Kung Fu Café
Since 2011

A Trip to Paris!! | Macaron Délicat à la Thé Vert

Beware: Photo heavy and ramble-y post! 🙂

“Like a good Chanel purse, the macaron is timeless and elegant, and always a treat!”
Bake Bellissima

I absolutely love a good cuppa tea, and being British, tea is a large part of our daily lives. However, I also love the Japanese culture, and have taken a very fond liking to their sencha 煎茶; whenever I’d have green tea in a Japanese restaurant or café, it would always have a delicate taste and leave my mouth feeling refreshed, although others would complain of how weak the tea appeared to be. But for me, I think that’s the key! I love the way these leaves are processed and I love how soft and subtle the flavour is. I bought some good quality sencha tea bags, but to use a whole teabag would make the tea so strong that it leaves a bitter after taste in your mouth, even when using warm water (as opposed to hot)! I had never liked Chinese green tea because of this reason, but perhaps it’s not the flavour of the leaf, it’s just its strength that I dislike. So now I simply rip open the teabags, and use literally a small pinch of leaves, pop them in the bottom of my cup, and pour over hot water, and I absolutely love the taste! I just keep the ripped teabag in my empty pot of Teapigs matcha, which has made a very useful pot for varying my sencha around! Not forgetting that the matcha itself was beautiful! I’ve converted dad to green tea because of this, too, and now I feel that I can enjoy this lovely Japanese daytime ritual into my daily life, too.

So yes, I love a good British cuppa, and also a gentle chawan of matcha. I’m very confused as to what to believe regarding the health benefits of tea; some say that it counts towards your daily water intake, although I think that these days most “experts” agree that it doesn’t because of its caffeine content. However, I have read that tea has as much caffeine, if not more, than coffee, but it simply releases it over a slower period. Both green and black tea contain around 30,000 polyphenolic compounds, some of which have been shown to have numerous health benefits, including reducing cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and inflammation, and their exact biomechanical mechanism is still not clear.1 Also, polyphenols can act as antioxidants, and for a long time this was thought to be the reason for their health benefits.1 However, recent studies have shown that this only plays a small part in their effectiveness.1 Yet, according to Disler et al. (1975), drinking tannin-containing beverages such as tea with meals may contribute to the pathogensis of iron deficiency if the diet consists largely of vegetable foodstuffs. 2

Anyway, regardless of whether it’s healthy or not, I believe that it’s a marvellous beverage! It’s perfect for any occasion: celebrations with loved ones, get-togethers with friends, consoling one who’s upset, as a snack, a post-meal cleanse, a breakfast necessity… and so I decided to infuse matcha (powdered green tea) into macarons in order to celebrate my love for tea and the Japanese culture, and also because I’ve just recently got back from a trip to Paris! These were originally a trial of green tea macarons to be had as a spring treat for Father’s Day, especially seeing as dad took quite an interest in the Japanese culture, and they were secondarily going to be for celebrating a trip to Paris should my abstract have been accepted. But they came out so well the first time I decided not to make them again, and the next time I will make them, I will try and feature a different flavour, I think. Flavours I’ve love to try and make include, and are not limited, to a few I have just quickly found on Foodgawker:

• Chocolate macarons with an orange ganache, or orange macarons with a chocolate ganache!
• Lime macarons (green) with a coconut buttercream (white), sprinkled with desiccated coconut
• Pistachio macarons (green) with a raspberry or strawberry buttercream (pink/red)
• Rose macarons (pink)
• Vanilla macarons (white/light) with a Nutella filling (dark brown)
• Basil macarons (green) with a strawberry ganache (red)
• Matcha macarons (green) with a match and white chocolate ganache (green and/or white) with a dusting of matcha
• Chocolate macarons (brown) with a dark chocolate and pepper ganache (dark and spicy!)
• Lavender macarons (pink) with honey-early grey infused buttercream
• Chocolate macarons (brown) with a peanut butter frosting (yellow-brown)
• Vanilla macarons (pale) with vanilla bean buttercream and a fresh strawberry (to make it very pale pink)
• Chocolate macarons (brown) with a coffee ganache
• Custard cream macarons (or another English biscuit!)
• Wasabi macarons (with strawberry, ankou, or white chocolate filling)
• Savoury macarons with dill, cream cheese, and salmon

I went to Paris to present at my first ever international conference, the 10th International Conference on Diffusion in Solids and Liquids DSL-2014. Seeing as this is a food blog, I won’t talk too much about the conference, but will focus on my various pâtisserie exploits of Paris! 🙂 Originally, I was going alone, but then Ed suggested that perhaps he could come along. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out because our dates for various things clashed, which was a shame. 🙁 But I thought “hey, why doesn’t my bro come?” He agreed, and so he came! I could have gone alone, as I’m always up for doing things alone, but this was just a little holiday (as we spent a few days extra in Paris after the conference), and doing things in the capital is always much more fun with a friend than alone.

The conference venue, Le Tapis Rouge, was absolutely stunning, and I felt so privileged to have been there. I did feel rather out of place at first, so I was pleased that I decided to dress up relatively smartly, although there were others there in jeans and white trainers! We even had amazing live instrumental music and delicious pâtisserie in our coffee breaks, such as madeleines, pains aux chocolates, and even macarons, along with various other hors d’oeuvres… yum! The conference itself was interesting, and I met two lovely fellow researchers, Özer who is a fellow PhD student from Turkey, and Igor who is a researcher from Russia with 43 publications, and spent the evening gala meal on the Wednesday with them and my brother.

Myself, Igor, Özer, and Tim, outside of Cathédrale Notre Dame 🙂

I was really quite disappointed with my presentation. It didn’t go nearly as well as it did in the practice runs, and I was way more nervous when I presented at the CRES conference last year in front of about five times more people, including Iain Stewart! I think the proximity of the audience (i.e. I was standing really close to the audience in Paris) and perhaps knowing that the speciality of the audience in Paris was closer to my field than the geologists at the CRES conference, but I still don’t understand why I got quite so nervous. Usually, I read quite a bit from a script that I have, because I know then that everything will go according to plan, and that’s always worked really well for me and I can still project my voice well. But this time I was just a nervous and jittering wreck. I also think I had too much content to get through in the allocated time… which was fine when I was confident in presenting, but then as soon as I lost confidence, everything went out the window! I didn’t run out of time, but next time I will reduce my content so that I can speak slower and more thoughtfully, but it’s difficult to know until you’ve run through the presentation under more nerve-wracking circumstances. I wanted to put in as much as possible, but there were some things I should have left out, even though it was nice to have them in… oh well. It was an experience, and I was quite down on myself for a few days afterwards. As long as I learn from it then it would have been worth it. I just feel so lucky to have had this experience, because if it wasn’t for Omya and Plymouth University, then I wouldn’t have gone to Paris.

So, naturally, being in the capital of France, one has to sample as many pastries and delicacies as possible. Tim and I went to LOTS of places, and I tried a few of the things I set out to try. On the first morning, we had an early morning breakfast at Du Pain et des Idées. I wanted to visit this bakery as I had heard (more like read on blogs) a few things about it. As we walked to Rue Yves Toudic, Tim pointed the bakery out saying “that looks like a really nice place,” and it turned out to be the place! Tim had a snail pastry with raspberry and cream cheese, and I had a pain au chocolat with banana. It was absolutely delicious, although I have to say that mine was slightly burnt on the bottom. Nevertheless, the layers inside were soft, the pastry was crisp on the outside and the flavour was amazing. Tim also made a really good choice with his pastry flavours, although I think that whatever we chose would have been great.

Later that day we went to Jacques Genin, who according to David Lebovitz, may be the makers of some of the best caramels in the world. On the first of our visits, we tasted seven of their beautiful chocolates: milk chocolate, grapefruit milk chocolate (couldn’t taste much difference to the natural), ginger milk chocolate (lovely combination of flavours!), dark chocolate, dark chocolate infused with tea (what type of tea I don’t know, but the flavour was extremely subtle if non-existent), raspberry dark chocolate (I found it quite “fragranced,” but Tim really liked this one), and basil dark chocolate (very distinctive, and probably my favourite one!). We also had a green and purple pâté de fruit (or “Posh fruit pastels”), and we think the green one was kiwi and the purple was blackcurrant. The flavours were really delicious; they must use real fruit extract. We bought a couple of fruit jellies for friends and families, and left.

The following day we decided to return, and had a dégustation of six caramels this time, along with a thick hot chocolate to share, which is just like the Spanish chocolate a la taza that I love so much, and a mille feuille vanilla. The caramel flavours we tried were mangue passion, natural, café, pistache de Sicile, noix de cajon and cassis. I’m not a massive fan of caramels but they were definitely of the variety to make me want to try and make my own some day! We bought some caramels as gifts for others, and cried as I handed over my debit card. The caramels are sold at 110 € /kg, and the pâtés de fruits at 90 € /kg…

The next morning we had breakfast at a the bakery Liberté; I really enjoyed the clean and modern look of this place, and seemed really busy yesterday lunch time when we walked past. We bought all sorts of things, such as a pistachio financier (with a possibly raspberry filling), a large madeleine, pain au chocolates, pain aux raisins (which is Tim’s favourite), a Viennese chocolate bread, and a large chocolate log. Unfortunately, the chocolate log bread actually seemed a little undercooked, as it was quite doughy in some parts, but the quality of their cakes and pastries made up for this tenfold! The only thing I would complain about is that there was nowhere I could get a British cuppa to wash it all down with!

Of course, we tried some nouvelle cuisine, which was delicious, and again, I wept as I handed over my debit card. But it was definitely a lovely treat and something I’m going to try and do myself at home! We went to L’Office and Chez Marie Louise, but this is all for another blog post. 🙂 We also had an amazing falafel at L’As Du Fallafel, and delicious crepes at Crêperie Josselin, my two favourite hangout spots. Actually, I think L’Avant Comptoir was probably my favourite, and I made a special stop there just to try Le Beurre Bordier, or the Bordier Butter, that I’ve heard so much about. It took us a second glimpse to make sure we found the right spot, as the stand-up wine bar is a little hidden. The place smelt absolutely delicious and reminded me of the best Spanish tapas bars you could find, with cured meats in the background, wine glasses everywhere and their menu, with each of their different tapas, hanging on card from the ceiling. We each had a different glass of red wine, and ordered a portion of poitrine de porc caramélisée and a mini crème brulée; the only complaint I have is that there wasn’t enough. The pork was cooked to perfection, and the crème brulée was the best I’ve ever had, with a wonderfully caramelised top, yet not too caramelised (i.e. burnt), and a very smooth, creamy and rich pudding underneath. We also helped ourselves to baguette slices and Bordier butter… if I had the means to store the butter in our hotel rooms and carry it back, then I would have found some to buy to take back home. It was some of the creamiest butter I’ve ever had!

