Trip of a lifetime; or that time we got the train to China...

Trip of a lifetime; or that time we got the train to China...

This ‘trip of a lifetime’ began on Boxing Day, 2017.

The punctuation of a year that has meant we have been so many things to so many people we simply have not had the time nor the space to just be us.

We finish packing and we tidy the house and we throw the Christmas tree into the back garden so we aren’t greeted by a carpet of pine needles on our return home.

We put on our recently bought outdoor coats, we sling on the backpacks, we check for passports, and printouts and carefully packed currency.

We lock the door, we walk up the Sandown Road, and we wait for the 4a bus. The bus that yes, will take us to Belfast city centre, but ultimately, will take us so much further than that.

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The first stop is Dublin. There are now three bus services to the Fair city, and so full of adrenaline and excitement and absolute exhaustion at having worked another festive season in catering, we actually struggle to pick one, but all of a sudden we are on a bus, drinking beers and marvelling at what is to come.

We spend the night in Blooms hotel, a cheap hotel near the bus stop. Boxing Night in Dublin city centre means most places we normally go are still closed for the holidays, so we find an Indian with gobi manchurian and dahl and Kingfisher beer, not quite knowing what is happening, or what to talk about, or how this even ended up being a thing we are doing.

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The next morning, I unroll my yoga mat on the cold tiles of the bathroom. A bus to the ferry, a cooked breakfast aboard a ship, a dash around a supermarket to pick up something for lunch on the train, and we are suddenly on the most crowded train of the whole journey. 

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I realise that, actually, this IS the holiday.

The holiday does not begin when we reach Paris, or Moscow, or even Mongolia. 

The destination of this particular holiday is in the journey, and this particular journey started with the 4a bus. I think at this exact moment, my shoulders start to extract themselves from the default position of around my ears.

We make it to London, and go to St Pancras station to get on a train I have wanted to get on for pretty much ever; the Eurostar.

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We play Monopoly, and drink coffee, and just a short while later, we are in Paris.

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We check into The Hoxton hotel, a design-led hotel that we have stayed in while in London, whose secret cocktail bar sets the bar for 24 magical hours in this great city; we drink coffee and eat croissants, we walk for miles, we stop for glasses of red wine.

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I have my phone stolen, and we have no time to even register what has happened. Our train to Moscow has arrived, and we have to get on it.

It doesn’t take long for my annoyance to give way to acceptance, and soon Mr P unpacks our picnic supper and I have one of those moments that I’m sure some clever Scandinavian has a word for; one of those moments of just being so completely content with my two-day train journey and my husband fighting me for the last of the truffled brie, and our great adventure, that at that exact moment, nothing else matters at all.

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The train takes two nights to pass through France, and Germany, and Poland and Belarus. We get off at every single stop, marvelling at the countries we are in, and giddy on life. The Russian carriage attendants watch us like hawks, making sure we are back on the train with cups of tea in hand before the train pulls away from each platform.

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The train pulls into a shed in Belarus, so the bogies can be changed to Russian grade. We drink the last of our French wine, hand our passports over to the authorities, and get ready for Russia.

I’m not entirely sure it is possible to be ready for Russia at New Year. It is their major festive celebration, and over our two days in Moscow we see fire-works and street parties and the greatest decorations of all time. After the clock strikes midnight on New Years Eve, we sign our lives away and zip-line down a shopping street. On the way home, we give tobogganing a go, before falling into a bar for a swift half that turns into two that turns into being so hungry when we get back to our hotel we end up eating soup in the lobby at 4am.

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I go to the Bolshoi ballet.

I have wanted to do this for so long that I felt tearful when picking up the tickets. By the time I sat in that box, with one of the world’s greatest ballets in one of the world’s most iconic theatres, I was weeping with joy. 

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Mr P meets me afterwards, and we go to a tap room he has discovered, and we eat nachos, and marvel at this quite extraordinary city.

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Soon, it is time to get on the train to Vladivostok. We are to get off four days into this cross country journey, and those four days pass in a blur of charades with the Russians, reading books, drinking tea and beer and taking station selfies in rapidly declining temperatures.

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At one point, I wonder if I am bored. 

I realise I am anything but.

I am lying on a bed, reading a book, with Russia passing before my very eyes.

It is quite magical.

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Four days later we jump off at Irkutsk, and are met by a tour guide to show us Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world. 

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We go dog-sledding, and hike to a pretty spectacular viewpoint, and marvel at just how cold and how beautiful it all is.

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We spend a night in a youth hostel, the shagging teenagers a few bunks up reminding me a little too much of my own, misspent, backpacking youth. The train early the next morning comes as a welcome diversion.

Most of the first day of that journey is spent travelling alongside that beautiful lake. Even I give up on books, so transfixed by the beauty of the landscape, the waitress in the restaurant car offers me vodka to snap me out of it.

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The next day, we are in Ulan Bator, Mongolia.

We check into our hotel, and are upgraded to a suite, so we buy Russian champagne and pretend to live the high life. The next morning we are collected by Bert, who owns a smallholding nearby, and we set off on the ice road, eventually making it to our yurt.

