In the kitchen: Five essential reads

For some people, cookbooks can seem like a little bit of a hassle. You buy them with good intention and then you look at the lists of ingredients and hours of preparation time required, and things go downhill from there. Instead, they sit gathering dust on the shelf and those wonderful recipes you envisioned never get made (except that one time… remember?). My mum springs to mind here, because growing up she always had a treasure chest full of books and magazines that lay dormant for “next weekend”. She is a brilliant cook might I add, so I guess she had no immediate need for those books but she would whip them out now and again have a quick read then they would go back to their nest, untouched. I’d read them in my spare time and I think visually, I started to appreciate food and food photography from there.

Fast forward 15+ years and I’ll spend hours rummaging through book shops, charity shops and online looking for inspiration from my favourite chefs and influencers. Things have taken a huge shift since the 90s and earlier 00s in terms of what’s available out there on the market. Authors know people want speedy, fresh, flavourful food that can adapt to working family lifestyles and those on both a budget and timescale. More bloggers and influencers are creating recipes for their online following. More of us are opting for alternative diets; plant-based, vegetarianism, gluten-free, dairy-free. Recipe books are offering up recipes as diverse as those who buy into them and I personally am so excited by this.

So, I’ve taken my time and sifted through my collection and here’s five of the best. I champion the vegetarian diet, so there’s a mix of books aimed to keep our health and wellbeing in balance. I hope you’re inspired to go out and try some of these!

Amanda Brocket | The Raw Food Kitchen

My latest addition to the bookshelf is The Raw Food Kitchen which I picked up in one of my favourite homeware stores, Oliver Bonas. Amanda’s philosophy on food and health is really refreshing and she aims to make raw diets accessible and appealing. She manages to break down the meaning of eating ‘raw’ beyond fruits and vegetables and talks about the benefits to the body, changes you’ll expect, ingredient lists and shares personal stories about her struggle with Candida and gut health. I can relate to this so I have enjoyed learning as I’ve flicked through the many beautifully photographed pages.

She also goes into lengthy detail about variations on everyday foods we enjoy (as not to alienate readers) as well as adding a nifty little meal planner before delving into recipes. If you’re on a new raw food journey and need some realistic inspiration, give this a try. Expect colourful salads, juices, snacks, stir-frys, ice-cream, breakfast foods and more.

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Plenty More | Ottolenghi

Plenty More is the book I return to most often. It’s just one of a series of cookbooks by Yotam Ottolenghi and offers superb recipes and photography that focus on the humble vegetable with strong Mediterranean influence. In his introduction (so well written), he explains his journey to appreciating the vegetarian diet and his influences. Dishes are vibrant, daring and visually inviting, yet with minimal fuss. I think the pictures really speak for themselves! What’s nice is that every recipe introduction is a personal account referencing friends, colleagues and family.

If you get the chance, visit one of his restaurants and deli’s across London. Nopi is next on my hit list!

LEON – Ingredients & Recipes

An oldie but goodie. Londoners know the well-know chain that is LEON – offering naturally fast food and getting us through the hectic working week, but where did it all begin? This book focuses on the founders; Henry, John and Allegra who opened up the first branch in Carnaby Street mid 2004. This book is split into two halves essentially: the first touches on the A-Z of ingredients (this book includes meat and dairy) and the second is the recipe book. So for anyone wanting a thorough lesson in seasonality, sourcing, understanding ingredients, eating habits and local produce then this book will get you an A* grade.

As well as the retro visuals, smooth matte pages and colourful content, LEON does a wonderful job of sharing recipes from the LEON family and is not short on ideas or creative content. From hearty soups and stews, to superfood salads and puddings all in line with the LEON philosophy, there are recipes to see you through the seasons. Wholly worth the read.

Neal’s Yard Remedies – Healing Foods

I have a lot of love for this book. It is simply a fantastic curation of ingredients, recipes and knowledge on the power of foods to heal the body of ailments. It talks about dietary patterns, the western diet, seasonality and healthy supplements before going into an A-Z of ingredients and properties. Now, I thought I knew about food but this will educate even the most seasoned traveller and foodie out there!

Expect recipes from breakfast to dinner, snacks, condiments and a pretty clever recipe chooser which offers up a list of recipes from the book for specific problems like heart health or detoxing. All in all, a handy book that leaves no stone unturned. You’ll definitely reevaluate your next weekly shop!

Natasha Corrett | Honestly Healthy Cleanse

Alkaline, alkaline, alkaline. It’s the motto of this neat and tidy book from Natasha Corrett. It’s split into four sections: feel good, slim down, high energy and life changing – all designed to cleanse the body over a set amount of days – menu planner included. Natasha gently guides you though the rules of the cleanse, why our bodies should be more alkaline than acidic and answers common questions too. A quick ingredient list sets you up for the next few pages of simple, honest food that looks (and tastes) fab. I enjoy making recipes from this book and it’s one I pick up when I want a quick one week detox.