Of course, I visited Ladurée, and sampled six of their macarons: réglisse (liquorice; unfortunately we couldn’t taste any liquorice…), l’incroyable guimauve chocolat coco (chocolate and coconut “guimave;” the subtle taste of coconut was lovely), l’incroyable guimasse fraise bonbon (strawberry candy “guimave;” Tim really like this one!), caramel fleur de sel (salted caramel; by far my favourite, as the combination of salt and caramel is always a winner!), fleur d’orange (orange blossom; couldn’t taste any orange, but I guess orange blossom doesn’t taste of orange! It sounded intriguing, though), and menthe glaciale (iced mint; a seasonal flavour, and was nice, although not my favourite macaron flavour). We were quite lucky with queuing in this store, because I walked in when there were only a few others in there at the counter; after I arrived, suddenly a flurry of other people did, too! I would loved to have stopped off in their café for some tea and pastries, but we decided that we already had enough that day!

I also tried to visit Pierre Hermé, but unfortunately the queue was so large that it backed out into the street, and people were shielding themselves from the rain using their umbrellas. I had already dragged Tim around many pastry shops and things that day, so we decided not to queue, especially seeing as we were to have macarons from Ladurée, anyway. However, I’m by no means an expert in the art of pâtisserie, but I must say that going by other people’s reviews that the photos I’ve seen, I am slightly tipping to the side of preferring Pierre Hermé’s macarons over Ladurées. This is because the macarons from Ladurée usually have a shell that’s not as dome-shaped as Pierre Hermé’s, and their feet seem to protrude over the edges. Either way, I’m sure they both taste equally as great, and Ladurée do claim to be the creators of the first ever modern day macaron that we enjoy today. Tim also said that mine tasted just as good as Ladurée’s and so to me, that was a great compliment! Thanks, bro! 🙂

And finally, we visited Sadaharu Aoki, which is probably my favourite pâtisserie that I’ve found in life so far! We bought a bamboo, which is layers of biscuit joconde, crème au thé vert, ganache au chocolat noir, punch au thé vert (altering layers of matcha-infused buttercream, dark chocolate ganache, and biscuit sponge). I was tempted to go for matcha-adzuki, as it combined traditional Japanese flavours like matcha and ankou (red bean paste). But I love the combination of matcha and dark chocolate, which is also what prompted me to use this combination for this macaron recipe that I’ve posted. We also bought a tarte caramel salé, one of the most sought after pastries in Paris. They were both absolutely delicious, but as Tim said, nothing that I couldn’t make myself. Of course, I took this as a large compliment, and so my next baking mission is to make a lovely little entremet, that I will try and develop my own recipe for, and also a chocolate caramel tart, as there is a recipe I can follow for that here. These are the sorts of things I’d make for dinner parties, perhaps a trio of desserts, being macarons, a tart of some sort, and a joconde or opera entremet.

Macarons, in actual fact, are definitely better up to three days after they’ve been made (three days is what Ladurée recommends!). This is because the flavour from the ganache has its chance to impart itself into the macaron shell via osmosis. I find that macarons are nice when they’re fresh, nicest after a few days, and then after that they shell gets a little soggy; the flavours are there but the shell doesn’t have that crispness to it on the outside anymore. I remember biting into my first ever batch of chocolate macarons after a few days left to “marinade” in the fridge, and the flavour was so rich; much better than I had ever imagined!

I struggled deciding what filling to put inbetween green tea/match macarons; I love the visual impact pink and green has, because it stands out right away, yet they complement each other quite naturally, I find. So I decided to make a pink buttercream of raspberry and strawberries. Now, I absolutely love buttercream, but I found that it just didn’t complement the macaron that nicely, because it’s just too sweet. Cover a birthday cake in it, why not? But I don’t think it was meant for macarons, not this one at least. I also wanted to use typical Japanese flavours, such as wasabi and ankou (red bean). But the wasabi would have also been green, and I wanted to try and make a contrast of colours, but the ankou filling I made was too runny, unless I added lots of icing sugar, in which case it would have been a buttercream, which I didn’t quite want. So I decided to go for a rich classic ganache combo that I really love: green tea and dark chocolate.

Matcha and dark chocolate just go really well together; fact! That’s what made me choose the Sadaharu Aoki’s bamboo entremets over all of the others; because it had Japanese flavours that just meld really well with typical Western ones. I went really upmarket and used Tesco Finest dark chocolate in my ganache, and I had a choice of two flavours: Tesco Finest Peruvian 70% dark chocolate, single origin, fruity with subtle red berry notes and Tesco Finest Ecuadorian 74% dark chocolate, single origin, floral & spicy with subtle notes of green tea. I certainly preferred the latter; it was rich, dark and spicy, and really went well with the macaron shell. The other flavour was just too sweet and perfume-y for me. Here’s some more blub regarding the Ecuadorian chocolate (it sounds delicious!):

“Made with cocoa beans from plantations in Esmeraldas, Los Rios and Manabi in Ecuador. A slight hint of coconut aroma contrasts with the rich earthy tones of this Ecuadorian bar. The initial flavour of molasses is followed by notes of green tea, with a depth of gentle woody spices to finish.”

I also really struggled with what to decorate the macarons with. I would liked to have done so with a chocolate “paint” or a cocoa powder dusting, but decided to settle with a matcha paint and a sprinkling of broken sencha leaves from a teabag. The paint was a little too translucent, and when it dried it didn’t have the effect I was hoping for. I also didn’t have a brush so it was difficult to get the desired design, too.

To make the macarons, I decided to go for the chocolate macaron recipe, as it’s one of my favourites and has worked really well for me each time I’ve tried it. But perhaps the cocoa powder stabilises it in a different way to the matcha, or was it simply my technique this time wasn’t good enough? I think that I knocked too much air out of the batter during the macaronage phase, or perhaps I simply didn’t stiffen the peaks enough, because after the hour of waiting, the piped macaron batter had flattened almost entirely. And also, at 45 minutes, the tops weren’t sticky to the touch before baking as is the case with the chocolate macarons. This is the ratio of ingredients that I used(which yielded 10 shells, although 3 of them were green, oddly shaped, and undercooked, so fell apart…):

• 35g egg whites
• 40g ground almonds
• 67 g icing sugar
• 11g granulated sugar
• 1 tsp matcha

• Eggs: 1
• Almond: 1.14
• Sugar: 2.23; icing: 1.91; granulated: 0.31

I also put these macarons on the top shelf of my oven (top shelf out of three shelves in oven) and then some in the lower third portion. The ones on top rose nicely, but browned; that made me REALLY disappointed because they looked perfect except for their colour! I also think that rotating the pans, even if you think it’s unnecessary, to ensure an even rise of the foot, because you don’t know if there are hotspots in your oven or not. And the ones on the lower shelf didn’t rise enough because the top macarons were shielding them (do not use a fan assisted oven… so I used top-bottom heat!). Luckily I could practice this a few times because we make such small batches of macarons at a time! It’s a bit fiddly, but it’s worth it, I think. Patience is definitely the key, because I can only cook one tray at a time in the lower third of my oven for (almost?) perfect macarons! So, I put the lower macarons in the top shelf for a few extra minutes, and they then rose spectacularly, but collapsed with an uneven foot as soon as I took them out of the oven and sank unevenly (wish I had a photo of when they immediately came out of the oven!). Perhaps this is also a sign of them not being in the oven for long enough? Here, it says that if the tops don’t move from the feet when nudged, they’re done. I don’t know if they were done or not but I’ll test next time!

The next recipe I decided to try was adapted from Not So Humble Pie, and I think was successful, because I had to make my sugar ratio a little higher:

• 100g egg whites
• 120g almonds
• 200g icing sugar
• 30-35g granulated sugar

• Egg white: 1
• Almonds: 1.2
• Sugar: 2.3-2.35; icing sugar: 2, granulated: 0.3-0.35

I followed the same recipe as for the chocolate macarons, but I whipped the egg whites for longer and don’t think I “knocked” as much air out as previously.

I left them on the side for an hour and still thought that they were slightly “tacky” to touch, but put them in the oven anyway and they came out really well! I did pipe very small shells, as they do spread out a lot more than you think! I did this by drawing a small circle on the underside of the baking parchment with marker pen, using a cork from a wine bottle as the template, and I would make sure that my piped (*ahem* dolloped) macaron batter was within that small circle, so ideally they would all spread out to the same degree. They spread out perfectly and the “feet” were even! For me, the best results for even feet came from baking my macaron shells on the underside of a roasting dish that I have in the lower third of the oven (so that they don’t brown!). The ones on the circular pizza dish I rotated every 5-10 minutes to ensure that they feet were even, yet on the roasting dish I didn’t have to… I think I’ve found my method! 🙂

According to Evan’s Kitchen Ramblings, having to leave the macaron shells on the side to “dry” before being put in the oven is a myth, and that not leaving them to dry works for her (and in Singapore the humidity is 60-100% every day!). I have to say that I’m a little scared of having cracked shells and no feet, and so I always have left them to “dry” before baking them as I’ve had those aforementioned baking disasters before. But it must have been other factors that contributed to those things, but perhaps drying them can be my own macaron ritual! 😉

I think I tried to fool myself into thinking that these were healthy; made with eggs and almonds, and infused with green tea! But then of course there’s the icing sugar in the shell, the granulated sugar in the shell, and the chocolate! I suppose that cream and butter in the ganache are healthy, though, but not the amount of sugar in the buttercreams. 🙂 I would love to try and make paleo macarons someday and see how well they come out!

Anyway, onto the recipe! I tried to be all posh and that by putting the name in French, as if they were part of my own pâtisserie shop (one can dream, can’t they?), but I came up with all sorts of combinations for names in French… I’m not sure which is correct, and I should probably ask Ed (especially seeing as I took some all the way up to Aberdeen when I saw him there!):

• Macarons à la thé vert avec ganache au chocolat noir ou de la crème au beurre de haricots rouges et fraise.
• Crème au beurre de haricots rouges et fraise.
• Macarons au thé vert avec ganache au chocolat noir ou crème au beurre aux haricots rouges et fraise.
• Macarons à la thé matcha et crème à la haricots rouges.
• Macarons à la thé matcha et la crème de haricots rouges.
• ???

Macaron Délicat à la Thé Vert
Kung Fu Café and Not So Humble Pie
Makes 8-12 shells (4-6 macarons)

For the matcha shells:
• 43g ground almonds
• 67g icing sugar
• 1 tbsp matcha
• 35g egg whites
• 15g granulated sugar

For the dark chocolate ganache:
• 100g dark chocolate
• 100g double cream
• 35g butter

To decorate:
• cocoa powder
• matcha
• sencha leaves
• cocoa powder or matcha “paint”

For the macaron shells:
Add a splash of lemon juice to a very clean bowl together with the egg whites. Whisk for about 30-60 seconds until very frothy. Sprinkle in the granulated sugar, and continue to whisk until stiff, glossy peaks form (the kind where you can hold the bowl upside down over your head!).

