Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Meet Bobby! Our dog adoption story

At any one time over the last year, I could probably pretty accurately tell you the exact number of dogs on the Manchester Dog's Trust website.

We'd been refreshing the website dozens of times a day between us for probably the last 12 months, waiting for our dream dog.

We've grilled every dog owner we know (and some we don't!) about getting a dog, asked thousands of questions, googled hundreds of things, taken doggy pals for walks and signed up for Borrow My Doggy.

We knew we wanted a rescue dog, but we also knew this drastically lowered our chances of being able to get any specific breed, and also increased the risk of getting a dog with behavioural or medical issues, which we didn't feel prepared for as our first dog.

We also knew that our "dream dog" - 1-5 years old, medium/large sized, no huge behavioural issues - would be a lot of people's dream dog, so when a dog we loved did come up, we'd have to move fast and be ready.

But even though we'd be talking about getting a dog for months, we always had a reason to not get one right now. We had the wedding, then the honeymoon, then we both got new jobs in the autumn. So we decided at the start of 2020 we would continue to keep our eye out on the Dog's Trust, but we would seriously start looking after our trip to Barcelona in April.

And then, of course, lockdown started.

We spent a lot of lockdown bemoaning the lack of a dog - with us both at home all day we could spend time with the dog, we could take it on the walks we were going on regularly as our only form of entertainment.

But all the rehoming centres were closed, the Dog's Trust website wasn't being updated and we started to think it just wasn't going to happen to us anytime soon.

Then a few weeks into lockdown, the Dog's Trust website slowly started to add new dogs and unbeknownst to us, one of them would be our boy.

Why we adopted from Dog's Trust

We first visited Dog's Trust Manchester towards the end of 2019. We wanted to have a look around, see some of the dogs that were available and be sure of what our options were as two people who worked full-time.

We ended up visiting a few times before we actually got Bobby, and we knew that in our ideal situation we'd find the dog for us at Dog's Trust. They were really helpful, the facilities were lovely, the process to rescue seemed good, we loved all the after-care and support they offered after a rescue (which was extra important to us with it being our first dog), and they were happy for us to get a dog while working when we explained we would be getting a dog walker in during the day or taking him to doggy daycare.

When it came to the actual dog, we had a few breeds in mind which we were keeping our eye on - we liked spaniels, collies, labradors and any cross-breed of these. We wanted a medium/large dog which was active and up for lots of walkies and running, but more important to us was the dog's temperament.

Dog's Trust were always super upfront with us about any behavioural issues - there were a few dogs we went to see or had calls about which looked perfect on the website (I call it their "dating profile") but in when we spoke to Dog's Trust to get their full profile they had lots of issues which we would have struggled with as first-time owners. We always felt that Dog's Trust had the dog's best interests at heart and were always honest about any concerns.

We had visited other rescue centres, signed up for hundreds of Facebook groups for rescue dogs abroad and looked on loads of other websites, and were open to getting a dog from these places, but Dog's Trust was always where we wanted to get our dog from if possible.

Our rescue story

Bobby (as he is now known!) appeared on the Dog's Trust website on a Thursday afternoon. We loved that he was a lab cross (although he looked much more like a staffordshire bull terrier on the website than he did labrador!), sounded active and fun and was a good age for us. We phoned up to registered our interest and were told he was already reserved, but we would be added to a waiting list. We were disappointed but not surprised.

But then the following morning we received a call from Dog Trust - he was now available and were we still interested? Of course we were, so we had a call about his background to give us a bit more information, including some videos of him, and asked to complete a home questionnaire and send some photos of our house and garden.

(For context, this is not the usual process for rescuing a dog from Dog's Trust, but this is their protocol during lockdown. Normally you would be allowed to visit the dog in person and usually there is a home visit too, both of which aren't possible at the moment.)

After we sent the photos and questionnaire, things escalated very quickly! We had another call in the afternoon to confirm a pre-adoption call the following day, formalise our reservation, and to confirm if we could meet and greet him, and take him home (!), on Monday!

Friday was a bit of a daze, but on Saturday the reality started to sink in! We told both sets of parents and then went straight to Pets at Home to get some essentials. We'd asked how big he was and nobody had an exact figure, so getting everything from a bed to a Kong toy was guesswork, based on freeze-framing videos and guessing how tall things were in comparison! We had an amazing pre-adoption call too which gave us loads of extra information about him, plus loads of tips and advice on what to expect from the first few days which was absolutely invaluable.

At this point too, we still hadn't even met him, so we didn't tell anyone except our parents, and we kept the receipts for all the dog things we bought. We were so scared and excited but also so hopeful it would all work out.

On the Monday we had a call from Dog's Trust to confirm everything again, and at 4.30pm we arrived to meet him. We waited anxiously in the car for him to be brought out.

