Exciting news!

I’ve got a new blog!

Don’t worry… it’s not you, it’s me.  What Steph Cooked will be where the majority of the food stuff moves to–because it just makes sense!  Things may go quiet here as I get What Steph Cooked up and running.  Stick with me as I get things sorted and settled!  In the meantime, you can follow @whatstephcooked on Twitter!

I’d love for you to take a look and let me know what you think…

steph2

Weekly Watson: Sour Chicken and Tarragon Stew

Oh Watson, I’m not sure where your ‘location’ malarkey is coming from.  First there were the ‘Persian’ Avocado Patties and then we had last week’s ‘Jamaican’ pasta offering.  Now you’re telling me I’m cooking ‘Nashville’ Tarragon Chicken??  There is nothing in this dish that remotely makes me think of Nashville!

After last week’s strangely yummy pasta both N and I decided it was time to try a bit of meat for the Watson meal.  Chicken is a fairly basic protein and, as long as it’s cooked right, is pretty hard to screw up.  That being said, we are talking about Chef Watson here!

Ingredients

  • 5 chicken breasts
  • 7 peeled tomatoes
  • 3/4 oz, chopped, toasted cashew
  • 11/4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 oz teff flour
  • 1/4 cup, divided lime juice
  • 4 halved limes
  • 2 tbsp, chopped tarragon
  • 3 cup chicken broth
  • 11/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tbsp, ground cardamom
  • 3/4 tbsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 oz, crushed pink peppercorns
  • 2 tsp ground ginger

Directions

  1. Sprinkle chicken pieces with salt, pink peppercorns, and teff flour.
  2. Heat olive oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat.
  3. Add 1⁄4 of chicken pieces to pot and cook turning occasionally.
  4. Transfer chicken to baking sheet or platter; repeat with remaining chicken.
  5. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from pot and discard.
  6. Reduce heat to medium.
  7. Add tomatoes to pot; saute.
  8. Add cardamom, ginger, ground coriander, turmeric, and pink peppercorns.
  9. Stir about 1 minute.
  10. Increase heat to high; add broth and 1⁄2 of the lime juice.
  11. Bring to boil; reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer.
  12. Place chicken pieces atop tomatoes in pot.
  13. Bring to boil over medium heat.
  14. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer.
  15. Transfer chicken and tomatoes to platter; tent with foil.
  16. Boil lime juice in pot.
  17. Stir in limes and remaining lime juice.
  18. Reduce heat and simmer gently.
  19. Pour sauce and limes over chicken.
  20. Sprinkle with cashew and tarragon, and serve.

Aside from changing quantities (there’s only two of us) I added shallots (we had a few left to get rid of) and a last minute packet of ready rice (N’s idea), the ingredient list remained untouched.  Method-wise, again, I kept pretty close to Watson’s suggestions.  I did sort of combine some steps  and I didn’t bother with tent foiling the chicken (why??) but again, this one was pretty spot on.  It’s a basic chicken stew, so I ended up baking/charring some nice veggies to go on top.

Sour Tarragon and Chicken Stew

Without a doubt this was the best Watson meal so far.  We’ll most definitely be putting Sour Chicken and Tarragon Stew into regular rotation.  This dish was wholesome, had a great flavour and was nice and tart from the lime.  It was so delicious!

Rating: Delicious!!! (on a rating scale of ‘Delicious,’ ‘Meh’ or ‘In the bin’)

steph2If you’re interested in getting in touch, tweet me at @stephanie_khani or email me at emailthelondondiaries [at] gmail.com!

spa London, York Hall

If you’ve been reading TLD for a while, you’ll know I’m a big fan of spa London.  They’re a great, affordable and really friendly spa chain in London.  I’ve been to the Wimbledon location quite a few times now for treatments and also to relax in the thermal spa area.

spa LONDON LogoLast week, Gail from their PR team got in touch about new treatments on offer at their Bethnal Green location in the historic York Hall building.  She asked whether I’d be up for reviewing the new ‘Signature Cleopatra’s Milk & Honey Ritual’ treatment, along with extra time in the thermal spa–it had been a tough week so I of course said yes!  I did have to resist the urge to line my eyes in khol and bedeck myself in jewels a la Liz Taylor’s interpretation of the Egyptian queen.

