Three Years and a Main Dish Smothered in Chocolate

We’ve entered into April – the critical month. This is the make-or-break for those who made the ‘this is the year when I keep my diet’ promise when the clock struck twelve on New Year’s Eve. How are you all doing? Hanging in there?
If you are, stop reading this post.
If you’re not, or if you’re open to occasionally sinning just a tiny bit, then stick with me, because I’ve had a lot of fun cooking these dishes.
So my boyfriend, who is my fiancé by now, and I hit magical three years not long ago, and what better way to celebrate than to cook up a delicious meal, drink home-made cocktails and get drunkenly emotional over Glee ending? (I’m not kidding.)
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I had a lot of fun planning the meal. Basically the idea was to make chocolate the theme of the dinner, meaning that everything had to involve chocolate in one way or another. (See why I discouraged dieters?) I mean have you ever seen the movie Chocolat? If you don’t crave the dashing young Johnny Depp, then you sure as hell will crave chocolate…
So for starters we had 6 pan-fried scallops each, in a butter, parsley and white wine sauce – with a grating of dark chocolate on top, more like decoration, but just enough to give it a bit of adventure.
(I don’t have a good enough picture of this, but just believe you me, it was delish.)
The main dish, which I was most proud of, involved a gorgeous piece of silverside beef – seared in a pan, then finished in the oven with a basting of beef stock. Although the marinade is worth mentioning, here is what I used:

3 tbsp olive oil
1 whole dry chipotle chilli, seeds and all, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp Chinese five spice

This I rubbed onto the beef and let it stand for approximately 3 hours. At this point, I picked off all the dry chilli and garlic pieces, and was left with a beautiful, spicy piece of meat.
To go with the beef, I made sautéed potatoes á la Gordon Ramsay, and also pan-fried some fresh asparagus with a tablespoon of olive oil and basic seasoning.
However the star of this dish was the chocolate sauce I made to go with the beef – and you wouldn’t believe how delicious it was! The self-made recipe goes:
Approximately 200g dark chocolate, broken up into pieces
3-4 tbsp butter
1 dry chipotle chilli, chopped
1 tsp sugar
A very generous pinch of salt 
And finally, for Chef John, a tiny shake of cayenne pepper
So to make this sauce, simply melt the butter and chocolate together in a bain-Marie as you would for any chocolaty dessert. When starting to look liquid, add the rest of your ingredients with a dash of water to make it a bit more liquid, and cook until you are happy with the spiciness. What you will get is a sense-inducing, deliciously sweet and savory sauce that could pretty much go with anything.
And the result was fantastic…
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Naturally, to finish the meal, we had to have more chocolate – so just to lighten things, I made a chocolate decadence cake. It got me a proposal on Valentine’s Day, so I’m telling you, you can’t go wrong with this…
So the moral of the story today is – if you’re looking to cook something special (or for someone special), be adventurous! It was totally worth it!


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Fried Aubergine With Yoghurt Dressing – Sort of Guilt-free Pleasures

So apart from the gigantic cheese burger for lunch and Super Bowl pizza and beer on Sunday, that diet is still going… Sort of. (Yes, that was the same day.)
This salad, if you can call it that, makes a really easy and cheap dinner for anyone trying not to overdo it. All in all, it costs about £5 – that is, if you don’t already have lime, chillies or yoghurt, and it really doesn’t contain a lot of calories.
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For the delicious dip, you only need a few things:
1 pack of yoghurt – I like thick and sour, like strained Greek, but you can use whatever type you prefer
1 whole chilli, finely chopped 
1 small bunch of fresh coriander, stalks and leaves, finely chopped
1/2 lime’s juice
Salt, pepper to taste
These ingredients make a delicious, spicy dip that goes brilliantly with a lot of things. I used them with my sweetcorn fritters, for example, but they would go with any Asian-type dish as well.
As for the aubergine, the recipe is really easy. One technique I learned is to chop up the aubergine into small cubes and salt it generously an hour before cooking – this drains out the liquid and keeps the aubergine nice and crunchy. Before cooking, wash the pieces thoroughly and drain on kitchen paper until completely dry. Fry the cubes in oil until they’re heated through, and you’re done.
Note – Mix the dip and the aubergine only when you’re ready to eat so that it doesn’t brown.
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And there you have it – a delicious side dish or a healthy, low-cal dinner that takes no effort at all. Sounds good, right?
PS. I of course, as every time, managed to scratch my nose right after chopping my chilli. Avoid.
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Salmon and Tamarind-Flavoured Soba – Healthy Eating for Tuesday Night

