Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Healthy Chocolate Peanut Butter Breakfast Smoothie

When it comes to breakfast there are really only one of two things I like to make every morning - a generous yogurt, fruit and granola parfait, or a filling milk-based smoothie loaded with enough ingredients to take me through the till lunch time.

This smoothie right here has pretty much become my go-to smoothie on most mornings. Its so easy to throw together I could probably make it with both my eyes closed, and I love that there are days when I wake up craving it. Oh and if you love the combination of peanut butter and chocolate, the salty with the sweet, then you'll forever want to make this on most mornings like I do. It's exactly like drinking a sort-of-dessert for breakfast, yet with no added sugar and just the right amount of sweetness.

The best part? It really is 'healthy'.

Healthy Chocolate Peanut Butter Breakfast Smoothie
Serves 1

1 cup of milk of choice (I use Coconut Dream Unsweetened drinking coconut milk)
1 medium banana
1 tbsp peanut butter (I use Whole Earth Crunchy Organic)
1 tsp raw cacao powder (I use Superfoods Organic Raw Peruvian Cacao Powder)
1 tsp ground flax seed
Pinch of cinnamon powder
A few drops of pure coconut oil (optional)

Put all the ingredients together in a blender and blend till smooth. Adjust consistency with more milk if preferred. Pour into a tall glass and enjoy immediately!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Beela Bakes: Guide to Borough Market, London

Continuing on from my London Food Diary series, I knew I had to dedicate a post of its own to wondrous Borough Market. In all my twenty-three years living in the city, plus frequent trips back and forth since moving to Dubai, I had never visited the market before, and it ended up proving to be the most memorable food experience on this particular visit. Be prepared to queue and eat to your hearts content, but if there is at least one place you visit for food in London, I implore you to make it this.

Having done my research, I visited with my best friend on a Saturday afternoon which was deemed the best day to go, as although the market was pretty crowded we found stalls and stalls of food, with everything you can imagine to eat and such great choice. Whether you're looking to have lunch or dessert, Egyptian or Thai, or even artisanal products to take home, you'll be more than spoilt, and whats great is that the majority of stalls happily give out samples to try.

Our first stop was Koshari Street. I was first introduced to koshari, the popular Egyptian street dish through ones of Antony Bourdain's shows and had subsequently heard lots about the London eatery opened by Middle Eastern cookery writer Anissa Helou, so I was super eager to try it. And WOW. What an absolute must try! Completely vegetarian, it consists of a mix of lentils, rice, pasta and vermicelli, topped with a spicy tomato sauce, chickpeas and caramelised onions. As random as it sounds it was totally out of this world. If you can't visit them at the market, Koshari Street has their main branch in Covent Garden.

Fresh, hot, batter-fried calamari served with chopped red chilies and sweet chili sauce on the side was a definite highlight. My mind escapes me as to whether this was from a Spanish or Thai food stall (I'm thinking the latter) but nevertheless it was seriously good and still has me dreaming about my next trip to the market.

I dare you to leave Borough Market without trying a sugary treat from at least one of the numerous confectionary and bakery stands. As brownie addicts, my friend bought a brownie from Comptoir Gourmand whilst I tried one from Artisan Foods. In the end we both decided the former had the best one. In addition we bought artisanal doughnuts from Bread Ahead Bakery. If you are sweet-toothed I highly encourage you to try these, but much more on doughnuts in a follow-up post!

Hydration was found in the form of a smoothie from the Natural Smoothie Co. My forest green High Kick was a super blend of kiwi, pineapple, strawberry, banana, spirulina, linseed, apple and orange juice, and although I am weary of too many combinations in one smoothie, this one was faultless. 

To take back home with me I bought granola from Mini Magoo which does 100% organic cereal and granola mixes. Having tried some samples to taste, I settled on a pack each of their Funstuff! Ginger Seeds and Nuts mix, which was gluten, oat and wheat free, and their lovely Christmas granola with white chocolate pieces, cranberries orange peel and dates. They've been a great addition to my morning yogurt parfaits!

If you missed it, see my London Food Diary part 1 and part 2 for more on where to eat and dine when in the capital. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Beela Bakes: London Food Diary: Part 2

The Five Fields, Chelsea

Dinner here was planned by my husband as a surprise to celebrate our three year anniversary, and boy was it good. So good infact that it was easily one of the most memorable meals I've ever had. There is a waiting list for reservations to dine here which alone can take upto three months. Focusing on British cooking, but with a modern and playful twist, each dish at The Five Fields is made with native British artisanal produce and changes seasonally. The dining room itself is a small intimate space which made it feel all the more special and gave an air of what felt like a traditional English gentleman's private club.

