Category Archives: Food

5 Incredibly Romantic London Meals

5 Incredibly Romantic London Meals

Written in celebration of ‘romance,’ February’s blog word of the month. 

This article is a contributor post by Claire Jones. As well as being a fantastic writer, Claire is known amongst her friends as always having exceptional food and book recommendations. I knew she’d be the perfect person to write about her most romantic London meals, and this fabulous list, from the most beautiful proposal to a perfect date night, definitely has my heart fluttering! – Miranda

The 5 Most Romantic Meals I’ve Had in London

by Claire Jones

The most personal of these romantic meals was a picnic in Kensington Gardens where my boyfriend – now husband – proposed. Picnics have always been special to us, marking several defining moments in our relationship, so it was the perfect way to pop the question in a semi-secluded area beneath a tree. London spoils us with a variety of romantic picnic spots and shops, delis, or restaurants that provide lush picnic food. We chose to go to the nearby Whole Foods for cheese, charcuterie, and pink champagne. We had brought our picnic bag from home that, unbeknown to me, carried new picnicware, our cutlery and napkins from home, and a surprise ring box. Even if the picnic is not going to be as momentous as a proposal one, it’s still a delightful way to while away a dry afternoon in London, spending quality time together.

Our engagement came in two parts: the following evening we celebrated at City Social, Jason Atherton’s Michelin starred restaurant in Tower 42. We toasted our future with quirky, imaginative cocktails while looking over the city at dusk; we moved from aperitifs to a secluded table that looked out the floor-to-ceiling windows to the Gherkin. A year later we celebrated our wedding in the private dining room, again looking out at the city lights.

A highlight of City Social is the apple tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce to share – what’s more romantic than a dessert between two?! If you don’t have a sweet tooth, or you are simply not inclined to share food, then there is also a delectable cheese trolley.

Love is in the air. There are now several restaurants in London skyscrapers that provide breathtaking views of London, but Duck & Waffle is the highest and does so twenty four hours a day. Watching the sun rise together high above the city is a special experience to have but it helps that breakfast is great too! Order individual dishes but be sure to share a portion of the signature duck & waffle, the sweet and savoury components complementing each other as all good relationships should.

Whoever said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, has never eaten in Hawksmoor… Hawksmoor’s steak is the way to everyone’s heart. Purveyors of the best steak in London, it’s not a conventionally romantic venue but it makes for a wonderful date night. I prefer the ambience of the Seven Dials restaurant but each of the Art Deco outposts offer elegance, fantastic food and drinks, plus unsurpassed levels of customer service. Hawksmoor offers sumptuous, indulgent food and a well-stocked bar for pre-dinner or post-dinner drinks.

Situated in The Berkeley, Marcus is the eponymous two Michelin starred restaurant owned by Marcus Wareing. Whether you opt for the seasonal tasting menus or a la carte, both using British ingredients, Marcus is an unforgettable meal. It is a restaurant that creates memories while serving precision cooking and an extensive wine list. The Berkeley is an impressive venue and the restaurant is highly acclaimed and deservedly so. Desserts are especially sensual and well-recommended. Marcus is very much a special occasion restaurant and one to go to when romancing or being romanced, to wow or be wowed.

Paris may be considered the city of love but London is most certainly a city of romance.

***

Claire Jones is originally from Glasgow, but now lives in London and works in publishing. You can follow her adventures in London and beyond through her fabulous instagram account. If you like adorable pictures of cats and great food and book recommendations, then Claire should definitely be on your ‘following’ list.

***

Goodness, I can’t wait to try out all of these restaurants! I completely agree with Claire that Hawksmoor is the perfect setting for a date: steak is certainly a way to my heart, and one of the best dates I’ve been on was at the Covent Garden Hawksmoor branch. And Marcus sounds the perfect setting to get swept off my feet…. I love how in the end, though, Claire’s most romantic meal was a simple picnic in a London park.

How about you? What are some of the most romantic meals you’ve ever had? Are you keen to try any of the restaurants Claire recommends?

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Bowl Food | 2 Ways With Rice

Bowl Food - 2 Ways With Rice. Simply Nigella Rice Bowl Recipe via Miranda's Notebook. A superbly easy dish for a fast weeknight supper recipe.

It must be the cold weather, as I find myself cooking warming, comforting bowlfuls of food so much more: stews, curries, creamy soups, porridge and rice bowls. January 2017 has been the month of me discovering the joys of a good rice bowl, and this easy dish has fast become my go-to weeknight recipe.

Bowl Food - 2 Ways With Rice. Simply Nigella Rice Bowl Recipe via Miranda's Notebook. A superbly easy dish for a fast weeknight supper recipe.

I first discovered the basic recipe in Simply Nigella, and was instantly attracted by the bright colours of roasted pink radishes and fleshy green avocado. Nigella’s attitude towards this dish is reassuringly laid-back, stating ‘the only constant is the rice.’