Then sieve in the icing sugar, matcha and ground almonds together over the egg white peaks. Now, this is the part some people refer to as “macaronage” (i.e. macaron-ing). Use a wooden spoon or pastry scraper to knock the air out of the batter. Use the spoon to scoop the batter around the outer edges of the interior of the bowl and then almost scrape the batter down the middle of the bowl in a zig-zag pattern until the final consistency is similar to that of magma. A useful video to watch can be found here.

A test to see if the batter is of the appropriate magma-like consistency is to take a clean plate, and dollop a spoonful in the middle. If the peak slowly disappears into itself, then the batter is ready. If it’s still visible after about 30 seconds or so, then it needs some more air knocking out! If the batter is too runny, then you’ve over mixed!

Prepare a heavy-duty baking sheet with baking parchment. Spoon the batter into your piping bag (or icing syringe, etc.), and dollop macarons onto the parchment paper, leaving at least an inch worth of space between each shell. This depends entirely on how large you want your macarons.

Bash the tray on the surface of the worktop 4 times, rotating each time. This forces air bubbles in the macaron batter to rise to the top. Use a toothpick to pop any large ones. Leave the macarons on the side for an hour to air dry, so that they’re not sticky or tacky to a light touch.

Preheat the oven to 155◦C, ensuring that you do not use fan assist. Pop the tray into the lower third of the oven for 16-18 minutes.

Leave to cool completely before peeling the shells off the parchment.

For the dark chocolate ganache:
Melt the butter and chocolate over a very low heat until melted and combined. Remove from the heat, pour in the cream, homogenise well and pop in the fridge until thick enough to pipe. Before piping, leave the bowl out of the fridge for a while to bring the ganache up to room temperature.

Fill an icing syringe or piping bag with the ganache, and pipe some around a macaron shell leaving about a mm of edge, working your way into the centre. Then, very gently pop the other macaron shell on top, and press VERY lightly to make the ganache pop out and spread to the edges of the shell but no farther, and so that there’s a smooth, unblemished edge around the ganache. Be very careful not to crack and break the shells with your fingers.

Pop in the fridge for anywhere between 2-5 days before taking out of the fridge to bring it up to room temperature before devouring. 😀

Shells baked: 16.03.2014
Shells filled: 17.03.2014

Du Pain et des Idées
34 Rue Yves Toudic, 75010 Paris, France

Jacques Genin, Fondeur en Chocolat
133 Rue de Turenne, 75003, Paris, France

21 Rue Bonaparte, 75006 Paris, France

L’Avant Comptoir
3 Carrefour de l’Odéon, 75006 Paris, France

39 Rue des Vinaigriers, 75010, Paris, France

Pierre Hermé
72 Rue Bonaparte, 75006 Paris, France

Sadaharu Aoki
35 Rue de Vaugirard, 75006 Paris, France

[1] Uncovering the secrets of tea, Chemistry World, January 2013, Page 31.
[2] Disler, P. B., Lynch, S. R., Charlton, R. W., Torrance, J. D., Bothwell, T. H., Walker, R. B. & Mayet, F. (1975) ‘The effect of tea on iron absorption’. Gut, 16 (3). pp 193-200.

Dark Chocolate Walnut Brownie Torte | Trip to Aberdeen

I had a generally lovely week last week! 🙂 I took a week off to go and see my lovely other half all the way in Aberdeen!

I even missed out the appalling storms and 100 mph winds and rains at home in the South West, fortunately! The weather in Aberdeen was actually rather pleasant throughout that week; sure there were a few days when it was raining, but generally it was cold and crisp, but bright and sunny. I was also a little concerned that my flights would have been delayed due to the weather, but on the outward and inward journey, the flights were seamless. No turbulence at all! I was very, very lucky! Thank you! 🙂

There’s so much going on at the moment, but I seemed to have taken the perfect week off, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I was really stressed out with a few things regarding my PhD, and that week was just after I had sorted some things with my colleagues and was feeling good about it. But anyway, that’s rather confidential stuff and for another blog post entirely! In some ways I felt a little resentful that I took a whole week off to spend elsewhere (if I have time off I’d rather it be at home so I can catch up on sleep, spend time with my family, pursue my own hobbies and go training as much as possible), but it was so lovely to see Ed and his new place. 🙂

It was so nice to actually do nothing, no work, not even any Crossfit (I only visited CrossFit Aberdeen once! They’re a lovely bunch, and a few even recognised me from my visit a year and a half ago which was great!). All I did was spent my day browsing through FoodGawker, Tastespotting, baking, cooking, annoying Ed, pretending I was helping him while he was plastering his walls when in actual fact I really wasn’t (well, that’s not true; I stripped a bit of wallpaper, brought him coffees and food, and just generally didn’t stop talking), and strolling around the city centre.

Peeling the wallpaper off in the hallway!

The newly plastered hallway… Ed’s a very handy man!

Pretty much my position for the week: PJs, tea, Kindle, laptop, duvet and comfort!

It was Valentine’s Day during my visit while I was spending the week with Ed, which was the first Valentine’s Day we spent together in probably years. It was also the mark of our 6 years and 1 month together… that’s a long time! One thing I decided that I’m going to try to do and add to my list of “resolutions” (or things to work on) is that I’m not going to worry or endlessly fret about things beyond my control, or procrastinate and over think things until I actually come to do them. For example, I fret so much about WODs at Crossfit that it engulfs a lot of my mental energy the entire day before I go and do the WOD. I’m the same when it comes to work as well. I even asked my second supervisor if I could go to some conferences at which my abstract has been accepted for an oral presentation, and I received a really positive reply back, yet I was STILL fretting about how I’m going to be knowledgeable re: questions (what if I miss something and they think I’m stupid and I get embarrassed?), and about getting enough and the right kind of work done on time, etc, etc. That’s why I get stressed out easily, too. I worry about everything, about whether things will go right, whether the future will work out, whether my family are well and aren’t too stressed out themselves, whether my training is going to pot, my diet and eating habits… everything. Sometimes it just gets too much and I can’t see a way out.

But it was nice to get away from that for a week. Just being somewhere else and doing something completely different from the usual routine made me feel as though I was in a time blip. That week was nowhere in time, and it felt as though my normal life in Plymouth had frozen for a while.

One thing it was nice to get away from was eating “cleanly.” I are so much crap I put on weight! Every morning I had jam, banana and peanut butter on toast, or peanut butter, Nutella and banana on toast. Sure, it was delicious at first, but now I’m struggling to feel perky and just feel plain old fat. I also made this brownie torte, which was delicious, but full of unhealthy things! I also made a banana bread (again, very unhealthy!) with walnuts, oats, banana, chocolate and all of that delicious stuff. So it was bittersweet; in some ways it was great to just go off the rails and eat rubbish… at first… but then by the end, I was hooked on the stuff, wanted to get out of eating it, but felt like I couldn’t. I can easily see how people get into bad ways of eating and get stuck there. It’s so easy to do that, but once you’re out of the rut, you’d be amazed at how great you feel.

Anyway, it was nice to bake things, especially for Ed. I love to bake, cook and dine with people I love. It’s my way of showing them that I love and appreciate them, and a way I enjoy spending time with them (over a relaxed meal talking about anything and everything). It was also nice to take photos in a different location! The light in Ed’s kitchen was great as he had a large window, and the set up meant that the light shone from the left (which is usually how I do things in my own flat!), so in some ways it didn’t change the set up! But it was just nice to be working elsewhere and seeing if I could get ok pictures working with someone other than my brother around (even though Ed was too busy doing his walls to notice what I was up to!), and in a different environment with a makeshift reflector and no tripod (as a couple of days it was rather overcast).

Right now I’m quite heavily focussed on food. I think that’s because it’s nice to take a break from the PhD and it’s been stressing me out a lot. I’m not really into training at the moment (going through a lull for a variety of reasons… again, that’s for another post!), and I’m struggling with Spanish, because recently I’ve been spending a lot of time in front of the computer trying to read publications or typing some sort of document, that I don’t want to study in my free time. Cooking, however, it’s entirely creative, and taking photos, and being with people you love and sharing with them what you’ve done… it’s 100% satisfying. You’re learning something, you’re being creative, and you’re having fun. What’s more to love?

In Aberdeen city centre, on my various wanders when Ed was either at work or sorting out his flat, I came across a culinary school, the Nick Nairn Cook School. I looked in through the windows of this beautiful granite building in a lovely part of the city centre, and could see all sorts of kitchen utensils for sale on a shop floor, right next to an open plan kitchen where there were a couple of chefs busily preparing something on an immaculate kitchen worktops. I wanted to be involved so badly! Looking at the prices of some of the courses, I wasn’t so sure if I would want to part with such money for only a few hours, especially when it was a simple “how to cook a steak” class. Now, that’s not to say that my steak cooking ability is great (I’ve never really tried and think I’d miss what I was going for completely), and maybe I’m being ignorant here, but when it’s something you’ve never tried before and it’s just one aspect of cooking that you’re a beginner in anyway, I say just go learn it yourself initially! I think self-teaching is, in some ways, more rewarding, until you get to a more advanced level where you need some guidance and fine tuning and help with technique and knowledge. But then saying that, I am a student who always moans about money, and think that actually I’d really enjoy the classes. The quality of the teaching may well be worth every penny, and if I had the money I’d love to take one of these classes and a sushi class, as I think I’d enjoy the group atmosphere, too, and if I won the lottery, these sorts of things is that I’d be doing with my free time! No work, but plenty of cooking, photography, piano, Crossfit, gymnastics, weightlifting, martial art, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese and Icelandic lessons, along with travel and adventure!

Maybe one day I’ll hit it big, and live out my dream of owning a Crossfit and martial arts gym with my own restaurant and café, that promotes eating for health and body composition, whilst bringing out my own cookbook full of my own photography… maybe one day… I had better get proficient in all of the above, pronto!

Anyway, I’m going off track now! I spent the time cooking all sorts of dishes… some came out quite well, and others came out not as well, but everything was edible and Ed was just pleased that he had something cooked for him after long days of sorting his flat. On Valentine’s Day though, he did save some lobsters that he had, and prepared a really beautiful lobster thermidor. I hadn’t had lobster since I was a child, and I do have bad memories of lobster (I was sick in the local village hall that night whilst playing badminton… I know it wasn’t because of the lobster, but it was probably the whole tin of oranges I had shovelled down my throat afterwards and I think, from what I can remember, I was ill anyway… of course when I’m ill I don’t lose my appetite like most people!). I knew that I would enjoy lobster anyway, as I know I like crab and all other seafood I’ve come across, so hopefully now, I can push that memory of lobster out of my head and replace it with this one. 🙂

English breakfast cooked by Ed (in Scotland! How controversial!)!

