Monday, 23 March 2015

BBQ Pulled Pork Pasta


A while back I mentioned everything I was cooking was using up awesome ingredients. Well, you've seen the salted caramel - now's the pulled pork. The thing with pulled pork is it generally makes quite a lot, and as much as I love it, after a couple of days of pulled pork baps, I'm ready for something else. So the leftovers either get forgotten about in the fridge until they go off, or plonked in the freezer.

Last time we made pulled pork, we made tons and only had one dinner of baps out of it. One box went into my epic pre-Christmas mac 'n' cheese, and there was a smaller box left. I had an awesome Covent Garden pulled pork earlier in the week and it got me thinking about those leftovers, and I decided to invent a pulled pork pasta bake. I wanted something comforting and tasty (duh), but also incorporating that BBQ-ness that is associated with pulled pork. So it was a little improvised, but I think it worked. The good thing with this is it'll work with however much pulled pork you have left - I mean, if you have an entire pork shoulder then you might not want to put the whole lot in, obviously. But leftovers. You'll be fine.


BBQ Pulled Pork Pasta
Leftover pulled pork
1 carton passata
A fair few hearty slugs of BBQ sauce
2 red onions
6 or so mushrooms
1 red pepper
1 tsp paprika
2 cloves crushed garlic
Half a tin of sweetcorn
200g pasta

1. Pop your pasta on to cook
2. Chop up all your vegetables and dry fry in a big pan or wok until they're soft



3. Add the garlic, followed by the passata and give everything a stir


4. Throw in the pulled pork, then the paprika, then a slug of BBQ sauce


5. Stir well and leave on a medium-high heat with the lid off to bubble away cheerfully for about 10-15 minutes.
6. Keep an eye on it - the sauce will start to thicken, so give it a stir every 5 mins or so. It shouldn't start to stick until the sauce has really thickened though, so you have a while.


7. Add the sweetcorn and stir through, then give it a taste and then throw in extra seasoning if it needs it - maybe a bit more BBQ sauce (I put in quite a lot), maybe a bit of salt, perhaps a bit more paprika, or a dash of sweet chilli sauce (generally my go-to).


8. Add the pasta to the sauce and stir to combine.


9. You can serve as it is, which we did, but it would be ace piled into a lasagne dish, topping with cheddar and baking for 20 minutes.
10. Serve, and get your face stuck into that.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Reasons to be Cheerful #14

After my post about investing in yourself I've been thinking a lot about little ways to make a positive difference to your life. Sometimes it's not necessarily about overhauling your life or spending a fortune, but just doing something small that will make you a bit happier. I decided to write a Reasons to be Cheerful post with a little difference - here are seven ways to try and cheer yourself up if you're feeling a little down, lost or just generally meh. They're working for me, I hope they'll work for you:

1. Fresh sheets
Isn't it funny how fresh bedsheets can make your day (well, night)? We invested in a couple of new sets when we moved and so they're still all crisp and white - no bobbles or greying yet. I'm still eyeing more though - my current favourite is this Catherine Lansfield Padstow Yorkshire Linen bedding set - I love the cheerful boat design.


2. Bright lipstick
I have been trying fervently for a while to get into lipstick, but have realised recently that my struggles were due to the wrong colours. I don't think I'll ever master the art of being someone who can wear red lippy every day - I just feel garish in it. However, I've discovered that pink shades make me feel glamorous AND comfortable, and I am going with it. I spent a small fortune in Sephora in Paris the other week, and keep nipping into Boots on my lunch hour. My current favourite is Rimmel Provocalips in I'll Call You - it's a bright, cheerful pink that doesn't feel too much for day, whilst instantly glamming up an evening outfit. Also, it lasts FOREVER. I wake up with it still looking perfect after a night out, it's baffling (and tells me I need to research better makeup removers, perhaps...)


3. New shoes
I always feel a bit happier when I wear heels to work - my posture improves and my usual office trudging turns into something of a strut. I'm digging these two tone heels at the moment from Brantano - and they're only £26 so not a guilty purchase, either.


4. Hobby buddies
Hobbies are always more fun with two, I feel, especially new ones. I'm so much more likely to stick to something if I'm doing it with a friend. Matt and I have decided that we're going to make walking our new joint hobby, and I'm actually really excited about planning lovely walks in lovely locations like Dunstable Downs and Hampstead Heath and maybe even further afield. I've even bought myself a Fitbit! It's great to have something to share that will actually improve our lives - right now our only joint hobbies are food and TV, which definitely make things happier for a little bit, but not really any healthier...


