Seasonal

Vodka, Grapefruit & Rosemary Fizz

Grapefruit & Rosemary Fizz

Vodka isn’t a spirit I know much about. Oh I’ve drank enough of it in my time, believe me, but it’s usually reserved for a nondescript vodka & cranberry while I dance the night away, too dizzy to think of anything else. Or with Coke in plastic cups, in suspect bars where my only other options are Tropical VKs or pints of Fosters. While we’ve been building up our home bar (something I’d like to write a post about very soon, but here’s a good one while you wait), vodka has pretty much sat there without much attention: a simple bottle of Green Mark collecting dust on our faux-marble trolley top. So when I got sent a little sample bottle of Tito’s Handmade Vodka, I used it as a much needed chance to give something I’d fallen out of love with a new lease of life.

Cocktails with a herby element are often my favourites, and while I’m not trained in the art of mixology, I think adding some botanicals is a great way to balance the sweetness of what usually starts with a spirit and a fruit juice. I’m partial to a Basil Grandé, so I know basil with berries works well, but for the vodka I had a hankering for citrus. Knowing how well a Screwdriver seems to go down (especially on board short-haul easyJet flights to southern Spain), I figured an acidic, fruity match would be a reliable place to start. A flavoured sugar syrup is an easy extra that seems pretty impressive, so I decided a quick infusion would be a good way to deliver a robust rosemary flavour and add something creative to my recipe.

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I’ve never made a syrup before, at least not one I can remember, but I’m in awe of those people who have these sort of concoctions on their fridge shelves, ready to roll out just in case they fancy something special come 5pm. It was simple enough, just sugar, herbs, water and a bit of time made for a gorgeous, aromatic element to an otherwise pretty formulaic cocktail. As well as adding rosemary flavour, the sweetness of the syrup also serves to mellow the tartness of the grapefruit – a fruit I generally associate with old, wiry women with pinched faces and teaspoons. A health food in the extreme *shudder*.

Shake the vodka, syrup, grapefruit juice and a squeeze of lime with ice, and top up with tonic water. Served from a pitcher with plenty of ice, it’s a cliché but this feels a little like summer in a glass. If you can, drink it outside in bright sunlight, with some king prawns on the barbie.

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Grapefruit & Rosemary Fizz (makes a pitcher: 6-8 glasses)

10 Sprigs of Fresh Rosemary
1 Cup Sugar
1 Cup Water
8 Shots of Vodka
1 Grapefruit
1 litre Pink Grapefruit Juice
2 Lime
1 Bottle of Tonic Water
Ice

1. Place a small pan over a medium heat. Pour in one cup of tap water and add one cup of sugar. Whisk to distribute the sugar and add 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary.

2. Bring to the mix to the boil and allow to bubble for one minute. Remove from heat and leave to steep for 30 minutes before draining into a sterilised container and placing in the fridge to cool for a couple of hours. If you’re in a rush, put it in the freezer, but don’t forget about it!

3. Fill a pitcher half way up with ice. Add the vodka, syrup and squeeze in the juice of both limes.

4. Pour in the grapefruit juice and muddle until well mixed. Top with tonic water and garnish with slices of fresh grapefruit and sprigs of rosemary.

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Yorkshire Day with Le Creuset: Yorkshire Tea Ice Cream with Rhubarb Pickle

Le Creuset Yorkshire Day Yorkshire Tea and Rhubarb Pickle

Welcome to the weekend, everyone! I’m back with the final instalment of my Le Creuset Yorkshire Day menu, and it’s the perfect thing for you to rustle up while you’ve got a few days off: the devilish combo of a sweet Yorkshire Tea ice cream topped with a tart rhubarb pickle to cut through all that creaminess.

There are two local elements to this dish. Number one, that old faithful, Yorkshire Tea. Without a doubt, the best cuppa in the world. When I was brainstorming ideas for this menu and it came to the dessert course, it was really the only thing that kept popping into my head. But I wasn’t sure how to use it. I thought about cakes, biscuits, even panna cottas, but it wasn’t until I went down to the Le Creuset store to talk through my menu that the manager, Nick, suggested ice cream. “Wahey!” I said, “I’ve just bought a new ice cream maker!” and that was that.

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The other ingredient I wanted to include was rhubarb, because up here in West Yorkshire we’ve got the Yorkshire Triangle, a 9 mile space between WakefieldMorley and Rothwell which once produced 90% of the world’s rhubarb through winter forcing sheds. Err… or something like that anyway, you can read more about that over on Wikipedia. Basically, there’s a lot of rhubarb around up here. Matt and I mess around with pickles quite a lot at home. They’re surprisingly easy to make and they add a different flavour dimension to a dish. Usually it’s cucumber or carrots for Vietnamese sandwiches, or red onions for cold meats. I wanted to do a pickle for this recipe because at the time of my demo we were right in the midst of the summer, it was warm and a hot, steaming pudding straight from the oven wasn’t really appealing to me. Something sharp and zingy to cut through all the richness of the ice cream is something that can split opinion, but I figured it was my last dish – go big or go home.

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I want to post more about pickling and preserving here on Whip Until Fluffy. It’s something I’ve been slowly getting into since around last Christmas, after my husband bought me a crate of quilted Ball jars and an instruction manual called Canning for a New Generation. But the basics are: the longer you leave things to steep, the better, and if you’re intending to keep stuff longer than a day or two, sterilise your jars. I do this but putting the jar (and the lid) in a hot dishwasher cycle just before I plan to use them, but you can do it with boiling water or even a microwave.

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This ice cream is a standard custard base which you need to cook through on the hob before churning and freezing. When it comes to ice cream, personally I don’t think you can’t really get by without a maker. You can make sorbets and granitas, anything with an icier consistency, but a machine is 100% necessary to achieve the velvety smooth texture you want from an ice cream. I recently bought a KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Attachment, which is a little pricey and makes two quarts instead of the standard one, but I survived for a few years with this Kenwood £24.99 jobby.

Ready to roll? Let’s go!

Yorkshire Tea Ice Cream with Rhubarb Pickle (makes 6-8 portions)

nb. the reason I use golden caster sugar instead of regular is simply because I prefer the flavour – especially in the ice cream. It adds a deeper, caramelised flavour to the final product, but this recipe will work just as well with normal caster or even granulated sugar.

For the Pickle:

1 Stem of Rhubarb, chopped into rough cubes
½ Cup of Water
½ Cup of White Wine Vinegar
½ Cup of Balsamic Vinegar
½ Cup of Golden Caster Sugar
1 tsp Black Pepper Corns
½ tsp Whole Cloves

For the Ice Cream:

1 Cup of Whole Milk
2 Cups of Double Cream
⅔ Cup of Golden Caster Sugar
6 Yorkshire Gold Tea Bags
5 Egg Yolks
1 tsp Vanilla Extract

1. In a medium sized pan, heat the water for the pickle over a low heat. When it’s steaming but not quite boiling, add the vinegars and then dump in the sugar. Whisk it a little to distribute the sugar into to the water and help it dissolve. Throw in the peppercorns and cloves and bring to the boil. Let the mix boil for around a minute, then take the pan off the heat.

2. Throw in the chopped rhubarb and let sit for 30 seconds. Use a spoon to transfer the rhubarb to a sterilised jar, then top up with the pickling liquid. Seal and set aside for later.

3. Clean your medium pan and put it back on the hob, add the milk and cream for the ice cream. Next, whisk in the sugar. Use a low heat and keep an eye on it, never letting it boil. When the milk is steaming, take the pan off the heat and add the teabags to the milk. Leave to steep for 20 minutes.

