Wednesday, 30 September 2015

A London Lunch: Bourekas at Balkan Bites

Today's lunch was a good one - a warming, satisfying plate that reminds me of sunnier climes.

I had a Spinach and Feta Boureka from Balkan Bites's outpost at Borough Market. Whilst I'm more familiar with the Greek version (Spanakopita), this is an equally delicious pie filled with unctuous feta and good-for-you spinach. What's more for only a fiver, this was served on a pillow of mouth-watering and freshly made hummus, with some cooked chickpeas and topped with salt and fresh chilli sauce.

Balkan Bites has a shop in Crouch End but can be found at Borough Market Monday-Wednesday's 10am-5pm, Friday's 10am-6pm and Saturday's 8am-5pm.

For £5.00 my boureka was a real treat - slightly naughty, but very, very nice.

Baby Bites Party Food: Spiced Chicken Goujons

This weekend we had 18 of our immediate family over in celebration of our daughter, Bridget reaching her first birthday - a little tea party, in honour of this first milestone. I did a range of different party foods to have universal appeal with both the adult majority as well as the three children.

Chicken goujons seem to be a mainstay as a party finger food and I made my own to avoid any nasty additives being used and so we knew the chicken was of the best quality and organic to boot. I used a spice combination that worked well, but if for smaller babies you may want to reduce the quantities to tone it down a little, but luckily Bridget and her cousin Pearl who is four months older, both love lots of spicier flavours so these went down well with both adults and children alike.

The below makes enough for a big platter full, as seen in the picture, and I served with some Ketchup, BBQ sauce and a Harissa Mayo as dips. In the breadcrumb mix I've also used some garlic salt which may seem like a lot but it really does add flavour. You can always omit to use if you don't want baby having any salt content at all but they will likely only have one goujon which will contain a minimal amount.

Here's how:
  • 5 breasts of chicken
  • 4-5 slices of granary or brown bread
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp garlic salt
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • 2-3 eggs
  • 200g plain flour
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil

Firstly pre-heat the oven to 180 and line two baking trays with some baking papers then brush with a tiny bit of vegetable oil and set aside for the moment.

Now get two equal sized bowls together. Crack the eggs into one and gently beat.

The flour goes into the other bowl with a pinch of black pepper.

Now you need to make your breadcrumbs by placing one slice at a time into a food processor and blitzing then pouring into a larger bowl. Repeat until all the breadcrumbs have been made.

Now add the seasoning and give a good stir so everything is combined.

Now flatten out each chicken breast onto a chopping board and chop into chunky slithers unto all have been chopped. Don't worry about each piece being exactly the same - the fact they won’t be, will add to the rustic look and demonstrate the fact they have been homemade.

Now coat each piece coat in the flour by popping into the flour and turning. Then move it into the egg and turn, ensuring each part of the goujon is coated in egg, then finally dip into the breadcrumbs and turn and place onto the baking sheet.

Once each piece has been coated in breadcrumbs place onto the baking tray and then pop both trays into the oven to bake for twenty minutes. 

Remove from the oven and serve either hot or cold with your preferred choice of dips.

Pork Cheeks Braised in Cider and Apples

I have been experimenting with pork cheeks a lot lately - they are so delicious slowly braised, and yet one of the cheapest cuts of meat out there. I picked up four cheeks for £1.40 in Morrison's for this particular recipe - bargain.

This recipe calls for a bottle (500ml) of apple cider. I also used some Kentish apples straight from a farm in Hunton, but any cooking apples will do.

The combination of cider, apples plus the parsnip make this quite a sweet dish so I serve alongside some mustard mash or with a jacket potato with oodles of grain mustard to offset the sweetness and with extra vegetables too to ward off any colds or flu now the cold is setting in. This is a favourite batch cook meal too - you can make it, freeze it and it can be on the table in thirty minutes when you get in from work mid-week which makes it a winner in my eyes.

Pork Cheeks Braised in Cider and Apples

Here's how:
  • 4 pork cheeks
  • 1 onion
  • 4 celery sticks
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 parsnip
  • 2 apples
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 500ml apple cider
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • Pinch salt & black pepper
  • Pinch of dried thyme or few sprigs of fresh
  • Drizzle olive oil 
Firstly slice the onion and celery, mince the garlic and add to a casserole pot.

Peel the carrots and parsnip and slice finely then add to the pot. Do the same with the apple.

Now drizzle the oil into a pan and place on a medium heat.

Season the pork cheeks and brown all over in the pan. Once browned, add to the pot and cover with the cider and stock.

Give a good stir, season again and place into the oven for 3 hours.

Remove the casserole dish every 45 minutes- 1 hour and give a stir.

When you remove the casserole from the oven check the meat is perfectly tender, it should fall apart easily if you prod it with a fork.

