If there’s anything positive that came out of 2020 for me (…other than my daughter, obvs!), then it has to be my discovery of Pho(or “Fuh”). It has to be said that this sudden, oh so steamy romance happened very early on in 2020 when my husband took me to a Vietnamese restaurant in Cardiff (called Pho, what else?) for a belated Valentine’s Day treat – ironically our last “date night” for the rest of 2020 and, now that Elsie’s come along, forever quite possibly. I was adamant that nothing could replace Ramen in my book when it came to bowls of slurpy, brothy, noodley goodness – but oh how wrong I was. If Ramen is winter in a bowl, then Pho is summer – it’s lighter, fresher and spicier. Reader, I fell in love, and when I discovered that Blue Dragon made an instant Pho pack and that I could make it relatively painlessly at home, then it was pretty much all I wanted to eat for the rest of the year.
Until my local supermarket pulled the packs. Disaster. I was left with two options; either I could quit my Pho affair (pho-k off), or I could learn to make it myself. Initially I was skeptical; didn’t it take hours and hours to create the broth? Plus, didn’t it require a load of ingredients that were impossible to find in Sainsbizzles? Not so, my friend. Turns out that you can make it very easily at home – which is amazing because it means I can slurp to my hearts content.
I’ve got into the habit of buying a roast chicken most weeks now and clawing as much use out of the carcass as I can; it tends to speed up cooking and add a deeper flavour to my dishes. I use the leftover meat in curries and stir-frys, sprinkle the crisped up chicken skins as a garnish and use the bones to make chicken stock. All these things can be used to make a wicked pho, sure, but you can get almost just as good a result from using a pack of chicken stock and some shop bought pre-cooked roast or rotisserie chicken. Rejoice!
Easy Chicken Pho
300g cooked roast chicken, shredded
1l good quality chicken stock
1 banana shallot, sliced
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp garlic paste
2 tsp ginger paste
3 star anise
2 dried lemon grass stalks
2 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp Chinese five spice
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp palm sugar
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 carrots, shredded
handful of beansprouts
4 spring onions, sliced
crispy chilli oil
fresh chopped coriander
crispy chicken skins
In a deep wok or pot, gently heat the vegetable oil and fry the shallot until golden. Add the garlic and ginger pastes, as well as the Chinese five spice, and then fry until aromatic.
Pour in the chicken stock, then add the star anise, lemongrass, coriander seeds, chilli flakes, palm sugar and fish sauce. Bring to the boil and then cover and allow to gently simmer for a good half hour. While you’re waiting, cook the noodles and then serve them up into two waiting bowls.
Sieve the broth into a fresh pot, then add the carrots, bean sprouts and spring onions. Simmer for 5 minutes, then serve up the pho – pouring it into the waiting bowl over the noodles.
Garnish with crispy chilli oil, plenty of chopped coriander, crispy chicken skins and a lime wedge.
Slurp away! 🙂
Have a pho-nominal week everyone!(…I’m done, promise!)
if one more person tells me to “sleep when the baby sleeps”…
Where do I even start? Because, while there’s been metaphorical tumbleweed blowing across this part of the internet for a good couple of months now I can promise you that it’s been anything but quiet offline. Babies, man. Turns out they screech like hungry pterodactyls – or maybe that’s just the one I made. It’s been two months of late nights and early mornings (I now know the entire late night schedule of ITV2 and Channel 4). Two months of googling “is green baby poop normal?” – among other things; my targeted ads have gone from “pamper yourself with this luxury skincare” to, well, Pampers. Two months of raging internally every time someone tells me to “sleep when the baby sleeps” (because seriously, when does that ever happen?). Two months of tears (from me more than the baby) and laughter. Two whole months of our little Elsie.
It’s been… an education.
A couple of years ago I couldn’t think of anything worse than reading (mostly horror) stories about childbirth online, and yet in the weeks before my due date I couldn’t seem to get enough of them. I’m not sure whether I was hoping to clue myself in or freak myself out to such an extent that I was ready for anything. But, as I’d suspected all along, you can read every hypnobirthing book on the shelf and positive affirmation on the wall of the delivery room that you want but all that “breathe baby down” bollocks goes completely south along with your waters when said baby decides to make their grand entrance. That being said, it was awesome – and I genuinely loved every second.
