Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Roasted butternut pumpkin spread

A perfect snack: Golden butternut pumpkin spread onto Ryvita

I wanted something healthy to snack on and boost my brain power, so I decided to spread some avocado on slices of Ryvita, because, y'know, avocado has good brain boosting fats or something. Only to cut into a very raw avocado. 

Absolutely devastated.

So I had to hunt around my kitchen for something else to snack on. I found a butternut pumpkin lying around (from October probably?!) and thought about making soup. So I peeled it up and cut it into chunks and roasted it in the oven with some olive oil and salt and pepper.

Roasted caramelised butternut pumpkin

30 minutes at 200˚C in my fan oven, and it's perfect. It's lovely and soft, still moist and just starting to caramelise around the edges. It was just too good to make into soup.

I was just going to eat it on the Ryvita, but it was not an easy feat. The pumpkin chunks don't stay on and you have to manoeuvre the crispbread carefully so that it doesn't wobble, crack and fall apart when you bite into it. So I decided to squash the pumpkin into the crisp bread a little, so it had a bit more staying power.

Then I thought, why not mash it all

Butternut pumpkin so soft it simply mushes when you press with a fork

Then you get a bowl of golden mush. Sweet, buttery, nutty, mush. I didn't add anything to it, but you could plop in a blob of butter to make it extra buttery.

Roasted butternut pumpkin mash, use it for a spread on crispbread

It's quite a chunky spread, you could pulse it through a food processor if you like. I like mine chunky and 'rustic', ha. I love how they call things that look a bit rough and ready, not neat and pristine, 'rustic'. Makes it all okay. =) 

Chunky butternut pumpkin mash spread

It spreads easily enough anyway onto the Ryvita crispbread, and allows me to get a nice and thick layer on.

Butternut squash spread on Ryvita crispbread

Super quick and easy, this will last me days! It's not a recipe as such, just another way to eat butternut pumpkin if you're looking for a delicious, surprisingly filling, healthy and brain boosting snack!

Roasted butternut pumpkin spread on Ryvita crispbread for a quick and easy snack

Monday, 25 November 2013

Warming Winter Food at Norman's Kitchen

One thing that amazes me every year I come back to Newcastle is how cold it gets. I know I should know better really (after all this is my fourth year here!) but I'm never quite prepared for it. The problem is that it gets cold so early. By the time it's the start of October, there's already wintry gusts slapping your face whenever you step outside. I think I can handle it, only for it to get colder, and colder, and colder, and colder...

I have a cute little paper thermometer, that changes colour according to what temperature it is (it's supposed to demonstrate some chemistry thing...?). It only ranges from 12ºC to 34ºC. It's blank, no colour appears, probably because the temperature in my house is not registrable on that scale, and I'm pretty sure it's not cos it's too hot!

Cold weather makes me lazy. All I ever want to do is sleep. And not get out of my warm cozy bed. Except maybe to eat.

Especially when there's good food...

Norman's Kitchen clay pot rice dishes | Svelte Salivations

There's a neat little homely place in Newcastle City Centre, near Chinatown, but not in it, that's popped up in the last year or so. Norman's Kitchen is a quiet subtle place thats easy to miss if you're not looking for it. 

I'd been recommended the place by a friend who kept gushing on about the amazing clay pot rice there. What a better thing to do on a freezing winter day than to try it out.

The menu boasts a page of different clay pot rice toppings, but they do various other rice and mains-type dishes as well.

Beef mince and fried egg clay pot rice at Norman's Kitchen | Svelte Salivations

We opted for a typical clay pot dish - beef mince with egg, and another typical Chinese dish, although not one I've seen in a clay pot before - crispy roast pork.

The wait was average, nothing too long, as can be with some restaurants who serve clay pot rice, as they require time to cook the rice only when you order it. Our rice was piping hot and smelt incredible. They also give you a dish of soya sauce each to pour over your own pot, which means you can control the saltiness according to your own tastes.

The only thing was they took the lids off as soon as they served it, while I like to keep the lid on my clay pot rice for 5 minutes or so, as the steam helps to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot, allowing you to eat the wonderful, slightly burnt, crust of rice that forms. This proved not to be a problem though, because they were quite generous with the oil heh. 

Roast pork clay pot rice at Norman's Kitchen | Svelte Salivations

The portions were massive, we were both so full, and barely managed to finish it all! But we did, because it was just that good.