5. Read
I'm just coming to the end of Amy Poehler's inspiring book, Yes Please and it's getting me all jazzed up. It's more than just an autobiography, as she offers advice and life lessons. It sounds a little cheesy but it really has hit home with me - especially her chapter about making the most of your life, and not feeling like your life is over once you top 30. It's not! But it does back up everything I've been thinking about treating my body right now, before I get to the point of no return.


6. Dance
I do not dance enough, and it makes me sad, because I love it. I am at a wedding tomorrow night and am overjoyed at the prospect of dancing all night with my favourite people. If you're not 19 any more, don't worry - there are still places out there you can dance without feeling like the oldest person in the place. I prefer to embrace my cheesy inner core with nights like Ultimate Power, Guilty Pleasure or Popstarz - a lovely mixed bag of people, and pleasingly few of them are out on the pull.


7. Watch
I'm terribly guilty of just plonking down in front of the TV and watching E4 and Comedy Central, letting hours pass before I realise I've achieved nothing with my day. I love a bit of TV, but I'm trying to make more effort to watch something good - like a new TV show (The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Better Call Saul are my recent favourites) or an old one I missed (Twin Peaks, The Fall and Luther are on my list). We're trying to make a point of watching classic films, too, and are working our way through Hitchcock's back catalogue at the moment.


~+~ 

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Thai Chilli Beef Salad with Crispy Noodles


A couple of weeks ago we went to Westfield London for the day to partake in a cooking class. Bit random, I know, having a cooking class in the middle of a huge shopping centre, but weirdly it worked. Once we started the class, I was so absorbed in what we were doing that I didn't think about where we were once. I basically had an 'Oh yeah, we're HERE' moment when we left.

The guys at L'atelier des Chefs put on a few days of cooking classes back in Feb, covering everything from burritos to salads. I would have been happy to attend them all, but sadly I wasn't allowed. Also, like, work and life and stuff.

We worked with a chef as a group to make a Thai Chilli Beef Salad, each of the class members taking on a different task, from chopping veg to frying the beef to plunging the rice noodles in hot oil. We had the last job, which was probably the funnest - it's addictive watching the spindly noodles blossom up in the deep fat fryer. Basically, deep fat fryers are super fun. But also not a toy. My lawyers tell me I can't promote them as such any more.

Anyway. Here is the recipe!

Thai Chilli Beef Salad (recipe thanks to L'atelier des Chefs)
200g rump steak
20g shrimp paste
30g palm sugar
3 garlic cloves
0.5 bunches of Thai basil
1 red pepper
2 tbsp peanut oil
1 bunch spring onions
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 red chillis
30g galangal root
2 shallots
4 bok choi cabbages
0.25 brunches of fresh coriander
50g peanuts
2 limes
1 pack rice noodles

Serves 6

1. Wash and slice the bok choi. Slice the red pepper. Pick the coriander leaves.
2. Peel and dice the shallot, galangal and garlic. Remove the seeds from the chilli and finely slice. Finely slice the spring onions.
3. Make a paste by combining the shallot, garlic, chilli, galangal, Thai basil, fish sauce, shrimp paste, palm sugar and a splash of the peanut oil in a food processor or pestle and mortar.


4. Roast the peanuts in a medium hot oven until lightly browned. Bash in a pestle and mortar - keep them quite chunky!
5. A small handful at a time, throw your rice noodles into a deep pan of hot oil or a deep fat fryer until they expand (just a couple of seconds). Remove and put on kitchen paper, and repeat until done.


6. Heat a wok or frying pan until hot and add a splash of peanut oil. Cook the steaks for a minute on each side, remove and allow to rest.


7. Whilst the steak is resting, cook the bok choi and red peppers for a minute or so, just to soften them.
8. Remove the vegetables from the pan and then add the paste to the pan, and cook for 2 minutes. 9. Whilst the paste is cooking, slice the beef and then toss it through the paste.


10. Combine the bok choi, peppers and beef in a large bowl then serve, topped with any remaining sauce, the spring onions, coriander and peanuts. Garnish with a wedge of lime.


Tip from the chef: The paste will keep well if kept in a jar topped with a little oil in the fridge. It's a great base for stir fries.


Thanks for an awesome day! L'atelier des Chefs have tons of other cooking classes - I'm hoping to make a few more in the future. I'd love to do pasta making or bread baking next.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Homeware snippets


It's been a month now since we moved and I'm ashamed to say we still have some unpacked boxes. We set ourselves a target of a month to get totally sorted and we haven't really achieved that. Luckily though, we have a spare bedroom, so all the unsorted stuff can hide in there until we have a spare five minutes to finish sorting it. Turns out? I have a lot of shoes. Like, a lot. I thought I'd finished unpacking them then I found a whole box of shoes I'd forgotten about. But on the plus side, BONUS SHOES! Hooray!

