Wednesday, 30 September 2015
We're back from Japan! It's SO good to be home and I made this dinner the evening we got back because I was in serious need of fresh vegetables and English comfort food. I transferred all the photos to my computer and I'm excited to start writing some Japan posts to publish next week!

For now, here's a special post to mark the end of summer. This recipe offers two contradictions to the traditional Sunday roast: 1) that you can have a roast any night of the week, actually and 2) that a roast is strictly autumn/winter fare. In fact, a roast chicken is perfect any time of year and I think this recipe is an ideal way to make a meal of it as summer draws to a close. Plus, it's somewhat speedy enough to make on a weeknight if you get your affairs in order.

What makes a proper 'roast dinner' is up for debate, but for me, a good joint of meat and crunchy roast potatoes are non-negotiable. Here, I've replaced wintery root vegetables for a crisp summer slaw and a spicy corn salad.

I quite often make roast potatoes on a weeknight; they're cheap, tasty and filling and they don't have to take as long as you might think if you follow my quick recipe using small new potatoes.

Pre-heat the oven to 220C and place a large baking tray in the middle shelf while it heats up. Halve the potatoes (I used about a kilogram here), place in a pan of boiling water and cook until you can easily pierce with a fork - about 10 to 15 minutes. Drain and leave in the colander or pan to steam for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, put a few tablespoons of olive oil and a generous pinch of sea salt into the hot baking tray and place back in the oven while the potatoes are drying off in the colander. When the oil is hot, transfer the potatoes to the baking tray and make sure there is enough space for them to spread out without touching (I transferred them to a smaller pan once cooked for serving in the photo above.) Cook for about half an hour, shaking occasionally until crisp and golden.

As this meal is meant to be quick enough to make on a weeknight, you can save time by cooking the chicken and the potatoes in the oven at the same time. If you are doing this, generously slather a whole, medium-sized chicken with olive oil, salt and pepper and place in the oven alongside the potatoes. Immediately turn the oven down to 190C; this will let both the chicken skin and the potatoes crisp up without overcooking the chicken. A medium-sized chicken should take about 1hr30; as the potatoes only took 30 minutes, I served them slightly cool, which makes them almost pop in the mouth as the soft flesh pulls away from the crisp, chewy skin. If you want hot potatoes, you can put them in the oven when the chicken is nearly done, although they may not crisp up as much.

For the sides, anything goes! Homemade slaw is a go-to for quick, weeknight suppers as it makes loads and can be eaten for lunch or the flavours tweaked for dinner the following day.

This slaw contains a small sweetheart cabbage, a red onion, a large carrot, a handful of radishes and a generous helping of coriander. I use half to a tablespoon of mayonnaise for the whole bowl, loosened up a bit with the juice of a lime and dijon mustard for a little kick. I like to add sesame to the leftovers for an Asian twist to eat another day.

For the corn salad, I just microwaved a small bowl of sweetcorn and added a small, finely sliced green chilli, a few drops of tabasco and some shredded coriander.

Here's to the end of summer! Next time I see you, roast chicken, you'll be cosying up to giant roasties, honeyed carrots and parsnips and a whole lotta gravy!

READING LIST: 2 more food memoirs for the hungry reader

Wednesday, 23 September 2015
Food memoirs are still my favourite genre of book; here's two more to add to my food memoirs reading list. If there's anything I love more than a food memoir, it's a travelling food memoir. Both of these books are about a transformative journey of sorts and are amusing, fascinating and, of course, mouth-watering.

Around The World in 80 Dinners  - this book is about a retired couple's journey around the world, from China and South East Asia through to Australia and Brazil. I love reading about places I've been to before and seeing the world through other peoples' eyes, tasting what they ate through their words. Cheryl and Bill Jamison are charming and adventurous and they include a little address book for each of their destinations, which I'm sure I'll be referring to in the future!