The mince beef was incredible, the texture of the patty was so smooth and fine, yet not mushy at all. The fried egg on top was the cherry on top! Could've been more runny, so all the golden goodness can run out, but nevertheless, delicious all the same.

The roast pork was not bad either, but while it did satisfy my cravings (I do miss proper Chinese food  when I'm away from home...), I can see why it's not a usual topping. The roast pork is roasted, and the added onto the rice when the rice is done. This means that crispy skin on the pork stays crispy(ish), but it also means that the rice does not get any of the flavour of the meat while it is cooked.

I think next time, I'm going to opt for ones where the meat is cooked inside the clay pot at the same time as the rice.

Because there will definitely be a next time!

If I can ever bring myself to get out of bed, and face the inhumane weather conditions of this country.

Restaurant Information:

Norman's Kitchen
Tel: 0191 261 5717
Address: 93 Clayton Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 5PZ
Website: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Normans-kitchen/372160226210960

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Chinese Dumplings with Pork and Cabbage - Jiaozi - 餃子

Some days at university are long - a drawn-out day of lectures and seminars and practicals splattered about the place, during which you still need to go to the library to get that book you requested, and to the student office to drop off some silly form or other, then topped off with some club or society activity afterwards. When you finally get home, you realise that you've volunteered to create a revision handout for your study group, and you've still got that extra reading to do for tomorrow's class!

The last thing you can afford to do is to spend an hour trying to cook up something... (usually with the non-existent ingredients in your kitchen, because you've also forgotten to buy food for the week!)

My usual quick fix meals contain NO meat: pasta and pasta sauce, instant noodles, spaghetti on toast, canned soup... okay this is depressing. There are two main reasons for this: First, meat doesn't keep for long, so it's usually the first thing I run out of. Frozen meat at times like this is about as useful as a medical student without their Oxford Handbook (translation: useless!) because at these times - I want food, and I want it now! And secondly, meat isn't easy to make. You can't really eat it raw, or just chuck it into some salted boiling water for 10 minutes (well, you could... if you really wanted to...), so a lot of the time, when I want a quick meal, I go meatless

But I'm putting an end to those days! Move over pasta and jarred pasta sauce, because I've found my new saviour: Dumplings

Bowl of chinese dumplings with pork and cabbage in soup | Svelte Salivations

These little dumplings are the perfect thing for those busy (or just lazy) nights. Just make some (i.e. as much as your freezer will hold) when you've got some free time on a weekend, and freeze them all for later.

Main ingredients for dumplings: minced pork, cabbage, carrots | Svelte Salivations

This combination of pork, cabbage and carrot is my favourite, but you can put anything into dumplings: any meat, any veg.

marinated the pork mince overnight, just using light soya sauce, sugar and cornstarch, to the make dumplings extra tasty, and also to improve the texture of the meat.

Leaves of cabbage for pork mince dumplings | Svelte Salivations

Now for the vegetables: peel some leaves off the cabbage. My cabbage was a decent size, so I only used about half of one. Then, cut thin strips of carrot. I use a peeler for this as you get very thin slices and its quick!

Thin slices / shreds of carrot by using a peeler | Svelte Salivations

The vegetables need to be briefly cooked, because they're quite hard raw, which makes it difficult to fill into a dumpling. The cabbage needs to be boiled for 10 minutes until softened (but not mushy!) and if your carrots are super thin like this, you just need to put it in boiling water for 30 seconds or so.

Cooked cabbage and carrot for pork mince dumplings | Svelte Salivations

Now that they are nicely softened, they need to be thinly chopped up. This doesn't have to be neat at all, just aim for smaller pieces which will easier to mix in with the mince. 

Chopped up cooked cabbage and carrot for pork mince dumplings | Svelte Salivations

Time to mix all the filling ingredients together! Put the mince, cabbage and carrots into a bowl and mix it good. Add an egg and a tablespoon of oil to help it stick together. If you're willing to get down and dirty, use your hands!

Filling for Chinese pork dumplings | Svelte Salivations

Dumpling pastry / skin / wrappers come in different shapes and sizes. In terms of shape, we want the round ones for jiaozi. While the diameter of these dumpling wrappers are roughly the same, they all have a different thickness. The ones I chose are slightly on the thicker side, as I love the chewiness that they maintain. In contrast, thinner dumpling wrappers are lighter and airier, but they can be harder to wrap as they tear more easily, and are less suitable for frying for the same reason.