A lovely Valentine’s meal 🙂

We also spent some time with a lovely friend and work colleague of Ed’s and his beautiful girlfriend, who chose a really lovely restaurant at which to have lunch; Le Cafe Bohéme, which was well hidden, but was a gem. The prices were affordable, and great considering the deliciousness and class of the dishes. My favourite was definitely décor and atmosphere that was created from the moment you stepped inside. Definitely my kind of place!

After that, Ed and I briefly visited Stonehaven for a battered Mars Bar from The Carron Fish Bar (which claims to be the birthplace of the deep fried Mars Bar! We couldn’t find a battered/deep fried Crème Egg, unfortunately!), and then popped along to Dunnottar Castle (it was cold and windy… but luckily not raining!). It was really beautiful, right along the coast. Being in the city centre, I often forget that Aberdeen is right by the ocean, just like Plymouth. Next time I’m going to visit the harbour, definitely. The castle itself has a very interesting history, and I believe the official website is here. According to the website, a part of the castle was used for the imprisonment of Covenanters in 1685. It was also home to one of the most powerful families in the land, but then was seized by the government in 1715 because of treason. And a small garrison fought Cromwell’s army for several months and saved the Scottish Crown Jewels, which can now be found in Edinburgh Castle. How exciting!

Dunnottar Castle.


The famous deep fried or battered Mars Bar from…

… The Carron Fish Bar!

And the story of how they supposedly came to be!

I also love a lot of the shops and restaurants in Aberdeen, too. Sure, there are a lot of the well-known places to be found that can be found in every British town, but there were also a lot of local and independent places, too. I loved Yorokobi, which is where Ed treated me to a Japanese meal, and also the last time I visited about a year and a half ago. I also loved the comic book, toy and general geek shop, Plan 9, where I bought my brother (well, both of us I suppose, really!) a Muhammad Ali poster. It was a decision between batman and Ali… tough choice! But I went for Ali because he’s real, looks classy in our living room, and is a constant reminder of how we must consider ourselves to be great and more than capable of achieving our goals if we ever are to achieve them.

Muhammad Ali poster from Plan 9 now in mine and my brother’s living room.

A Muhammad Ali poster in Plan 9, Aberdeen.

Some Batman posters in Plan 9, Aberdeen.

There are some lovely tea and coffee houses, too. I had a fantastic vanilla white tea at CUP (but unfortunately I had to let Ed into the flat because he came home from work earlier than expected as the window guy was inspecting Ed’s windows!), bought some lovely tea from the small but beautiful shop (that smelt of such a strong coffee smell) MacBeans, and really wanted to try and have a coffee in The Coffee House, but they were always too busy whenever I walked by! The day that I left, Ed and I went into town for a couple of hours and sat in a shop called Books and Beans, and again, was always busy whenever I walked by. I love being able to sit in comfort, with a hot drink, chatting away whilst surround by books, knowledge, literature, adventure. I find it really exciting, and back to the theme of winning the lottery; if I ever was to win, I’d have a library in my house with a coffee, tea, juice and smoothie bar! We spent ages in there! The food smelt good and looked good, too! Luckily, we were there on a Sunday, so it wasn’t as busy as during the week, and this is definitely the kind of place that my friend Lucy and I have discussed about opening in the future! 🙂

Sushi, ramen and Korean sizzling beef at Yorokobi, Aberdeen.

Anyway, this brownie torte wasn’t made on Valentine’s Day (in fact, the banana bread was!). It was made a couple of days before, and devoured by Valentine’s, but it looks like a romantic sort of dessert, with the chocolate, marscapone cream and strawberry. The ingredients in this are so simple and the procedure is really straightforward, yet they make, combined with the marscapone, such a decadent dessert.

I accidentally over-baked this dessert… Ed had a very old and retro oven, and I don’t think the temperature is what you set it as. Or it may be, but because the oven isn’t fan-assisted, I tend to find that the heat doesn’t really penetrate the whole thing you’re trying to bake and just crisps the outside (seriously, I’m not making this up! I swear!). After 30 minutes, the inside was still completely raw yet the outside was turning black. So by the time the inside has just about cooked, the outside because a thick, hard shell. Even when I baked sweet potatoes at the same temperature as I do in other ovens (being my own and my parent’s), the inside was deliciously soft as I was expecting, but the inner side of the skin was black and had burnt!

I made this dessert ahead of time (I believe I went to Crossfit, or something, so made it a few hours in advance before putting gin the oven!). It was very delicious though, especially warm and straight out of the oven. But even cold the next day, it was really tasty! The next day, Ed had a slice with milk. 🙂 Of course, you could pop these into a square tray and just have them as brownies! I also think pistachios or Brazil nuts would make for a romantic dessert, also.

CrossFit Aberdeen.

As lovely as it was seeing Ed, I always feel a little empty the week after I get back from seeing him. In some ways, I’m glad he’s not in Plymouth anymore, as I’m struggling enough as it is to keep up with everything I’d like to and need to do, and having him down here would most probably just distract me. But after I’ve seen him, I realise how much I miss him and wish we would see each other more frequently like we did when we were both at the uni down here. 🙂 Unfortunately, I have to wait until next time…

Friday WOD @ CFP with Mike, Jon and Christie (Benchmark Friday!):
5-3-1 strength (deadlift, bench press and front squat)
Angie (100 pull ups, 100 push ups, 100 sit ups and 100 squats!)

Dark Chocolate Walnut Brownie Torte
Adapted from: All Recipes
Makes 1 x 9″ torte

• ¼ cup butter
• ½ cup honey
• 1 cup dark chocolate, roughly broken
• ¼ cup granulated sugar
• 3 x eggs
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 1 cup plain flour, sifted
• 1 cup broken walnuts (I think pistachio nuts or Brazil nuts would work, too!)

I used a 9″ cake tin with a removable bottom lined with non-stick baking paper, as I wasn’t at home, but I think my silicon mould at home would have worked just as well. 🙂

Melt the butter and dark chocolate over a gentle heat in a saucepan. Remove from the heat and then add in the honey, sugar, and vanilla. Stir in the eggs and add the nuts and flour.

Pour into the pan, and bake at 175°C for 30 minutes.

Serve straight from the oven, warm, with strawberries, marscapone and grated chocolate.

Paleo Pad Thai (sort of…) | Random Post Alert!

Phew! So how on earth am I going to summarise everything that I’d like to talk about in this post? Well, I can but try!

The day I cooked this was this summer and from what I remember it was a lovely day, not only because of the weather, but because we went to Mount Batten as a family. I love days like that, and reminisce about them frequently. As I’ve got older, I definitely cherish time with my family more and more. Not that I never did before, but I think now I just really appreciate the value of these moments and times, as there will be a time when we won’t be able to be together so easily anymore. Of course, life moves on and I’ll probably be with a partner, as will my brother, and my parents will be enjoying a life of not having teens and twenteens bothering them, but let’s just enjoy the now. I absolutely love Plymouth and my life here, but I just need to learn to separate myself from every day little stressors. (I have been in a little depressive mood all week, but maybe it’s a weather thing? Today is actually sunny and I’m looking outside of my windows and feeling pretty happy right now!) 🙂

Dad really really enjoyed this dish. That’s not to say that mum and Tim didn’t, but I knew this was dad’s sort of dish, and the fact that he enjoying my paleo spin-off was all the approval I needed!

I can be a little slap dash with food at times when getting it on the table, especially as I like to get it piping hot to my guests, but getting this colourful one-pot dish to look bad is difficult at best! This is definitely one of my favourite dishes to prepare.

It is paleo, but of course the peanuts aren’t. You can always sub them for cashews or some other nut. And of course I subbed noodles for cabbage, so it’s sort of a pad Thai. I just altered it to my tastes and needs, and the availability of ingredients. 🙂 Also, the recipe called for sugar and tamarind paste, but I didn’t bother adding any of those, and the dish was still delicious, unique and had subtle exotic hints.

Anyway, I have a lot going on at the moment. Trying to keep up training with Crossfit (and those who Crossfit know that THAT encompasses EVERYTHING!) and staying motivated for the Battle of London (The London Throwdown), and next weekend is the The Primal Games at CFP, for which I’m catering (which takes about 3 days worth of work in total). Then I’m also actually (and finally!) being more social, so going out socially (wow, what’s happened to me!?), trying to pursue hobbies (such as cooking, photography, blogging, reading), and of course, the PhD. I have a lot going on with that at the moment. I’m demonstrating about 6-7 hours a week for 5 weeks, have two presentations to give in the next two weeks, and have a load of data I need to gather ASAP. Oh, and how could I forget… the Spanish course I’m doing with the OU!

I’ve been getting myself so worked up about things recently, and I feel as though I have to do everything all at once. I genuinely believe that you can have it all, but just not at once, which of course, is a shame. There are so many other things in life I’d love to do, but they just won’t ever happen. I just need to not take on too much at any one time. But then at the same time, we only have one life. I’m so lucky to have the one I have, and I’m just trying to make the most of it. But I think the key to unlocking the potential of any life is to be positive, and to not be dragged under by the little things.

Sometimes when I get so worked up over things, I think it means I need time off of it. I need to prioritise. Maybe I should stay away from food photography for a bit and focus on Spanish. No more working myself up over that and focussing on the PhD, too. I also haven’t been to Crossfit in 5 days (because I was away over the weekend, and then when I returned I felt so bad over my BOL WOD 1 that I just thought “what’s the point in doing Xfit if you’re so bad at it?!”), and next weekend I’m feeling the pressure of it being taken up as a result of catering for the Primal Games.

I think I need to emotionally detach myself from things, but not to emotionally detach myself from the enjoyment I get from them and wanting to better myself. For example, the other day I finally bought a new smartphone! I’ve had my old phone for possibly 6 years, and now I’d like an upgrade for several reasons. The main reason being to keep in touch with my boyfriend more easily I suppose, especially after I just saw him the past weekend for the first time in 4 months, and I don’t want to feel that detached from him if we ever have to go through another similar period, again! So this way, we have no excuse to not stay in touch with one another.

But the thing is, I don’t need a smartphone. Everything I have is perfectly functional; my current phone, an iPod, a digital camera… but I know I would use it and make full use of it, too!