Eat, Pray, Eat - Michael Booth is a professional journalist who is totally irreverent and thoroughly British in his sense of humour, which makes this book completely hilarious. Booth is on a journey, both physically and spiritually (even if he doesn't know it yet), and as he travels through India with his family, I loved reading about someone's transformative experience in a way that is still down-to-earth and (painfully) self-aware.

Love reading? Find more of my reading lists here.


Monday, 14 September 2015
I'm in Japan! Darren and I arrived early on Friday morning and I can't quite believe we've only been here 4 days so far...London feels a million miles away.

I lined up a bunch of posts lined for while we are away but they all seem a bit mundane now we are here! We still have nearly 2 weeks left (at the minute we're in Kyoto) so come find me on Instagram for plenty more pictures! 

AIRBNB: at home, away

Monday, 7 September 2015
I've really got into Airbnb lately. I've been a curious bystander for a few years, but this year I've used it on every holiday I've been on - a beautiful apartment right on the piazza in Lucca, a cute studio close to the beach in Barcelona and a bright-looking place in the heart of Tokyo. The other weekend while I was aimlessly browsing, I realised I was using my Airbnb like Pinterest; I don't just use it for choosing where to stay the next time I go away, I scour it for decorating tips, dream home inspiration and to get away from the everyday for a little bit. Have a look at my Wish Lists and see what I mean - as well as the places we've been and the apartments we've used, there are dreamy lofts, incredible views and once-in-a-lifettime stays.


Friday, 4 September 2015

Last week I spent a long weekend in Barcelona with two girlfriends. Barcelona is a beautiful city full of incredible architecture and landmarks, but we had all been before and seen the 'must-see' Segrada Familia, Park Guell, etc. so we gave ourselves permission to just relax, after all enduring pretty stressful summers. We decided to stay in the La Barceloneta neighbourhood, because BEACH. Our three day itinerary worked pretty well, so I thought I would share it here - Barcelona is one of those awesome places where you get the relaxed Mediterranean vibe and the people are super friendly, but there's also a great food scene that goes beyond mass-produced paella and tapas churned out by the boatload. It was really nice to pick some of the beachfront restaurants - which I would often avoid as they're the most touristy - and know that we were getting good food at reasonable prices (we did the whole weekend on the cheap). And THE WINE YOU GUYS. So great. Anyway, here's what we did in La Barceloneta on a budget:

ARRIVE: Catch an early flight and get to La Barceloneta (35 euros taxi from the airport, fyi) by 11am. Can't check into your place yet? Get a couple of jugs of sangria at one of the many bars right on the beach.
LUNCH: Go to Makamaka for cheap burgers, fresh fruit juices (or cocktails) and the best skin-on fries I've ever had. The staff are super-chilled and all speak English.
AFTERNOON: Check in (we stayed in this Airbnb 30 seconds from the beach), change and get straight out onto the beach for the rest of the day.
EVENING: Chill out with some sangria and Pringles in the apartment (or on the beach) before heading to Barraca for dinner. This restaurant, at the end of the strip towards the Olympic park, is on the pricey side (but still really reasonable by London standards) but is beautifully designed with huge windows overlooking the beach, an open kitchen and wishbone chairs. A lot of care and attention has obviously gone into the menu; share paella and fried rockfish (pictured above) stuffed with deep fried garlic and onions. Including wine and service (no dessert), we paid around 30 euros each.

MORNING: Sleep in, you're on holiday! Walk around the marina and into the town centre (about 30 minutes) and head for brunch at Caravelle.
MIDDAY: On the walk back, stop in at Carrefour on Las Ramblas to stock up on supplies; we planned a beach picnic dinner for my friend's birthday that night and all of the sangria, cava, fruit, delicious cured meats and fresh cheese came to around 20 euros. Also pick up a couple of avocados (they are SO much better than anything I've ever had in the UK, and huge) for breakfast the next day.
AFTERNOON: You guessed it...beach!
EVENING: Head down to the beach as the sun is setting - the colours are beautiful and the W Hotel at the far end of the beach reflects all the colours of the sky and looks like shimmering fish scales. Light a few candles, pop the cork and dig into your picnic.

