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Sunday Catch-up #37

Hello! I was MIA this week as I spent three days away with my school on a residential trip. It was very fun but extremely tiring so this weekend has been very easy-going. We headed out to Bath Chilli Festival yesterday which probably wasn’t the best idea for me (I am a bit of a wimp with spicy food!) but Ian was a lot more adventurous and had the tears rolling down his face to prove it!

This week I have been…

Making: a blue cheese dipping sauce

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Going: to Bath Chilli Festival

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Wearing: my Hunter wellies again

Eating: Beef brisket and lamb wraps

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Drinking: Chilli beer

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Reading: In the Kitchen by Monica Ali

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Watching: Gogglebox – so glad it’s back!

Buying: some hot sauce

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Planning: a healthy week of no-effort meals

Cooking: more BBQ food

Baking: nothing this week

Writing: to-do lists

Favouriting: this beautiful new glitter from Essie

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Working on: running again (I’ve been a bit lazy lately)

Trying to decide: if it’s cold enough to put the heating on yet

Wishing: for more late summer sun

Enjoying: the great company of my colleagues

Needing: a three day weekend to catch up on life

Feeling: very tired

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Giggling at: Ian trying the ridiculously spicy hot wings from the wings-eating competition

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Recipe – Courgette Pasta and Spinach Balls (aka My Favourite Carluccio’s Dish!)

Apologies for the long title but it pretty much sums up today’s post! I think most people have a restaurant dish that they just love and for me, it is the Penne Giardiniera at Carluccio’s. I really like these restaurants and every time I go, I tell myself that I really should try something new but gravitate towards this dish without fail. It is so delicious and I have converted friends too who now order this without fail when they go!

I had a real craving for this pasta dish recently and decided to try and recreate it using my memory of how it looked and tasted, plus a bit of Google as well! There were two main components I had to master. Firstly, there is the pasta in a rich cheesy sauce with courgettes and flecks of heat coming from chilli flakes. This is tasty enough but there are also these beautiful crispy spinach and Parmesan balls which add another texture.

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I am pleased to report that I was triumphant! It tasted just as good as I remember although Carluccio’s use giant penne pasta whereas I just had the normal stuff. I also think my spinach balls weren’t quite as crispy but on the whole it was a really tasty dinner and one I will recreate often.

Ingredients (for 2)

For the spinach balls:

300g of fresh spinach leaves

1 egg, beaten

A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

1 garlic clove, minced

2 Weetabix biscuits (or about 50g of breadcrumbs)

30g of grated Parmesan

Salt and pepper

A glug of olive oil

About 200g of penne pasta (or enough for two people)

For the pasta:

Olive oil

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

A pinch of chilli flakes

1 courgette, grated

30g of Parmesan (and a little extra to sprinkle on top)

Salt and pepper

How to make it

  • Begin by making the spinach balls then keep them warm on a low heat in the oven. Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the spinach leaves for 3 minutes

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  • Drain well then put the leaves into a pan of ice cold water to stop them cooking

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  • Using your hands, squeeze as much liquid out of the spinach as you can until you are left with a small ball of leaves

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  • Use a sharp knife to shred the spinach as finely as you can
  • Put the spinach in a bowl and add the egg, nutmeg, garlic, Weetabix, parmesan and a generous amount of salt and pepper

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  • Using your hands, mix well until everything is combined

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  • Roll the mixture into small balls

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  • In a frying pan, add a good glug of oil and heat gently on a low to medium setting
  • Fry the spinach balls in batches until crisp and golden and keep warm

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  • Now for the pasta! Cook the penne until al dente
  • In a large frying pan, heat some oil on a medium heat
  • Add your garlic and chilli and fry for a few minutes

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  • Now add the courgettes and cook for about 5 minutes

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  • Next, add the Parmesan and some salt and pepper
  • Finally, add the pasta with about half a ladleful of the cooking liquid to create a bit of a sauce

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  • Serve with the spinach balls on top and another sprinkling of Parmesan cheese

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One of my favourite pasta dishes I’ve ever made! x

Recipe – Greek-Style Quinoa Salad

Hello! I had planned on some daily blogging over the holidays but I have been spending ALL DAY decorating and nipping out to buy more DIY supplies. As well as completely revamping our guest bedroom (with the help of my parents!) we have bought new blinds, rugs, lamps and added a splash of colour to our bedroom too…all will be revealed shortly!

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Today’s recipe is definitely in the healthy category with super-trendy quinoa as the main ingredient. I have had this a lot in bought salads and in restaurants but never actually cooked with it myself. I decided to experiment with some flavours that I knew worked together and used a traditional Greek salad as inspiration for this dish. I served mine with chicken breast but it would work equally well on its own.