You’re free to throw in pretty much whatever you have in your fridge and experiment with your own variations, which I’ve been doing. Having such a large degree of flexibility is a great way to stop a standard dish becoming boring. I’ve used different types of meat & fish, kept it vegetarian and roasted whatever vegetables I’ve had to hand (broccoli and baby aubergines are favourites). I’ve played with the flavours, sometimes swapping out the East Asian influences of soya and ginger and going for homemade Italian pesto instead.

Here, though, is the basic Simply Nigella rice bowl recipe (with my own tweaks given as well):

Easy Rice Bowl (serves 2)

3/4 cup short grain brown rice (I use a great cooking cheat here, by buying precooked brown rice from Sainsburys. All you do is pop the package in the microwave for 2 minutes, and you’re done)
1 cup cold water (not needed if you do my cheat above)
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled (Nigella clearly loves her ginger! This really depends on your taste – I only use a thin sliver per bowl, finely chopped, and find that adds enough gingery kick for me. Experiment to find your own preference!)
4-6 radishes (I usually roast more than this, as I love radishes)
2 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
2 tsp organic raw apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup mixed seeds, such as pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or sesame seeds
3-4 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 small ripe avocado

1/ If you’re cooking the rice yourself, put the rice and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Once it’s bubbling, put on the lid, turn the heat down very low, and simmer for 25 minutes. Then turn off the heat, keeping the lid on, and let it stand for a further 5 minutes (honestly, though, just use my cheat!).

2/ While the rice is cooking (or before bunging it in the microwave), peel a small piece of ginger and cut it finely. Cut the radishes into quarters or eighths lengthways, depending on their size. Put them on a baking tray, sprinkle over some olive oil and roast in a hot (about 220 C) oven for 10 minutes or so – make sure you check on them so they don’t burn. If you’re short on time, you don’t have to roast the radishes – they’re nice raw too.

3/When the rice is cooked, spoon into a mixing bowl. Add the tamari or soy sauce and the apple cider vinegar to the bowl and toss with a fork to combine, and then do the same with the ginger, radishes, and seeds. Stir all but a little of the chopped cilantro into the rice.

4/Divide between 2 smallish bowls and top with avocado, either cut into strips or chunks. Sprinkle each with the remaining cilantro, and enjoy! I also like to top mine with some cooked ham, a fried egg, or even some white crab-meat or prawns. In the words of Gwyneth Paltrow, it’s all good!

Bowl Food - 2 Ways With Rice. Finnish Rice Porridge recipe via Miranda's Notebook. A delicious, comforting dish for a weekend brunch.

Another rice-centric dish I’ve discovered, which makes an excellent weekend breakfast, is Finnish rice porridge. Jamie Oliver has a recipe for it in his recent Christmas cookbook, but I was inspired by a Finnish instagrammer I follow, who posted a recipe for rice porridge on her account. I made a few changes myself, adding a little flavouring of rose water, which I thought was rather nice. Also, quite frankly I wasn’t so keen on the hours and hours of cooking and stirring, so I used the microwave to shortcut the process. Here’s my recipe:

Finnish Rice Porridge (serves 2)

50g pudding rice
1 tablespoon sugar
1 ½ cups evaporated milk
1 cup water
¼ teaspoon rose water
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/Place all ingredients in a large glass bowl, cover with clingfilm (leaving a small gap for steam to escape) and place in microwave. Cook on full power for 8 minutes (or until boiling), then remove and stir well. Recover with clingfilm and cook on low power for 20 minutes.

2/Next, place the mixture in a cast iron saucepan over low heat and stir frequently until you get a creamy, rice-pudding consistency (approximately 20-30 minutes).

3/Spoon into two bowls and serve with whatever toppings you like: I suggest strawberry jam, fresh berries and toasted almonds and/or seeds.

Bowl Food - 2 Ways With Rice. Finnish Rice Porridge recipe via Miranda's Notebook. A delicious, comforting dish for a weekend brunch.

What types of comfort food to you like to make this time of year?

T&T 06 | Party Etiquette Tips

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Click here to listen.

In this episode, Sophie and I are getting into the festive spirit, as we discuss etiquette tips to help guide hosts and guests alike through the whirlwind of the party season. We provide our most handy hints for smooth sailing when you’re entertaining and tackle common bug-bears such as how to get people to RSVP promptly, whether it’s acceptable to ask guests to remove their shoes (assuming there’s no cultural custom to do so) and what hosts should do when a drink invariably spills.

As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts too!

What are your best etiquette tips for parties? Do you have any handy hints for getting people to RSVP, or how to deal with early arrivals as a host? Do you mind being asked to take off your shoes?

Happy Listening!

London Food | Veneta, St James’s

London Food | Veneta St James's Review via Miranda's Notebook

A few weeks ago, my friend Arthur took me to lunch at the newly opened restaurant, Veneta, in St James’s. Veneta is the latest enterprise under the Salt Yard Group, and its menu is inspired by Venetian cuisine. The restaurant’s interior evokes the beautiful city too, with its watery green colour scheme, elaborate chandeliers and ironwork reminiscent of long, black gondolas.

