Wild Mushroom Bruschetta

I have maintained relative silence on here for a little while, mainly because I have been distracted by a new job and move to London. Having said that, my new job includes the added perk of access to a kitchen garden so I have been pilfering lots and cooking lovely things to be blogged about later. In recent weeks, the garden has exploded as everything comes into bloom. Most exciting for me was the flowering of all the different herbs that punctuate the garden. I had never tasted chive flowers before but the punch of onion in these tiny purple flowers really surprised me.

Another great thing about being back in London is the amazing green grocers that is within walking distance of my house. If you are anywhere near Newington Green and searching for a particular ingredient, head straight for the imaginatively named Newington Green Fruit and Vegetables, the range will astound you. I chose from their vast array of mushrooms, to go with my chives, but unfortunately had to steer clear of the girolles as a whole week’s salary spent on mushrooms seemed a bit of a waste. Those that I did get were delicious in any case, served simply on some crusty bread with ricotta, olive oil and the chive flowers.

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Fluffy American Style Pancakes


Hooray its pancake day. The first of the two sugar-filled, coma-inducing feast days, allowing children everywhere their first glimpse into adult life as they wake covered in vomit and shame following the previous day’s over indulgence. I, like many, will most certainly be found passed out with chocolate smeared all over my face in 6 weeks time. However, full disclosure, I probably won’t be eating pancakes today. I’ve got work and a hangover and this weird thing is going on with my eye. It’s all too much. In the words of the immortal Karl Pilkington “why am I being told when I can have a pancake? Have em when you want… Pancake Tuesday? Nah I won’t bother I’ll have a trifle.” 


I thought I would embrace the spirit of the thing though and share this recipe because pancakes are very yummy, particularly these ones. You can have make them savoury, like the smoked salmon cream cheese and spring onion ones above, sweet, mixing blueberries or banana in with the batter, or my personal favourite sweet and savoury, with crispy bacon and maple syrup. Get creative and even slightly gross with your flavour combinations. Why not? You should only really eat pancakes once a year after all.

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Vegan Mediterranean Vegetable Risotto

vegan-risotto1Now we are nearly three weeks into January, New Year’s resolutions are being abandoned left, right and centre. Bar and pub owners around the country breath a sigh of relief as people realise just how meaningless their lives are without alcohol, drop the “dry-january” facade and neck a double whiskey on the way home from work. Likewise those friends whose instagram feeds were overflowing with smug pictures of brightly coloured salads, meat substitutes and the veganuary hashtag have gone conspicuously quiet. After all it is hard to type with fried chicken grease all over your hands.


But fear not my will-power deficient friends, here is a recipe for something veganish that is actually pretty tasty and may just restore your faith. Also, you may not believe me but, much like the proverbial puppy, veganism is not just for January. Yes that is right you don’t just have to be a vegan for a month then go back to gorging yourself on steak for breakfast. You could make this recipe all year round, and (and here’s the big one) you don’t even have to be a vegan to cook it. The only real difference from a normal risotto is that it doesn’t have any parmesan in it but the courgette pesto means it still tastes creamy and delicious. After all, most of us do very little for the environment except throwing the odd wine bottle in the recycling, so skipping the grated cheese on a couple of dinners is the least we can do.

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Green Thai Vegetable Curry

green-curry-1I am a big fan of East Asian cuisine whether that be convenience sushi, underwhelming looking Vietnamese restaurants or greasy, hate-yourself Chinese takeaway at 2 in the morning. Having said that, I always shy away from making Asian food at home. In my head to make a proper stir-fry or a Vietnamese/ Thai curry I would either have to invest a vast amount of time and money sourcing all types of specialist ingredients, most of which come in bottles large enough to live in and which I would never use again; or give up and get it out of a Blue Dragon sachet, in which case I might as well sack the whole thing in and get a takeaway.

green-curry-2However, this is not always the case. In my search for more varied and interesting vegan and vegetarian dinner ideas I stumbled across a recipe for thai green curry which seemed to mostly use ingredients I already had (here is the original). And, being skint and lazy I decided to make substitutes for anything I didn’t have (eg. palm sugar). The end result was surprisingly easy to make and delicious. This recipe is really versatile so is great for using up any leftover veg and even those slightly more exotic ingredients can be bought fresh from most supermarkets meaning there is very little waste or extra cost.