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After dinner, walking back to aforementioned yurt, we have the moment.

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Looking up at those stars.

They were brighter than anything I had ever seen.

There were more of them.

They seemed closer.

It was as entrancing as the Bolshoi ballet, and as exciting as the dog-sledding, and it was just us.

Me and him.

Us.

Marvelling at this Earth.

It was, however, minus 30 degrees, so the moment really only did last for a moment.

We set an alarm for every 2 hours, stoking the fire with wood and nipping outside for one more gawp at that spectacular sky.

The next day we walked and we walked. We found a snazzy hotel and were the only customers the 17 working staff had seen for days, so we sipped wine and ate the complimentary peanuts and got really, really excited about one more night of star gazing.

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The morning after, we hitched a ride to the bus station to get us back to Ulan Bator. We met up with my friend for vegetarian food and stories of the Peace Corps work. We bought her and her boyfriend beers that seemed cheap to us, yet cost as much as their rent. We got upgraded to our suite again.

All of a sudden, it was time to go to China.

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My mind was in overdrive.

I had last been to China fifteen years before, teaching English as a Foreign Language in a city called Nanjing. My mother had come out to visit me and we had spent a couple of extremely happy days exploring Beijing.

How come now I couldn’t remember the details?

How come I had half a memory, yet couldn’t fill in the blanks?

How could I try to bring any memories I did have back?

We went to the Chinese restaurant car and the memories came with the first taste of that rice, cooked in a giant rice cooker. I am quite certain that many Chinese restaurants cook that exact brand of rice in exactly the same way, but that staple flavour of my diet brought it all flooding back.

Then, in Beijing, I realised that it would be impossible to remember; it is a huge, sprawling city that has evolved beyond words. So instead I enjoyed watching the locals perform their aerobic in the temple of heaven, I ate my way round the city on a food tour, I shrieked with glee as we descended from the Great Wall in a toboggan.

Basically, I made some pretty awesome new memories.

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But despite new security checks, and seemingly orderly queues, and possessions in wheels suitcases instead of checked tarpaulin bags, the chaos of Chinese train stations will never change, and I feel like Mr P gained a whole new respect for his wife when he realised that I had negotiated these stations every weekend for a whole year of my life, that I used used my basic Mandarin and naive charm that only comes with being out in the big bad world for the first time at 18 years old, and so 33 year old me used even more basic Mandarin and slightly less naive charm and got us onto the overnight train to Nanjing.

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Nanjing.

The scene of that year.

It was an era where personal technology was so non existent that I was able to check email once a week and had to use the business suite of a fancy hotel to print something.

33 year old me could afford to stay in that hotel.

And, again, it was one of those moments.

I stroked the fluffy bath robe and marvelled at the view and could not believe that I had managed to make this exact moment happen.

Except I need to talk about that view.

15 years ago the height of shopping sophistication in Nanjing was the display of Gillette razors in the local department store.

That view took in Louis Vuitton, Cartier and Tiffany.

18 year old me couldn’t afford the razors.

33 year old me couldn’t afford what had replaced them.

Some things truly never change.

I took Mr P to see the school, and when they were trying to find somebody who could speak English, they actually managed to locate my boss from back in the day, and she gave us free reign to wander.

I was able to show Mr P the places that did exist; the canteens, the classrooms, the tower block with my accommodation.

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As day turned to night, I was able to show him the places that never really existed; the places where the Ballymena bullies no longer mattered, the places where I realised I was actually quite a good teacher, the places where I tasted spicy mixed with sweet, and salty mixed with sour, the places where I felt almost delirious with happiness, way back then.

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Finally, we jumped on a high speed train to Shanghai. Once again, we scored an upgrade, and we were in a pretty amazing location.

Once I had checked out the youth hostel that I had once stayed in, which is now a luxury hotel, I was keen to let Mr P experience a China I had never seen, so we walked and walked and walked, we drank cocktails, and we met up with some of his work buddies.

We LOLed at the Bund tunnel.

We ate soup dumplings, and did some shopping, and jumped on a ferry.

We realised that over all those miles, all those journeys, all those beers, we had found the time and space we needed to just be us.

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And for that reason, beyond any other, it truly was the trip of a lifetime.

I really hope we get a few more.

 

 

Baked beetroot burgers

Baked beetroot burgers

I was sitting on my sofa, when I got the call.

I was drinking coffee, when I got the call.

I was wearing my new denim pinafore, when I got the call.

I was hoping business would pick up after Storm Ophelia, when I got the call.

I was trying to motivate myself to make these burgers, because they are the greatest veggie burgers I have ever tasted and I was so excited to share, and then I got the call.

The call to say that one of my parents was in hospital.

The call that took the clarity of the moments before and shook it up beyond recognition, where I might have been wearing that dress and drinking that coffee and sitting on that sofa but where that clarity became a massive blur.

I waited for Mr P to come home from work, and we ate toast for dinner, and we drove to the hospital, stricken with fear.

I sat in that room, surrounded by the people I love most in the world, and still everything was a blur.