London Food | Veneta St James's Review via Miranda's Notebook

It’s been many years since I was in Venice, but I still remember ordering my first proper fritto misto there, which was delicious. There’s nothing so obvious as fritto misto on the Veneta menu, but there is plenty of fish and seafood, as well as imaginative pasta and risotto dishes.

Arthur and I started off with some deliciously plump green olives as we perused the menu and caught up on each other’s news.

London Food | Veneta St James's Review via Miranda's Notebook

The menu is tapas style, with a suggested 2-3 plates each to share. I have to admit, I’m getting slightly bored of tapas; to me it feels like the trend has been rather over done in London. However, it is a nice way to sample different dishes, and the Veneta menu certainly has a wide-range of options, so even if you’re dining with people with certain dietary requirements, you shouldn’t find your choice too restricted. Arthur and I decided to sample a dish from the raw bar first: Cornish mackerel tartare with fennel pollen.

London Food | Veneta St James's Review via Miranda's Notebook

This dish was exquisitely done: the mackerel had a surprisingly delicate flavour (it’s quite a pungent fish when cooked!) and the light dressing was the perfect match.

I settled down to thoroughly enjoy my meal, soaking up the warmth and vibrancy of the restaurant, as it was a decidedly damp and cold day outside.

London Food | Veneta St James's Review via Miranda's Notebook

Next up was a bowl of steamed clams and cockles in a garlic, parsley, lemon and cinnamon broth, as well as wild mushroom and truffle risotto with gremolata (a chopped herb condiment made with parsley, lemon zest and garlic).

London Food | Veneta St James's Review via Miranda's NotebookLondon Food | Veneta St James's Review via Miranda's Notebook

Both Arthur and I agreed at the end that the stand-out dish of the whole meal was the risotto. Far from the typical second-rate offering many restaurants include as a nod to vegetarian diners, this mushroom risotto was a spectacular addition to our feast. The truffle brought out the earthiness of the mushrooms, and the addition of gremolata (usually served with meats) was sheer genius. The pesto-like herb mix both lightened the dish and gave it an extra boost of flavour. Delicious!

Sadly, the least successful dish of the meal was definitely the clams. I usually enjoy cinnamon, but it was rather overpowering in this dish, and I can’t say I like it in combination with garlic and slightly briny seafood.

Our next two orders were more successful: roast duck with peverada, pickled pear and radicchio and red prawn agnolotti, shellfish brodo and oregano.

London Food | Veneta St James's Review via Miranda's Notebook London Food | Veneta St James's Review via Miranda's Notebook

Of these two, the duck was especially my favourite. It was perfectly cooked – blushing pink in the middle and crisp on the outside. The red prawn agnoletti were delicate, but still flavourful, and we happily tucked into both plates.

Feeling rather full, we decided to share a dessert, and settled on the Frittelle (Venetian doughnuts served during the Carnival) with cinnamon cream, hot chocolate sauce and fruit compote.

London Food | Veneta St James's Review via Miranda's Notebook

The frittelle were a little dry (I think they would have been lovely filled with either the cream or the fruit compote, with the chocolate sauce for dipping), but we slathered on the toppings and still managed to polish off every one!

Overall, I very much enjoyed my lunch at Veneta, and I highly recommend ordering the mushroom risotto if you find yourself there for a meal!

Have you tried the menu at Veneta yet? What did you think of it? Do you love tapas restaurants, or do you also feel they’ve been a little over-done in the last few years?

P.S. Making pumpkin pie next week for Thanksgiving? Make sure you download my recipe!

Miranda Loves: Baking Books

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I feel I have to start this blog post with an apology that it took me SO LONG to do a second video on my favourite cookbooks (in case you missed it, you can see the first here). I find videos generally a little horrifying – the making of them, the watching them back (do I really look like that??) and then the editing. Frankly, the only editing I do is stick on an image at the front and end, add a tiny bit of music and hit the ‘amplify voice’ setting, but somehow I still find it a pain. Despite my grumpiness about it though, a part of me really does enjoy producing videos; they feel more intimate than blog posts, and it’s so nice to be able to properly show you all some of the things I especially love, like my cookbooks (and we all know how much I adore my collection…).

bakingbooks_3

In this video, I’m discussing some of my favourite baking books. In honour of those of you who share my love of baking (and because Thanksgiving is next week), I’ve also created a recipe card for my favourite pumpkin pie, which is a recipe adapted from one of the books I mention in the video, Tate’s Bake Shop Cookbook, by Kathleen King. If you’re already a part of the Miranda’s Notebook Newsletter, then you’ll have received the link to download the recipe in this morning’s Postcard From London (so check your email!). If you’ve yet to join, then sign up at the bottom of this post, and you’ll receive the link to download.

