Sunday Shopping with Stylist!

Cooking

By the end of the afternoon even a double espresso and a slab of rocky road didn’t make a dent on the shopping fatigue.
We hadn’t been to every shop in London but my feet could have sworn otherwise.
Even though we stopped to refuel on a big stack of pancakes with bacon, maple syrup & poached eggs; (which I inhaled at brunch time) by the last few shops we had definitely started fading.

Rhodora handed me another pile of frocks and thrust me into a changing room, I’d then emerge to await her critique. This might involve a conversation about a massive necklace or she’d rummage around for a belt to hurl around my waist whilst she’d look at my reflection in the mirror with her head critically angled to one side. After one too many failed outfits the conversation just stopped. I’d open the door expecting to be pulled about and sleeves or neckline adjustments to be made but if the ensemble really failed to meet her high expectations Rhodora would just silently close the door of the changing room to hide herself from the sight. I couldn’t help but burst into giggles at the mock distain on her face, at least by this point I knew she was mucking about…

…I didn’t know whether or not she was joking when she dressed me in this at the beginning of the outing. I’m still not sure; does this say “resourceful home cook” to you?

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Take One (Cont..)

Cooking

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Well that was a bit of a blur. I think our first rehearsal went pretty successfully. All the food was eaten at the end of the shoot so I take that as a good sign for the cooking at least.
As for my presenting, well, let’s just say it’s harder than I thought.
Luckily Sophia has taken me under her wing and arranged for me to attend a presenters masterclass next week so I hope to shake off a couple of nerves and the odd inhibition before the final shoot date.

Today should be fun though; window shopping with my stylist! Yep, that’s right, I have a stylist now.
This is because we want to make this pilot as good as it can be and Rhodorah has some brilliant ideas. It’s also one less thing for me to think about/mess up too! You may have noticed from my first video (Strawberry Brunch) that my hair was unbrushed and my shirt was in fact filthy (I thought it was clean on, honest) clearly I cannot be trusted with my own appearance. Whereas; Rhodorah always looks immaculate and even though I shall probably only be able to pay her in cocktails and cakes I admit it’s quite nice to start sentences with “my stylist says…”

Take one

Cooking, In the bag

We are soon to be filming Episode 1 of a series of cookery shows and today is our first rehearsal. Right now I’m feeling very excited and horribly nervous in equal quantities :-/

Just got to pack my bag and hit the shops for the ingredients…I think I have everything:

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Jubi-picnic!

Cooking, Events

My Jubilee Weekend

I am slightly ashamed to say that with all the meetings, recipe testing and business planning I almost entirely forgot about the 4 day weekend of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Luckily I was prompted just in time when my good pal Helen asked if I would like to go to a street party on Sunday.

Still keen to stick to my healthier ways I whipped up a light, wholesome Jubilee Picnic ready to share at whichever East London bash that would be willing to let us pull up a plastic chair.

I made coronation chicken skewers using free range chicken breasts, yellow peppers and dried fruit, served with a dip made from Greek yoghurt, curry powder, coriander and lemon juice.

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For a more whole-food cucumber sandwich I used rye bread filled with quark, cucumber and dill.20120605-163416.jpg

And as a sweet treat I made some Lemon & Lavender Drizzle Cake & Portmary Scones (both from Harry Eastwood’s book) which were lovely.

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I felt a royal picnic would not be complete without a little Pimm’s but instead of Lemonade I used Perrier to mix which isn’t half bad and much kinder on the teeth!

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We decided to head to London Fields as we thought that there was a good chance that Broadway Market or Columbia Road Market (both pretty much side by side) would be having some kind of shin dig. No such luck. Broadway Market was empty and Columbia Road had it’s usual Flower Market, which is always nice (and one of the flower sellers made a fuss of Helen’s bowler hat) but it wasn’t exactly what we were looking for. Just as we were about to give up hope we heard the “thud thud thud” of some exciting music and tried to work out where it was coming from. This was the final nail in the coffin that was our street party hunt as the music in question was coming from the boot speakers of a parked car next to an unmanned barbecue and a small bouncy castle complete with a single kid. I’m sure this street party livened up later on but at this point we were cold and damp from the drizzle so lugged our picnic back to Helen’s flat.

This turned out to be the best decision; Helen’s flat has bunting, hot coffee and a TV on which we could watch the live broadcast of all the celebratory boats sailing down the Thames and all the rain was outside 🙂

Happy Bank Holiday x

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The demon roast veg!

Cooking

I love roast vegetables. I do. The ultimate mix is probably my Dad’s. He uses red peppers, aubergines, red onions, courgettes and carrots smothered in garlic, balsamic vinegar and olive oil and then once roasted they are scattered with feta cheese and returned to the oven just for a moment so that the feta becomes fluffy – amazing! This dish reminds me of Saturday nights in front of the TV watching Bugs (please tell me I am not the only person who remembers this 90’s gem?!).

