Now I am a big fan of eating out as many of you will know from my regular restaurant reviews but I have also discovered something undeniably therapeutic and satisfying about cooking. I don't mean the type of cooking constituting of manically shoving something on the stove with whatever is left in your fridge after a long day at work, no, the cooking I mean is different. It takes time, a bit of effort and patience and can be, when done right, the most relaxing and rewarding thing with tasty results to feed you and others, a real celebration of food in good company that for me is what a dinner party should be about.
I had the perfect lazy Sunday at my disposal to try and achieve exactly that with my very lovely friend and one of my favourite fellow bloggers, Rosalind, coming down to visit me from Oxford for a day of eating, drinking (Prosecco of course) and catching up. On her last visit we already had a bit of an indoor picnic with relatively simple yet delicious small plates to share - sweet potato chips, baked brie and courgette fries to name a few, only inspiring me to find slightly more experimental and ambitious recipes for our next get together, trying as well to make rather than buy dessert as crowning touch on this occasion.
In the end Yotam Ottolenghi was my main source of inspiration. Yes, I already regularly flock to his Islington cafe, wasting ridiculous amounts of my not so ridiculous salary on the beautiful array of salads served up here but luckily for me his recipes turned out to be equally as amazing and to my surprise actually really easy and cheap to prepare. They challenge your flavour perception (boy did I not know that fig and sweet potato go well together), are fresh, light and also absolutely beautiful on the finished plate. As lame as it may sound I already have a Pinterest board full of his creations ( hey at least it's not a wedding board) and can't wait to try and recreate them at home.
I also went for some more classic dishes that are good to share. One for example cannot go wrong with a classic Italian Caprese salad, mozzarella, fresh basil and juicy tomatoes from the Turkish greengrocer behind our house, combining into a trio made in heaven that is hard to mess up. For good measure I also bought a rotisserie chicken, Sainsburys does a pretty good one for under £6, which was served with garlic mayo and which added a bit of substance, especially as we steered away from anything containing gluten for my stomach's sake, all in all leaving us with a pretty decent spread full of different flavours, textures and colours that was an absolute joy to eat and way better than committing to just one main course!
Quality of veg is paramount in all of the recipes and I'd suggest going to your local greengrocers rather than a supermarket if you are lucky enough to have a good one near you. I don't know what it is but the herbs, fruit and veg just taste so much better even if you do get an odd shaped courgette once in a while.
As mentioned above I also wanted to make something a little special for dessert on this occasion especially as I am usually more prone to buying a selection of ice creams rather than actually making something. This cake however is worth all the extra effort in the world. Saying it is the best cheesecake you are going to ever have might be a big statement to make but I have grounds to go on. Since I first made this (once again) Ottolenghi recipe a few years back everyone lucky enough to try it pretty much said exactly those words after a spoonful and after a good 2 year break of making it due to lacking both scales and a baking tin I am happy to say it still got the same reactions. Why? Well you just going to have to try this caramelised macadamia nut, vanilla cheesecake with homemade caramel sauce to really understand....
So get cooking & baking!
Roast sweet potatoes, figs, chill and green onion with balsamic glaze and goat's cheese
It shouldn't work but this combination of sweet, salty, tangy and fresh is incredibly tasty, is easy to
I was back in my kinda hometown Düsseldorf last weekend ( though I would call London my true home these days) for a short break to see my mum, some old friends and to enjoy all the foods I usually miss out on in England. Unfortunately the weather wasn't of the "I am gonna stuff my face with chocolate and cake" kind, no, with temperatures reaching a good 39 degrees celsius I ended up sticking to slightly lighter yet equally delicious fare and will share with you a few new discoveries I have made (and a few I revisited) since my last post on Düsseldorf!
The best Niçoise at Principale Pizzabar
Finding out your belly isn't big on gluten is annoying enough, realising that eating pizza is like playing Russian roulette with your insides is even less so which made me have my reservations when my friend suggested Principale Pizzabar in Düsseldorf's "hip" area Flingern. I shouldn't have been worried because one thing that is also done flawlessly in the Italian cuisine and which I really miss in England is a, to put it bluntly, banging salad. My one came with zingy balsamic dressing, perfectly (undercooked) seared tuna and a mix of crunchy, well seasoned veg, an absolute dream on a plate. We also shared a fantastic vegetarian antipasti platter and great wine and at no point was I sad that I missed out on the pizza that my dining companions had, in fact there was so much more, gluten free or not, on the menu that I wanted to try that I can't wait to come back. A neighbourhood Italian that Düsseldorf's inhabitants should be happy to have.
Aperitifs at Cafe Da Forno
With the tropical temperatures meaning that most of my dining out plans were thrown out of the window this weather really only lend itself to two ( to me essential and not strictly nutritionally acceptable) food groups - cocktails and ice cream! Nordstrasse, not far from my mother's flat has lots of little old school Italian cafes, originating from a big wave of immigration to Germany from Italy during the 1950's much like the Indian dining culture in the UK, with Da Forno unarguably being my favourite of them all with it's old school slightly shabby charm and outdoor seating space. Perched on a rather unelegant plastic chair and with a very mixed crowd, age ranging from 9 to about 85, I still couldn't help but feel like I was in Rome again, especially after ordering my current tipple of choice, an Aperol Spritz. I miss these kind of casual and unpretentious places in London where you are able to have a early evening drink under a fiver in the sun without having to face a ridiculous queue. It might not be "cool" but that is exactly why I love Da Forno.
Macaroons at Pure Freude
I have written about Pure Freude's modern take on French patisserie before and couldn't resist a quick visit on this trip. Though it was a bit too hot to sample one of their cakes (which would have most likely disintegrated within minutes of leaving their shop/cafe) I still had to have one of their macaroons and hey macaroons are the lightest of sweet treats anyway! I went for classic vanilla and rose for my ones on the go and was not disappointed. Of as good if not better quality than Laduree, Pure Freude is still a must visit for anyone with a sweet tooth whilst visiting Düsseldorf!
Ice cream done the old school way at Laguna Blu
As I have mentioned Germany has a long history of Italian immigrants that brought not only pizza and a delicious aperitif culture with them but also one of my favourite things in the whole wide world- gelato! There are some seriously old school cheesy ice cream cafes in Germany that not only instantly win you over with their tacky interior but teir equally over the top ice cream creations that are made in the traditional and bloody delicious Italian way. Laguna Blu is exactly such a place and once you get served one of their gigantic sundae like creations you can't help but become an overexcited child again! Whether you go for a refreshing strawberry cup with vanilla, strawberry and yogurt gelato topped with cream and strawberries or something a bit more boozy (they will put alcohol in almost everything), I recommend everyone to go for this nostalgic experience!
Because it's always Pimms'o Clock
Pimms is of course not German but really rather quintessentially English but I couldn't help but bring my friends a good old bottle of it from duty free and boy there is nothing better than a chilled glass of Pimms, of course with lemonade, mint, cucumber, strawberry and ice, on a hot day no matter the country!
The best cappuccino at Woyton
I have become a little bit of a coffee snob in my years in London, too many independent coffee shops with "award winning" baristas claiming to serve the best coffee in town but seldom doing so on tasting. Woyton, a small chain of coffee shops in Düsseldorf, serves one of the best cappuccinos I have had in my whole life - creamy, full of flavour and of top notch quality every time I have ordered it, making it my first stop on every visit! Now this is a place I would like opposite my office.