Usually I try to make my city guides on here rather comprehensive,
spending a lot of time ahead of a trip researching where the best local spots
are and once there seeing and eating as much possible for the time I am there.
However sometimes that just isn’t possible, especially if you are faced with a last-minute
work trip with more time spent at the office than out sightseeing. This was the
case when I spent a night in Milan a couple of weeks ago to teach our team over
there all about social media.
Once I touched down In Milan, a little bleary eyed after a
6am flight, I faced a pretty jam packed schedule so, I am ashamed to say, did not
make it to any of major sights despite it being my first time there BUT I did I
did make it to one place that I was so desperate to go to that I literally
ubered it straight from work there.
So what is this place that I was prepared to cross half of Milan
for, even after being up for what felt like 24 hours already, you may wonder?!
Well I am a bit of a film nerd and a massive fan Wes Anderson’s work and his ability
to draw you into his unique and colourful world. Each of his films feature such
detailed sets, with every aspect of the interior considered, that they become
as much part of the film as the living characters.
It was only a matter of time really that this minute eye for
detail was utilised for a real life space and where better to do it than on the
grounds of the Prada Foundation at Bar Luce, slightly away from the city centre. Here he
was given the opportunity to recreate the atmosphere of a typical Milanese café,
of course also with that magical touch that has made Anderson’s aesthetic so instantly
Ahead of my visit however I was very much
trying to manage my expectations. Yes, this was a café designed by a director I
admired and it looked the part when I saw it on various social media platforms
but experience had taught me that posts can be deceiving and that many hyped
spots (Dandelyan being one of those) weren’t as charming or nice to spend an
evening at in real life.
I shouldn’t have worried as the minute I
stepped through the doors I was instantly wowed and transported into a
different world. The seats, formica furniture, floor, veneered
wood wall panels and the range of colours employed were reminiscent of the kitsch
cafes of the 1950s and 1960s and everything was as beautifully symmetrical as
in his films. Waiters are dressed to the nines with their black bow ties and
even the cakes look too perfect to eat, it all feeling as if you have just stepped
into one of his films and are waiting to meet one of his eccentric characters.
Perhaps I was always going to love Bar Luce
as a fan of Anderson’s work but I would find it hard to believe for anyone to
not get a little lost in his world here. Even better drinks and food prices are
VERY reasonable and the 5 euro glass of prosecco I ordered even came with an
array of beautifully presented Italian snacks. I went by myself and to be
honest did not really need any company, so engrossed in taking in every little
detail of the place (even the pin ball machines are based on his movies),
almost like a child in a toy store with the addition of a chilled glass of
Italian bubbles. I may have not seen much Milan but this place was one for my
personal bucket list and one worth the hype.
I love adding a new dish to my culinary repertoire and in my time have perfected making an authentic Pad Thai, can rustle up a mac n cheese that manages to pretty much wow anyone that tries it (trust me I don’t like to blow my own trumpet but every dining guest that has ever tried my fig, blue cheese and rosemary mac n cheese has said it was the best mac of their life…) and also make a mean range of Ottolenghi inspired vegetable dishes that aren’t only a feast for the eyes but also bloody tasty.
I’ve never been too bothered about learning how to make a lasagna from scratch, mainly as I mostly associated this Italian classic with mince meat and also because I had never actually enjoyed a none stodgy veggie version. This however was all to change when I invested in a glass baking dish one weekend on a whim when I fancied a frittata but lacked the cooking vessel to make one.
A day later or so after I had made a rather lovely Mediterranean veg frittata (which was a great recipe find but not quite worth blogging about) I started to ponder just how perfect this new kitchen addition lend itself to making a lasagne and began to research. After all I may have not had an amazing vegetarian lasagne in my life so far but that didn’t mean that there wasn’t a recipe for one out there somewhere.
After lots of Pinterest research I came across this recipe for roast butternut squash, aubergine and courgette lasagne with a tomato sauce made from scratch and a garlic, spinach and ricotta filling.I have to say this is not a recipe to tackle on a week night when you are after a quick dinner- in fact all in all it took most of mySundayto prep (bear in mind the roasting of the veg, preparing the filling, making the sauce and assembling), but I found it an incredibly rewarding experience and the final result was utterly stunning, in fact one of the best things I have ever cooked – flavourful, comforting and worth every moment I slaved over it.
The other plus point? You can prep the whole thing before your friends arrive for dinner so that all that is left to do is shove it in the oven for a good half hour while you enjoy your wine and company. If you don’t mind a little bit of prep this is an utterly brilliant option to feed a crowd and I have been dreaming of another slice of it ever since we finished even the last left over. A lasagne to not only please but wow.
Preheat your oven at 200 celsius F and prepare your baking sheet for roasting vegetables. Slice squash, zucchini and eggplant into 1/8 inch thick and place them in separate bowls (no need to peel, unless preferred otherwise). Drizzle some olive oil, add 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, a pinch of salt and pepper in each bowl. Coat sliced vegetables evenly and place each kind on a baking sheet on a single layer , making sure they don’t overlap or crowd too much (you don’t want to steam the vegetables, instead you want to dehydrate them and concentrate the flavor). Roast it in the oven for about 15 minutes. Set aside when ready. When done roasting the vegetables, turn the oven temperature to 250 degrees celsius.