This story actually begins last Christmas. You see, every year I buy my Mum a copy of Old Moore’s Almanac. If you’ve never heard of it it’s basically a small book full of predictions for the year ahead, from lottery numbers to which star sign can expect a bit of tall, dark and handsome to walk into their lives. It’s just a bit of hocus pocus, but my Mum looks forward to devouring her copy every year. Anyway, at some point last January during said devouring – long before social distancing and loo roll shortages, and long before I even fell pregnant in early March – my Mum took a pen and scribbled “Baby?” on the page of predictions for December 2nd 2020. She went a bit pale when, a few months later, I announced that I was baking a nine month bun and the oven timer was set for November the 29th. We laughed and shrugged it off, “But wouldn’t it be funny if that was her birth date?”
Six months later, I polished off my due date with a massive roast. I’d eaten plenty of spicy food and gone on a couple of long walks with Sunny and Bungle that weekend, hoping to get things moving – but nothing seemed to be happening. Then, in the early hours of the following morning I had what I assumed was some wicked indigestion following an overindulgent Sunday Roast. By breakfast it was clear that I was in early labour. Sunny wrapped up work and started his paternity leave and when my contractions started coming thick and fast not long after, we dropped Bungle off with our lovely neighbours and hightailed it to the hospital (after I’d painted my nails and put on some makeup for some inexplicable reason). Sunny waited in the car (Covid) while I waddled into the MLU to be checked only to emerge twenty minutes later looking very worried.
I was only at 1cm and I was already struggling with the pain. I freaked out. How bad was it going to be by the time I reached 4cm and was actually in active labour? How bad was it going to be at 10cm?! We picked up Bungle and went home realising that I could be labouring at home for days at this rate.
That night Sunny slept on the sofa (a little preview of our first couple of months as parents) whilst I tried to sleep upstairs in bed. But it was impossible with contractions coming in at every 3 minutes and lasting for an excruciating minute. And yet, when we rocked up at the MLU the following morning, unbelievably I’d only progressed half a centimetre and was sent home again to “have a warm bath” and “shoot a couple of paracetamol”. I ended up heading back there by the end of the afternoon – still in pain, still only a couple of measly centimetres. The midwives sighed and offered to give me a shot of pethidine to cope with the pain, but I declined. Clearly I was being a bigger baby than the one kicking me in the ribs; I needed to (wo)man up and wait it out.
I went home and had a bath, took a couple of paracetamol and – with a loaned TENS machine from our other lovely neighbours across the road – I hunkered down on the sofa and tried to brave the pain while Sunny took a turn in the bed. But later that night – as December the 1st ticked over into December the 2nd – I’d cranked the TENS machine up to its highest level and the pain was getting much, much worse. “This isn’t normal” I kept saying to myself as I crawled up the stairs to wake Sunny to drive me yet again to the hospital – and this time, the lovely midwife at the MLU agreed with me. Even though I was bizarrely still only 2cm, I’d given it a good crack but was becoming exhausted. The gas and air came out and Sunny was called in – I was being sent up to Obstetrics for an epidural.
By the time we got there and the epidural was put in (they are amazing things, just saying), we got some answers. The baby and I were back to back; the constant and intense contractions I was feeling was my body desperately trying to turn her into a better position. I wasn’t being a wimp after all – backed by the raised eyebrows of the midwife who peeled off the TENS machine and noticed that it was cranked right up to the highest setting and stuck permanently on “boost”. As the epidural got to work I managed to get some sleep and we waited baby out for a while, but when by the late morning it seemed that things had stalled I was hooked me up to a hormone drip to “move things along”. I slowly cranked up to 9cm throughout the day but by late afternoon – as I prepared for a fourth night in labour – the lead doctor on duty suddenly became very interested in the screen monitoring the baby’s heartbeat. After several visits, she decided that it had been raised for too long and that’s when the scary cesarean consent forms were flopped out in front of me.
I was gutted. What, I’d been at this for three days, made it all the way to 9cm and I wasn’t going to be allowed to give the grand finale a go? That sucked. But, as they unhooked the machine and pulled the rails up on the bed, the doctor promised that if I’d reached 10cm by the time I was in theatre then they could hold the cesarean and give suction and forceps a go – which is exactly what happened. “Either way”, she said as we rolled up to theatre, “this baby is coming tonight!” Sunny and I looked at each other; turns out my Mum’s spooky prediction had been spot on.