I do hope you enjoy the video! Click on the image below to watch it on youtube, and scroll down for links to all books mentioned.

favouritebakingbooks

Books mentioned in the video are:

Delia’s Cakes, Delia Smith

Geraldine Holt’s Cake Stall, Geraldine Holt (sadly only available secondhand)

Tate’s Bake Shop Cookbook, Kathleen King

Honey & Co: The Baking Book, Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer

How To Be A Domestic Goddess, Nigella Lawson

Homemade Memories, Kate Doran

Gail’s Artisan Bakery Cookbook, Roy Levy and Gail Mejia

Vintage Cakes, Jane Brocket

Fika and Hygge, Bronte Aurell

How to Hygge, Signe Johansen

Please do share what your favourite baking books are with me; I’d love to hear them.

As promised, here’s the Pumpkin Pie recipe card. Simply fill in your details to download the pdf file!

London Food | The Gate, Islington

The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant | Islington, London

I was put off vegetarianism / veganism at a very young age, when my family was on holiday in Vermont, and we stopped off unsuspectingly at what we soon found out was a vegan restaurant. This was a good 20 years ago (goodness, that makes me feel old), when veganism was far from the relatively mainstream diet it is today, and vegetarian/vegan cuisine has certainly improved by leaps and bounds in recent years. I still remember the plate of strange tasting, cold noodles, served with a drizzle of olive oil and nothing else that so unimpressed my 10 year old self (I’d spent the past 5 years in California after all; sushi was my favourite food).

Ever since then, I’ve tended to view vegetarian/vegan restaurants slightly suspiciously; however, when I had the opportunity to try out The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant in Islington, I leapt at the chance, as I’d read so many rave reviews of it in the past. First opened in 1989, The Gate has long been topping the lists of the best vegetarian restaurants in London, and I was soon to find out why!

Earlier in the week, I took my friend John along with me for what I thought would be a fairly quick lunch, but in fact our meal turned into one of the most leisurely and delicious I’ve had for quite some time. It was wonderful, and a particularly great half-term treat to be able to spend so long over a mid-day meal.

The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant | Islington, LondonThe Gate Vegetarian Restaurant | Islington, London

The Gate Restaurant’s original branch is in Hammersmith, but as well as the Islington location, it’s opening a Marylebone branch in December, which is super news for me as Marylebone Village is always a favourite area of mine. I chose to try the Islington restaurant, as I noticed how nearby it is to Sadler’s Wells, and I always find it so useful to know of good dining options close to a favourite theatre. The Islington branch is a large, attractive space, with plenty of natural light streaming in from from a wall of windows.

The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant | Islington, London

John arrived, and we decided to order a carafe of wine to share between us (I always appreciate restaurants that offer you the choice of a carafe, as it’s definitely a more lunch-friendly option, and I generally wouldn’t want more than a carafe to share between two people anyway). Our waitress helpfully suggested a wine she thought we would particularly enjoy – the Picpoul de Pinet, Mirande – but also said she would bring it for us to taste, as well as a Sauvignon Blanc, to see which we preferred. She was right – her recommendation was by far our favourite and proved to be the perfect accompaniment to our meal.

The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant | Islington, London

Apart from the food, what really stood out for me at The Gate was the exceptionally good service. All the staff were so friendly, knowledgable and attentive, which added a great deal to the pleasurable experience of our meal. The quality of service can sometimes be a little hit-and-miss in London, so it was really refreshing to be in a restaurant where the staff hit just the right note.

Feeling our stomachs beginning to rumble, we perused the menu. I should mention that all dishes are clearly marked as being vegetarian or vegan, as well as gluten free. Some vegan dishes can be made vegetarian, and vice-versa, and there are options to have nuts or not in a dish, depending on your preference. The restaurant is also child friendly, with a menu offering kid friendly options like potato and cheddar croquettes and the pasta of the day.

We decided to start with the mezze platter: an inviting dish to share between two people, offering a taster of the a la carte starters. The mezze selection takes about 15 minutes to prepare (and is marked as such on the menu), so our waitress suggested we enjoy some bread, tapenade and olives whilst we waited.

The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant | Islington, London

The homemade warm, crusty bread was perfect for dipping in the olive oil and tapenade mix (we both love tapenade so particularly enjoyed this over the more usual plain bread and butter offering). The olives were tasty as well, and we nibbled happily away, catching up on each other’s news and exchanging recommendations for TV shows and books we were enjoying (I’m currently gripped by The Missing – anyone else?!). Our platter arrived, looking stunning, and John got his first proper taste of what it’s like to dine out with a blogger: lots of camera snapping and me exclaiming ‘oh! I must post this as an instagram story!’

The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant | Islington, London

We tried: miso glazed aubergine (my favourite!), three lentil pate terrine, hazelnut and honey crusted goat cheese with beetroot carpaccio, couscous fritters with a Moroccan style carrot puree and a three onion tart. Everything tasted so fresh and flavourful and looked so pretty on the plate (I always think food should be pleasing to the eye, as well as the stomach!). The miso glazed aubergine was the standout for me: the mix of sweet and salty was just right, and the scattering of nuts and sesame on the top gave a pleasing contrast in texture to the meltingly soft aubergine.

The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant | Islington, London

I loved sharing the platter: it was such a fun way to start the meal, and it was nice to get such a different variety of mezze from the more typical mix of dips and salads. John pronounced everything as exceedingly good too, and we managed to polish off so much we began to worry we’d have enough appetite for our mains!