Dumpling wrappers for jiaozi | Svelte Salivations

With clean, dry hands, pick up a dumpling wrapper and place it in one hand. With the other hand, use a tablespoon to scoop up some filling, and put it in the middle of your dumpling wrapper.

A tablespoon of dumpling filling - pork, cabbage and carrot | Svelte Salivations

Now, the more filling you use, the more plump and delicious your dumpling will look, but bear in mind that you need to be able to seal the edges tightly, and you don't want any spilling out, or to make any tears in the wrapper.

A little water around the edge will help seal the pork filling in the dumpling wrapper | Svelte Salivations

Dip a finger of your free hand into a bowl of water to and draw a semicircle around the edges of your dumpling wrapper. Make sure your hand is dry again and then grab the top and bottom edges of the wrapper and pinch together.

Just keep pinching all the way around to seal these pork dumplings | Svelte Salivations

Keep on pinching all the way around. If the filling starts to ooze out, push it back in with your finger. If it doesn't seem to work, then take a bit of the filling out. (You've been too greedy!)

You should then end up with a perfectly sealed dumpling. I know that most dumplings from Chinese places have a pretty border, but this is the easy way (hehe) and they taste just as good!

Chinese pork dumpling with pork and cabbage, uncooked | Svelte Salivations

Keep on filling your dumplings. I made about 60 with this recipe, but it really depends on how much you fit into each one!

Chinese dumplings, ready for cooking or for freezing for later | Svelte Salivations

These dumplings are now ready to cook! It's easiest just to boil them: simply boil a pot of water, and lower them in one by one. They're done when the pastry becomes more translucent, and the dumpling floats to the surface of the water, which should only take about 5 minutes.

For dumplings you're not planning on eating now, dust a tray / plate with some flour, and place the dumplings so they don't overlap or touch each other. Place the tray into your freezer, and when they are frozen, you can pop them into a box or ziplock bag to save some space. When you want to eat them, just take out however many you want, and put them into a pot of boiling water for about 10 minutes to cook from frozen.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Eggs, Soldiers, and Banana Smoothies

It's always the weekends, and never the weekdays, that I find myself wide awake at seven in the morning, and no matter how much I try (counting sheep, reading medical texts, self hypnosis...) I can never get back to sleep. Why doesn't this ever happen to me during the week when I actually need to get up?!

Soft-boiled egg and soldiers, with a banana smoothie | Svelte Salivations

So after rolling around for about an hour, I decided to get up and make breakfast.

Breakfast used to be a luxury for me last year, when I had to leave the house at 7am to get to hospital on time. I maximised sleep, which meant I sacrificed everything else... This year, lectures start a lot later, and it's a lot less travelling time for me, so I've gotten back into the routine of grabbing a bite (brioche roll and gulp of water) before leaving the house. 

I thought I'd something have a bit more substantial though today.

Only three ingredients needed for banana smoothie - bananas, milk and honey | Svelte Salivations

Banana smoothie is a brilliant Saturday morning drink - to replace all the potassium you've lost due to excessive alcohol intake the previous night, hehe! - and effortless as well.

Ready to go: Blender jug with sliced banana, honey and milk | Svelte Salivations

Just put milk, bananas and some (optional) honey into a blender and whizz it up - Banana smoothie in seconds!

Banana smoothie - so creamy and delicious | Svelte Salivations

Eggs are my favourite breakfast food. I think I could have eggs for breakfast every single day for the rest of my life and never get sick of them. (Not actually gonna try that though, 'cause if I do get sick of them, I wouldn't know what to do...) There's just so many ways to cook them!

I like my eggs super-runny so eggs and soldiers are great. Fun-sized pieces of toast that you can pick up with your fingers and then dip into runny gooey liquid gold

Soft boiled egg with runny egg yolk just beginning to thicken, perfect! | Svelte Salivations

My favourite way to make soft-boiled eggs is to boil for a minute, and then to leave it in the pan for a further 5 minutes. Then I run them under a cold water tap so they're easier to handle, and to stop the cooking process so the eggs stay nice and runny.

Egg cups are what I need. Small ramekins like these will hold the egg, but you've gotta keep a hold on it while you dip in the soldiers, otherwise it'll just roll and roll and roll...

Eggs and soldiers with banana smoothie for breakfast What a beautiful start to a beautiful day! | Svelte Salivations

Sometimes I just crack the egg into the ramekin as you would do if it was raw! If it's runny enough, it will just slide out as a raw egg would. It doesn't quite look as appetising, but it tastes just as good, and works perfectly as well.

