Monday, 31 December 2012

I'm going vegetarian! (For January)

I'm going meat-free for the whole of January. 31 days of no meat or fish. Obviously, everyone keeps asking 'why?', which is a bloody good question, and one that I'm starting to ask myself. I almost definitely eat too much meat. I have pretty much no clue about how to cook good veggie stuff. I think that perhaps I just fancy a new challenge.

A few kind souls have offered to sponsor me for my efforts, so I've set up a page on JustGiving to raise a bit of money for the Children's Heart Unit at the Freeman. If that's not an incentive to stay on the meat-free wagon, I don't know what is.

If there's one thing I've learned over the past few weeks while I've been researching, it's that it's a bit of a minefield in terms of knowing exactly what you can and can't have. So in the interests of clearing things up from the offset, I will be eating dairy products, but I'll be avoiding everything that isn't suitable for vegetarians (not vegans).

I absolutely love meat and I've got no desire whatsoever to give it up permanently, but I'm pretty excited about the whole thing now.

So, please do point me in the direction of any veggie blogs I should be reading, recipes I should be trying, or places I can go out to eat in the North East when I totally run out of inspiration.

Meanwhile, I'll be cursing about the whole thing over on Twitter.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Getting back on the food blogging horse

As far as hobbies go, food blogging is a bit of an odd one. Taking photos of your dinner and writing about it is a fairly strange concept to most normal people. Giles Coren went so far as to call all food bloggers 'pointless wankers' recently. Even so, it's been the source of much enjoyment over the past few years, and something that I always wish I had more time to do. 

In fact, it was probably what led me, in a round-about way, to start my own business earlier this year doing copywriting and other 'wordy stuff'. But since I now spend a large chunk of my time stringing sentences together for other people, it's hard to find the motivation at the end of a long day to write about the latest restaurant I've been to, and whether or not the waitress had a look on her face that suggested she might have spat in my soup. 

Every now and again though, I really miss it. It might be a self-indulgent pastime, but I've made many lovely friends with a similar passion for food. Writing about fashion and SEO and whatever else rears its head might pay the bills, but it's not really anywhere near as exciting. Plus, I've been amazed at just how many people actually take the time to email me and just say that they love reading my blog. What, MINE?! It turns out that it's not just me who will happily spend 5 hours reading whatever drivel they can find on the internet before actually getting down to some frigging work. 

Getting to the point, and as the title suggests, I'm back on the blogging horse. 

So here's to continuing to be a pointless wanker in 2013. 

And just to prove that I haven't been doing nothing whatsoever for the past 6 months, here's a few cakes that I've made during my unplanned blogging break. 

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Veg Box Company experiment: the verdict

So a few weeks ago, I jumped on the veg box bandwagon and received my first delivery from The Veg Box Company. £12 got me the couple's fruit and veg box, packed with more than enough to feed two people for a week. The challenge was this though: could I actually use it all in a week to create lovely, healthy recipes? Or would it end up shrivelled in its box, forgotten about while I was easily persuaded to go out for dinner after work, or low and behold, pop into Tesco?

In the end, I surprised even myself. A week after it had been delivered, all that was left was a single orange. It probably goes without saying, but one of the best things about getting a veg box is that you don't know what you'll be getting, other than that it'll be local, seasonal produce. Planning what you'll make therefore turns into quite an exciting little project.

Everything was used without too much ado, and it was actually quite nice to make meals led by the content of the veg box rather than having to think of endless ideas off the top of your head. All the produce was really fresh and high quality, and my only complaint would be that there was nothing too 'out of the ordinary'. Probably a plus really, in terms of getting everything used, but it would have been nice to see something that you might usually have to go out of your way to find. The content of the boxes changes weekly though, so maybe next time I'll be able to have a moan that I don't know what to do with all these weird and wonderful vegetables.

I made frittatas, stir fries, numerous honey roasted vegetable side dishes, a Sunday roast with all the trimmings, and on lazy evenings, just whatever was in the fridge with a tray of roasted vegetables. A caramelised onion and tomato tatin was a particular success. Yes I cheated and used ready made pastry, but really, who has time to make their own on a weeknight?

Recipe serves 4.