To keep my wobbly hormones in check I need to keep fairly slim. Generally it’s going pretty well. As much as I can I have switched to wholemeal alternatives and was surprised initially at how easy I found it to cut out sugar, but this week, I have really struggled. My new routine should be frighteningly healthy and consist of a breakfast like; wholemeal toast with avocado and/or a poached egg, a fruit smoothie with added spirulina and either a black coffee or herbal tea. Snacks of seeds, nuts or dried fruit, during the day, light lunches and an even lighter dinner. But, lately, I’ve been waking up without an appetite and therefore eating more and more later on, or worse, eating lots when I’m not even hungry.

Last night was particularly bad as I made a huge tray of roast vegetables for which I had a massive craving. I ate a great big greasy bowlful, half a pack of feta cheese and still went back for more and some flapjacks! This morning, not wanting to go to the shops I started to heat up the rest in the guise of brunch, but looking at it dished up, I stopped myself and had some fruit instead.

I have started to find it easy to fall back into the trap of eating as something to do. Loosing weight is hard, keeping it off is harder. I know, stuffing my face with vegetables isn’t exactly the same as eating a big plate of fish and chips but I have had a week of biscuits, ice cream, cocktails and a vat of chilli con carne so I do need to get back on track. Enough is enough.

For me the important thing is to acknowledge what’s happening. If I go into autopilot and start scoffing my dinners mindlessly in front of the telly it’s going to be harder and harder to get back to my sourdough and avocado ways. And what happened to my 10 minutes a day of exercise? I’ll tell you what happened; I stopped doing it that’s what!

There are many reasons why I find lifestyle changes hard – stress, laziness, lack of confidence, I’m sure everyone has a dip now and then. It’s the same reason why a few kitchen chores get neglected, I don’t keep up with the laundry and sometimes I find it a real push to write with any kind of regularity.

This blog post is to give myself a bit of a ticking off. An online disapproving glance and “Ahem”. We shall see this week if it works, the proof is in the pudding (must not eat pudding).

x

There’s no business like…food business!

Cooking

Working from home as a freelance food writer is brilliant! I am my own boss and am doing the job I love. The only problem is the occasional dip* in motivation. In the past, when I have worked for other organisations I pull out all the stops to meet the deadlines set by my employer, now that I’m my own employer I seem to have become a bit of a slacker, perhaps I should put myself on a formal warning.

*substitute “dip” for plummet!

I hate letting other people down but for some reason I find it very easy to let myself down, I’ll work all night or all weekend for somebody else but can easily spend weeks watching the Fraiser box set instead of writing my book. Thankfully help is out there. A few months ago I found an organisation called Kindred HQ on twitter who seem to be a great big digital hug to freelancers. They have life coaching tips, fingers in almost every social media pie and are now running regular meet-up events called “Jelly” where freelancers can work together. Super! I particularly enjoy their “desk of the week” feature on their website where you get to have a little nosy at someone else’s workspace – another thing I’m probably clicking on when I should be cooking or writing!

Reading through the motivational tips or life coaching advice the recurring themes seem to be to:

  • break daunting projects down into smaller tasks
  • get the boring or difficult pieces of work out of the way first
  • and to tell other people your plans in order to help you stay focussed.

I have decided to go one step further than just telling my friends what I am doing, instead I have chosen to work with them; as I am convinced that I will be much more motivated on collaborative projects – I will want to make it a success for them too, much more than if I were to work on something alone.

Firstly I am hoping to go into business with Bradley, a fantastic chef and actor. We are planning some exciting new food and events projects in London (that’s all you’re getting on this for now, you’ll have to keep checking back for details!)

Secondly, I am meeting up with Animation Director Helen Piercy tomorrow as we are hopefully going to be producing some more cookery videos! It was enormous fun to work with her on a video of Strawberry Brunch Recipes (as part of a zine I published last year) and I cannot wait to work with her again.

My friend Alison (who popped round for the gnocchi making workshop) took me to see Alan Carr – Chatty Man being filmed last night. It was a brilliant evening and I came out buzzing with ideas ready for my meeting with Helen. Strangely the ides are mostly fashion related as part of the show featured a very exciting performance by Nelly Furtado, who was dressed in a long sleeve gold sequinned top and black skinny trousers with a long black mesh skirt over the top. Alison is now convinced that this is the kind of thing I should be wearing in my cookery videos…watch the show and let me know what you think! (Channel 4, Fri 18 May, 10pm) oh and 10 points if you can spot us in the audience!

Today I got stuck into making sketches, watching YouTube videos of cookery shows and writing. I haven’t felt this motivated in months and I seriously think it is the thought of collaborating which is keeping me so focussed….not that focussed though, I paused for a break, got distracted and left my lunch to burn in the saucepan, luckily I remembered before the house caught fire! I’m off to the shops to buy a scouring pad. x

When Jack came to stay.

