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Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The salad that just takes the pizz(a)

Ok.

I'm not the biggest fan of salads, though I am not completely against the idea of eating leafy things every now and again.

But this is just ridiculous!
The thing is, it's not even a salad. It's meant to be a pizza - which you can just about make out, if you can divert your eyes from the major forestry of rocket happening on the top.

I went for lunch with friends at Prezzo (a chain italian restaurant in the UK). It was one of those Sundays where you're a bit tired and weary, but in great need of some carby grub. The waiter service of the Prezzo in Chi is usually pretty slow which we didn't really care about at first as we weren't exactly in a rush, and just wanted to relax and chat.

By the time the waiter came over to take our order though, I realised that I still hadn't got round to picking what I wanted. But rather than shooing him away, for fear of him not returning for a long while, I told everyone else to go ahead and order first, with me ordering last.

Of course, by this point, I was feeling so hungry that I just couldn't really take in what was on the menu and when the waiter got to me, I panicked and just blindly picked something - a prawn and salmon pizza. Mm, yes, good.

Forgive my confusion then, when this chopping board of greenery approached. Eh, that's my pizza?

As you can see, my pizza was literally covered in rocket. Now I am partial to a bit of rocket saladry, but surely this wasn't really the intended portion?

Not wanting to be deterred from the meal, I transferred the forest into a bowl (which then got shared out as a bonus side salad for my friends), found the actual pizza underneath and cut a slice to eat.

That's when the heat kicked in. Hm, odd, I thought, I don't remember seeing spice on the menu…

As I continued to eat, my tongue started to sting and protest even more. I put down my fork and inspected the pizza - and sure enough, there were crushed chilli, right there in the saucy base of the pizza.

This would be ok of course, if I could handle spice. But I can't. Not at all. So unfortunately, this meant that I ended up leaving about three-quarters of my meal, because it was just too spicy. Damn my low spice tolerance!

Later, when I got home, I looked up the pizza description on the restaurant menu again out of curiosity:

King prawns and oak-roasted salmon, red onion, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, crushed chillies, b├ęchamel sauce, pesto and mozzarella. Finished with lemon dressed rocket

Chillies? Check. Rocket forest? If that's what they mean by 'finished with', then yes, that really finished that pizza right off.

But anyhow, yes, it was all there in black and white. Clearly, I didn't even make it past the first comma! Moral of the story? Read the damn menu properly next time, Hungry Jenny!
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Sunday, 13 March 2016

The cheesecake that looks so wrong (but tastes so right)

I know, it's been a while.

Hence this dismal looking excuse for a cheesecake.
Yeah, it came out having a bit of a bad face day.

It was SUPPOSED to look a bit more like this…
So quite an epic fail on that front though really, as you can see!

Now, this beautiful slice was from a devilish cheesecake that was baked as a birthday treat for me by my good friend Lucy about 5 years ago. It was SO good. A chocolate brownie base, and vanilla cream cheese topping. Need I say more? Mmm…

(Woah, I just salivated at the memory of that.)

Anyway, Lucy shared the recipe with me, and I finally got around to trying it, as I was due to make a dessert to contribute to a lunch with my capoeira ladies.

The recipe was for 12 servings, but there was only going to be 5 of us. Now although I probably think that I could demolish more than one slice of cheesecake, I didn't want to risk giving my friends cheesecake overdose. So I decided to halve the recipe. Six servings then. Perfect.

It was all going well until I poured the brownie mixture into the tin - and realised that I completed overlooked the need to use a smaller tin.

Oops. Too late.

Oh well, I thought, a thin base is fine, I'm sure the cheesecake topping will still be a decent height, as it'll rise a little once baked...
WRONG. So wrong.

What made it even more tragic was the unwelcome appearance of those crater-looking spots. This was from the brownie randomly rising up in places, presumably to make its presence known.

The lack of height though was the most disappointing. Obviously if I had made it in a smaller tin, it would have looked more like an actual cheesecake.