Having never been to York Hall, I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect.  Down some well worn stone steps and into the belly of the impressive building, spa London was created as part of a massive refurbishment of already existing Turkish baths.

Wimbledon and York Hall are two very different locations, style-wise.  While Wimbledon is bright, airy and very open feeling, York Hall has a much more cozy, warm and private vibe.  I suppose preference depends on your mood! One thing that I really liked about York Hall was that they do have ‘Women Only’ days, and my treatment just so happened to fall on one of those days. I’ve never been made to feel uncomfortable on any visit to spa London, but it was kind of nice to know there weren’t going to be any men around.  It allowed me to relax just that tiny bit more.

Though the locations are very different, the same professionalism applies to both sites.  Staff were very friendly, welcoming and took time to explain everything to me despite how busy it was when I arrived as the spa opened for the day. York Hall is definitely more buzzy than Wimbledon due to it’s location, but in spite of that it didn’t feel crowded at all.

Ahead of my treatment I spent about an hour in the thermal spa–similar to the one in Wimbledon but with different options.  I loved the two steam rooms–I prefer the humidity and the steam to the dry heat of the sauna.  The two rooms held different scents which were gorgeous and helped with the slight bit of congestion I’d been having.  To cool off, there’s a plunge pool which I wasn’t brave enough to try.  I did use the monsoon shower a few times to clean off though!

On to the important bit… the treatment!  The ‘Signature Cleopatra’s Milk & Honey Ritual’ is new to spa London and uses products from the French/Moroccan brand La Sultane de Saba, a brand I’ve come into contact before.  The treatment description on the website says:

Inspired by Cleopatra’s bathing ritual thought to have preserved her youthful beauty. A full body wash and scrub helps to deeply cleanse body and soul before a luscious milk and honey mixture is poured onto the body and a nourishing hair treatment coats the head and scalp. Whilst the goodness sinks in, a face and scalp massage is performed sending you into a hypnotic state. You are then veiled in a mist of rose and orange blossom before a milk application massage is given.

Sounds gorgeous, no?

Oh, it was.

The whole thing started off with a hammam style cleansing.  Black soap, stuff of miracles, was rubbed onto my body and my therapist used a kessa glove (basically a mitt that feels like sandpaper) to slough off all of the dead skin leaving me perfectly clean and super smooth.  Despite the rough nature of hammam, I’m actually one of those weird people who actually quite enjoy them!

After the cleansing, a masque of honey, ginger and other goodies was applied to my back to help draw out impurities and to also smooth and hydrate the skin.  While that soaked in and worked its magic for half an hour, I was treated to the most amazing face and scalp massage with warm, proper shea butter.  Goodness me!

My therapist left me to shower and after that I got a full rub down with the most amazing scented lotion which I could smell up until I went to bed that night.  Lush stuff.

I can safely say that I was so well looked after and pampered at spa London’s Bethnal Green that, despite the Wimbledon branch being right down the road, I’ll most certainly be entertaining the thought of going back soon.

spa-london-treatments

This review is not in exchange for payment however I was offered the treatment and thermal spa experience free of charge in exchange for an honest review.

steph2If you’re interested in getting in touch, tweet me at @stephanie_khani or email me at emailthelondondiaries [at] gmail.com!

 

April 2015 Book Wrap Up

Yet another whirlwind of a month for me! Between work, attending events, surprise spa days (post to come) and all kinds of crazy, it’s been another slowish reading month.  That being said, three out of the four books I read in April were at least four stars.  The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld really impressed me and it’s a book that I honestly think everyone should read.
April Books

Books Read:  4

Currently Reading: The Holy Woman – Qaisra Shahraz

I’ve decided, in the interest of tidying up the main page, I’ll only be posting my Reading Challenge progress at the the end of each quarter–so you won’t see that from me again until the end of June.  One less thing to worry about, eh?

steph2If you’re interested in getting in touch, tweet me at @stephanie_khani or email me at emailthelondondiaries [at] gmail.com!

