Friday, January 31, 2014

Restaurant Review: Chiquito's, Leicester Square

Restaurant name: Chiquito Mexican restaurant and bar

Location: Leicester Square, London

Description: Mexican restaurant chain; the Leicester Square branch is big and noisy with quite cramped tables and such low lighting I had to use the torch app on my phone to read the menu! The restaurant does breakfast and cocktails as well as lunch and dinner.

Reason for visit: We needed a quick dinner after work before seeing a show on Leicester Square; I'd never been to a Chiquito's so it seemed a good opportunity to try the chain.

I ate: We didn't order a starter but were brought a bowl of popcorn flavoured with what I think was cheese; it was unusual but really quite good. I decided for my main course to try a Chimichanga - a tortilla filled with spiced rice, (I asked for it without the Mexican beans), cheese, and shredded chicken, then the whole thing is deep fried. It was served with a generous portion of fries and three dips.

My companion ate: A burger, of course... he never orders anything else!

The food was: Really good -I wasn't expecting to like the popcorn but did, and really wasn't sure about the Chimichanga until I had my first mouthful and decided it had been the right decision.

The atmosphere/service was: The place was busy but we had good service and were able to eat and get out within an hour which we needed to do for the show.

Price range/value for money: Not that cheap - the chimichanga was £11.95 and a BBQ double cheeseburger is £14.95, so it's what I call the Leicester Square effect. Even so the portions are generous and the food very good for a chain restaurant.

Would I recommend it?Yes, aside from the restaurant itself being a bit dark and cramped, I really liked the food.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Restaurant Review: Kensington Creperie

Restaurant name: Kensington Creperie

Location: South Kensington, London

Description: Cafe/restaurant offering both savoury and sweet-filled crepes and ice cream

Reason for visit: I am part of a choir that performs concerts three times a year in some pretty amazing venues, so for the first time in November I sang in the Royal Albert Hall! My parents, my boyfriend and his mum all came to see the concert and I needed to find somewhere we could have a quick dinner after my rehearsal finished at 6 before I needed to be back on stage at 7, so this seemed the best bet.

I ate: A ham and cheese crepe. I got there late and ordered without even looking at the menu as I knew they would have this flavour!

My companions are: Not entirely sure as the others had eaten before I arrived; my mum said she had eaten a chicken and mushroom crepe, which was very nice, and my boyfriend's mum had a salad.

The food was: good - mine was nothing fancy but my mum really liked hers.

The atmosphere/service was: good - the service was very quick and they were happy for me to join the rest of the table late and to add on my order even though they had already calculated the bill. It's a low-key place that is somewhere between a restaurant and a cafe, very close to South Kensington tube.

Price range/value for money: Pretty good - while a lot of the crepes are not made with expensive ingredients, it's definitely good value for money compared to other places around here. And it was a lot cheaper than eating at the Royal Albert Hall!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Meal Planning 2014 - Week 4

I spent quite a bit of time last week going through recipe books and Slimming World magazines to come up with some healthy options, though I have factored in burgers one night as I need a night off from cooking.


Breakfast yogurt

Lunch leftover pasta bake

Dinner Late home after gym: Slimming World Vietnamese chicken and noodle stir fry


Breakfast yogurt or porridge and fruit

Lunch pasta

Dinner Slimming World sticky pork with orange and baby spinach for me; chicken in piri piri breadcrumbs from the local butcher for my boyfriend. Note to self: cook extra pork for tomorrow.


Breakfast yogurt or porridge and fruit

Lunch pork and bbq sauce sandwich

Dinner Home late - after work drinks with my new colleagues from the company I am joining next month. Not sure what time I will get home so I will either get something on the way home or have pasta when I get in.


Breakfast yogurt

Lunch chicken and pesto soft cheese sandwich

Dinner Thai fish curry from Weightwatchers book of recipes p.122 for me (as I need to use up the coconut milk from last week), chicken curry for my boyfriend


Breakfast yogurt

Lunch out with work colleagues for a farewell lunch before I leave the company

Dinner burger and chips for the other half and fish in breadcrumbs for me


Breakfast yogurt

Lunch posh cheese on toast - basically goat's cheese on baguette

Dinner peppered sea bass with saffron mash from Weightwatchers book of recipes p.130 for me and my boyfriend's mum; sausages for him. For dessert: mini Yorkshire curd tarts from Weightwatchers book of recipes p.148 and mini treacle tarts from this recipe