4. When the milk mix is strong enough (it’ll be a light caramel colour), remove the teabags and place it back over a low heat to warm. Separate your eggs and whisk the yolks together in the bowl with the vanilla extract. When the milk is steaming again, add two tbsp of the milk to your egg mix, whisking quickly to incorporate. Add a little more of the milk mix, a few spoonfuls at a time until about half is mixed through. Add the rest and give it a good whisk.

5. Transfer to the pan and place back on the heat. You need to stay with it, stirring constantly over a medium heat, scraping the sides of the pan, until the mixture thickens into a custard and coats the back of a spoon – if in doubt, stick with it, it may take 10-15 minutes, but you’ll know when it starts to thicken properly.

nb. If you taste your custard at this point, it’s going to be very sweet, very creamy and very eggy. Don’t let this worry you. The freezer dulls its flavour, so think about how sweet you want it to be as a finished product, and turn it up by half again.

6. Strain the custard through a sieve to remove any lumps and place in the fridge to cool. It needs at least 4-6 hours to get to the right temperature.

7. Churn and freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions – I churned once and transferred to a clip top tupperware container. Place it back into the freezer for 2-3 hours to firm up. At this point, take your rhubarb pickle and taste it. Adjust with a little more sugar, vinegar or spice to suit.

8. Remove from the fridge 10-15 minutes before serving for the perfect consistency. Serve a single scoop of Yorkshire Tea ice cream in a small bowl with a tbsp of rhubarb pickle drizzled over the top.

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I served single scoops of this stuff in Le Creuset Ramekins. I have some myself at home and they’re a good size for individual dessert portions, and anything like dips or sauces – a little deeper than your standard ramekin. They’re completely oven proof up to 260ºc so they’re perfect for little chocolate fondants, bread and butter puddings and baked cheesecakes. You can buy them in sets of two for £16.

So that concludes my Yorkshire Day menu. Thanks for sticking with me! I was so pleased with how the cookery demo went, and I’ve had news since that they may be having me back around Christmas time. If so, I’ll be sure to let you guys know so you can get on the guest list. On a bit of a self-reflective note, I really surprised myself with my organisational and public speaking skills and I learned a lot about what I’m capable of. I’d love to do more of this kind of thing in the future. I just want to say a quick thank you to Le Creuset themselves, especially Nick, Mark and Sam from the Leeds store, the Victoria Quarter who helped set up this lovely event, as well as all the ladies who attended and the wonderful Jen for taking my photos for me. Please click through to some of the posts below to see what other people thought!

Lorna: Yorkshire Day with Le Creuset
Kathryn: Cooking with Le Creuset
Amy Liz: Yorkshire Day with Le Creuset

Disclaimer: I’m working as Le Creuset Leeds’ blogger ambassador. As laid out in this post, I adore the brand and have plunged much of my hard earned cash into building my collection, long before Whip Until Fluffy was even a twinkle in my eye. In exchange for cooking for some bloggers on Yorkshire Day, the brand offered me a handsome discount on future purchases (and a fantastic experience!) – but no gifts or payments were exchanged for this, or any other, post.

Yorkshire Day with Le Creuset: Spanish Spiced Chicken with Yorkshire Salami

Yorkshire Day Spanish Spiced Chicken

Hello again! Today I’m back with the main course from my Yorkshire Day menu, served up for my cookery demonstration at the Le Creuset store in the Victoria Quarter. For the starter recipe, check out Monday’s post: Courgette Risotto.

The thinking behind this dish, is that I wanted to again show the versatility of my Le Creuset 30cm casserole dish. I’ve spoken so much about this dish since I bought it, and it really is such a useful item to have in your kitchen. It’ll go from the hob, into the oven and, from there, straight to the table. And it’s roomy enough to cook for a whole family. One pot chicken dishes are two a penny in our house, they’re an easy tea option for either a weeknight, or to feed friends. The same basic recipe can be adapted with loads of different spices and extras to keep things different. In February, I made a similar thing with One Pot Spiced Chicken with Smashed Squash, Sweet Potato and Charred Cauliflower.

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This time, as I was cooking on show and I had a limited timescale, I chose the simple spice combination of cumin seeds and paprika. These spices lend themselves well to a slow, warming heat but nothing too eye-watering. They give the dish character without blowing anyone’ s head off. This type of dish will pretty much take as many ingredients as you fancy. You can pack it with all different types of veg and carbs. It works well with jerk seasoning, or cajun spices, rice and black eyed peas – Caribbean style, or with sausage, cider and butter beans for something more mild.

The local element of this dish (although I bought the veg locally also), is the salami. It turns out Yorkshire is somewhat of a hotspot for cured meats. While you can get official Yorkshire Chorizo, made on Church End Farm in Skipton, which I’ve used before, I went for a salami cured at The Reliance – a pub on the outskirts of Leeds town centre which I mentioned in my Where to Eat in Leeds post. Dried and cured on site, they offer two flavours: Fennel and Chilli & Black Pepper. I referred to this as chorizo throughout my demonstration, which it isn’t (whoops), but the salami works in very much the same way – with the same texture, just less spice. Salami lets out oil, much in the same way as chorizo does, but a little less, and with a much meatier flavour. If I were making this dish with supermarket ingredients, I’d use chorizo and use slightly less paprika in my spice mix, as supermarket chorizo contains more fat and therefore lets out much more spiced oil.

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The biggest thing to be aware of when you’re cooking this dish is texture. Each element needs a bit of special treatment to keep the textures as they should be. For the chicken, crispy skin is a must. For the salami, the outside needs caramelising to save things getting too chewy. Potatoes must be cooked through and the green beans must be crunchy. That’s why, the browning process, though it seems time consuming, is important. Be patient, it doesn’t add much time on and the dish will taste so much better.

Spanish Spiced Chicken with Yorkshire Salami (makes enough for 4 sharing)

5 Shallots or 1 Large/2 Small Onions
2 Garlic Cloves
2 Sprigs of Thyme
2 tbsp Smoked Paprika
2 tbsp Cumin Seeds, crushed
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Black Pepper
1 tsp Olive Oil
2 tbsp White Wine Vinegar
1 Whole Chicken, jointed or 4 thighs & 4 legs skin-on
300g Salami or Chorizo
2 Large Handfuls of Jersey Royal Potatoes
250g Trimmed Green Beans
500g Chicken Stock

1. Chop the salami into chunks and put it into a dry pan. Place on a medium heat and leave for five minutes, flipping the pieces over once to get a nice caramelisation on each side. Remove from the pan and set aside.

2. Add your chicken pieces, skin side down into the pan with the oil from the salami. Again, leave for five minutes to brown. Only the skin side needs to be browned. Don’t worry about the chicken being pink on the inside, we’re just colouring it, not cooking it through. When the skin turns a golden brown, remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.

3. For this kind of dish, I like to chop my onions a little chunkier than usual. Thicker onion slices will add another texture element to the dish. Chop or slice your onions roughly and place them in the pan (now complete with salami and chicken juices) on a low heat. Sweat them down for five minutes until they are just starting to soften and add finely chopped garlic and thyme leaves. Cook for another five minutes.

4. In a small bowl, mix the paprika, cumin seeds (crush or finely chop these before), salt and pepper together and add your olive oil. Mix to turn it into a paste. Transfer this paste to the pan and combine with onions. When the spices are mixed in and the onions are simmering, pour in the white wine vinegar. This bit of liquid serves to deglaze the pan. Scrape your spatula along the bottom to make sure you catch all those delicious brown parts, adding flavour to what will become the sauce and reducing it down into a concentrated liquor. You can do this with booze too, a glass of white wine would do, or staying with the Spanish theme, a sherry. At a push, you can use a little splash of stock to do this.

5. When most of the liquid has disappeared, slice your new potatoes lengthways and place them flesh side down into your pan, making sure they make contact with the bottom. Direct contact with the surface of the pan will build up a bit of a crust, and cutting the potatoes lengthways means they’ll cook through quicker – meaning there’s no need to par-boil them.