Also, this week I spent some money on photography props; about £55 in total. I bought a reflector, a halogen lamp, and a tungsten lamp. I’ll definitely be trying them out, as I feel it’s the next step for me to work with (oh, and learning how to actually post-process my photos using Corel PSP X4, rather than doing nothing to them!). But I feel so guilty about it. Oh, and I spent some money on Kindle books, too. I feel so bad, and it’s been eating away at me, and it always does. I need to learn to either spend money or be happy with it, or not spent it and be happy with it. I mean, it’s not like I went out drinking, I invested in my hobbies.

But anyway, after 5 days of not training and after not doing well with the BOL WOD 1, I went training today, and felt amazing. I think I’m hardwired to move, socialise and create. That’s funny… isn’t that what we’re all hardwired to do? There are whole blogs and books and programmes out there designed to get people to do more of that stuff (Marks Daily Apple being one that comes to mind, for instance!); it’s a natural antidepressant. And as I keep saying, gives us purpose in life. I truly believe that that is the key to happiness.

Anyway, I’ll just briefly explain my Battle of London WOD 1. The WOD was as follows:
Proceed through the sequence below completing as many reps as possible in 12 minutes of:
20 Cleans 45/30kg
20 box jump overs 24/20″
20 Cleans 60/40kg
20 box jump overs 24/20″
20 Cleans 75/50kg
20 box jump overs 24/20″
As many cleans as possible at 90/60
Score = total reps.

I only got 126 reps. And I felt really bad afterwards. Comparing myself to other people in the box, I did the worst! Ok, don’t compare yourself, blah blah. Everybody does it. Sometimes it’s a good way to see where you are, but generally it is only a useless exercise. Because this is what it results in: self-torture.

I lamented for ages about how I should be better.

Ok, so I’m going to make excuses and say that perhaps it just wasn’t my WOD, although I do like power cleaning more than anything else, and I’m usually good at box jumps. I also don’t follow any program; I just turn up to group WODs. I think I did relatively well up to and including the 40kg cleans, but I was dreading the 50kg, and in my head I was telling myself how it’s nearly my bodyweight, how weak I am, and that I don’t want to go too fast because I’ll burn myself out… I was so tempted to give up and cry whilst doing the 50kg cleans, and that afterwards was the dreaded 60kg! I kept saying that I’ll never be able to get one, at 60kg, etc., etc. If it wasn’t for Shelley I really would have quite in the midst of the 50k cleans. I really freaked myself out and stalled so many times DURING the WOD (by going over to get chalk, looking at the bar, etc.). It’s funny because I had so much nervous energy, and after the WOD I still had energy, but the nerves had gone, and immediately came regret. Well, instantly I was relieved that it was over, but I didn’t get that feeling and buzz of awesome, I just absolutely floored myself. I would love to get the chance to re-do it. I’d change the way I did a few things, use the box jumps as a rest period, go all out on the cleans (as I know 30 and 40kg were relatively easy, 50kg was definitely heavier, but I definitely could have done them faster… and I only got 6 reps at 60kg… I attempted a few but didn’t rack the bar, because I was too scared to get under it. Funny thing is, is that even other people noticed that I just pulled the bar up to my chest and didn’t get under it and they were wondering why!?).

So that’s partly why I also feel really bad about myself and Crossfit at the moment.

And of course, I’ve been eating WAY too much recently! Or badly, too! As earlier, I’ve said that I’ve been going out socially a lot more, even for lunches at uni, a few parties and meals out, and a few coming up, and then of course it’s Christmas, I’ve been having more and more “one offs” as they’re not frequent… but these infrequent things are now turning into frequent things, and I can even feel myself saying in my head “go on, just this once, it’s not often!” I DON’T want to get into the habit of that! For example, I’m now eating more beans and grains than I once was, eating more sweet things, drinking less green tea and smoothies and eating more eggs and oats.

But it’s ok, I’m aware of it, and I will do something to fix it!

The most important thing I learnt though, and something I really need to drill into my head, is that I’m not perfect, and no one is. Was I expecting to be the best? I need to stop feeling to guilty, wrapped up in the past, things that have no importance. The important things were (and still are) is that my family and my significant other still love me, even if I performed “poorly” or have been eating too much. They still love me. It must be because of who I am, and not what I do. 🙂 I guess I need to heed my own words a little better, as usual!

Another thing to add to my “wishlist” would be a high speed blender and a great quality juicer (to juice hard roots like carrots and sweet potatoes), both which will have to be easy to clean! Here is an interesting article in juicing v blending, and goes well with blog post summarising green smoothies and juices.

So now moving to a more positive note, I’ve prepped/tested out some foods for the Primal Games in a weekend’s time, and of course, they were delicious! The menu’s gonna be great, and I’ll also be working with another girl who is absolutely awesome at Crossfit and so lovely, too! It’s great to collaborate with likeminded individuals on such projects; makes it so much more fun! We’re also thinking about doing the European Inferno together, too!

And another lovely lady from CFP also gave me a sample of a couple of her own paleo treats! One of them being this banana bread and another being a sort of paleo fudge.

They were both delicious! This girl can cook! The banana bread was so moist and soft, and the fudge wasn’t sickening like regular fudge is. It was silky smooth and left a lovely aftertaste. She said that she didn’t like the fudge herself, as it was too sweet and the lighter layer was a bit watery. Yes, it was a little oily/drippy, but that’s just because of the ingredients used. I personally thought that it was delicious! I could have had a cup of tea and a huge mound of that stuff, and just stuffed my face all afternoon while sitting through this radiation safety lecture I had earlier today (as our lab has now turned radioactive!). I’ll definitely be getting that recipe from her! 🙂

Oh, and recently, Pete Howe, owner of Crossfit Taunton, has been featured on the most recent cover of Men’s Health! Not only is he an ex-marine and an awesome Crossfitter, but he’s bodyguard to Elton John and David Furnish… and I was in his team in the first Primal Games at CFP! He’s definitely an awesome guy, and on that day team spirit was high! I remember when I was determined to get that 60kg ground to overhead, and I warmed up with 55kg, after which he told me not to “peak too early” as a laugh, and assured me that the 60kg was easily mine. It really relaxed me, as I always get so nervous when it comes to competitions and always let myself and the team down!

And finally, Frankfurt! Let’s briefly chat about that. 🙂

My boyfriend (Ed! Let’s call him “Ed” from now on, instead of meticulously saying “my boyfriend” every time!) works far, far away ( 🙁 ), and the company he works for sent him and all of the other graduates to a two week training thing in Norway. However, for insurance reasons, they can’t put lots of people on the same plane at the same time, and so he and a few others had to stop off at Frankfurt. They decided to stay for a few days, and invite their other halves over! And you know what? It was amazing!

I was ridiculously nervous about going, but I actually had nothing to worry about! I was nervous for a multitude of reasons; one being that I hadn’t seen Ed in over four months (work commitments, ugh! That dreaded ‘w’ word!), and meeting his friends and colleagues (of course, I wanted to make a good impression). I realised that I do get on with people and there are different levels that different people sit on within your life. Not to say that other people mean less but that only some people have prime significance in your life, and others come and go. Just enjoy the good ones when they come, and if they’re really good, treasure them. 🙂

We stayed in a lovely apartment-hotel that had a lovely swimming pool and sauna as well as being right near town! I really enjoyed the breakfasts we had in a little bakery on a quiet road, sitting outside and just chatting. Yes, I had pastries and bread! And honestly, they weren’t as good as I hoped (although they were good; it was actually quite nice for a change to not worry about what I’m eating and just eat whatever the heck I wanted!), but of course, the company was way better. 🙂

We also ate out in two lovely restaurants; one of them a traditional German place called Adolf Wagner (with long tables, rammed full of people and apple wine… basically cider!), and in an African restaurant (as you do in Frankfurt, you know!).

The German place did large platters of meats, which the others opted for (as they had to be a minimum of two people, I believe), but I’d had similar in Spain and I find that, personally, to be a rather boring option. I went for a different meal on the other hand, and Ed did, too! I went for veal liver with apple, mashed potato and salad, and it was very, very tasty (please see blurred image below!).

And in the African place, the six of us (three couples that night, as opposed to the four in total) went for three platters that involved a mix of their dishes, ranging from stews and dips, served on a large platter lined with Eritrean pancakes (Edit, 24.02.2014: I’ve found a link here saying that they’re Ethiopian Injera, and there is even a recipe for a few dishes of the dishes we seemed to have had!), and extra on top. Ed and I ate our way through the most! 😉 We sat in a lovely mud hut inside the most buzzing of places, with really friendly staff and beautiful music and atmosphere. I didn’t take a photo, unfortunately, but I was hoping to nab it from someone else. I’ll add it if I get it! 🙂 (Edit, 18.11.2013: Photo added! 🙂 )

We even went to the zoo one afternoon, and managed to see quite a variety of animals! Well, of course we would at the zoo, but I meant that the animals all seemed to be ‘out’ that day. 🙂

I also loved the reptile house! Reminds me of my childhood, which was spent wanting to be a marine biologist, idolising Steve Irwin and Jeff Corwin, and studying as much as I could about turtles. Oh, the memories! I also used to love safari videos and desperately wanted to visit a rain forest and conduct all sorts of studies and observations and go on all sorts of adventure and expeditions! Learning for the sake of learning! 🙂

In the picture below you can see me staring at my favourite fish! He just seemed like that grump cat you see on pictures all over Facebook and Tumblr these days! 🙂

Although the trip was only three days, I actually had post-holiday blues (mixed with the post-holiday buzz; how bizarre!). I felt really very loved throughout the trip and was just a weekend of indulgence, probably because it was a very long-awaited weekend! It was so nice to not think about work, be in a situation that felt dream-like, and to stay away from the internet and work! I can’t wait for the next weekend! Although, if Ed visits Plymouth, that would be great, but at the same time my mind is usually filled with work.

The last time Ed visited over Easter was lovely, although I remember fretting about work for a lot of the time. Maybe next time I’ll take a couple of days off and just have an extended weekend, just like in Frankfurt, and I’ll cut myself off of the internet, too. Maybe a bit of Crossfit and cooking (leisurely – just like the old times we had together), but apart from that, nothing else! I think I’m going to learn to cut myself off from the everything else. Another skill I need to add to my list of personal development and improvements! When’s the next weekend break!?