The next day I went back to the hospital, and I listened to the consultants, and I clutched the information leaflet, and I focused on the complete absence of any truly terrifying words, and yet everything was still a blur.

The next day my brother and sister came home, and we drove to the hospital, and we listened some more to the consultant, and we heard about the incredibly positive outlook for treatment.

But for me, everything was still a blur.

The week passed, in some ways in tiny increments, jumping at every text message and every phone call. It was marked by times, and hospital visits, and calling the rest of the family to let them know what was going on.

But mostly last week passed in a blur.

A blur of phone calls, and hospital rooms, and driving to Antrim.

A blur of tears, and hugs, and coffee from paper cups.

A blur of family, and friends, and sleepless nights.

A blur.

There are two details that I can remember. The first is that consultant, handing over his booklets, and reassuring us all just how treatable this all is.

The second is every single person telling me to look after myself.

And I can’t change what is happening in those hospital rooms, so I am trying my very hardest to look after myself by appreciating what joy there is in my everyday.

That moment when I get a message from my tribe from awesome friends.

That paper cup full of slightly too much coffee, and even better if they have some of that delicious flakemeal shortbread to go alongside.

That long dog walk that I am forcing myself to go on every morning, because by the time I have climbed Redburn, the blur has cleared once more.

Those dinners with Mr P, from that toast of night one to these burgers, which are knock-your-socks-off good.

They haven’t fixed anything.

They haven’t cured anything.

But they have provided me with a meal to smile about, and I really hope they do the same for you; a moment of joy in the everyday.

Because focussing on these moments really does lift that blur.

I promise.

~~~

Grab a couple of beetroot.

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Peel and quarter them.

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The kitchen will look like there has been a massacre, but what price delicious burgers?

Cut half a pack of halloumi into chunks.

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Grab an apple.

This is my very own apple from my very own tree in my actual garden and it blows my tiny mind that this can grow there, so if you are picking your very own apple, just allow a couple of minutes to appreciate nature.

Or something.

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Remove the core and cut the apple into chunks.

Marvel once more that it looks like there has been a massacre in the kitchen.

Unless you are the type to wash your chopping board and knife between cutting jobs and if you are, I need you in the Little Pink Kitchen as some kind of super assistant for a while before passing you on to some kind of laboratory for testing of your efficiency to see if some kind of robot can be created based on this trait.

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Fire the beetroot, apple and cheese into a food processor and blitz well.

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Transfer the mix to a bowl, and add in a couple of teaspoons of cajun seasoning…

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An egg…

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And some flour.

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Mix well.

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Grease a baking tray.

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And divide your beetroot mixture into four, shaping into patties.

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Bake the patties for 20 minutes, turning halfway.

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Serve in buns, with avocado and some kind of chilli mayonnaise.

Because mayonnaise is life.

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Enjoy!

Baked beetroot and apple burgers

Serves 4. Cooking time 30 minutes.

  • 2 beetroot
  • 1 eating apple
  • 125g halloumi cheese
  • 2 teaspoons cajun seasoning
  • 100g plain flour
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons light olive oil
  1. Peel and quarter the beetroot.
  2. Core the apple and cut into chunks.
  3. Cut the halloumi cheese into large chunks.
  4. Blitz the beetroot, apple and cheese in a food processor.
  5. Tip the beetroot mix into a bowl, and add the egg, flour and cajun seasoning.
  6. Mix well.
  7. Divide the mixture into four and shape into patties.
  8. Grease a baking tray with the oil and place the burgers on top.
  9. Bake the burgers for 20 minutes, flipping over halfway through cooking.
  10. Serve.

Balsamic roasted potatoes

Balsamic roasted potatoes

The last two weeks have been really weird.

Like, even weirder than usual, if you are me.

Two weeks ago I had one of those weeks where nothing terrible happens but the whole week feels like wading through treacle.

And I spent a teeny tiny bit too much time on social media comparing myself to the rest of the world and their shiny, swishy perfection and their white houses and toned abdominal areas and smoothie bowls.

And felt even worse.

But then last week, I went for a spray tan (I am currently in Portugal on a hen and thought the tan might disguise the lack of aforementioned abdominal muscles).

And well, I follow the rules.

I wore a slightly scuzzy maxi dress to avoid marking my good clothes.

And on the way home I did not wear my bra because it was lacy and push up and likely to wash all of the tan off my boobs and well my boobs are one of my better features and I want those looking tiptop at all times so I did not want patches of worn off fake tan.

Except on the way home I remembered I had to give a talk in a school.

And therefore had to do that in a slightly scuzzy maxi dress, with no bra on, and with my coat zipped up to the neck.

I managed to pass myself with the pupils and the teachers and my own sanity, but then when I got home my elderly neighbours insisted on taking me to Hillmount Garden Centre for a coffee.

In my scuzzy maxi dress.

Still no bra on.

And I shared this whole fandango on my Instagram stories and I literally have never had such a good response to any of the rubbish I spout on there.

I was doing a cookery demonstration at a show on Saturday and two complete strangers pulled up the sleeves of my jumper to inspect and see if the tan was worth it.

Apparently it was.

Phew.

And I came to realise that real life is OK and being a slightly ridiculous person is OK and sometimes carrying your bra around in your handbag might not be OK, but you can totally style it out and who even needs or wants to be shiny and swishy and perfect?

So I thought I would share a potato recipe with you.

Because these potatoes are a perfectly normal side, but with a Mrs P twist, and every time I post them on Instagram, everybody goes insane for them.

I really hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

~~~

Take some baby potatoes.