6. Begin to layer up the browned salami and then the chicken on top of that, making sure the skin is facing up. Pour stock into the pan so it covers the potatoes. Stop there, as any liquid covering the chicken will prevent it from browning and going crispy in the heat of the oven. Let it simmer on the hob for five minutes.

7. Place into a oven preheated to 180ºc on the middle shelf. Place the lid on but slightly cocked, to let a little bit of steam out. Prep your beans and after 30 minutes, remove the lid and scatter the beans over. Cook for a further 25-30 minutes and transfer straight to the table. Serve out of the pan, family style.

With this type of recipe, you don’t need to worry too much about over or under cooking the chicken. After around 40 mins the chicken will be moist and perfectly cooked through. A little extra time won’t make the meat lose its tenderness because of the liquid in the pot. Don’t be scared, it’ll be delicious – in life, there are plenty of things to be precise about, but this dish isn’t one of them!

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Because the only pan and dish needed for this recipe is the 30cm casserole, I’m going to use this opportunity to talk about some of the other Le Creuset items I used during my cooking demo – things you wouldn’t necessarily think of when it comes to Le Creuset. First up, the Cool Tools. I have a few of these in my kitchen and I can’t tell you how useful they are. They’re pretty straight forward really, a heat proof mat that will protect your work surfaces and dining table even if your pot comes straight from a scorching oven. They’re reliable, they look goo and they don’t retain heat, so you won’t burn yourself. The Round Cool Tool is just £7 and the perfect companion for the 30cm Casserole, plus you can coordinate them with your cookware!

Next up, the Chef’s Apron (£30) and Double Oven Gloves (£19). Now, I know that these aren’t the kind of things that normally make you excited to spend your money, but make an investment in them and they’ll become a solid part of your kitchen kit. Thick, reliable and good quality, spending the extra cash beats buying multiples in the supermarket and burning your hands when they start to wear out. I don’t own either of these yet, but I plan on buying both soon. The apron is comfortable to wear, despite it’s thick material, the double waistbands are flattering and there are four (FOUR!) pockets, for you know, storing stuff. Available in Cerise, Cassis, Cream, Black, Coastal Blue and Nutmeg.

Yorkshire Day Spanish Spiced Chicken

On Friday, I’m back with the final course of my Yorkshire Day menu. It’s a staple recipe you can adapt to suit your needs, perfect for summer, with little unusual extra too: Yorkshire Tea Ice Cream with Rhubarb Pickle. See you soon!

Disclaimer: I’m working as Le Creuset Leeds’ blogger ambassador. As laid out in this post, I adore the brand and have plunged much of my hard earned cash into building my collection, long before Whip Until Fluffy was even a twinkle in my eye. In exchange for cooking for some bloggers on Yorkshire Day, the brand offered me a handsome discount on future purchases (and a fantastic experience!) – but no gifts or payments were exchanged for this, or any other, post.

Yorkshire Day with Le Creuset: Courgette Risotto

Courgette Risotto

A few weeks back, I designed and cooked a Yorkshire Day menu for a demonstration at the Le Creuset store in Leeds Victoria Quarter. Today, I’m sharing the recipe for the starter: Courgette Risotto! This was the first cookery demonstration I’ve done, and I was lucky enough to have the plush surroundings of the luxury French cookware brand we all know I’m obsessed with. It was nerve racking, and not something I’d ever seen myself doing, but could I turn down such a great opportunity? No way. Le Creuset coached me every step of the way, and luckily, there were a lovely bunch of ladies in attendance. In fact, I couldn’t have asked for a better audience – and I actually enjoyed it, having previously thought I’d burn at least 10 tea towels, all of my fingers and, just possibly, the whole place down. Turns out I’m one step closer to basically being Rachel Khoo (no?… ok maybe not).

Let’s talk about the food. I’m one of those people who finds cooking therapeutic. Which I guess is obvious, otherwise I wouldn’t do it so much. Risotto, however, is probably the most therapeutic dish to make, with a slow bubble and methodical stir that will calm worries and soothe stress. It’s also great to make for a group – one pot means little washing up and it can bubble away while you stand by with your spatula looking pretty. It can be served as a starter or, in larger portions, as a main. It’s versatile, innit. That’s part of the reason I chose it as my first dish to make in front of a room of people. And I’m glad I did – it went down pretty well, and I somehow managed to channel a bit of its laid back Italian charm.

Yorkshire Courgette Risotto

It’s natural to think of risotto as a winter dish. But personally, I see it as the perfect vehicle for the fresh, zingy flavours of summer. Served in small portions, a risotto really doesn’t have to be heavy, which is why I chose it as a starter for my Yorkshire Day menu. Forget the traditional pairings of meaty mushrooms and chunky root veg – just stick with the seasonal veg and herbs of the warmer months and you’ll be reet. Another thing I don’t agree with: that risotto is a labour of love. That phrase is so loaded. Yes, it needs your attention, but it doesn’t have to take hours. In fact, using the 30cm shallow casserole I’m so prone to banging on about, it takes little over half an hour. The method is easy once you know how, and pretty soon you’ll be whipping these bad boys up like it’s second nature.

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As with everything great, it starts with onions. You can use small onions, or even shallots. Shallots will give you a slightly sweeter flavour that will work well with the more delicate citrus notes in this recipe. Onions and shallots, like risotto, need some lovin’.  Dice them small and soften them over a low heat with a little oil and a little butter, for anything up to 30 minutes. They’ll be sweet, soft and translucent. Add garlic and thyme and you have a perfect base. Next up is the rice. It’s deceiving. Just a cup of the dried stuff will feed six people starter sized portions and probably leave you some left-overs. So many times I’ve just poured Arborio rice into the pan willy-nilly, but be warned: that stuff expands. Add a cup of your rice to the pan and move it around. You want to coat each grain in the oil, get it all up in those juicy onions. Cook it out for around five minutes, stirring continually, and you’ll notice it starts to go translucent around the edges. At that point, you’re ready to add your wine.

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The wine I used for the Yorkshire Day risotto was a bit special. Made in Leventhorpe, the dry white is ideal for this dish because the acidity is a great balancing flavour paired with the creaminess of the rice and cheese. Starting with a large glass and reducing it down until almost gone, it’ll deglaze the pan, soak up all the flavour from the onions and the taste of the wine lingers on the rice while the alcohol cooks off. The wine, along with the courgettes and lemon, really go a long way to keeping this dish light and summery, despite the robust base. If you don’t want to use alcohol in your cooking then you can deglaze the pan with white wine vinegar, which will also add some acidity. In a pinch, you can even use stock.

Alongside the wine, the real star of the show here is the Ribblesdale Goats Cheese. Usually a risotto is made with Parmesan, a hard Italian cheese I’m sure we’re all familiar with. I wanted to see if, in the spirit of Yorkshire Day, I could get a local cheese in there instead. As always, when I’ve got a cheese-based query (and trust me, they crop up a lot) I head straight to my local cheesemonger, the lovely George & Joseph I’m Chapel Allerton. They were more than happy to help me and when I requested a Yorkshire equivalent to Parmesan, they suggested Ribblesdale Goats Cheese. A hard cheese, it still has a rich, creamy texture, but it grated perfectly into the risotto, not overpowering the way a softer cheese might be, but leaving behind a residual flavour and saltiness slightly more interesting than your typical Parmesan.

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When plating up I topped each portion with ribbons of fresh courgette and crushed, toasted pine nuts. Not only does it make for a very pretty finish, but it also adds a touch of freshness and a much needed bit of crunch to an otherwise soft, rich dish.

