Butternut squash and Stilton pasties

It’s the time of year when we crave comfort food – generally anything hot and carby. And it’s also the time of year for pumpkins and the like. So my recipe for butternut squash and Stilton pasties was perfect for this weekend. They’re super-easy and fun to make, and fun to eat too! They’re perfect for Halloween or bonfire night.

 

Ingredients

Butternut squash and stilton pasties

1 butternut squash

1 onion

200g Stilton

2 sheets of ready rolled short crust pastry

Oil

1 egg

 

Method

Chop the butternut squash into small cubes and add to a roasting tin (oiled) and pop into the oven on gas mark 5 for 10 minutes. Chop the onion and add to the squash, returning to the oven for another 40 minutes.

Cut the sheets of pastry into 12 squares (six squares per sheet). When the butternut squash and onion are cooked and cooled, add a desert spoonful to the middle of each square. Be careful not to overstuff as this can cause the pastry to tear. Add the Stilton, having chopped

To seal the pasties dip your finger in water and run it around the edge of the pastry square. Fold the square over the filling and fold up the edges, crimping together (you can use your fingers, and don’t worry if it doesn’t look perfect, it will taste great and that’s all that matters!). Place on a baking tray and prick each pasty with a sharp knife before coating the pasties with the egg wash. Then pop them in the oven on gas mark 5 for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Enjoy while hot – perfect for Halloween or bonfire night!

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Magic soup; a cure for any cold*

It’s that time of year  again, when the coughing and sneezing and sore throats start; and didn’t mother always tell us that it was a nice thing to share?!

I came down with my annual cold a couple of weeks ago and it was a bad one. After all, if you’re going to do something you might as well do it properly, right? And so it started, the sore throat on day one, heading up to a swollen and blocked nose by day three and shocking headaches after that.

I’m the sort of person who tries to resist medication at almost all costs. Not because I’m daft or because I want to play the martyr but because paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen really don’t agree with me and I end up curing one ailment and giving myself another. But I really needed help with this last cold (which felt closer to flu at times) and you know what they say – “feed a cold”…

My good friend, nutritionist Sally Wisbey (yes, her of Closer magazine’s fridge raider fame) told me that turmeric had excellent anti-inflammatory properties and I knew that ginger was something else I needed – along with a LOT of vegetables! So I made a carrot and ginger soup with turmeric and cayenne pepper. Now I can’t make any medical claims about my soup but I can tell you that my own personal experience was my swollen nose and sinuses feeling a million times better within minutes of drinking the soup (thank you turmeric, I’m crediting you with this miracle) and my throat was no longer swollen and sore (thank you ginger). I didn’t manage to fully avoid the cold capsules but my magic soup really did help make me feel human again!

 

Magic carrot and ginger soup

Ingredients

A knob of butter

1 white onion

3 carrots

2 pints of vegetable stock (or any other stock you like)

Freshly ground ginger, grated or finely chopped

2 tsp of turmeric

1 tsp of cayenne pepper

 

Method

Melt the butter and add the onion, chopped. Cover and sweat on a low heat. Chop the carrots and sweat on a low heat until soft.

Add the stock and simmer for around 15 minutes, adding the ginger, turmeric and cayenne pepper. You can add as little or as much as you like but when you have a cold you’ll probably lean towards more rather than less.

Once the soup is cooked and cooled blitz in the blender – or with a handheld blender (you can get these very cheaply from large supermarkets) and box up into individual containers ready to reheat and enjoy as required.

*not medically proven but it still tastes great!

Aubergine and sweet potato tagine

As you may have read in my previous blog, I’ve been trying the healthy eating thing since leaving Slimmeria in Devon one stone lighter. A meal I’ve always really liked is aubergine tagine, but I used to eat it with white rice and the recipe I’d been using was rather oil and salt heavy. My challenge was to make a yummy tagine with less oil and add another ingredient to make it more filling, without moving away from the Slimmeria diet. So I used less oil (and changed it to coconut oil) and added sweet potato – delicious! The coconut really works with the sweet potato (it’s also what I use when I roast them in the oven) and it goes so well with the aubergine too, making this delicious meal moreish!

