Ramsbottom Chocolate Festival

If you’ve ever read Chocolat by Joanne Harris you’ll remember the part where Vianne plans a chocolate festival on Easter Sunday much to the chagrin of the local priest. Well in the town where I grew up (Ramsbottom and yes you are allowed to giggle), a local chocolate shop owner Paul Morris of the Chocolate Cafe had the idea of opening a chocolate market for a few days. What better time than the weekend before Easter? The festival has grown year on year since it first began 5 years ago in 2008 and has become immensely popular. Who can blame people? It’s highly entertaining with live music, chocolate demonstrations and even a beer tent serving chocolate beer. So even if you’re not a fan of sweet food, you’d be entertained.

Now, I was only observing reallyrather than eating lots of sweeties; as I have given up chocolate for Lent and I am getting excited for Easter Sunday, but I’m sure a few people are only just recovering from sugar comas.

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Sweet potato, spinach and goats cheese risotto

Sweet potato, spinach and goats cheese risotto

It would seem its sometimes worthwhile looking through your blog drafts. I found this recipe I made in January! I was having various phone issues and couldn’t get my pictures shared properly (I am loving Dropbox now). This recipe is pretty hearty and filling and it is a great one if you’ve been exercising all day. Or you just like lying on the sofa having dreams based around excessive carbohydrate consumption. As you can probably guess from what I blog about I am a little bit “meh” about eating lots of carb based meals but it’s nice once in a while.

Sweet potato risotto is  to all intents and purposes a more healthy way of having a carb fest than most foods. Its filling, delicious and comfortingly stodgy on a cold day. As an added bonus (as I found out when totting up the calories on my fitness pal) it’s not spectacularly calorific. I would definitely say this is one for when you have that friend coming over who has an insatiable appetite (we all have at least one!)

This recipe also has the bonus of having all ingredients easy to find in your local supermarket, you don’t need much cheese and you could easily substitute the cheese for different types of cheese; or bacon, ham or lardons.

For this recipe you will need:

200g risotto rice

A large sweet potato (or 2 smaller ones) peeled and chopped into approx 1cm pieces

About 50g soft goats cheese (or light Philadelphia)

2 shallots/1 onion finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic

Mixed herbs

A glass of white wine (you can substitute this with tart fruit juice)

A bag of fresh spinach or about 5 briquettes of frozen spinach

A small amount or butter or olive oil

A chicken stock cube and hot water

Salt and pepper

Henderson’s relish or Worcester sauce (optional)

(Makes 4 medium portions or 3 larger portions)

Heat the butter or oil in a large non stick pan. Add the onion and crushed garlic and heat gently until soft.

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Add the sweet potato and fry until the sweet potato is golden brown in parts.

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I tried eating raw sweet potato once to make J laugh…it tasted of starchy carrot

Add the rice and fry for 30 seconds then add the white wine, water, mixed herbs and the stock cube. Turn the heat down and stir gently until the stock cube has dissolved.

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Leave the risotto cook and the rice to absorb the liquid. Stir it occasionally and add more water if the mixture starts looking dry.

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I have noticed that when bored and waiting to cook I get very impatient and tend to nibble on partially cooked rice. Not the world’s best idea.

Once the rice looks cooked stir in the goats cheese and spinach and heat until the spinach is wilted and the goats cheese has melted into the rice.

Green and groovy
Green and groovy

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Now my parents tend to drink risotto with water as it’s a dish that can make you thirsty, I just enjoy it with a cold drink really. When serving less it’s definitely more, as this is very filling!

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As a side note this can stored and reheated the following day. Just make sure the rice is piping hot before eating as lukewarm rice can give you an upset stomach. Don’t keep it any longer than 24 hours (unless you want to keep it in the freezer).

Baked sea bass with chilli and lemon

So my friend (we’ll call her Ed for the basis of the post) and I are doing a course of climbing lessons. It’s really fun and good exercise and there has been some joking about eating protein before going to strengthen our muscles. Well as we’re climbing at the Harrogate climbing centre near to me I am taking full advantage of cooking for someone else; albeit in the limited time between finishing work and going climbing.