Serve with your accompaniments and enjoy.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Captivated by Kefalonia

In June my partner Glen and I took our little, then nine month old, daughter Bridget on our first holiday as just the three of us – destination Kefalonia.

If you regularly read this blog, you will know I’m heavily influenced by Greek cuisine in my own cookery – I adore the flavours and I adore the Greek islands too. This was my first trip to Kefalonia and I can safely say it won’t be my last and I jotted down a few things to share, should anyone want any pointers if visiting the island.

We travelled with Olympic and stayed in the resort of Lassi at the charming and quaint Irilena Hotel. The hotel was named for the owner’s daughter, who in her early thirties was regularly seen at the hotel bar – however this was primarily the domain of her fiancé Aggi, and Tasos, both local men from Argostoli. We got on so well with both of these, they were just the friendliest people and my daughter adored both of them as they were constantly making a fuss of her. We would have a tipple in the bar each evening – sometimes until 2am and then Tasos would have to get up and go to work in his 9-5 job too in the town – but you never heard a word of complaint from him.

In terms of the rooms – they are fairly basic and typically Greek to be honest – although kept spotlessly clean and they have everything you could need as a base if you’re not spending too much time in the room. Athina – the owner was around each morning and again made such a fuss of the baby and was always checking did we have enough of everything in the room. She even gave up her own personal room on our last day so we could get Bridget and ourselves showered before our late flight. Nothing was too much at this hotel.

Lassi in general, as we learned, is a purely tourist resort – but this couldn’t take away from its’ charm. With a scattering of tavernas serving all of the local delicacies, such as Kefalonian meat pie, moussaka, stiffado and kleftiko there really was something for everyone. I won’t go through each and every restaurant as we did have good meals everywhere – but some of the restaurants in the resort of note, include Veronika’s, Butler’s House and Nefelli’s. We also had a fabulous night at Zorba’s where traditional dancing took place and the food was fantastic too. 

Feta topped Mushroom 

Kleftori Mushrooms

Beef Stiffado


Feta Saganaki and mix plate

Feta in the oven

We kept our week fairly low key, being as it was warm and we obviously had Bridget in tow. However this didn’t stop us venturing into Argostoli three days of the week. The bustling capital has some fabulous sites and was just an eight euro taxi ride away – I was very excited to see the fishermen selling their wares to local on the harbour-side. Argostoli is full of shops, bars and restaurants and if you were looking for some nightlife this would be the place to find it – on this part of the island at least. 

Argostoli harbour

Mid-way through the holiday we’d booked onto the island tour trip with Etam Travel and this was an absolute highlight. We took in some wonderful sites that are frankly must-see; Myrtos beach is that beautifully picturesque bay that is seen on postcards, in films and the like, and the view is truly spectacular. We were rowed through the Melissani Cave, a natural wonder, and traipsed down the Cave Drogarati too – a strangely eerie experience where you manage to feel incredibly cool, despite the outside temperature being over 90 degrees. Another highlight was visiting and tasting a selection of wines at the Robola Wine Co-Operative – where we also bought four bottles to bring home. We also visited the Monastery of St Gerassimos which was a moving experience – the people of Kefalonia call on this saint when in need even to this day and it brings back what a deeply religious place Greece can be. During the island tour we stopped for a couple of hours for lunch at Aghia Efimia a little fishing village where we enjoyed a lovely lunch and yet more beautiful views.

Myrtos Bay

Mellisani Cave

At Myrtos 

Aghia Efimia

I celebrated my 31st birthday whilst on the island and we took this opportunity to visit Lixouri – you take the ferry from Argostolli and on such a warm day, this was a pleasure in itself. We visited a little beach (I’m afraid I don’t recall the name) and had some cold drinks after about a thirty minute walk to find it. We then had a beautiful lunch in the main square of Lixouri – a platter of Greek specialities including Kefalonian meat pie, moussaka, dolmades, stuffed tomato, giant beans and a selection of dips – heavenly. 

Greek mix plate

My favourite experience of the week though has to be one we stumbled upon thanks to a female taxi driver we met – once again an example of how friendly and helpful a people the Kefalonians are. We asked to go to a different beach and Maria recommended one in Svoronata – she said it would be perfect as the water is shallow there for baby and slightly cooler as a result – she also told us the taverna there was so good that her family went there on special occasions, which we took with a pinch of salt wondering if she was recommending a friend or family’s business.

