Recipe: Spanakopita cupcakes

Why do you travel? To experience different cultures? Watch beautiful landscapes ripple in waves towards the horizon? Flex your adventure muscles by climbing crazy-high mountains? Or maybe, even, to get a tan? (Although if that’s really the case, a bottle of holiday skin would be much cheaper. Just saying.)

You can probably see where this is going. Wanderlust grips me for many reasons, but there’s always one dominant factor steering me towards a destination. Food. For me, the adventure of travel is in scouring a destination for that dish that reduces the English language to a pile of rubble, as I struggle to find a suitable word that adequately describes the joy of each mouthful. Add my pesky vegetarianism into the mix, and seeking out meals can become a full-on Indiana Jones-esque expedition, as I wade through countless looks of confusion, bursts of laughter and plenty of utterances of “But, Señorita, it’s chicken. This ok, no?” to find my veggie prize.

I always leave each destination inspired, vowing to recreate dishes back home in old Blighty. But while I give it a damn good try, I never quite manage it. Why? Because there’s always a vital ingredient missing, an ingredient that even the most thorough raid of Millies or the Spice Corner in Leeds Market can’t unearth. It’s the twinkle of the lanterns on Hoi An’s waterfront. The shape of Sugarloaf Mountain towering above Ipanema Beach. The moonlit silhouette of the Acropolis. These are the backdrops to dishes that can’t be captured on film, the ingredients that can’t be replicated.

Reimagining a classic
Enter, Destinology’s ‘Reimagine a Classic’ competition. Aside from my exploits as a top 25 finalist for ‘Best Jobs in the World’s’ Taste Master, I’m not really one to enter competitions, but this one caught my eye. (And not just because of the prize, before you ask, although hello, luxury mini break.) It was the idea of reimagining a classic dish, rather than recreating it. When you take the pressure away of trying to recreate an exact version of a dish, everything changes. No longer resigning yourself to failure by replicating a much-loved classic, you’re giving it a new meaning. A new context. A new memory.

Deciding on a dish to reimagine was easy. It had to be Spanakopita, a classic Greek filo pie filled with spinach and feta. One of my all-time holiday favourites, me and this dish go way back to the 90s, when I was rocking the velvet chokers and plastic backpacks currently draped on mannequins in vintage shops for real. 

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Recipe: Warm sprout and halloumi salad

Where do you stand on sprouts? Are you in the ‘no way’ camp, scarred by too many traumatic encounters with the pallid, mushy horror that is the over-boiled sprout? Or are you in the ‘hell yes’ camp, loving sprouts so much that you’ll risk annoying your colleagues by re-heating your sprout concoctions in the work microwave, perfuming the office with the sprout’s unmistakable aroma. (And no, not that aroma before you ask. Naughty.)

Me? I’m a ‘hell yes’ girl. Sorry, lovely colleagues, but I bloody love sprouts. I love the way they look, like cute miniature cabbages huddling together for warmth. I love the way they add the pizzazz (that’s right, PIZZAZZ) to a roast dinner, soaking up gravy as if that’s what they were born to do. But most of all, I love their versatility. Because sprouts aren’t just for Christmas. Oh no. Sprouts are for life. Or, at least, for the period between October and March when they’re in season.

Now, I’m all for tarting up sprouts in posh risottos and fancy stir fries à la Ottolenghi, but today I want to share something simple. It came into my life unexpectedly, one of those ‘I’ve-only-got-a-few-things-in-the-fridge-so-let’s-chuck-them-together-and-see-what-happens’ recipes. But as humble as its origins may be, don’t be fooled by its simplicity. Because this is an absolute corker of a sprout recipe; a recipe with the potential to turn even the most devout of sprout haters.

Warm sprout and halloumi salad.

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Recipe: Vietnamese Tofu and Tomato Sauce

Christmas is over. O.V.E.R. Sleeping in until 10am? Bucks Fizz for breakfast? Party food buffets? Not cool anymore. January, you’re a cruel mistress.