Then suddenly he appeared and it was love at first sight. Our brilliant, happy boy came over to say hello and he was even more amazing than we had expected! We had brought a long-line lead with us and we were taken to a secure area to play with him. He was a very excited boy with so much energy! Then we were left to play with him ourselves and it was so scary and exciting! I couldn't believe he was going to be our dog!

After half an hour of play we were asked if we wanted to take him home, and of course we did. We signed some paperwork and were told there would be a call the following day to finalise adoption, and then Bobby jumped into our car and off we went!

He was such a good boy in the car, and super excited when we got him home. In fact, we were a bit worried when he wouldn't stay still for 30 seconds the first night! When it was time for bed he cried and barked a little bit (and I had a panicked call to my Auntie who is our resident dog expert about what to do!) and then he settled down to sleep and slept all night til I came down the following morning.

The next day we had a final call with Dog's Trust to confirm his adoption and we paid his rehoming fee and he was our officially our boy!

Welcome home, Bobby!

I have so so SO much I want to say about being a dog parent, and it's only been a week. I'm not sure I was prepared for how exhausting it would be, how wonderful it would be, how guilty I would feel 99.9% of the time and how desperately confused we would be about "doing it wrong", but that is definitely a post (or many posts!) for another day.

For now, I am so so so grateful to Dog's Trust for bringing our amazing boy into our lives. They have been so helpful and continue to be brilliant and our boy is well and truly settled in already! I'm so happy we could give a dog a home, and that he has brought so much joy to our lives already! 

Welcome to the family, Bobby!

Charlotte x

Sunday, 7 June 2020

May Life Lately

Edit: I've had this sat in my drafts for a few days. So much of what I wrote now feels so ridiculous in light of the awareness the last few days has brought to many of us. I have to be honest in my woeful misunderstanding of how racist the world is, and I've spent the last few days learning and getting uncomfortable and vowing to do better. Thousands of people have put the way I feel into words better than I ever could, so I encourage you to find those people and those places (as a white woman, Gemma has been sharing some great resources on her Instagram). I should do better and I will do better. Everything here was done and written in May, so I'll be sharing more of the resources I've been reading and using in my next post. For now though, I want to highlight the importance of writing to your MP about the UK selling rubber bullets and tear gas to the USA, this charity who are fundraising for more diversity in publishing and diversity of stories we're telling, and this list of places to donate to.

Here's what I got up to in May (and here's my One Second Every Day for May).

Where I've been

Okay this title is a tiny bit misleading because, of course, I haven't really been anywhere really, but we did do a few nice walks. At the start of the month we walked from our house to Marple along the Middlewood Way and back along the canal which was really lovely, and Phil had a day off before the Bank Holiday so we drove to the Peak District and walked up to Mam Tor and did a 3 hour walk around the peaks. We are so lucky to have such beautiful places on our doorstep.

I also got to go somewhere that wasn't my house, my garden or the supermarket... for a blood donation! It was my 13th donation and I am so squeamish I can't even watch injections on TV (or fights, or any blood, or basically anything even vaguely gory!) and I look away the whole time, but I was very brave and extra careful to make sure I followed all the guidelines, and I was so glad I could give something back, especially now.

What I did

What I've been cooking and baking

I finally, finally made the baked gnocchi with mozzarella and basil from the original Roasting Tin. So many people had told me to make this seeing as I love all the other baked gnocchi recipes in the Roasting Tin books so I finally gave this a go. And wow. Wow. I'm planning to make this again this week. It's a shame I wrote my Top 10 Roasting Tin recipes too early. Hands down a new favourite.

As it's going to be a while before I can browse a cocktail menu, we decided to have a night making cocktails. We had a look in our cocktail-making books and found some recipes we could make without spending double figures on spirits and I made a batch of double-strength simple syrup. We didn't have a cocktail shaker but I can confirm a gimlet tastes just as good when it's been shaken in a takeaway coffee cup!

I've also been doing lots of baking - Rukmini Iyer's Rocky Road (which I talked about here), a simple lemon drizzle, a vegan banana bread from The Quick Roasting Tin when I realised I didn't have enough eggs to make the cookies I'd planned to make (I only had two bananas, walnuts instead of pecans and an orange instead of clementines but it was delicious) and Laura Goodman's super-thick homemade pizza from her book, Carbs, which is absolutely amazing.

What's been keeping me entertained

I'm currently obsessed with Mariokart as we now have a weekly Mariokart night on a Wednesday with an accompanying Zoom call. I am so bad that I always come last but it's great fun.
I finished my second cross stitch project and have just started my third one with a fourth on the way. I love putting on a podcast and having an hour or so of solitary stitching.

After months of being football-starved we now seem to watch basically every Bundesliga match and it's so nice to have football on TV, especially at the weekends.

