Stockholm travel diary: A city of food & culture

I couldn’t go abroad and not document my foodie adventures. Of course for this here blog, but also because I genuinely love food/lifestyle photography. It’s a great way to savour memories and it’s an instant conversation starter, too. There’s something more exciting about eating out on holiday that differs from here in London and the UK generally; the curiosity of not knowing what you’ll find and I suppose the freedom to chose whatever you want, whenever you want without any preconceptions. The choice to plan and dress up for a special dinner, or have an impromtu pit stop as you explore. It’s also things like the hospitality and service, the menu, social surrounding and the satisfaction (hopefully) of giving that new discovery a thumbs up afterwards.

Over the course of our four days in Stockholm, we actually tried quite a few different cuisines. From traditional Swedish/European breakfast food, to authentic Italian lunches and flavour-packed Indian dinners. Amongst all of that, we discovered bakeries, fruit and veg markets, quaint coffee and dessert cafes and some of the best pistachio ice-cream I’ve ever indulged in. I’d done my research before heading out, so there were a few places I just had to tick off my to-do list. Here’s a few of my favourite spots across the city that’ll take you from dusk til dawn.

Broms – Karlaplan

Chokladkoppen – Gamla Stan (Old Town)

Hötorget (Haymarket Square) – Norrmalm

Vapiano – Sturegatan, Östermalm

Fabrique – Drottninggatan

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Stockholm travel diary: Hotel Hellsten

For the last year, Sweden has been on my hit-list of countries to visit, so when my other half booked us a trip there this July for my birthday, I was ecstatic. We headed to the capital, Stockholm, for four incredible days and it certainly lived up to my expectations. The city has such a cool and attractive aesthetic; from the building designs, to the high street fashion, cafe culture and street style. Although it’s built of many islands and surrounded by water (which is pretty breathtaking!) amongst the lush greenery I noticed there were many similarities to big cities like London, New York, Paris and Berlin which carried a nice sense of familiarity, yet there were many elements that set Stockholm apart. I couldn’t wait to explore!

We stayed in the Vasastan area of Stockholm, close to neighboring areas Norrmalm and Ostermalm, and our hotel was about a 15 minute walk from Central Station (or two stops on the underground) on Luntmakargatan 68. Like my Prague travel diary, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the hotel itself. Hotel Hellsten is a boutique hotel housed in a 19th century building with a relatively compact, homely feel. There was a mix of antique and modern furniture dotted around. Initially, the staff were so attentive and a speedy check in meant no time wasted. The communal areas off the reception included a ‘living room’ seating area with unlimited free fresh coffee and tea (this seemed to be the done thing in Stockholm!), an eclectic cocktail bar and a small glass-enclosed breakfast room to the back of the property where there was also a courtyard with seating. What I loved most was the unusual nooks and crannies that gave the hotel so much character.

We stayed on the top 5th floor in a ‘Single Lit Room’ which is essentially a small double room. But what a room! They have a range of others, including superior rooms and suites, but this was perfect for our needs. Everything matched the hotel theme perfectly. Exposed brick walls, floor length curtains, high ceilings, real wood flooring and an incredible distressed wooden bed frame. It was all quite romantic. The bathroom was neat with a walk in shower and grey slate tiles – dreamy! Luckily for us, our room had the ideal spot to see the glowing sunset and rooftops each night, too.

Of our three nights there, I had no complaints. There was no noise from other guests, housekeeping was faultless and the room also had free wifi. The little touches throughout the hotel also made it special, from the piano in the Hellsten Earth Bar to the candlelit candelabra in the living room and old fashioned bookshelf. The breakfast spread was sufficient although some things weren’t to my to taste. We spent every day and evening out so we’d have lunch and dinner around the city, which is how we usually spend our holidays. I would definitely stay here again and recommend it to city travellers; it’s convenient, clean and unique in style. And if you’re anything like me and enjoy a good photo opp, then it’s very photogenic!

Honey-glazed carrot & roasted red onion salad

Admittedly, I’ve had a few weeks off from blogging. It’s been a busy old month, in every sense, but a good one at that. It’s always nice to catch up with old friends, venture out of the insanity of London, try new things and spend time setting Summer goals. And, along with the improving weather comes renewed energy and inspiration for this here blog.

