[instagrammed] – Asparagus & avocado pasta

avocado asparagus pasta

I almost forgot about my grand plans to chip at the backlog with some ‘instagrammed’ posts.. So here’s one.

This asparagus & avocado pasta is something I’ve made many (many) times, especially on a weekday when I cannot be bothered to make something too involved. Am so glad I happened to have both asparagus and avocado in my fridge at some point, or I might have never discovered this delightful combination.

You can find me on instagram as @breadetbutter – where I post a lot more regularly than I do here. 😉

Asparagus & avocado pasta
Serves 2 (generously)

  • 250g pasta of your choice (I usually use linguini or spaghetti)
  • 2 avocados
  • 150g asparagus (I use asparagus tips), cut into 1cm lengths
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Bunch coriander (approx 30g)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
1. Cook pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente. 1 minute before the pasta is done, add the asparagus to the pan. When draining the pasta, reserve some of the pasta cooking water – you may need it later.
2. Whilst pasta is cooking, halve and peel the avocados. Chop one avocado into small 1cm cubes, and the other into larger chunks.
3. Place the large chunks of avocado into a blender, along with the coriander, lime juice, and olive oil. Blend until it forms a thick smooth paste.
4. Place drained pasta and asparagus back into the (same) pan you were using earlier. Add the blended avocado mixture. The mixture may be quite thick and gloppy, if so, add some pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until you reach your desired sauce consistency. The sauce should coat every strand of pasta.
5. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
6. Serve pasta onto plates. Top with small cubes of avocado. Other ingredients you can use are pine nuts, extra coriander, sesame seeds, chilli flakes.. An endless list really! Drizzle with some olive oil (if you wish), and eat.

Pasta with anchovy sauce

Apologies for the extended break from the blog – the past few months have been absolutely insane, and I think it’s safe to say I have never been so stressed out about an exam, ever! I’m horrendous with exam stress, and I actually lose my appetite (I know, shocking!) in the week before important exams.. I remember how I lost weight prior to finals, much to my surprise (because I was also consuming regular doses of chocolate). Though I regained it all with a post-exam Barcelona trip. 😛 The way it should be, haha.

I’ve still got another set of exams and a dissertation to write, but it won’t be as bad as the exam I’ve just done (I hope!). So I thought it was high time I returned to the blog and chipped away at the ridiculous backlog I have.

This pasta dish was inspired by our Florence trip a couple of years ago. I absolutely loved Florence, and it is one of my favourite European cities. The food is so simple, yet so ridiculously good. And when I think about it, a fair number of the pasta dishes I cook nowadays are inspired by what we ate in Florence.

You might think that an anchovy sauce pasta might be too salty, but on the contrary – it’s really good! Of course, you need to like anchovies to want to eat this, but trust me when I say you will love this if you’re an anchovy fan.

This is a meal that can be whipped up in 20 minutes, making it a perfect weeknight dinner. Not to mention that it uses very basic ingredients which you’re likely to have on hand anyway – canned anchovies, pasta, onions, garlic.

Oh and a little confession – the photos of this dish were taken a whole TWO YEARS ago. Told you I had a massive backlog. 😉

Pasta with anchovy sauce

  • 1 large onion
  • 3-5 cloves garlic (depending on how much you like garlic)
  • 30g anchovies (actual weight), chopped finely
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1-2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 2 whole cloves
  • pepper, to taste
  • 300g fettuccine (or other broad pasta e.g. bucatini, linguine)
  • toasted breadcrumbs or chopped parsley to serve (optional)
1. Finely chop the onions and garlic. I use my trusty mini food processor for this as it makes the onion and garlic turn into a beautiful smooth ‘paste’, which means your sauce will be smoother.
2. Heat the olive oil in a non-stick pan over low heat. Add the onions, garlic and anchovies and cook until it becomes fragrant (should take 8-10 minutes).
3. Add 1 teaspoon of brown sugar and let the mixture cook for another minute. Taste. If the mixture seems a little salty, add the extra teaspoon of brown sugar.
4. Stir in the butter and the cloves, followed by the water. Let it simmer gently for a minute or so, and take off the heat.
5. Whilst the sauce is cooking, cook the pasta in a pan of boiling salted water, until al dente. Reserve some of the pasta cooking liquid (1 cup should be enough).
6. Mix the cooked pasta with the anchovy sauce, and add the pasta cooking liquid (as needed) to lubricate the pasta.
7. Serve the pasta into a plate, sprinkle with chopped parsley or toasted breadcrumbs (optional), add pepper to taste – and eat. 