I was obviously gutted when my half marathon, which was meant to be in May, was rescheduled. My last race was October 2018 but I took all of last year off with our wedding and honeymoon, and I was looking forward to a comeback (I'd also got up to 10 miles in training before it was called off). I've still been running as though I'm training (though not quite as far), so I jumped at the chance to sign up for Great Run Solo and signed up for 100km (62 miles) over 28 days. You complete the challenge of whichever distance you prefer (there were a few options, up to 280km (!)), pay a £10 NHS donation to enter and complete the challenge in the timeframe, and when you're done, you submit your evidence and they send you a medal in the post! Phil signed up too and it was great to have the motivation of each other to keep us going. I had a few rest days after giving blood and managed to complete my challenge on the 28th day and ran in total 65 miles (105km). I'm really excited for my medal!

To create the experience of missing our favourite festival, Buckle and Boots, we really enjoyed the Buckle and Boots live stream though throughout the weekend the festival should have been. It was the closest thing we could get to the real thing!

What's been keeping me going

Coursera courses are still giving something to focus on - in May I completed The Strategy of Content Marketing and The Science of Well-Being.

I've also gotten really into Behavioural Economics and have watched so many TED talks on the topic. I have loads of books about it on my to-read list and I'm hoping to do a course on the topic over the next few months.

Like everyone in the world ever, I know how good meditation is for you and I've been paying £5 a month for Headspace for at least a year but I've never managed to make it a regular habit. I am super proud to say I have meditated every single day now for over a month! At first it was a novelty, then I found it really boring and didn't see any benefit, and now I really feel like I'm starting to get it and feeling better as a result. I even practised a meditation while waiting to give blood and I really felt like it calmed me down! I really hope I can keep it up.

Finally, I've started tracking my moods through the day using an app called DaylioI'm finding it really useful to keep an eye on what is triggering my moods (which are all over the shop at the moment). I'm using the free version for now which seems to do everything I need but I'm weighing up getting the paid version in the future. I'm planning a series of blog posts about the apps and tools I use every day for organisation and my mood so keep an eye out for those.

What I read

Unsurprisingly, another big reading month, with 18 books read last month. 

Here's what I read in May:

The Glass Hotel
The Green Road
How the Light Gets In
The Hour I First Believed
The Book of American Martyrs
Nothing to See Here
Jesus' Son
The Rearranged Life of Oona Lockhart
The Lager Queen of Minnesota
The Blazing World
The Choice Factory
The Mothers
The Harpy 
Can't Even

After reading Animals over a day, I decided to embrace some longer books, so I tackled 740 pages of Wally Lamb's The Hour I First Believed, and then Joyce Carol Oates' The Book of American Martyrs (752 pages). The Hour I First Believed was good but nowhere near as good as Wally Lamb's I Know This Much Is True - one of my favourite books, but I loved The Book of American Martyrs - my first Joyce Carol Oates!

Other notable mentions - I adored Nothing to See Here, The Mothers and The Harpy.

As I mentioned earlier, I've gotten really into behavioural economics so I found the application to marketing in The Choice Factory fascinating and spent a few days reading that any making notes.

I finally properly started using Netgalley this month which I how I managed to read LusterThe Harpy and Can't Even (which I actually had preordered!). I've been a member since 2016 but only this month properly looked into what I needed to do for approval and I have loads of books on my shelf I can't wait to read. I definitely recommend it if you are an avid reader and blogger or reviewer.

What I've been watching

We finally finished The Americans! Ah, what a final season! We're now trying to consume every single piece of writing about it (surprisingly, not as much as we expected. Why aren't people watching The Americans?!). I keep feeling myself getting sad about how much I miss Philip and Elizabeth, and especially Paige (our favourite character).

In May we also started Killing Eve (you know what we're like for being about 3 years late for everything) and watched all of season 1. We really enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to starting season 2.

We've watched about half of Normal People so far - I really loved the book so I'm enjoying it coming to the screen (though it's makes me sooooo glad to not be a teenager anymore!) and like everyone else in the world, we are obsessed with The Last Dance.

How can I even talk about TV in May without talking about the Parks and Recreation special? Yes, I had a bit of a cry. I loved it so much.


In our "film club" in May we watched Red Joan, The Circle, Phantom Thread, Peanut Butter Falcon and The Farewell. The Farewell was my pick and I'm really chuffed because I absolutely loved it! I remember exactly where I was when I listened to the This American Life episode it was based on (way back in 2016).

We also watched Three Identical Strangers which I've wanted to watch for ages. I'm so glad it was on Netflix!

As I mentioned in April, we've had more time for rewatching films in lockdown which is something I don't do often. This month we rewatched some of our favourite films -
Silence of the Lambs, Inception, You've Got Mail, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises.


Ooh, a new category! Also in May we watched the National Theatre production of Frankenstein when it was available on Youtube. It was nice to watch something different and we really enjoyed it.

What I've been listening to

I'm on a bit of a podcast bender at the moment, which is hard because without my commute I'm struggling to squeeze them in.

