You could visit London twenty times and never see the same thing twice. However, there are some places that draw you back.
Covent Garden and the Seven Dials area are probably thought of as pure tourist areas, but I’m OK with that.
If gorgeous buildings, quaint shops, street performers and bustling nightlife are your thing then you’ll love it.
I visited last week when the area was being decorated for Christmas. Little outdoor pods are popping up everywhere to allow people to enjoy outdoor drinking/dining.
As a birthday treat, my friend Bronagh booked us into the Ivy for dinner. There are several Ivy restaurants in London, but the original is in the heart of theatre land and has always been a favourite haunt of acting luvvies as far back as Noel Coward.
Smaller than I expected, the service was immaculate from the minute you walk through the door until you leave when the lovely coat check lady slips your coat on and artfully arranges your scarf for you.
The gorgeous art deco interior is classy but understated. The lighting is the perfect mix of being flattering to anyone over 30, bright enough to let you celeb spot (you can often catch sight of a Hollywood A lister), and dark enough for people who want to dine ‘discreetly’. It’s the perfect restaurant for people watching.
The food is also excellent, you don’t survive for as long as the Ivy has in a city with so many restaurants if your food isn’t up to scratch.
The Ivy knows its audience, the food is rich and comforting, with dishes like cottage pie and steaks seeming popular. Classic dishes done well, you won’t find infused foams and molecular gastronomy on the menu.
It may not be somewhere most people would visit weekly, but well worth visiting for a treat. There are also fabulous watering holes nearby for pre or post dinner cocktails.
I visited Krakow recently, and loved everything about the place. What I really fell in love with were pierogis, served in pretty much every restaurant.
Our food guide told us the it’s really common in Polish homes for members of the family to get together and make huge batches of pierogis, especially at certain times of year, like Christmas.
This weekend I got together with my Krakow travel companions to drink maybe more than we should and make pierogis.
Pierogis are fairly easy to make and we worked in a kind of production line which made it even easier. I would definitely recommend getting your friends together and giving communal cooking a go. By the time you chat, laugh and have a few drinks you can make loads of them. I didn’t have a recipe for these so we used the BBC Good Food recipe and the dumplings tasted exactly like what he had in Poland.
Pierogis freeze well, double up on the recipe and you can pull them out of the freezer for a quick week night dinner. You can also make a sweet version by simply replacing the filling with raw blueberries and serve topped with sour cream.
For the dough
250 Grams Self Raising Flour (sifted)
1 Tsp Salt
3 Tbsp. Vegetable oil
250-300ml Warm Water
For the filling
250 Grams Mashed potatoes (this is a great way to use up left overs, make sure the mashed potatoes are cold before using)
50 Grams Butter
1 Onion (finely chopped)
250 Grams Cottage Cheese
Add the flour and salt to a bowl, add the oil and then gradually add water and mix until you have a soft dough. Gather into a ball, knead for 5 minutes, wrap in cling film. Chill for 30 minutes
While the dough is resting, melt the butter in a frying pan and cook the onions over a medium heat for 10-15 minutes until they are golden brown
Mix the potatoes and cottage cheese together and stir in two thirds of the fried onions. Mix until thoroughly combined
Roll the dough out as thinly as possible (nobody wants a thick doughy dumpling). Use a cookie cutter or class to cut 4-5 cm circles
Put a teaspoon of the filling in the centre of the circle and lightly wet the edges of of circle. Fold over to create a half moon and press the edges closed tightly
Heat a large pot of water to just before boiling, add the pierogi, about 6-7 at a time (depending on the size of your pot, just be careful not to overcrowd the pot)
When the pierogi start to float, lift out with a slotted spoon and drain in a colander. Keep cooking the pierogi until all the dumplings are cooked.
Serve on a large plate, and sprinkle the remaining fried onions over the top
If you’ve followed this blog you’ll know I’m a bit of a foraging nerd. I was really lucky to go on an amazing herb walk with 2 fantastic and highly qualified herbalists (Sarah and Luke) down at Helen’s Bay Organic farm.