* Just a note: I wouldn’t advise using the oil from the canned anchovies, as it is usually quite salty.

Hello Fresh: recipe-ready groceries delivered to your doorstep!

Hello Fresh is a relatively new company which has come up with a brilliant concept: they provide you with recipe-ready groceries… and deliver it right to your doorstep. You might be thinking “online groceries? Old news.” – but hold that thought, because Hello Fresh is so much more than that.

You’ll notice that I used the term “recipe-ready” groceries – this is because all the ingredients supplied come with accompanying recipes, and all ingredients are portioned accordingly. Basically, if you are planning to cook spaghetti bolognese – you get the exact amounts of ingredients for this (based on the accompanying recipes). I think this is quite a brilliant idea, as it definitely helps minimise waste (and let’s admit it, we have all thrown something out before).

All the supplied recipes are created by chefs who ensure that the meals are delicious and balanced. More importantly, they are all easy to prepare, and can be completed in 30 minutes.

So, that all sounds great – but how much does it cost? A bag of ‘3 meals’ costs £39 for 2 people, and £59 for 4 people. (Delivery costs are included.) I know some people might think that this is a little expensive, but I think it’s a fair price as Hello Fresh provide a good range of meals, and they source good quality products. For example, my chicken/sausages were from a butcher, and not bought from a high street grocery store (because really, I could just buy those myself). There were still items that were from stores like Sainsburys though.

Oh, and Hello Fresh is subscription based and has no minimum term, with a 6 day notice period. Which means you can opt out at any time, should you wish to do so.

But enough about all that, because the most important thing is what the service/meals are actually like. I tried out the 5-meal plan. However, I only took photos of 4 of the 5 dishes though, as I forgot to take photos of the last one. I know – forgot? Totally unacceptable in food blogger world, but oh well. I’m not going to elaborate much on each recipe as I’m never very good with words, so hopefully the photos will do the elaborating.

The meals I had were:

1) Tuscan meatballs with spaghetti, fresh basil and tomato sauce

Meatballs – who doesn’t love them? This was a perfect meal to have in my bag, and my love for meatballs meant I cooked this first. I actually learnt a few new things from the recipe.. like how adding grated Pecorino & chopped Porcini mushrooms helps to enhance the flavour of the meatballs. And how rolling the meatballs in cous cous before pan frying them gives a great, crunchy finish! Never too late to learn. 😉

This was my favourite meal of the lot, and the people at Hello Fresh have kindly agreed to let me reproduce the recipe here. I have rewritten the methods of the recipe though (I never feel comfortable just copy-pasting someone else’s recipe!), as I tend to have a preferred way of writing. [Recipe at the end of the post.]

2) Sesame crusted salmon, with cous cous & cherry tomato salsa

It was great to see that Hello Fresh gives a good balance of meals in the bag – as a medic, I’m highly paranoid about eating a balanced diet (we try to eat fish twice a week, with one vegetarian meal thrown in somewhere)… so I was glad to see salmon in one of the recipes!

I often eat cous cous, but I’ve never added fried onions for flavour/texture (those are the flecks you see in the cous cous). Another trick learnt!

3) Artisan sausages with roasted garlic mash & red onion gravy

Bangers and mash. British comfort food at its best, wouldn’t you say? What I loved most about this was how the sausages were sourced from a specialist butcher, which probably explains why they are one of the best sausages I’ve tasted in a long time.