Brunch steak and eggs benedict from Breakfast for Dinner, p.14

Dinner roast chicken

Sunday, January 19, 2014

(Restaurant) Review - Peggy Porschen, Belgravia

Restaurant name: Peggy Porschen Parlour

Location: Ebury Street, Belgravia, London

Description: A sugar-sweet pink tea and cupcake shop serving cakes from Peggy Porschen's bakery. The outside is painted pink and the window displays are beautiful. There are only a handful of tables inside and a few outside as well, so it's worth remembering this is not a big place. The chairs are upright metal so not quite the same as settling down on a plush sofa for afternoon tea - this is not the sort of place you'd sit for hours, more pop in for a piece of cake and a cup of tea. While Belgravia is a fairly posh bit of London but this is only a few minutes walk from Victoria station which is convenient.

Reason for visit: I went to a Christmas market in Elizabeth Street just around the corner in December, with my friend and her five-year-old daughter. She was very keen to go here because it was so pretty and pink and to be honest I felt the same!

We had: Tea and cake. The parlour has a menu of different tea varieties but I'm not sure which one I had, as my friend ordered. I had a black forest cupcake, which was delicious, and her daughter had a lemon and raspberry cupcake, and a pink lemonade.

The atmosphere/service was: It's self service; you order at a counter and carry your tea and cake over to a table. We were lucky to get a table because it's a small place and was so busy due to the Christmas market; the seating wasn't the most comfortable so didn't make me want to linger, but everything else about the parlour did. There are display copies of Peggy's recipe books on shelves along the wall so you can flick through while you are waiting, and you can also buy some cake decorating equipment while you are there.

Would I recommend it? Yes, this is a lovely little place and the cakes are amazing.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Indian Vegetable Curry

I made this vegetable curry for dinner on New Year's Day as I thought it would be a nice healthy start to the year (and I was cooking for my boyfriend's mum, who is vegetarian). The recipe comes from a book I picked up in the charity shop called The Creative Vegetarian Cookbook. I was surprised that the title was so generic, as curries are so popular these days they are always named after the region or have a proper name like bhuna, tikka masala etc, rather than just "Indian curry". I didn't think the book was that old even when I saw the publication date was 1996, until I remembered I was still at school that year and it was 18 years ago! So maybe the name can be excused.... in any case it was a very tasty dish. I haven't come across the use of milk in a curry before either - these days you are much more likely to see coconut milk, but if you use skimmed milk instead of coconut milk it's a good way of reducing the fat in a curry.

To serve 4, you need:

2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp mustard seeds

4 tsp coriander seeds

1/2 tsp chilli powder

1 tsp grated ginger

1 tsp black peppercorns

1 onion, finely choppped

half a pint of milk

oil for frying

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

400g tin of tomatoes

1 tbsp tomato puree

2 tsp brown sugar

1 vegetable stock cube dissolved in a little boiling water

vegetables: the suggestions in the recipe book were mushrooms, cauliflower, carrots, potatoes and okra, but I used cauliflower, butternut squash, red pepper and green beans.

2 tbsp fat free plain yogurt (not in the recipe; my own addition)

The recipe actually begins by telling you to grind the spices together to make a powder but since I didn't have cumin, mustard or coriander seeds I just used the ground spices in the first place. Fry the chopped onions in a large pan, add the spices, ginger and peppercorns and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring.

Add the milk and vinegar - the vinegar will make the milk look like it's split but the curry turned out fine.

Add tomatoes, tomato puree, sugar and stock. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for up to one hour - though I thought mine was thick enough after half an hour.

I par-boiled my butternut squash chunks and cauliflower florets and added them along with green beans and red pepper to the curry.

Simmer until the vegetables are cooked and thoroughly combined with the sauce.

I added a couple of tablespoons of low fat plain yogurt to make the curry creamier just before serving.

I served the curry in a large glass bowl so my guests could help themselves; I also had bowls of rice, naan bread and poppadoms on the table. It was a real Indian feast!

I'm sending this to the One Ingredient Challenge, hosted by Nazima at Franglais Kitchen, and Laura at How To Cook Good Food, as the theme for January is "healthy".

Similarly the theme for Four Seasons Food this month is "virtuous". The challenge is hosted by Louisa at Eat Your Veg and Anneli at Delicieux.

I am also sending this to Simply Food's Let's Cook... with green vegetables as there are green beans in this curry, you could also add broccoli or any other green veg.

