Last Sunday saw me prepare another one of my veggie feasts for my dearest and nearest- hunting down ingredients, prepping all components and then enjoying the fruits of my labour with my guests over a bottle wine after all one of my favourite ways to end the weekend. Once again Pinterest (following my pinning escapdes here) served as main source of inspiration, providing me with more twists on my favourite vegetables and helping me ever more fine tune my signature dishes! Hope you enjoy the below and give the recipes a try yourself. Everything was super easy to prepare, cheap to buy and boy was it a feast for the eyes AND tastebuds!
ROAST BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND RED ONION WITH TAHINI AND Z'ATAR
Another Ottolenghi recipe (surprise, surprise), this was the first time I'd ever cooked with butternut squash. A little intimidated at first by it's size and struggling to get my knife into it at first, it was actually surprisingly easy to prep and cook. That goes for the whole dish in fact, a beautiful marriage of roasted chunks of red onion and squash, served with lashings of a super easy but tasty tahini and lemon sauce. Finished off with my new favourite spice mix, z'atar, a must have for all middle eastern cooking, and a sprinkle of fresh parsley, this is fresh, full of flavour and a beautiful addition to any spread. So few steps are involved yet the vegetables are transformed into something truly special. This won't be my last time cooking butternut squash and certainly not the last time making this dish.
SWEET POTATO NACHOS WITH BLACK BEANS AND SMOKED CHEDDAR
On my continuing quest for the perfect sweet potato recipe, this week a not so healthy but incredibly moorish Mexican twist on the humble sweet p. Replacing the classic nacho chip here, they are roasted, topped with smoked cheddar (and go for smoked rather than normal, it really adds another dimension) and black beans, then put under the grill until everything has melted into gooey goodness together. This is simply put slightly stodgy, comforting soul food that will rescue any cold winter evening without a fail. Best served with a fresh sour cream and chive dip. Comforting and cheesy- what more do you want!
I absolutely fell in love with courgette fries a few years back on a visit to Polpo, an iconic Venetian tapas restaurant in London, and had been on the search for a recipe to recreate them at home ever since. They were thin, crispy and a hell of a lot more flavourful than any of their potato counterparts. I tried to bake them, coat them in breadcrumbs and cut them into wedges- nothing worked, the results alway quite soggy, greasy and entirely underwhelming taste-wise. I then came across this recipe and had to bite the bullet. Yes, deep frying ANYTHING isn't great but OH MY GOD is it worth it here. Cut into thin strips, discarding the watery courgette flesh, and coated simply in milk and flour, these beauties, after a few minutes in a hot pan of vegetable oil, are as close to heaven in a fry as you will get. My tip: leave them to dry for a few minutes on a bit of kitchen towel to soak up excess grease (and to make you feel a little less guilty), sprinkle on a bit of salt and enjoy. Thank me later because you will make them again and again and again and heck they have less calories than a potato and are somehow related to courgetti so it's totally ok!
BAKED AUBERGINE WITH GOATS CHEESE AND CHERRY TOMATOES
Though not my favourite aubergine dish of all time (that honour goes without a doubt to this recent Ottolenghi creation), this is an impressive looking and easy to prep dish that combines the earthy flavour of the roast aubergine with the zing of goats cheese and sweetness of the little cherry tomatoes roasted on top. With only three ingredients, plus some honey drizzled over the top, this makes a super side dish even for meaty suppers and is satisfying enough to be served as a main with a little side salad or couscous.
I am a massive film nerd. Yes, I love fashion- in fact for me it is less of a hobby and more of a way of life, but there is nothing I enjoy more than discovering a truly fantastic film. I am not talking big Hollywood blockbusters, and I guess in that sense you could call me somewhat of a film snob always favouring a good foreign or independent film over the latest Comic book adaptation, but a great film can make you forget the worst of days and can culturally stimulate, heck even fully inspire you, which is why I felt it was about time to share some of my favourites. I could write a list of more than ten but here are films that I can watch time and time again and I hope I may just inspire you to give even just one try. Here are the first five but keep your eyes peeled for another post very soon! What are you favourite films? Have you seen and enjoyed any on my list?