4) Thai red curry with chicken & toasted cashews

So this was the fourth day, and I totally blanked and forgot to take a photo of the ingredients as I was in a rush to cook (read: I was too hungry/greedy/insert appropriate adjective here).

This came with a pack of pre-made red curry paste (a Thai brand which I remember buying when I was in Bangkok some years ago). I hope that you all don’t scorn pre-made curry paste, because truth be told, sometimes they taste MUCH better than homemade curry pastes.

The rice that I served on the side was supplied in the pack.

5) Pea, mint & goats cheese risotto
Err yes. So this is the dish I have absolutely no photos of whatsoever. Apologies!

So… what did I think of Hello Fresh and the service they’re providing?
What I liked:
– Portioned ingredients, which helps minimise waste.
– Not having to think of what to cook for dinner (I’m very fickle and have too many ideas, so this is a good thing for me).
– Good balance of meals: I had fish, chicken, beef, vegetarian & pork.
– Good variety of cusines: I had Italian, Thai, British, (and I’m not sure what category the salmon/cous cous & risotto dishes fall under).
– Excellent, friendly customer service.

What I thought could be improved:
– Giving customers the opportunity to choose the recipes/meals that come in the pack. Or at least, the chance to state particular ‘main’ ingredients that you dislike e.g. aubergines (which could potentially be the main ingredient of a vegetable curry). It would be a shame if someone got a pack with something they didn’t like, which would mean a high chance of throwing it out = wastage.
– The green on black text on the recipe cards weren’t great contrast wise, I can imagine it would be a little hard to read in poor lighting etc. White text on black might work better? I also thought the recipes were a little wordy, but I suspect this is a personal preference.
– Expanding the service outside of London (they currently only deliver to London addresses).

Basically, Hello Fresh is a service that aims to give you a convenient way of eating home cooked dinners. It’s great if you can’t be bothered to figure out what to cook, and don’t have the time to hit the shops in time to get groceries for dinner.

Would I pay for this service? Yes. But only once every so often (because I do enjoy experimenting and not sticking to recipes – ha!), and I’d go for the 3 meal plan vs the 5 meal plan.

* I received a bag of 5 meals courtesy of Hello Fresh, but all the opinions expressed above are my own. 

Tuscan meatballs with spaghetti, fresh basil & tomato sauce
Recipe courtesy of the Hello Fresh chefs (with some modifications)
Serves 4

  • 500g beef mince
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 3 tsp dried oregano
  • 3 tsp porcini mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 5 minutes, then finely diced
  • 40g pecorino cheese (or Parmesan)
  • 4 Jacobs crackers, crushed to resemble breadcrumbs
  • 6 tbsp couscous
  • 2 Eschalion shallots
  • 2 tins chopped tomatoes
  • bunch basil leaves (approx 30g), roughly chopped
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 500g spaghetti, cooked according to package instructions until al dente (you can do this in a pot whilst you’re making the meatballs)

1. In a large bowl, mix the beef mince, garlic, porcini mushrooms, crushed Jacob crackers, grated Pecorino, and salt/pepper to taste. (I used 1/2 tsp of salt, and 1 tsp pepper). Using your hands, mix the ingredients together until they are well incorporated.
2. Form the meatball mixture into 2-3cm balls. Roll each individual meatball in cous cous. Set the meatballs aside.
3. Place a non-stick pan on medium heat, and gently fry the diced shallots in olive oil until they turn fragrant.
4. Add the chopped tomatoes to the pan, and simmer on medium heat. If the sauce starts becoming too dry, you can add some water to the pan to thin it down.
5. Whilst the tomato sauce is simmering, heat a non-stick pan over high heat. Brown the meatballs on all sides until they are cooked through (this should take around 6 minutes). If you’re unsure if they are cooked through, cut one open – this is the best way to tell!*
6. Add the meatballs to the tomato sauce (which should have reduced down nicely by now). Add the chopped basil leaves to the sauce, and season with salt and pepper (to taste).
7. Serve the meatballs/tomato sauce mixture over spaghetti. Top with grated Parmesan, and eat!