The moments before Elsie arrived are an intense blur. Weirdly, I don’t remember much up until the moment she was lifted over the screen and plonked onto my chest – from that moment on, I remember everything. I remember laughing at her little chin – an identical copy of my own dimpled chin. I remember rolling my eyes and wondering why on earth I’d decided to throw on my favourite white t shirt to give birth in (so dumb!), but at the same time not caring at all. I remember that amazing post birth cup of tea and slice of toast in the recovery room. I remember saying goodbye to Sunny – he’d managed to be with me all the way through labour but because of Covid he wasn’t allowed to stay. And I remember waking up the next morning alone in a dark hospital room, and rolling over to find that I wasn’t so alone after all.
The fourth trimester is a whole other story – it’s true when they say that it’s both the best and the worst of all the trimesters. Post-partum recovery especially has been by far the worst part of pregnancy, and no one really prepares you for it or talk about it. But, that’s one for another blog post, once I’ve made it through. Aside from that, it’s been an amazing two months of being stuck under a sleeping baby – and totally worth every second of pain. Given the pain that it took for her to arrive (and I’m not just talking about the labour), it’s kind of surreal that she’s actually here, that she’s actually ours. A lot of the time it feels like I’m babysitting someone else’s baby and just waiting for them to turn up on the doorstep and pick her up (and raise their eyebrows at what a horrible job I did of looking after their kid). She’s beautiful and incredible and I can’t believe I get to keep her and call myself her mum.
Oh, and I bought my Mum Old Moore’s Almanac for 2021, but she’s under strict instructions to only predict the winning Euromillions numbers from now on. 😉
You know me, I’m a huge fan of Thai Food; it’s fresh, it’s fiery and full of flavour. And, it’s so quick and easy to cook – it’s been my mid and end of week hero dish for quite a while now (done in twenty minutes and great for using up whatever veg you’ve got bashing around at the back of the fridge at the end of the week!). While Thai Yellow Curry will forever be my absolute go to and favourite when I’m craving Thai Food, I’m always on the look out for ways of mixing things up and using those flavours in a different way. Because a pack of Thai Curry Paste doesn’t just have to be for making curry. Whether it’s red, green or yellow, that little pack tucked away at the back of your cupboard behind the dried pasta and tin of chopped tomatoes can be used in so many different ways to inject heat and flavour into a dish – any dish.
Thai Potato Rosti Cakes
Potato Rosti, Hash Browns… whatever you call them and however you eat them – a tablespoon of any curry paste stirred into the soft, shredded potato and onion mix before you go ahead an get frying is DY-NA-MITE. Add a couple of poached eggs and you’ll be in for an extra special, extra spicy Sunday brunch.
Liven up Vegetable Soups
I’ve always been a fan of boring vegetable soups to be honest. For me, it doesn’t have to be anything special – and after a wet walk with the dog there’s nothing like a bowl of steaming hot soup with a tonne of chunky veg floating in it in my book. My husband however, HATES it. He finds the flavours bland, the soggy veg like baby food and whenever there’s soup on the menu he’ll roll his eyes and whinge his trademarked phrase, “Soup’s not food, it’s sustenance!!!” Ugh. But mix in a spoonful of curry paste and suddenly it’s like he’s staring into a whole new bowl.
Fiery Fish Pie
I’m a recent convert to Fish Pie – it’s just the perfect Autumn comfort dish and I recently posted my go-to recipe: Fish and Lager Pie. But why not mix it up and inject a little Thai spice into the mix? Super easy, just swap out the double cream for coconut milk and spoon in as little or as much curry paste as you fancy!
Thai curry paste and eggs go together like a dream, so the next time you’re feeling too knackered to cook and utter the words, “Do you just fancy an omelette tonight?”, why not slip a little curry paste into the mix and take that lazy omelette to a whole new level?