FOR THE MARINARA SAUCE:
In a saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add onions and garlic and cook for about 3 minutes. Add red bell pepper and cook for another 3 minutes. Pour in tomato sauce. Add dried oregano and basil. Add salt and pepper, adjusting to your taste. Let it come to a boil and set aside.
FOR THE CHEESE FILLING:
In a bowl, save a heaping cup of mozzarella cheese and half a cup of parmesan for later.
Wilt the spinach on a pan with a little bit of olive oil (I used baby spinach so I don’t get the stringy stems). In another bowl, combine ricotta cheese, the rest of the mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Slightly beat the eggs and pour into the mixture. Add the spinach, nutmeg, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Mix well.
On the bottom of the dish, spread marinara sauce, just enough to cover the surface. Layer with lasagna noodles (note that the noodles expand as they cook). The cheese mixture goes next (about a cup and a half), spreading evenly. Layer the vegetable starting with the squash, then zucchini and eggplant. Spread the marinara sauce over. Repeat the layering – noodles, cheese mixture, vegetable filling and marinara sauce. Top with noodles, then add the remaining sauce and dollops of the remaining cheese mixture. Lastly, top it off with the mixture of mozzarella and parmesan cheese that was set aside. Bake for 35-40 minutes, uncovered (Check the cooking instructions of your no-boil lasagna).
Let the whole thing cool for about 15 minutes and enjoy!
I love ice cream, in fact it is my favourite sweet treat, and I have been known to enjoy it at breakfast time on aSaturdayorSundayonce in a while (or most weekends). Indeed in my time I’ve eaten many, many tubs of ice cream and often felt pretty bad about the 1200 calories I would have consumed after polishing off a tub in one sitting (because who can really stop half way through ?!).
However much fuss has kicked off on social media recently when it was announced that two very well known low calorie ice cream brands were coming over to the UK from the USA where they had already reached cult status. At the forefront of this is Halo Top who despite only launching a few years ago are actually outselling Ben & Jerry’s in the US right now.
Why the hype? Well you can devour an entire tub of their ice cream for 300-350 calories which is jaw dropping considering that they still do a range of exciting flavours such as cookie dough, cinnamon bun, peanut butter cup and lots more. Being so low calorie I really had my doubts how good they were going to taste but I have to say overall I was shocked by how much I enjoyed them, with some flavours even more than their calorific counterparts.
They aren’t cheap, costing £5 a pop, and are also pretty hard to find at the moment as only big Tesco’s are stocking them but boy I have to admit I am little bit obsessed with them and hope that it won’t be too long before Halo Top introduces some more of their more outlandish US flavours (birthday cake anyone?!) to us too.
i have sampled all Halo Top flavours apart from vanilla (boring), chocolate (never been a fan) and mint (gross) so below a quick run down of my favourites plus a review of their main competitor Breyers Delight and a more natural offering from the guys at Oppo. Have you tried any yet?
This was one of my favourite flavours. The ice cream is super creamy and the cookie dough bits better than in the Ben & Jerry’s version. 10/ 10
I had very high hopes for this one as I am massive fan of cinnamon buns in all shapes (particularly freshly baked Scandinavian ones like you can get from Fabrique and Baquriet) but was sadly left rather disappointed. The cinnamon flavour has got a weird hint of alcohol to it and the supposed cinnamon bun chunks don’t add anything. One that could have been great but failed to delivered. 2/10
I love salted caramel and although the Halo Top version isn’t quite as rich as it’s Haagen Dasz counterpart(you can literally taste the butter and sugar in every spoonful of that one which isn’t surprising when you consider the calories in a tub), this one is still pretty darn good and really succeeds in that salty sweet balance with proper caramel notes. A solid 9/10 from me.
Peanut Butter Cup
The name may be a little misleading as there are definitely no peanut butter cups akin to Reese’s offering in here but it’s still an incredibly rich tasting ice cream with real chunks of peanut. Yes, it may disappoint some with its lack of chocolate chunks and the name for the flavour could have been chosen better, but I really enjoyed this one, again more than the more calorific Ben & jerrys counterpart that simply got a little too savoury and rich for my liking.
Breyers has also just launched in the UK market although fir now it lacks the choice in flavours that Halo Top has brought to the table and to be honest the two flavours that I tried, vanilla and cookies and cream, did taste like a light alternative to the real deal and had a weird artificial sweetener taste at times. Yes, you are getting a low cal tub but here the taste and texture does suffer a little. If you do want to try it I’d recommend the cookies and cream as there is a little bit of extra texture through the cookies and it’s not a bad ice cream by any means just not as good as Halo Top.
Oppo’s mission is to produce low calorie ice creams with more natural ingredients, working with things like stevia leaf and coconut oil to replace nasties like processed sugar. The result is pretty good and I really enjoyed the salted Caramel ice cream even though it didn’t quite taste like conventional ice cream, not that that is a bad thing here, I welcome Oppo’s effort to make ice cream not only low cal but also a little more healthy. Right now they only have four flavours and I’d be intrigued to see them develop some more unusual and challenging flavour combination.