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Brussels: What to do and Where to eat

brussels6You wouldn’t think that being Europe’s terrorist heartland would do much for a place’s tourism industry. However, an overhanging threat of being shot does tend to drastically reduce airfares, meaning that, for the penniless traveller, Brussels has become a very attractive destination over the last 12 months. Of course, the city boasts many other pulls; such as an excess of beer, mussels and chocolate, which have long been drawing visitors from all over the globe.

brussels7Dig a little deeper and you will also discover that this small, often overlooked capital, is actually one of Europe’s most interesting cities. Always on the boundary of larger, more powerful nations, Belgium has struggled to find its own identity, something which is woven in to the fabric of its capital city. East of the city centre stands the gleaming facades of the European Parliament, home of democracy and order, and yet Brussels is playful and tongue in cheek; cartoon characters leap out at you from behind corners of smart townhouses. Furthermore, as well as housing a UNESCO world heritage site stuffed with opulent seventeenth century architecture, Brussels is home to some of the worlds “ugliest” buildings, the grotesque, fascinating works of designer Victor Horta. And all of this contradiction exists in a city where everything is within a thirty minute walk away.


24 Hours in Brussels:


Breakfast: Belgian Waffles at Maison Dandoy

Nestled just behind the main square between shops stuffed with tourist junk, Maison Dandoy offers a refreshing alternative to the mass produced, fast-food style waffles that pervade the city. Both their signature soft and crisp recipes are made fresh to order and served in the traditional way, with a sprinkling of brown sugar, or with more elaborate toppings if you so choose. A perfect way to start the day and a great opportunity to walk through the Grande Place when it is not inhabited by scores of tourists.  http://www.maisondandoy.com/en/home/


AM: Antiques shopping in Marolles

Everyday from 6am, the Place de Jeu Balle is transformed into a treasure trove of bric-a-brac. Pick your way through towers of vintage crockery, antique jewelry, second-hand clothing and broken machinery and, if you spend long enough or look hard enough, you might just find yourself a gem. The locals say that Thursdays and Fridays are the best but honestly it is worth going on any day of the week, more for the spectacle than anything else. The market can be a little overwhelming though so make your escape into the quieter, neighbouring streets all of which are crammed full of fantastic second-hand and antique furniture shops. One of the most impressive of these is Via Antica, a three floor emporium of retro design classics. http://www.belgium-tourism.be/informations/events-bruxelles-marolles-flea-market-on-place-du-jeu-de-balle/en/E/20774.html ; http://viaantica.be/


Lunch: Pin Pon

Overlooking the flea market, this trendy cafe, popular with locals, serves up Belgian classics like Moules and Fish and Chips, but in a brighter and more interesting atmosphere than the busy tourist hotspots in the town centre. If you get there a little earlier, go for the brunch menu and try the eggs cocotte, their signature dish.  The layout of the restaurant is a little confusing but the food is fresh, simple and delicious. https://www.facebook.com/apero.pinpon/



PM: Get some culture at the Belgian Comic Strip Centre

If I only have a short time in a city I never choose to spend much time in museums or galleries, I prefer to walk around and really soak in the atmosphere. We were in brussels for 3 days so visited a few places but the Comic Strip Centre definitely stood out. The museum is housed in the old Waucquez warehouse, a masterpiece of art-nouveau design and one Victor Horta’s only surviving industrial buildings. As such, as well as exhibiting the city’s link with comics, the museum highlights Brussels’ place in the history of art-nouveau architecture. The Comic Strip Centre uncovers the history of comics, from ancient cave paintings until the present day and houses some of the earliest ever recordings of animated cartoons. Furthermore it delves into the life of Brussels’ most famous inhabitant Hergé and his creations as well as showcasing the work of new, up and coming cartoonists. If you do have a little more time, the Magritte museum is also worth a visit. https://www.comicscenter.net/en/home