Since the Bank Holiday festivities are in full swing and it’s the last day of National Vegetarian Week 2015, I figured a summery salad dish would be fitting for impromptu BBQ’s and friendly gatherings. We all love a bit of al fresco dining and this dish is perfect sharing food as an accompaniment to other side dishes and mains. Or, if you’re anything like me, you’ll devour this alone with some crusty bread, olive oil and balsamic vinegar! I find this is best eaten whilst the roasted veggies are still warm and fragrant as a contrast to the cold spinach leaves and crumbly feta cheese. You could also add toasted pumpkin seeds or roasted cherry tomatoes for a slightly different variation on this salad.

Serves 2 – 4 | Prep: 10 mins  Cooking: 30-35 mins

For the roasted veg:

  • 4 medium carrots
  • 1 large red onion
  • 1 tbsp good quality runny honey
  • 1/2 tsp mixed dried herbs (e.g thyme, rosemary, basil)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste

For the salad:

  • 80g baby spinach leaves
  • 50g crumbly feta cheese
  • 1 lemon
  • Olive oil

Step one: Pre-heat your oven at 175 degrees. Peel, half and then quarter the carrots. You should get 8 even sized pieces from each carrot. In a similar way, half and quarter the onion so you have small wedge shapes.

Step two: Line a baking tray with baking paper. Add the veg and coat evenly in olive oil, seasoning, cumin and mixed herbs. Bake for approx 25 mins.

Step three: At this stage, drizzle the honey over the veg and return to the oven for a final 10 mins. You want a deep brown caramelised colour on the carrots and onions. Take them out of the oven and set aside whilst you assemble the salad ingredients.

Step four: On a large serving plate or mixing bowl, add the spinach leaves, crumbled feta and warm veg (plus any sweet honey juices!). Dress the salad with a drizzle of olive oil and fresh lemon juice before serving.

*This will keep for two days in the fridge, but is best eaten on the same day it’s made.

 

Soy and ginger pak choi, broccoli & portobello mushroom

I’m a huge fan of Asian dishes (Thai and Chinese) especially because of their speed, versatility & vibrant flavours. I’ll whip up a stir fry when I want quick, clean, no fuss and honest food. There’s no endless dirty pots and pans to contend with either. I came up with this delicious recipe that happens to be vegan, too. It’s light & full of green goodness!

Along with the mushroom, broccoli & pak choi base (you can find this in larger supermarkets or a local fruit & veg market), I add courgettes and spinach along with a delicious mix of fiery red chilli, garlic, lime and muscovado sugar to balance out the hot, sour and salty flavours. There’s a few other additions but this really is a simple and satisfying meal alone or as a side dish. Grab your wok and you’re ready to go!

Serves 2-4 | Prep: 5 mins Cooking: 8-10 mins

For the stir fry:

  • 1 bulb pak choi
  • 10 – 12 small broccoli florets
  • 2 large portobello  mushrooms
  • 1 courgette
  • 1 small white onion
  • 1 handful baby spinach
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of scotch bonnet red chilli
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp dark muscovado sugar
  • 1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
  • 1 lime
  • Ground nut or vegetable oil
  • Sea salt & black pepper

Step one: On a medium heat, warm up a wok with enough oil to cover the base.

Step two: Wash and prep your vegetables. Cut the courgette into half-moon shapes, slice the onion and mushrooms, separate the broccoli florets and pak choi leaves, thinly slice the garlic, ginger and chilli.

Step three: The wok should now be hot. Fry the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli for one minute before adding the remaining veg. Keep the pan moving constantly for 5 mins to spread the heat and cook them evenly.

Step four: Season with salt and pepper, then add the thyme, soy sauce, a squeeze of lime, sugar, sweet chilli sauce and spinach leaves. Add a splash of water if needed to create a little steam. Cook for another two minutes before turning off the heat. Best served hot, with steamed basmati rice, noodles or as an accompanying side dish.

Understanding flavour combinations: herbs & spices

Spring is upon on us and I’m so excited to be cooking lighter, flavourful meals full of fresh ingredients, herbs and spices that can be easily thrown together. I’ve always loved buying little and often when it comes to fresh food and now the sun is out, I haven’t hesitated to visit my local markets in search of the good stuff. London is bursting with choice when it comes to fruit and veg markets. There is something very satisfying about picking and choosing from the many stalls at a leisurely pace, chatting with the vendors and generally coming away with several bargains for your money! My recent trip inspired this updated post on understanding flavour combinations.