I'm surprised how quick this breakfast took to make, it might just be worth it to get up that 15 minutes earlier each day to enjoy some eggs, soldiers and a banana smoothie!

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Smoked Salmon and Courgette / Zucchini Pasta

Now that September is here, it's back to university for me!

That means... lots of lectures to go to, lots of reading to do, lots of work, work and work! So therefore, less time (and money!) to spend on meals. Those summer days of eating out all day everyday are over =( But cooking doesn't have to be a chore. If the meals are easy and quick, yet cheap and delicious, it is more than enjoyable! 

Courgettes or zucchinis are a great summer vegetable and before it goes out of season soon, I want to share a super simple recipe with you!

Smoked salmon and zucchini pasta | Svelte Salivations

Only four ingredients needed: dried pasta, smoked salmon trimmings, a courgette, and a lemon.

Ingredients for smoked salmon and courgette pasta | Svelte Salivations

We'll start off by slicing the courgette. Give it a good wash, because we'll be leaving the skin on, and grab a peeler.

Cut zucchini with a peeler for super thin slices | Svelte Salivations

Then, 'peel' off slices of courgette. This is so much quicker and easier than using a knife (especially, if you're prone to cutting yourself instead of your target object, like me)!

Cut zucchini with a peeler for super thin slices | Svelte Salivations

You'll then get beautifully uniform and thin slices of courgette, which will cook in seconds!

Cut zucchini with a peeler for super thin slices | Svelte Salivations

At this point, start cooking your pasta. (You could even start cooking your pasta at the beginning of the recipe, if you're speedy with the peeler)

Smoked Salmon and courgette pasta | Svelte Salivations

Back to the courgettes, drizzle a bit of olive oil over the slices.

Cut zucchini with a peeler for super thin slices | Svelte Salivations

Adding the oil to the courgettes, instead of to the pan, means that you use less oil, and you're able to coat each slice much more evenly.

Cut zucchini with a peeler for super thin slices | Svelte Salivations

Heat up a frying pan on medium-high heat, and when it's hot, lay down the slices of courgette one by one. The bigger the pan you have, the more you can lay down at once!

Super thin slices of courgette will cook in seconds | Svelte Salivations

After 15-20 seconds, when they start to become transparent and brown a little, flip them over to fry the other side as well. The easiest way to do this is with chopsticks! But I'm sure tongs would work fine too.

Super thin slices of courgette will cook in seconds | Svelte Salivations

Another 15 seconds on the other side will be enough, then take the slices off and set them aside. Repeat with all the remaining slices. Although it seems like a lot of effort, once you get the hang of it, it's really quite quick.

Cooked zucchini slices | Svelte Salivations

 When the pasta is done, drain it, and add it back to the frying pan with the slices of courgette.

Smoked Salmon and zucchini pasta | Svelte Salivations

Give it a quick stir, take it off the heat, and add in the smoked salmon. Smoked salmon trimmings are perfect for those on a student budget. It's cheap (£1.50 a pack of 120g at Tesco!), but the smokiness of the salmon makes it feel so much more luxurious, and it doesn't matter that its in little bits either!

Smoked Salmon and zucchini pasta | Svelte Salivations

Mix it all together, the heat from the pasta and courgettes will be enough to heat up the salmon, without cooking it completely.

Smoked Salmon and zucchini pasta | Svelte Salivations

Cut your lemon in half and squeeze out the juice. Add it to your pasta, give it all a good toss and your meal is ready!

Smoked Salmon and zucchini pasta | Svelte Salivations

Dish it all up, serve it with some extra lemon wedges, some black pepper and even some cherry tomatoes if you want!

Smoked Salmon and zucchini pasta | Svelte Salivations

Monday, 2 September 2013

Singapore: Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay Sands

Many cities are now campaigning to be more green, but Singapore's Gardens by the Bay is built on a concept that really takes everything to the next level. 

It's not about building more parks in the city, its about creating a City in a Garden.

Supertree Grove, Gardens by the Bay in Singapore | Svelte Salivations - Travel

The Supertree Grove is an iconic element of Gardens by the Bay, towering above the rest of the park.These manmade structures have solar panels to collect energy, and are covered with ferns, vines and other climbing plants.

Supertree Grove, Gardens by the Bay in Singapore | Svelte Salivations - Travel

 OCBC is the biggest sponsor of the park, and they don't let you forget it! You can make your way up to the OCBC Skyway (for a small fee) and at night, these trees light up for the OCBC Garden Rhapsody.