We got really into the Slate Americans podcast while we were watching the final season - I wish we'd discovered it earlier and we loved the debate after each episode.

I've also been enjoying Decoder Ring, The Butterfly Effect, Brought to you by (formerly Household Name) and Uncover: The Village.

One-off episodes I loved in May - the Satisfied episode of Strong Songs and the episode of This American Life called On Delight - I can't recommend this more if you are feeling blue.

What I wrote

Hey, nice to see this category again! Here's what I wrote in May:

What I read online

I've recently become obsessed with both the Refinery 29 and Bon Appetit newsletters. I absolutely love seeing these drop into my inbox, so a lot of my links this month are from these sources!

Food and cooking
Health and Well-Being

Charlotte x

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Cookbook Review: Roasting Tin Around the World

Here we are, Roasting Tin book number 4!

I promise I won't bang on about the Roasting Tin books any more (you can get alllll my fangirling here) because let's face it, I've done it enough times. You know I love these books.

I was super excited for this one though as I love trying new things and unusual recipes, and I knew there would be loads of things I'd never made before, and many I'd never even heard of.

So, what did I think?

First Impressions

My first impression of Around the World were actually similar to my initial impression of Quick - a lot of meat and fish recipes! I'd heard 2/3 of the book was veggie or vegan, but I counted 37 veggie recipes out of a book of 75 recipes, so roughly 50% (perhaps more veggie recipes are being saved for another Green book?! PLEASE?!?!!!!). So my first impression was that I was a tiny bit disappointed, but this soon dissipated.

Once I'd properly been through the book, I found 31 vegetarian dishes I wanted to make, plus plenty of recipes that would be easy to make veggie.

The layout of this book is quite different from the other books, as it's organised by continent or region - South American, Asian, European etc. which makes a lot of sense given the context of the book, but it's something to keep in mind if you're used to a classic "desserts at the back" book. On that note, not many desserts in this one if that's something you're interested in (I think I've made maybe two Roasting Tin book desserts ever so it didn't bother me at all).

As with all the other books it's, of course, absolutely beautiful. The styling and photography is lovely, the instructions are all clear and the timings are included in every recipe, as well as serving size.

Of course, with a book called Roasting Tin Around the World there are some recipes that include "unusual" ingredients (eg. probably not something you're going to be able to get in your local Aldi), but I didn't find this as much of a problem as I'd expected (so far I've only bought one ingredient online for this book, but do have a fairly well-stocked kitchen of international ingredients).

I love the variety of recipes in this book and I was super excited to get stuck in!

Here's what I made...

Slow Roasted Peppers with Chilli, Lemon and Garlic Beans

I was very fortunate to be given a sneak-peek of this book about 2 weeks before publication, and this was one of the preview recipes which really caught my eye. I already had some home cooked butter beans (from making the brothy beans from Lukas Volger's Start Simple) so I combined those with a can of cannellini beans.

This is a classic Roasting Tin recipe - the kind of formula I know and love. Minimal prep, a long slow cook and a delicious result.

We had this with salad and big chunks of homemade bread and it was absolutely delicious. The suggestion to pile it onto the bread was particularly lovely - like a big chunky bruschetta. I will definitely be making this one again, especially as a summery light supper or a dinner party starter.

Roasted Carrot, Courgette and Bulgur with Pistachio and Mint

I made this as a bit of a side dish to go alongside some giant beans and feta, and hadn't expected it to end up being the star of the meal.

I'd accidentally, coincidentally, picked up a bag of pistachios a few weeks ago mistaking them for cashews, and I'd been wondering what I was going to do with them as they're not something I usually buy. Luckily this recipe appeared!

I cannot tell you how delicious this is. I can see this being a regular in my lunchbox as the leftovers are just as good cold and it's so full of flavour! The pistachios were a bit of a pain to shell, and I accidentally got dates which had their stones left in, but this would definitely work with different fruit and nuts (cashews! almonds! dried apricots! cranberries!). I cannot wait to make this again.

Kale Mac and Cheese

Right as I went through the book and I saw the America chapter, I said to Phil "oooh I wonder if she's got a mac and cheese in here! She's never done a mac and cheese before!" and lo and behold, there was a mac and cheese recipe!

With one downfall - it had bacon on top.

I was super disappointed by this and I wondered what the bacon added to the mac and cheese which I might miss out on by not adding it.

Nevertheless, I prevailed, with two roasting tins (so Phil could have his with bacon).

Mac and cheese is one of our favourite Sunday night dinners - my favourite recipe is Nigella's sweet potato mac and cheese, and Phil's is the one from Miss South's Slow Cooked (however we do prefer to finish it off in the oven if we can).