Yorkshire Day Courgette Risotto with Leventhorpe Wine & Ribblesdale Goats Cheese
(makes enough for six starter portions or three mains)

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30-40 minutes

5 shallots or 1 large/2 small onion
2 garlic cloves
3 sprigs of thyme
Approx 130g Arborio Rice
1 large glass of dry white wine
750ml of chicken stock (the best quality you can afford)
2 large/4 small courgettes
Approx 150g (a large handful) of Ribblesdale Goats Cheese, grated
2 heaped tbsps of pine nuts
½ a fresh lemon

1. Dice your shallots and soften over a low heat with a small nob of butter and a splash of oil. After ten minutes, add crushed garlic and thyme leaves, roughly chopped. Soften for another five minutes until translucent. In another frying pan, pour in the pine nuts. Set over a high heat and keep an eye on them.

2. Add your rice to the pan and stir well to coat each grain with oil. Leave to cook for 3-4 minutes – when ready, the grains will turn translucent around the edges. At the same time, take the pine nuts off the heat and set aside.

3. Turn up the heat and immediately pour in the white wine. Leave to simmer and reduce by more than half, leaving just a tablespoon or two of liquid in the pan.

4. Add your first ladle of stock. Try to resist the urge to keep stirring. A little movement is fine, but messing with your rice constantly will make it more starchy, leaving it with a gloopier texture. When the risotto is ready, you’ll start to see bubbles forming on the surface of the rice. When you move the rice around in the pan, it should stay in the same place, not spreading to the drier parts of the pan.

5. Repeat this process, tasting the rice after each ladle of stock. Use a y-peeler to create ribbons for the top of dish, five to eight should be about right. Grate the rest of your courgette. The rice should take around five ladles worth of stock – you want it to be soft on the outside with a slight bite left at the centre. Tasting after each ladleful will help you get used to how your risotto should be, so you don’t miss that vital point when it’s at its most perfect.

6. After the final ladle, your risotto should be able to stand on its own. If you piled it up, it shouldn’t start to spread to the sides of your plate, but maintain its form. If it’s too wet, keep it on the heat for a bit longer. Chuck in your courgette and turn the heat down to low. Add the grated cheese and stir through. Turn off the heat and let it melt for a few minutes in the pan.

7. It’s unlikely you’ll need to add salt to the risotto because the cheese, especially if you’re using Parmesan in place of goats cheese, has a high salt content as well as the stock. Serve up, top with courgette ribbons and toasted pine nuts. To finish, I drizzled over a little Yorkshire Rapeseed Oil with Lemon, but if that’s not within your reach, try a squeeze of fresh lemon juice instead – mmm zingy! Enjoy!

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I served up my portions of risotto to the girls in the Le Creuset Tapas Dishes, part of the World Cuisine collection. I love these babies and they’re probably going to end up as my next purchase. Perfect for sharing style dishes stretching across all cuisines. Available in Volcanic (pictured), Cerise and Satin Black for £14 each.

I’ll be back on Wednesday with the simple chicken dish I made for the main on Yorkshire Day, but in the mean time, check out posts from some of the lovely attendees: Kat Got the Cream and Life by LDE – gorgeous ladies who just may have caught the Le Creuset bug.

Disclaimer: I’m working as Le Creuset Leeds’ blogger ambassador. As laid out in this post, I adore the brand and have plunged much of my hard earned cash into building my collection, long before Whip Until Fluffy was even a twinkle in my eye. In exchange for cooking for some bloggers on Yorkshire Day, the brand offered me a handsome discount on future purchases (and a fantastic experience!) – but no gifts or payments were exchanged for this, or any other, post.

Courgette & Yogurt Loaves: a Recipe for The Yogurt Council

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A few weeks ago, something quite exciting happened. I won a competition! Love Yogurt were looking for an official “Yogurt Stylist” to work with them on a few recipes as part of Yogurt Week. It was easy to enter – just upload a pic of your favourite recipe including yogurt for a chance to win. I did that, and after being shortlisted due to my Instagram likes (big thanks to all of you for following and liking my pictures – I really appreciate it), my shot was plucked from the other nine finalists by a couple of expert judges: Jo Sweetman, top nutritionist and advisor to many of the UK’s biggest food brands, and Karen Burns-Booth – food writer, blogger, recipe developer and food stylist extrordinaire who runs Lavender and Lovage.

I like courgette bread. I’ve been making it a lot over the past year or so, so my recipe for the competition was easy to come up with. It’s a much more nutritious way to consume baked goods than a sandwich loaf or a cupcake, it tastes really good, and the vegetable content means it stays moist too. I’ve tried it lots of different ways, but this recipe is the one I’ve settled on. The pecans and sunflower seeds give it an extra bit of bite and the spices provide a subtle warmth. In baking, I think yogurt really comes into its own. I use it a lot in place of buttermilk in recipes – since that isn’t easily obtainable here in the UK. Yogurt adds a tangy freshness and makes for a really soft, light crumb. What I like most about these loaves is the way they rise – giving you that perfect, golden dome bakers everywhere long for.

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The image above is the competition winner. I chose to keep things simple and according to feedback, that’s why the judges chose me. They liked that the recipe was clear and achievable for even novice bakers, and that my photos were styled in a clean and honest way. The recipe is simple – completed in little over 30 minutes, and the loaves will last for around five days in a sealed container.

Courgette & Yogurt Loaves (makes 6 small loaves)

nb. If you don’t have small loaf tins you can use one large loaf tin and enjoy in slices, or you can split the mix into 12 and use a muffin tin for smaller, snackable bites.

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

120g plain flour
120g wholemeal flour
140g courgette, grated
2 large eggs
125ml natural yoghurt
100ml vegetable oil
30g pecans, chopped
20g sunflower seeds
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C.

2. Beat the eggs in a large bowl, together with the vegetable oil, yogurt and vanilla.

3. Drop in the grated courgette and set aside.

4. In another large bowl, combine all dry ingredients except the pecans and sunflower 
seeds.

5. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture about a quarter at a time until a batter forms.

6. Fold in the chopped pecans and sunflower seeds.

7. Grease your loaf tins and divide the batter between them.

8. Place in the oven and bake for 18-22 minutes, until the loaves are golden brown.

9. Leave to cool and enjoy plain or spread with butter.

Courgette-&-Yogurt-Loaves--1

I’m pretty chuffed with my win. I’ve been putting a lot of work into my styling and photography over the past few months – trying to post quality over quantity, with really top notch images. That’s mainly because those are the type of posts I enjoy reading on other blogs. It’s nice to get confirmation that it’s paying off! I’ve had a lot of feedback recently from you guys, telling me that you like my photos and I really appreciate it – thank you. Hopefully I can keep improving.

As for the prizes, I won £1000 prize money (!!) which I intend to plunge right back into the blog. I’ve bought a new 50mm camera lens so I can capture higher quality images, and I’ve invested in some cooking equipment to bring some more diverse recipes to Whip Until Fluffy. Those of you who know me will know that my ambition is to integrate food styling into my day job, so this is a real boost to morale and a very welcome surge of funds. I also won a trip to the South of France to take part in an edible food styling masterclass with Karen of Lavender and Lovage at her home there. I’ve just had the date confirmed and I’m so excited to be going – I can’t wait to pick up new skills, travel and take advantage of a fantastic opportunity to do the thing that I love with someone I can learn a lot from. On top of those prizes, I now hold the title of Official Yogurt Stylist for 2014, which means I am working with The Yogurt Council to come up with more recipes to really show how versatile and tasty yogurt can be.

Want to take a look at my competition? Browse the #YogurtStylist tag on Instagram to see what I was up against – the competition was stiff #humblebrag. Runners up include @me_and_orla who runs the beautiful Me and Orla blog, @kateveggiedesserts who makes amazing cakes and sweet dishes from all kinds of veg at Veggie Desserts, @sylviahappiness who writes at Happiness is Homemade, and @eat_your_veg who caters for the little ones over at Eat Your Veg. All gorgeous entries well deserving of the prize – it’s genuinely such a pleasure for me to be counted side by side with them.