You'll need:

500g puff pastry
75g butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and cut into thick slices
2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, peeled and roughly chopped
400g tomatoes, cut into large chunks (or use whole cherry toms)

  • Preheat the oven to 200c/180c fan assisted/gas mark 6. Heat a heavy based pan over a medium heat and melt two thirds of the butter with 1 tbsp olive oil. Cook for about ten minutes, or until golden. Add 1 tsp sugar and balsamic vinegar, stir well so all the onions are coated, and cook for another few minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
  • Heat the remaining butter and olive oil in the pan and once melted, add the remaining sugar, garlic, and tomatoes. Cook for 2 minutes.
  • Pour the tomatoes into a tart tatin tin. If you don't own one, any large ovenproof bowl can be used. Scatter the onions over the top.
  • Roll out the pastry so it's slightly bigger than the top of your tin. Lay the pastry over the top and tuck in at the edges.
  • Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until golden.
  • Allow to cool for 5 minutes before turning out of the tin. This is the only tricky part of the whole recipe. Place an upturned plate over the tin and quickly turn over. No messing around here. Edge it out slowly and you'll end up with a broken tart.
Serve with new potatoes and green beans or salad.

All in all, my little veg box experiment was a resounding success. Buying from local suppliers such as The Veg Box Company isn't going to change the world, but it will mean that you have lovely local produce at fair prices while supporting people who are passionate about what they do. Buy a box. You won't be disappointed.

Electric East, Newcastle

Anyone who enjoys getting fed seems to be raving about Electric East at the minute. Previously operating as Barn Asia, the Thai, Vietnamese and Cambodian fusion restaurant was a jewel in Newcastle’s culinary crown, winning the North East’s only addition in the Times Top 100 Best Restaurant list and a Remy Martin Award for Excellence. Sadly, I’d never quite gotten round to eating at Barn Asia before it closed its doors for the last time in October, another casualty of the recession. But no sooner had it gone the distance, it was reopened as Electric East. Same staff, same management, and a bloody good excuse to have an evening out...

This was a guest post for You can read the full review over at their website.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

What's on in January: Newcastle Restaurant Week

Like most, I started January with the best possible intentions. A copy of the latest Weight Watchers magazine, a clear out of the alcohol cupboard, solemn promises to myself that I'll be looking svelte and gorgeous in a bikini by June.

Also similar to most, I expect that the sentiment will be dashed by the end of the month. But really, could there be a worse time to deprive yourself?

If you're looking for ways to add a bit of excitement to an otherwise dull January, or an excuse for falling off the dieting wagon with a bit of style, pencil in Newcastle Restaurant Week. Running from 23rd-29th January, the event involves over 20 of the city's top restaurants, mostly offering 2 courses for £10. My personal favourites from the list include Blackfriars, Cafe 21 and Pan Haggerty, though I also intend to try out a few places that have been on my 'to do' list for a while now. On a more serious note, it's also an affordable opportunity to support the local restaurant scene during these tough times.

For a full list of participating restaurants, check out the Get into Newcastle website. Booking in advance would be sensible.

I'm taking full advantage and I've booked a table at two restaurants throughout the week already. Everything in moderation, eh?

Monday, 16 January 2012

My first Veg Box Company purchase

On Saturday I received my first fruit and veg box from The Veg Box Company, a local business specialising in delivering locally sourced produce to homes and businesses in the north east.

I ordered the couple's fruit and veg box, designed to feed 2 people for a week with up to 13 varieties, and priced at £12 including delivery. I received:

A large cauliflower
A large garlic bulb
A large turnip
2 large sweet potatoes
2 onions
6 large potatoes
8 carrots
3 parsnips
3 large handfuls of mushrooms
2 tomatoes
3 pears
2 oranges
2 apples
A 16 teabag trial pack from Victory Tea

All in all, a good selection and lots of staples that most households will use on a daily basis. I buy most of my fruit and vegetables from the supermarket or when I get the opportunity, from local greengrocers and markets. Having your fruit and veg delivered straight to your door is a bit of a risky proposition, as you can't have the usual root-around for the best looking items, but it's convenient and was actually quite exciting. Or maybe I just need to get out more?

So far, I'm more than happy with the selection and the quality of the items in my veg box. But the true challenge is this: can I incorporate all the items into a week's worth of meals, without wasting anything? I've got a penchant for deciding to eat out at the last minute and cooking things on a whim, rather than putting too much forethought into what the next day's menu will include. So I've set myself the challenge to make this a week of wasting nothing, attempting new recipes, and most definitely getting my 5-a-day.

Check back next week to see how I get on.

The Veg Box Company