Weekly Watson: Creamy Veggie Pasta

N and I have persevered with the Weekly Watson format after last week’s weird Warm Avocado Veggie Patties.  This week’s offering?  Well, Watson called it Jamaican Red Bell Pepper Zucchini Eggplant Fettuccine.  Another mouthful!  I like to call this one Creamy Veggie Pasta.  Notice I took out the Jamaican bit?  Well that’s because I have no freaking clue what was supposed to make this dish Jamaican.

As ever, here’s what Watson gave me:

Ingredients

  • 340 g fettuccine
  • 1 Red Pepper halved
  • 1 Courgette
  • 1 large Aubergine cubed
  • 3 stalks asparagus
  • 1.5 tbsp olive oil
  • 120 ml mascarpone
  • 1.5 tbsp Thyme Chopped
  • 180 ml Whipping Cream
  • 355 ml vegetable broth

Directions

  1. If using dried morels, place in 2-cup measuring cup and pour enough hot water over to reach 2-cup mark.
  2. Let soak pushing down occasionally if red bell peppers rise to top.
  3. Drain, reserving soaking liquid; add enough water to measure 1 1/4 cups if needed.
  4. Cut large red bell peppers in half.
  5. Heat olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat.
  6. Add zucchini and eggplant and fresh or reconstituted red bell peppers; saute about 6 minutes.
  7. Add asparagus and 11⁄2 cup broth (if using fresh red bell peppers) or reserved soaking liquid (if using dried morels.
  8. Bring to boil, cover, and cook 2 minutes.
  9. Stir in cream and 3⁄4 of the chopped thyme.
  10. Simmer uncovered about 4 minutes.
  11. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.
  12. Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water stirring occasionally.
  13. Drain pasta and return to pot.
  14. Add 1⁄2 of the mascarpone and sauce; toss.
  15. Transfer to bowl; sprinkle with remaining thyme.
  16. Serve with remaining mascarpone

Yeah.  That didn’t fly with me–the instructions just seemed a bit… wonky.  So, as with last week’s meal, I changed it up.  A lot.  I reduced the amount of pasta and we left out the aubergine, much to my disappointment. It seems N is having trouble following the shopping list lately, meaning we’re lacking on certain ingredients, particularly on the veg front.  I also added two shallots, a few cloves of minced garlic, chilli pepper flakes, dried oregano and a spritz of lemon.

On the whole, this one was fairly easy to cook once the method was amended.  It came down to the following for me:

  1. Chop veg and add to pan of hot oil, leaving out the asparagus.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cook for 10 minutes until veg is soft.
  2. Begin cooking pasta according to packet instructions.
  3. Add minced garlic and cook for another minute.
  4. Add in broth and asparagus and cook for five minutes.
  5. Add in cream, thyme, oregano and chilli pepper flakes.  Cook for around 5 minutes until asparagus is soft.
  6. Finally, add in the mascarpone and stir through until melted.
  7. Serve with a spritz of lemon.

Very simple and easy to do.

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I’ll be honest, N and I were both, once again, dubious.  As we progressed, our confidence grew and N, upon tasting the sauce, deemed it a winner.  Thankfully, Watson’s dish was quite tasty and actually reminded me of something from my childhood that I can’t quite put my finger on.  I think it might have been one of those dehydrated creamy pasta packets that you add water to and heat on the stove?  Maybe?  Either way, I think this is one we’ll have again!  I’d like to add mushrooms in next time and the aubergine as well.

Rating: 75% Delicious (on a rating scale of ‘Delicious,’ ‘Meh’ or ‘In the bin’) Needs a bit of tweaking but one we’ll certainly have again.

What should I try out next week?  I’m thinking it’s time to give meat a go…

Isteph2f you’re interested in getting in touch, tweet me at @stephanie_khani or email me at emailthelondondiaries [at] gmail.com!

Weekly Watson: Warm Avocado Veg Patties

‘Well, we’re going to hell for boiling an avocado.’

That was N’s response to the first ever Weekly Watson… and I have to admit I shared his sentiment.  Strange instructions (but decent ingredients) made for a weird recipe.  But, in the name of… er… science (??) we persevered and made this week’s recipe ‘Warm Avocado Veg Patties,’ originally called ‘Persian Avocado Red Bell Pepper White Mushrooms Onion Garlic Vegetable Cake.’  I think our title is a bit more punchy.