LOST IN TRANSLATION
I watch Lost In Translation at least once a month when I'm feeling a little sad or down. Maybe it has a special place in my heart because I can identify with the sense of displacement felt by Coppola's two lost souls crossing paths in a very foreign Tokyo, myself sometimes a little lost in translation at times being not quite German but also not quite British despite my over a decade of living here, but maybe it also in part due to its simply stunning cinematography, amazing performances by Bill Murray, probably my favourite actor of all time, and Scarlett Johansson as well as captivating soundtrack- resulting in a movie that is so uplifting and beautiful yet also full of life's inevitable limitations and disappointments. Coppola might, like no other, show how lonely our society can be in our modern age but she also shows how there are a kindred spirits even in the most unlikely of places that can offer comfort and that beauty and humour can be found no matter how alien our surroundings might feel.
I am big fan of Wes Anderson no matter the film. He plays with colour and setting like no other and his ensemble of true oddball characters never fail to draw me in (hey who can't identify in some way with the family madness in The Royal Tenenbaums). My personal favourite though has to be Darjeeling Limited. The setting, on the Darjeeling express making it's way through India's stunning landscape, is of course amazing but it's the family story of three brothers with more differences than similarities and a dark past behind them, trying to somehow move on in the aftermath of their father's death that is truly beautiful. You can't choose your family and you can't change what has happened but Anderson shows us how you can still love each other.
Even though this film was made one year after I was born (1993) and has a script written by one of my favourite directors (Quentin Tarantino), I only very recently saw the cult classic that is True Romance. From that iconic opening scene melody to Patricia Arquette's fabulously trashy outfits, it is the perfect portrayal of an all consuming, all destroying love story and strangely managed to reignite my believe that there is such a thing as true romance.
WINGS OF DESIRE
Feeling like you've been on a surreal two hour mind trip may be quite an accurate assessment after you finish watching this German masterpiece but it's a true understatement of just how beautiful, touching and bold this film is. Yes, it is a foreign film so the lazy amongst you will have to deal with subtitles but it is worth the effort. Without giving away too much, the film follows Damiel, a guardian angel, as he overlooks a divided Berlin in 1987 and its mortal human inhabitants. He can't make wonders happen or save lives but can comfort those on earth in need, that is until he falls in love with exactly one of those humans and decides to drop down from the heavens to be with her. It is at that moment that the film turns from atmospheric black and white to vivid colours and director Wim Wenders beautiful illustrates the complexity and absurdity of being a human that Damiel is faced with as fallen angel. There is so much to this film than I can even bring to paper, it is as poetic and wise as a film can get and one that changed my view of what cinema can do forever.
THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA
I have always been a huge Studio Ghibli fan and enjoyed anything from Spirited Away to Kiki's Delivery Service immensely. The Tale Of Princess Kaguya though stands out in more ways than one when compared to its cinematic predecessors. It's more grown up, more raw in its drawing style and the masterpiece Isao Takahata, the creative mind behind Ghibli, had us waiting for a good decade. That is not to say it doesn't have the fantastical story elements and strong female heroine I love so much in other Ghibli films but here he goes further, showcasing a maturity and artistic awareness the others lack. It's a narrative full of depth and questions of morality and is also breathtakingly beautiful to watch. It is like being allowed to observe a true artist making a canvas come to life and for me anime at its absolute finest. This doesn't need high tech computer technology or real actors, it's a piece of art we are lucky enough to be able to witness.
Christmas meals tend to be pretty meat heavy so when it came to deciding on a festive flat dinner for me and my also none meat eating flatmate we had to think a little outside the box, eventually deciding on the best (well in my opinion even better) alternative to it...cheese! Of course even more superior, we concluded, in a melted fondue form.
Combining camembert and gruyere ( Nigella recipe I used for your pleasure here) with wine, another flat favourite, this sounded as close to dinner heaven as one could get and oh boy it was. After purchasing a rather cute fondue set on Amazon for under a tenner, we began thinking of ideal dipping vehicles, something a little different from your boring bread option (a no for my gluten sensitive belly anyway) and cut up carrot crudités . In the end we compiled quite the spread. Apple slices and grapes for that lovely sweet and salty sensation when dunking them into the cheese, rosemary and garlic sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts and baby new potatoes, roasted just long enough in the oven for crispy, slightly charred edges, and griddled tender stem broccoli and asparagus- this was veg and fruit heaven when combined with the cheese.
We also got some lovely deli olives, cheese straws, because the answer to cheese is of course more cheese, and my current obsession when it comes to crisps, Tesco Finest Goats cheese and sweet chilli crisps, providing the perfect crunchy texture break. I also mixed up a lovely garlic mayo, mayo with chopped up parsley, a few cloves of garlic, lemon and plenty of season to finish off this unconventional tapas style dinner. This is the perfect food to have whilst sipping on a cold glass of rose and catching up with your nearest and dearest, it's nibbling at it's best, allowing you to get a taste of lots of different flavours without having to commit to one hefty main course and is exactly my kind of food. Though we both had some rather bizarre cheese dreams that night I can't wait to have another fondue night and have already started to think of what other lovely things we can be dipping into that gooey delicious mix next time round!