Summer style: In focus

It’s May and I’m so ready for summer! I’m wondering if I’ll get to pull out my stash of floaty fabrics gathering dust under the bed anytime soon? I guess during the warmer months, we tend to experiment a little more with our personal style. We stray away from monochrome and inject a pop of colour and personality into our attire. For me, I like to freshen up my mostly high street and vintage aesthetic with understated jewellery, bold lip colours and varied textures. I also love to accessorise with a great pair of sunglasses!

For some reason, most styles I try on suit me which is a great confidence boost but not so great for the purse strings, you know? They really elevate a look into something effortlessly stylish and individual. Like a vintage bag or great pair of shoes, they instantly become the centre piece of the outfit and meaning you can essentially ‘build your look’ around this single item. Good news for those fashion conscious folk who are rushed for time!

Buying glasses online can be a challenge because you can’t always determine how they might look in person, but buying online is a smart and savvy way to find special offers and exclusive styles! It’s also a great place to find new online retailers, share with your friends and read genuine customer reviews. These super sleek Wayfarer frames from Glasses Shop are my new favourite accessory this spring/summer! The two-tone detail and shape really frame my face and the muted browns go with so many outfits without being OTT. Whether you like an eccentric Cat Eye or a squared oversized frame, there is a style to suit every taste. Their range of high quality, light and durable frames extend to prescription sunglasses too which are amazingly affordable, so you can get holiday ready in no time!

Glasses Shop offer customised lenses and coatings, and ship internationally so you don’t have to miss out on a stunning pair of cheap glasses this season! Get 50% off your order using the discount code GSHOT50. Excludes sale items.

This post is in collaboration with Glasses Shop. Check out the full range online.

Asian noodle soup

As soon as winter swings around, the British tradition is always to enjoy a few more warming home cooked meals that can be knocked up quickly without spending hours in the kitchen. For me, by the time January comes around I want to consciously eat cleaner, but still keep that element of comfort food for those cold nights! This recipe is one I created based on my appreciation of Asian flavours and the humble coconut and it also happens to be a brilliant way to use up the remainder of fresh veggies in the fridge come Sunday.

So, all you really need is 20 minutes spare in the evening and you’re good to go. The noodles really bulk out this soup, so it can easily serve 3-4 or if you’re cooking for one then divide out for the week. As with most of the recipes on here, adapt the heat/spice to your liking so if you want a milder flavour just use one chilli.

Serves 4 | Prep: 5 mins  Cooking: 15 mins

Ingredients: 

• 1 large carrot
• 1 small red bell pepper
• 2 spring onions
• 1 small white onion
• 2 green chillies
• 1 garlic clove
• 1 oxo vegetable stock cube or 1 tbsp bouillon powder
• 2 handfuls fresh or frozen green beans
• 200ml good quality coconut cream
• 300ml hot water
• 2 dried wheels of dried wholewheat noodles or rice noodles
• 1/2 tsp curry powder
• 1/2 tsp turmeric
• 1/2 tsp ground ginger
• 1 tbsp olive oil
• 1 tsp sesame oil
• Sea salt and black pepper

Step one: Prep the veggies. You’ll need to peel and cut the carrot into four even quarters and then slice finely length ways. Finely slice the onion, bell pepper and spring onions to even sizes. Crush the garlic clove.

Step two: Heat a large, deep saucepan on a medium heat with the olive oil. Add the garlic, chillies and onion and sweat for 2 minutes until softened.

Step three: Add the coconut cream and water, stir and simmer for 2 minutes before adding the spices, seasoning and stock cube.

Step four: Add the remaining veggies except the green beans. These cook the quickest and should be added last to retain the crunch and colour. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Step five: For the last 5 minutes of cooking, add the noodles and green beans and cook until soft. Serve hot and garnish a few spring onions and a drizzle of sesame oil.

Salon du Chocolat

Is anyone else desperate for the weekend? A repeat of last weekend would be greatly appreciated and might just give me a little motivation to reach Friday! For the third year, The Chocolate Show returned to West London’s Olympia National for the UK’s biggest chocolate event. Three days of pure indulgence from 16th – 18th October. I’d never been before, but this year I thought I’d end Chocolate Week on a high and give my usual Sunday activities a miss. I quite enjoy these kind of exhibitions with various stalls and interesting things to look at and of course try – there’s always a real excitement in the air.

The event itself was teaming with people, from couples and families, to bloggers, students and tourists armed with their Canons and mouths full. There was a press room in one corner and a fashion show on the other. Who ever knew clothes could be made out of chocolate!?  I spent the afternoon milling around watching live demonstrations, trying decadent chocolates and sweets and learnt about the chocolate making process from bean to bar. I tasted liquid chocolate from a tap (literally!), tried Magnum’s brand new premium range, talked with several international vendors and generally soaked up the atmosphere!

A few stand out places included the insanely good salted caramel brownie from Bad Brownie (pictured above), one of my favourite French brands Valrhona, the beautifully packaged Rococo Chocolate and every travellers essential read, Food and Travel Magazine. It was an insightful day to say the least and for the avid chocolate lover, it’s definitely worth the £12.50 ticket whether you want to learn more about the craft or just experience a different side of London’s food culture. Here’s a few snaps from the day… enjoy!

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

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!

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.