But, dare I say it, I’m ready for a change. As much as I adore the excesses of the festive season, I do reach the point when I crave food that isn’t 90% fat and smothered in breadcrumbs. But – and here’s where most January ‘detoxes’ are doomed – this food still needs to taste good. It also needs to fill me up, warm me up, and, most importantly, cheer me up, as I plunge back into reality.

And I’ve got just the thing. Vietnamese Tofu and Tomato Sauce. You know that kind of meal that makes your mouth water just thinking about it? Yeah, that. Think crispy tofu, coated in a sauce of velvety fresh tomatoes flecked with garlic and spring onion, and finished with a spicy burst of white pepper. Simple, cheap and oh so tasty, it has the added bonus of transporting me to the other side of the planet, far away from the cold, dark nights of England and into the hot, golden days of Vietnam.

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Recipe: Truffle Oil and Mushroom Pizza

A few weeks ago I turned 28. Yikes. 28 is meant to be one of those ‘turning point’ ages, right? An age where you’re taunted by the looming vision of the big 3 0 and constantly fielding questions about mortgages, your marital status and babies. Happy birthday to me! Maybe I’m in denial, but I chose to ignore the dark side of turning 28 and viewed it just like any other birthday – an amazing excuse to catch up with my nearest and dearest. No scary questions or pressure, just a week of feasts, parties and bubbles with all my favourites. Now that’s more like it.

The only sign that age was creeping up on me were the presents. Thoughtful as ever, my friends and family paid homage to my increasingly gluttonous ways by sticking to a distinct food theme in their gifts. There were glorious bottles of ‘the good wine’, customary jars of nutella to fuel my addiction, and even a rather nifty salad spinner from my brother. I can practically hear my 18 year old self mocking me. But let her mock, because she’s got ten years to wait before she’s gifted with one very special food item indeed; the first of its kind to ever grace my kitchen with its ethereal presence.

Truffle oil.

My past encounters with truffle have been few but special. There was a truffled pecorino and rocket panino at a hole in the wall bar in Florence, a white truffle pizza in Lisbon with shavings of truffle AND truffle oil, and the almighty truffled Barncliffe Brie at The Greedy Pig’s ‘Roots to Shoots’ pop up. The most notable experience was at The Samling earlier this year, when a canapé of truffled polenta on a truffled mayonnaise nearly reduced Rob and I to tears. And just as I thought I’d managed to get it together, they whipped out the truffle risotto. It was emotional.

Truffle in Florence

Mid mouthful of truffled pecorino

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RECIPE: Broad bean and goats’ cheese salad

Some ingredients beg to be part of a special creation. The creation doesn’t necessarily need to be fussy or complicated, but it needs to be special, composed of equally wonderful ingredients that produce a plate that sings.

Ingredients like a truly magical goats’ cheese. I adore any cheese, but throughout August my goats’ cheese obsession got out of control. Each weekend consisted of pilgrimages to fine cheese purveyors such as Drewton’s, The Courtyard Dairy and Millies, who each introduced me to some utterly delectable goats’ cheeses. Barely a meal went by that didn’t have a tangy, soft and creamy goats’ cheese at the heart of it, and I had lots of fun experimenting with recipes that put it on its rightful pedestal. Yes, this is my fun – it was a great month.

The Courtyard Dairy

The Courtyard Dairy

Dorstone Goats Cheese from The Courtyard Dairy

Dorstone goats’ cheese from The Courtyard Dairy

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Flashback: Making bánh xèo in Hội An

The irresistible allure of travel is conjured in many different ways. Some people travel to satisfy their thrill-seeking urges, others want to immerse themselves in new cultures and languages. Some simply want to relax in a faraway setting.

Travel has the power to satisfy countless cravings and desires, and although there’s definitely something in all of the above (and much more) that motivates me to travel, there’s one stand-out factor that invokes my wanderlust. Food.