The photo of the gecko below was taken with an iPhone! How awesome is that quality?! You can even see his little tongue. 🙂

Wednesday WOD @ CFP:
In a 50 min window complete the following in any order:
A) OMEM for 10 – 1 Bear Complex (keep weight the same)
B) 3:00 max reps bench press 50/30
C) OMEM for 12 mins:
Even minutes 3-6 strict toes 2 bar
Odd minutes 3-6 strict HSPU’s
D) 3 x 400m run 1:1 work/rest
Yeah buddy

Paleo Pad Thai
Adapted from: Closet Cooking and About Thai Food
Serves 4

• 2 tbsp butter
• 2 x whole red chilies, diced
• 4 x cloves of garlic, grated or diced
• 2 x onions, diced
• a knob of ginger, grated or diced
• 4 x spring onions, diced
• 175g cooked prawns
• 2 tbsp dried coriander
• 60g dried mango, chopped
• 60g dried cherries
• ¼ cup of chicken stock
• 8 tbsp lemon (or lime) juice
• 3 tbsp fish sauce
• 3 tbsp soy sauce
• 4 tbsp roasted peanuts or cashews
• ½-¾ head of savoy cabbage, sliced into strips
• 2 x limes

Heat the butter in a large pan/pot, turn the heat down to medium, and add the chilies, garlic, onions, spring onions and ginger. Sweat until the onions are soft and translucent. Add in the prawns, herbs and dried fruit, and cook for a couple of minutes more.

Pop in the chicken stock, lemon juice, fish sauce and soy sauce, cook for a few more minutes on medium-low. Then add in the nuts and cabbage, cover, and cook on low until the cabbage is soft like noodles.

Serve with lemon wedges and any extras. We had raw “giant sunburst peas,” olives, lime and homemade honey-mustard-mayo 🙂

Made for my beautiful family: 03.08.2013

PrimalCon Lake Tahoe 2013 | Detoxing with Green Smoothies & Juices

PrimalCon 2013 at Lake Tahoe… to sum it up in one word: incredible! (Yes the bottom right picture is in San Francisco; we also visited LA, Las Vegas and Reno!).

I met so many new people and made new friends from Australia, India, Ireland, and all around the USA! It was so refreshing to connect with people who shared similar values of bettering their health, all at different stages of their journey. Some people had only recently started eating paleolithically or primally, and others had been on that road for a long time. Some ate paleo and were stricter, while others were primal and allowed dairy. Some were around my age, while others were a lot older. Yet we were all united at the same event with the same goals in mind.

I was fortunate enough to have met Mark Sisson, Robb Wolf, and Sarah Fragoso. The first book I ever read about the paleo diet was by Robb Wolf, then by Loren Cordain, and then Mark Sisson. I have a deep respect for the amount of knowledge that these people have in their area of work, and it’s not just the knowledge, but it’s the passion that is translated through their work, too. I am an avid reader of Mark’s Daily Apple, as well as a listener of Robb’s Paleo Solution podcast when I work in the labs at uni. And Sarah Fragoso’s paleo recipe blog was really the first paleo recipe blog I came across, and opened up a world of amazing recipes and exquisite tastes.

Robb came to give a Q&A session, and at the end I managed to interrupt his dinner, ask for a signature and a photo. He is a really friendly guy, because if that was me trying to eat my dinner, I probably would have torn people’s heads off!

There were many other inspirational and knowledgeable people there, but I had never come across their area of expertise before, and so this conference opened up new topics to pursue that are important in which to gain knowledge in order for primal living in this crazy modern world. For example, I loved that Monisha White, the daughter of Esther Gokhale, was there to promote the Gokhale Method and teach all about posture. She was saying that babies and people who live in tribes untouched by modern day life have naturally good posture. It translated so much to my Crossfit movements that I was really surprised! Hopefully I can improve the slight sway/over-pronounced lumbar curve I have in particular movements.

There was also Chef Rachel Albert giving demonstrations on how to prepare various dishes that featured apples. We got to try a few, and they were amazing. Not only did she give practical kitchen tips, such as how to hold a knife and cut properly, but she also had an incredible insight into her cooking methods. For example, she advises to toast nuts before use to aid the destruction of anti-nutrients and also to add a nuttier flavour, and to keep them in the fridge or freezer in order to prevent the oils (particularly the delicate omega-3’s, I can imagine) within going rancid. I would love to have bought her book “The Edible Garden,” but unfortunately it was far too big for me to take back to the UK, and isn’t available on Amazon (unless I’m willing to pay over £100). She also said that that particular book will not be printed again, which saddened me. Hopefully she’ll make a Kindle edition… maybe I should bug her a bit!

Oh, and considering this was a paleo conference, I should comment on the FOOD! My photos don’t’ do it justice (flash photography at night when you’re ravenous doesn’t cut it!), but let me tell you, the menu was divine! Here’s a sample menu from the Friday night (I sneaked into the kitchen one afternoon and the smell was incredible!):
Rib rost
Salsa/sauces: tomatillo, chimichurri, tomato basil
Southern greens with bacon, onions, garlic and vinegar
Sautéed mushrooms with pearl onions, thyme, white wine and butter
Asparagus with brown butter and almonds
Sweet potato mash with toasted coconut and pomegranate
Spring salad cob style with bacon, eggs, blue cheese and tomatoes
Fennel citrus salad with arugula, red onions, oranges, mint and red wine vinaigrette

Definitely have requested the recipes for these!

It’s a Shame that Jenny LaBaw wasn’t there, although she was on the list of people presenting originally, but there were still plenty of amazing presenters and attendees anyway! To read a summary of the day and all the presenters on Mark’s blog, please click here.

I went to PrimalCon with a friend, Scott Bird, who owns Rising Dragon Martial Arts School, and I really hope he got a lot out of it, especially in relation to his school. I’m glad we stayed in touch after more than 5 years. He’s currently working n expanding his school. I’d love to visit again one day, because my China trip will always hold a special place in my heart thanks to that school. I have so magical experiences and it was the start of a whole new person emerging; a person I’m still working on today.

Despite the really healthy and nutritious foods available at the conference, I still ate in an unhealthy fashion. My eyes are way bigger than my belly and overeating, as we all know, is not healthy! Not only that, but we also treated ourselves to some really unhealthy foods by the end of the trip! All in the space of one night, we had sushi, pancakes, cake, ice cream and burger and chips!

It was quite liberating to let loose and eat all of the foods we haven’t touched in what feels like eons. But the following day quickly revealed just why we don’t do it on a regular basis; it makes you feel like rubbish!

We started off eating relatively healthily on the trip; salads, vegetables, etc. But eventually there just comes a time when you can’t eat clean while you’re on the road. For example, every time I ordered eggs for breakfast, they would always be cooked in bad oils, be covered in cheese, and even if I asked for no cheese, they’d be smeared in sour cream. Even salad dressings had sunflower oil, rather than something I would usually have, like avocado or macadamia nut oil. Eventually it clogs you up and drags you down.

So these next few weeks I’ve decided to go for making green smoothies in order to detox my system and see if this is a brand new way I can get more greens into my system!

A friend of mine that I met via the Open University has been praising juices and juicing for quite some time now, as did another friend of mine a couple of years ago. The idea did intrigue me, however I stayed away from it because of a few things Robb Wolf mentioned:
• You can drink way more calories than you can consume (i.e. you wouldn’t eat as much as you put into a smoothie or a juice, right?)
• The juice or fruits, and even veg, is concentrated sugar, and the liquid form means it will spike insulin a lot faster than if it was in its solid form.
• Juicing removes the insoluble fibre.

However, in various podcasts, even Robb says himself that he’s always learning, and he is a lot more flexible in his approach than he was when he first entered the paleo world. Counter arguments I’ve read have been that:
• Juicing makes the nutrients more easily absorbable by the body.
• Calorie quantity doesn’t count, but it’s the calorie quality that counts.
• Blending plant foods (i.e. making smoothies) breaks the cellulose down of the plant and so makes the nutrients more readily absorbed by the gut, especially as we don’t have the jaw structure we used to (because we don’t chew properly due to our hectic modern day lives).
• We need to approximately half of our daily food intake in the form of greens, as our DNA is 99.4% that of chimpanzees, and they graze daily on leaves, and so an easy way to get the greens in it to have them in smoothie form!
• It’s a nice transition to become accustomed to eating the amounts of greens we actually need to optimal health, because we have been deconditioned to them via too much over-stimulating sweet foods (chocolate, fast foods, junk, etc.).
• It’s a great way to detox an already sick body that has grown accustomed to the SAD (Standard American Diet).
• There are a lot of claims and testimonials celebrating juicing and smoothie-ing!

I certainly don’t think it would hurt for me to try, and in fact, I’m really looking forward to it! I thoroughly recommend reading “Green for Life” by Victoria Boutenko, as it contains so much information that I hadn’t covered in paleo books, and why greens as so important to us.

She talks about how all sorts of natural products are just lumped under the categories of “fruits” and “vegetables,” when in reality they are far more complex than that. She points out that we shouldn’t be eating as many root vegetables as we do, because they’re full or more sugar, and have nowhere near the nutritional content of leafy greens. And she also points out that we need to rotate our greens as to avoid alkaloid toxins from only one species (alkaloids are good in small doses; hormesis is important!), and in order to gain the maximum amount of nutrients available to us.

I’m going to try out green smootheis, and not juices, because 1) I’m still struggling on purchasing a juicer (i.e. how much to spend, what brand, and what specifications), and 2) I don’t want to miss out on all of the insoluble fibre, as that acts as a sponge to remove toxins from the body.

For me, I’m hoping that I’ll see improvements in training, a less bloated stomach after meal times (especially if I sub maybe breakfast or supper for a green smoothie chocked full of leaves!), and let’s see what happens to my energy levels! Oh, and hopefully I’ll get less bouts of eczema during stressful times! Not only that, but it’ll be a great lunch to take to work/uni – I can just swig goodness throughout the day!

Today I made three from Victoria’s book (yes, I got overexcited!); one with lettuce, and one with kale. The lettuce one came out really nicely, but the kale one, although tasted lovely, was still quite chunky. Unfortunately, I only have a hand held blender and a small food processor, which have served me well so far, but for quite a while I’ve been wanting to get a nice blender. Have I finally come up with an excuse to get one?! 😀

There were so many blenders on the market; some really expensive, some quite cheap, but I always get really hung up on the reviews, especially the negative ones. And I’m always a bit wary of buying from Amazon, because sending it back if something goes wrong is just hassle, whereas buying from a local retailer means I can just nip in and return it, rather than queuing at the post office (which ALWAYS has huge queues!). I settled on the Kenwood SB266 Smoothie Maker from Tesco Direct. It was only £10 (£32.83 on Amazon, wth!?) so wasn’t really expecting much, but it suits my needs perfectly. I can even make banana ice cream! 😀 (Note that the smoothie on the left with the kale was a little too thick and the kale kept getting stuck in my throat. After buying the Kenwood blender, it was very smooth and actually quite nice to drink!)

I was really surprised at how easy they were to drink and how pleasant they tasted. Green smoothies are not something that’s new to me, but they never stuck because greens can be rather pungent. Once, a long long time ago, I made a raw broccoli smoothie, thinking it was going to be fine, because I love broccoli (even raw! It just gets stuck in my teeth!). But when it was blended, not only did it smell extremely strong, it wasn’t pleasant to drink. Now, I know broccoli and greens are different, but I was imagining similar results would occur with these greens. But mixing with a little bit of fruit definitely makes it rather pleasant! I’m really looking forward to feasting on delicious cocktails that will heal my insides.