OCBC Skyway at Supertree Grove, Gardens by the Bay in Singapore | Svelte Salivations - Travel

At the top of the tallest one is SuperTree by IndoChine. At 50 metres high, it seems like a unique dining experience, so I'm definitely adding to my list for next time!

Beautiful greenery in the Outdoor Gardens, Gardens by the Bay in Singapore | Svelte Salivations - Travel

The outdoor parts of Gardens by the Bay are free, and the paths guide you through the different themed areas of the park. 

There is the World of Plants...

Green and red leaves in Gardens by the Bay in Singapore | Svelte Salivations - Travel

...and there are the Heritage Gardens: Indian, Chinese, Malay and Colonial....

Goat sculptures at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore | Svelte Salivations - Travel

and then there is....

Floating baby sculpture? in Gardens by the Bay in Singapore | Svelte Salivations - Travel

... a floating baby?

Singapore: A city in a garden | Svelte Salivations - Travel

You can just see the skyscrapers of Singapore's central business district peeping out in the background.

Fish pond, Gardens by the Bay in Singapore | Svelte Salivations - Travel

There are two cooled conservatories at Gardens by the Bay, you can't miss them as they are two massive glass domes. To get inside, the park charges an admission fee. Unfortunately, the Flower Dome was closed on the day we visited, so we were only able to visit the Cloud Forest.

The Falls, World's tallest indoor waterfall, inside Cloud Forest, Gardens by the Bay in Singapore | Svelte Salivations - Travel

As soon as you enter, you are greeted by a wave of refreshingly cool misty air. It comes the splash at the bottom of the Falls, the world's tallest indoor waterfall.

Monkey statues surrounded by colourful flowers on mountain wall in Cloud Forest, Gardens by the Bay in Singapore | Svelte Salivations - Travel

The mountain is planted with bright and colourful flowers, and you can walk all the way around it, and go up to the top too!

Cloud Forest, Gardens by the Bay in Singapore | Svelte Salivations - Travel

A pond at the top of mountain.

Insect-eating plants in pond in Cloud Forest, Gardens by the Bay in Singapore | Svelte Salivations - Travel

Ah! So that's why, despite all the nature here, there's no insects to be found!

top of the falls, Cloud Forest, Gardens by the Bay in Singapore | Svelte Salivations - Travel

With the water coming down from such a height, it's inevitable that you'll get splashed.

Stalagmites inside cloud forest mountain top of the falls, Gardens by the Bay in Singapore | Svelte Salivations - Travel

Stalactites or stalagmites? I still remember a neat little trick from primary school to always get it right: Stalactites hang on tite (tight, geddit? =D) to the ceiling!

Dragonfly Lake at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore | Svelte Salivations - Travel

Over the dragonfly and kingfisher lake is a bridge which allows you to walk to the side of the park which is linked to Marina Bay Sands.

Marina Bay Sands, Singapore | Svelte Salivations - Travel

This striking new hotel is the only tall building in the area, and the views from the top are said to be phenomenal. However, access is only for hotel guests or restaurant/bar patrons, otherwise, you'll have to pay for an admission ticket. Here's some gorgeous photos to prove it!

In front of the hotel is The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, selling only the biggest designer brands.

The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore | Svelte Salivations - Travel

Including a flagship LV store that inhabits its own island!

Louis Vuitton LV flagship stores at The Shoppes, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore | Svelte Salivations - Travel

But fear not! Even if you are broke don't plan on spending, you don't have to stand and watch the more fortunate buy all the items you wish you had, instead, check out this mesmerising whirlpool display.

Whirlpool at The Shoppes, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore | Svelte Salivations - Travel

All the water empties through a hole in this bowl into a pool inside the shopping mall!

Singapore's central business district opposite Marina Bay Sands | Svelte Salivations - Travel

Across from the Marina Bay Sands complex is the CBD of Singapore.

Singapore skyline from Marina Bay Sands | Svelte Salivations - Travel

Perfect spot for a touristy photo...

Singapore skyline from Marina Bay Sands | Svelte Salivations - Travel

...before saying goodbye to the fantastic view of Singapore's skyline, and heading through Marina Bay Sands back to Gardens by the Bay.

Singapore Flyer and view over Gardens by the Bay | Svelte Salivations - Travel

What a breathtaking sight to see!