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Cut in half.

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Place in a pan of boiling water.

It will stop boiling as soon as you put the spuds on but if you apply heat it will start boiling again as if by magic and sorcery.

Or physics.

Whatever.

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After 10 minutes, drain the potatoes into a colander.

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Throw them onto a baking tray.

Then fire on some olive oil…

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Balsamic vinegar…

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And salt…

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Toss well, then bake for 30 minutes.

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Remove from the oven, and serve.

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Balsamic roasted potatoes.

Serves 2. Cooking time 45 minutes.

  • 150g baby potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • Pinch salt
  1. Half the potatoes and place in a pan of boiling water.
  2. Boil the potatoes for 10 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
  4. Drain the potatoes and place in a baking tray.
  5. Add the oil, vinegar and salt, stirring well.
  6. Roast for 30 minutes.
  7. Serve.

 

Creamy garlic mushroom pasta

Creamy garlic mushroom pasta

I fell down a bit of an internet black hole the other day.

You know the type.

A quick scroll through Facebook while you drink and coffee, and the next thing is its two hours later and you are doing a quiz to find out what type of cheese you are and listening to your time capsule on Spotify and wondering about your life choices.

Anyway I ended up watching some video where they fed Italian Nonnas American-Italian food and literally could not stop thinking about Italian food and pasta for three solid days and sort of begrudged having to eat meals with my friends and family because all I wanted was my scrubbed dining table with a bunch of flowers and a pasta dish that had about four ingredients in it and a carafe of water and a big green salad and a linen napkin and I would savour every bite and it would be magnificent.

Today, at lunchtime, I managed to unlock that fantasy and the result was such a tasty lunch that I just had to share.

I hope you guys enjoy it as much as I did.

~~~

Put a pot of water on to boil.

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Anna Del Conte says it should be as salty as the mediterranean, and Ms Del Conte isn’t somebody I’d like to trifle with, so salt the water well.

Add some pasta.

I am a nerd and weigh my pasta because otherwise I end up with either two forkfuls or enough to half the neighbourhood.

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If you are using spaghetti, you need to do that poky thing so all the pasta is in the water.

For the uninitiated, that poky thing is merely posting your pasta with a wooden spoon until i is all below the waterline.

The pasta you see below needs a bit more poking action.

Cooking fundamentals with Mrs P.

You can thank me later.

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While the pasta is cooking, heat some oil over a medium-low heat…

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And slice some mushrooms.

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Add the mushrooms to the oil, and grate in a peeled clove of galric.

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Stir well.

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Cook that for 5 minutes.

Then stir in a couple of spoons of creme fraiche.

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Add a generous pinch of salt and a load of pepper.

I don’t have any Anna Del Conte quotes about pepper, but just be generous with the pepper, mmkay?

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Let that simmer for a minute or two, then drain the pasta…

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Mix in the mushrooms…

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And serve with a generous grating of hard Italian cheese.

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Scrubbed table, carafe of water, linen napkin and green salad totally optional.

But I promise it makes the food taste even better.

Enjoy!

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Creamy garlic mushroom pasta

Serve 1. Cooking time 15 minutes.

  • 75g spaghetti
  • 5 mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tablespoons creme fraiche
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper 
  • Salt to taste
  • Italian hard cheese, to serve
  1. Bring a pot of water to the boil and salt well.
  2. Add the pasta and cook according to packet instructions.
  3. Heat the olive oil over a low heat.
  4. Slice the mushrooms and add to the oil, stirring well.
  5. Peel and grate the garlic, adding to the mushrooms.
  6. Cook the mushrooms for 5 minutes.
  7. Stir in the creme fraiche, pepper and season well with salt.
  8. Simmer for 1-2 minutes, until the sauce is warmed through.
  9. Drain the pasta and mix with the mushroom sauce.
  10. Serve, with cheese to grate on top.

Honey chilli paneer

Honey chilli paneer

At the minute I am planning a return to China.

A return because I spent half of a very happy year teaching English as a foreign language in Nanjing Number One Middle School back when I was 18.

Which is fifteen years ago.

I’m not going to lie, I’m feeling pretty old right now.

I keep having snatched memories of the streets I walked and the street food carts I squatted at (I really wanted to say restaurants I ate in, but I was earning twenty quid a week and had to feed myself. Any restaurants I ate in were on the yuan of the bank managers I taught English to as a supplement to my paltry income).

I remember train journeys that lasted for ever (36 hours without a seat in -18 will leave you delirious with cold, it turns out), I remember visiting friends in other cities, I remember being the first white person most people I met ever seeing, and them being eager to touch my pointy nose, stroke my arm hair and marvel at my ability to use chopsticks.

But that was FIFTEEN YEARS AGO.

And there is so much I only half remember, really.

Was the hot bubble tea stand on the first or second corner before the Confucius temple?

What street was it where the English bookshop was?

Where was that river that the geography teacher who fancied me took me to? And more importantly, that hotpot restaurant he took me to afterwards, where we decided that neither my Mandarin nor his English were good enough to allow anything to happen ever? That hole in the wall cafe where the locals marvelled at the laowai and force fed us baiju we all ended up singing F4 songs and laughing about the whole thing until we cried?

I was trying to remember the youth hostel I stayed in in Shanghai and I was all like ‘IT HAD A VIEW OF THE BUND AND I GOT MY BELLY BUTTON PIERCED THE NEXT STREET DOWN AND HAD THE GREATEST BOAZI OF MY LIFE’ and I just couldn’t find it.

And then I managed to waste several hours online to and remembered it had been a converted military hospital, before finding out it was not loving its reputation as a backpacker’s hangout and is now a hotel than sort wants to be snazzy, but hasn't quite made the cut.

Fifteen years.

And because it has been 15 years, I am not claiming this dish has any kind of authenticity. The harshest of critics would probably call it ‘confusion’ cooking, this mash-up of Indian cheese with Chinese-inspired sauce.

But because it has been 15 years, I don’t care.

It has those Chinese principles I learnt all those years ago, of yin and yang, of balancing the spice with sweet, the crunch with sauce.

And it tastes, really, really good.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