Monday’s WOD:
Warm Up (for time!):
30 walking Lunges
800m run
In to 2 rnds of:
5 burpees
10 press ups
10 plate GTOH 15/10
10 plate thrusters

Front Squat 5-5-5-3-3-3-1-1-1 (every 3rd minute)

OMEM for 9 mins:
High hang power snatch

The recipes for my current favourite one is as follows:

Strawberry Fields
Adapted from: Green for Life
Makes 1 litre

• 1 x large ripe banana
• 1 cup of strawberries
• ½ head of lettuce
• 500 ml (2 cups) water

Blend well.

Raspberry Dream
Adapted from: Green for Life
Makes 1 litre

• 2 ripe pears
• 1 x handful raspberries
• 2 x large kale leaves, stripped from the stem
• 500 ml (2 cups) water

Blend well.

Pan-Fried Lamb Chops with Mushrooms, Peas and Sprouts in a Creamy Sauce and Avocado and Pea Salsa | Tim’s Trip to the Pyrenees

Weeelll this week has been really busy! My brother has been away for 12 days in the Pyrenees on a geology field trip, and so I’ve been cooking really simple food… although there’s no reason it still can’t be full of flavour! But of course, the first morning Tim was back, we had pancakes ^_^

Tim really enjoyed his trip and I’m glad he did! Not only did he make some new friends on his course but he got a picture with Professor Iain Stewart, but unfortunately his friend has the photo! Tim also volunteered to help record some information about Geology in a bid to make an educational geological video, and I popped a YouTube video at the bottom of one! I’m really impressed with it and proud of my bro! I think he speaks really well and he did it without a script or any practice! 🙂

Edit (03.10.2013):Tim and Iain 🙂

Anywho, a couple of weeks ago I picked up half a lamb from a guy at Crossfit whose other half’s cousin owns a farm in Ugborough, and so this stuff is supposed to be grass fed, organic, free-range, and all that good stuff. Now thsi lamb is awesome! I have just over 10kg of the stuff: chops, neck, shoulder, legs, etc. All I can say is that my freezer is full!

I think this dish was really simple, but really tasty… although there are a lot of different flavours, they seem to work well together. I really enjoyed the lemon zing in the avocadoes… I made that last night with my parents after we celebrated me passing my transfer! Friday 13th now has a new meaning to me! And the creamy sauce with the lamb is really nice, too; makes a change from gravy! Not only is it really simple but you really don’t need much cream to add a whole new dimension to the dish. The cream mixed with the lamb juices makes such a nice and delicate sauce that goes so well with sprouts, mushrooms, peas, and leeks.

I also couldn’t choose how many photos to take; they all look quite similar, but I just like the colours so much. The photos look a bit too busy for my liking, but what’re you gonna do? ^_^

Saturday’s WODs:
Max reps of (4 rounds):
BW bench press
Strict pull ups
Strict HSPUs
2 x BW deadlifts

Then 20 minutes to achieve:
1RM of 2 x full snatch into 1 x full hang snatch
max. reps muscle ups

The session was so busy this morning and hectic! Boo!

In pairs, 20 minute AMRAP: each do alternating rounds of Cindy while the other does burpees! (Cindy = 5 pull ups, 10 press ups, 15 squats)

Me and Emily = 236 burpees and 14 rounds of Cindy, rx’d. 🙂

They were both fun but I need to push myself more! Whenever things start to get uncomfortable, I always pull back, and if I continue sometimes I get teary and upset. Why? What is wrong with me?!

Pan-Fried Lamb Chops with Mushrooms, Peas and Sprouts in a Creamy Sauce and Avocado and Pea Salsa
Avocado salsa/salad adapted from: Home Cooking Adventure
Serves 1-2

For the avocado salsa:
• 1 x avocado
• 1 x cup spring onion, chopped
• ¼ cup raw peas
• 2 x garlic cloves, minced
• 3 tbsp lemon juice

For the lamb and cream sauce:
• 2-4 x lamb chops
• 2 x cloves of garlic, minced
• 1 x small onion, diced
• ~200 g button mushrooms, halved
• ~½ cup of peas
• 2 tbsp dried rosemary
• splash of double cream
• sprinkling of pine nuts


For the avocado salsa:
Mash the avocado in a bowl, and fold and mix in the rest of the ingredients.

For the lamb and cream sauce:
Pop the lamb chops in a large non-stick fryign pan on low until you your them start to sizzle and the juices start to run out. Then turn the heat up to medium and add the onions, garlic, mushrooms and rosemary. Continue to dry until the garlic is fragrant, the onion is translucent, and the mushrooms have soaked up the lamb juices. If the lamb is cooked to your liking before the rest of the dish is ready, take the lamb off the plate or push it to the side of the pan. Add the peas about 1 minute before you turn off the heat.

When ready to serve, turn off the heat, put the lamb on the plates and add a splash of double cream to the pan, and mixing in with the juices, mushrooms, onions, etc. Serve over the lamb chops, sprinkle some pine nuts and enjoy with the avocado salsa. 🙂

Enjoyed solo: 11.09.2013

Empanadas Argentinas |

My parents have really got me into enjoying the sitcoms/soaps Everybody Loves Raymond and King of Queens. There’s one episode of King of Queens, however, that I can directly relate to this post (season 6, episode 15). Basically, Carrie ends up meeting and becoming good friends with this girl called Trish, who also turns out to be a girl Doug used to date! But in the end, Trish really gets on everyone’s nerves with her annoying habits (like saying “literally” all the time), and Carrie only stays friends with her so she can get cheap clothes.

Anyway, Trish came over to Carrie’s for lunch one day, and Carrie invited another girl called Holly just so she didn’t have to be alone with Trish! Trish brought with her some empanadas, and asked Holly if she’d been to Argentina. After Holly indicated that she hadn’t, Trish immediately exclaimed “You haven’t been to Argentina? Seriously, you have to go to Argentina. It’s literally the best. Go to Argentina.” Ok, so it’s not that funny reading it, but if you’re a fan of the series you’ll know what I’m talking about!

So, empanadas are little pastries filled with meat and/or vegetables, and very similar to Cornish pasties. They can be sweet, too.

Last summer I went on placement in Buenos Aires. The residencia I stayed in was situated in San Telmo, the old part of the city. In this residence I met some people from all over the world! Quite a lot were from France, as they were on internships and placements with the same company. I met people from China, Brazil, Sweden, and Finland, and they were all really cool, not to mention could speak many languages! I felt like the average Englishman; only able to speak English, and Spanish not so well.

One night, within the first couple of weeks I arrived, some of us made empanadas for our supper one evening. There were so many that I had 5! I saved my leftover ones for lunch and supper the following day. 🙂

The bottom left is La Casa Rosada; the President’s house.

So, I decided to give empanadas a go for the badminton league match we played against University B team last night. I often get asked why I play against the university I attend; well, I didn’t attend the university badminton club because it was too overcrowded, and found another club where they asked me to play for them. I went to the university badminton club at the beginning of this year, and they asked me to play for them too. But I couldn’t play for more than one team in the same league, so I kept my loyalty to the Mayflower Wednesday Badminton Club instead.

According to Laylita, empanadas Mendocinas (Empanadas from Mendoza, Argentina) are distinctly different from other styles of empanadas because:

  • There are no raisins in this empanada recipe.
  • The paprika/picante/spicy peppers give flavour and a red colouring to the empanada.
  • The dough is made with milk, which makes it softer and creamier than the standard empanada.

    I have to say actually, that my empanadas did have a slightly red/orangey tint to it; partly because of the free-range egg yolk I used (from our next-door-neighbour’s chickens), which instantly turned the flour yellow, and also because of the paprika. The dough is extremely beautiful to handle, especially when it’s warm from the milk! It’s one of the easiest pastry doughs I’ve handled. It’s not sticky at all, and I managed to roll it out on a surface without any extra flour.

    A good way to roll dough thinly without ripping it and to get an even thickness is to do it in sections. It does take longer, but the results are worth it: when you’ve rolled the dough and have come to the point where it’s not stretching out any further, that’s the time to flip the dough and roll it on the other side. It really works, and you continuously flip the dough until you have reached the desired thickness.

    Here’s a another tip that’s particularly useful: if you accidentally break some egg shell in your egg, use the rest of the egg shell to remove it. It’s a lot easier than using a spoon or your fingers, as the egg shell seems to repel these. And when separating eggs, it’s a lot easier to break the egg, and then use the two halves of the shell to transfer the yolk backwards and forwards, letting the whites drip into a bowl. It really works!

    On a final note: it was really time consuming to make these. The dough and beef filling didn’t take long to prepare and cook at all; it was the rolling, cutting, filling, folding, brushing and baking of the empanadas that took ages! But, the love showed through and I got compliments all around! I have to say so myself, they were pretty darn good!

    Empanadas Argentinas
    Source: Laylita’s Recipes
    Makes 20-30 empanadas (I made 27)

    Masa de empanada (dough):
    • 3 cups (~520g) flour
    • 1 x egg yolk
    • ½ cup (~115g) butter
    • ¾ cup (160ml) warm milk
    • ½ tsp salt

    Relleno de picadillo de vacuno (beef picadillo filling):
    • 500g ground/minced beef
    • 2 x onions, diced
    • 2 tbsp butter
    • 2 tbsp paprika
    • 1 tbsp hot chilli powder
    • 1 tbsp dried crushed chillies
    • 1 tbsp oregano
    • ½ tbsp ground coriander
    • 1 bunch spring onions
    • 3 x hard boiled eggs
    • ¼ cup (~50g) green olives, diced
    • salt and pepper, to taste
    • 1 x egg, separated

    For the dough:
    Sieve the flour into a large wooden bowl and add the salt. Give a quick stir with a wooden spoon, and add the melted butter. Mix well with the wooden spoon until it starts to form lumps.

    Add the egg yolk and the milk, and give a mix until it all comes together and is nice and homogeneous. Then use your hands to knead it for a couple of minutes before separating into two discs, wrapping in foil and popping into the fridge for half an hour.

    For the beef filling:
    In the meantime, put 2 tablespoons of butter into a large heavy-bottomed dish, and pop over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until soft and translucent. Then pop in the paprika, chilli powder, oregano, coriander and crushed chillies, and mix in the beef.

    Cook until the meat is finished (make sure there’s no pink left at all), mixing it every now and then.

    Leave the mixture to cool a bit. Slice the spring onions and olives, then mix in the with beef.

    Assembling the empanadas:
    Take the dough out of the fridge and roll it out thinly. Use a sharp knife to trace around a small bowl as a template for the empanada discs. Make sure they’re not too thin; approximately 1/8″ thin.