 

Aubergine and sweet potato tagine

Ingredients

Coconut oil

1 onion

2 aubergines

2 sweet potatoes

2 tins of chopped tomatoes

Garlic – as much as you like!

Mild chilli powder

Method

Put a teaspoon of coconut oil on a baking tray and heat in the oven. Now chop the aubergine into 1cm cubes and add to the heated coconut oil and pop into the oven on gas mark 5 for 20 minutes.

Chop the onion and add to a pan with another tea spoon of coconut oil, and sweat the onions on a low heat with the chopped and peeled sweet potato.  Add the roasted aubergine, chopped tomatoes, garlic – feel free to go wild and add a whole bulb! – and mild chilli powder and simmer on the hob for around 15 minutes.

Enjoy this delicious tagine with chicken and rice or bread, or just on its own for a healthier option. However you enjoy it, it’s always delicious!

Slimmeria; how to lose a stone – but not your mind – in six days

One of the downfalls of running a tea shop is that it’s so easy to put on weight; surrounded by cake all day it’s hard to keep on the straight and narrow and healthy eating is always sabotaged by the temptation of cake (trying each and every one is a very important part of my job – or so I told myself!), fish finger sandwiches and bacon butties. Add that to several months of 40th birthday celebrations – both for me and some of my oldest friends – and I saw myself pile on the pounds and then pile on some more!

So I decided to go back to what I knew would work – Slimmeria. I’d been to the Sussex retreat twice before, losing 11lbs in six days both times. The great thing about Slimmeria is that I know it’s possible to continue post-retreat and it’s not a crash diet (as many of my friends have suggested), it’s more of a programme that flicks the switch in your mind, reprogrammes your brain and gives you the wings to fly in much healthier skies.

However, this time I wasn’t to go back to Sussex. Slimmeria has proven to be such a huge success (because it works!) that Galia, the retreats fabulously eccentric owner, has expanded the business and so I was booked into her new retreat in Devon. The new Slimmeria in Devon is slightly different and, in some ways, more challenging, than Sussex. For one, it’s not stuck in the middle of nowhere but on the edge of the beautiful coastal town of Ilfracombe, a three-minute walk from Lidl and not much further to a high street jam packed with tea rooms and fish and chip shops. So this ‘holiday’ would be all about learning to say no. We also got to enjoy a few more calories (although not many more) than Sussex which gave me the extra energy to work that bit harder in the classes.

Our day would start when the bell was rung at 7.30am. After a quick shower (no make-up required on this holiday!) I’d throw on leggings and a t-shirt and head to the dining room for my lemon tonic (a detoxing drink and a great start to the day) and a sliver of apple. I’m not exaggerating when I say sliver either, it couldn’t have been more than 1/16… And then on our empty(ish) stomachs we’d go out for our two-hour hike. If you’re not familiar with north Devon it’s really beautiful but also very hilly. Steep hills. And because it’s on the coast it’s also rather blustery. So the morning walks did have their own challenges, but what a way to start the day! Walking by the sea it becomes easy to see the power in nature, and suddenly my body felt anything but powerful. But given time and a lot of work I knew it could be and as the week progressed, I could feel the metamorphosis begin.  

Arriving back from the hike at around 10.15am we were treated to breakfast. Sadly no poached eggs or full English at Slimmeria! Instead we enjoyed a glass of juice (carrot or grapefruit) before changing into our trainers for a fitness class. The daily fitness classes were lead by Sam, who got the balance between pushing us enough to benefit from the class and being kindly conscious of our light-headed, rumbly-tummy weakness (which varied and improved as the week progressed) just right. Some days we’d be lunging and cruching (between pathetic grumbles, mostly from me) and other days it would be kettle bells or boxing. Whatever the activity, it was always fun (no matter how much complaining I’d do!).