~~~

Grab a block of paneer.

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Cut it into slices.

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Then cut those slices in half again, to sort of square them off.

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Sprinkle the paneer with cornflour.

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Heat some oil in a pan. 

I am lazy and hate using two different pans, so I used a little pan that would fit my sauce so I had to do the paneer in batches so I probably actually created more work than if I’d just used two pans and had to wash them both but those are my life choices and I guess I’m just going to have to live with them.

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Fry the paneer in the oil…

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Until nice and brown and crispy, then drain onto some kitchen paper.

Keep the leftover cornflour for later.

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Finely chop some garlic…

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And some ginger.

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Tip the oil out of the pan, and add a tablespoon of sesame oil.

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Add the garlic and ginger, stirring well.

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Add a heaped tablespoon of this stuff.

Those overhead videos you watch on Facebook but never actually cook will tell you to use sriracha.

Listen, I like sriracha as much as the next guy, but this stuff is the actual business, and possibly more addictive than crack cocaine.

You can also get it in the supermarket, or one called ‘chow chow chilli oil’, which is pretty amazeballs also.

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Add some soy.

It doesn’t have to come from catering-sized vessels.

I promise.

Add some black vinegar if you have been to an Asian supermarket recently, balsamic if you haven’t.

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Throw in some honey.

A breakfast club guest brought this for me that she got from her own actual bees? How cool is that?

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Add some Chinese cooking wine, and bring to a simmer.

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Then take some of your leftover cornflour, and mix with water…

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Before adding to the sauce and simmering for a minute.

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Tip the paneer into your sauce…

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Then stir well.

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Chop a couple of spring onions…

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Then sprinkle over the top.

Enjoy!

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Honey chilli paneer

Serves 2. Cooking time 15 minutes.

  • 226g pack paneer
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1cm piece ginger
  • 2 tablespoons cornflour
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese rice cooking wine
  • 1 tablespoon runny honey
  • 1 tablespoon chilli oil
  • 2 tablespoons black vinegar or balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  1. Cut the paneer into slices, then these slices in half.
  2. Sprinkle the paneer with the cornflour.
  3. Fill a frying pan with vegetable oil, until it is 1cm up the side.
  4. Heat the oil over a medium heat.
  5. Add the paneer in batches, frying until brown and crispy, reserving the cornflour.
  6. Drain the paneer onto kitchen paper.
  7. Peel and finely chop the ginger and garlic.
  8. Add the sesame oil to the pan and place over a medium heat.
  9. Add the ginger and garlic to the pan, stirring well.
  10. Add the chilli oil, honey, soy and cooking wine to the pan and bring to the boil.
  11. Mix two teaspoons of the leftover cornflour with 50ml of water and add to the pan, simmering for 1 minute.
  12. Add the paneer strips and mix.
  13. Chop the spring onions and sprinkle over the finished dish.
  14. Enjoy.

Leek and potato soup

Leek and potato soup

I am totally giving up on relating blog posts to the weather.

It has been so bloody grim and so bloody dark and so bloody wet for so long that I thought I would share a lovely, Autumnal soup recipe.

Except now the sun has shone for two solid days and I have even had the legs out.

It is a very, very good thing I love leek and potato soup so much.

And this soup is lovely.