If you’re not much of a cook, flavour combinations will seem like an alien concept. When you go out to restaurants or cook at home, you just eat and know what tastes good or bad together, right? From classic duos like lemon and thyme or garlic and ginger, to sweet things like strawberries and chocolate or apple and cinnamon, they’re all combinations that we eat often because somehow, they just work.

But why?

Often, sweet foods and spices work well with more savoury, salty or sour foods – sharp contrasts that will enhance the overall flavour and bring out the undertones. There’s a reason why everyone is going crazy over salted caramel! Salt is one of those fundamental ingredients that do just that. One of my favourite combinations is a soft tangy cheese like goats or feta, with a sweet and spicy chutney like carrot or mango. It’s something I will always order on a menu!

I’ve found it can take a lot of trial and error to find out what compliments each other when cooking at home, as there are so many variations you can try that will elevate your meal to another level. Another fail-safe of mine? Honey or agave syrup. I use these in savoury meals a lot, usually in sauces or veg based dishes. You can combine with crushed garlic for fragrance, dark soy sauce for saltiness, fresh or dried chilli for heat and olive oil to make a tasty sauce or marinade.

The foodie and traveler that I am, discovering new countries, cultures, foods and amazing flavour combinations is what I enjoy the most so I eat out a lot, and I incorporate those ideas into my everyday meals and weekly shops too. Indian, Moroccan and Mexican cuisines are some of my favourites. Having Caribbean heritage also means I’ve always eaten well spiced and delicious food, so it’s what I know best.

Spices:

My spice cupboard is bursting, literally. Partly because I dislike bland food but also because I like to try new things. There will always be the staples though – I’ll let you in on my essentials.

  • Paprika – you can get hot, sweet or smokey varieties. I like smokey personally with it’s deep red/burnt orange colour and deeper flavour.
  • Fresh chilli – for added warmth but not necessarily overbearing heat. A little goes a long way, especially the dried flakes. Generally the smaller the chilli the hotter it is (except the round shaped scotch bonnet which is the hottest variety).
  • Whole cumin seeds – a classic aromatic Indian spice, usually toasted in a dry pan to release the oils before use. Works well with meat, potatoes and carrots especially.
  • Curry powder – hot or mild varieties. I use this to flavour veg and curries. Traditional in Caribbean and Indian cooking.
  • Turmeric – a subtle flavour with natural medicinal qualities. I use this to add colour and warmth to various dishes.
  • Fresh ginger – juicy, pungent and spicy it’s also part of the turmeric family. I use this in fresh teas and Asian inspired dishes mainly.
  • Garam Masala – a fragrant Indian ground spice made up of cinnamon, cloves, coriander, black pepper and cumin.
  • Whole nutmeg – ah, perfume worthy. I prefer the whole nut over ground varieties because the smell lasts longer. Used primarily in puddings, white sauce, cakes and other sweet bakes.

Herbs and misc:

  • Dried bay leaf – a pungent, strong and bitter sweet spice that I use in soups, stews and porridge. Works very well with nutmeg.
  • Thyme – fresh or dried. A fragrant but strong spice that I use in soups, sauces and stews. Works well with meat, chicken and roasted root veg.
  • Garlic – neither a herb or spice, but an essential. And always the fresh stuff!
  • Lemon and lime – I use the zest and juice to add a fresh lift to otherwise heavy dishes like curries and sauces, as well as in salad dressings, teas and plain water.

There are plenty of other fresh and dried ingredients I use for added flavour which you’ll see throughout the blog, but these are the foundations and a pretty good start for anybody just beginning to explore spices and herbs. Hopefully you can try some of these ideas out if you haven’t discovered them already, and if you have then keep going!

Cream cheese, spinach & tomato elicoidali

It’s Meat Free Week from the 23 – 29 March, which means all vegetarians and vegans out there like myself are making full use of this time to encourage meat eaters to eat less of it, really enjoy fresh produce, get cooking and trying alternatives to meat and poultry. This year’s campaign is also supported by various charities including Beating Bowl Cancer and World Land Trust. It’s a great way to raise awareness about animals and the environment, as well as highlighting the many health benefits of cutting out/down on meat in general. And let’s face it, our bodies always need a good detox once in a while – myself included.