After the fitness class Nikki would take over with a pilates/yoga class. Another point of difference between Devon and Sussex where the post-fitness yoga class was more about relaxing and meditation… Nikki, who also happens to be a champion Irish dancer and a Team GB power lifter, put us through our paces before lunch.



Lunch was usually a small salad (no bread roll or salad cream
here I’m afraid!) followed by a fruity or herbal tea. Then came the tricky part, killing an hour and a half before afternoon tea (you guessed it, no scones and clotted cream, only small pieces of fruit albeit beautifully presented) and then distracting myself by walking up to the harbour and back. My walks to the harbour each afternoon were lovely but so full of temptation – my solution was to always leave my purse at home so even if I was tempted I couldn’t ruin my efforts!

At 6.30pm each day we were treated to a really tasty supper. And that’s an important point about the food at Slimmeria, it might be scarce but boy does it taste good! So much red onion, garlic, chilli… there really was no need to complain about the quality of the food there. Quantity? Well that’s why I was there in the first place…

My joy at losing a stone in six days is written all over my now-thinner face!

The morning of the final weigh in was nerve-wracking to say the least – I was aware that I’d been consuming more calories than at Sussex, but Galia reassured me that this new programme was seeing some really impressive results. My time came; 3 inches off the waist and bust and 14lbs down. To say I was delighted was a complete understatement, and bear in mind that after six days of around 600 vegan calories the emotions are all over the place!

Having checked out, I headed to the harbour for my first meal of freedom. The gingerbread and banana ice cream was a huge mistake and left me feeling quite unwell (my body just wasn’t used to that amount of food, let alone dairy) but the lobster and crab sandwiches (I got half of each) that I bought to enjoy on my long drive home were HEAVEN! As was the salmon fillet, sweet potato and salad I enjoyed at home that evening. And since I left Slimmeria? I’ve been enjoying much healthier meals and created some beautiful dishes with healthy and tasty ingredients. Watch this space for recipes…

Award season celebrations

It’s award season in Merton! And I was thrilled that Willow Bough, my beautiful little tea shop in Wimbledon, is a finalist in the Best Customer Service category of the Merton Best Business Awards run by Merton Chamber of Commerce. We’ve only been open for two years and are still becoming known in the borough, but it seems that so far our customers like what we’re doing!

 

We work really hard at Willow Bough to provide a high level of customer service, along with excellent food. We know it’s not just what’s on your plate that counts when eating out and you really do get the whole experience at Willow Bough.

So in September I’ll be dusting off my posh frock and glamming up for the awards ceremony. Whatever the results, I’m sure we’ll have a wonderful time and will feel proud just to have reached the final

We’ve also been nominated in two categories – Best Coffee/Tea House and Best Service – in the Time and Leisure Best Business Awards. Voting is still open so please do take a few minutes to make my day and vote for Willow Bough and hopefully there’ll be another award ceremony to get dressed up for!

Potato salad; making a meal of it

At the weekend I got a really bad craving for homemade potato salad. I have no idea why, but something in me wanted homemade potato salad and so that’s what I was going to have! So I based my whole meal around the potato salad and I didn’t let myself down.

To make the potato salad I boiled new potatoes and then chopped them into bite-size pieces. I added chopped red onion and mayonnaise with a squirt of fresh lemon juice.

It was so hot I decided to enjoy said potato salad with tuna steaks and a salad of lamb’s lettuce, radishes, cucumber and tomatoes dressed in olive oil and the juice of the other half a lemon.  I cooked the tuna steaks on a high heat for around six minutes, turning after four minutes and squirting with the remaining lemon juice. The fresh salad and tuna steak felt light and right with the potato salad.

