Sunday, 21 August 2016

No-bake chocolate peanut butter coconut squares (vegan and gluten-free)

Spontaneous baking is my favourite kind of baking.

I mean sure, there's no actual baking involved in these, but you know what I mean.

Life's been so busy of late that I haven't managed to get creative in the kitchen for a while, which is really rather sad.

My flatmate and I were going to go to a party today, but then we both decided we weren't feeling it (which may have something to do with the fact that we're still recovering from a big Friday night), and having the day to myself, with no plans, has been thoroughly enjoyable.

Hence, spontaneous baking. Well, refrigerating. But whatever.
In exciting news, the kind people over at Panasonic have offering me the opportunity to have a play with some of their wonderful kitchen appliances, and so today, finally having the time to set it up, I used my new food processor for the first time.

And I think I'm in love with it.
Is it weird to be in love with a kitchen appliance? I don't even care. It's so shiny and sleek and IT CAN DO SO MUCH!

It blends, chops, spiralises, washes lettuce, juices citrus fruits and so much more, and it's absolutely super easy to use, despite having so many functions. I'm very impressed.

The MK F-800 (sounds like a robot, don'tcha think?) ain't cheap, but boy is it an investment worth making if you can afford it. This baby is amazing.
Now, I was particularly excited as I didn't have a food processor, and there are so many recipes I've been wanting to make for ages that call for one - I feel like so many healthy foodies' recipes like bliss balls and raw brownies require a food processor, and I just haven't been able to make them. *sob*

In case you weren't sure, the main difference between a blender and a food processor is the fact that you need liquid in a blender, so it's great for smoothies, but doesn't work when trying to pulse dry ingredients like nuts, oats or cauliflower (you know you've wanted to).
Soooo long story short, today I unexpectedly ended up with both time and a food processor on my hands, and I wanted to play. However I was also in my pyjamas and did not fancy leaving the house, so the challenge was to concoct something with what I already had.

Yeah, I'm pretty darn pleased with the result.
My, these are rather good, if I do say so myself.

They're salty and sweet, moreish, rich, crunchy and squidgy - oh, so delightfully squidgy!
Here's the thing: coconut + chocolate = great.

Chocolate + peanut butter = great.

Peanut butter + coconut = great.

So duhh, obviously coconut + peanut butter + chocolate = fan-bloody-tactic!
And what's also fun is these are rather healthy too. No grains, nothing artificial and vegan-friendly too.

Full of good fats (although I know the jury's kinda out on coconut oil these days) and energising nuts. Plus they're naturally sweetened too. Yay!

Extra great is the fact that they're so easy and quick to make, with minimal washing up too.
I like to bake/refrigerate in small quantities (espesh as dates are expensive, ya feel me), so this recipe makes eight squares, however you could easily scale it up and use a bigger tin.

Inspired by this recipe by Wholesome Patisserie.


Ingredients

Base:

125g medjool dates (I used 7)
2 level tbsp/12g (1/8 cup) raw cacao powder
100g (1 cup) ground almonds

Coconut layer:

25g (1/6 cup) coconut oil
25g (1/4 cup) dark chocolate (I used one packet of raw 72% Ombar buttons)
100g (3/8 cup) natural peanut butter (I use Meridian)
70g (1/6 cup) light agave syrup (I use Groovy Food Co)
a pinch of seasalt
50g (1 cup) desiccated coconut

Toppings:

A handful of cacao nibs
1 tbsp crunchy maple peanut butter (I use Pip & Nut)


Method

1. Soak the dates in just boiled water for ten minutes and line a loaf pan with foil.

2. Drain the dates and pulse briefly in the food processor until broken down. Add the ground almonds and raw cacao powder and pulse until your mixture resembles this:
3. Spoon into the loaf pan, spread out and press down into a firmly-packed even layer. Set aside.

4. In a small saucepan over a low heat, gently melt the coconut oil and dark chocolate before removing from the heat and stirring in the peanut butter, agave syrup and pinch of salt.
5. Mix in the coconut and pour it all over the base layer. Sprinkle on the cacao nibs before popping in the fridge for a couple of hours to set.

6. Once set, remove from the fridge and drizzle over the crunchy maple peanut butter (you may have to briefly melt it in the microwave to make it runnier). Cut into squares and enjoy!
Keep any leftovers in a tin in the fridge.

This post is sponsored by Panasonic as part of their #ExperienceFresh campaign.
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Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Summer Sky Riviera at Searcys the Gherkin

Soooo this was pretty gosh darn special.

Despite never having been inside, I've always rather loved the Gherkin. I mean, c'mon. It's a gherkin. Which is hilarious.