The best ice cream EVER
Now as everyone that knows me even in the slightest will have realised I bloody love ice cream, in fact I have previously dedicated an entire post to my favourite flavours ranked from best to worst (read it here), and have always been pretty annoyed about the lack of flavours available from the likes of Haagen Dasz and Ben & Jerry's in the UK compared to the US where a new one seems to come out nearly every month. Well things seem to slowly be improving with this beauty, a long running US flavour, finally hitting our supermarket freezers, my tub found in my local big Sainsbury's.
Now I am big fan of cinnamon in all forms anyway and as result had high expectations for this flavour from the onset but OH MY GOD it is even better than anything I could have ever dreamt of. It's like making the milk at the bottom of your bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal into a smooth ice cream then mixing it with tiny iced cinnamon buns that taste pretty darn close to a Cinnabon one, which for whoever hasn't had the pleasure of tasting one is probably the most heart attack inducing/great cinnamon roll in existence with cult status after being featured in the most brilliant opening scene of Breaking Bad spin off Better Call Saul and is only available at 4 rather bizarrely located outlets in the UK, finished off with the most luxury swirl of pure cinnamon sauce goodness. Every spoonful of this is a 10/10 for me and I have been through too many tubs since it's release than I'd like to admit. Sorry Pralines & Cream you've lost your number one spot. Go and buy it now, thank me later.
Seriously good Caribbean @ Rudie's
Rudie's in Dalston hosted my work Christmas dinner with the Coffin On Cake crew which may explain the lack of pictorial evidence of the rather fantastic Caribbean food I sampled here, a couple of expertly mixed Mai Tai's and bottles wine later food more eagerly consumed than well photographed first.
That is not to say that the food was merely a drink accompaniment. The sharing menu we had was absolutely fantastic and offered a modern and fresh take on this cuisine. With juicy king prawns in chili broth, jerk calamari and plantain chips to start and a huge jerk meat platter (with tasty jerk veg as alternative for me that featured a delicious take on Ocra) as main, served with a fresh mango and avocado salad as well as classic rice and peas, this was vibrant soul food bursting with flavour, coming in portion sizes that left us more than stuffed and with doggie bags to take home. There was a dessert of rum cake but knowing that we were hitting the dance floor after, I declined, saving a taste of it for my next visit.
That's the thing with Rudie's, this sharing menu gave me a first glimpse of it's brilliance and I already cannot wait to go back and order a la carte, perhaps this time managing to take a snap or two. Service was also flawless with the staff making sure our group of 11 always had enough to drink and with food coming at a steady but not overwhelming pace. Rudie's is a real addition to East London's dining scene and will brighten up any gloomy London day with it's true sunshine food that comes with a modern twist.
Junk food done right @ What's Beef
Last but not least a new food discovery in my German hometown of Düsseldorf that is worth shouting about and definitely one to try if you ever find yourself there. I know, I know, in London we've been on that burger hype for what feels like the last 5 years but What's Beef adds a little German twist (mainly great quality ingredients and strong seasoning) to their dishes that see What's Beef comfortably holding it's own even when compared with it's iconic and longer established London counterparts Meat Liquor, Honest Burgers, Lucky Chip and the like.
I didn't sample any burgers on my two visits there but what I did have was absolutely fantastic. The sweet potato fries were without a doubt the best ones of my life (and heck I have been on a mission to create decent ones unsuccessfully following a number of different recipes at home for a while now), crispy, salty and with a delicious sprinkle of parsley. Served with garlic aioli, I have been dreaming of these ever since I've been back in London and if it was in any way feasible would get my mum to send me some over asap.
I also sampled one of their infamous milshakes, so instagrammable it almost hurts. And to be fair they didn't only look pretty but the Vanilla one I chose and the chocolate one my friend went for were pretty damn good. Yes, it's only a bloody milkshake in the end of the day but a lot of thought has clearly gone into the presentation here ( I particularly loved the sprinkles on the glass rim) and the result whilst a little trashy is fun food at it's sugary best. It may have taken Dusseldorf a little longer to get it's very own culty burger joint but they have a pretty good contender with What's Beef and it will be one of the first stops on my next visit over if only for those fantastic sweet potato fries.