Cooking, Recipes

Jack is my sister-in-law’s brother…or my brother’s brother-in-law . . . surely there has to be a shorter way of saying this.

Anyway, Jack has been asking for my help to prepare for his new university course in digital games design. His background is in engineering which, excitingly, means all his digital designs of trains and cars would actually work if made in real life. The other students on the course are likely to have come from art courses and Jack wanted to hang out with me and try and get up to speed on arty fartiness! I found a timeline of art history, selected some examples of key pieces I like and why, and came up with this analogy to help him evaluate works of art.

“Lashings of Orange Juice & Lemonade”

The best thing I could come up with was “orange juice and lemonade”. Normally this is a mocktail, perhaps chosen by designated drivers down the pub or anyone in need of a quick thirst-quenching sugary hit.

I use it to explain art (I promise there is method to this madness):

  • The orange juice represents the conceptual integrity of the work, the idea, story or message that the artist wishes to communicate with the viewer.
  • The lemonade is representative of the aesthetic quality or the level of technical skill required to produce the work.

And finally:

  • The glass in which these liquids are poured is my perception of the piece.

For example; I feel that a painting like John by Chuck Close would be a full glass of lemonade – this is because of the incredible photorealistic quality requiring enormous technical skill. Fountain by Marcel Duchamp is a urinal (which he didn’t make himself, basically he just chose it to exhibit to challenge the art world). In its historical context this is a brilliant and humorous thing; a big glass of orange juice for me! Another of my favourite paintings is Empire of Light by René Magritte. In my opinion this is a large glass of both orange juice and lemonade in equal quantities. Check it out if you haven’t see it before.

I use this analogy because it reminds me to split my evaluation into an analysis of the concept and of the aesthetic quality. Also, it’s a little less risky to go around a small gallery whispering to your friend “barely a drop of orange juice in this one, no lemonade either” rather than “that’s a rubbish painting, the message it is trying to convey is weak and it’s not very well drawn”.

We spent the rest of the day loading up on coffee and creativity. We discussed conceptual art in the Tate Modern, grabbed a quick lunch from the stalls at Borough Market and then went sketching in the V&A. We arrived home with sensory and caffeine overloads and completely drenched from a downpour.

After a quick change I took a look in the kitchen cupboard to see what I could do for dinner. We were due at a party that evening; a fundraiser for the production of As You Like It which my boyfriend Richard is currently performing in – catch it quick before it ends on the 19th of May!

The party was 1920s fancy dress and aptly named Jazz You Like It! Knowing there would likely be a number of cocktails (and we all still needed time to get dressed up) a speedy-stomach lining meal was required. Manwiches seemed the only answer!

Manwiches

  1. Roast a selection of your favourite root veggies, garlic and onions in olive oil or cold pressed rapeseed oil.
  2. Toast some thick slices of bread and spread both sides with hummus (store bought is fine)
  3. Pile in the roast vegetables, sprinkle with zahtar mix and some crumbled feta and form the sandwich with the other slice of toasted bread.

Scrummy! If you are about to go out on the tiles I suggest you scoff these before you get your glad rags on- they’re mighty messy!

The party was brilliant, there was a raffle and Jack won an hour of personal martial arts and fitness training! We donated a dinner party for 4 which we shall be cooking in the winner’s house…a blog post for another day I predict.

Happy cooking!

Blogtastic Wedding!

Cooking, Events

So excited that my sister-in-law’s article has just featured on major wedding blog site Rock My Wedding! It was a completely brilliant day and a total honor to be asked to make their cakes.
The design process (for the cakes alone) I think took about 12 months, but I’m not complaining; I got to taste them too and what better excuse for churning out cake after cake than in the name of research!

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This Summer they will have been married a year and even now I cannot believe how much detail and creativity went into everything from the flowers to the cuff-links to the giant Japanese fish windsocks.
Do go and see the full account from my fantastic sister-in-law here: http://www.rockmywedding.co.uk/full-disclosure/

xx

Sugar Free Easter

Cooking, Recipes

When you’re trying to stick to a new healthy eating plan celebrations and holidays can make huge demands on your willpower.

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I’m trying to make a permanent change to my eating habits to balance out some dodgy hormones. In a nutshell I realised I wasn’t getting anywhere near enough fibre and was consuming far too much sugar.
So far it’s going pretty well. I have been able to swap my firm favourites with very similar whole grain alternatives and am eating plenty of fruit. It’s almost easy, and I’m already feeling the benefits which is brilliant.
But now it’s Easter bank holiday weekend and I can’t have an Easter Egg, slab of simnel cake or a hot crossed bun. I figure if I’m struggling with this; how on earth am I going to get through Christmas?!
The only reason it’s been easy so far is because I’ve been switching things I can’t have (like butter) with things I really like but I can have (like avocados). In order to beat my Easter Blues I have decided to try and make a cake out of the things I can eat, but make it look like something I shouldn’t. Make sense?