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I’ll be reporting back on my adventures over the summer as well as sharing the links to the recipes that I write for The Yogurt Council, so you can look forward to lots of content from me over the coming months. And in conclusion, thank you. For reading, commenting, liking and sharing. I really appreciate every single person who reads my blog and I value your feedback, so drop me a note down in the comments or over on Twitter @whipuntilfluffy to say hi. Follow The Yogurt Council over at @LoveYogurtUK on Twitter and @LoveYogurtUK on Instagram.

You can now also Like my page over on Facebook if you fancy it – find me at Whip Until Fluffy.

A Low-Carb Italian Feast

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I’ve had a bit of a challenging time at work lately. Over the May bank holiday, I launched my freelance website, CopyStorm. I’ve been busy anyway, working all sorts of hours (and a lot of weekends!) to keep up, but with the new site on top of that, things got a little crazy. Matt was away a few weekends ago, frying up a storm with Fish& on Liverpool Dock, so I was alone in the evenings. During the day I had to work and clearly Saturdays are not the ideal time to be slaving over your laptop, especially when the sun is out. As the afternoon rumbled on I became convinced that I owed it to myself to get a takeaway as a reward. I’d worked so hard after all. You deserve it, said the voice in my head. You need a treat for the weekend. And I nearly did it.

Thing is, sometimes, you deserve a takeaway, if that’s your thing. I am a firm believer that if sweet & sour pork or a battered sausage and chips is the way you give yourself a pat on the back,that’s fine. As a diabetic though, sometimes that’s stupid. Not always. But sometimes. So on this particular weekend, and for no apparent reason, my blood sugars were running the highest they’ve been in a while and despite treatment, they just didn’t want to come down and stay there. I gave myself a stern talking to and I went to the Co-op instead of the chip shop. I bought a courgette and an aubergine, some tomatoes, and I set some minced beef from the freezer to defrost. At first, I was miserable about it, but by the time I served up, I felt pretty smug. Just call me Saint Lil. Careful of my halo now! 

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So, Italian food. It’s not exactly a carb counter’s dream. It’s rich, it’s delicious, and by golly is it mostly made of flour. I had a hankering for bolognese, so I started with that. Matt and I have worked together on what we think is the perfect beefy ragu for almost the entire time we’ve been together. I think, after about four years, we now have it down to a fine art. It needs a bit of time. Eight hours if you have it. If not, four’ll do. It’s a long wait, but it’s worth it. It’s a delight: the perfect, methodical thing to do when you’re stressed, or if you just want to time-out for a while. Prep, throw everything in, and leave it to bubble away. At the finish line you’ll be left with a dark, silky sauce fit for kings. And your house will smell heavenly.

So this recipe is low-carb. To keep my blood sugar levels from unexpected spikes, I decided to skip the pasta. I’d just like to clarify that I don’t find this kind of thing easy. For reference, I’m not on board with “squashetti” or “courgetti”. Cauliflower “rice”? No thank you. With all the respect in the world, ain’t nobody got time for that. Well, at least, I haven’t got time for that. Aubergine slices in place of your carb, though? That’s legit. And it’s easy! The only form of carbohydrate in this dish comes with the béchamel sauce, and if you’re really feeling angelic, you can replace the plain flour with an alternative thickener, and use soya or almond milk in place of your regular cow juice. For me though, one heaped tablespoon of flour and 400ml of semi-skimmed split between six portions is good enough to slip through the net.

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Aubergine Lasagne (makes enough for six portions)

1 Large or 2 Small Aubergines

For the ragu:

2 Onions
2 Celery Stalks
1 Large Carrot
2 Cloves of Garlic
65g Pancetta
400g Beef Mince
100ml Milk
250ml Red Wine
400ml Beef Stock
1 Punnet of Plum Tomatoes (between 250 & 400g)
1 Bay Leaf
1 tsp Nutmeg
2 tsp Salt
1 tsp Black Pepper
Fresh Basil

For the Béchamel sauce:

50g Salted Butter
35g Plain Flour
400ml Milk
1 tsp Nutmeg
1 tsp Salt
40g Parmesan

This is long – stick with me.

1. Approximately 8 hours before you plan on serving, dice the onions, celery and carrot. Place a heavy-bottomed casserole pot on a low heat and add some oil (about 2tbsp if you’re the measuring kind). There’s no need to wait for it to heat up, so just chuck in your onion and cook for around 5 minutes – until it starts to turn translucent. Throw in your celery, then 3 minutes after that, your carrots. Add your garlic too – you can crush it if you fancy, but I can never be bothered to wash up the grinder – so a rough chop will do.

2. After your veg has softened (around 5 minutes), turn your heat up to medium, clear a space in the middle of the pan and add your diced pancetta. The only reason I like to get pan-bottom-on-pancetta-action is that you get a nice golden crust on the edges of the meat. Let the pancetta crisp up and when it’s nearly done, stir it through the veg.

3. Next up is mince, repeat the process – trying to get a bit of surface area contact – until all the pinkness has disappeared. Pour 100ml of milk over your meat – this may seem weird, but it’s one of the secrets to such a rich and unctuous sauce. Let it bubble away with the heat on high until there’s barely anything left. Stir in the bay leaf, nutmeg , salt and pepper.

4. Add your tomatoes, sliced lengthways into 2 halves. Cover with red wine. Repeat the same process you went through with the milk, letting it bubble and reduce by two thirds. It’ll take 5-10 minutes depending on the heat from your hob, gas versus electric etc. If you can’t get fresh tomatoes, add one tin of chopped tomatoes instead. There’s no problem with that, but I think the fresh ones just elevate your sauce slightly – ramping the sweetness up a notch. Put the kettle on.

5. Give the mix a stir while you wait for the kettle to boil. When it’s ready, pour 400ml of water over a beef stock cube in a jug or bowl and whisk quickly to dissolve it. Pour in the stock. Turn the heat as low as it will go and set the lid on your pot at a jaunty angle, leaving a small gap for the steam to escape. Step away and let your bolognese do its thing. Check on it every now and then and give it a stir. Top up with a bit of water if it looks a little dry around the 6 hour mark.

6. When you ragu is done, preheat your oven to 180ºc. Then, melt 50g butter in a saucepan. Add in the 35g flour and stir, to make a roux. The mixture should form a thick, beige paste. Keep it moving over a low heat for a minute or two, and bit by bit pour the milk over. Do this slowly and your sauce should thicken as you stir, leaving you with a consistency that should easily coat the back of a spoon. As the sauce bubbles on the stove top on the lowest heat possible, grate your block of parmesan. Take approximately 75% of it and fold it through your sauce. Stir in the nutmeg and salt (don’t be tempted to add more, parmesan itself has a high salt content) before removing it from the heat and setting aside.

7. Slice the aubergine in approximately 0.5cm rounds. Move quickly so it doesn’t colour. Begin to layer the lasagne, starting with bolognese on the bottom, then a thin layer of béchamel, followed by aubergine slices. Repeat the ragu, béchamel, aubergine layering until you fill your dish. Make sure the top layer is béchamel, and then scatter over the remaining parmesan.

8. Place in the oven for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown on top. Garnish with torn basil leaves.

Deep Fried Courgette with Fresh Mint

While you’re playing the long game, listening to that beauty bubbling on the stove, you’re going to need something to tide you over. I’ve talked on the blog before about my love for Zucco, a restaurant not far from where I live which serves Italian small plates. One of my three regular orders there is the Deep Fried Zucchini with Mint. I thought I’d have a crack at replicating it at home. I’m having a bit of a courgette moment right now. It’s near on my favourite vegetable at this time of year. I can’t get enough!