I’ve changed the way I look at diets, weirdly enough. I used to be one of those people who prefers not to eat when dieting, because everything would make me feel guilty. I used to think it’s good enough to survive on rice. And then of course, a week or so later, I would throw myself at the chocolate isle and wake up in a pile of wrappers and empty pizza boxes. Ha.
Not anymore though. I suddenly realised I actually love a lot of healthy foods – for example, I never realised that sushi isn’t a crime against humanity when you’re trying to lose weight. Not to mention lately I’ve been a total vegetable-maniac. So my diet is still going, and weirdly (apparently) you can already see some results.
I buy things like matzos, hummus, all kinds of fish, celery, eggs, tomatoes, peppers, mozzarella, wholemeal wraps and loads and loads and loads of green tea. Every time I get hungry between meals, I buy a small bag of mixed nuts, or a smoothie, or have a cup of green tea, and it totally works.
Anyway, I’m here to show you an example of a healthy dinner that is guilt-free but so damn good…
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The gorgeous salmon steak with crispy skin really doesn’t need a lot of attention. The best thing is to salt generously the skin and place it into a hot pan with a little oil, skin down. In 2 minutes, the skin will be crispy.
I also love to leave the middle completely raw (and I mean really) – is that just me? I just turn it pink on the outside, and the inside is still juicy and raw. I love it.
The soba does make 50% of the pleasure though. Soba is a kind of noodle that is usually made from buckwheat wholly, sometimes mixed with flour – as long as you buy the buckwheat version, you can consume this guilt-free. Low in calories, it is absolutely delicious.
Mind you, a bit flavourless, so a bit of help is always good. In this case, I boiled the noodles until ready, and then I mixed it with some chopped green peppers, a dash of soy sauce and a teaspoon of tamarind paste. Heating it through just a little, the noodles take on the delicious taste and are a delight to eat.
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So… low in calories and fat, but absolutely delicious… What are you waiting for, eh?
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Grilled Sardines With Chilli, Lemon and Garlic – The Pros and Cons of Buying Little Fish

I don’t really buy fish. In the supermarkets fillets are quite expensive, and at the fishmonger’s they don’t really like to fillet your stuff. It takes too long and whatnot. I love a good salmon steak any day of the week, and I would be willing to give up my life for a last meal of a rare tuna steak. But do note, these don’t usually have bones at all.
Now sardines, on the other hand, have plenty. So many that in every half bite you take there will probably be at least three. But there are many reasons that speak for buying these babies none the less.
The obvious reason is that they’re cheap. I bought four average-size sardines, whole, for 85 pence. Less than a pound for dinner? Yes please. Another pro is that they’re extremely healthy – I’m not sure why, but that’s what the Internet says so it must be true…
Another unexpected pro: by the time you finish one fish, you’ll probably be half full already. With all the effort put into pulling away a bite, picking out the tiny scales and then finally getting to swallow it, trust me, two sardines will be enough…
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So the cons. The main one for me is pretty much a pro too: and that’s all those tiny bones. I have severe paranoia of fish scales since I saw a friend of mine swallow a small bone when I was really young, and the scene terrified me. (But you know what? I’ve already told you that story here.)
Another personal reason against buying fish, especially whole, is that I have this fear that they’ll come to life. Weird, right? But with their eyes open and staring at me whilst I rub them with chilli and garlic freak me out. Once they’re in the oven I’m fine though.
So there’s that, you decide if it’s worth it. But if you do come by some whole sardines, here’s what I did to them.
For the taste:
2 whole chillies
2 large garlic cloves
1/2 lemon
Salt, pepper
Some fresh parsley if you have some
This recipe is pretty much taken from Jamie Oliver, but I didn’t have parsley for example.
Anyway, just slice your ingredients (except the lemon) and put them into a baking tray with some olive oil. Then in go the fish, and now you can make use of your half a lemon by squeezing the juice all over the fish. All that’s left is to toss it around so that the flavour gets everywhere, and in it goes at 180 degrees for about 20 minutes.
You’ll know when it’s done, but if you want to look for something then look for the smell and colour. The fish’ll be bubbly and somewhat coloured, and if you try, you should be able to pull the flesh away really easily. Something like this:
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Served with some boiled or mashed potatoes with an extra squeeze of lemon, these babies are really tasty. Whether it’s worth the effort, I’ll let you decide; but every now and again, I’d say it is.