I liked the sound of the butternut rotolo: layered potatoes stuffed with butternut squash, Italian sundried tomato and basil, served alongside celeriac puree, apple and celery salad, sweet potato crisps and a creamy sorrel sauce.

The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant | Islington, London

It was a wonderful autumnal dish, and despite my fears, I managed to polish off every bite! The sweet potato crisps were delicious – I insisted John try some too – and I loved the butternut rotolo, which somehow managed to not be too starchy. The celeriac puree was perfectly seasoned, and the salad provided a welcome freshness and bite. When done well, I love how vegetarian food tastes luxurious and delicious, and yet doesn’t leave you feeling too heavy and sleepy at the end of a meal.

The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant | Islington, London

John went for tortillas filled with black bean, sweetcorn, soft onion and coriander in a lightly spiced tomato sauce, with guacamole, green tomato and sweet pepper salsa. He had the non-vegan version, opting for a topping of sour cream. A confirmed meat eater, he still thoroughly enjoyed this dish, as he did all the food, and neither of us missed the presence of meat at all.

The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant | Islington, London

For sides, we had some mixed steamed greens (I always love getting as many greens into a meal as possible!), and our waitress told us the chunky herb polenta chips with garlic aioli were a must-try. Again, her recommendation was spot-on: the chips were beautifully crispy, with just the right amount of salt, and were exceedingly more-ish. We both loved them!

Of course, when the dessert menu appeared, I found I couldn’t resist. I love anything with almond in it, so settled on the apple and almond tart, with apple and calvados sorbet.

The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant | Islington, London

John, as I could have predicted, ordered the sticky toffee pudding with salted caramel ice-cream (I have yet to know a man who doesn’t say yes to this pudding whenever it’s on a menu!). We sampled each dessert and pronounced them both delicious!

The Gate Vegetarian Restaurant | Islington, London

John and I agreed that we’d both had the most lovely lunch, and if you find yourself in Islington, Hammersmith or (from December!) Marylebone, then I definitely suggest planning a meal at The Gate.

I would equally recommend the restaurant for a quick, working lunch break, as well as more leisurely meal in the day or evening. There is a shorter lunch menu that is offered, which lists extremely reasonable dishes (£7-£8.50) that are ideal for a healthy, satisfying mid-day meal if you work in the area and fancy popping out for your lunch break. The Islington branch is where I’ll be booking for a pre or post theatre supper next time I’ve got tickets to see a show at Sadler’s Wells or The Almeida. I would also suggest The Gate Vegetarian Restaurants as ideal places to book if you’re planning a meal with friends who you know have specific dietary requirements. With a flexible menu and wonderful service, you’ll all be guaranteed to enjoy a lovely meal (even the die-hard meat eaters amongst you!).

Have you been to any of The Gate Vegetarian Restaurants? Which dish would you most like to try from the ones we ordered?

** This meal was complimentary, but as always, my opinions (and those of my friends) are my own and theirs. It is my policy to share only the best on Miranda’s Notebook! 

** Want to read more of my restaurant reviews? Check them out here.

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Lazy Autumn Vegetable Soup

Easy Autumnal Vegetable Soup

One of my favourite things to do when I’m feeling lazy over the weekend (or when I want a super speedy weekday supper) is to cook up a quick pot of creamy vegetable soup. The recipe I use is one adapted from Elizabeth Bard‘s courgette soup in Picnic in Provence, and I feel grateful to Elizabeth for sharing this gift of a recipe every time I use it.

The soup requires a tiny list of ingredients and can be adapted to use whatever you have in your fridge; you simply need one kind of vegetable (courgette, carrot, butternut squash, broccoli and cauliflower are all good), some olive oil, a splash of white wine (but only if you’re feeling fancy – this really is an optional ingredient) a vegetable stock cube and you’re good to go.

Easy Autumnal Vegetable Soup

The wonderful thing about this soup (besides the barely any ingredients and minimal effort), is how wonderfully creamy it tastes, even though there’s not a drop of dairy in the recipe. Honestly, try making a pot yourself and you’ll see what I mean. It won’t take you long: simply dice up a red onion and chop of your vegetable of choice (I used butternut squash, pre-diced from M&S as I was feeling particularly lazy).

Easy Autumnal Vegetable Soup

Add 1/3 cup good quality olive oil to a pot and let it heat through, before adding the onion and stirring for a minute or so.

Easy Autumnal Vegetable Soup

I used the above olive oil; a gift from the lovely ladies at Skittle Alley Coffee & Pantry. It’s delicious, but any good fruity oil would do.

Easy Autumnal Vegetable Soup

Toss in the butternut squash (or whatever vegetable you’re using) and give it a stir. I’ve become rather addicted to using seaweed flakes in just about everything; they act as a delicious salt substitute and add great flavour when sprinkled over salads, roasted vegetables, scrambled eggs etc. I like adding a generous teaspoon or two to this soup.

