For the summer I’ll be working as a food blogger to represent universities in Glasgow for the Co-op. The first instalment of this collaboration was to celebrate the end of university with food, friends and booze. Because we’ve been blessed with such good weather (God, that sounds like it’s straight out of The Handmaid’s Tale), I decided to do this alfresco. Sadly for me, and my fellow postgraduates, our studies technically do not finish until September, with the submission of our monster dissertation. So here’s me pretending to be a graduate again, without a care in the world, laying in the beech in my bikini, sipping beer and munching on Co-op picnic deals. When in reality my predicament aligns a little more with Dustin Hoffman…
I took my two brilliant vegan friends to the beach for the day, to capitalise on the Co-op’s 3-for-2 party food bargains, including a merry amount of hummus and olives. This was the result…
We had smoked tofu, with torn sourdough bread, copious amounts of hummus and all the essential salad bits. I love mixing my salads up a bit by adding fresh, juicy strawberries with basil. Sadly Co-op guccamole is not vegan, and this was only a discovery made after its consumption. Shockingly though, their custard (and jam) donuts are though, and were a rather delicious sweet end to it all…
This year I’m lucky to have a wild rosemary bush growing in my garden, and though I knew wanted to make orange brownies, I wanted to add something that would make the flavour more experimental. After once sampling a stilton brownie at a food festival, I thought a little rosemary wouldn’t be overly adventurous. Next time I would like to bake with lemon and basil – but I’m unsure the brownie base would suit – fortunately, it does for this.
Orange, rosemary and dark chocolate browniesvegetarian; makes approximately 10 portions
50g brown sugar
2 small sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 tsp cinnamon
150g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
175g butter for baking
275g caster sugar
130g plain flour
2 large free-range eggs
1 tbsp cocoa powder
Begin by making a sugar syrup for the crystallised orange slices which will embellish the brownies. To do this, dissolve the brown sugar in water on the hob over a medium heat. Bring to the boil and stir until all the sugar is dissolved. Reduce to a low heat, and a slices of 1 whole orange, cinnamon and sprig of rosemary. Leave to crystallise for approximately 7 minutes on each side. Remove the slices from the pan and place on kitchen roll, and then in the fridge to set whilst making the brownie batter.
Preheat the oven to 17o°C. Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl of a saucepan of simmering water (be sure not to let the base of the bowl touch the water). Stir occasionally until melted and incorporated.
Remove from the hear. Add the sugar and mix in well, followed by the flour and the cocoa powder. Stir in the eggs. Grate the zest of the second orange, and pop in with a handful rosemary trimmings, and stir into the brownie mix.
Spoon the mixture into a prepared baking tray with baking parchment. I used a square tin (23cm x 23cm x 5cm) for mine. Partially bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, the remove from the oven and add the crystallised orange slices. Place back in the oven and bake for a further 20 minutes. Leave to cool completely before removing before removing from the tray.
I completely failed to blog the festive hype; I was exhausted in the lead up to Christmas and by the time I felt recovered I was celebrating at my family home – and my parents have an oven that can only be set to one temperature (180°C) and one operating hob that actually ignites out of six – if you’re reading this mum and dad, this is a plea to invest in a new cooker. I’ll cook you nice things in thanks.
My exhaustion was probably a remnant of the utter shambles 2016 has been – politically, not personally – on a global widespread scale. We’ve lost many heroes: David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, to name a few. We’ve been defeated by a scare-mongering racist campaign dubbed “Brexit” enacted by the Tories and UKIP. And a clueless bigot named Donald Trump has gained the title of the most powerful man in the world, though with no appropriate credentials apart his privileges as a white male and the luck that he was born into excessive wealth. To ease us into 2017, to cushion us from the triggering of Article 50 and when Trump takes over presidential office, comfort cooking is surely the way forward.
I blame the political turmoil of 2016 for why I didn’t cook AT ALL over the Christmas period. With special thanks to my lovely mum for buying me the M&S butternut squash and pecan nut roast for Christmas dinner to compensate. The cat Christmas crackers from Paperchase were also amazing.