Deep fried courgette slices with fresh mint (makes enough for two sharing)

nb. there’s an egg in these pics. I started making this recipe, breading the slices with flour, then egg, then flour. It was a little too claggy and thick for me, so I dropped the egg. After I’d made this, I went back to Zucco – they’d seen my tweet about this recipe and told me the secret is to use milk and flour instead – next time!

1 Large Courgette
80g Plain Flour
1 tsp Rock Salt
½ tsp Black Pepper
½ tsp Nutmeg
6 Fresh Mint Leaves

1. In a shallow bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.

2. Slice your courgette. I stuck to approximately the thickness of a 20p piece, you need a little bite or you’ll end up with crisps. Chop each round in half so you have semi-circles.

3. Roll your courgette slices, a handful at a time, in the flour mixture. While you’re doing this, heat about 2 inches of vegetable oil in a heavy bottomed, deep frying pan.

4. When your oil is up to temperature (stick a wooden utensil in – the handle of a wooden spoon, maybe – the oil should bubble gently around the handle) drop in your courgette slices. Be careful not to overcrowd your pan.

5. It should take around 5 minutes for your slices to start browning around the edges. When they’re nicely coloured, remove them from the oil with a slotted spoon and set them on a couple of pieces of kitchen paper. Repeat with the next batch.

6. Dress your slices with a sprinkle of rock salt, pepper and a slug of olive oil. Chop your mint and throw it in. Toss them around for an even covering. Serve warm.

Deep Fried Courgette with Fresh Mint

Aubergine Lasagne

It’s a big meal – but when it comes to carbs, it’s pretty virtuous. I’ll be making this time and again in the future. Happy feasting!

Got any tips and tricks to share about lasagne making, carb-swapping or courgettes? Share them with me in the comments or over on Twitter @whipuntilfluffy.

What to Eat in February

What to Eat in February

Vegetables: brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celeriac, chicory, jerusalem artichoke, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, parsnips, potatoes, shallots, squash, swede, sweet potatoes, truffles (black), turnips.

Fruit: blood oranges, clementines, kiwi fruit, lemons, oranges, passion fruit, pineapple, pomegranate, rhubarb.

Meat & Fish: guinea fowl, partridge, turkey, venison, clams, lemon sole, lobster, mackerel, mussels, oysters.

As I write this, there’s a storm out. When I look up, the grey is clearing, making room for bright blue skies with candy floss clouds, but I still hear the rain sploshing on the windows and the doors banging in the draft. It occurs to me that this kind of sums February up, the last month of Winter. Times are a-changin’, but probably only in small increments for another 28 days, when dull and biting February will buckle to bright and breezy March and spring’s first days allow us to shake off our winter coats and leave them in the cupboard. January may have been bitter, but it’s ok, hope is on the horizon.

For me, February is all about roots. It’s our last chance to make the most of those knobbly, earthy gems before Spring brings greens and we’re all gushing about asparagus and pea pods, before anyone who’s anyone is leaving those muddy, scraggy guys to rest in favour of their prettier relatives. I’ve got a lot of love for those roots, so in February I like to make use of what’s left, think parsnips, turnips, jerusalem artichokes. And of course, that nubby diamond in the rough, celeriac.

For this month’s recipe, I went with what was in stock. Sweet potatoes and a butternut squash, jewel-like against a browned spiced chicken, rubbed in moroccan flavours, topped with charred cauliflower. All in one pot, softening in each other’s juices, speared with fresh rosemary. Killer one pot chicken dishes are usually my husband’s forte. Caribbean, French, North African flavours, he’s mastered them all. This is the stuff winter is made of, for us. Marinated and cooking in it’s own fat, alongside a smidge of lard and a bit of stock, all dryness is banished from the bird and the flesh comes away from the bone like butter. A one pot is easy to put together, saves on washing up and looks as impressive as a roast with a tenth of the effort. Perfect for a lazy February afternoon, when all you really want to do is snuggle under a blanket with your book. Add a tumbler of wine and you’re in for a warming, seasonal treat. Probably a mid-afternoon snooze, too.

What to Eat in February

One Pot Spiced Chicken with Smashed Squash, Sweet Potato and Charred Cauliflower (enough for two)

1 Small Chicken
1 Butternut Squash
2 Medium Sweet Potatoes
Half a Head of Cauliflower
Half a Lemon
Fresh Rosemary to Garnish
30g Lard
Oil for Cooking

For the rub:
2 Tbsp Cumin Seeds
1 Tbsp Smoked Paprika
2 Tsp Caraway Seeds
2 Tsp Dried Chilli Flakes
2 Tsp Cinnamon
2 Tsp Cayenne Pepper
1 Tsp Nutmeg
1 Tsp Salt
1 Tbsp Fresh Rosemary
1 Tbsp Olive Oil

What to Eat in February

If I’m making a one pot chicken dish, I generally find it cheaper to buy a whole chicken and joint it myself. I’m planning to do a post showing you how I do that, but for now, put your trust in Delia. She starts her instructions with “this is nothing to be afraid of” and I wholeheartedly concur. Save your chicken wings and freeze them alongside the carcass, which you should roast off in a hot oven and keep to make stock out of when you have two or three saved up. Whole chickens are very economic, especially if you can save cash with a multi-buy, joint them and freeze the individual pieces for later. You can always buy your chicken ready jointed at the supermarket, no judgement here, and obviously I don’t need to lecture you on the benefits of bone-in, skin-on thighs and legs vs breast fillets, right? Right.

Once you have your chicken pieces, measure out your spices. Here, I find it easiest to use an electric spice grinder, but a pestle and mortar is a good work out and will make you feel like you earned your supper. Alternatively, use the end of a rolling pin on your chopping board, just make do with what you have. When you have a fine mix, add in your oil and mix, you should end up with a thickish, red paste, still relatively dry. Roll your chicken around in it, rub it into all the crevasses. Set aside for later.

What to Eat in February

Preheat your oven to 180ºC. Put a large saucepan full of salted water on to boil. In the meantime, peel and cube your squash. Those buggers can be tough, but don’t let them win. This video from The Shiska in the Kitchen should help, if you need. Next, do the same with your sweet potato. When the water comes to the boil, dunk your veg in and turn down to a simmer. Find yourself an overproof dish big enough to hold all your ingredients. I went with a Le Creuset Shallow Casserole (love of my life) which is 26cm across. Pop in a glug or two of oil, veg or olive, and heat. When the dish is good and hot, place the chicken in. Leave it in there, sizzling, while you drain your vegetables. They should’ve been cooking for around 5 minutes at this point. Cover and set them aside. Brown your chicken in the dish for around 4 minutes on each side. Turn off the hob.

Place your knob of lard into the dish with the chicken. Transfer your root veg into the dish and arrange it around the meat. Scatter over  some fresh rosemary. Chop your cauliflower into little florets and arrange it around the outside edge. Season with salt and pepper, squeeze over the juice of half a lemon and cover. Place inside the oven on the middle shelf. Cook for 30 minutes. When your timer beeps, reach in and remove the lid. Mix things around a bit. If you’re worried things are getting too dry (each bird will release a different amount of fat, after all) you can simply add a cupful of chicken stock. Cook for a further 30 minutes or until the edges of the veg are turning a deep brown. If you’re worried about the chicken, just stick a fork in and if the juices run clear, you’re all good. To serve, mash any large chucks of squash or potato roughly with a fork and sprinkle with more fresh rosemary.

What to Eat in February

Take the dish to the table and tuck in. It’s a fairly filling meal for two, but if you want to flesh it out, add some buttered rolls as a side and you might end up with some chicken leftover for lunch in the week. The spice and richness of this meal pairs well with a red wine, as you may find that a white is delicate for the robust flavours. Personally, I wouldn’t call this a really spicy dish. It doesn’t blow your head off but leaves more of a background warmth instead. If you did want something cooling to cut through it though, a blob of sour cream with a little lemon juice mixed through would do nicely.

