Monday, 23 May 2016

ATE AT: The Friends of Ours, Hoxton

It was a beautifully sunny day and I had a day off in London. My housemate and I had a dim sum cookery class in the evening (more on this soon) so we decided to have a day wandering around in the sunshine.

Our day began in Hoxton at The Friends of Ours.

You know me well enough by now, I am a self-confessed breakfast/brunch enthusiast. It's probably one of my favourite things in the world. NOTHING starts the day off better than a good breakfast or brunch to awaken your body!

I need to say now, The Friends of Ours serve the best brunch I've ever eaten. EVER! Yes, that good.

The Friends of Ours is an Australian inspired café hosting the most fantastic menu for breakfast, brunch and lunch. Better yet, the menu is seasonal meaning all of the ingredients are super fresh, great quality and it's exciting y'know! What tastes better than seasonal ingredients? Not a lot!

In true foodie fashion, I'd scoped the menu on the train journey down and already decided what I was having.

I went for the Eggs Asparagus - seasonal baby asparagus, 2 poached eggs, beetroot and lime hollandaise, black sesame, beetroot sprouts. I had it on sourdough rather than seeded toast and asked for a bit of smashed avocado on the side.

Cherilyn went for Eggs Royale - lime cured and green tea smoked salmon, beetroot & lime hollandaise, 2 poached eggs, black sesame, beetroot sprouts on seeded toast.

Whilst waiting I had a beautiful Oat Milk cappuccino and an orange juice. I'm known as two drink Tasha, usually when hungover but I struggle to be out without having a couple of drinks with my meal. Odd behaviour, I know. Cherilyn went for the purple juice which was really delicious. I'd never been too keen on the idea of beetroot in a juice after my awful juice cleanse experience BUT it was really good and it's made me rethink that whole idea.

Then, the moment we'd been waiting for...

Genuinely, and I cannot find the words the express this enough, this is THE BEST brunch I've ever, ever eaten. The beetroot and lime hollandaise is probably the nicest thing I've ever tried. The sesame seeds just made the dish completely. I cannot fault it one bit.

Cherilyn felt exactly the same. It really is that beetroot hollandaise that hits the spot!

We also shared the Granola, Fruit and Yoghurt, which was way more exciting than the name states - hibiscus flower and yoghurt panna cotta, cardamom granola, strawberries, baked forced rhubarb, pomegranate, hibiscus syrup. Again, out of this world. The granola is the most flavoursome delight and the panna cotta feels so light and tasty. The baked rhubarb left us making 'mmmm and ahhhhh' noises.

I actually feel like I'm completely over-passionate about this place but it's always very exciting to find a place by chance and it be so good.

Not only was the food incredible, the staff were all SO lovely. All of them were chatty, helpful and seemed genuinely interested in each group of customers that were eating or drinking there.

As you can tell, this place can't do any wrong in my eyes. And, you know what? It left me feeling happy for the rest of the day.

Definitely head down if you can, they don't take reservations though so it may be a tad busy at the weekends.

A few minutes stroll from Old Street station (northern line) and Hoxton station (overground line) at 61 PITFIELD STREET, HOXTON, LONDON N1 6BU


Monday, 16 May 2016

ATE AT: The Hopping Hare, Northampton

As you will know from my Harrogate blog post, I turned 25 towards the end of April and felt the need to celebrate for almost a week.

Over the last year and a bit, my housemate and I have created an unintentional tradition of birthdays - hers we spend in Milan for work, mine we have a tasty meal somewhere local. This year we ventured to the Hopping Hare, a place we'd both heard great things about but never actually been to.

The menu was fantastic. Everything sounded too good to be true and it took us a long while to decide on what to have.

Eventually, after a glass of wine each, we came to a decision.

My starter choice was the coronation chicken scotch egg with mint & cucumber yoghurt, chilli caramelised peanuts and coriander oil (above) and Cherilyn's the Shredded Beef Shortrib Ravioli, caramelised onion & pickled walnuts, roasted smoked garlic & bone marrow broth. Yes, both were as good as they sound BUT incredibly filling. My scotch egg was had the perfect flavourings and texture.

For main we both went for Slow Roasted Lamb Shoulder, fresh goat’s curd and spinach filo parcel, olive oil mashed potato, oregano marinated olives, aubergine puree, garlic buttered purple sprouting broccoli with a red wine jus. This was absolutely incredible. My only fault - I felt two of the goat's curd and spinach filo parcels was slightly unnecessary. The dish was flavoursome, big enough and filling enough without two of those.

I was absolute stuffed and my friend (who joined us for a drink half way through the meal) ended up finishing the rest of my meal.

Overall the food was incredible and I'm very pleased to know we have somewhere very close to our house that a) isn't a chain b) actually serves inventive and GOOD food and c) doesn't break the bank. Overall, our bill came to less than £65, including a bottle of wine. I would advise not even having a slight snack before you go as it is likely you'll struggle to get beyond the generous starters.