Dinner: Nuetnigenough

This tiny gem of a restaurant was recommended to us by our airbnb hosts and although it popularity means you may very probably have to wait for a table, you will not regret the wait. The menu is traditional Belgian fare, big hearty meat dishes with rich sauces and simple accompaniments. When we ate here, the rain was coming down in sheets outside and my bratwurst with creamy leek sauce and root vegetable mash was just what I needed. Aside from the food, the atmosphere is convivial, in part because it is such a small place, and the service was excellent. If you can’t get in here for food in the evening it is worth going just for a beer earlier on in the day. This is firstly to enjoy the beautiful building, it has its original art-nouveau facade and this design theme continues to the inside. Also, their beer menu was one of the most interesting I encountered, rather than merely the classic old favourites, they choose to showcase a new generation of Belgian brewers combining Belgium’s brewing legacy with more modern styles and flavours of beer.


After dinner beers at Fin-de-Siecle

Most of the tourist contingent will head straight to Delirium Cafe to drink themselves into a stupor on 8% beers. Not to say that this Brussels stalwart is not worth a visit but if you fancy a slightly different scene, Fin-de-Siecle provides an antidote to the hoards of lads-on-tour found in most of Brussels’ beer houses. The clientele is mostly made up of the city’s frustratingly cool 20-30s population sipping local beers and enjoying the bar’s delicious and well-priced food. We just went for beers and some nibbles but it is worth remembering that the kitchen is open until 1am if you fancy a midnight snack. The interior is, as the name suggests, shabby, parisian, turn-of-the-century style with mis-matched wooden furniture and vintage posters pasted to the bar. Another bonus is that this bar is just around the corner from the Place Saint-Géry, home some of the city’s best late-night bars, including the former Saint-Géry market hall which now houses an art gallery that becomes a club at night. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Fin-de-Siecle/156879724358527


Vegetarian/ Vegan Shepherds Pie


Recently I have decided to heavily cut back on the amount of meat I eat. I do not possess any where near the requisite will power to become a vegetarian full time but I have pretty much stopped buying and therefore cooking with meat. This is in part a money saving venture but predominately I just enjoy being able to smugly reflect on the microscopic sacrifice I am making for the good of the environment every time I get on a plane or accidentally put some plastic in the normal bin.


Actually cooking without meat is pretty hard, especially if you like trying out new things in the kitchen. At first it was an exciting challenge, but after about a month of the same 5 vegetables variously disguised as curries, chilli and stew, I was starting to get pretty bored. This shepherds pie, despite not exactly reinventing the wheel, does provide a bit of a contrast. The lentils are a good alternative to mince and give a fairly similar texture and the whole dish is comfortingly familiar; perfect for a chilly winter night.

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Chorizo, Chickpea and Spinach Stew

chorizo stew2

You know it’s spring when you find yourself hauling a bag usually reserved for short holidays on a twenty minute walk to the supermarket. Our highly erratic weather necessitates a volume of paraphernalia and equipment not dissimilar to that required to climb everest. Sunglasses, an umbrella, some form of waterproof outerwear, a hat, gloves and a possible change of shoes and clothes may all be required at a moment’s notice.

On arrival at said destination, the dilemmas continue. It may be sunny at the point of purchase but you know there is every chance you will have to fight through a whirling blizzard to get home and following that ordeal you don’t want to be faced with some bullshit salad ingredients, bought in a fit of optimism.

chorizo stew1

Chorizo is pretty good in this situation. Get it in a salad, sit outside and eat it with a glass of Rioja and a cigarette. You’ll think you’re in Barcelona. Or maybe costa del sol, lets not aim too high. However, on a day when the air is so thick with misty grey drizzle that you could only be in Manchester, you can use the chorizo in a rich, warming stew like this one. Also, as an added bonus, this recipe uses mainly store cupboard ingredients so hopefully you won’t need to go out in the pissing rain to buy anything.

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