So when I was invited to go up to the very very top of the London landmark for an evening of cocktails and food amongst the clouds, I was mad excited.

Searcys the Gherkin is the bar in the very top of the building, and this summer they've partnered with Tanqueray No. 10 gin to bring a touch of the South of France to London.

I know, evidently Londoners can't get enough of Provence at the mo (remember this rooftop dinner and this tasty one too?).

So, 180 metres up we climbed - and when I say climbed I mean stood in a lift - before emerging to a scene straight out of 1950s South of France.

Well, kinda. I wasn't actually there then so wouldn't know. And I mean, this was 2016 London. But I loved all the little touches at the Summer Sky Riviera - think striped sun loungers, palm trees and a market stall, all in a glamorous, chic and elegant way, natch.
As soon as lovely Lucy and I walked in, we were wowed. It is simply amazing.
The view is just incredible. I know I use superlative adjectives somewhat willy nilly, but this really was something else. It was spectacular.

I didn't think I could possibly fall in love with London any more, but the 360 degree views over the city that evening absolutely did it for me. I can't even.

And I also loved the fact that you could see up to the sky - it really felt like we were at the top of the world.
There are four different cocktails on offer at the Summer Sky Riviera, each inspired by a different city in the Côte d'Azur.
Lucy and I kicked things off with the Nice (Tanqueray No 10, aperol, orange blossom and bergamot) and the Saint Tropez (Tanqueray No 10, rose liqueur, sweet vermouth, rose water and grapefruit). I had the Saint Tropez, Lucy had the Nice, and I quote: "It's refreshing and light but strong... Perfect for a Friday evening up the Gherkin." As one does.

I always associate gin with being a British drink, but the flavours of these cocktails meant they definitely seemed more exotic and were perfect for the vibe. So tasty and refreshing.

Whilst not a formal restaurant, there are lots of different nibbly food bits on offer at Summer Sky Riviera. So, here's what we ate...
Charcuterie and pâté, complete with gherkins! Not going to lie, I thought eating a gherkin in the Gherkin was pretty damn cool. Probably got a bit too excited about it. Whilst I don't go mad for charcuterie, Lucy thought they were all fab.
What with the whole French theme and everything, there was of course cheese with chutney and crackers.
And then I had crudités, chilli olives and fougasse (basically olive bread I think) with four different dips: anchoïade (a classic Provençal anchovy dip), pesto, cervelle de canut (a garlicky herby fromage blanc affair) and tapenade.

I liked the variation of veggies in the crudités, but they were nothing super special. But then again, how special can crudités ever be? Dips-wise, the pesto and cervelle de canut were my faves, and I know it's so not French but I couldn't help thinking I wanted houmous. Because what are crudités sans houmous?

The fougasse was chewy but I really liked it. And OMG, there was so much bread in the whole spread tbh. I particularly liked the sourdough with the tastiest whipped butter.

We nibbled and chatted as the sun went down - when we'd arrived, London was bathed in that incredibly warm evening sunlight, and we watched the city turn into the twinkly wonderland I so love.
God, you have no idea how lucky I feel to live here. OK, well not actually right there. But you know, close enough.

And because I am a very dutiful blogger, I figured it was my responsibility to my readers to sample the other two cocktails on the menu. Just doing my job. Working real hard. Selfless, I know.

Lucy chose the Marseille, which was Tanqueray No 10, pastis, verveine and cucumber.
It looked super pretty, but we weren't expecting it to be a slushy, and with the paper straw, it wasn't actually the easiest to drink. Tasty though.

I went for the Vaucluse, a delicious mix of Tanqueray No 10 (what a surprise eh?), lavender cordial and vin d'occitan.
As a big lavender fan, I really enjoyed this one, but was originally brought the wrong one so had to wait quite a while to finally get it unfortunately. To be honest, I think they could've done with a few more staff members overall, especially on a busy Friday evening. The service was a tad slow.

But of course, we were in absolutely no rush. I just couldn't get enough of that view and Lucy and I were having a ball spotting new places in the city below and marvelling at where we were.
And d'you know what's amazing? The prices aren't obscene either. £11 for a cocktail is pretty standard for a nice London bar... On the ground. I thought there'd be a huge premium on everything given the incredible setting, but no.
I am soooooooo going again. It was fantastic. Loved it. Without a doubt one of the most awesome and special things I've done since moving to London.

Summer Sky Riviera is on till 2nd September, folks - go go go!

Lucy and I were guests at Searcys the Gherkin.
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Saturday, 13 August 2016

A luxurious weekend at Stoke Park Country House Hotel and Spa

My weekend at Stoke Park was on the most relaxing, enjoyable, fun and all round best weekend I've had in a long time. I don't even know where to start with how amazing it was, but I guess I just will. And guys, I think you're going to love it.