When the weather goes tits up again, it will be perfect.

~~~

Take an onion.

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Slice it.

You don’t actually need to be as neat as this, what with it all being made into soup, but the pressure of putting pictures on the internet must have gone to my head, or something.

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Melt 50g of butter.

I’m going to tell you a secret.

This is actually 59g butter.

The world didn’t end.

And extra butter is always good, right?

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Add the onion to the butter and fry for a while, stirring occasionally.

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Remove the ends from a leek…

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And slice it up.

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Then wash.

Listen, I an exceptionally lazy cook, but washing your leeks means no grit in your soup, which can only be a good thing.

Even if washing your leek does sound like a bit of a euphemism.

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Add the leek to the onion.

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And cook for about 5 minutes, until soft.

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Take 400g of potatoes.

I weighed these as well, what with potatoes coming in all shapes and sizes, and while I will tell you 400g, I actually used 397g.

Gasp.

The world did not end.

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Peel the potatoes.

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And cut into fairly thin slices.

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Add to the onions and leeks.

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Along with 1 litre of vegetable stock.

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Simmer for 15 minutes, until the potato is cooked.

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Add 150ml full fat milk.

You can use semi-skimmed if you really want, but full fat is so delicious I literally have no clue why the other stuff is so popular.

The other thing about semi-skimmed is it means the soup separates all funny if you freeze it and this doesn’t happen if you freeze full fat.

So my desire for the creamy deliciousness is backed by actual science.

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Blend up the soup.

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And serve with plenty of black pepper.

Enjoy!

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Leek and potato soup

Serves 4. Cooking time 30 minutes.

  • 1 onion
  • 1 leek
  • 400g potatoes
  • 50g butter
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 150ml full fat milk
  • Black pepper, to serve
  1. Slice the onion.
  2. Melt the butter over a medium heat and add the onion.
  3. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often.
  4. Slice and wash the leek.
  5. Add to the onion, cooking for a further 5 minutes.
  6. Peel and finely slice the potato.
  7. Add the to leeks and top wth the stock.
  8. Simmer for 15 minutes.
  9. Add the milk and blend.
  10. Serve, with plenty of black pepper.

Green lentil ragu

Green lentil ragu

SOMETHING AMAZING HAPPENED IN THE LITTLE PINK KITCHEN LAST NIGHT.

I mean, it didn’t look like it was going to be an amazing night 

It was Monday.

I had spent the day doing accounts.

I may or may not have had way too many Pisco Sours on Sunday night.

But I promise you, something amazing happened in the Little Pink Kitchen last night.

And if you were on the outside, looking in, it would have looked like the most ordinary night ever.

We shared a beer and had a chat.

Mr P took the dog for a walk and I made a ragu.

We ate and we talked about nothing much in particular.

Mr P did the dishes and I hung out a wash.

And then we sat on the sofa, the dog between us, me reading a book and his doing something really nerdy involving the research of upload speeds or something.

And it was amazing.

Why?

BECAUSE WE DIDN’T HAVE TO DO ANY DIY AND THERE WAS NO DUST ANYWHERE AND I DIDN’T HAVE TO FIT ANY INSULATION OR GO TO IKEA OR SCRUB A FLOOR ON MY HANDS AND KNEES.

And, after the DIY slog we have been through, this really, truly, properly is actually amazing.

A totally ordinary September evening.

So I decided to share this recipe, for a simple, weeknight ragu.

For those totally ordinary evenings that really do deserve to be celebrated in their own way.

~~~~

Heat some oil over a low heat.

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Finely chop an onion…

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and add to the oil...

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With a pinch of salt to stop it burning.

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Peel and finely chop a carrot.

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Cut the ends off two sticks of celery...

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Then finely chop that.

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And add the vegetables to the oil, stirring well.

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Cook over a low heat for 10 minutes.

The reason for the long cooking time is flavour, by the way, not just because I’m some sort of chaffy nonce with notions about making you spend ages in the kitchen.

Promise.

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After that has all cooked nicely, peel a couple of cloves of garlic.

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And finely chop.

The finer you chop, the more garlicky the end result will be.

Mr P tends to take leftovers for lunch, so I didn’t go too fine.

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Add the garlic to the pan, and stir well.

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Then throw in your lentils…

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Some tomato puree...

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Some stock...

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And some red wine.

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This particular wine was what I managed to persuade a random bouncer to sell me after all those pisco sours on Sunday night.

(Well, we had to go for emergency Chinese food and of course I decided we needed wine because I am wired to some sort of cornflake and should just have gone home and drank tea and eaten toast but instead I ate cucumber salad and didn’t actually drink any of the wine I had gone to such efforts to obtain because even after too many pisco sours I have food standards like a massive wab.)

Anyway, moving on.

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Let that bubble away for 25 minutes.

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Then stir in some balsamic.

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And serve with pasta and as much cheese as makes you happy.

Enjoy!

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Green lentil ragu

Serves 4. Cooking time 40 minutes.

 

  • 250g green lentils
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 sticks celery
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons light olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons tomato puree
  • 750ml vegetable stock
  • 150ml red wine
  1. Heat the oil over a low heat.
  2. Peel and finely chop the onion, before adding to the oil.
  3. Peel and finely chop the carrot, and add to the pan.
  4. Finely chop the celery, and add to the pan, stirring well.
  5. Cook the vegetables over a low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add the lentils to the pan, along with the stock, tomato puree and red wine.
  7. Cook for 25 minutes.
  8. Stir in the balsamic vinegar and serve.