I'm used to Nigella's recipe taking quite a lot of prep (the sweet potatos, the roux) and Miss South's containing both a can of evaporated milk and an obscene amount of cheese. This recipe, however, is simply creme fraiche and cheese mixed with mustard. No roux, no bechamel. The prep probably took 15 minutes max.

I honestly wasn't sure if it was going to be a bit bland, or creamy not cheesy, or worst of all, a curdled mess. But no, not at all. It was AMAZING!

We've even made this twice!

I asked Phil last week if there was anything in particular he fancied for dinner and he straight away said "that mac and cheese". Making a recipe twice in a few weeks is a real rarity in this house (I cooked a recipe the other day I hadn't made "for a while" and it turned out the last time I made it was over two years ago...). This time I happened to have some shredded mozzarella in the fridge from homemade pizza, so I did half mozzarella/half cheese for extra stringy factor.

As I was putting this in the oven for the second time, I said to Phil, except for Nigella's mac and cheese (which I have to admit is my ultimate favourite), I don't know if we'll ever make another mac and cheese again.

And I can't be more positive than that!

All-in-one Brazilian black beans and rice with avocado and radish salsa

I was really excited for this one because it involved a lot of things I love!

I'd ran out of canned black beans, but had some dried ones so I used my Instant Pot to cook them first, however it meant I kind of had to guess the quantities - it was hard to get a good idea online what weight of dried beans would equal the equivalent of a can of cooked beans.

I couldn't get shallots so I subbed white onion, and my coriander had gone all slimy and gross so I had to skip most of that so I did extra radishes instead. 

With the additional steps involved in soaking and cooking the beans, I found myself a bit knackered by the time this went in the oven! There was quite a bit of prep with the beans, greens, onions and rice, plus loads of chopping to make the salsa, but in true roasting tin style once everything is in the oven you get a nice 30 minute rest.

I don't think the lack of coriander helped, but the salsa didn't feel much like a salsa, and I didn't understand why it required so much oil along with the already-oily avocadoes.

I'm always a bit stressed about cooking rice in the oven, even though Rukmini has never once let me down, so I think I added a bit too much stock to compensate and subsequently ruined this dish. Extra stock, plus a lack or coriander, plus two not-very-juicy limes meant my version of this recipe was probably quite far removed from the original, so I blame myself that this came out pretty bland! It perked up with some extra lemon juice and salt, but I was really disappointed.

I'd been really excited for this one and I'm torn between wanting to make it again and doing it properly and calling it a loss.

Indonesian style aubergines and potatoes with garlic and chilli

I was really excited about this as I saw it as an opportunity to get Phil to eat aubergine seeing as it was mostly potatoes anyway (or at least this was what I told him). I was a bit nervous about the heat of the paste but went for two chillies - I needn't have worried, it was perfect. 

I really loved this and found it super filling with rice, but unsurprisingly, thanks to the aubergine, it wasn't Phil's favourite so I probably won't make this again.

Indonesian coconut rice, crispy chilli tofu and peanut sambal

I was super, super excited for this. Coconut rice, crispy tofu AND a peanut sauce? This sounded right up my street!

I halved this for a Saturday night - which I later regretted as it was so delicious!

I pressed my tofu for a few hours before in my tofu press (side note - if you eat tofu basically ever, I cannot recommend a tofu press more. I don't cook tofu without pressing it first and it makes such a difference, and a press is so much easier than stacking up loads of books and tins on top. Plus it's way easier to press overnight as you can just pop the press in the fridge), but I struggled to mix everything together while still trying to keep the tofu on top.

The first thing Phil said when he tasted this was "wow." It was so good! The tofu was soft but crisp (I might coat it in cornflour next time for maximum crispness), the peanut sauce was amazing and the coconut rice was really tasty. It's also really filling with the tofu and the peanut sauce.

This is definitely one of the best things I've made from Roasting Tin Around the World. I'm definitely making it again! The only changes I'd make is I probably wouldn't bother with the lemongrass in the rice as, while it was lovely, it's not something I tend to use very often.

Korean-style aubergines with spring onions and sesame rice

I promise I didn't force aubergines on my long-suffering husband again - I made this for myself when we decided to have separate #tinlads dinners (see below). 

I managed to get the requisite Korean chilli flakes from ebay and they took about a week to arrive. However, I learned while making this recipe that it's really hard to weigh chilli flakes, especially when you're halving a recipe and only need 7 grams. As a result this was very spicy! 

My aubergines didn't seem quite cooked enough after half an hour so I gave them another 10 minutes uncovered once the rice was done.

This was really delicious but really spicy! I'm generally pretty okay with heat but it's probably for the best I didn't serve this to Phil - I did have to have a glass of milk after!

I probably wouldn't make this again but I definitely want to make more Korean recipes now I have the flakes to hand!

Roast potatoes, chorizo, onion and sour cream

No, I haven't suddenly abandoned 19 years of vegetarianism - Phil made this while I had my aforementioned aubergines. We joked this was the kind of recipe Phil would make up himself - he's on a real chorizo kick right now and who doesn't love potatoes?