Helen at Fuss Free Flavours is challenging us this month to include an extra portion of veg. This vegetable curry gives you several of your five a day, but if it's something you already make, how about adding one extra type of veg to normal?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Broccoli, Courgette and Stilton Soup

I'm trying to eat more veg this month, and I also wanted to use up some cheese from Christmas, so I decided broccoli and stilton soup would be a great idea. I am a pretty fussy eater and don't like a lot of veg, so had an idea of sneaking some hidden veg... into my own food! My theory was that if I couldn't see it, and hopefully couldn't taste it, I wouldn't mind eating it. Courgette (zucchini) seemed a good option!

I can only give rough quantities for this recipe as it depends how thick you like your soup. To serve 3/4 you need:

1 head broccoli

about 100g stilton or 6 Laughing Cow Light blue cheese triangles

about 1 pint vegetable stock

half a courgette (zucchini)

salt, pepper

crispy bacon pieces to serve (optional)

Chop the broccoli into florets

And slice the courgette

You can either use leftover Stilton...

... or if you want to make this soup low fat and Slimming World friendly, use Laughing Cow Light Blue Cheese.

Bring the vegetable stock to the boil in a pan and simmer the broccoli and courgette until tender. Add the cheese and stir until melted.

Blend to a smooth soup either using a hand blender in the saucepan or by transferring the soup to a standalone blender.

I had some leftover bits of crispy bacon I decided to serve on top of the soup, the different texture and taste complemented the flavour of the soup really well.

Most importantly, I couldn't taste the courgette - so I successfully squeezed an extra portion of veg into this meal. The soup lasted me three days and I took it into work for lunch so it was both healthy and thrifty, which is a great combination for January!

First I am sending this to Family Foodies, the blog challenge hosted by Vanesther at Bangers and Mash and Louisa at Eat Your Veg, as the theme this month is hidden goodies (that is, hidden fruit and veg).

The theme for this month's No Croutons Required, hosted by Lisa's Kitchen and Jacqueline at Tinned Tomatoes, is a vegetarian soup or salad. Obviously if you were making this for vegetarians, leave off the bacon! You should also check that the cheese is made with rennet that does not come from animals and is suitable for vegetarians.

Louisa at Eat Your Veg is also hosting the Four Seasons Food challenge along with Anneli at Delicieux, and they are looking for virtuous recipes this month, so I think my vegetable soup - with extra hidden veg - is a good example.

On a similar note, Helen at Fuss Free Flavours and Michelle at Utterly Scrummy are hosting a new challenge, Extra Veg. They want to encourage us to eat an extra portion of vegetables whenever we can - so while this broccoli soup alone would count, I've also added the extra portion of veg with the hidden courgette.

January's Feel Good Food challenge, hosted by A Kick at the Pantry Door, is tasty and inexpensive. You can use vegetables that are a little past their best in this soup, and it's a good way to use up leftover cheese (eg from Christmas) so this is a pretty frugal recipe.

I'm not done yet... January's Cheese Please challenge, hosted by Fromage Homage, is comfort food and winter warmers. Soup is a lovely winter warmer and since I've used stilton I am sending this over.

Simply Food is hosting the event Let's Cook with Green Vegetables, and since it has to be a vegetarian recipe, you'll need to leave out the bacon and check your cheese is vegetarian.

And finally I am sending this to Turquoise Lemons' No Waste Food Challenge as you can use leftover veg and the cheese was hanging around from Christmas.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Restaurant Review - Cafe Rouge, Epsom

Restaurant name: Cafe Rouge

Location: High Street, Epsom

Description: Mid-priced French restaurant chain

Reason for visit: We went to the cinema to see the Hunger Games, and didn't have much time before the film started. When that is the case, we often go to Pizza Hut on the high street, so I was very surprised to find it had closed down, apparently due to lack of business! Cafe Rouge was a little further along the road and it had been a long time since we'd been to one.

I ate: Burger and fries, £10.95

My companion ate: The same

The food was: The burger was quite thin, and we weren't asked how we wanted it cooked which was surprising for a French restaurant that specializes in steak. The toasted brioche bun was a nice change but overall I've definitely had better burgers.

The atmosphere/service was: Nice, the restaurant was decorated for Christmas and it was very cosy - perhaps a little too cosy as the tables were very close together. It was hard to squeeze into my seat and we could hear the conversation at the next table!