Marinade for Meat
And finally, what better way to liven up the meat on your menu than to inject it with all the flavour packed into just a couple of spoonfuls of curry paste. There’s no end to what you make after letting your meat marinade overnight in the stuff – from kebabs to the fiery Thai-style Burgers topped with Asian Slaw that I whipped up over the weekend using a few ingredients sent to me by Discover Delicious. (Scroll down for the recipe…)
If you’ve never heard of Discover Delicious before then think of them as your one stop online shop for fantastic Welsh food and drink. They’ve got a fully stocked food hall full of groceries made by locally by Welsh Independents – often family run – from cheese and crackers to gin. They also offer gifts and experiences – so if you’re on the hunt for some early Christmas presents, then look no further. From the package of goodies they sent me (including aaaall the pregnancy snacks I’m going to need to get me through the next couple of weeks – including Welsh Cakes and Toffee Waffles, my faves!) I immediately fished out the Thai Yellow Curry Paste and Hot Thai Style Chutney.
First things first, season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and then place them in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together your marinade: that’s the Thai Curry Paste, Olive Oil and Coconut Milk. Combine the two, ensuring both chicken breasts are fully coated and submerged. Leave to marinade for at least an hour, but overnight would be even better.
When you’re ready to cook, whip up your Asian Slaw. Finely shred the carrot, beetroot, cabbage and Chinese leaf into a bowl. In a clean bowl, mix together the dressing: that’s the sesame oil, ginger paste, garlic paste and maple syrup. Combine the two, ensuring the veg is all coated. Set aside.
Shallow fry your marinaded chicken breasts on a medium heat for around 20 minutes, turning over half way.
All that’s left is to assemble! Lightly toast the brioche buns, then stack with the cooked chicken breasts, Asian Slaw and freshly chopped coriander, then serve.I’d totally recommend adding a blob of Calon Lan’s immense and fiery Chutney – it really spiced the burgers up!
Have a great week! 💛
*This post contains gifted items. To find out more about what that means, click here.
Swedish Sticky Buns stuffed with Cinnamon-spiced Apple – yum!
I feel like I’ve gone list-crazy the past few weeks. I’m either permanently attached to my notebook, or the list app on my phone (I’m OBSESSED with it). And it’s not because I’m one of those super organised “I don’t know how she does it” kind of girls – ha ha, I wish! Nope. It’s because I suddenly don’t seem to be in possession of a brain anymore. It’s gone. The majority of my brain cells seem to have gone on strike during working hours, not that it matters because most of the time I’m way too tired to engage those that have stuck around in solidarity. The fact that I’m even stringing full sentences together right now is a miracle; baby brain is a very real thing. I’ve left my keys in the front door too many times to count, jumped my own train of thought between stations, burnt boiled eggs (oh yes, that’s actually possible), forgotten names (I’m usually so good with names!) and left that thing upstairs that I was going to use for the um… something or other, waaay too many times to count. Counting? Forget it. If I didn’t have my list app and notebook to remind me how to function, then I’d be completely useless.
I’m sure there was supposed to be a clever segway into Cinnamon Buns leading on from that, but I’ve lost it. Oh well. 5 weeks to go, and counting.
Thank God I took the time to scribble this recipe down in detail in my notebook is all I’m gon’ say, because it’s a keeper. Cinnamon Buns just happen to be my absolute favourite of the sticky, sweet bun species; I’ve been working on a recipe for the perfect, fluffy enriched dough for a while now and I’ve finally found The One. It makes a cracking batch of traditional cinnamon buns, sure, but add some stewed apple into the mix and plait them into a traditional Swedish Kanelbullar and they’re even better. It just so happens that the apple tree in my back garden has delivered the goods yet again this year – so there’ll be plenty of batches of these babies to come over the next few weeks. Who needs a brain when you’ve got buns, hun?
Apple and Cinnamon Kanelbullar
For the dough:
250ml full fat milk
2 tsp ground cardamom
400g plain flour
15g dried active yeast
50g caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
For the filling:
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
50g brown sugar
200g diced apples (any variety other than cooking will do)
20g caster sugar
Egg wash (1 small egg and 1 tbsp water)
Sugar syrup (35g caster sugar, 4 tbsp water)
Combine the milk and butter in a microwaveable bowl and gently heat for 2 minutes.
Stir in the sugar and cardamom and then leave to cool for 1 minute (ideally you want the temperature to drop to between 32˚C and 35˚C). Once cooled, stir in the yeast and then leave for 10 minutes to allow it to activate.
Stir in the flour and salt then knead for at least 10 minutes either by hand or in a stand mixer with a dough hook until you have a soft and springy dough (it’ll be sticky to begin with, but persevere!).Cover with a cloth, then leave the dough somewhere warm to prove for about an hour.