My cat Sancho sniffing out the crackers
I did, however, manage to squeeze in a little creativity over the holidays. For presents I made loved ones personalised baubles for their trees, featuring my favourite photos of them, with added jewels and sparkles.
One for my mum…
And one for my boyfriend.
I also went on festive film photography trips at Knole Park, a National Trust deer park, which is luckily only two miles from my house.
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So this blog post is more concerned with post-christmas blues, my apprehensions and intense excitement for the New Year. Thus far, I’ve had to throw away my chilli plant, and I’ve managed to buy a calendar (in the sale, it pays to be disorganised) and I’ve made it back to my kitchen in Exeter in one piece.
A few things I would like to achieve this year:
Write short fiction
Write blog posts with greater sentimental value
Pick up the paint brush again
More pressing concerns:
Obtain a graduate job
Pay off that hefty student loan
In terms of this blog, I intend to combine my burgeoning predilection for art history alongside food journalism. So watch this space…
Mango and Asian mushrooms teriyaki sobavegan; serves 2
don’t be skeptical of the combination of shiitake, enoki and oyster with ripe, juicy mango
300g Asian mushrooms (I’ve used shiitake, enoki, and oyster)
1/2 large fresh mango, chopped into cubes
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame seed oil
1 tbsp curry powder
2 bundles of soba noodles (approximately 180g)
In a frying pan, heat a little vegetable oil on a medium heat and sauté the mushrooms for 2 minutes.
Boil a pan of water and cook the soba noodles.
Whilst the noodles are cooking, combine the dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, sesame seed oil, garlic and curry powder. Pour onto the sautéing mushrooms, and add the chopped mango. Fry for a further minute.
Serve up piping hot, and with sriracha sauce, if an extra kick is needed.
Porridge is a gentrified phenomenon that has become a hipster trend in the past twelve months or so. And I’m so on board with it, because I’ve been fuelling on the gruel since before it was cool. As a child I strangely always associated the grain with cartoon adaptations of Dickensian inmates in Victorian England, as unappealing gruel sloped into bowls, eaten for the sake of energy and calorie intake. It has been a staple food throughout history, typically associated and eaten largely by peasantry; now it has been transformed and consumed at brunch by hipster Londoners in Neals Yard and Brick Lane. There’s something a bit wrong with purchasing a bowl of porridge at £6.50, for the sake of Instagram. I’m guilty here. A 1kg Tesco’s own bag of porridge oats will cost you 99 pence, containing on average 25 servings, as cheap as rice. The packaging even suggests to cook with water, not milk. Firstly, who does this? You shouldn’t. But imagine how inexpensive breakfasts would be if you were to. The packaging advises for a more “indulgent” and “creamy” texture, use milk in replacement. Secondly, take up that suggestion and ALWAYS use milk. Allow yourself that “indulgence”.
Once I taught myself breakfast was brilliant, and the foundation for a positive day (it’s now my favourite meal of the day in fact, because a fresh day promises so much) porridge became an addictive strategic routine. I had an awfully disruptive first year at university, in which I moved halls of residence accommodation twice, living in a total of three different flats across the academic year. During the first few months I had no home, no space to call my own, no actual flat mates, and most importantly, no supply of porridge oats. My appetite and diet went array, and consequently I felt immensely lost due to my askew concentration. I distinctively remember one day when I was physically moving my belongings from my old halls to my new final room, that by the end of the day I had eaten a single yoghurt. This was a clear indication that I was not healthy, caring for myself, or showing myself any self-love. It didn’t get much better when I settled in; I lived off peanut butter and jam on toast for breakfast and dinner, and lunch was just not a plausible nor a convenient thing. From the sight of my food blog, my recipes and my extensive supply of bizarre and unnecessary ingredients such as carob syrup and rose water, you would not imagine that buttering toast used to be an ordeal in itself. Of course, I would not have thought to have document the dreariness of my toast dinners on Instagram – and this is why social media is so lethal: it represents the beatific aspects of existence, censoring and ignoring the unplanned and miserable occurrences in the everyday. I always loved cooking before university, and I’m glad I’ve managed to retain and rekindle that passion. And of course, I am lax with cooking sometimes – I don’t eat like an aspiring food writer everyday – and I always take a detour on my way home from a drunken night out to the kebab shop to get cheesy chips, with its copious amounts of plastic, grated cheese that almost certainly isn’t cheese.