 

 

 

Broad bean risotto with crispy fried courgettes

Broad bean risotto with crispy fried courgettes

So I was really excited about writing this recipe because it uses the very best of Summer vegetables, which is nice.

And the days of those vegetables are numbered so I was going to show them one last hurrah, as it were.

Except then I peeled my broad beans and they were a really strange purple colour.

Like really strange.

Like I thought they might have ben left languishing in the fridge for a bit too long strange.

But then last week I showed you what you can do with basil that is looking limper than a limp thing, so I pressed through.

Except I couldn’t stop thinking about my funny broad beans.

Perhaps they really were off?

Perhaps I had some very strange type of broad bean?

Perhaps they were actually going to KILL ME?

I can now confirm that I consumed this risotto 24 whole hours ago, and I’m not dead yet.

Purple broad beans are my new thing, obvs.

Enjoy!

~~~

Chop an onion as finely as you can be bothered to.

I always think I chop onions really finely and then when I see proper chefs do it, I realise my shortcomings in this life.

Then I realise it all goes down the same way and I don’t have Gordon Ramsey hitting me about the face with a loaf of bread or whatever it is happens in professional kitchens to ensure everybody who works there can chop an onion finely enough.

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Heat some oil in a pan.

Realise that you would last approximately 13 seconds in a professional kitchen because you would be beaten with sticks to get you to snap out of a world where you spend so much time thinking about whether broad beans should be purple and what type of bread Gordon Ramsey beats his juniors up with.

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Add the onion to the oil with a pinch of salt.

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Do not think of unnaturally purple vegetables.

Do not think of Gordon Ramsey.

Do not think of bread.

Just cook the sodding onion.

Peel and finely chop a garlic clove.

Again, as finely as you can be arsed.

Unless you at genuine risk of being beaten up with a loaf of bread.

In which case I would probably forgo making a risotto and just get Chinese takeaway.

But that is maybe just me.

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Add the garlic to the onion, along with the risotto rice, and give it a good stir so it is all nicely coated in oil.

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Add a glass of white wine.

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Now, to do this properly, you put a pot of vegetable stock on to boil, and keep it on a low simmer as you slowly add it.

I slowly add it.

But start by crumbling in a stock cube…

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Then adding my water in 100ml amounts.

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Cooking until it is absorbed.

Then re-boiling the kettle and adding another 100ml of water…

And so on.

It works for me because I am lazy and life is short.

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While that is bubbling, and between stirs, pod your broad beans.

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You can totally use frozen as well.

Might save freaking out that they are going to poison you or something.

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After 10 minutes of cooking, add the beans to the pan.

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They will need about 6 minutes of cooking.

Keep stirring!

Then take one regular sized courgette or two mini courgettes…

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Lop the ends off…

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And cut into thick slices lengthways before adding to a pan where you have heated some oil, and frying for a couple of minutes.

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Flip over, and fry on the other side...

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Before draining the courgette on kitchen roll.

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When the risotto is cooked, stir in a couple of tablespoons of grated hard cheese…

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Then serve the risotto...

With the fried courgettes on top.

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Not least to mask the weird purple colour.

Enjoy!

Broad bean risotto with crispy fried courgettes

Serves 2. Cooking time 25 minutes.

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Pinch salt
  • 120g risotto rice
  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 fat garlic clove
  • 400g whole broad beans
  • 2 small courgettes
  • 2 tablespoons grated hard cheese, such as Gran Moravia or parmesan
  1. Finely chop the onion.
  2. Heat half the oil over a medium heat, and add the onion and salt.
  3. Cook for 5-6 minutes, until translucent, before adding the garlic and risotto rice.
  4. Stir well, then add the wine.
  5. Add the stock to the pan in small increments, until almost fully absorbed. I find it easier to crumble in the stock cube, then just re-boil the kettle each time I add water.
  6. Pod the broad beans.
  7. After 10 minutes of cooking the rice, add the beans and cook for a further 6-8 minutes.
  8. Chop the ends off the courgette and slice thickly lengthways.
  9. Heat the remaining oil over a medium heat and fry the courgette slices for 2 minutes either side, until golden brown.
  10. Drain on kitchen paper.
  11. Stir the cheese into the cooked risotto, the serve, topped with the courgette slices.

 

 

Fresh pesto

Fresh pesto

Last week I was rejuvenated by this ‘writing a blog’ malarky.

So rejuvenated I trotted off to market, wicker basket in arm, to pick up some fresh, seasonal produce with which to delight and entrance my legions of fans.

Which was MARVELLOUS.

In my head.

Back in Belfast, AKA the real world, we ate like normal humans who work a lot, and had the odd curry, or stir fry, or risotto.

And then I could ignore it no more.

The pot of basil.

Sitting on the window ledge, looking all forlorn.

Yes, I had strewn some leaves across a salad.

Yes, I had tucked some basil into a really quite splendid mozzarella toastie.

But also yes, I had most of a pot left.

And it was looking kinda droopy.

So instead of relegate it to the brown bin, I actually decided to turn it into some dinner.

It was not as exciting as the fantasy in my head where I managed to delight and entrance you all.

But, at the same time, it did use up that slightly sorry looking pot of herbs.

Which is exciting enough, really.

Enjoy!