He struggled to get this to fit all on one layer of the tin and we found the onions we catching after about 20 minutes and needed a bit of a stir while everything else carried on cooking.

Phil's review is that this was "very easy" "nice" "less faffy than other recipes and [he] would make it again if [he] had 50 minutes". However he did say the only real flavour is from the chorizo so it would have been nice with some extra spices (we also didn't have any fresh coriander, which the recipe suggests adding).

For reference, he did a full portion to serve 4 and ate half, so keep that in mind if you like bigger portions!

Roasted spiced mushrooms and paneer with squash, pomegranate and mango

Paneer is one of my favourite foods so I was super excited for this!

I hate cutting up fruit, so I used a pack of cubed mango and a pack of pomegranate seeds for the salsa, plus a whole pack of coriander.

We both really loved this, and had it over two nights - with naan the first night and with the pilau (below) the next night. 

I have to make a special trip to Sainsburys to get paneer and I definitely have other paneer recipes I'd make before this one, but it was really tasty. Phil wasn't super bothered about the mango and pomegranate salsa though so I wouldn't bother with that again but I know it would be lovely without it.

All-in-one pilau rice with mushrooms and saffron

I saw Mini make this on her Instagram and it just looked so easy I had to try it.

Super easy, delicious and straightforward - even though I did burn the nuts a bit!

I'd definitely make this again as a side dish.

Spiced paneer with potatoes, peas and tomato

This is a proper classic "chuck everything in the tin" job which I love. 

This is super delicious as a dry, tasty curry which we had with my favourite Meera Sodha green beans.

I was way less excited about this paneer dish compared to the other one but this was by far my favourite of the two.

Rocky Road with peanuts, marshmallows and chocolate

This just says "serves many many many people" but obviously we can't share right now so much to Phil's dismay, we decided to halve this. It's super easy - melt chocolate and butter, stir in marshmallows, biscuits and peanuts and save some to sprinkle on top. Bake for 15 minutes, rest, cut up, chill. 

I was on the phone for most of making this so Phil took over. I thought the tin he'd chosen was a bit wide at first and thought the bars would be too thin but actually it was perfect. It did take a while to cool enough to cut (it was still quite soft when we cut into it) and we left it in the fridge for quite a few hours before cutting it up properly.

We got about 20 decent sized pieces so I've chucked some in the freezer for future treats which will be a lovely surprise!

Phil said the dark chocolate was a bit much for him, even with the sweetness of the marshmallows and digestives (he's not a big dark chocolate fan, whereas I love it), so next time we might try a less-dark dark chocolate (Mini recommends at least 70%) or a mix of dark and milk chocolate.

The texture however was perfect, and even as a person who hates marshmallows I really loved them in this! S'mores are the only way I've ever enjoyed marshmallows and she's spot on with the s'mores-like taste to these. Definitely making again!

Roasted squash, crispy lentils, pomegranate and dukkah

I love that in the intro to this recipe Rukmini says "if you're used to making Ottolenghi dishes you probably already have some pomegranate molasses in the cupboard". It's like she was talking right to me! I love all the ingredients in this and was really excited to try it!

The result? Genuinely one of my favourite ever Roasting Tin dishes. The flavours here are just magnificent - pomegranate! Dukkah! Mint! Yoghurt!. There's just so much going on here and it's all delicious. If I was served this in a restaurant I'd be thrilled.

It's not clear if this is a stand-alone dish or if it needs any sides. I made it for myself for dinner one night and for leftovers for a few days. For dinner I had it alongside a pitta, and found it's plenty enough for lunch alone, though it can be made more substantial with some cous cous alongside.

I've got another portion left for lunch tomorrow, but if I'm not sick of it by then I'm making it again next week!

Final thoughts

The Roasting Tin Around the World is, unsurprisingly, another absolute banger from Rukmini Iyer. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to expand their repertoire and try some new cuisines. However, saying this, I found the book very accessible, and of course, everything in thrown in a tin so there are no complicated cooking techniques, so it would definitely be, like all the Roasting Tin books, a brilliant book for beginner cooks.

I absolutely love the variety of recipes in this book which I think the recipes I cooked really demonstrates - from Indonesian and Korean dishes which I am not as familiar with, to my old favourite Indian and Middle Eastern recipes, to classic mac and cheese, there is just such a range and variety in this book which makes it completely different from many of my other recipe books with centre on a particular cuisine or feature a lot of recipes I've seen many times before.

This is such a perfect addition to the Roasting Tin series. I cannot wait to see what Rukmini does next!

Charlotte x

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

My Favourite Vegetarian Recipe Books

So I found out on Monday that this week is National Vegetarian Week, so what better time to post about my favourite vegetarian recipe books? (Especially as this post idea has been on my list for actually years).