* To cut down on washing up/having too many pans on the go at one time: cook your meatballs in the oven. If you choose to do this, I’d advise not rolling the uncooked meatballs in cous cous (as you won’t get the same ‘crisp’ from the couscous without pan frying – i.e. there’s not much point). Bake the meatballs in a 180’C oven for 15-20 minutes, until cooked through. You can then add the meatballs to the tomato sauce, as in step 6.

Beef and broccoli noodles

I was one of those children who hated vegetables. I still remember how I would only eat a very small group of vegetables: beans, beansprouts, carrots and cauliflower. No leafy greens ever made it onto my plate. Surprisingly, my mum would never force me to eat them – she would offer them to me, and if I said no, that was it. Turns out my mum hated vegetables when she was a child, but then grew up to love them… and she figured that I would be the same. And how right she was!

From being a terrible child who only ate a very limited amount of vegetables, I have turned into someone who loves them. I happily eat almost any vegetable now (with the exception of okra which I simply can’t like), which I sometimes find hard to believe. Funny how things pan out, really. Thinking back, I’m very glad I was never “forced” to eat my portion of veg when growing up, as I suspect it would have made me hate them forever. (Please note that this does not mean I advocate not eating your greens when you’re young though!)

But why am I telling you this seemingly unrelated story of my childhood? Well, because of this dish. Beef and broccoli noodles to be exact. Broccoli was one of the major “no no’s” in the younger me, but is now something I eat on a regular basis. When cooked well, broccoli tastes absolutely amazing. But overcook it and you end up with a pile of green mush that no vege lover in the world would want to eat.

I tend to cook my broccoli the “Heston” way – see this article for more details. The broccoli is cooked in minimal amounts of hot smoking oil, and then covered with a pot cover to allow steam to build up and cook it all the way through. I like his method because it not only tastes a lot nicer, but also means you retain the nutrients within the broccoli (which you lose via boiling).

This beef and broccoli noodle dish is inspired by this recipe from Steamy Kitchen. Sometimes you see a photo of a dish, and you immediately know you *must* try it because you know it will be amazingly delicious. The first time I saw the photo for this dish on Jaden’s blog: that was one of these moments. And I was right, because this is so so good.  On another note, I challenge you to look at Jaden’s photos of this dish and NOT want to lick your screen. I assure you it is quite impossible. My photos look so amateurish compared to hers! Oh well.

I didn’t follow the exact recipe because, well – that’s me. Instead of using stock in the sauce making process, I add extra oyster sauce/rice wine/soy sauce to make up for it. I also use lots of black pepper because I enjoy the extra kick it provides.

Beef and broccoli noodles
Adapted from this recipe on Steamy Kitchen (original recipe from Noodles Every Day)

  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 5 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 5 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 500g frying steak/beef sirloin (cut into 3cm x 5cm pieces)*
  • 600g fresh noodles (I used 2 x 300g packets)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 large garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 400g tenderstem broccoli
  • Freshly ground black pepper

1. Combine 1 tablespoon each of soy sauce, oyster sauce and rice wine in a medium bowl. Add the sugar and mix until completely dissolved. Add the sesame oil and beef, and mix well. Marinate for 20 minutes. Drain and discard the excess marinade.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the noodles until 1 minute shy of being done, and drain.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a pan or wok over high heat, and stir-fry the garlic until fragrant, about 15 seconds.

4. Add the beef to the pan and stir-fry until tender, 3-4 minutes. Remove onto a plate and set aside.

5. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil, and stir fry the tenderstem broccoli for 2 minutes. (You’re aiming for half cooked broccoli at this point)

6. Add the remaining soy sauce, oyster sauce and rice wine to the pan.

7. Add the noodles, and stir to ensure the noodles are coated with the sauce. Cook for 1-2 minutes until most of liquid is absorbed.