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The below amounts made a huge bowlful which kept us going for about 4 meals (2 lunches and 2 dinners) so I would say it serves 8 as a side dish.

Ingredients

One punnet of cherry tomatoes

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

A pinch of dried oregano

250g of quinoa

Half a jar of green olives, halved

Half a jar of black olives, halved

A small tin of sweetcorn, drained

Half a cucumber, roughly cubed

Fresh lemon

A drizzle of pomegranate molasses

One block of feta cheese, cubed

How to make it

  • Begin by preheating the oven to Gas Mark 3 or 160°C for roasting your cherry tomatoes – of course you can have them raw in the salad but I like the sweetness and texture that roasting them brings

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  • I simply slice the tomatoes in half, lay them on a tray or roasting dish, drizzle over olive oil, salt, pepper and some dried oregano then pop them in the oven for about half an hour before leaving to cool

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  • Now for the quinoa! Begin by pouring it into a sieve and rinsing thoroughly

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  • Next, place the quinoa in a large pan, top with cold water and bring it the boil before simmering for about 20 minutes or until the grain has sort of ‘split’ and softened then drain well

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  • It’s now time to mix everything together. In a large serving bowl, add the green and black olives, sweetcorn, cucumber, quinoa and roasted tomatoes

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  • Squeeze over half a lemon and drizzle over some pomegranate molasses and season well

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  • Finish off by mixing through the feta cheese and serve

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We enjoyed ours with chicken breast and it was also delicious for lunch the next day!

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I now have a big bag of leftover quinoa to experiment with so please let me know any good recipes to try – I have been reading about ‘quinoa berry breakfast bowls’ which may be next on my list! x

Restaurant Review – Lunch at The Longs Arms

One of my favourite local restaurants on the blog today, situated just a hop, skip and jump across the fields from our house. With spring starting to tease us with an appearance, we decided to make the most of the bursts of sunshine last weekend and go on a brisk walk with lunch thrown in too.

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The Longs Arms serves amazing local and seasonal food and it’s one of those places where I have worked my way through most of the menu and not had a bad meal yet!

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We just had a one-course light lunch although I couldn’t resist a hot chocolate afterwards too.

I ordered a cheese soufflé and salad and it was divine. Always tricky to get right, this soufflé was made with a rich sharp Lancashire cheese and was sat atop a wonderful salad of spiralised beetroot and courgette with a lovely crunch coming from a variety of seeds and nuts. I feel I need to buy a spiralizer soon as I have seen so many lovely recipe made with them lately!

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Ian had something slightly heartier in the form of sausages and mash which you really cannot go wrong with.

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All in all a lovely weekend lunch and I’m looking forward to a return visit.

Restaurant Review – The Hinds Head, Bray

Restaurant Review – The Hinds Head, Bray

Ian and I were counting down the days to this meal and when we found out our friend Karen was free to join us too, were looking forward to it even more! The Hinds Head is one of Heston Blumenthal’s pubs that has been awarded a Michelin star since I last ate there a couple of years ago. It is a gorgeous 15th Century building that keeps that cosy pub feel without any pretentiousness.

I started with a G&T made with Hendricks, my favourite gin. It was served beautifully with cucumber, black pepper and a rose…stunning!

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The three of us decided to share a few starters which included a hash of snails (delicious!), a Scotch Egg, Devils on Horseback and potted shrimps. I think starters are often one of the best courses and these were a great way to have a little taste of everything. I know snails may not be everyone’s cup of tea but these were gently cooked in garlic butter and served on a lovely slice of sourdough bread.

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For my main course I had a fish pie with ‘sand and sea’. I was slightly puzzled when I was told this can come lukewarm with the fish still slightly uncooked and translucent or piping hot. Now I would always order my meat rare when offered but rare fish was a first for me and just didn’t appeal! Anyway, my ‘piping hot’ pie arrived and it was packed with fish (smoked pollock, cured salmon and prawns) and the ‘sand and sea’ turned out to be a creamy foam and crunchy breadcrumbs, both of which added a lovely texture.

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My friend Karen opted for the fillet of stonebass with crushed Jerusalem artichokes, mussels and a cider butter sauce.

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Ian had the duck which was served pink with beetroot, barley and turnips. We couldn’t resist a side order of the infamous triple cooked chips too!

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I was so glad I saved room for pudding as this was a good ‘un. I was torn between a few options but the waitress recommended this warm chocolate melt-in-the-middle pudding served with an amazing orange marmalade ice cream. I’m not even ashamed to admit that I didn’t share a mouthful of this either!

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Karen and Ian had a cheeseboard but were much kinder than me and let me try some too.

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I absolutely loved our evening here and for a Michelin restaurant, it was really reasonable considering we had three courses. It is the second time we have eaten at the Hinds Head and I would return without hesitation. In fact, our friend rebooked to go back there within a few weeks’ time!