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Spicy Grilled Lamb Skewers – Introducing My Griddle Pan

Who would have thought that January sales can be about other things than clothing? All my favourite kitchen stores were having huge sales, and so I purchased two things that are otherwise always extra-expensive but now they were down to quarter price. First of all, I got a pestle and mortar, because I’ve had my eyes on those things for a long time – but they’re always priced around at least £30-£40. This time though, I got a heavy granite stone pestle and mortar set for £13.50, which is rather impressive. I could kill a man with that thing.
The other thing I got was, finally, a griddle pan, which is also something I’ve been meaning to buy but never got around to it. It’s red, cast-iron and it cost me £15 instead of £45. I think yes. And with this pan, I could do anything from breaking a foot in half to cause ever-lasting concussion. (Secretly I was shopping for self-defense weapons disguised as kitchen stuff.)
The griddle pan especially comes in handy now as weirdly enough, I actually started a diet. Just a light one, with lots of green tea, vegetables, granola, brown rice and wholemeal; honestly, I saw the Christmas pictures taken of me and I had the motivation. I’m also starting to exercise, little by little, mostly at home. But when I’m ready, I swear I’ll return to the gym.
But seeing as my pan arrived yesterday, here’s what I created:
grilledlamb (4)So this is actually a recipe I came up with by myself , so I felt pretty good about it. I had just the right amount of cubed leg of lamb left over, and the best part is that cooking this actually takes about 20 minutes tops.
So for the marinade, I used:
1 whole chilli
1 whole star anise
4 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp cumin
Salt, pepper
In this spicy mixture, I let the lamb sit for about 2 hours until it soaked up everything. I also soaked my chopsticks into water at the same time (prevents them from burning). And yes, chopsticks, I was too lazy to leave the house and get skewers so I had to get creative.
Anyway, having marinated, just pierce the meat and make good-looking skewers out of it. Heat the griddle pan with a touch of vegetable oil until practically smoking. Put in your lamb and fry until you get those beautiful stripes on all sides (I love those). Now comes the exciting part: I only aimed for searing, so colour – afterwards, I could just take the pan and put it into a 200 degree oven with a grill function set to medium-high and let the oven finish off the rest.
When it came out, it was just slightly pink on the inside and incredibly juicy. I served these with some plain rice and sliced vegetables, and they made an incredible meal.
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The taste and smell of the spices on the meat made this special, and yet it is perfect for any other night. I was so happy with this.
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Blue Cheese Biscuits – A Classic Showstopper for Any Occasion