8. Return the beef to the pan, mix with the noodles and broccoli.

9. Season with freshly ground black pepper (to taste), and serve.

* you can cut them into smaller pieces (1cm x 3cm), but remember to reduce the cooking time accordingly

Caramel chicken

My friends often ask me how I find the time to cook dinner as often as I do. The usual reaction is “but cooking is so tedious, how can you do it after a long day at work?”. Well – I do two things. One: I cook in bulk. And when I say bulk, I mean bulk. There are only two of us at home, but I usually cook for at least 4. Occasionally I cook for 6 – I kid you not! This habit originally stemmed from my inability to estimate quantities… and then I realised it was a good thing. Sort of.

The best thing about this is that I either get to freeze leftovers (like these meatballs), or I have a day or two days worth of leftovers in the fridge. Believe me when I say that leftovers are something I’ve learnt to appreciate over the years, as it means I can still eat home cooked food even when I work late. And of course, some dishes taste better as leftovers! Think soups and stews…

And number two: I cook simple food. By this, I mean food that takes no more than an hour from start to finish. I reserve the more complex meals for the weekend (in fact, I try to cook something new every weekend), but weekdays are for simple and fast meals. This caramel chicken dish is one of those simple and fast meals. Inspired by none other than the oh-so-smiley Bill Granger (who has fast become one of my favourite chefs), this dish is easy to whip up and keeps well in the refrigerator.

As always, I tweaked the recipe. Bill’s recipe calls for chicken, onions and garlic. I added peppers and cashews so I could make it a one-pot meal (plus rice). Bill also browns his chicken at the start of the cooking process, then removes it whilst he cooks everything else. I cooked everything in one go – the main reason for this being I didn’t want to wash an extra bowl. It’s terrible that I have such an inherent inability to follow recipes.

Anyway. This dish turned out well, and I really enjoyed the sticky and slightly sweet sauce that coated each piece of chicken. Despite the word “caramel”, this dish is not overly sweet so don’t get too worried! The cashews and the peppers added a nice crunch to the dish – I’m a huge fan of multiple textures in dishes. If you choose to not use cashews/peppers, serve the chicken with a side of vegetables and it should work equally well.

Caramel chicken with peppers and cashews
Based on a recipe in Bill’s Open Kitchen

  • 500g chicken thigh fillets (skinless), cut into bite size pieces *
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil/corn oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 cup uncooked cashew nuts
  • 2 bell peppers, sliced thinly
  • 1/3 cup kicap manis
  • 1/3 cup fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • pepper, to taste

1. Place a large pan over high heat. Put the oil, sliced onion and sliced garlic into the pan, and cook until fragrant. (Cooking the onion and garlic in non-piping hot oil reduces the risk of it burning – something I’m prone to doing.)
2. Add the chicken, and cook for 3-4 minutes or until lightly browned. You’re aiming for half cooked chicken at this point.
3. Add the peppers, and fry for 1-2 minutes.
4. Add the kicap manis, fish sauce, brown sugar and pepper to the pan. Stir to ensure all the ingredients are covered in the sauce.
5. Lastly, add the cashews and fry for 1-2 minutes. At this point, your sauce should be rich, dark and syrupy.
6. Serve with steamed rice.

*optional: To make the chicken tender (think Chinese restaurants), add 1 teaspoon of baking soda to the uncooked chicken. Leave for 2-3 minutes, then wash off. I know washing raw meat may cause some of you to gasp in horror, but if you’re careful and confine it all to the sink – it’s not all that bad. But as I said, it’s optional.

Teriyaki salmon with polenta

There are days when I get back from work feeling so tired that all I really want is a quick and easy meal for dinner. To me, this is something that can be ready in around 30 minutes. This is one of things I turn to on those days, as it is simple and requires hardly any prep whatsoever.