MORNING: Make brunch at the apartment. Those super-fresh avocados made an appearance with some crusty bread, fried eggs and fresh tomatoes.
BEACH: On our third day, we made the beach a major priority for some serious tanning before heading home. If you're going for the whole day, set yourself up with some loungers and a parasol at 8 euros a-piece. Get pizza slices and cans of coke from the little market on the corner for lunch and you don't have to move until sundown.
CITY: If lazing around on the beach isn't really your thing, find the hop on-hop off bus for a full tour of the city for around 15 euros.
EVENING: Find yourself some tapas. El Pacifico does all the classics (calamari, tortilla, chorizo, etc.), plus a few interesting extras like octopus ceviche and La Bomba, a Barceloneta special. We also loved their rose sangria with kiwi and banana. Game-changing.

MORNING: One last breakfast in the apartment! Spend a leisurely morning packing, pop out for coffee and then catch an early afternoon flight to get you home in time for tea.

I honestly can't recommend La Barceloneta enough if you're just looking for somewhere to chill out with great food and good weather. I'm definitely planning to go back! If you're going with girlfriends, put money into a shared kitty and use that to pay for all your meals and shopping; it avoids any tiffs about who has to pay what and takes all the hassle out of splitting bills. For all our meals, taxis, drinks and other little extras we ended up spending 180 euros each (around 45 euros per day); DON'T FORGET to save some euros for the tax-free, Spanish-priced Zara in the airport!


Wednesday, 2 September 2015
I've been in a bit of a baking rut recently, mostly because I don't want to sit around eating cake all day (okay, that's a lie, that's all I want to do but we're off to Japan in a week and I'm preparing to eat all of the ramen), but faced with 18 eggs that need to be eaten by the end of the week, cake seemed like an obvious solution. I've wanted to make olive oil cake for ages and I've really got into grapefruits as I don't have much of a sweet tooth; the rosemary, I added on a whim.

For the cake base, I used this recipe from Food52. I've converted it below into grams because I just think that the American cup-based measurement is a total pain, but if you prefer working in cups then  follow the Food52 recipe and come back to see the adjustments I made. This cake is WEIRD. I've never made anything like it; the batter is super wet and the measurements seem slightly crazy, but stick with it as the result is a beautifully moist, rich cake with a surprisingly fluffy texture. The recipe is designed to make one large cake - using the measurements below I made 15 mini cakes and a small round cake, so it's worth bearing this in mind if you want to halve the mixture.

300g plain flour
350g caster sugar
1tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
300ml olive oil
280ml whole milk
3 large eggs
90ml Cointreau (or other liquor)
90ml grapefruit juice (about half a grapefruit)
1 or 2 grapefruits, cut into segments
Grapefruit zest
1tsp chopped rosemary

Pre-heat the oven to 180C and grease your cake or muffin tins.

Cut the grapefruits in half - reserve one half for juice. Scoop out the remaining flesh and slice into chunky segments. Roast in the oven on a line baking tray for 10 - 15 minutes with a sprinkling of sugar and set aside to cool.

Mix the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder and rosemary in a bowl and set to one side. In a separate bowl, mix together the olive oil, whole milk, eggs, Cointreau, grapefruit juice and zest. Gently whisk until all of the ingredients are combined and pour over the dry mixture in the other bowl. Whisk everything together until combined and lump-free.

Pour the mixture into a greased tin and place in the oven. For small cakes made in a muffin tin, pour the mixture into a jug to make it easier to pour into the small muffin holes, or use a ladle with a spout. Bake for about 5 to 10 minutes and then pop a segment of grapefruit into the top of each small cake, or create a pattern on top of a full-size cake. Return to the oven and bake for the timings below:

For mini cakes, bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean from the centre. For a large cake using the whole mixture, bake for about an hour or until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean from the centre.

If you have smaller tins, you could make two small cakes and sandwich them together with clotted cream (yum). If you use small, round cake tins with half of the mixture each, they will take around 25 - 30 minutes.