Somehow Simnel Cake sounded like the easiest thing to mock up. Plus, I’m staying with a friend in Birmingham at the moment so this seemed like a recipe which wouldn’t leave the kitchen too messy.

I can’t really have cake because it contains refined sugar but I found this recipe for banana bread online. It seems there’s enough sweetness in the bananas so that you don’t need sugar- brilliant.
I substituted the plain flour for wholemeal because I thought I might as well make it as good as possible and I baked it in a round cake tin to further trick my brain. When it came out I let it cool and then sliced it in half through the middle. I sandwiched it back together again with a scrummy paste made from about 25-30 dried dates softened with around 4-5 tablespoons of boiling water (keep adding a splash and mashing them until they are the consistency of thick lemon curd). Add to the date paste half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and a dessert spoon of cocoa powder. This made a really sweet chocolate filling ideal for this cake, but it’s also good on toast if you miss the occasional chocolate spread.
Obviously the marzipan was going to be the next hurdle, but i winged it and soaked some dried apricots in the same way as the dates (and about the same amount). Using a hand blender I processed 150-200g of whole almonds into the apricot mix. It turned out like a pale peanut butter. It tasted quite pleasant but I think next time a drop of almond essence would give it a more convincing marzipan flavour.
Finally I lightly grilled the cake to make it look authentic and that was it. Simnel Cake.
It was like eating cake, without the headache inducing sugar rush and probably at least one of my five a day; result!

Happy Easter xxx

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Gnocchi o’clock!

Cooking, Recipes

About a month ago a friend of mine posted this entry on facebook: “1st attempt at gnocchi making and it’s gone very badly wrong”. Underneath this statement was a photograph of a saucepan filled with the offending yellow paste and a wooden spoon which looked like it might never return. I invited her round for a gnocchi masterclass.

I say ‘masterclass’… I have made gnocchi before but that was ages ago and I cannot remember how it turned out. I think it went ok but I honestly have no memory of it either way. She seemed so disheartened that it hadn’t gone well that without thinking I invited her round to make gnocchi with me. I had been joking when I called it a masterclass, but I realise now that I haven’t actually known her for that long so she may have just assumed that I knew what I was talking about. (It’s probably better that I am concerned about this now and not on the day).

She arrived keen to get started and once the kitchen was free from coffee making housemates we got to work. I might not be a gnocchi expert but I know what it feels like when things go wrong in the kitchen. Usually this happens to me when I am being impatient or if I get distracted. It feels so much worse when it’s the mistakes you wouldn’t normally make; over-cooked veg, an undercooked casserole, burnt cake, in my case all of which are almost always followed by my flouncing off into another room dramatically exclaiming “I can’t cook” and “my career is a failure”. I hoped that if I helped my friend resolve her gnocchi nightmare I would simultaneously be sending a metaphysical drop kick to every failed flan, terrible terrine or that lumpy mashed potato I was sorry to serve to my boyfriend’s mother last year.

It was a really fun afternoon and I am pleased to say that we made some rather yummy gnocchi. It was a lot easier than either of us had expected/half remembered. We ate it in the garden until I noticed a hungry squirrel take a strong interest in the hazelnut butter so we ran in.

I really enjoy cooking with other people; sharing the labour of something which might normally be fiddly or complicated and swapping kitchen hints and tips.

If you want to make gnocchi too, here’s what we did:

  1. Take 750g of potatoes and boil them whole and unpeeled for 30 minutes
  2. Drain them, rinse with cold water and leave them to cool.
  3. Peel the potatoes and put them through a potato ricer.
  4. Gradually add 125g of plain flour stirring with a wooden spoon.
  5. Knead the mixture briefly and bring together into 3 lumps. Roll them into thin sausages and chop into small pieces (you’re aiming for boiled sweet size blobs)
  6. Press a fork into the sides to give small line indentations and drop a third of the gnocchi pieces into boiling water
  7. Once they rise to the top, give them about 10 seconds or so and then scoop them out with a slotted spoon and place in a serving dish.
  8. Repeat the process with the rest of the batches.

Add pesto or your favorite cheese or toasted hazelnuts tossed in melted butter. As you may know I’m trying to change some of my eating habits at the moment so I made mine with butternut squash in place of potato and used wholemeal flour. The mixture needed more flour than the potato version and I stuck an egg in too (for luck!) The butternut squash version is great with the hazelnut butter, mint leaves and feta and I served the classic version with a simple salsa verde made with mint, parsley, basil, capers, lemon juice and oil.