farfalle. Invest in some proper Swiss Emmental from a cheese monger or deli as this the key (and in fact only) ingredient when it comes to the sauce. Take your time with the onions, we chatted over a glass of wine while I had my watchful eye on them, they need get caramelised slowly and add an amazing sweetness and texture to the dish that is hard to beat.

Serves 2-3

INGREDIENTS
  • 400g Spätzle cooked according to instruction (or another type of short pasta like fusilli or farfalle)
  • 300g Swiss Emmental, grated
  • 3-4 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons of butter 
METHOD
  • Melt the butter in a pan. 
  • Add your sliced onions and cook on a medium / low heat for 12-15 minutes or until the onions get to a dark golden colour with some crispy slightly burnt edges.
  • Meanwhile cook the spätzle or pasta according to the package instruction and drain.
  • Grease an ovenproof baking dish with butter and add the first layer of the spätzle. 
  • Top this layer generously with the grated Emmental and repeat this process until the last layer of the spätzle is topped with cheese.
  • Bake in the oven at 185 degress Celsius for 10-15 minutes until the cheese is melting through all the layers.
  • Remove the dish from the oven and top with the caramelised onions. Return to the oven and bake for a further 5 minutes or until the onions have heated through.


CUCUMBER, RED ONION & RADISH SALAD WITH SOUR CREAM & DILLL

This is my twist on a very traditional German cucumber salad which is eaten as a refreshing side dish all year round over there. I added finely chopped red onion and thinly sliced radishes to the classic mix of sliced cucumber, sour cream, white wine vinegar and dill and thought it worked a real treat, adding another flavour dimension to the dish overall! A fabulous side salad to cut through the richness of a heavy main dish and one I am sure to make more often going forward.

Serves 2-3 as side

INGREDIENTS
  • 2 cucumbers, thinly sliced (I used the slicer side of a cheese grater)
  • 1 red onion, chopped finely
  • 100g radishes, thinly sliced
  • a bunch of fresh dill, finely chopped + stems removed
  • 200ml sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
METHOD
  • Slice your cucumbers and radishes and finely chop your red onion.
  • Once you’ve sliced your cucumbers, spread the thin slices on a layer of kitchen towels and top them with more kitchen towels, pressing down gently, to remove any excess moisture.
  • Stir sour cream, sugar, vinegar and dilll together in a bowl and mix well.
  • Add the cucumber and radishes slices as well as the diced-up onion.
  • Mix everything together and pop in the fridge for an hour or two so that the flavours can probably infuse, then it’s time to enjoy

Monday, 6 January 2020

Saturday, 4 January 2020

8 HOURS IN MANCHESTER – A GUIDE


While spending a fabulous few days around New Year’s Eve at Maddie’s parents’ house in Leeds (which included us making an indulgent homemade truffle pasta dish with actual fresh truffle shaved freshly on top) we also took a day trip to Manchester, a major British city I was yet to visit.

Only an hour away by train from Leeds, we thought we may as well make the most of that weird stretch of time between Christmas and NYE when you completely loose sense of time and what weekday it is and have a lovely day out in Manchester, enjoying a fab foodie and boozy Monday like you seldom get to have!

Manchester instantly won me over with its mix of old and new architecture, its compact city centre that makes it easy to walk everywhere, as well as its affordable (especially coming from London) and varied food and drinks offering. You also get all the big shops like Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and high end designer boutiques if you fancy some retail therapy and altogether I was instantly taken by Manchester welcoming vibe that made it feel equal parts metropolitan and intimate.

I am for sure planning a return visit, especially when their annual German Christmas Market is on which we had just missed on this occasion and which, unlike the travesty that is Winter Wonderland, is meant to be the real deal in terms of authenticity. Day trips like this make me realise how much of the UK I am yet discover and am missing out on and make me want to leave my London bubble a little more frequently so give Manchester a go, you won’t regret it.