Restaurant Review – Taplow House Hotel

It feels like I haven’t done a good restaurant review for ages! I think that’s probably because we keep eating at places I have already reviewed or just places that don’t lend themselves to a good blog post.

Anyway, today I wanted to share the amazing meal Ian and I enjoyed at Taplow House Hotel when we stayed there recently. We had a three course meal included in our hotel stay which I always like as it means you don’t have to have that argument about who will be the designated driver!

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We started with a good bottle of Merlot while we perused the menu. There were 4 or 5 options for starter, main and dessert which were a nice variety of meat, fish and veggie dishes. The dining room was beautifully decorated but I have to say there wasn’t much atmosphere…maybe that was simply because it was a Wednesday evening though.

I am going to get my other niggle out the way now because I really couldn’t find fault with the food. The night we ate at the Taplow House Hotel, there was a large party in the other room which meant the service in the restaurant suffered a bit. We actually had to wait for almost an hour for our starters which normally would really annoy me but because we were ‘on holiday’ I didn’t mind too much as we were enjoying our wine and conversation.

Onto our (much anticipated!) starters…

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I had a dish of lightly whipped goats cheese which came with salt baked and pickled beetroot, green apple, sesame seed sponge, blackberries and leaves. The pairing of goats cheese and beetroot is a favourite of mine and this was one of those perfectly balanced dishes with a lovely variety of flavours and textures.

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Ian had the grilled mackerel (which were smoked in-house) which came with avocado, celeriac remoulade, mouli, pickled mustard seeds and shiso cress. Again, this was a well-balanced dish with the rich fish matched well against the accompaniments.

I think you can usually judge how good a restaurant is after you’ve had the starters and I have to say we were both really impressed with what we had had so far.

For my main, I really fancied fish so ordered the fillet of cod. This was a huge portion (not complaining!) and it just flaked away perfectly. It was served with artichokes, cockles, mini turnips, squid ink gnocchi and a smoked herring roe butter sauce. Whilst it did look a bit messy on the plate, this dish was incredible! The rich sauce brought everything together and I thoroughly enjoyed every mouthful.

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Ian opted for the lamb which again looked a bit messy on the plate but more than delivered on taste. There was a braised neck of lamb fillet and loin as well as sweetbreads served with pearl barley, charred baby leeks, celeriac and a lovely rosemary gravy.

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Onto pudding now and I had the white chocolate cheesecake which turned out to be a delightful deconstructed version and one of my favourite dishes of the night. The filling part of the cheesecake part was one of the balls sat atop the biscuit crumbs, the other being a rich vanilla ice cream. Surrounding the rest of the plate was a combination of chocolate ganache, shards of milk chocolate, hazelnuts, cocoa nib sherbet and cocoa marshmallows. It was truly delicious and every mouthful was different.

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Ian doesn’t have as much of a sweet tooth as I do so opted for the cheeseboard which had a nice variety of local cheeses, crackers and a chutney.

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If this hotel was nearby, I would be back to this restaurant in a flash. Although the atmosphere and service left a bit to be desired, I absolutely loved the food here and that would be enough to tempt me back. x

Recipe – My Revamped Avocado Pasta

I don’t usually revisit my previous recipes but when you end up with something so delicious, you feel you just have to share it!

I first posted about my Avocado Pasta dish in June 2013 and it is a staple in our household when we get hold of some ripe avocados: a simple midweek dinner option with minimal ingredients.

However, I often look at cooking as a chance to experiment and use up any leftover ingredients and that’s exactly what I did this week.

I kept the basics the same; ripe avocado, garlic, chili flakes and parsley, but added a few little extras in the form of creamy goats cheese, sundried tomatoes and, my favourite ingredient, chorizo.

The result was the same creamy, comforting pasta dish but with a little somethin’ somethin’

Ingredients

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Enough spaghetti or linguine for two people

2 ripe avocados

1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed

Salt and pepper

A pinch of dried chili flakes

Half a chorizo sausage, cubed

2 tablespoons of soft goats cheese

About a dozen sundried tomatoes, chopped

A handful of fresh parsley

Smoked paprika (optional)

How to make it

  • Begin by adding your pasta to a pan of boiling, salted water and cook until al dente
  • In a bowl, scoop out the flesh of the avocado and whip it up with a fork
  • Add the garlic, salt, pepper and chili
  • Mix well then have a taste to see if the flavours are balanced. Add some more seasoning or chili if needed
  • Add the chorizo, goats cheese and sundried tomatoes and give everything a good mix
  • Stir through the parsley

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  • When the pasta is cooked, drain it then add it to the avocado mixture and toss together
  • Serve with a sprinkling of parsley and a sprinkling of smoked paprika

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