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Recipe – Pimm’s ice lollies

What is it about us Brits and Pimm’s? As soon as there’s a sniff of sunshine, we’re at the supermarket in our droves, stocking up on that most famous of summer cups ready to drink by the gallon. Syrupy sweet and laden with fresh fruit, lemonade and lashings of ice, it’s a taste synonymous with British Summer Time and all of its mainstays, and we can’t get enough of it.

Like most Brits, the recent heatwave has led me to succumb to the whims of Pimm’s, but not Pimm’s as we know it. My daily browse through Pinterest led me to stumble upon a GENIUS twist on Pimm’s and lemonade, perfect for cooling down in the heat. Pimm’s ice lollies. OH YES. Incredibly easy to create, the process of freezing the classic combination of Pimm’s and lemonade seems to intensify the familiar flavours, whilst giving it an added sharpness and an intense alcoholic kick. Don’t get them mixed up with fruity ice lollies – these are definitely not for kids!

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Sunday breakfast recipe – Mushrooms of GLORY

Sunday mornings are made for ‘me-time’. Waking up without the piercing shriek of an alarm. Lazing on the sofa in your pjs with a bottomless cafetiere of strong, soothing coffee. Flicking between Sunday Brunch and Saturday Kitchen Best Bites, promising to make each of the moreish recipes that tantalise you on the screen (and never getting around to it).

But most of all, Sunday mornings are about preparing THE breakfast of the week. This is the breakfast that you look forward to throughout the working week when you only have time to grab a paltry bowl of cereal, if anything at all. Prepared lovingly with a week’s worth of anticipation and desire, it’s the breakfast you devour slowly, savouring every last bite. This breakfast could be home-made pancakes, a full fry-up or even a continental spread of fresh croissants and ALL the jams, the only condition is that it feels decadent, hearty, and utterly satisfying, enough to get you through another week until you can do it all over again.

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The Strawberry Caipirinha

Rio de Janeiro

When you think of English strawberries, what recipes spring to mind? Pimms? Strawberries and cream? Strawberry jam?

We’re currently in the throes of strawberry season in England, which I celebrated on Sunday by stocking up at my local PYO in Horsforth. And whilst all the above are strawberry-classics for a very good reason, my punnet of beautifully fresh strawberries was crying out for something different. Well, that and the fact that it was the day of the Wimbledon Men’s final, which was enough to shred the nerves of even the most fair-weather of tennis fans. Something a little stronger than strawberry jam was called for…

After three nail-biting sets were rewarded in the sweetest of ways, a strong, strawberry-based toast to Murray’s success was a must. But what?

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Celebrating the English strawberry season

        

Turquoise, cloudless skies. Intense, sweltering heat. The lingering smoky aroma of a million barbecues. Simultaneous euphoric screams across the UK as Andy Murray is crowned Wimbledon Champion.

This weekend may have been one big ‘pinch-me’ moment, but it was a staunch reminder of how bloody FANTASTIC British Summer can be. We may not be blessed with a Wimbledon CHAMPION every year (well done, Murray!), but amongst the endless days of gloomy downpours and overcast skies, there are British Summer mainstays that we should celebrate. Canalside picnics, countryside saunters, newborn chicks. Beneath a canopy of searing sunshine, many of the makings of a brilliant Summer can be found right here on our little island.

Canalside picnic, swans and signets

Enjoying the best of British Summer in Rodley this weekend!

The same can most certainly be said about British produce. It’s no secret that Britain is a sanctuary for fine seasonal produce, and there’s nothing that epitomises the British Summer quite so much as the English strawberry. On this most perfect of British Summer weekends, I headed to my local PYO field to stock up on a bounty of red berry plunder. Located in the same field where I’d discovered freshly picked asparagus to-die-for just weeks before, the adjacent field had now become a honeypot for local strawberry-lovers. Dozens of figures huddled over uniform green rows, scouring the foliage for the plumpest and reddest berries. The sweet scent of strawberries flooded our senses, blazing sun rays beat down on us, and the sky was that hue of blue usually only spied on postcards. It was perfect.

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