BRUNCH @ FEDERAL CAFE



Federal cafe is an iconic brunch spot in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, so much so that due to popular demand they have now opened a second location in the city centre. It has all the trimmings of your typical hipster brunch café - an Antipodean inspired menu, an emphasis on good coffee (theirs is from London roaster Ozone) and a walk in only policy which means on your standard weekend day or on this occasion a Monday where NO ONE was at work you are most likely going to have to queue. If you aren’t lucky to find a little space to perch by the counter inside you will also have to do the waiting outside, not exactly ideal when its freezing cold. There is however excellent coffee you can order in the meantime, at the counter like your food as there is no table service, and then you just have to hope for the best when it comes to securing a table.

The problem of course is that this a super cosy brunch spot also serves a range of fab cocktails, from mimosas to espresso martinis to Bloody Marrys, so people do not tend to be in a rush to leave which meant we did end up waiting close to an hour, a waiting time I would usually not endure in London but having heard so much about the place I was willing to endure on this occasion

Luckily the food tasted as good as it sounded on the menu, indeed I found myself torn between too many enticing sounding options on the menu and could have easily had three or four other options other than the French Toast I eventually settled for. And what a French Toast it was - the fluffiest of brioche slices served with macerated berries, white chocolate and almond crumble, whipped vanilla mascarpone salted caramel, a sweet plate of heaven without being too sickly that was an absolute steal at £8 for a very generous portion.

Had I been in a more savoury mood I would have totally gone for their cheddar corn fritters stacked with bacon or smoked salmon and served with avocado, rocket, two poached eggs, sweet chilli sauce and lime sour cream or Maddie’s garlic & thyme roasted mushrooms on sourdough, served with free range poached eggs, spiced tomato Fed sauce & ras el hanout seeds while their Açai bowl with granola, berries, coconut, agave & a peanut butter banana sauce would have been a rather dreamy healthy option.

As you can tell Federal’s menu is pretty strong and their execution on point which explains why the place has garnered such a reputation. Would I go back? For sure even if it means a little bit of a wait - Federal is a brunch gem that Manchester is very lucky to have and that would be a great culinary addition to any city.



DRINKS WITH A VIEW @ CLOUD 23


Manchester offers a great mix of modern skyscrapers and old buildings from centuries far gone as I mentioned in my intro and what better way to admire them than from a sky bar with fantastic views across the city.

Having realised that the Christmas market was already packed up for the year, Maddie was quick to think on her feet where else we could go for a lovely afternoon drink and instantly thought of Cloud 23. Cloud 23 is located on, you guessed it, the 23rd floor of the Beetham tower, above the Hilton hotel, and while the interior design is a little naff at Cloud 23, more DFS furniture catalogue than slick bar, with a lot fake white leather used, the incredible views across Manchester make more than up for that.

We timed our visit perfectly and got to take in golden hour with a stunning gold light setting across the city before sunset and could have gazed out of their floor to ceiling windows for hours. Stay away from the gimmicky cocktails, order yourself a glass of wine and be wowed by how little a human looks from that far up and see the city moving beneath you, there is no better way to first experience Manchester.



A BAVARIAN BEER HALL WITH A DIFFERENCE @ ALBERT’S SCHLOSS 



In high spirits (literally) after our sky bar drinks we went Albert’s Schloss, which literally translates from German to ‘Albert’s palace’, a lovely rustic bar with open fires and long benches modelled on a traditional Bavarian beerhall but is here executed in an elegant and modern way.

I was instantly enchanted by the huge and buzzing bar room, filled with Christmas lights, wooden features and log fires, with it all feeling like an Apres Ski hut in the middle of the Swiss mountain and making it the ideal cosy winter drinking venue. There is a ‘Press For Prosecco’ button at the end of each long bench, hearty German food on offer but also inventive and very affordable and well-made cocktails on their menu, we had a Watermelon spritz that was all kinds of fab before switching to an excellent Prosecco. 

The crowd is diverse with all ages welcomed and it’s the sort of place you can spent a whole evening at, especially as they also host live music gigs. We had to leave to catch our train back to Leeds but I adored Albert’s Schloss (maybe I am a little biased) especially with this modern and fun take on a Bavarian beerhall that is far from stuffy or lame. A must visit for anyone going to Manchester even if it’s more German than Mancunian.