I hope you’ve all now finished digesting your Christmas dinners and lunches and post-Christmas leftovers – I know I have, and now the shame kicks in. But just until I start my diet (yeah, right), here’s another party recipe that is a 100% winner, no doubt.
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Ironically, I learnt this recipe from the maths teacher who got me out of high school (really). I mean, if it wasn’t for her, I probably would be worse off, but thanks to her brilliance (and patience), I managed to achieve a beautiful 60% on my final exam. Anyway, on one of our last lessons, she offered me a biscuit, and it was so good I had to have the recipe.
I make these biscuits every Christmas, and I’m not lying when I say that they are always the first to go. And this year was special, because they even turned out good-looking (not the picture above, unfortunately – I forgot to photograph the pretty ones. Yes, it’s true. Proof below.)
So here’s the recipe for the success-biscuits. Your ingredients:
300g flour (any kind)
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
3 tbsp milk
200g blue cheese – anything you fancy
So to start off with, mix the flour and butter together until they’re completely mixed. It will look like sand or bread crumbs. Once that’s done, add your wet ingredients (egg, milk) and mix – finally, crumble in the cheese. Mix this together until you have a dough that’s come together. The best thing now is to chill for half an hour.
I accidentally left it in the fridge for 2 hours. Woops.
Not that it’s bad for it, it’s just that it will need more time to warm up again so that you can work it. But thanks to my forgetfulness, I actually got to experiment with the dough. I cut it into two pieces – I put one aside to warm up. The other one, if you need quick results, is best to bash with a rolling pin (for stress relief and also to soften the dough).
So the first batch, I did like I always used to do. Roll the dough into a long, sausage-like shape – it’s best not to make it too thick to get smaller sized biscuits. Then slice the long sausage into little circles (these are your biscuits). The reason this is never pretty is that no matter how sharp your knife, the slices will still look more like squares than circles. Anyway, line a baking sheet with baking paper, pile your biscuits and bake them until golden brown (about 15-20 minutes).
The second batch turned out pretty because I waited – and I could roll out the dough properly and make some nice Christmas biscuits like so:
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So if you’re impatient, you’ll be left with less pretty, but none the less delicious biscuits and you have my word – everyone will love these. There’s a reason they’ve been a tradition at ours since I graduated from high school (wow. That’s a good 4 years ago now!)
Oh and… Happy new year!

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Holiday Fudge – Cheap, easy, pretty, delicious, or the perfect Christmas present

It’s pretty insane that Christmas is already over, isn’t it? I know this post might come just a little bit too late, but hey – there are distant relatives, Valentine’s day, post-Christmas friendly meet ups, and thousands of other excuses as to why make this delicious fudge. (Not to mention simply because you want to.)
I’ve never made fudge before. I was told it is hard, needs a candy thermometer (just mentioning that will discourage many) and all kinds of rumours. Well, bah humbug. This fudge recipe is super easy to get right – and here are the ingredients:
500g brown sugar 
125g butter
120ml milk
250g peanut butter (I prefer crunchy, but whatever suits your fancy)
1 dash of vanilla extract
300g icing sugar

Ingredients and method are taken from this recipe – decorated below with my own tips and tricks.

So first off, just melt the butter. Then add the brown sugar and the milk and bring it to the boil. It may look like it’s too thick, too much sugar, not enough liquid, but that’s actually okay. Now, the original recipe says to boil it for only 2 or 3 minutes, but here’s what I found out in retrospect – boil it until your sugar is kind of melted. So instead of 2.5, don’t panic; boil it out for at least 4 minutes. Besides, boiling this sugary mix is going to look super entertaining.

When that’s done, turn off the heat and add your peanut butter and vanilla. Mix until smooth and nicely melted too. Put your icing sugar in a bowl, and pour your hot mix on top of it. This too will look like it’s too liquid, but just keep stirring until you get a nice, shiny paste. (Can you hear those calories sing?)

To make my fudge look awesome, I used some silicone ice cube trays to shape my pieces – they’re really awesome. I had a flower and a heart-shaped tray, so I filled those up, wiping away any excess on the top. If you don’t have those, just use any baking tray, like square or rectangle. Or whatever suits your fancy. Whack it into the fridge for a loooong time – I left it overnight to make sure.

I was pretty positive that no one in my family would like the fudge – you know, too sweet, too fatty, too meh. To my surprise though, half of my huge batch was eaten on Christmas eve; and the shaped fudge made such an awesome present! If you’re stuck, broke or lazy, this really is the recipe for you. I mean, in the end, who doesn’t like this kind of sin?
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