I've been obsessing about homeware for freaking months now, and collecting various bits and bobs, so it's been so nice to start putting it all away and finding a place for it all. There's a little furniture painting we have yet to do - spoiler alert for our exciting Easter weekend plans - but after a couple of trips to Ikea I feel like our flat's become pretty cosy.

The nice people at George at Asda offered me the chance to choose a few bits for my new home, and I jumped at it. Their homeware is seriously lovely and really reasonably priced, too. It was actually a little hard to choose homeware before moving in, but we've found a place for everything. I did get more vases than I could possibly need though, hence buying all the flowers. And so many bowls. Matt keeps putting pennies in them, I need to introduce him to the concept of pot pourri, I feel.

One of my favourite things are the pillows and furry throw, which we have lovingly christened The Pelt. I am basically always cold so am a bit addicted to burrowing underneath it of an evening. And the globe lamp is so unusual - we've set up a bar in our living room and it's ideal. God, we're cool.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Mother's Day chocolates




Hotel Chocolat got in touch recently to ask if I'd like to choose some special chocolates to send my mum for Mother's Day, and I of course said yes. Obviously the main reason was because I like to give my mum nice things, but it didn't hurt that choosing the chocolates involved testing them. It's a hard life, but someone has to do it.

I was sent a few different packs of chocolates to try and they were all incredible. Hotel Chocolat has always been my posh chocs of choice, as the quality is amazing and they have so many different varieties. I tried the Pecan Brownies, the Trillionaire's Shortbreads and the Billionaire's Shortbreads. Those last two sound super similar, but they were actually really different. The Trillionaire's was topped with shortbread and filled with gooey caramel, whereas the Billionaire's was filled with a rich hazelnutty, caramelly ganache. By far my favourite, that one - it was so rich! The Pecan Brownies were lovely too, but they were quite a dark chocolate experience... both the outer coating and the truffle inside, so they were very intense. I like but don't love dark chocolate, so these were my least favourite.


I popped round to my mum's on Friday and she was very happy with her surprise delivery of chocolates! Then today my sister and I finished celebrating Mother's Day by creating a brunch feast for my parents and my granny, with french toast, avocado muffins, smoked salmon, proscuitto, sausages, bagels, pastries and fizz. It was pretty epic.

Happy Mother's Day to all the mummies out there - and enormous, bone crushing hugs to anyone who is missing someone today.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Investing in yourself


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Lately I've been thinking a lot about making resolutions - promises to yourself, if you will. I feel like I need to really invest in myself this year, and I don't necessarily mean just money. Time and energy are just as important.

Cards on the table time - I look awful at the moment. I'm ill all the time. Nothing serious, just colds, mostly, but you know how crappy you feel and look with a cold, right? And I've been getting them monthly since November, which means I was over my last one for about two weeks before I got this one. I'm exhausted all the time too - partly from the colds, but it's also probably causing the colds. My skin isn't great, my hair looks dull and I'm pretty sure the bags under my eyes are visible from space.

I'm also overweight - back to where I was before I started Weight Watchers two years ago, which leaves me with an 'obese' BMI. My diet is awful, I'm drinking a bit too frequently and I don't even enjoy shopping or clothes any more, since I'm cycling through the 5 or 6 dresses that still fit every week as I resent spending money on new ones. Oh, and I permanently ache somewhere at all times. My shoulders, my hips, my knees, my feet - I generally feel like I've been in a fight.

To be completely honest with you, it's freaking me out. I'm 33 this year and so am at kind of a dangerous point. The older you get, the harder it is to bounce back, and I feel like I'm doing myself no favours. Something's got to change.

So this is why I'm thinking about making resolutions, because I don't think I'm going to do anything about it until I write it all down. So here is my list of promises to myself, to truly invest in myself in 2015. We might be three months in, but better late than never, right?


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1. Eat healthy
I don't intend to give up sugar or wheat or anything huge like that, but I know from experience that if I up my intake of fresh fruit and vegetables and control my portion sizes, I'll see results. Losing weight is a result I want - I'm not going to deny it - but when I did this before, the biggest difference is how I felt. I had more energy, was much happier, my skin looked better and I had no more bloating or funny tummies.