For pudding I wanted something equally as summery, indulgent but also not horrifically naughty. So I made a raspberry Eton mess with meringue (yes, shop bought. I can’t bake and make everything all the time!), fresh raspberries and organic raspberry yogurt. It didn’t last long!

The wine I chose to enjoy with this meal was – and please note that I am no exceptional wine connoisseur, just someone who likes what she likes as long as it falls in budget – a white rioja. I’ve been drinking white rioja for a few years now and picked up a bargain bottle in Lidl for just under £4. What a bargain!

Easy pasta; the ultimate in lazy girl meals

I’ve been so busy this week running from the shop out to parties or networking events with hardly a second to spare! So I’ve been reliant on my lazy girl menu for dinner ideas. One of my easiest – and quite frankly laziest – meals is my easy pasta and it can be made with almost anything that you have left over in the fridge.

I boiled a portion of pasta until it was al dente and set it aside. Then, in a non-stick frying pan (let’s face it, non-stick makes the washing up so much easier!) I cooked slices of some leftover chorizo I found in my fridge. Once cooked I removed the chorizo and added soft cheese to the oil left by the chorizo and heated it slowly until it was a tasty creamy sauce.

I always keep a jar of black olives in my fridge and so I halved some of these and added them, with the chorizo, to the creamy sauce. I then stirred in the pasta and transferred to a dish and devouring with a much-needed glass of red wine!

Easy pasta can be made with pretty much anything you have left over in the fridge – it just takes a bit of imagination and an adventurous spirit.

Note – I munched on carrot sticks while preparing the easy pasta to make sure the meal was somewhat balanced!

Fairytale fantastic

And so it happened – last month I turned… well, let’s just say I had a ‘significant birthday’. And as per any significant birthday I thought I’d see it in with a stylish midlife crisis!

Bunny and fairy queen in the enchanted forest

Being an eternal child, Fairy tale fantastic seemed like the perfect theme. A few months ago I went to the bluebell woods where Palmer Photography London had photographed me and turned me into a fairy. I used this as inspiration for the whole party – setting up a Fairy tale Fantastic room with floral garlands, a lit-up cherry tree with life-like birds, an enchanted forest photo booth with fairy wings, flower crowns and rabbit ears, and a buffet that was fit for a midsummer night’s dream.

I’d spent the previous day making olive and parmesan dragonflies and butterflies – these proved to be so delicious that not all of them made it to the party! Continuing the enchanted forest theme I made bunny shape brie and red onion tarts, apple and goats cheese scones, love-heart marshmallow kebabs with brownies and strawberries, and cupcakes – both gluten-free – rose and pistachio (using real rose petals, of course) and chocolate and Bailey’s cupcakes with magic star dust. The centrepiece cake, which was fit for a fairy princess, was one of my two-tiered cakes (Pimms and gin & tonic) decorated with natural flowers.

I really love working with a theme, it brings so many opportunities to be creative and have fun with food, decoration and the dress code. The only thing that was missing was Prince Charming… for now!

South in south west; a taste of The South in Fulham

For a south-west London girl who loves country music and food (in no particular order), I was really excited to hear of a new southern American restaurant, Stagolee’s Hot Chicken and Liquor Joint, opening up in Fulham. While I’ve made the journey across the pond a few times I’ve never been to The South so this cuisine was virgin territory for me, and my taste buds were beyond excited. No pressure then Stagolee’s… 

The South is famed for its hospitality and Stagolee’s didn’t let us down. We were greeted by friendly (but not too intrusive) staff and enjoyed a chat with the Nashville-native owner, Jordan, who talked us through the menu, whisky, moonshine and what makes southern cuisine so special.