Easy Autumnal Vegetable Soup

I have the Skittle Alley ladies (the fabulous George and Lindsay) to thank again for the gift of a selection of Mara Seaweeds, sourced from the seas around Scotland. To my great sadness, Skittle Alley was forced to close at the beginning of the month (those of you who read this post will know how much I loved it), and when I went to say my farewells (for now – I am sure George and Lindsay will have another wonderful cafe running soon), I was presented with a wonderful gift bag full of treats from the Skittle Alley Shop. It’s very pleasing to think I have a bit of Skittle Alley left to use in my cooking!

Easy Autumnal Vegetable Soup

Once you’ve let the vegetables cook for a few minutes, turn down the heat, clamp on the lid (leaving just a small gap for steam to escape) and let the vegetables simmer for 20 minutes, or until tender. Make sure you keep an eye on the pot and stir occasionally.

Easy Autumnal Vegetable Soup

Once the vegetables are tender, add 1/2 cup dry white wine (this is completely optional; if you don’t want to use alcohol or don’t have any in the house, don’t worry) and simmer until most of the wine has cooked away. Then, dissolve a vegetable stock cube in 1/2 cup of boiling water and add it to the pot. Adding another 2 1/2 cups boiling water and simmer for a few minutes.

Easy Autumnal Vegetable Soup

Turn off the heat and use a hand blender to blend the vegetables until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste and then serve. If you have any to hand, add a scattering of fresh herbs on top (I used thyme).

Easy Autumnal Vegetable SoupEasy Autumnal Vegetable Soup

I recommend eating this soup curled up with blankets and some engrossing reading material (I am especially delighted that reading about hygge counts as ‘research’ for me at the moment).

Here’s the printable recipe file for this soup:

Lazy Autumn Butternut Squash Soup
Serves: 2
 
A delightfully easy recipe that makes a delicious, creamy soup.

Ingredients
  • ⅓ cup good quality olive oil
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 350g chopped butternut squash (or any vegetable of your choice)
  • 1 vegetable stock cube
  • 3 cups boiling water
  • ½ cup dry white wine (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons Mara seaweed flakes (optional)
Instructions
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot and add the red onion and butternut squash.
  2. Cook for a few minutes, then turn down the heat and put the lid on, leaving a small gap for steam to escape.
  3. Allow the vegetables to cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes, or until tender.
  4. Remove the lid and add the white wine. Simmer for a few minutes until most of the wine has cooked away, then add the vegetable cube dissolved in ½ cup boiling water. Add the remaining 2½ cups water and simmer for a few minutes.
  5. Turn off the heat and use a hand blender to blend the vegetables until smooth.
  6. Season with salt and pepper to taste and enjoy!

 

Do please let me know if you try making this soup, and what vegetable you use. Do you have any favourite soup recipes for this time of year?

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London Food | Date Night Suggestion

London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho

If you’re looking for a fun place for your next date night, then I’ve got just the spot for you. Duck and Rice is a pub and dining room that serves some truly stellar Chinese food in Soho. Famed for founding Wagamama and Hakkasan, Alan Yau has struck gold again with his latest London eatery. In a box-shaped building with food stalls jostling the pavements outside the front door, Yau has created what no-one knew London was missing: a Chinese gastropub, and as incongruous as the combination might seem, it definitely works.

London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, SohoLondon Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho

A week or so ago, I took my friend Arthur along for lunch, as we’ve shared a love for gossiping over crispy duck since our university days at SOAS. Fun as it is for lunch, though, I think Duck and Rice would be an especially good setting for a low-key date night (and have filed it away as such under my London restaurant recommendations).

The interior of the restaurant is sure to impress: downstairs is more pub like, with gleaming tanks of beer in the entrance, a sweeping bar and lots of cosy nooks.

London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho

Duck and Rice offers a terrific selection of beers and wines, as well as some delicious sounding gin & tonics and even beer cocktails (beer negroni, anyone?). I’m not much of an ale drinker, I have to admit, so I was happy with my glass of wine. I really was impressed with the wine list, which offered a wide range of choice, from very reasonable (starting at £2.60 for a small glass), to more decadent options. The tea list got Arthur’s stamp of approval (he was President of the Tea Society at SOAS, after all), and we ordered a pot of tea to share between us, which was generously refilled throughout the meal.

For our meal, we decided to go for a selection of dishes to share, starting with salt and pepper squid, prawn dumplings, vegetarian lettuce leaf wraps and spring rolls. Crispy duck, accompanied by handmade pancakes and all the trimmings, arrived too, and our waiter shredded it in front of us. The duck was superb: perfectly moist with crispy skin, and it has been a long time since I had such delicious dim sum. The squid was excellently tender, and we thoroughly enjoyed every dish, polishing off every last morsel.

London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, SohoLondon Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho(Thanks for being my hand model, Arthur!)

We were seated at a table in the restaurant proper upstairs, which boasts another magnificent bar and beautiful interiors. I loved the blue and white decor with touches of gold. It would be lovely to sit out on the upstairs balcony on a warm evening, watching the heaving crowds of Soho from above.