Price range/value for money: Reasonable but I've had better burgers at this price.

Would I recommend it? Yes, it's nice once in a while as there are some good options on the menu if you like French food and from what I remember the steaks are pretty good.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Floating Islands

Contestants on this year's Great British Bake Off were asked to make floating islands, a recipe I recently came across in the Macmillan Little Book of Treats. The charity cookbook features recipes from a selection of celebrities, some chefs and some TV personalities, as well as a handful of amateur food bloggers - including me!

Dolly Parton submitted a recipe called Floating Islands in the Stream (get it?) and I decided to try making it. This particular version is served in a chocolate custard. The recipe also gives instructions to make a chocolate sauce to drizzle over the top but I decided against making that due to lack of time.

To serve 6, you need:

For the chocolate custard:

4 egg yolks

150g caster sugar

pinch of salt

500ml milk

60ml double cream

125g dark chocolate, melted

2 tsp vanilla flavouring

meringue islands:

4 egg whites

170g caster sugar

Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and salt for the chocolate custard until creamy - I used my KitchenAid to do the job.

Next, stir in the milk and cream.

Cook in a saucepan over a low heat for 5-8 minutes, stirring constantly until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Stir in the melted chocolate and vanilla and put in a bowl in the fridge for half an hour.

To make the meringue, beat the egg whites until stiff then beat in the sugar. At the same time, bring a large pan of water to simmering point. I found it easiest to do this in a deep frying pan; the water doesn't need to be deep but you need a lot of surface space.

This is the tricky bit that some of the contestants in the Great British Bake Off struggled with, and I can see why! Using a large spoon, scoop up the meringue in an egg shape (or as much as you can manage) and gently slide into the simmering water. Poach the meringues for two minutes on each side then remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.

Take the custard from the fridge and pour into pudding bowls - fairly large, flattish bowls are good for this. Place a couple of the islands on top so they float in the stream.

Personally I find custard quite difficult to make and today was no exception, and it is hard to get the meringue into the pan of water without them falling apart - though they did poach nicely when they were in the water! This is quite a fiddly dessert and not a particular favourite so I'm not sure I'd bother making it again. I'd be interested to know if anyone makes this regularly!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Restaurant Review: Nando's, Whitechapel, London

Restaurant name: Nando's

Location: Mile End Road, Whitechapel, London

Description: Chain of South African restaurants serving chicken and chicken burgers

Reason for visit: Lunch during a team building day with work colleagues - we were gardening at a children's centre and went for lunch nearby.

I ate: chicken breast fillet burger in the lime and herb marinade (I don't really like spicy food) with a slice of halloumi and fries

My companions ate: Most people had burgers but several of them went for the extra hot marinade, which my boss likes so much that I took him a bottle when he moved back to America and I went to visit our office there! We also had one vegetarian in the group who had a beanie burger; there is more than one veggie option which is good.

The food was: The chicken is good quality and tasty and the baps are 'proper' bread. I'm not sure I would bother having the halloumi with the chicken burger again though as it's quite salty and doesn't melt.

The atmosphere/service was: This is a causal, low-key restaurant that was friendly and not too busy

Price range/value for money: It depends if you class this as fast food or not; it's more expensive than a McChicken sandwich but good value as a restaurant.

Would I recommend it? I like Nando's, but not as much as a lot of my friends - I don't really understand why some people rave about it. The menu is relatively limited but if I did want a good chicken burger this is where I would go.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Slimming World Spicy Chicken Burger

This recipe is from a Slimming World magazine; my boyfriend loves chicken burgers so I thought I would try to make my own so it would be as healthy as possible. This turned out really well and he was very impressed!

To serve 2, you need:

2 chicken breasts

1 tsp curry powder

half a carrot, grated

bread rolls to serve

Chop the chicken in a food processor until you have mince

Grate the carrot and mix in, along with the curry powder.

Shape into patties and grill or oven cook for about 15 mins

I cut into one to check it was cooked; the curry powder gives the burgers a pink colour so it's hard to tell from the outside when they are ready.

Serve in a bread roll, and enjoy!

I'd already written this post when I saw that Helen at Fuss Free Flavours and Michelle at Utterly Scrummy have come up with a great blog challenge- Extra Veg. The idea is to include an extra portion of veg in any recipe or meal - so these burgers with their hidden grated carrot are perfect (and you can't taste the carrot, I promise!).