2. Get moving
I am not a natural exerciser. I have never been someone who goes for a run or a long walk because I feel like it. I exercise because I HAVE to, because I know it's good for me and because it will help me lose weight, but honestly, if I was one of those natural size 8s, I would probably never exercise. The thing is, though, that once I start exercising, I quite like it - as long as I choose something that I don't hate. Swimming, walking, fun exercise classes like zumba - I need to re-incorporate these into my routine. My constant aching isn't normal, and I think the main reasons for it are my inactiveness and my weight, because honestly, it's not great for my body to be carrying so much extra weight around. Getting moving will help my energy levels too, and they need all the help they can get. I want to start by getting some proper quality walking shoes and then I can begin scheduling in good long walks.

3. Less processed crap
I love to cook, and when I'm on top of things I will have a freezer full of healthy batch cooked meals, packed with vegetables and cooked from scratch. It's just as easy to heat one of these up after work as a ready meal, but they taste better, are more filling and aren't full of processed crap. I want to swap my morning Oatsosimple sachet for just oats, honey and milk, I want to start making my own lunchtime soups and salads instead of buying them, and eventually I want to cut out all the additive filled diet foods (that means you, Diet Coke, my one true love) and focus on the good stuff.


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4. Make more effort
I think I've established that taking care of your insides will reflect on your outside, but until I start seeing those results, I need to focus a bit more on my outside. Being in a relationship has made me quite lazy about my looks - I hardly bother with accessorising any more (haven't worn a belt in like a year) and I actually hate most of my clothes, because all I wear is what fits. I feel like a scruff most of the time, basically, but I know that if I took a little more time on my appearance, I'd feel happier for it. I probably should buy some more clothes, just so I feel a little less bored about what's on my back. I think I need to spend more time on my hair and makeup, make the effort to wear heels more, paint my nails, get my eyebrows done - all that stuff that I used to love (heck, the reasons why I started a fashion blog) and I'll start to feel more me.

5. Skincare routine
My evening skincare routine involves Boots' own brand makeup remover wipes. Ok, that's the entirety of it. It's bad, I know it's bad - I'm probably not removing most of my makeup before I go to sleep, I'm not nourishing my skin and it's probably all contributing to make it look awful (along with my terrible diet). This is a big worry for me. I've always looked young for my age, thanks to oily skin and paleness (all those teenage spots and that inability to tan finally pay off in your thirties, kids), and I'm sure my slightly chubby cheeks help too! But it can't last forever, and lately I'm noticing that my basic concealer doesn't cover my undereye circles for long, and what's more, they're often puffy. I need to dip a toe into the terrifying world of anti-ageing treatments, to restart cleansing, toning and moisturising in the evening, trying out all those beauty blogger standbys like micellar water and serums and whatnot. I also think I need to invest in better makeup - my foundation is amazing, but I think I might need to seek out an industrial strength concealer and an eyeliner that doesn't smudge in thirty seconds.

This feels like quite a shallow post as so much of it focuses on what I look like! But it's really just as much about how I feel as how I look, and writing all this down has really made me think about how much they're impacting on each other. Some of the points make me groan - making more effort means less time in bed, a skincare routine may mean getting to bed even later, sorting out my diet means less pizza and getting active means, well, exercise. But none of it is bad, and I know that I'll actually quite enjoy it once I get into it - and even more so when I see results.

I'd love to know if any of this rings true for you, and any advice would be very much appreciated! Especially on skincare - there really isn't a lot out there on anti-ageing treatments for oily skin!


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Sunday, 1 March 2015

Liquid courage.


This was supposed to be a post about the pretty corners of my new flat, but it turns out that it takes longer than a week and a half to get a flat looking pretty - especially when you're trying to combine two people's things, along with working full time. It's getting there, and this weekend we've really made progress - there are books on the shelves, and more boxes are empty than full.

The thing with getting there is when you're almost there, you discover yet more piles of things. We're lucky enough to have a garage with our flat (which is SO handy) so this afternoon we said 'Hey, let's bring in the last few boxes' and now we have a pile of boxes in our hallway again. Sigh. But when it's all finished, gosh, it'll be good! I'm looking forward to sharing some photos - we have lots of plans and what we have completed is looking good so far.

The opportunity to review a bottle of wine from Roberson Wine couldn't have come at a better time, though. Unpacking gets a bit rubbish after a while, and a large glass of red does take the edge off rather. 7 Rue de la Pompe was a very tasty bottle - the blend of Grenache and Syrah grapes was a bit more acidic than I'm used to, but the sharpness was surprisingly pleasant. Roberson Wine have a huge selection of different bottles, including old and rare wines, and they make a point of selling something a bit different to the shelves of the local supermarket. Don't get me wrong, I love a £5 Cab Sav like I love disco, but it is nice to have something a bit different and unusual every now and then.

I'm hoping to share some more moving updates soon enough - I have so much homeware to write about! But til then, there's always wine. Hooray for wine!