Other dishes to eat in February:

Farfalle, Pancetta & Kale from Food&_
Roasted Winter Citrus from Joy the Baker
Celery Root and Cauliflower Puree with Garlic Greens from Gourmande in the Kitchen
Warm Brussel Sprout Salad from A Beautiful Mess
Jerusalem Artichoke and Cheese Gratin from Lavender and Lovage
Butternut Squash and Swiss Chard Ravioli from Eva Kolenko
Pomegranate, Pear & Kale Salad from Chasing Raspberries

Tell me, what are you eating this month? 

Filmore & Union, Leeds

Filmore & Union, Leeds

I can’t lie, health conscious food is not something I usually look for when I’m dining out. Meals out are generally a treat, something I don’t eat at home and, let’s face it, preferably something fried. I know I know, that’s not the right attitude. But sadly, a carb lover never changes her spots. However, being a diabetic, my choices are often limited, so I appreciate that something of a food haven exists for those with dietary requirements, and that a diet-savvy alternative is there for those who want to dine out without fearing the calorie intake.

About two weeks ago I had lunch at Filmore & Union in the Victoria Quarter, Leeds City Centre. It’s kind of an odd spot. A cluster of tables sectioned off in the middle of a shopping centre, albeit a beautiful and upmarket one, the design of the place is modern and rustic. It’s gorgeous but it’s not an obvious lunch choice, especially on such a cold and blustery day in January. Arriving with hands bundled in pockets, I was pleased to see patio heaters belting out waves of warmth, with an army of fluffy throws on the backs of chairs, perfect for covering chilly knees. Obviously this kind of venue will flourish in the summer, but I snuggled up and within 5 minutes I’d already forgotten the draft. The environment was relaxed, some customers sipping on tea, others tucking in for 2 courses. The restaurant manages to be airy, open and light but without being loud. Holding a conversation across a table was easy, unlike a lot of shopping centre eateries, and the presence of other diners and wait staff was unobtrusive.

Filmore & Union, Leeds

Filmore & Union, Leeds

We started with juices. Just the menu itself is a pretty good read, packed full of seasonal information and health tips plus information on the brand’s philosophy. Eat Clean, Eat Pure is the idea. To your smoothie or juice, you can add loads of healthy boosters including chia seeds, echinacea and vanilla whey protein powder, depending on what you’re in the market for. I opted for the Joluxe Immune Booster (£3.75)  juice. It’s made up of blended yellow pepper, carrot, ginger and orange. I topped it off with an Aloe Vera shot (£2) for an added kick up the immune system’s backside. Aloe Vera is a super healer, they say, great for digestion.

Now I’m not big on fruit, I’m a naturally savoury person, so I was interested in trying something vegetable heavy. The juice was zingy, tangy, it seriously sang inside my mouth. I genuinely felt shaken up after I drank it, more alert and productive for the few hours that followed. Plus it left none of the sticky aftertaste I dislike from packaged juices. The best thing about it was purely how orange it was, a great change from the dull greens and browns I usually associate with juices and smoothies. Lauren’s smoothie, Super Antioxidant (£4.95) was packed with strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, apple, mint leaves and coconut water. Jen went for the Raw Choco Fix (also £4.95), made from almond milk, raw cacao, raw cashews, banana and agave syrup. It was weirdly chocolate bar like, but with none of the sickly, cloying characteristics. Healthy and indulgent at the same time! None of the three drinks we tried were overly sweet or filling, which contrasts with the juice bar experiences I’ve had before. They felt clean, simple and fresh.

Filmore & Union, Leeds

For my main I went for an Open Steak Bagel with Sweet Onions, Tomato Salsa and Tzatziki (£12.95). The steak was cooked perfectly, pink in the middle and with a charred crust. There was barely a chew to it and loads of fresh, juicy crunch from the salsa. I was pleased with the generous portions, wrongly thinking eating healthy meant eating small, the bagel came piled high. On the whole, I enjoyed it, my only criticism is that the dish was a little sweet. The sweet potato and caraway chips promised a bit of spice but I couldn’t taste the caraway and I didn’t really think they were necessary, they left a sweet aftertaste I could’ve done without, with no crunch or heat to balance them. The salsa, onions and tzatziki were all very good, but without something spicy or sharp to cut through it the bagel fell just short of full marks. I’d have preferred it with a small side salad or slaw, and maybe a slick  of wholegrain mustard on its lid. My second choice would’ve been what Lauren ate, the Asian Smoked Salmon & Sweet Potato Fishcakes (£10.95). Again a generous portion, two round fishcakes sat atop curly kale and orange segments, with pomegranates and almonds dotted in. The dish was an absolute beauty.

The ingredients in all our mains were clearly so fresh, their colours jumped off the white background. Obviously nothing had been sitting around, there wasn’t a wilted leaf or past-best vegetable in sight. They looked, shock horror, like they’d been pulled right from the ground. Imagine that! The 100% Fresh, 100% Natural produce is a huge part of what Filmore & Union are offering and for me that’s a massive plus. They make a point to source their ingredients from the local area, so there’s every chance your lunch has come from ground to plate within hours.

Filmore & Union, Leeds

Filmore & Union, Leeds

We finished off with dessert, of course. I have never seen so many beautiful but virtuous looking cakes in one place at one time. The counter was overflowing with platters and cake stands offering everything from a gluten free lemon & polenta cake to a vegan chocolate and blackberry cake. It looked good. Like, the kind of good where there’s absolutely no guilt to come from ordering a pudding. It feels like it’s actually the right thing to do. The whole menu obviously caters fantastically for those with dietary requirements and the cakes really don’t disappoint, with more range than I’ve ever seen before. I opted for a Banana, Oat and Flaxseed Muffin (£3.75). There are a lot of oats in my diet for their low GI credentials (again, the diabetic thing), keeping blood sugars level without the peaks and troughs that simple carbs can bring, something that the whole F&U menu boasts. The muffin was a good way to round off the meal, it was fluffy, and came with a deep, nutty texture you don’t find in mass-products desserts in chain coffee shops and cafes. I loved it and I will go back for it again, maybe to take out for breakfast on my way to work. The other desserts our table ordered looked scrumptious, without fail. Even the giant Granola Bar (£3.95) got me salivating. It was so interesting to see a sweet menu really come alive with unusual ingredients, not a nasty in sight. Plus, every dessert comes with a little pot of natural yoghurt and a few berries. A lovely little touch, as if your halo could shine any brighter.

Filmore & Union, Leeds

It was lovely to go back to work without the hangover from a too-large lunch. So many times I’ve come a cropper to grabbing something too heavy in my lunch hour, giving me a headache and having me snoozing at my desk all afternoon long, to-do list forgotten. It’s good to know that you can eat a great meal and leave with a spring in your step, without the threat of the inevitable sugar come down. I’d really recommend Filmore & Union to those looking for not just low cal or carb, but a nourishing, nutritious option for lunchtimes, breakfasts or early evenings. For me, it’s probably best as a brunch spot. They have a great bagel menu, plus muesli, porridge, granola and more. They have a good range of teas and organic coffees, and I’ve already waxed lyrical about the healing power of the juices. It’s also an ideal fit for its environment. The Victoria Quarter is beautiful, with a huge sky light, amazing architecture and luxury stores. F&U is a great pitstop to rest your aching feet, or a great place to drop off anyone who’s holding you back. Got a husband dragging his feet? A nagging teenager? Leave them here, there’s free wifi. The prices are, I think, slightly high. So just bear that in mind when you’re adding extra shots to your smoothie.