After giving up red meat a year ago, I slowly made the full transition and I’ve been veggie for around three months now and I have to say, it’s been fantastic. I’ve never had so much energy and I generally feel brighter, lighter and happier. I’m also saving money, now that’s no bad thing! Eating a vegetarian or vegan diet is a lot more fun and rewarding than you may anticipate if you just put some time and effort into it. It’s not for everyone though, and I’m well aware many people simply won’t give up meat and poultry out of choice, but one week for a worthy cause like this is a challenge I think everyone should get involved with!

This vegetarian recipe is so simple, and has only a handful of ingredients that together are classic flavours. I use elicoidali pasta – a ridged tube shape pasta – for this dish which is one of my favourites because it looks a little more special than regular penne or spaghetti. It also has a larger surface area so really holds the sauce and all the flavours quite well.

I hope you enjoy it; it takes almost no time at all to make and will keep in the fridge for a day or two. Use as much garlic as you like – I recommend two cloves here but you can amp up the intensity for a stronger flavour.

Serves 2 | Cooking: 15 mins

For the dish: 

  • 200g dry elicoidali pasta
  • 90g full fat cream cheese
  • 1 small white onion
  • Large handful of fresh baby spinach
  • 7 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Olive oil or extra virgin
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 fresh red chilli
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried mixed herbs

Step one: Boil the pasta for 10 minutes in enough water to cover on a medium heat, with a pinch of salt and tablespoon of oil.

Step two: While the pasta cooks, chop the onion and tomatoes. Fry the onion in a deep nonstick saucepan with some oil for two minutes. Crush and add the garlic cloves, half a chopped chilli, seasoning and mixed herbs.

Step three: Add the cream cheese and stir in well with a wooden spoon. Add the tomatoes and spinach then turn off the heat. You want the veggies to remain fresh with some bite so the remaining heat will warm them through and wilt the spinach.

Step four: Finally, drain the cooked pasta and add to the saucepan with a small amount of cooking water. Mix well and serve hot.

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Prague travel diary: A weekened in photos

A visual collation of my weekend in the beautiful city of Prague. I rarely put my camera down over those two days, so here are some of my favourite snap shots – from exploring the Old and New Town, National Galleries and museums, to shopping in quaint side streets, trying Czech delicacies, wandering over Charles Bridge and getting lost in the grounds of Prague Castle. All photos taken using my canon 700d.

Salted caramel sauce

So I mentioned on Wednesday that I’d be sharing my recipe for the salted caramel sauce featured in my last post (cue the salivating tongue). Chocolate and caramel just seem like the obvious marriage for me. I’m not sure about elsewhere, but in the UK (especially London), this was the craze that seemed to come unannounced and became the foodie obsession. Everything from cakes, brownies and pies, to ice cream, doughnuts and milkshakes have had the salted caramel ‘makeover’ and I’ll admit, I’m in with the crowd.

It’s no easy task when it comes to working and cooking with sugar at high temperatures – it can easily go wrong but don’t let that put you off. This method doesn’t use a thermometer as I don’t think it’s necessary (just watch the pan continually!) It’s a simple four-ingredient recipe: brown sugar, salted butter, sea salt and single cream. It’s heavenly.

I recommend this with (pretty much everything) and if you don’t use the whole batch up in one day which is likely, it’ll last a week in the fridge. It’ll get thicker when it cools into a fudge-like texture, perfect for drizzling over ice cream, pancakes or on my favourite dark chocolate and hazelnut brownies.

For the sauce:

  • 3 tbsp softened salted butter
  • 140ml double cream
  • 160g soft dark or light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp good quality flaked sea salt

Makes one small jar full (as pictured) Cooking: 15 mins

Step one: Melt the sugar on a low heat for five minutes until it has dissolved and starts to become caramelised. At this stage, add the butter.

Step two: The butter will begin to bubble in the pan – just keep the pan moving for a minute and stir to avoid burning.

Step three: Slowly pour in the cream and continue to stir. Turn up the heat to a medium heat, add the salt and stir for a few more minutes as the sauce thickens and becomes glossy. Allow to cool.