But hey - throw some chocolate on it, and it suddenly didn't look so bad.
Best of all, it still tasted SO good, even if I do say so myself. I feel like I need to try this recipe out again though, just to try and get the look right...

Other cheesecake-related adventures here?
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Friday, 25 December 2015

Merry Cookie-mas!

Now I must admit, I cannot take the full credit for this wondrous cookie creation.

Last night, I was sous-chef to my sister Hungrier Jemma, who had grand plans to make lots of gingerbread goodies for the family today. This picture here is just one small batch of it!

Now I'm not very patient when it comes to icing, using icing pens/pipes and all of that. Precision is not my strong suit. But Jemma was in her element with the icing pipe, creating these wonderful Santas…
Pretty cool, huh?

I managed to pipe one of the beards, but then resigned to just pipe the outline of the clothes on the santas instead, leaving the beard to the expert skill of my sister. I just don't have the attention span for it!

The level of decoration I tend to do on my cookies is a bit of melted chocolate - which normally slops on in a bit of a haphazard way. (Well, it's the 'homemade' look, see.)

I did actually create a lovely large batch of gingerbread men for my workmates, complete with chocolate Smartie buttons. Though my chocolate facial features were questionable - one of my workmates inspected the one he picked up and asked 'Is he meant to be smiling..?' Yes, some were a bit lopsided or accidentally snarling but the jolly sentiment was there, alright!

Merry Cookie Christmas everyone!
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Sunday, 4 October 2015

CHARGEing it up for Eva!

This time next week, I'll hopefully be chomping on a steak and not lying in a ditch somewhere...

Context?

Next Sunday 11th October, I’ll be running the Chi Half Marathon to raise awareness and hopefully £2,000 for the CHARGE Family Support Group. Chances are, you’ve probably never heard of CHARGE. Neither had I – until my niece Eva was born last year with this complex and rare genetic condition.

CHARGE syndrome affects 1 in 10,000 births worldwide, and babies born with this often have complex heart problems, breathing issues, hearing and/or vision loss and other factors affecting their senses which impact on their development and communication.

Eva is deaf, visually impaired and has had a tracheostomy, which means she has a tube in her neck to enable her to breathe safely. She also has a permanent feeding tube in her stomach and various other issues.

Due to Eva's condition, my sister Jemma and her husband Steven have to watch her 24/7, which as you can imagine can be extremely exhausting and tough. Despite these issues though, Eva is a very happy baby with an incredibly strong spirit – it’s always amazing to see her progression whenever I go to visit them!
Here's my beautiful niece Eva!

I live about 5 and a half hours away from them, so don't get to see them as often as I'd like - and I wanted to do something to help and show my support. So why not a half marathon, eh?

The last time I actually did any running was about 5 years ago, when I did a 25km run for FareShare. With the Chi Half being a few km short of this, it should be a doddle, right?

Erm, NO. Last time, I had no real training plan, and ended up with a bad sprain on my thigh, a few weeks before a race day. I decided to run anyway - and ended up running out of water, running out of music, going the wrong way, hitting the wall, feeling super weak - all the time making my thigh strain much worse.

So, this time around, wanting to make my niece and her parents proud, I've been more sensible about my training. I've been experimenting and tracking different pre- and post-run foods and drink, doing regular core strength exercises on non-running days, and more importantly, listening to my body to avoid over-doing it.

The course itself is fairly cross-country (the route description keeps mentioning 'steep ascents and descents'..!), which is what I'm most nervous about - but definitely feel mentally stronger and ready for it than last time. And of course, the prospect of a juicy steak at the end will be be most appealing.

The greatest motivator of course, has been knowing that it's all in aid of my niece Eva - and others like her with CHARGE syndrome, plus their families. The CHARGE Family Support Group are a small charity, entirely run by volunteers and they have been a great support to Jemma and Steven, helping them to feel less alone in this challenging situation. I can only begin to imagine how tough it must be for them (and other families in this situation), but they are such a strong family unit when you see them together, which is so inspiring to experience.

And so, I would love your help in raising funds and awareness, so that the CHARGE FSG can continue to be there for people with CHARGE and help bring these families together more.