Well this recipe is really quick and looks beautiful and potentially makes you look far more of a chef than you actually are. It’s also high in protein and tasty. None of the flavourings added to the fish detract from the delicate flavour of the sea bass. You could also try this recipe with something like lemon sole or Dover sole.

To make this recipe you will need:

As many sea bass fillets are you fancy – 1 per person or 2 for a hungry Horace. I actually defrosted frozen ones again.

Half a lemon (or more if you’re making lots). Lemon juice in bottles is fine, I just sent Ed out for a lemon for some reason.

Chilli and garlic flakes

Black pepper

Olive oil

Tomatoes (on the vine work best)

Whatever you fancy to serve with this. I made rice and steamed brocoli but new potatoes and other vegetables would work equally well.

 

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Drizzle your baking or roasting tray with olive oil and heat in the oven for 5 minutes.

So yeah, this is what drizzled oil looks like...
So yeah, this is what drizzled oil looks like…

 

Place the sea bass and tomatoes on the tray and sprinkle over the chilli flakes, pepper, and squeeze the lemon over the fish.

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Cook in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes. Check the fish to make sure it’s cooked fully. If it isn’t cook for a further 5 minutes and check again.

Remove from the oven and serve.

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For most people this goes without saying but watch out for small bones. Even in filleted fish sometimes a couple slip through.

Serve with more lemon and black pepper if desired but its pretty tasty without either. Bon appetit!

Edinburgh part 2 – Tigerlily (So I procrastinated a bit with this post)

So you know from a previous post that J and I had a weekend away at the end of January to celebrate our 5 years together. Well I have a second restaurant review for your entertainment and enjoyment. I didn’t review every restaurant we visited as it does get pretty wearing I think for friends, partners and family when you are taking pictures of their food and saying “Don’t eat that! I need a photo for my blog!”. I did, for a variety of reasons, put off writing this for some time as we are now half way through March. Silly me!

Anyway, the staff at the Tigerlily (which is a boutique hotel with a fabulous restaurant) were completely lovely and managed to fit us in despite our lack of booking. The menu was lovely and pretty fashionable looking (not that I really know all that much about food fashion) making it difficult to choose. The restaurant was beautifully decorated and somehow it felt really intimate despite being really busy, mood lighting and the way it was all set out was probably something to do with this.

Enough scene setting, onto the food. I do apologise that the quality of the pictures isn’t the best. The “mood lighting” and me trying to be subtle made it difficult to get the perfect photo.

I started with tempura soft shell crab with wasabi mayonnaise and chilli and mango salad.

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I was really savouring these. The batter was perfectly crisp and the crab was divine. I could have eaten double the quantity but that says more about my love of battered seafood than portion size.

J had wild mushroom risotto, parmesan tuille and truffle oil.

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This picture really doesn’t do this justice. This was simply gorgeous, rich earthy flavours and perfectly balanced flavours. One of the best risottos I’ve eaten.

For my main course I had Szechuan pepper crusted tuna with bok choi and red miso.

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The tuna was cooked just how I like it. Rare in the centre and cooked but still tender on the outside. This was a great mix of flavours, especially the red miso which was unlike any miso I have tasted before. It was gloriously tart and really complimented the tuna.

J who had (more than once) said he fancied venison had Scottish haunch of venison with caramelised onion, barley, kale and juniper jus.

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The flavours of this dish were great. Really rich like venison dishes are supposed to be. J mentioned that the venison was a bit chewy, but as venison is ALWAYS free range it’s often less soft than other meats as the deer are run round in the wild allowing stronger muscles to develop. The meat had a lovely, rich taste though like you would expect it to have.

Now as a side note I should point out that J cycles and this was his last full weekend of eating what he liked without worrying. For dessert we decided to be really decadent and order chocolate fondue. We also discovered dessert wine (and a pretty amazing dessert wine at that). Looking at the restaurant menu it was called “Zuccardi reserva Torrontes Tardio.