I think it’s also important to add that the staff were incredibly knowledgeable about the menu. They answered all our questions, made some great recommendations and really had me feeling like I was in safe hands. If you’re gluten free or vegan, lactose intolerant or allergic to anything, you can really put your confidence in this lot and you won’t leave unhappy.

If you eat clean or you’re trying to be good, you’re going to love this place. If you’re partial to a chicken nugget… maybe not, but give it a go, it might change your life! I haven’t been converted, I’m afraid I’m too devoted to burgers, but I am interested in trying more. Open to eat in and take out Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 8am-7pm, Thursday 8am – 8pm, Sunday 9am-6pm.

Filmore & Union Restaurant and Express Bar Victoria Quarter Leeds LS1 6AZ | @FilmoreandUnion

Disclaimer: The Victoria Quarter invited me down to try Filmore & Union free of charge. That has had no effect whatsoever on my opinion. All honesty here, friends.

 

How to Eat Well: A Beginners Guide

How to Eat Well: A Beginners Guide

Lately, a few people have started asking me how to cook. To be honest I find that question difficult to answer. I think that’s because, in most cases, what they’re really asking me is how to eat.

First things first, you need the basic equipment. I have a friend who requested a post like this who, 6 months into her tenancy, didn’t own a kettle or a toaster. Kitchen fail. That kind of behaviour won’t get you anywhere. You don’t need to spend the earth to eat well, and you don’t need every gadget under the sun to prepare decent meals. Just a few items will suffice and they’ll pay you back in spades. I’m going to do a full post on my own kitchen essentials in the next week or so, but a good knife, a decent sized sauce and frying pan, a wooden spoon and a baking sheet should get you going. Get thee to Wilko*.

For me, good food is about the ingredients you use. You can have all the skill and equipment on offer, but you’ll only ever be as good as the ingredients you use. Knowing which flavours work together is a big plus, and is a knack you’ll no doubt pick up on the more recipes you read and the more time you spend at the hob. For a foolproof guide, I think The Flavour Thesaurus is a resource well worth its salt. Priceless for beginners and experienced cooks alike, it lists herbs, vegetables, meats and more alongside their perfect pairings. Great if you find yourself in a pickle or if you’re just trying something new in the kitchen.

Again on the ingredients kick, find shops and stalls you trust. It may sound silly to the tech-savvy youth of 2014 but your local butcher, baker or greengrocer will look after you. Get to know them and you’ll benefit from their experience and they may even do you a favour every now and again. Few home cooks become great by staring woefully at Co-op’s withered spinach offering. Having said that, I have nothing against supermarkets. If that’s where you shop, no worries. The man on the meat counter at Morrison’s should know his saddle from his rump so use that knowledge. Just think ahead – 7pm on a Friday night might not be the right time to buy your veg for the week. Time it right and buy the good stuff.

Nigel Slater (no big deal but he’s my hero) has a food philosophy that works well for me. He buys local, he buys day by day and he eats what’s in his fridge and what’s in season. The weekly shop is no doubt inevitable, especially for those of us with tight work schedules or kids, but try to use it mainly for cupboard staples and dried goods. Weekly shops make it easy to fall into ruts. Getting home late after work is the ultimate recipe for a fall-back spaghetti dish or, god forbid**, a take-away. That’s fine every now and again, but cooking the same dishes week on week can soon have you feeling frustrated. Buy a little of the fresh stuff everyday and you can have a little of what you fancy when you fancy it. Even if it’s just some plump little tomatoes to go with your pasta, or a sprig of tarragon for a béarnaise sauce. The Kitchen Diaries is the best example of eating this way and it changed the way I think about food. It’s proper food writing, not just a list of ingredients plus a method, and it taught me that eating ingredients when they’re fresh and ripe leads to a varied and exciting diet. Sure you can get strawberries in December, but for me, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should eat them. At the very least, it’s nice to have something to look forward to eating in the summer sunshine. Buy this book and Nigel will walk you through his everyday meals. They’re simple, they’re delicious. Sometimes he even eats a take-away pizza.

I’d also suggest getting it wrong every now and again. I like cooking, I like trying new things, that’s why some of my meals are fails of epic proportion. If none of your meals come out looking like a brown splodge splattered inelegantly onto a plate, I think you’re probably doing it wrong. Too many nervous cooks in my everyday life think that if they mess something up then it’s because they don’t know what they’re doing. Very few of us do. Just give something a go. If it’s gross, don’t worry about it. Try something different. Expand your palate, go on. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you pick things up, and at the very worst, you’ll know what not to do in the future.

Over the next couple of months I’ll have a few more posts for you on similar topics, including my must-have kitchen equipment, what I consider to be the best books for your kitchen library and lots more. If you like these kind of posts please do let me know. Please leave any thoughts or feedback in the comments below or head over to Twitter for a chat @whipuntifluffy.

* Not for the knife. Splash out, it’s worth it.
** Sarcasm.

Food Resolutions for 2014

Food Resolutions

Give certain things another try. There are a couple of things I’ve always been really annoyed that I don’t like. Most things I’m not impressed by are related to texture, and though I’ve tried long and hard, I don’t think there’s anyway I can train myself to enjoy them. Some things though, I’m still sure there’s some way to change my opinion. The main culprit is coffee. Having watched Matt discover proper coffee over the last year, it’s occurred to me that I’m probably missing out. I’m going to attempt to train my tastebuds in a new series on the blog coming soon, named “Learning to Love”.

Spend cash on quality. I eat out so much. Probably too much. There are so many restaurants and cafes I want to try but it’s easy to fall into a routine. You get used to the places that are near to you, that are dependable and easy. That’s not to say they’re not good, just that there are probably more exciting options out there. This year I vow to try new places. Eat out less but do more research and even spend more money if necessary. I’m interested in trying a few more fine dining restaurants, especially those close to home in Leeds and Yorkshire. I want to try street food, corner cafes and local favourites too. Basically, I just never want to pay over the odds for a mediocre lasagne at Jamie’s Italian again. 2013 saw my dislike for chain restaurants grow but hopefully in 2014 I can visit more independents than ever. No matter how much my friends might like Nandos 😉

Expand my skill set. 2013 was the year I finally learnt how to bone a chicken properly. I want to work on classic techniques and build up my repertoire a bit – I’m talking filleting fish, tempering chocolate, making the perfect choux pastry. I can do a few things really well, through a bit of practice. I’ve got a perfect chicken stock down, I can make my own pasta. But this year I want to round those skills out, Julia Child style. It’s surprising how many things I don’t know how to do to, just because I didn’t eat them growing up. I might even go back to basics and learn how to boil an egg from Delia. Basic skills can act as the start of so many dishes, so I’m hoping it’ll seriously help with putting together recipes and menus.

Commit to seasonal eating. In 2013 I learnt a lot about what to eat throughout the year. By picking foods that are in season I’ve found that my diet has become much more varied and I’m always willing to try something new when I make meals at home, especially when I’m under pressure, if I’m in a hurry or I’ve just got home from work and want something quick. It saves me from falling into ruts with midweek meals, something I’m really thankful for because I get bored easily and a constant rotation of spaghetti bolognese, Thai green curry, sausage and mash and the like can get me down. I’ve definitely also seen a decrease in the times I reach into the freezer for a pizza or borderline looking leftovers. I’m not saying that everything I eat is always in season but I definitely use it as a guide when thinking about what to rustle up. In 2014 I want to commit more to that way of thinking and eat more of what’s ripe as opposed to what’s on the shelves at the supermarket. If you fancy looking into eating seasonably too, I found this infographic pretty helpful.

What are your food plans for 2014? Are you changing anything up? Is there anything you want to try in the year ahead? If so, share it with me down in the comments or over on Twitter @whipuntilfluffy. What have you been up to over the festive period? Keep up with my shenanigans over on Instagram. I’ll be back with a recipe in a few days.