London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho London Food | Date Night Suggestion: Duck and Rice, Soho

The restaurant, by the way, wasn’t at all empty over the lunch hour (it was packed), but by the time we’d finished eating at a leisurely place, it had emptied out a lot upstairs so I was able to get some clear shots. Heading back outside, we decided to walk off some of the excellent meal by winding our way through the streets to Holborn for iced coffee (sadly we were too full for any cake) at Fleet River Bakery. The perfect finish to a lovely afternoon!

Have you eaten at Duck and Rice? What are your favourite suggestions for a date night in London?

**This post was done in collaboration with citizenMag, and for another take on the same story, you can read their review of Duck and Rice. Of course, as always, all opinions (and those of my friends I bring along!) are unbiased and theirs and my own. 

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London Food | Theo’s Simple Italian

London Food | Theo's Simple Italian

A couple weekends ago, I was lucky enough to be invited along to the Hotel Indigo in Earl’s Court for a pasta-making masterclass by Theo Randall and to try out the new Italian Brunch menu he has designed for his Theo’s Simple Italian restaurant at the hotel. This four course bunch menu is available from Saturday 24th September for £35 a head (and includes a glass of prosecco on arrival). I suggest booking pronto, as the food was incredible, and it was the most enjoyable tapas style sharing spread that I’ve had in a long time.

I was very excited to attend this event, as not only is Theo Randall an amazing chef (he was head chef at The River Cafe for over 15 years), but I had also been able to ask some other bloggers to join me. I contacted the lovely ladies I met in Paris and was looking forward to a little reunion!

London Restaurant Review | Best Italian Brunch

I’ve been to a few events at the Hotel Indigo before, and I always love returning. It’s a really gorgeous space; somewhere equally nice for a pot of tea, lunch or a cocktail in the evening. If I’m ever at a loose end and have time to kill when I’m in Earl’s Court, then I will inevitably find myself loitering over tea (and something carb-laden) at the hotel. There are plenty of cosy nooks:

London Food | Theo's Simple Italian

As well as light, airy dining spaces:

London Food | Theo's Simple Italian London Food | Theo's Simple Italian

Yes, it’s definitely always a pleasure to pop into this hotel! My arrival on this occasion was made even more joyful, as I was immediately handed a glass of the most delicious peach bellini. On my first sip, I felt all the cares of the week slip away, and I settled down to enjoy a fabulous start to the weekend.

London Food | Theo's Simple Italian

As well as the lovely ladies I’d met in Paris, there were several other bloggers at the event, and it was a lot of fun to meet everyone and discover some new-to-me blogs. After chatting for a bit, we all gathered round to watch Theo demonstrate his recipe for fresh ricotta and spinach ravioli.

London Food | Theo's Simple Italian

Theo had a brilliantly down-to-earth manner and was charming to everyone, giving some great tips on how best to cook pasta. I’ve already started incorporating his advice into my cooking and have been very pleased with the results! According to Theo, you should always undercook hard pasta by 2-3 minutes less than directed on the packet. Rather than draining the pasta over a colander, remove it from the water with tongs or a slotted spoon, adding it straight to your pan of sauce. Add a ladleful or two of the water that boiled the pasta to the sauce and stir through for a few more minutes. Your resulting pasta will have nicely absorbed the sauce and be perfectly cooked.

London Food | Theo's Simple ItalianLondon Food | Theo's Simple Italian

Theo was also kind enough to give his recipe for the fresh pasta dough he used for the ravioli. I couldn’t find the note I made of it, but I tracked down a recipe of his that’s very similar here. Now I just need a pasta machine!

After seeing one of the pasta dishes we’d soon be served prepared in front of us, our appetites were definitely whetted for the Italian feast ahead. It was certainly a good job we were hungry…to kick things off, enormous platters of antipasti, focaccia and bruschetta arrived, along with some white wine.

London Food | Theo's Simple Italian London Food | Theo's Simple ItalianLondon Food | Theo's Simple Italian

I absolutely love this kind of spread, which is ideal for sharing, and we all tucked in, dipping our focaccia into bowls of olive oil, piling marinated artichokes, prosciutto di Parma and buffalo mozzarella onto our plates and exclaiming over the sweetness of the perfectly ripe tomatoes.

Next came bowlfuls of pasta so tasty that I felt if I closed my eyes I could imagine myself twirling spaghetti round my fork outside a restaurant in Rome. Very Eat Pray Love style. The pastas served were the spinach and ricotta ravioli we’d seen Theo making, dished up with a sage and butter sauce, as well as a mouth-meltingly good pappardelle con ragu di manzo (fresh pasta with slow cooked beef in Chianti and San Marzano tomatoes) and seafood linguine.

London Food | Theo's Simple ItalianLondon Food | Theo's Simple ItalianLondon Food | Theo's Simple Italian

Next up, we were served fish, pork and frittata, with red wine to accompany the pork. Theo’s passion for using top quality ingredients to create simple, authentic and flavourful Italian dishes really shines in this menu. Every plate was a beautiful example of a classic dish created with expert care and attention.