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The fondue came with the above. somehow, even though strawberries are out of season and out of season strawberries are usually disappointingly tasteless to say the least. These weren’t, they were really tasty. I am of the opinion that Scottish strawberries are the nicest but my opinion may have been influenced by my Glasweigan grandmother taking me strawberry picking near Peebles one summer. I digress. Anyway, this dessert was glorious and we had lots of messy fun dipping the various items into the chocolate. The dessert wine was delicious and tasted citrussy, just like the wine list promised. J even piped up “goodbye chocolate” and he tucked in.

I will definitely visit both of these restaurants if I visited the city again. However, there are so many places to eat in this wonderful city I’ll always feel spoilt for choice and would obviously try lots of other eateries. I love Edinburgh as a city too, I have many happy memories of the places, both as an adult and as a child being taking around the Museum of Childhood with my parents, brother and grandparents. It’s a place I will keep visiting my whole life I think – even though the steps will inevitably cause a problem when I’m old and grey.

You can find out about Tigerlily here.

So I made up a biscuit recipe – “Easy maple syrup biscuits”

Ok, I’ll work on the name. Now occasionally when I bake I tweak recipes. Well I decided to keep similar proportions to my basic shortbread but to tweak it so it was more flavoursome. In addition I was pushed for time so instead of creaming butter and sugar I melted everything bar the flour together. Using maple syrup and brown sugar resulted in a richer sweetness than shortbread but a crunchy biscuit with a texture not unlike shortbread.

To make these biscuits you will need:

220g plain flour

120g butter (I find margarine just doesn’t make such delicious biscuits)

80g soft light brown sugar (I would have used 60g but I was emptying my sugar packet)

2 tbsps maple syrup

 

Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C with a fan oven). Weigh out your flour and put into your mixing bowl.

This is not what your mother means when she says she wants a bunch of flour for mother's day
This is not what your mother means when she says she wants a bunch of flour for mother’s day

Put the sugar, butter and syrup into a small saucepan and melt together. (You can microwave it all in a glass bowl but I like waiting for it all to melt).

From this
From this
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To this

Add the glorious melty mixture to your flour and beat it together.

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Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of how my dough looked after mixing until half of it was in the oven.

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Use your hands to shape small balls of dough and flatten down. Put on a baking tray covered in baking paper or silicone liners (I hate washing up and like making my life easy). I found when baking my biscuits that these fortunately don’t spread overly so you can pack more on a tray than I did.

Bake for 10 minutes and cool.

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These biscuits are really not going to win any prizes for being beautiful but they are simply glorious when still warm with a cup of tea. When I bake, I usually eat some of what I bake then give whatever I have made away as a way of maintaining self-control. I gave the biscuits to my Aunt and Uncle (and cousin, who ate about 4 in 10 minutes a true seal of approval).

If you can think of a better name for these bad boys then please comment!

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Easy midweek meal idea – spice crusted chicken breast with roast vegetables

So like most people I often come back from work pretty bleary eyed and unwilling to cook. I mean, I might love eating so much I like to write about it and I might make up recipes and blogs but after a hard day at work (coupled with going to the gym) its pretty tempting to stick something in the microwave, especially as I’m usually just cooking for myself.

This recipe is easy, tasty and uses 1 pan and a roasting tray so it means less washing up, more time sitting in front of the television watching the programme of your choice after your dinner/tea, it’s also easy to follow and is not very fiddly.

For this recipe you will need:

1 chicken breast per person (or boneless chicken thighs if you prefer)

2 types of vegetable – I used baby parsnip (why are miniature vegetables so appealing?) and sweet potato. You can use anything; peppers, tomato; aubergine and courgette are also lovely in this recipe.

Olive oil

Butter

The spice mix of your choice (I used Asda Tex Mex as it was the first to hand).