    Pop a tablespoonful of mixture onto each disc, and then a piece of egg on each. Brush a thin layer of egg white around the edges of the disc (this glues them together naturally), and then use your fingers to fold the disc in half and to press down on the edges to seal the beef inside. Then fold the edges over slightly, and press down with a fork.

    Baking the empanadas:
    Preheat the oven to 200°C. Whisk the egg yolk in a small bowl, and brush over the top of the empanadas. Make sure it’s a thin layer, as you don’t want baked egg on top of them! The thin layer of egg yolk makes them turn brown in the oven. Bake them for approximately 25 minutes, and serve warm with chimichurri. 🙂

    ¡Buen Provecho!

  • Alfajores | Valentine’s Day Argentinian Style

    My boyfriend and I aren’t doing anything special for Valentine’s Day. We were supposed to have celebrated our three year anniversary this time last month, but we never did. However, the opportunity presented itself last week when I came into possession (thanks to my mum!) of some vouchers for an Italian restaurant. So I supposed we have already celebrated Valentine’s Day a little early! As a result, I have only made a pretty little blue giftbox with some homemade goodies for him. He also bought me a cute turtle when he was on the ferry back from France this weekend. Unfortunately, these alfajores weren’t finished by the time I gave Ed the box, so I’ll present him a couple when we next meet, providing that the chocolate has hardened on time!

    Chocolate jacuzzi.

    My cute little soft turtle.

    According to Wikipedia, alfajores are traditionally Arabic, and they’re a long slender cookie, similar to the Italian Bones of the Dead biscotti-type biscuits. However, in Argentina they’re a huge hit, and involve a delicious bite of dulce de leche sandwiched between two cookie biscuits, and then usually covered in chocolate. They’re in every street corner in Argentina, and very commercialised. People would eat them for snacks, and as breakfast, too.

    One of the twelve alfajores that I bought home with me to the UK.

    I could spend a long long time talking about the deliciousness of these, and of the other foods I sampled in Argentina, but this will have to be for another time. For now, I will speak of only alfajores! They’re quite simple to make, but so delicious to sample!

    The ingredients of the alfajor biscuit.

    Cutting the biscuits.

    Getting ready to pop them in the oven!

    Alfajores ready for the dulce de leche filling!

    Each only had about half a teaspoon worth of dulce de leche.

    Ready for their chocolate coating…

    Just look at that chocolate! Talk about calories; altogether I used to about two and a half large bars of chocolate to coat these 23 alfajores!

    And there you have it! Alfajores just like those in Argentina! If you decide to make these, please don’t make the mistake I did when making the dulce de leche! And I really hope that you enjoy this little touch of Argentina in your kitchen. 🙂

    Can I really wait that long until the chocolate sets…?

    Argentinian Chocolate Coated Alfajores
    Adapted from: Tea & Cookies and Project Foodie
    Makes 20-25 alfajores.

    • 215g (1 ½ cups) plain flour
    • 115g (¾ cup) cornflour
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • 135g lightly salted butter
    • 130g (½ cup) sugar (I used Hermesetas sweetener)
    • 1 egg
    • 1 egg yolk
    • 2 tsp vanilla essence/flavouring
    • approx. 150g of dulce de leche
    • 275-300g milk chocolate
    • desiccated coconut, to decorate (optional)

    1. Melt the butter in the microwave in a large mixing bowl. Then add the sugar and cream with a wooden spoon.
    2. Sift in the flour, cornflour and baking powder and mix together. Then, beat in the egg, and then the egg yolk.
    3. Now, roll the dough into a large ball, place in cling film and whack in the fridge for 2 hours (or one day at the most).
    4. Remove the dough: if it’s too hard, leave to stand until it’s manageable enough to work with.
    5. Split the dough into portions. Seeing as it’s quite a difficult dough to roll out because it falls apart easily, it’s better to work with smaller portions.
    6. Use a rolling pin to roll out one of the portions as thin as possible (about 1/8 of an inch).
    7. Preheat the oven to 175◦C.
    8. Cut out shapes of your preference. Do this with all of the dough, ensuring that there are an even number!
    9. Bake for 5 minutes, and then swap the position of the trays from front to back and top to bottom, and then bake for another 5 minutes.
    10. Turn off the oven and leave the alfajores to cool for another 10 minutes in the oven.
    11. (Or you could just bake for a total of 10-15 minutes, ensuring that the position of the trays are swapped halfway through).
    12. Let the alfajores cool completely before proceeding with the next step.
    13. Sandwich the alfajores between approx. ½-1 tsp of dulce de leche.
    14. Leave to set in the fridge for a while, as it’ll make the next step easier by preventing the alfajores to slide around its dulce de leche centre.
    15. Melt chocolate in your preferred way, either in the microwave ensuring that you mix the chocolate after every 30 seconds in order to stop the bottom from burning, or over a bain-marie.
    16. Cover the alfajores in a generous layer of chocolate.
    17. Sprinkle with coconut if you so wish.
    18. Leave to harden, and then enjoy. Just don’t get addicted!

    When rolling out the dough:
    It’s easier to roll it out in small batches, because that way you can ensure an even layer, and also the dough itself can crumble and break easily.

    When decorating the alfajores with chocolate:
    Lay the alfajores, once coated in chocolate, in a non-stick oven dish, as it’s a lot easier to remove them once the chocolate is dry, and to wash up afterwards!
    Be sure not to coat in in too much, otherwise you’ll end up with cracked alfajores when scraping them off of the dish! I learnt this through experience; although I knew at the time my alfajores would be difficult to separate from the dish, I was in a hurry and couldn’t be bothered…I’ve learnt time and time again that one has to be bothered and give plenty of love to the food, to get great tasting and exceptional looking results. What you give to your recipe is what you will get back. 🙂

    ¡¡Buen Provecho!!

    Cracked alfajores. :’-(

    These seem to be OK. I love the irregular chocolate ripples; this is where imperfections, as with most things in life, makes for uniqueness and beauty. Though they may have bumps and unsmoothed chocolate, they still taste pretty damn delicious!

    Happy Valentine’s Day! 😀

    Plum & Nectarine Chicken Tagine | Moroccan Memories

    When my brother and I went to Morocco in June 2010, we were really looking forward to trying a lot of Moroccan cuisine. However, seeing as we were on the road a lot and staying in hostels, camp sites and balconies our staple diet was cous cous! Cous cous and tagine…we really wanted to try one ourselves! And we did, although it wasn’t like anything we tried in Morocco. It has a sort of, Asian twist I suppose?

    Delicious fresh fruit and aromatic herbs
    Tagine with a south-east Asian twist; so colourful and aromatic. 🙂

    When we first arrived in Marrakech, tagines were a novelty. They were delicious and aromatic, and served in a unique looking pot. There are all sorts! Vegetables and potatoes, chicken and fish tagines…and they’re typically served with a sort of flatbread (I really want to try that recipe next). By the end of the trip we had tagine coming out of our ears!

    Tagines cooking on an open fire
    Tagines cooking for the locals in “paradise” near Chefchaouen.

    In Morocco, the men can be quite vulgar and rude, especially towards women. Even more so if they are attractive. However, there are also plenty of kind of hospitable people, who are genuinely interested in wanting the best for you, and also who just want to sell things in their shop. There was also one particularly fond memory I have of my brother and I meeting a man in Essaouira, who told us to be aware of younger men. By the end of the day, we were sitting in the middle of a carpet shop with his boss, his wife and two other Moroccan girls (one of whom who could speak brilliant English, and they were both students who studied media) eating a tagine made with local fish. We had no cous cous with it, but this Moroccan flatbread that I mentioned earlier. I believe it’s called khobz in Arabic.

    Fish tagine made with local produce
    Delicious fresh fish tagine eaten with khobz whilst sitting in the middle of a carpet shop.

    Tim stuffing his face!
    Tim eating vegetable tagine with cous cous and khobz in Marrakech.

    So there we were, sitting in a carpet shop, sampling local cuisine and being taught some basic Arabic. And this was all on our second day in Morocco…oh what more awaited us! I was absolutely dying to try out a tagine for my family when I got home.

    This tagine, however, sounded really delicious and original. Tim and I never sampled something quite as fruity as this in tagine form in Morocco, so I thought we’d give it a go. This is also the first time we have eaten cous cous since our trip to Morocco! Although next time I make a tagine, I think I’ll try and recreate one of the tomato fish ones we had so often. The only problem is that my dad doesn’t care for cous cous, so I’ll have the replace that with rice. Or maybe I can cook him a separate portion of rice; it’s extra effort, but it’ll be worth it to bring about those staple flavours and Arabian memories of Morocco.

    Fish tomato tagine
    Tomato, lemon and fresh local fish tagine. Our last authentic Moroccan meal in Tangier overlooking the tropical sea before heading back to the UK.

    Tim acting like a cat!
    Tim literally eating every last scrap!

    Unfortunately, to boil the cous cous I accidentally used my mother’s Le Creuset oven dish…and it cracked as soon as I touched it on the hob when it heated up. She was very good about it, but I was absolutely gutted and still feel extremely guilty. I hope she can forgive me! It was a beautiful orange, Mediterranean-style pot, and I always used to eye it up whenever I opened up the cupboards for saucepans. I feel as though we should give it a proper burial and ceremony. 🙁

    Delicious fresh fruit and aromatic herbs
    A little touch of Morocco in our very own kitchen!

    The smell from the plums and nectarines was absolutely beautiful throughout the cooking process. They were so soft and succulent and complimented the chicken perfectly.

    Plum & Nectarine Chicken Tagine
    Adapted from: Eats Well With Others and Closet Cooking
    Serves 4

    • chicken legs and/or thighs (however many your guests will eat)
    • 2 x onions, sliced
    • 2 x garlic cloves, crushed
    • fresh ginger, grated
    • 4 x nectarines, chopped
    • 4 x plums, chopped
    • 1/2 cup (125ml) water
    • 1 tsp parpika, cumin, tumeric, cayenne pepper, cinnamon
    • salt and pepper
    • 2 tbsp lemon juice
    • 1 tbsp clear honey
    • 1/4 cup (~40g) olives
    • a bunch of fresh coriander, chopped

    1. Brown the chicken in a large dish over the hob. Remove the chicken.
    2. Brown the onions in the fat that emerged from the chicken in the dish, and add the garlic and ginger.
    3. Now add the water, spices, plums and nectarines. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
    4. The add the chicken, olives, honey and lemon, and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes or until the chicken is cooked.
    5. Don’t forget to prepare the rice and/or cous cous in the meantime.
    6. Mix in the chopped coriander, and serve with flatbread and rice/ cous cous.

    Bon Appétit!!