Back to porridge. My most vivid memory of porridge is from first year at university, on a day when I had eaten very little, due to lack of food supplies, and by evening I felt very weak. I went to visit my friend in his flat, who noticed my tiredness and lethargy, and asked me what I eaten that day. When I couldn’t recall, he left me to rest, and returned with a big steaming bowl of porridge, an extremely creamy one – made with whole milk – and generous dollops of strawberry jam. It was the greatest thing I could ever have been given: a cure to my severe unhappiness at eighteen years old. It was a signifier of hope and sustenance, ensuring that the best things were yet to come, and deterring me from giving up on my degree course.
That life-altering meal was made from Everyday Value porridge oats, whole milk and 29p strawberry jam. Don’t tell the chef I told you so but the proportional quantities were terrible, it was stodgy and it was over-microwaved, but it tasted divine because of what it represented.
Stirring porridge always evokes a very personal and meaningful nostalgia within me. The process reminds me I deserve to be nourished and it has since fuelled much happier, more productive and stimulating days. It also reminds me of my Dad. When I lived at home, I would wake up every morning to a scraped out saucepan which was hours earlier filled with rollicking porridge, abandoned on the hob in the kitchen, for the house fairy to clean up (my poor mother). We’ve never owned a microwave due to my dad’s stubborn fear of the machines as unnatural and cancerous, so porridge has always been cooked on the hob – and that’s the way it should be – the texture of the porridge is not the same when cooked in the microwave. My dad would leave at 5.30am every morning to get to work, thankfully on a stomach content from a bowl of slow-releasing porridge. Thank you dad for working hard.
So here’s two porridge recipes I eat rarely due to time and effort but when I do with it gives me great pleasure:
Measure 50g of porridge oats with 250ml milk, and pour into a saucepan, add the frozen blueberries, raisins, and dried lavender. Cook over a medium heat on the hob, stirring continuously for 3 minutes. The frozen blueberries will give the porridge a beautiful lilac colour.
Once a thick and creamy consistency, and heated through, pour into a bowl. Dollop on cold lemon curd, lemon zest and sprinkle on poppy seeds. Eat immediately, but not before taking a photo for Instagram and pretending you have your life entirely together.
Cypriot porridge: figs, carob syrup and cacao nibsvegetarian; serves 1
50g rolled porridge oats
250ml semi-skimmed milk, or a soya alternative
1 fig, quartered
1 tsp carob syrup, to serve
1 tbsp cacao nibs, to serve
Measure 50g porridge oats with 250ml milk, pour into a saucepan and cook over a medium heat on the hob, stirring continuously for 3 minutes.
Once cooked, like above, remove from the heat, pour into a bowl and assemble. Add the sliced fig, drizzle on carob syrup and sprinkle over cacao nibs.
My first impressions of The Oddfellows are from comedy and cocktail nights in the upstairs speakeasy; the vintage interior offers sophisticated quirks and charms that are a luxury for students, and the vast array of spirits and ales are incredibly exciting. The cocktails are an absolute delight – these experimental and delicious concoctions are overshadowed by popular and inexpensive cocktail bars in the city, attracting students from the deep, dark depths of their deadlines. If you’re in need of a cosy space for an uninterrupted first date, then students, leave the sugary, syrupy cocktail pitchers at Firehouse and head across the road to The Oddfellows. If conversation is sparse you can discuss the eccentric decor, like the giant pine cone chairs, or the animal heads hanging from the walls.