I've been a vegetarian now for nearly two decades (whattttt) and my introduction to vegetarian cooking came thanks to the vegetarian student cookbooks I took with me to university (shoutout to Beyond Baked Beans Veggie, Vegetarian Nosh for students and the pink-and-green student cookbook).

Like most vegetarians, especially students, I made a lot of veggie curries, quorn bolognese and, when I got super fancy, veggie moussaka. 

I think my love (fine, obsession) with recipe books started around the time I moved in with Phil in early 2015. I have clear memories of moving into our flat with maybe 20 recipes books and by the time we moved into our house in mid-2017 I reckon I had at least 40! (Remember when I thought this was a lot of cookbooks?!)

My collection of recipe books now stands at probably close to 100 (okay fine it's more than likely over 100), and it's always growing (I proudly told Phil last week "I only have three cookbooks preordered for the rest of the year!"), but as much as I love acquiring and exploring new recipe books, I always have my favourites.

These are the books I come back to time after time, my desert-island books, the ones covered in sauce and crumbs and post it notes. These are the books that contain recipes I can almost make with my eyes closed. These are the ones I'd buy for anyone - people starting out as vegetarians, people who want to eat less meat, people who just like delicious food.

When it comes to recipe books, I like books I can cook from after a busy day at work, but I do like a bit of aspiration. I like plenty of quick and easy meals for midwek, but also a handful of recipes I could spend a Sunday afternoon on, or something I'd be proud to serve to friends.

I like to curl up with a recipe book for inspiration. I like to find recipes I've never made before, or even heard of. But I also want a book that isn't preachy, doesn't exclude me from the club for not milking my own almonds, and doesn't constantly moralise about food. And I definitely do not want a diet book.

When it came to writing about favourites, I didn't even need to think about it or look at my shelves. It was so obvious to me which my absolute favourites were, and it's for that reason too that there are 4 and not 5. (Five is a much nicer number than 4 in this context. But I realised that it wasn't fair on my absolute favourites to elevate any other books to their level.)

So as well as my top 4 absolute favourites, I also did an honourable mention section, featuring 7 of my other well-used vegetarian books.

So without any further ado (because that was a lot of ado), my absolute, desert-island, all-time-favourite vegetarian recipe books:

Edit: I've linked to quite a lot of older posts in this post and I'm having issues with some old images not loading which I'm in the middle of sorting, so apologies for that!

A Modern Way to Eat by Anna Jones

I remember buying this book when Phil and I hadn't long since moved to our flat. A friend had blogged about it and I'd ordered it before I'd even finished reading the post. I remember grabbing a pack of post it notes and sticking one to the corner of every recipe I wanted to make. By the time I was done the book was covered.

This is one of my favourite books I own. I have so many memories of making dishes from it, and there are so many things I've made more times than I could possibly count. I've actually written about it before - back in 2015.

I've made the dahl with sweet potatoes so many times I can taste it. I've made it for friends, family, for just Phil and I. I've tweaked it, added to it, made it my own. I haven't once made the accompanying coconut chutney (there's always at least 2 jars of mango in my house). It feels truly mine now I've made it so many times. The cassoulet too is almost Twitter famous - I remember being so proud making this for my Mum the first time she came over for dinner at our flat. The brown rice pilaf is one of my favourite end-of-the-week-need-to-go-food-shopping magical meals which is somehow so so so much more than the sum of its parts (we like it topped with a fried egg and spring greens), and I always have the ingredients in for the sweet potato quesadillas on a lazy Friday night after a long week (I highly recommend adding feta). OH and the ricotta, thyme and sweet potato bake is amazing too - a delicious centrepiece for a quiet Sunday afternoon.

Yes, there are some weird ingredients at times and yes, she was trained by Jamie Oliver, but I promise you there isn't one "loadsa veg" or any other horrible prefix to a recipe title. And please don't be put off the "recipes that will make you feel amazing" subtitle *eyeroll*.

There are also 200 recipes in here - I couldn't believe how many things I've never gotten around to making (I made the ribolitta for the first time a few months ago and it is amazing). So if you're not into raw brownies, you might be into popcorn tacos. Or if you don't fancy a curry, how about a burger?

Finally, while I would recommend this to anyone - vegetarian or vegan, someone who wants to eat more vegetarian food, person who just likes good food - it does steer clear of the classic veggie recipe tropes - there's no lacklustre lentil lasagne, or bland mushroom risotto or yet another spinach and ricotta cannelloni. They are veggie meals where they meat doesn't feel replaced - it just isn't invited to the party.

So just go buy this book. And make the dahl first.

A Modern Way to Cook - Anna Jones

Oh did you think I was done talking about Anna Jones? (ps. She also has a brilliant Guardian column if you want more of her recipes!)

Her follow up to A Modern Way to Eat, A Modern Way To Cook, came out in 2015. Which was great for me because I'd barely worked my way through the first book when the second came out.

