Sunday, 17 May 2015

Simple strawberry cheesecake mousse (that's really hard to mess up!)

For someone who loves to cook, there are a fair few simple recipes that I've never made before. For instance, I've never made shepherd's pie. I'm sure it's not difficult, I've just never got round to it. The same goes for mousse. I'd been led to understand that mousse is pretty simple to make, but making it has never come up - even though I bloomin' love mousse.

We were having Fiona and her hubby round for dinner the other day and I was pondering what dessert should follow our Mexican feast. We had strawberries to use up in the fridge, so strawberry mousse won. I started off following a recipe, and then realised after I'd finished making them that I'd completely forgotten to measure the amount of cream I used, or the amount of strawberries, so I actually had no idea if I'd made mousse or just strawberry flavoured cream. What I could vouch for, though, was that it tasted really good, so even if the consistency wasn't right, it didn't matter all that much.

However... the consistency was good! I took a bite and was like 'Yep, this is definitely mousse' which is what you want to happen when eating, you know, mousse. So my learning from this is that it's really difficult to screw up mousse, which I find reassuring. The only thing that did go wrong is that I made enormous portions - which I don't think is all THAT wrong, personally. There were still clear plates all around. But FYI, this makes 4 huge mousses or 8 respectable ones. Make of that what you will.

Simple Strawberry Cheesecake Mousse
300ml double cream
300g strawberries
40g icing sugar
225g cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla extract
10 x digestives
60g butter
1 tsp sugar

Serves 4-8

1. Make the base by crushing the digestives into crumbs - I always go for the old sandwich bag and rolling pin approach.
2. Melt the butter in a large bowl and then add the crumbs to the bowl along with 1 tsp of sugar and stir until the crumbs are coated in butter.
3. Divide the crumbs between your serving bowls or glasses (mine were a Tesco bargain) and press down into the bottom of the glass/bowl until firmish. Don't worry too much about it being perfect - we're going to cover them in mousse anyway. Set aside.

4. Chop up your strawberries and remove the leaves, then pop in a blender (I used my Blend Active because I'm obsessed with it) and blitz into a puree.

5. In a large bowl, combine your icing sugar with your cream cheese and vanilla and stir until well combined. Add your strawberry puree and stir through again until combined.

6. In a separate bowl, whip your cream with an electric whisk for a few minutes until it thickens and goes all stiff (snigger).

7. Add to the other bowl of cream cheese, sugar and strawberry and fold in gently to combine. If it looks a bit lumpy, give it a more vigorous stir - I did this and it didn't do any harm!

8. Pour the strawberry mixture into all your serving bowls/glasses on top of the digestive base, cover with clingfilm and pop in the fridge for at least 15 minutes (I left mine 24 hours).

9. To serve, top with fresh strawberries and maybe a coulis or something - I went for a blob of leftover strawberry curd, because it's awesome. And dig in!

Yeah, I know they look like boobs. I see no problem with this.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Paris is always a good idea.

It was actually over two months ago now that we visited Paris - I'm not sure why it's taken this long to put the photos up! General uselessness, I suppose. Eurostar had a sale late last year, and we were thinking of booking for February, but then we realised we could go a couple of weeks later and be there for our first anniversary. Turns out, if you book Eurostar that early, it's practically sale prices anyway - I think it was £79 each. It costs more to get to some parts of the UK!

As they say, Paris is always a good idea, and that's because it IS. We stayed in a cute (and cheap!) little airbnb apartment in Montmartre and thoroughly enjoyed our four days exploring the city. Because we'd both been before, there was no pressure to see EVERYTHING, so we did a lot of pottering. We did fit in some touristy things though - neither of us had been to the top of the Eiffel Tower before, so that went on the list for our anniversary, cue overpriced champagne at the top, obvs. We also made a point to visit it one evening to see it all lit up. Did you know that on every hour, it sparkles for ten minutes? So pretty. So disco.

We popped back to Notre Dame for a wander, and we also visited the locks of love on the Pont de l'ArchevĂȘchĂ©. I know there's a lot of controversy about the padlocks as they weigh down bridges and cause damage, so I feel a little guilty for contributing to it, but sometimes I'm a sucker for tradition. And we swung by the Wall of Love, which was round the corner from our apartment. I also couldn't leave without spending a small fortune in Sephora - standard.

And obviously, we ate a LOT of good food. We started out with Croque Monsieurs at the first place we found, and it just went uphill from there. For our anniversary dinner, we celebrated with a double course of fondue at L'Assiette aux Fromages - yes, it was amazing. Melted cheese followed by melted chocolate is always going to be a good idea.

We visited Blend for some frankly excellent burgers, and had breathtaking steak at Les Tantes Jeannes - a restaurant that I'd earmarked before we left England, only to find out that our apartment was literally above it. Convenient! I would have happily eaten there every night, to be honest. There were three types of steak sauce! Without paying extra!

Crepes, obviously. Pastries, obviously. Red wine, obviously. We even found somewhere for brunch on the Sunday at Le Cafe Quiparle - brunch is huge in Paris right now, apparently.

It was a pretty wonderful long weekend, and I'm desperate to book our next trip. We were quite close to booking Dublin or Belfast for this weekend, actually, but opted to appreciate having a couple of free days for once. But I'm still thinking about it. Maybe a birthday trip in July...

Monday, 11 May 2015

Tabure Kitchen - Turkish tapas in St Albans

Moving back to the centre of St Albans has really made me notice how fond I am of my little city. I've got into a habit lately of going on after-work walks, and it's lovely to take in the beautiful scenery and all the independent shops and restaurants that have sprung up. I find myself mentally writing Buzzfeed type lists of all the reasons to visit... and they all revolve around places to eat, obviously. Because in the past, it felt like St Albans never had to try because it was just 20 minutes from London, but now it's started making an effort and it suits it. And me.

On the subject of restaurants, I was invited to a preview night of a new local restaurant, Tabure (rhymes with cabaret). This was extremely exciting as there are never any blogger events in my town - no trains required - and it was a chance to meet some elusive local bloggers. There ARE others like me out there, it turns out. It was also extremely exciting because Tabure sounded like an incredible restaurant - Turkish tapas, the brainchild of a couple who'd lived in Turkey for several years.

What an incredible evening. The food just kept coming - at one point, we were all feeling rather full... and then the main courses started coming out. You get the idea. LOTS of food. But it was all amazing - from freshly made sour dough bread, to Baharatli chicken wings marinated in spiced yoghurt, lemon and oregano, to deep fried courgette flowers stuffed with ricotta and herbs, to samphire salad, to smashed fava beans, to citrus marinated olives, to a delicious lamb stew... sorry, what was my point? It was actually quite a relief when the fish course started, as I'm not a fan and it meant I could have a well deserved break before dessert! Which was a delicious rice pudding and creme brulee combo, and a Turkish trifle with sour cherry jelly. YUM.

What was lovely about Tabure was how lived in and comfortable it was - no accident, actually, as the owners had carefully chosen reclaimed wood for the floor and old Tudor bricks for the wall. I'm already dying to go back with a big group of friends for a long evening of digging into each other's plates and working our way through the (excellent) wine list (they actually sourced the alcohol from local recommendations - the beer was all suggested by a local beer blogger).

Guys, will you just GO already? I promise you'll like it. I'll be coming too, obvs. You can check out the menu here.