~~~

Take as much of a pot of basil as you have left.

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I TOLD YOU I LEFT MINE UNTIL THE REALLY DROOPY STAGE.

Stop judging me already.

You do it too.

You just don’t put pictures of it on the internet.

Which is probably a lesson I should learn.

Take a couple of tablespoons of pine nuts.

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And put them in a dry frying pan over a low heat for just a few minutes.

Keep a close eye, because they do burn.

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And I might manage to salvage some kind of dinner out of extremely droopy basil.

But burnt pine nuts are beyond me, apologies.

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Grate some Gran Moravia or parmesan or pecorino. 

I use Gran Moravia because it is veggie. You use whatever makes you happy.

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Put all of these things in a blender with some freshly ground pepper…

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And a slug of your best olive oil…

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Blitz a couple of times.

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Then stir through cooked pasta. I added peas for health in, if you use fresh pasta, what must be the easiest dinner in the land.

Enjoy!

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Fresh pesto

Serves 2. Cooking time 10 minutes.

  • 80g basil
  • 50g pinenuts
  • 50g hard Italian cheese
  • 125ml extra virgin olive oil
  • Few grinds fresh black pepper
  1. Place a frying pan over a low heat and add the pine nuts, stirring for a few minutes until browned.
  2. Place the pine nuts in a blender with the basil.
  3. Grate in the cheese.
  4. Add the oil and pepper to the blender.
  5. Blitz, until well mixed.
  6. Serve, stirred through hot pasta.

 

 

 

Warm hummus with spiced aubergine

Warm hummus with spiced aubergine

This is the point of the post where I should reminisce about travel across the Middle East, feasting on this delicacy with the locals after a long day traversing the desert by camel or something.

To be completely fair, it was inspired by a long journey across Mid Ulster, by transit connect. 

Which is probably even more uncomfortable than a camel.

Although does have DAB.

Swings and roundabouts I guess.

Anyway, after traversing Mid-Ulster I traversed the middle aisle of M&S Ballyhackamore where I was offered the opportunity to liberate myself of several of my hard-earned nuggets of gold in exchange for some hummus I could put in the microwave and make a ‘meal’ out of.

Oh how I laughed.

Except I couldn’t get the idea out of my tiny little mind.

WARM HUMMUS?

HUMMUS?

WITH EXTRA TASTY BITS?

WHAT IS THIS MAGIC AND SORCERY?

I MUST EAT IT IMMEDIATELY.

But rather than liberate myself of my hard-earned nuggets at my local convenience store, I made my own version.

And it is pretty damn amazing.

I suggest you try it immediately.

~~~

Grab an aubergine.

LOL at the connotations of its emoji.

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Slice the end of the aubergine off.

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And then slice the aubergine lengthways into slices as thick as a pound coin.

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Peel two garlic cloves.

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Cut the green stalk off a red chilli.

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Chuck them in a blender with some salt…

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Sugar…

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Oil…

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And balsamic vinegar.

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Blend it.

Blend it real good.

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Then use a pastry brush to brush it all over your slices of aubergine.

I know, I know, I don’t usually have the patience for a pastry brush either and go for the splash and dash approach and then have actual life regrets when my aubergine isn’t all crispy and tasty in some places.

Learn from my mistakes, people.

Learn from my mistakes.

And also, give me some praise for how evenly these slices are coated, kthnxbai.

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Then put in the oven for 10-15 minutes, until cooked.

When that is in the oven, start off your hummus.

Chuck a tin of drained chickpeas into a blender (M&S did manage to get some of my hard earned cash)…

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With a clove of garlic…

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The juice of half a lemon…

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Some tahini… 

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Some cumin…

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As well as some olive oil, salt and water.

Blitz it up.

Blitz it good.

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Transfer the blitzed hummus to a dish and cover with foil, then put in the oven for 10 minutes to warm.

Remove the hummus from the oven…

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Top with the aubergine slices…

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And serve, with a green salad and some flatbreads or pitta to dip.

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~~~

Warm hummus with spiced aubergine

Serves 2. Cooking time 20 minutes.

  • 1 tin chickpeas
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 2 tablespoons tahini
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1 aubergine
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 red chilli
  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
  2. Cut the stalk off the aubergine and slice into thick slices lengthways.
  3. Peel two cloves of garlic, chop the stalk off the chilli, and place in a blender.
  4. Add the sugar, half a teaspoon of the salt, 2 tablespoons of oil and the balsamic and blend.
  5. Brush the mixture evenly over your aubergine slices, and lay flat on a baking tray.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes.
  7. Drain the chickpeas and places in a blender with 2 tablespoons oil, the cumin, the juice from half a lemon, the tahini, half a teaspoon of salt and the final garlic clove, peeled.
  8. Add 150ml water and blend well
  9. Transfer to a serving dish, cover with foil and bake for 10 minutes, until warmed through.
  10. Remove the hummus from the oven, top with the aubergine slices, and serve.