So, let’s start with the ingredients I gave Watson: avocado, red bell pepper, white mushrooms, onions, garlic and chicken drumstick.  I was thinking maybe a nice traybake with some spices and and some sort of avocado salsa to go with it… but nope… Watson’s not nearly that boring.  Among the Chinese and Korean Fajitas, there was a Persian Vegetable Cake.  Instant attraction for me–we like Persian food and N’s half Persian so why not go for that one?

Right.

What did Watson give me?

Ingredients

  • 21/2 cup, sliced white mushrooms
  • 1 chopped onions
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 pitted, peeled avocado
  • 11/2 cup, chopped green onion
  • 2 clove, minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp, peeled, minced fresh ginger
  • 1/4 stick butter
  • 11/2 tbsp canola oil
  • 12 tbsp, chopped chive
  • 11/2 tbsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp allspice
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 egg

That’s all fairly normal stuff–I was ok with all of that.  It was the instructions that slightly baffled me:

1.  Cook white mushrooms, onions, red bell peppers and avocados in large saucepan of boiling salted water.
2.  Drain and cool slightly.
3.  Peel white mushrooms, onions, red bell peppers and avocados.
4.  Cut white mushrooms, onions, red bell peppers and avocados into large chunks and place in medium bowl.
5.  Add 11⁄2 cup, chopped green onions, 1⁄4 cup chive, 11⁄2 clove garlic cloves, 2 teaspoons ginger, 3⁄4 tsp salt, and 5 tsp pepper; mash white mushrooms, onions, red bell peppers and avocadoes.
6.  Mix in egg.
7.  Form white mushrooms, onions, red bell peppers and avocados mixture into eight 2 3/4-inch-diameter patties, each about 3/4 inch thick.
8.  Place white mushrooms, onions, red bell peppers and avocados cakes on platter.
9.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
10.  Drizzle 1⁄4 of the oriental butter over both sides of each white mushrooms, onions, red bell peppers and avocados cake.
11.  Sprinkle both sides of white mushrooms, onions, red bell peppers and avocados cakes with allspice.
12.  Heat canola oil and remaining butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
13.  Working in 2 batches, add white mushrooms, onions, red bell peppers and avocados cakes to skillet and cook.
14.  Sprinkle with remaining chive and serve.

Needless to say, the more and more I thought about boiling an avocado in its skin (what???) the sicker it made me feel.  Not one to give up, I decided to amend the cooking instructions to make them (a lot) more attractive.  In all fairness, there is a disclaimer saying Watson eats data and not food, and to exercise judgement.  The guys on The Sporkful tinkered with their Watson recipe, so there’s no reason I couldn’t do that with mine!

So amendments made and ingredients assembled, I got stuck in…

IMG_4977

IMG_4978
As you can see from my notes, I pretty well changed the entire method of making our avo patties.  Instead of boiling the onion, pepper, mushrooms and avocado, I slow fried the onion, pepper, mushrooms, garlic and ginger with salt and pepper until they were all nice and soft.  After letting them cool, I mashed in the avocado and added a splash of lemon juice to keep the avo from turning brown.  Then came the egg.  Ha.  The egg turned everything into a booger colored, unappetizing mess.  There was no way I was going to be able to form that stuff into patties, let alone be willing to eat it.  I washed my hands and went to the laptop to pull up Papa John’s…

IMG_4979

Then I stopped myself… flour!  Surely flour would bind the mixture together!  I wasn’t ready to give up on Watson’s recipe just yet and sprinkled in around two tablespoons of flour.  Sure enough, I was able to make it work and so made a test patty.  I wanted to know ahead of time how horrible it was going to be just in case I needed a back up meal (Papa, I’m lookin’ at you).

IMG_4983

I tried my test patty without any condiments first to get an idea of seasoning and whether it needed more of N’s dad’s Iranian spice mix which I subbed in for the allspice.  To my surprise, it wasn’t horrible!  Added a bit of hot chili sauce and it was even better, but still not quite right.  A nice Thai sweet chili sauce did just the trick!