The location

Set in 300 acres (yes, really) of beautiful Buckinghamshire countryside, a stay at Stoke Park feels like you're in the middle of nowhere. Incredibly, however, it's just an hour's drive from central London. And luckily for me, my dear friend Jenny has a car, so making our way to Stoke Park last Saturday was a breeze.
Naturally, we gossiped as we drove, but as soon as we turned on to the long drive at the entrance to Stoke Park, all conversation ceased. Jaws dropped. Excitement levels rose.

It was beautiful.


The hotel

The main Stoke Park building is the gorgeous Georgian mansion.

As soon as we stepped inside, we were wowed. The interior is plush, ornate, traditional and sumptuous. Every sofa seemed to invite you to curl up with a book, and I actually loved the fact that the fire was roaring despite it being an uncharacteristically hot day.
As we climbed the grand old staircase under the incredible chandelier whilst being shown to our suite (eep!), we caught a peek of a wedding reception taking place through one of the large oak doors - it looked stunning. And my, what a place to get married!
I could also totally see why Stoke Park has been featured in so many films. You know in Bridget Jones when Daniel Cleaver takes Bridget away for a weekend (which she thinks means true love)? Well he took her to Stoke Park!

As well as the grand old Mansion, there's also the Pavilion, which is newer, but I'll tell you more about that when I show you the facilities.


Our room

We were lucky enough to to be staying in the Lancelot suite, and sweet it certainly was (sorry.)

Come on in...
Could that bed look more inviting? It was huge, so comfy and I loved how it faced a huge window looking out over the Stoke Park grounds.
Even better than the window, however, was our private balcony, but I'll get to that. Soon, promise.
Our room was so spacious and had everything we needed. Whilst the fan and flatscreen TV somewhat jarred with the old fashioned aesthetic, they were welcome additions to the room for sure.
The bathroom was as spacious as the bedroom, with his and hers (or hers and hers) sinks, a huge bath and a shower too. The shower wasn't massive actually but the bath made up for it.
Naturally, fluffy robes and slippers were also provided, along with plentiful mini toiletries (except body lotion, alas).

The mini-bar was as well-stocked as one would expect in a five star hotel, but there were also lots of complimentary teas, coffees and water, which was all replenished when our bed was turned down that evening too. The service was faultless.

As an extra treat, Jenny and I were welcomed with a bottle of champagne, a lovely fruit bowl and a box of delectable chocolates. I mean, could it get any better?
It didn't take us long to pop the cork, and as soon as I'd taken my obligatory snaps (the struggle of travelling with a blogger), Jenny and I were happily sipping champagne on our balcony, soaking up the sun and admiring the beautiful view. It was utterly idyllic.
Too many champagne pics? Never.


The grounds

If you're a golfer, you need to go to Stoke Park. But actually, golfer or not, you'll love exploring the grounds of the hotel.
Granted, we were particularly lucky with the weather - everything looks better bathed in sunshine to the backdrop of blue sky - but even on a grey day, the countryside would be beautiful.

I got very excited as we walked round that pond (you know, where they go boating in Bridget Jones), but the further we walked, the more beauty we found.
Reception had given us a map with a few suggested routes, so Jenny and I loosely followed the Heritage walk, stopping for chats on benches as we went.

Through gardens, round fountains and past churches we ambled, enjoying the countryside vibes and the stark contrast to city life. It was literally lush.


Dinner at Humphry's 

After refreshing ourselves in our suite, reenergising with cups of tea in our fluffy robes, and slipping into a couple of pretty dresses, Jenny and I were ready for the evening ahead.
As we (hopefully) glided down the staircase, I couldn't help but feel like a debutante arriving at a ball. Well, a bit. Mainly I was just trying not to fall over in my heels.

What with it being such a summery evening, Jen and I decided to enjoy another glass of bubbles and some nibbles outside in the garden.
As we clinked and sipped, we were brought a selection of canapés. Whilst Jenny went to town on the salmon, I loved the warm quail scotch eggs, and we both agreed the watermelon with feta was lovely.
Our appetites had been piqued and our glasses were empty so inside we went for our dinner at Stoke Park's fine dining restaurant, Humphry's.

The restaurant is beautiful and the cuisine 'modern British', created by the wonderful chef Chris Wheeler, whom we had the pleasure of meeting. Given Humphry's has won 3 AA Rosettes, we were very excited about what the evening held.
Now, I could of course devote a whole blog post in itself to this dinner so I'm going to try and keep it brief for you...

Our glasses were filled (Sauv, natch), and after placing our starter and main order, we tucked into warm bread rolls from a selection, with butter of the perfect consistency.
First up, came our pre-starters (duhh):
This beautiful beetroot and feta concoction for moi (was yum), and a salmon-based little number for Jen.