Polenta is an ingredient I discovered a year ago, and I fell in love with it the first time I tried it. Polenta is basically cornmeal, which means corn ground into a fine powder. It has a amazingly deep and rich yellow colour, which may account for my affection for it. 😛 Polenta can be used in both sweet or savoury dishes – my favourite way to use it is as a substitute for mash potatoes. It’s much less tedious compared to mash, as it only takes about 5 minutes to cook. It’s also healthier than mash (as there is less butter involved).

I know it may seem strange to pair a seemingly Asian dish with polenta, but I think it works well together. Definitely agrees with my tastebuds anyway!

Teriyaki salmon with polenta

  • 4 salmon fillets (skinless or skin on is fine)
  • Kikkoman teriyaki marinade (thick)
  • 4 bunches pak choi (a Chinese leafy vegetable), washed and separated
  • Oyster sauce
  • Shaoxing cooking rice wine
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • Polenta
  • Boiling water
  • 1-2 tablespoons butter (optional)
  • Garlic infused olive oil (optional)
  • Chicken stock granules (optional)
  • Black pepper, to taste
  1. Pour a liberal amount  of teriyaki marinade on the salmon fillets. (Liberal =  just make sure it covers most of the salmon). Leave for 5-10 minutes.
  2. In the meantime, start cooking the polenta. Again, I’m completely useless when it comes to measurements, and I just eyeball this. More specifically, I pour the polenta in a pot, and add boiling hot water as I see fit…. I have however, heard that it’s roughly 4 parts water to 1 part polenta. A handy tip is that most polenta packages give clear instructions on how it should be cooked.
  3. I usually add butter to the polenta, along with a sprinkling of chicken stock granules. I also sometimes add a splash of garlic infused olive oil to the polenta.
  4. Heat oil in a pan over high heat. Cook the salmon fillets in the pan, roughly 2-3 minutes on each side. Take care not to overcook the salmon, it is ready when the fish has a nice “bounce” to it when touched with a finger.
  5. Whilst waiting for the salmon to cook, fry the chopped garlic with some olive oil. Add the pak choi leaves to the pan, followed by the oyster sauce and Shaoxing rice wine.
  6. Serve: place polenta on a plate, top with the pak choi and salmon. Add black pepper to taste, and the dish is ready to be eaten!

Courgette, tomato & anchovy pappardelle

I’ve always wanted to own a grater that would enable me to julienne vegetables effortlessly.. but have never managed to find one – till two weeks ago! I bought a Japanese grater when I was back home for summer, hoping that I had finally found “the one”. And I wasn’t dissapointed, as I managed to julienne the courgettes for this pasta rather effortlessly! The best thing about this is that it not only juliennes, but can also thinly slice! All I have to do is to push the two little levers on each side to switch between both functions. I’m just hoping that it stays sharp! 🙂

My new toy!

This pasta dish is very simple, and is perfect for a weekday dinner when there isn’t much time to cook. I put it together based on what I had in the fridge (taking into the account the fact that I wanted to try out my new grater, hehe) and can be adapted very easily. I’ve included a very approximate recipe here, which admittedly isn’t very well written, but I will hopefully get better at it over time.

Courgette, tomato & anchovy pappardelle
serves 3-4

  • 1 pack fresh lasagna sheets
  • 2 courgettes
  • 300g cherry tomatoes
  • 1 can (approx. 50g) of anchovies in garlic
  • 10-12 cream crackers, or 40-50g breadcrumbs
  • olive oil
  • pepper, to taste
  1. Cut the lasagna sheets into (approximately) 2cm strips, and boil them in salted water for 3-5 minutes.
  2. In the meantime, julienne the courgettes and halve the cherry tomatoes.
  3. Put a pan on medium heat, and heat the anchovies, followed by the cherry tomatoes and courgettes.
  4. Once everything is heated through, add the cut lasagna strips/pappardelle to the pan, and stir everything together.
  5. If using cream crackers, crush them finely to make breadcrumbs.
  6. Add the breadcrumbs to the pan, and quickly stir it through the pasta.
  7. Dish into plates, add pepper to taste, and eat!