Whilst the dough is proving, make the filling. Put all the ingredients in a saucepan, then gently allow to come together over a low heat. The butter and sugars should melt and combine, and the apples should soften. For a smooth, paste-like filling, feel free to either mash or blitz it in a blender – or leave it if you’re happy with more of a chunky filling. Set aside to cool.
Once the dough has doubled in size, knock it back and then roll it out into a rectangle that’s about half a centimetre thick. Spread the cooled apple and cinnamon filling right to the corners, then fold one of the long edges into the centre of the rectangle. Fold the opposite long edge into the middle, slightly overlapping the other one.Slice the folded rectangle from long edge to long edge into 9 equal slices. If you’re a fan of traditional cinnamon rolls, then simply roll each slice – or if you want them to look more like the knots above then you’re going to need to flatten out each slice, slice into three strands, plait, and then roll.
Pop the buns into a lightly greased muffin tin, cover with clingfilm and then leave to prove for another hour.
Heat your oven up to 220C, coat the buns in a light egg wash, and then bake for 12 minutes. Whilst still warm, brush with sugar syrup – then leave to cool.
You can just leave them right there, but once they were completely cool I decided to add an extra sticky maple glaze and a few scattered chopped nuts(…does wonders covering up a messy plait!).
avert any serious cookie crisis in 15 minutes flat…
How the hell I’m suddenly into week 34 of my pregnancy, I have no idea. It only feels like a few weeks ago that I hugged my husband in the car park of our local hospital on a very bright and sunny May afternoon and showed him pictures of the 12 week scan he wasn’t allowed to attend. Now the trees are suddenly shedding their leaves, we’re heading deeper into Autumn (and into another Lockdown – yeesh) and things are starting to feel very, very real. We’ve decorated a nursery, we’ve filled a drawer with baby clothes (and had several arguments over just how many cute polka dot onesies one baby actually needs – if you know the answer to that one, let me know), and – as of last weekend – we’ve reached the end of our Covid-proof Zoom NCT Classes.
Noticing how the weeks seem to be flying by, I’ve started thinking about everything I want to get done before I head into that – ohmygawd, baby could show up any second – end zone, and high up on my list is a heavy dose of batch cooking. Whilst I love cooking, and I’m sure there’ll be the odd day where I’m desperate to get back into the kitchen, I just can’t see it happening for at least the first couple of weeks. So I’ve started sifting through my favourite recipes, pulling out a few that’ll do well in the freezer. But what about deserts? I mean, frozen veggie chilli that’s just as good nuked in the ol’ microwave as it is fresh out of the pot is good, but something sweet to enjoy when the baby’s sleeping and you get to steal back a moment for yourself is even better, right?
One of the NCT girls had a great idea for any pre-baby batch cooking list, and you bet I’m adding it to mine. A foolproof 4am cookie dough that’ll go from frozen blob to crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle cookie in 15 minutes – perfect for perking up those early morning feeds. I’ve been working on an ultimate cookie dough recipe for a while – one that’s easy and adaptable in terms of fillings – and I’ve finally settled on this one, which just so happens to work best when the dough’s frozen. Now I just need to work out how many batches I’m going to need to get me through those sleepless newborn nights…
Emergency 4am Cookie Dough
125g softened butter
110g dark muscovado sugar
50g caster sugar
195g plain flour
1/2 tsp cornflour
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
200g chocolate chips (or whatever filling you fancy)
Cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, then crack in the egg. Stir until combined.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cornflour and salt. Pour into the butter, sugar and egg mix, then stir until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
Line a tray with grease-proof paper, then scoop out equal, rounded dollops of cookie dough onto it (I like to use an ice cream scoop). Transfer the dough to the fridge for an hour to firm up, then pop the blobs of cookie dough into a freezer bag to freeze and lie in wait for cookie emergencies.
When you’re ready to cook, set the oven to 200°C (fan), then bake the cookies on a foil-lined baking tray for 15 minutes – or until crispy on the outside and soft and puffy in the middle.
Leave the cookies to cool slightly and settle (resist attempting to move them until they have!), then enjoy!
Have a great week everyone! Let me know what your favourite cookie filling is in the comments – I’m going to need a little inspo ready for batch cooking week! 🍪🍪🍪