The weather was bracing to say the least, but Luke and Sarah were so passionate about their subject that you almost didn’t mind the rain showers and wind.
In my part of the world we’re fortunate to have a brilliant variety of wild plants that are delicious and amazingly good for you. To make things even better, they’re free!
When picking wild food it’s advisable to not pick from roadsides (because of all pollution from passing cars). If you’re picking herbs at low level it’s also worth remembering that dogs might have pee’d on them (so give them a quick wash if you’re not sure).
The first wild food we were shown were rosehips, the seedpods of wild roses. It’s not advisable to eat the whole thing as the seeds are an irritant. They make a tasty syrup packed full of vitamin C. In fact only 3 rose hips, has the same amount of vitamin C as a large orange.
Dandelions are seen as a scourge by most gardeners’ but has a range of uses. The young leaves can used in salads, the roots make a decent coffee substitute, and it makes a very good diuretic, that removes sodium but not potassium from your body.
Chick weed (so called because chickens go mad for it) is good in salads and tastes quite like spinach and packed full of vitamins. This herb is also great for your skin and can be used in baths as a little treat for your skin
Speed well was apparently used as far back as ancient Greece, and helps with muscle injuries and fatigue.
Red dead nettle (even though the flowers are pink) is a member of the mint family. A powerful anti spasmodic, it’s useful in the treatment of IBS and period cramps.
Shepherd’s Purse, can be used to reduce inflammation and can help treat heavy periods and intestinal issues.
Stinging nettles are a pain if you brush up against them, but are an almost perfect super food. Packed with vitamins, minerals and trace elements the young leaves can be picked all year round and eaten in soups and stews. Medicinally they are high in iron, and has proved effective in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and kidney problems.
As a kid I was always told if I was stung by nettles to rub my skin with a dock leaf, which proved to be absolutely no use. But it turns out there was something in the old wive’s tale that obviously got jumbled over time. If you ignore the big leaves and look towards the root there are little new almost spiky leaves. If you pick these leaves they release a gel similar to aloe vera, which as it turns out can sooth skin irritation. The roots can also be dried and used to treat skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
My favourite herb of the day was plantain, which tastes a little bit like dried mushroom, but in a good way. This was traditionally made into a poultice to help wounds heal more quickly. If drunk as a tea about 20 minutes before taking certain antibiotics it can boost their effectivness by 3-4 times.
Ivy is also seen as a pest by most gardeners’ but can also be used to make a tea. The tea helps treat lung problems like hooping cough and bronchitis.
We were also treated to a tasty lunch of home made nettle soup and nibbles. Sarah and Luke run these walks several time a year based on the seasons. I’m not including a quarter of the fascinating stuff they told us. If you like to geek out a little bit about foraging, this is the experience for you. I would definitely recommend it.
Autumn is definitely here, and it’s time to break out the one pot comfort food recipes. I love recipes that I can make from what I usually have in a cupboard or the fridge and this one of them. Dried yellow split peas are really cheap, and packed full of protein and fibre. They also work brilliantly in Indian dishes like dhal.
This is a really rich satisfying, cheap and easy to make meal. Perfect for chilly days when you want something nutritious and satisfying. It’s also packed with lovely warming flavours like ginger, chilli and garlic.
This soup freezes well or can live in your fridge for 3-4 days.
1 Leek (finely sliced)
2 Carrots (grated)
250 Grams Yellow split peas
1 Litre Vegetarian stock (I used 2 stock cubes to make this)
Thumb sized piece of ginger (grated), or 1 Tsp of ground ginger if you don’t have the fresh stuff)
1 Tsp Tumeric
3-4 Cloves of garlic (minced)
1 Tsp Chilli powder
1 Tbsp Vegetable Oil
Heat the oil in large pot over a medium heat, and add the leek and carrot. Cook for 5-10 minutes until soft
Add the rest of the ingredients and stir. Turn up the heat bring the soup up to just before the boil
Reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally
Serve topped with toasted hazel nuts or pumpkin seeds for a little extra crunch