If you'd like to support my run for Eva, please visit my fundraising page. But if this post helps to raise awareness of this rare condition to at least one more person, that can only be a good thing!
Thanks for your support!

Read more about the CHARGE Family Support Group here.
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Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Attack of the Ninja Cookies!

FIIIIIGHT!
Well it's been about 8 months since my last post. Um, sorry about that. The truth is, I got attacked by these blasted Ninja Cookies…

It started with just one at first - he seemed friendly enough, just walking along casually. As we passed each other, he gave me a bit of a funny look but carried on walking. I didn't think anything of it.

Then the following few weeks, it happened again - the same spot, the same funny glance. Hm. Starting to feel a bit edgy.

So during the next month, I decided to walk a different way.

But this time, another one walked by (or was it the same one..?). And rather than a funny glance, it was a bit of a smirk.

Over the coming months, I kept changing route - but no matter where I went, another one would appear, walk by and give me some sort of weird look.

What the hell was going on?!

The turning point came when I arrived home one day, and there was an ENTIRE BUNCH of them in the garden, all sparring with each other. Ok, officially panicked now.

Luckily, that day I had arranged for my capoeirista friends to come over. A quick SOS and a short while later, I had them hiding behind the parked cars opposite my house.

All of a sudden, we charged out towards the ninjas, each attempting to pin one down. Some successfully so, others unfortunately failed. Eventually though, we managed to knock the unlucky ninjas unconscious and stacked them on top of each other.

"Right guys", I said to my friends, "We only have a short time before these ninjas wake up. So we have got no choice but to devour them all most immediately. Are you ready?"

I didn't really need to ask...
It's over now, it's ok and we're all safe. But goodness knows when this might happen again. Make them if you dare.

Ninja Coconut Cookies

Makes 16 ninjas:
(You can find the cookie cutters online - just search for 'Ninjabread men cookie cutters'!)

250g plain flour
125g desiccated coconut
125g white sugar
250g unsalted butter, softened
A little bit of cold water

250g ready-made/ready-rolled white icing
Coloured icing pens of your choice
A little bit of hot water

1) Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl, with the coconut and sugar.
2) Add in the softened butter and start to knead into a dough. (Add a little water if needed.)
3) Wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
4) Remove the dough from the fridge and roll out onto a lightly floured surface.
5) Stamp out 16 ninja shapes! Transfer to a non-stick baking tray.
6) Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C. In the meantime, stick the tray in the fridge again to chill the ninjas.
7) Bake for about 15 minutes or until lightly golden. They will still be a little soft when done, as they will continue to firm up a little as they cool. Allow to cool completely.
8) Roll out the white icing. Use your ninja cutters again to stamp out 16 white 'dogi' trousers.
9) Use a pastry brush to brush a little hot water onto the legs of your ninja cookies, then carefully add their icing trousers, pressing down lightly.
10) Grab your icing pens and ice on some belts!

And remember, keep your wits about you...

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Saturday, 4 October 2014

Say NO to Takeaway: Do Your Own Thai Makeaway instead!

I live alone and I must admit, sometimes when I get home from work, I wish that dinner was already on the table waiting for me. But never would I ever pick up the phone to get takeout. (Ok, ok, maybe the odd fish and chips as a special treat)

Now I'm no stranger to making takeaway alternatives at home. So when I was invited to try out Sainsbury's 'Makeaway' range, I thought it'd be a good opportunity to try out some new takeaway alternative recipes on some friends, to show them how easy and cheap it can be.
(That was the plan anyway.)

Sweet Chilli Prawn Rolls
These little prawn bad boys only take about 15 minutes to bake in the oven. They are packed out with prawns (surprise!), bean sprouts, carrot, ginger, lime and coriander, all mixed with sweet chilli dipping sauce. It can be a little fiddly to wrap them up in the filo sheets, but after the first couple, you'll get the hang of it in no time. Just imagine that you're wrapping up a portion of fish and chips and you'll be fine. Serve these warm with extra dipping sauce. Be warned though, they will disappear quickly!