The beach was Avithos, and the restaurant To Enetiko – our best meal of the week by far. The beach was small and less busy than Costa Costa where we’d spent most of the week, it was perfect for Bridget – especially when she had a couple of naps. Peaceful and tranquil would be accurate descriptions. The food at the taverna was exceptional and makes my mouth water even thinking about it. We were greeted with home baked bread, olives and a tapenade and ordered a couple of Mythos beers to quench the thirst built up in the gorgeous sunshine. We shared the squid starter and it was the freshest, most tender, and flavourful version I have ever had – it literally tasted of the sea, in a good way. Glen had the special of the day, a slow-cooked rabbit dish in a tomato stew and I had my favourite prawn saganaki. Both were gorgeous. 


Prawn saganaki

We did spend a fair bit of time on Costa Costa Beach too and if you have little ones or like some proper shade from the sun, they hired out gorgeous white cabanas for 30 euros for the day which were ideal for keeping Bridget out of the sun. And another tip off if you can manage an uphill walk, is to visit Logos Beach Bar in Lassi – logos meaning hill means a beautiful view up there and perfect for watching the magnificent sunset – the perfect setting for a boozy cocktail.

Me at Logos Beach Bar

Having got to know Aggis and Tasos throughout the week and making friends with them, I had expressed my disappointment at not finding a good place for gyros or souvlaki in Lassi – having worked in Corfu previously this is a favourite item and I was so looking forward to it. They told us that you had to have a special licence to cook ‘on the spit’ and that the best place by far was To Karvouno and that they would happily deliver to the hotel. So on our day of departure we had a pita gyros with pancetta belly pork. We had one each, some chips and a feta salad and the entire meal cost 15 Euros and was one of the most enjoyable meals of our week in Kefalonia.

Pork Pancetta Gyros 

Kefalonia is the most captivating island I’ve ever visited and I’ve been raving about it ever since and cannot wait to return. If you haven’t been – I strongly advise you do.


In August, my friend Larni and I had a few days away in Berlin. As well as some important friend time it also coincided with my brother’s birthday - Dan was travelling across Europe during his six weeks break (primary school teacher) with some friends and we all had a great time. It’s an interesting city full of culture, historical buildings mingled with uber modern architecture and a complicated U-Bahn underground transport system which we just about navigated.

We took in the Jewish Museum in Lindenstraße - which documented some fascinating accounts of life during the war with some unusual artwork to boot, we made it to Checkpoint Charlie the infamous border crossing point which played a huge role for Allied Forces too – all very interesting and thought-provoking. I also did the Exit Escape Game with my brother and his friends which was a first for me – for those who haven’t participated, you get an hour to escape from a themed room – in this case a room in the war to prevent the president being assassinated with various clues along the way. A fun distraction in the centre of the city.

We took in plenty of shopping, visiting Bikini Berlin, Potsdamer Platz, the Europa Center and spent frankly hours in KaDeWe or Berlin’s answer to Selfridges. We also spent a fair bit of both time and Euros on cosmetics in the various Douglas stores dotted around the city. They were to us what Sephora was in New York on our last trip abroad together.

Shopping, cocktails and food are always the foundations of mine and Larni’s trips together and I really enjoyed the food in Berlin. Larni struggled a little, as the place where bratwurst is a mainstay wasn’t massively geared up for vegetarians. By mainly having Italian food in Germany we got by and below are some of the favourites.

Our first night we had a gorgeous meal at Petrocelli on Kurfürtendamm. It was buzzy and vibrant and full of happy chatter – it was a Monday night and the food looked good, that coupled with the atmosphere was what drew us in. Larni had a pasta dish that was nice – but nothing to write home about. I had a spectacular seafood salad that included prawns, squid, langoustine, mussels, and lobster and had the most sensational creamy, lemon dressing. It was just fantastic. We followed the meal with delicious desserts after, again, seeing them arrive at fellow diners tables. Larni had a chocolate fondant – perfectly oozing chocolate on the inside and I had what was essentially a fishbowl full of deliciousness – cherry, stracciatella and caramel ice creams, peach cream, whipped cream, caramelised almonds and maple walnuts. Immense. 

The meal, with wine and beer and two courses each came in around the £50 so I thought this was really good value too. The service wasn’t fantastic – but the food did make up for it for me.

I tried the classic Wiener Schnitzel at Reinhard’s am Kurfürtendamm which was nice – a little bigger than I was expecting and served with a slightly odd combination of boiled potatoes and pickled cucumber in a mayonnaise. 

We had a night of cocktails for Dan’s birthday at The Monkey Bar which overlooks Berlin Zoo and where they served incredibly good but incredibly strong drinks. A classy venue with a trendy vibe – I would return for sure. We headed from here over to Schöneberg where we popped into a few different bars and had a wild drinking night.

The hangover meal the next lunchtime was fantastic – a four cheese pizza bigger than I’ve ever tried and utterly delicious at L’Osteria at the Bikini Berlin – another place that was constantly heaving with people and it’s easy to see why. For about £15 a pop we had the most enormous pizza (which if you can’t finish they offer you a box to take it away) as well as a Peroni or two – great food, great value, great vibe.