We started off sharing the hot spinach dip, a cheesy spinach and artichoke dip served with tortillas. I could have eaten this and nothing else all evening and left a happy woman. Spinach, artichoke and cheese are three of my favourite foods, so put them all together and I was in food heaven for a while. But it was my duty to eat a main course too…

We opted for the chicken platters; excellent value for money at under £10 each. Beware those of you who aren’t keen on heat, you might be best off choosing the skillet fried chicken. We went for the hot chicken which I loved – but I was pleased to have sides to balance out the heat. Olivia found the hot chicken a bit too hot, and she’s fairly hard-core, so tread carefully, but if you think you’re tough enough I personally recommend the hot chicken.

The deliciously refreshing carrot salad

When I say excellent value for money I really mean it. We each got two pieces of delicious chicken, two yummy sides and cornbread. And speaking of cornbread, where has it been all my life? I wasn’t expecting to enjoy what seemed like cake with a main course quite as much as I did. I really must have a go at making some myself! Sides include the classic mac and cheese, sweet potato, southern-style greens (served with ham hock – again, mouth-wateringly scrumptious), and carrot salad (which reminded me of coronation chicken without the chicken. Or the mayonnaise). The carrot salad was refreshing and full of flavour – definitely my favourite. Crinkle cut chips are also available but it seems a shame to me to not enjoy the other side dishes. Let’s face it, you can get chips almost anywhere.

I’m afraid pudding beat us – there was simply no room left. However, it would have been almost criminal to leave without enjoying a whisky. Having started the evening with a delicious gin cocktail and then enjoyed a bottle of red with the main meal I wasn’t really in the best place to judge how good a whisky it was, so I’ll just have to trust the barman on this one. Needless to say, I enjoyed it!

 So the big question is, would I go back to Stagolee’s? Absolutely, although really do feel the need to visit Nashville even more than ever now to check out the food, if nothing else!

A special cake for a special friend; chocolate and lavender cake

Me, with Helen, aged 18

Helen and I have been friends since our first year of secondary school. We first met when, after our last class of our first day (music), I asked her if she was getting the bus home. She was, and being bus buddies, it was a question that cemented our friendship. Twenty-eight years later and we’re still good friends and I am proud Godmother to her beautiful nine-year-old daughter.

This year Helen reached a landmark age and I was devastated that I couldn’t go to the surprise birthday dinner her husband had lovingly organised (I was off at the O2 dancing to all things country!). However, there was one thing I could do for her – make her a beautiful birthday cake to remember.

Chocolate and lavender cake

As you may know by now, I love to work with fruits and flowers and my initial plan had been to make Helen my delicious pistachio and rose cake (that’s a recipe I fully intend to share one of these days!). But I’m afraid that foolish me didn’t check the cupboard for rose water and so I had to improvise (sorry Helen!). For me, it’s when I have to improvise that I come up with my finest recipes. I had lavender but wanted to do something a bit more indulgent for Helen’s special birthday, especially as I wasn’t going to be there. So I decided to put lavender with rich chocolate. And thankfully it worked a treat! I’ve since made the cake a couple of times in the shop and at home and the noises that come from people when they taste it – well, what can I say? Simply tastetastic!

Happy birthday Helen, here’s to another 28 years of friendship and more x

 

Chocolate and lavender cake

Ingredients

12oz butter

120z sugar

6 eggs

9oz self-raising flour

3oz cocoa powder

100g dark chocolate, chopped

For the icing

3oz butter

1lb icing sugar

100ml milk

Lavender essence

Culinary lavender for decoration

Method

Cream the butter and add the sugar. Mix in the eggs one at a time. Sift in the flour and cocoa powder and stir in the chopped chocolate. Transfer into two 8” tins and bake in the oven (I bake mine at 150 for 30 minutes) until they pass the skewer test.

For the icing, cream the butter and add the icing sugar a bit at a time. Add the milk, again, a bit at a time until you get the consistency you want. Mix in the lavender essence – I use six drops but it’s personal taste, so add two drops at a time until you’re happy with the flavour.

Once the cakes are cooked and cooled off, sandwich together with the lavender icing and ice the top of the cake. Decorate with the dried lavender to make it look as pretty as it is tasty!