My only slight disappointment was the waitress, whom we asked for a wine recommendation, that didn't know anything about wine and responded with "I don't drink it, so I can't really tell you". In fairness, she did point out the most popular one (the one we went for) but I am of the opinion that a restaurant serving this quality of food should maybe give a little training to staff for drink pairings. This is probably me being really pedantic but I think it would really make this place the best place to eat at in Northamptonshire!


Saturday, 7 May 2016

MADE: Homemade Beans

This is probably no revelation to anybody reading - homemade beans are a more common addition to many breakfasts and brunches these days BUT it's the second time I've made them and this recipe is pretty darn good so I figured, why not share the love? I definitely felt like I'd done something a little healthier rather than opening a salty tin of Heinz.

I guess Heinz are top of the bill for most though - 2 minutes in the microwave or on the hob and Bob's your uncle. My recipe takes a fair bit longer BUT once you've got them, they keep for around a week in the fridge AND you can freeze them. Plus, they're healthier, tasty and a bit'a something different if you're feeling in the mood to be a little fancy.

All you need to for four to six servings:
400g haricot beans
400g butterbeans
5 tbsp EV olive oil
1 large white onion, diced
2 garic cloves, crushed
2 x tins of chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato puree
100ml apple cider vinegar
3 tbsp agave nectar (or 150g soft brown sugar)
250ml water
1/2 tbsp Worcester sauce (optional)
Salt and pepper, to season

Lets get started...

1. Empty the beans into a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring them to the boil. Drain the beans again and return to the pan, covering them with fresh water. Return to the boil again, then reduce to a lower heat so they are simmering. Leave them simmering away, uncovered, for about an hour until the beans are a little softer. If you need to add more water, do so.

2. Whilst the beans are simmering away, prepare the rest of your ingredients. Add the garlic and onions to a medium frying pan with a little heated EV olive oil. Turn the heat down low and stir occasionally so things don't stick. Your onions need to be softened but not overly browned so three to five minutes should do the trick.

3. Add the tinned tomatoes, puree, agave, apple cider vinegar and water. Bring to the boil and stir regularly. Transfer the contents of the frying pan into the bean pan and make sure the heat is kept low, leaving the ingredients to simmer. They need to be left for around an hour to two hours so the sauce thickens and the beans are soft.

4. When you're nearing the end of your cooking tin, prep the rest of you meal. I served my beans in a little pot with a couple of poached eggs, a grilled mushroom and a few tomatoes, some asparagus and rye bread.

5. Make sure the beans are seasoned and stirred before serving. Once the rest of your meal if ready, plate everything up.

I'll be honest, I was impatient. I couldn't wait up to two hours for my beans to soften. I lasted about half an hour then a huge wave of hunger hit me. BUT I will say, wait it out and the flavours will be even better!


Thursday, 5 May 2016

VISITED AND ATE AT: 48 Hours in Harrogate

Last week H and I had a few days in Harrogate to celebrate me turning 25 *cries*. We had the loveliest time and the weather was great. Turning 25, however, just made me a feel a bit emotional and like I'm getting on a bit. I was in desperate need of a few days away so it couldn't have come at a better time.

I searched the web for somewhere to stay. I came across the incredible Lawrance Apart-Hotel. 5* Luxury apartments with two locations Kings Road or Duchy Road. We were at Duchy, basically a 10 minute walk from everything you'd probably want to see or do that's central. I could obviously time how long it took thanks to H, he bought me this beeeeautiful new watch from Kapten & Son.

We arrived on the afternoon of my birthday (I share my day with the Queen!) and checked into the apartment (self check in with keys in key boxes by the door - so straight forward) and were blown away by what we were met with. A free update to a ridiculous 2 bedroom apartment. It was so beautiful. Big kitchen, living room and dining area with free tea, coffee and hot chocolate facilities, even a little carton of fresh milk to greet us. A massive master bedroom complete with chandelier. Another lovely second bedroom. Both bedrooms with ensuites and lovely views too. A lovely seating area outside with views of the fields in the garden. It was honestly perfect - to the extent that I could genuinely live in that apartment.

We spent the rest of the afternoon sat outside drinking wine in the beautiful sunshine (and warmth!!!) before heading to Burgers & More for dinner in the evening. Now, I'd read a few bits and pieces on the internet about this place, all stating great burgers. I can say, the burgers were really good but the presentation of the meals and the overly surroundings/atmosphere weren't the best.

The following day we got up and headed to the Farm Bistro for breakfast. Cannot rate this place highly enough. Local ingredients, everything super tasty, really friendly and helpful staff (we both requested things that weren't actually part of the meal we ordered) and overall just really, really good. I'd probably have eaten breakfast there the following day if I hadn't got somewhere else in mind.

From here we had a little potter around the town and nipped into a few shops before heading down to the Turkish Baths for an afternoon of pampering. We opted for the Sacred Nature Face and Body Ritual - a full body exfoliation, massage and facial with organic products - which was hands down the most relaxing hour and a half of my life. The bath's themselves were great and made up of showers, a steam room, three heat rooms, a plunge pool and relaxation room. H was a bit disappointed there was no actual swimming pool but I was too relaxed to even notice. We both left feeling silky smooth and cleansed...and in need of a nap. We popped and grabbed a sandwich before heading back to our dream apartment.