Sometimes I just hate breaking the news that I’m vegetarian to the restaurant owners overseeing my reviews, particularly after first-glance at a lavish meat feast of a menu consisting of duck breast, black pudding mousse, chorizo couqettes…the chefs certainly know how to curate a menu according to season. So when my lovely server, Ryan, recommended the last of the venison on today’s specials board I didn’t want to announce “I’m afraid we’re (referring to my lucky reviewee partner and myself) vegetarian”. And that’s made awkward more so by the fact that the only vegetarian main on the menu was a risotto, albeit a luxurious, al dente, creamy risotto. Although, I do prefer it when a menu is composed of a few extensively and passionately designed dishes. Situated on a table with full view of the happenings of the kitchen, the solo chef on this Monday evening knew his way round the elaborate yet tempting menu, juggling the orders for hungry diners.
The dish that deserves the spotlight from this three course is surprisingly a simplistic vegetarian starter, which merely thinking about is making my mouth water. On paper, it’s rather unexciting: Goats cheese mousse, quince purée, and butternut squash. This restaurantcertainly loves its mousses and purées. The goats cheese mousse melted in the mouth – it wasn’t overpowering or too rich like you’d expect it to be but was the perfect, soft accompaniment to the crunchiness of the butternut squash – which there were only three cubes of – a tad ungenerous, if not to emphasise the mousse as centerpiece.
An additional vegetarian starter on the specials board also caught my eye: salad of roasted heart of artichoke, giant caramelized shallots, served with a concentrated spinach and basil dressing, and a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds. This was a wholesome and more filling starter compared to the first. But starters aren’t meant to fill you up, they’re there to whet your appetite for the next courses, and the goats cheese mousse was incredibly exciting, making me anticipate the what would come next.
Up next was unfortunately the only vegetarian main up for grabs: creamy roasted cauliflower risotto with truffle oil. It didn’t disappoint in taste and appearance however; the charred cauliflower with truffle oil against the luxurious base of al dente (cooked to perfection in my books) risotto rice really worked. If you prefer less rich, less creamy risotto then this may not be for you – it’s truly indulgent.
I’ve never had parfait before, so the dessert was an appealing excuse to try it I’m also a sucker for all the components of this dessert: peanut butter, caramelized banana and salted caramel sauce. I thoroughly enjoyed the way this was assembled, rather than merely plated; it was similar to the artistic arrangement of the winning starter.
On average starters and desserts were priced at £5.50, and mains ranging from £13 to £19, so it’s a student treat, or somewhere to take when the parents visit for graduation perhaps. I would definitely go again if the options for vegetarians were increased and more varied, there’s much more scope for experimentation in the non-meat dishes. Otherwise I’ll just have to order three of the goats cheese mousse starter.
Upon entering Truffles Pizzeria, the air was pungent with the luxurious smell and quality of truffle oil – as one of my favourite cooking ingredients, this was a good indication of what was to come.
Opened as a pizzeria only a year ago, amongst the dainty throng of local independents on Magdalen Road, business seems to be prosperous. Even on a Wednesday evening, tables were occupied or reserved; popular with local families, companionless individuals perhaps in need of a restful meal and some quality time to themselves, young 30-something couples and people popping in for a hump-day takeaway order. All students tend to migrate towards The Old Firehouse when pizza is fancied, but I recommend this restaurant for a more relaxed, intimate atmosphere, and for a greater selection of elaborate toppings.
Truffles Pizzeria is sadly lacking in a website and an accessible menu online, so I couldn’t do my favourite, unspontaneous habit and peruse the menu and decide what I was going to have beforehand. But its TripAdvisor profile, rating it #24 in the whole of Exeter, and at a stable 5 stars from over 100 happy customers, reassured my qualms concerning the menu. I can vouch that the pizza menu is extensive, for vegetarians and meat eaters alike, featuring experimental toppings like blue cheese, honey and walnut (without a tomato base) to the classic pepperoni. Pizzas are priced at approximately £11.50 each.