I have to admit, I haven't cooked from this quite as much as the original, but what I love about this book is that it's split into sections by cooking time - one of my issues with AMWTE was the lack of cooking times - so you don't accidentally start making a meal that takes three hours when you've just gotten home from work late.

While there are a few recipes from this book I really love, there is only one recipe that I want to talk about. I think I've probably made this more times than anything else. It's one of those recipes that feels hugely significant and sentimental. I've made it for family and friends, passed the recipe over to so many people. Phil says it's his favourite thing I ever make, and it was the first meal I ever made in our house.

I am, of course, talking about the kale, tomato and lemon magic one pot spaghetti.

I know now that loads of people have mastered the all-in-one pasta, but at the time this was revolutionary. The pasta cooking IN THE SAME POT as the sauce?! What it is this witchcraft?!!! And the thing is I could easily have turned the page on this recipe - lemon and kale spaghetti just doesn't sound all that exciting does it? Plus at the time I wasn't that into pasta and when I was, it had to be covered in some kind of tomato-based sauce.

While this recipe didn't exactly "go viral" (though it definitely should), I feel like it was other people on Twitter who urged me to make it. And the rest, as they say, is history.

There are absolutely loads of other brilliant recipes in this book, but for this recipe alone, A Modern Way to Cook makes my top 4.

The Green Roasting Tin - Rukmini Iyer

Guys, you don't need me to talk more about The Green Roasting Tin. Just go read this post.

I'm torn between this and A Modern Way to Eat as my ultimate MVP and you know what I don't have to choose because they're both amazing.

Shout out to the baked gnocchi (don't make me choose between the ricotta and rosemary one and the butternut and mushroom one), gado gado, sweet potato polenta, dal, ratatouille and leek and puy lentil gratin.

Minimalist Baker's Everyday Cooking

I actually blogged about this book wayyyyy back in 2016. I wonder if I knew then how much I'd use this book now.

It's not even that I've cooked loads of recipes from it - it's just that it contains two of my absolute most-made recipes, which are in turn, two of the best versions of two veggie classics.

One is the super-thick three bean chilli. I've made a load of veggie chilli in my life, and this is my favourite. I love how thick it is, I love all the veg, I love all the beans, I love the sweet-spiciness of it (the reason most of the recipes in this book are great is because basically every one contains like, a tablespoon of sugar and I'm okay with it). I make it with rice, I shove it in jacket potatoes, I use it as a base for burrito bowls. It's my absolute go-to chilli, I always have all the ingredients in and it's infinitely adaptable.

Two is the tomato and lentil ragu, which is my go-to veggie bolognese. Again, it's sweet and a little spicy and full of chunky lentils. I've eaten a lot of disappointing veggie bolognese in my life and I tell you, this is not one of them.

Also shout out to the house salad which I have adopted as my own, the chickpea tabbouleh (delicious!) and the chickpea masala (one of my favourite chickpea curries).

Honourable mentions

I can't sit here with 100+ recipe books and only give you my top 4 favourites now can I? Here are my other highly recommended veggie recipe books:

  • Keep it Vegan by Aine Carlin
Contains my other favourite dal, my favourite tagine and one of my favourite people-over-for-dinner meals, pea and mint risotto. Full review here.

  • Love Real Food by Kathryne Taylor
The veggie enchiladas are my fave, and I love the sweet potato and feta scramble. Full review here.

  • East by Meera Sodha
We make the egg fried rice from this book at least once a month, the honey-miso tofu is incredible and I love the sun house chilli eggs for a weekend brunch. I have so much still to make from this but it's really expanded my repertoire. Full review here.

  • Bosh and Bish Bash Bosh, both by Henry Firth and Ian Theasby
Excuse the ridiculous names - these vegan recipe books have some brilliant recipes. They are very Jamie Oliver circa 2005 which I find really grating, so if you're the same just read the recipes and skip the intros. From the original Bosh, the korma, veggie kebabs and sweet and sour tofu are amazing (full review here). From Bish Bash Bosh I love the singapore noodles and Vietnamese tofu (full review here).

  • Isa Does it by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
This is a bit of a vegan classic (I actually prefer it over her cult classic, Veganomicon), and one of the first vegan books I ever bought. I've had it for so long I don't even know where I got it from. The kale salad with lentils and butternut squash is incredible (and infinitely adaptable so long as you keep that delicious dressing and crispy kale) and I love the Tamale Shepherd's Pie on a Sunday. A real classic.

  • Start Simple by Lukas Volger
This is a new addition so it's too early to tell yet whether it will become a classic, but the peanut butter and greens sandwich and the veggie carbonara are absolutely game changers. I'm looking forward to cooking from this more. Full review here.

Do you have any favourites that I might have missed? Let me know on Twitter!

Charlotte x