The real test, and my biggest skeptic, was N.  I made him a test patty and anxiously awaited the criticism and retching that I thought was sure to come.  N’s a foodie, you see, and a bit of a snob when it comes to stuff like this.  He absolutely hated the thought of cooking an avocado.  Miraculously, he deemed it passable and I commenced with frying up our bizarre little batch of veggie cakes.

IMG_4987

Thoughts:  While our Warm Avocado Veg Patties weren’t disgusting and were perfectly edible, I don’t think we’d do them again anytime in the near future–not without further extensive tweaking!

Rating: Meh (on a rating scale of ‘Delicious,’ ‘Meh’ or ‘In the bin’)

Link to original recipe (in case you’re brave)

Tickled by the Weekly Watson?  Suggest some ingredients for next week’s endeavor!

steph2If you’re interested in getting in touch, tweet me at @stephanie_khani or email me at emailthelondondiaries [at] gmail.com!

Ten Of My All Time Favourite Authors

This is such a mean Top Ten Tuesday prompt!  Honestly–I love so many different authors and, having had the opportunity to work with so many over the last few years, it’s hard to pick my favorites.  So this list of ten?  Let me just say it’s by no means exhaustive, nor in any sort of order.  I don’t honestly hold any one of these brilliant people above the other–they’ve all got equal space on my shelf.  I’ve also included first lines from my favorite books of theirs.

(For more info on Top Ten Tuesday, check out The Broke and The Bookish who started the whole dang thing or, if you want more top ten goodness, click here)

1.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Book of choice:  Leaf Storm and Other Stories

On the third day of rain they had killed so many crabs inside the house that Pelayo had to cross his drenched courtyard and throw them into the sea, because the newborn child had a temperature all night and they thought it was due to the stench. The world had been sad since Tuesday.

2.  Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Book of choice:  The Shadow of the Wind

I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time.

3.  Sarah Waters
Book of choice:  Fingersmith

My name, in those days, was Susan Trinder.  People Called me Sue.  I know the year I was born in, but for many years I did not know the date and took my birthday at Christmas.

4.  Lucy Robinson
Book of choice:  her newest, The Day We Disappeared

I stared in confusion at the hayloft.  It was not a hayloft.  It was a square white room with a single bed and a sticker on the wardrobe saying, ‘I ♥ PONIES!’

5.  Victoria Fox
Book of choice:  Wicked Ambition

IF NOT VICTORY, REVENGE! It was printed in hot-pink marker on the back of the cubicle door, the lettering neat and precise.

6.  Barbara Kingsolver
Book of choice:  The Poisonwood Bible

Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened.  First, picture the forest.  I want you to be its conscience, the eyes in the trees.

7.  Haruki Murakami
Book of choice:  After Dark

Eyes mark the shape of the city.  Through the eyes of a high-flying night bird, we take in a scene from midair.  In our broad sweep, the city looks like a single gigantic creature–or more like a single collective entity created by many intertwining organisms. 

8.  Neil Gaiman
Book of choice:  Neverwhere

The night before he went to London, Richard Mayhew was not enjoying himself.  He had begun the evening by enjoying himself:  he had enjoyed reading the goodbye cards, and receiving the hugs from several not entirely unattractive young ladies of his acquaintance; he had enjoyed the warnings about the evils and dangers of London, and the gift of the white umbrella with the map of the London Underground on it that the lads had clubbed together to buy him; he had enjoyed the first few pints of ale; but then, which each successive pint of ale he found he was enjoying himself significantly less; until now he was sitting and shivering on the pavement outside the pub in a small Scottish town, weighing the conflicting merits of being sick and not being sick, and not enjoying himself at all.

9.  Jojo Moyes
Book of choice:  The One Plus One

The irony did not escape Jessica Thomas that she’d lost the best job she’d ever had because of a diamond.  Not because she stole it but because she didn’t.

10.  Carson McCullers
Book of choice:  The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together.  Early morning they would come out of the house where they lived and walk arm in arm down the street to work.

steph2If you’re interested in getting in touch, tweet me at @stephanie_khani or email me at emailthelondondiaries [at] gmail.com!