On our last full day, we enjoyed most of the day at the Waldorf Astoria, an old faithful for us after staying with them in New York. We enjoyed a lovely lunch – steak for me with chips and grilled tomatoes – steak cooked exactly as I wished too. Larni had a goat’s cheese and roasted pepper sandwich with chips too – and she loved it. We also had a gorgeous slice of cake each – a chocolate torte for me and red velvet for Larni. I also had the best iced coffee there - these were hard to find!

Following our meal we headed upstairs to the Guerlain Spa and both enjoyed a massage. If we’d have known about it more in advance we probably would have gone here for the day and enjoyed the pool, steam and sauna facilities – we’ll know for next time.

A great city break with plenty to do – if I was to return I’d be sure to go at a cooler time of the year as it was incredibly hot (over 100) every day we were there and whilst we stayed at the modest and completely clean and comfortable NH City West hotel, they were lacking in air condition which was a massive fail for us and we really did struggle sleeping because of this. I have to say though, the bar in the hotel served some fantastic cocktails and did a very good breakfast – which we only made once in our four days!

Creamy Mustard Chicken and Mushrooms, Roasted Sweet Potato, Roasted Carrots and Asparagus in Garlic Butter

This is a lovely dish for the colder nights - it's warming and hearty and could be served with rice, pasta or just salad, or as I have with some roasted sweet potatoes and a selection of vegetables.

Surprisingly given the warm wholegrain mustard addition, this is also a weaning winner too - especially with the roasted sweet potatoes which are always a hit with Bridget. The vegetables and sweet potatoes make for great finger foods whilst the chicken and mushroom encourages the development of spoon feeding.

The below recipe makes enough for two adult portions and two weaning portions.

Here's how:
Chicken & Mushrooms:
  • 300g chicken breast
  • 150g mushrooms - I used Chestnut but any work well
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 yellow pepper
  • 4 spring onions
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 heaped tbsp creme fraiche 
  • 100ml hot chicken stock
  • 1-2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • 2 tsp dried tarragon
  • Pinch black pepper
The accompaniments:
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 1 pack asparagus tips
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • Pinch paprika
  • Pinch dried thyme

Firstly place the oven on to 180 and the kettle on to boil.

Peel the sweet potato and slice into rounds of about 1/2 cm thickness.

Peel the carrots and cut into chunky wedges and place into a saucepan with the sweet potato and pour over the boiling water till everything is covered and place on a medium heat and cook for five minutes.

While the pot is boiling, finely slice the spring onion and 1 clove garlic and add to a non-stick pack with the olive oil and place onto a low heat.

Slice the pepper and mushrooms and set aside for a moment.

Chop the chicken into evenly sized chunks and once the spring onion has started to soften add to the pan. Turn the chicken to cook and whiten on each side.

By now the potato and carrot will be nicely blanched. Remove and drain away all water and give a vigorous shake.

Place into a baking tray or dish. I try to pop the sweet potato one end, and the carrots the other if possible. Now sprinkle over the thyme over the carrots and the paprika over the sweet potato. Add four of the garlic cloves to the pan and then drizzle over about a tablespoon of olive oil. Place into the oven to cook for 30 minutes.

Once the chicken has turned white on all sides add the pepper and mushrooms to the pan and allow them to soak up the cooking juices and slightly soften.

Now add the creme fraiche and stir till it reduces down to a less solid and more liquidy format then add the chicken stock, tarragon, mustard and black pepper and give a good stir. Allow to cook, stirring every few minutes for about five minutes. Then add the flour and stir until all is absorbed by the sauce. Now this needs to cook away until the sweet potatoes are nicely charred – stir every few minutes and this should thicken up beautifully.

A few minutes before removing the sweet potato and carrots from the oven and the chicken off of the heat, in a separate pan, melt the butter with a clove of garlic – I just cut in half and this is enough to flavour the butter. Now add the asparagus and shake every minute or so. Leave these to cook whilst you plate up everything else and that will be plenty of cooking time. Enjoy!

Sandwich Face

This isn’t a recipe, just an idea to make mealtimes fun for your tot during the weaning stage and beyond.

This is an especially good tactic if you have a fussy eater or one who needs a lot of encouragement and motivating little ones to eat finger foods is really important too.

By simply using a cookie cutter to make round sandwiches (use their favourite filling – ours at the moment are soft cheese with cucumber) and then use some salad items to make a face shape outline – using different items for the different features of the face. You could grate some carrot to make the hair, or use some radishes to make rosy cheeks but I’ve just kept it plain and simple here – a cucumber nose and hair and cherry tomato mouth.