A clove of garlic

Salt

Chilli flakes

A red onion or a shallot (I like colourful food)

Pre-heat the oven at around 220°C. Peel your sweet potato and chop it into wedges and cut the top off your parsnips. Par boil your sweet potato and parsnip for 8-10 minutes (skip this step if you’re not using hard vegetables.

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Slice the onion/shallot and the garlic and put in a roasting tray drizzled in oil.

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Take the chicken breast and pour your seasoning on. Lightly press the seasoning onto your chicken breast. This will form the spicy “crust” during cooking. Remember to wash your hands after handling chicken. (It really goes without saying but I’d hate for somebody to get food poising attempting this!

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Crusty crusty

Drain the vegetables and place them in the roasting tray and place the chicken to one side. Make sure the vegetables are covered in oil. Sprinkle chilli flakes and salt over the vegetables. Add butter the parts of the tray where are parsnips (completely unnecessary but I just love buttered parsnips). Put into the hot oven for 15 minutes (20-25 if you’re using meat on the bone).

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Pre oven

If you are unsure about whether your chicken has cooked make a tiny cut into it and make sure the juices run clear and that it’s not pink.

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Post oven. I love how the onions taste in this recipe!
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Enjoy your meal!

If, like me you get a bit overenthusiastic over how many vegetables you cook, place what you don’t want to eat to one side. Cold roast vegetables are wonderful in salads or soup.

Attempting a vegan recipe – “Thai style” tofu noodle soup

Now as any regular reader know from my regular fish and steak posts (and related consumption) I am not exactly about to go vegan, but I do eat a lot of vegetarian and vegan meals by choice – I’d far rather eat more vegetable based meals a week and eat meal of a higher quality and welfare standard. Anyway, I digress. Inspired by a couple of vegan blogs I follow and also a man at my gym who regularly wears a t-shirt with the slogan “all this was built on tofu” I decided to knowingly attempt a vegan meal. Now this wasn’t easy, and I take my hat off to anybody who follows the vegan lifestyle by choice.

Now this recipe I use vegetable stock. I had no idea that some vegetable stock cubes contain fish products or egg. Fortunately mine contained neither but if I were to make this for an actual vegan I’d definitely make my stock from scratch just to be sure. I bought a Thai spice and seasoning mix from Asda containing birdseye chillies, ginger, garlic, galangal and lemongrass (far better for peace of mind than using my usual curry paste). I did use tofu, which is probably partially cheating as I’m told it shouldn’t be too much of a staple (forgive me, I’m new to this!) but next time I’ll cook something lentil based.

Anyway, enough of a foreword from me, here is what you need to make this recipe:

Rice noodles (I used vermicelli ones)

2 pints of vegetable stock

3 baby pak choi or 2 normal sized ones

5 or 6 shitake mushrooms (or any other kind you fancy)

Tofu

4 spring onions

2 cloves garlic

Soy sauce

Lemongrass

The juice of half a lemon

2 bird eye chillis (be careful chopping them if you wear contact lenses, chillies burn!)

(This makes 3 decent sized portions or 4 smaller portions).

Chop the tofu and mushrooms up into bitesized pieces. Slice the garlic and spring onions and chilli and cut the pak choi into 1.5 inch pieces. Put the pak choi to one side, it needs less cooking than everything else.

Obligatory shot of chopped food
Obligatory shot of chopped food

Fry the spring onions and garlic until they are soft and fragrant.

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Add the tofu and the mushrooms and fry for 2-3 minutes.

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Why did the tofu cross the road?
To prove he wasn’t chicken

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Pour the stock in the pan. Crush the lemongrass, slice the chillies and add them to the pan along with a good splash of soy sauce and grated ginger. Taste the soup and if you think it needs it add more seasoning (be aware the flavour develops a little over time).

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So apparently I make brown food a lot

Simmer the soup for at least 15 minutes. Taste and re-season accordingly. Add the lemon juice as this freshens up the flavour. Add the noodles and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the pak choi and cook for a further minute.

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Relax and eat enjoy your soup.

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So apparently I was too hungry to take an in focus picture? Note the tactical positioning of the pak choi.