Turkey Udon Pad Thai
Udon are my favourite type of noodles, although admittedly, the 'quick-to-cook' ones you get from your bog-standard supermarket are nowhere near as good as the ones you can get from a Chinese supermarket. In any case, it does save you precious minutes (and an extra pan) when whipping this dish up, as you don't need to pre-cook the noodles separately beforehand. This recipe also uses a packet Pad Thai sauce, whereas normally I like to make my own sauces from scratch, just because you know exactly what you're eating. It was secretly pleasing though to be able to just pour the sauce in straight from the packet at the end ;-) It went down very well with my friends also and they were impressed that it didn't take long to make.

Thai Green Beef Burgers
Now this last dish here I didn't make for my friends, but was for my lunch the next day. I have not really tried Thai green curry before because I fear it will be too hot for my spice intolerable palate, so thought I'd coax myself into trying green curry paste in a Thai Green Beef Burger instead. The result? Yes my eyes were streaming a little by the end, even though there was only 1 tbsp of paste per burger, but it was super tasty! It probably didn't help that I added a dollop of sweet chilli sauce onto the burger just before eating also, whoops!

It did encourage me to try making a Thai green curry though (which I'll post about another day as that's a whole other story I need to tell you about!).

But back to my friends. They were making plenty of yummy noises whilst eating my prawn rolls and pad thai, so I asked them if it would encourage them to try making stuff like this themselves instead of ordering a takeaway next time. "Hm, maybe," said one, with a mouthful of noodles, "But I think I'll just come round to yours instead so you can make it again!"

Well, I'll count that as a partial success then I guess?!

If you liked this, you might want to try making these other takeaway alternatives too.
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Sunday, 14 September 2014

Five Ways to Use Coriander

So when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, they say.

But what if you get a massive wodge of coriander?
Don't worry, I wasn't actually served a dinner plate's worth of fresh coriander.

I usually buy fresh fruit and veg from my local market. They don't normally sell herbs, so when I spotted some fresh coriander the other week, I immediately bought some, without realising how large one lone bunch actually was.

Now coriander is one of my favourite herbs and when I buy one of those normal little packets you get from the supermarket, it usually isn't enough. But this one from the market was just ridiculous!

Of course, I didn't want to end up wasting too much of it (and hell yes I managed to use it all!). But I didn't want to get overly coriander-fatigued either and simply use it up within freezable batches of just one or two dishes. So here's five different ways of using up coriander, should you ever find yourself in such a situation...


Bacon, Tomato and Coriander Omelette
This omelette is perfect if you want something a bit different for breakfast, or are after a light dish. As you can probably tell from the image, my omelette flipping abilities aren't great, but as long as you can slide it out the pan and it tastes good, who cares, eh?

Lemon and Coriander Rice
This works particularly well with basmati rice, if you want to make a simple rice salad, where you can then also add some chickpeas and sweetcorn too for instance. Otherwise try this as an easy way to jazz up plain old steamed rice.

Coriander Beef
This is a beefy mince dish which is marinaded in oyster sauce and sesame oil, before being joined with fresh tomatoes, sweetcorn and onion. The fresh coriander is stirred through right at the end, so that it doesn't wilt too much. Best served with steamed white rice.

Hummus
One of the easier ways to use up a larger amount of fresh coriander because you can freeze the hummus in small batches if you need to. Oh, and don't worry if you don't have a food processor to make this either. All you need is some extra elbow grease.

Lemon and Coriander Yogurt Cake
Finally, I had to of course find some way of baking coriander into a cake. A few years back, I did an Orange and Rosemary Yogurt cake that turned out pretty well, so I figured that a lemon and coriander version would work just fine. And most thankfully it did!

One more extra tip - whilst coriander doesn't freeze particular well, try filling up an ice cube tray with the any leftover leaves and a bit of water. You can then pop them out individually into hot dishes, as and when you fancy a bit of coriander.

So hopefully that has given you some ideas to try the next time you find yourself with some coriander to use up. Enjoy!
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