That evening we met H's cousin for dinner at their local pub, The Square and Compass. Weirdly enough, this was a place I'd read about on TripAdvisor and fancied trying so a welcome choice from them! I'd already had a little too much Prosecco by the time we'd arrived so couldn't make a decision on food at all. I ended up with three sharing plates as a main - the quinoa with pomegranate, grapefruit, avocado and minty yoghurt, the scallops cured in chilli and lime with avocado and the sticky baby chorizo on creamed cannellini beans. All of which were wonderful, especially the chorizo. The others had the crispy beef salad and the three mini burgers - all giving glowing feedback. I also had the best sticky toffee pudding that has ever graced my mouth! Unfortunately I didn't snap any photos here as they'd never met me before and I was too engrossed in conversation and glasses of Prosecco that kept magically appearing in front of me.

The following day, we headed to Betty's (with sore heads) for brunch. I've been to Betty's before for afternoon tea but the all day breakfast menu looked too good to resist. We actually had to queue for twenty minutes to get a table but apparently that's pretty good going on a Saturday morning! We sat down at a window seat, overlooking the incredibly popular picture framed seating area that everybody and his dog had a photo in front of. It took me a while to decide what to eat (again), mainly because of how thirsty I was (two orange juices and a pot of tea sorted me out eventually). I eventually decided on the Eggs Florentine Rosti with a side of bacon and H had the full English. The food was up there in the top 3 breakfast/brunches I've ever had. The rosti was perfect and it makes my mouth water every time I think about it...Betty's is definitely not the cheapest place in the world (£45 for two of us because we were overly thirsty) but it's 100% worth going to. The afternoon tea is definitely worth trying at least once but the cakes are actually around 50% cheaper to buy and take away from the shop BUT I know that ruins the afternoon tea vibes.

From there we had another little wander around, popping into Lush for more things I didn't need and Molten Brown, just to smell everything.

On the way back, we went via York Designer Outlet village, somewhere I'd genuinely recommend popping into if you're ever in the area. Not only do they have a Margaret Howell outlet shop but the Levi's shop had some really good bits in (picked up a Made in the USA Denim Jacket for £25 - mega bargain!!) and the Reiss shops are pretty darn good too.

A quick little round up, I know, mostly about eating but y'know, I like pottering about and eating in different places. We're already planning our next visit to Harrogate and I think you should too!

Also, make sure you check out the Lawrance - they have places in both Harrogate and York. Perfect for a little getaway!


Tuesday, 3 May 2016

MADE : A Healthier-Than-Takeaway Slow Cooked Sweet and Sour Chicken

I am an absolute fiend when it comes to sweet and sour chicken. Every Saturday it's the only thing I ever want for dinner (however, I do not allow myself it or I would be even bigger!)

SO, I decided something had to be done. A healthier alternative that I could make at home needed to be found BUT with the almost-as-good-as-the-takeaway taste. Well, I think I've found it AND, bonus, it doesn't leave you feeling like a bloated whale afterwards!

All you need for 4 servings is:
4 chicken breasts, cut into chunks or strips
400g pineapple rings or chunks, in juice (1 tin)
1/2 red pepper, deseeded and chopped into strips
1/2 yellow pepper, deseeded and chopped into strips
1 onion (red or white), chopped into strips
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced thinly
1 garlic clove, crushed
2cm piece of grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 tbsp agave nectar (alternatively use 2 tbsp soft brown sugar)
1 tbsp tomato puree
50ml red wine vinegar (I used 30ml apple cider instead)
200ml hot chicken stock
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
Spring onions, to garnish (optional)
Sesame seeds, to garnish (optional)

Serve with rice or, if you're keeping it healthier, quinoa.

Let's get started...

1. If you've got plenty of time, flick your slow cooker on low (cooking time 8-10 hours) or if you've got less time, flick your slow cooker on high (cooking time 6-8 hours). Allow it to heat a little before adding the ingredients.

2. Drain the pineapple but keep the juice for the sauce. Add the pineapple juice to the slow cooker (save the chunks until later!) followed by the crushed garlic, sliced peppers, onion, carrot and grated ginger.

3. Add the agave (or sugar), tomato puree, red wine (or apple cider) vinegar, soy sauce and hot chicken stock. Stir it all together well.

4. Season the chunk/strip chicken with sea salt and black pepper then toss in flour to coat. Add this chicken to the slow cooker.

5. Put the lid on and cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for 6-8 hours depending on when you'd like it to be ready. Typically, cooking on low for longer makes the chicken taste amazing.

6. When you're about to dish up, add the pineapple chunks to the slow cooker and stir in. Leave for 5-10 minutes. Cook your rice/quinoa/noodles/whatever you're using now and garnish this with sesame seeds/spring onion if using.

7. Dish it all up! And enjoy.

Have you got a favourite homemade takeaway alternative recipe?