On to our starters - Jen stuck with the fishy theme and got stuck into the scallops:
Whereas I couldn't pass up the beetroot risotto.
Oh my days, it was amazing. How can a simple risotto be that fantastic, you may be wondering? Well this one was. The consistency was the perfect balance between sticky and creamy, and it was just so damn flavoursome.

Main time! I stayed veggie with this incredibly dreamy caramelised fig and goat's cheese tart on a bed of green and yellow courgettes:
Again, it was faultless. And just look at that beautiful presentation! The portion was just the right size too considering how many other courses we were having.

More fish for Jen, and because I'm not a fish fan I can't even remember what it was, soz, but I'm assured it was divine.
Of course, we weren't too full for puds.

And of course, there was a pre-pud pud. Hello, little lemon posset:
Being not a huge lemon fan, I wasn't sure how much I was going to enjoy this but I actually loved it - creamy, not too tart and perf with the raspberry coulis.

And then came our actual puddings. Witness the chocolate box of dreams:
Topped with vanilla ice cream, a hazelnut tuile and a generous drizzle of hot caramel sauce...
And filled with chocolate and caramel mousses.

I mean srsly tho.

So yes, by this point we were pretty full, but that didn't stop us (well, me at least) demolishing the petits fours we were so kindly brought with our beautifully served tea.
Oof, our ginormous bed couldn't have been more appealing.


Breakfast in the Orangery

I don't know about you, but I always find that the morning after a huge dinner, I'm EXTRA hungry. Which literally makes no sense.

However it did mean that I was jolly excited to hit up breakfast on the Sunday morning of our stay at Stoke Park.

Served in the beautiful bright Orangery, where guests sit in plush armchairs at tables covered in linen tablecloths
Juice and tea were served, the Sunday papers were opened, and the buffet was attacked.

Oh, there was a hot menu from which one could order an array of cooked breakfasts, but Jen and I were more than happy with the buffet.
Pastries, breads, yoghurts, cereals, fruit... It was my breakfast heaven. And what was really impressive was the sheer range of, well, everything. Like, there must have been about six different types of yoghurt. I was pleased.

With so much on offer, I made myself a huge bowl of goodness (lots of nice healthy options, yay), before making the most of the pastries too.
A wonderful start to the day it was indeed.


The facilities 
The rest of the day was spent making the most of everything on offer at Stoke Park.

OK, maybe not everything - we somehow didn't quite fit in a trip to the gym or a game of tennis ("don't put me down for cardio") - but, you know, it was sunny, and um, there just wasn't enough time.

And there are just so many inviting places to lounge...
I honestly felt like I could've been in Portugal. The weather, the beautiful landscaping, the whole style... they all added to the holiday vibe and I was LOVING it.

Stoke Park has a gorgeous indoor pool, where we had a little dip - not gonna lie, it was more chatting in water than swimming - but even better, given the weather, was the new hot tub.
Sooooo dreamy. What a life.

But even more of a treat was our visit to the spa...
Just like the rest of Stoke Park, the spa lounge was tastefully decorated, complete with giant fish tank to add to the overall feeling of zen.

There was fresh fruit, dried fruit, three little pots of herbal tea (the Stoke Park blend was our fave), and water on the table, to which we enjoyed helping ourselves, and various magazines dotted around the room.
And not only did we get to enjoy this lovely oasis of calm, Jen and I each had an hour long treatment, both choosing the lava relax massage.

Now I'd never had a hot stone massage let alone one with hot lava shells, but it was great. My fab masseuse really worked at all my knots (appaz I'm actually a very stressed person who carries a s*** load of tension in her back), leaving me slightly exhausted whilst also relaxed. I loved it.

And as spa guests, we had the privilege of using the spa changing room, complete with hair straighteners, facial cleansers and snazzy hair products.


Lunch at San Marco

Naturally, we spent the day in white robes and slippers, which was pleasingly acceptable attire for dining at San Marco, Stoke Park's relaxed Italian brasserie.
We ate on the terrace, sharing an absolutely huge and delicious pizza topped with roasted veggies, with some broccoli and green beans on the side. It was perf.

...

And all too soon the evening came round and it was time to head back to London. So I guess that concludes my Stoke Park post! Good thing I kept it brief, eh? If you've made it this far and are still reading, I salute you. But like srsly, I could wax lyrical about this place. YOU MUST GO! I'm desperate to go again already.

It was heaven.

Jenny and I were fortunate enough to be welcomed as guests to Stoke Park and some aspects of our stay were complimentary, but we treated ourselves to other parts.
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