Dark chocolate & roasted hazelnut brownies

Who can resist a warm, squishy brownie? Throw in some added extras like crunchy hazelnuts and salted caramel sauce into the mix and they’re a surefire winner for me. This is a simple recipe but with this it’s all about timing – too long in the oven and you’ll miss the beauty of a soft centered brownie. It’s a serious deal.

As usual, only a good quality 70% dark chocolate will do for this recipe (best for cooking with), and some bitter cocoa powder too for an all round richer taste. I also roast the hazelnuts for a few minutes beforehand to really enhance the nutty flavour of the brownies – simple touches make all the difference and they’re seriously good!

Check back in on Sunday and I’ll share my recipe for this delicious salted caramel sauce. It’s rich, buttery and savoury sweet. It also lasts a week in the fridge, so I guess it’s completely fine that I indulge in this everyday for the next week.

Completely.

For the brownies:

  • 200g 70% dark chocolate
  • 75g bitter cocoa power
  • 175g softened salted butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • 100g whole blanched hazelnuts
  • 150g soft dark muscovado sugar
  • 160g self raising flour
  • 1 vanilla pod (extract will do)

Makes 10 brownies | Prep: 15 mins, Cooking: 40 mins

Step one: Preheat your oven to 180 degrees and line a medium baking dish with greaseproof paper. On a baking tray put all of the nuts and dry roast for 5 mins until browned.

Step two: Meanwhile, in a heat proof dish place the broken chocolate pieces and butter and simmer over a bain-marie for 10 mins until melted through. The water shouldn’t touch the bottom of the bowl, just steam.

Step three: Once cooled slightly, add the eggs one by one, the vanilla seeds and sugar then combine well.

Step four: The dry ingredients are next. Sift the flour, add the cocoa powder and the cooled nuts. Mix together well and pour into the dish evenly.

Step five: Bake for approx 40 mins, keeping an eye not to overcook it. The top should be crackling and dark, but the centre should be fudgey when a knife runs through it. Allow to cool slightly and cut into 10 large squares.

Quinoa superfood salad

So I’ve been taking time out recipe planning, testing and playing with my new toy – my Canon 700D dslr. I have no words to share my excitement, I’m definitely loving it. As a recent vegetarian convert (it was a long time coming because I rarely ate meat and is one of the best decisions I’ve made), there’s definitely more of a need for me to prioritise my diet even more and get as much nutrients and goodness from non meat sources so for me, Quinoa was the obvious choice to start implementing. It’s a complete protein and lends itself to being gluten-free and easy to digest, so it’s a great alternative to standard brown rice or wholewheat pasta. Good carbs, hello!

Quinoa is one of those grains I’ve been meaning to cook with for a long time so coming up with this recipe was quite a fun task. I love vegetables (no, really) so I’ve thrown in a super delicious mix of superfoods to bulk this salad out so its nutrient rich and substantial for a main meal or light lunch. I even have this warm; just be sure to put the avocado and goats cheese on after you’ve heated it up! If you need a pick-me-up come mid week, definitely try this one! Your body will thank you later.

For the salad:

  • 150g dry quinoa – black and red varieties also work well
  • Half a butternut squash, de-seeded
  • 1 small red onion
  • 10-12 small broccoli florets
  • 1 small Romano pepper
  • Handful of mange tout
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 lemon
  • Crumbled goats cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 50g of almonds
  • 1 red birdseye chilli
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • Olive oil and vegetable oil
  • Salt and black pepper

Serves 3-4 | Prep: 5 mins, Cooking: 25 mins

Step one: Simmer 150g of quinoa on a medium heat for 15 mins. Two parts salted water to one part grain.

Step two: Heat up the vegetable oil in a wok or large deep pan then chop the butternut squash into small cubes, skin on. Fry them first for 5 mins til browned and softened.

Step three: Chop the remaining veg into even small pieces; red onion, red pepper, chilli and broccoli florets. Leave the mange tout whole. Crush the garlic cloves too. All veg prepped!

Step four: Add the garlic and chilli to the pan, along with the seasoning and soy sauce. Then add the vegetables and a splash of water and cook rapidly for 5 mins.

Step five: The quinoa will have soaked up all the water and be fluffy but still with defined texture. Pour into the pan and stir til well mixed. Add the whole almonds and drizzle everything with olive oil and lemon juice to taste. Turn off the heat.

Step six: Peel, de-stone and chop the avocado into small chunks and crumble the goats cheese over the salad to serve.