Typically I’d go for the most experimental, i.e. the blue cheese, honey and walnut combo, but I’ve seem to be recreating these same flavours again and again for my own recipes (like my pear and stilton flatbreads) because blue cheese and walnut are the recipe for a perfect marriage. On this occasion my reviewee date and I went for ‘The Autumn’, to enjoy the current seasonal flavours, and ‘The Vegetarian’. ‘The Autumn’ is apt for those with luxurious and expensive tastebuds as it was laden with mushrooms, pine nuts and truffle oil. The flavourful ‘Vegetarian’ option featured tender artichokes, sun dried tomatoes, green and black olives and caramelised onion. Both were a real treat, but ‘The Autumn’ was particularly distinct in flavour due to the drizzling of truffle oil and the abundance of toasted pine nuts.
The owner Chris is cheerful and welcoming, and the way he runs the restaurant truly reminds me of No 1 Polsloe’s style, as it has a lovely, personal touch which comes with independent businesses. For example, Chris recently invited in local primary school children to propose their own perfect pizzas, and the winning design made its way onto the menu. The walls are decorated with exceptional prints and drawings by local secondary school students, too.
I apologise that my photos aren’t up to my usual standard as the restaurant was romantically lit by candlelit, so the pictures do not do the pizzas justice. I would encourage you to try out Truffles whilst you have the chance before entering graduate life; it’s a perfect location for a cosy date. Alternatively, you can experience the pizza in the comfort of your own home with Deliveroo…
The most recent newcomer to have opened in Queen Street is Lebanese cuisine specialists Comptoir Libanais.
The recent £12 million redevelopment of the old Guildhall Shopping area into a stylish restaurant quarter has seen the likes of Turtle Bay, Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Absurd Bird – and if Carribean or generous portions of American comfort food is not your cup of tea – Comptoir Libanais offers healthier mezes designed for messy sharing. I’m particularly happy that such a restaurant has been opened in Exeter; it accommodates many dietary requirements – the vegan, halloumi lover and the avid meat eater won’t be disappointed. I imagine it will become a perfect dining hotspot for hosting student birthday celebrations.
I was over the moon to be invited for a press review to the latest restaurant to open in Queen street. It had been running for two weeks when I arrived, since the 1st October, and I thought it would be interesting to see how the service was coping with its successful demand – every time I’d nipped in to check out the beautiful gifts for sale, the restaurant was bustling and the queue for tables backed through the door and into the street.
Let’s get the awkward part over with and talk about the review allowance. The press pass granted me a meal for two, which included: 1 mezze to share, 2 mains, 2 deserts and 1 bottle of wine/a cocktail each/2 beers each. Okay. So we’re not going to go home hungry – the meze sharing platters could easily suffice as a main between two guests – but as a student eagerly awaiting a January student loan instalment, I’m not one to complain about free food.
We shared a gorgeous showstopper Mezze Platter to start. The generous Middle Eastern spread boasted baba ghanuj, hummus, tabbouleh, falafel, lentil salad, halloumi, alien-coloured pickles and pitta bread. The smokey baba ghanuj topped with pomegranate seeds and drizzled with oil was the clear winner on this plate; sometimes the aubergine can be bitter in baba ghanuj if its over done or not perfectly ripe, but I could eat this version by the shovelful. In my opinion, the halloumi was disappointing for a cuisine famous for this beautiful cheese; it was cold and a little stiff and you could tell that it had been sitting around for awhile. Comptoir Libanais clearly assemble their platters by demand, after having the components cooked and waiting around since opening – luckily this does not affect the delicious and fresh-tasting tabbouleh and lentil salad.
For main I ordered an aubergine tagine which came in a rich tomato and chickpea sauce garnished with a mint yoghurt dip, and served with heaps of couscous. The overall flavour of the dish was tasty, however the aubergine could have been a more of a substantial feature because it had largely disintegrated leaving behind a tomato and chickpea sauce. My reviewee date ordered a “Chef special” halloumi tortilla, which was not truly that special. It was served cold, the halloumi was no where to be seen, and the salad was insubstantial.