London Food | Theo's Simple ItalianLondon Food | Theo's Simple Italian London Food | Theo's Simple Italian London Food | Theo's Simple Italian

Finally, dessert arrived: a platter of tiramisu, Amalfi lemon tart and ricotta cheesecake with pears marinated in Marsala and vanilla. I am going back to Theo’s Simple Italian for the ricotta cheesecake alone. My favourite Italian restaurant on Long Island served the most delicious ricotta cheesecake I’d ever tasted (Mum and I sometimes used to stop off on my way to ballet class, just so I could have a slice of that cake!), and I’ve been searching for one just as good ever since we moved away 15 years ago. Now, I’ve finally found the equivalent (if not even a tiny bit better – the pears really add a lot), and I’m taking my Mum as soon as possible so she can try it too.

London Food | Theo's Simple Italian

Feeling exceptionally full, I bemoaned the fact that I had to head off to the gym to do a weights session (not the pleasantest thing I’ve ever done, let me assure you), so I waved goodbye to the others and headed to the tube. It had been such a fun afternoon, and I really can’t recommend Theo’s Simple Italian enough. I don’t always enjoy sharing menus, but this one really is fantastic, and I like the way you can choose which Primi and Secondi dishes you would prefer. Importantly, the serving sizes are definitely plentiful too so there’s no danger of feeling hungry!

Are you keen to try Theo’s Simple Italian yourself? What are your favourite Italian restaurants in London?

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Provence Diary | Wine Tasting

Provence Diary | Wine Tasting

E X P L O R I N G    W I N E    C O U N T R Y

Being in the land of wine, we of course wanted to sample some of it! Our gîte was within a fairly short drive of Beaumes de Venise, Gigondas and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and we explored each of these beautiful towns, stopping by the local wine caves as we went to taste and buy their wines. We were, in fact, in time for the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine festival and had a lot of fun witnessing the medieval parade and sampling some truly spectacular wine.

One of my very favourite days, though, was when we visited both Beaumes de Venise and Gigondas. I was surprised by how pleasantly un-touristy both towns felt, and the stunning views across the vineyards from Gigondas in particular were absolutely breathtaking.

B E A U M E S    D E    V E N I S E

Our first stop of the day was Beaumes de Venise. I have a particular love for sweet wines (rather disappointingly, not many people seem to share this taste), so I was very excited to sample one of my favourite dessert wines in Beaumes de Venise itself.

Provence Diary | Wine Tasting Provence Diary | Wine Tasting Provence Diary | Wine Tasting

We bought  a bottle to take back to the gîte, and the considerate man serving us gave me a great tip for using Beaumes de Venise as a delicious aperitif: simply pour a finger or so into the bottom of a champagne glass and then top with prosecco. Delicious, easy and even the non-sweet wine drinkers amongst us loved it! I’ll definitely be making these simple cocktails at my next dinner party in London.

After our stint of wine-tasting, we wandered along the steep, narrow lanes of the town, trying to decide where would be a good spot for lunch.

Provence Diary | Wine Tasting Provence Diary | Wine Tasting Provence Diary | Wine Tasting Provence Diary | Wine Tasting Provence Diary | Wine Tasting Provence Diary | Wine Tasting Provence Diary | Wine Tasting Provence Diary | Wine Tasting

We ended up back in the main town square, opposite the pretty church at a restaurant that offered a charming outdoor terrace and an inviting menu. I went for a salad with foie gras and smoked duck, alongside our beverage of choice for the summer: rosé!

Provence Diary | Wine Tasting

The French really know how to make a salad spectacular.  Not for them indifferent lettuce and depressed tomatoes, with a few bits of chopped avocado and chicken thrown into the mix. Instead, you get a plate piled high with ingredients bursting with colour and flavour, arranged like a work of art. Delicious!

G I G O N D A S

After our lunch, we piled back into the car and continued our journey to Gigondas. Here, we tasted rosé and their famous red wine; again stocking up on bottles to bring back to the gîte and to my Dad’s flat in Geneva.

Provence Diary | Wine Tasting Provence Diary | Wine Tasting

Gigondas was one of the towns I loved the very best from our time in Provence. It was heavenly to make our way through the beautiful streets, climbing higher and higher until we reached the herb garden that grows at the very top, above the church. I felt like I was on top of the world, seeing the French landscape stretched out beneath me, with the scents of rosemary and lavender wafting in the air.

Provence Diary | Wine Tasting Provence Diary | Wine Tasting Provence Diary | Wine Tasting Provence Diary | Wine Tasting Provence Diary | Wine Tasting Provence Diary | Wine Tasting Provence Diary | Wine Tasting Provence Diary | Wine Tasting Provence Diary | Wine Tasting Provence Diary | Wine Tasting Provence Diary | Wine Tasting Provence Diary | Wine Tasting Provence Diary | Wine Tasting

Yes, I think it’s easy to see why Gigondas was my favourite (the wine’s not bad either…).

Have you done any wine-tasting in France? Where did you go?

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