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Then the meal was revived by a trio of deserts. We had a plateful of baklava, halva and roasted pistachio ice cream, and mouhalabia. I absolutely adored the mouhalabia – which is a traditional Lebanese milk pudding flavoured with rose syrup and topped with toasted pistachios. It’s a little like a Middle Eastern, vegetarian version of the panna cotta, which is brought alive by rose water. From what I sampled of the cocktail menu, it seems the restaurant have mastered some amazing flavours. I had the Roomana vodka sour, featuring pomegranate juice, vodka, lemon juice and rose syrup. It was all but too easy to drink, and its smoothness wasn’t ruined by the substantial amount of vodka.
Now you Devonshire foodies shouldn’t be fooled – the menu and interior assumes an air of authentic dining experience, but it is sadly another chain addition to Queen Street. Comptoir Libanais has thirteen restaurants currently open, majorly in London, and has plans to expand across the country, particularly the South West. I would go back again, but I hope its current popularity in Exeter will draw attention to the hidden Middle Eastern gems. The New Horizon on Longbrook street may not have the glamorous exterior of Comptoir Libanais, but the dishes the singular owner creates taste sensational. Furthermore, The Dinosaur café’s mezzes and more could take a chain like Comptoir Libanais from under the carpet if only it had more recognition than a family run business.
Baby aubergine, date and tamarind curryvegan; serves 2
I tried a date and tamarind chutney and just could not get the flavours out of my mind, so I tried to capture it in this curry
4 baby aubergines
1 medium brown onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
1 thumb sized piece of fresh ginger, grated
1 tbsp turmeric
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp garam masala
5 bay leaves
1 fresh chilli
2 tbsp tamarind paste
1 tin plum tomatoes
10 medjool dates
100g lentils of your choice (I’ve used green and red)
Handful of fresh coriander, chopped
Pre-heat the oven to 160°C, and pop the baby aubergines onto a baking tray and drizzle a little olive oil over them. Bake them for 30 minutes.
Heat a tbsp of vegetable oil in a saucepan and cook the onion, garlic and ginger for 5 minutes, or until browned. Add the fabulous spices -turmeric, cumin, garam masala and bay leaves – and cook for a further minute.
Stir in the chilli, tamarind paste, plum tomatoes and medjool dates. Add the lentils – and water down if necessary. Add fresh coriander at the last few minutes.
Serve once the lentils are well cooked, and the aubergine soft and juicy all the way through.
paneer is a fresh, unsalted white cheese – it requires no ageing so it can be made in no time at home. It’s a staple vegetarian Indian ingredient which holds its form well and is flavoured beautifully with turmeric and garam masala.
Saag paneervegetarian & gluten free; serves 4
For the paneer:
1.5 litres whole milk
1 lemon, juiced
For the saag:
1 medium sized brown onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp cumin seeds
5cm of fresh ginger
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp turmeric
2 vine tomatoes
2 heaped tbsp coconut cream
Salt and pepper
In preparation for the paneer, line a sieve with a large piece of muslin cloth over a bowl.
In a heavy based saucepan, bring the whole milk to the boil and then leave to simmer on a low heat.
Stir the simmering milk continuously with a wooden spoon while dropping in the lemon juice in a tablespoon at a time. Continue stirring until the curds and whey separate.
Take off the heat and carefully pour into the sieve, so that the curds gather in the muslin. Gently rinse under cold running water. Squeeze the curd bundle to remove any excess moisture.
Place the bundle back in the sieve, over the bowl, and place a 1kg weight on the cheese. Leave in the fridge for at least an hour to set.
Once firmed, cut the cheese into 2cm chunks. Fry on a medium heat in chilli infused oil (if to hand) for 5 minutes. Add more oil if necessary, and ensure that the cheese retains its shape by only stirring occasionally. Remove from the pan and leave on kitchen roll whilst you cook the saag.
In the same pan, add the chopped onion with cumin seeds and cook on a low to medium heat until softened. Stir in the crushed garlic, peeled and chopped ginger, garam masala and turmeric. Then add finely chopped tomatoes and cook for a further 8 minutes.
Lower the heat, add the coconut cream and the spinach and cover with a lid to wilt the spinach. Add a splash of water if needed. Once a creamy consistency, serve immediately.