I loved that they personalised the menu for our special occasion. I started with the simply named Garden - a playful combination of herbs, flowers, fruits and vegetables which tasted just as colourful as it looked. I tried turbot for the first time for my main, and it was served with laver seaweed, razor clams and blackberries. Dessert options looked incredible and we couldn't hold back from ordering two - the lemon brulee with butternut squash ice-cream, and the cucumber basil white chocolate with dill. Even so, we were given a third complimentary dessert - an example of the attention and care taken by the restaurant to ensure a great experience. Every dish was perfection, beautifully presented and the service was stellar. Lots of delicate herbs, pretty colours and artfully combined flavours. At the end of the meal we were given a complimentary box of housemade confectionary. Truly ones of the best meals I've had and it definitely lives up to its reputation - just read its exemplary reviews.

Joe and The Juice, Regent Street

Another spot which I discovered with friends during my last year of uni. The urban-style juice bar which originally hails from Denmark offers a selection of fruit juices and smoothies, as well as snacks and sandwiches. It kind of has a very similar feel to Tom & Serg in Dubai in terms of the decor and ambience, and you can watch your juice being blended up on the open space counter bar. Seating comes in a variety of styles, including window seats, sofas, table and chairs and a more communal space in the upstairs area. It's a lovely spot to catch up with friends, or especially one to retreat to after a busy few hours most likely shopping on nearby Oxford Street (totally guilty)! Infact I also love it for people-watching. They do however have branches in Fitzrovia and Dean Street as well. On this trip I went for 'Joe's Sweet Kiss', a blend of raspberry, apple and ginger. It was fresh, zingy and frankly a better alternative to the usual Costa, Starbucks and Caffe Nero nearby. Saying that there is coffee on the menu too for those who still need their caffeine fix. I didn't eat anything this time round though I can vouch for their avocado sandwich being very good.

Pret A Manger, all over London

Good 'ol Pret. I simply can't tell you how many times Pret has literally saved my life. From A-Level school days grabbing a quick lunchtime sandwich during private study breaks, to university again where it practically made up for at least one less meal to worry about everyday. And of course this is precisely what makes it so good - its ethos is handmade, natural food without any preservatives or additives, and it truly caters to the everyday person; one looking to refuel with good 'fast-food' in a city where time is unfortunately always of the essence. In fact I don't think there is anything Pret does which could be considered 'bad' - sandwiches, wraps, soups, hot savoury pastries, freshly bottled smoothies and juices, healthy crisps, snack bars, dessert pots, everything it does it does so well. Oh and did I mention how amazing the avocado wrap is? Hand on heart, this is one sandwich I could eat everyday for the rest of my life. You can find a Pret on virtually every street corner in central London now and to be honest, with such good honest food I'm all the more grateful for it. Pret I love you.

P.S. I've now long heard whispers about Pret A Manger coming to Dubai, more specifically to the airport, and I really hope its true!

Box Park, Shoreditch

Box Park is a pop-up mall concept in the hipper east part of London, which sees a mix of independent fashion brands, cafes and restaurants housed in shipping containers. Infact it's a concept very similarly adopted, if not copied (!), by the newly opened Box Park on Al Wasl Road in Dubai. I came here specifically on a hunt for gourmet doughnuts (something which I will be posting about soon) but enjoyed lunch at Thai and Lao Street Food which serves up a variety of South East Asian street food and uses fresh ingredients for meals which are cooked to order. I went for a steaming hot pad thai with prawns, which was just the thing I needed on a dreary damp day, and especially as the open containers don't allow much for keeping out the cold even when seated inside. The husband went instead for a Korean bulgogi beef salad box with kimchi from Korrito. With a rooftop style garden its definitely a great place to check out in the British summer and enjoy al fresco style lunches and dinners.

Roasted Chestnut's, Oxford Street

One of my absolute fondest memories from my childhood is enjoying hot roasted chestnuts from Victorian-style wooden carts in Knightsbridge during the winter months. There is something about the charcoally smell of chestnuts roasting, and the delight in peeling back the hot individual shells which is forever engraved in my mind. It romantically takes me back to trips into central London with my parents on the weekends, when my mum and I would buy a small crispy white paper bag of roast chestnuts each and sit on a side-street bench enjoying their soft rubbery sweet flesh one by one, or in our laps trying not to make a mess in the car ride back home. Today it is impossible for me to pass a street seller without stopping to buy a bag and I especially look forward to seeking them out when I'm in the city for winter. I'm not sure if they are sold in Knightsbridge anymore but I bought from a seller on Oxford Street this time and in the past have seen them sold on The Strand as well. Quintessentially British, to me they are a symbol of a bygone era of street-life still preserved in today's London.

Read Part 1 of my London Food Diary here 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Beela Bakes London Food Diary: Part 1

Its already been few months now since I came back from a short trip to my beloved London. Still I've been meaning to share this post so here it is. Although the winter had already settled in when I was there, I'm glad to say I didn't let it deter me and I honestly had one of the best 'holidays' I have had since moving away from the city four years ago. Is it just me or is the city's food scene thriving more than ever before? Fine dining, cafe's, deli's, bakeries, markets, pop-up stalls - there seemed to be so much to discover everywhere I turned. Like most Londoners, I've always held a special place in my heart for the festive season, and I really think this contributed to my enjoyment of this trip even more. Hot street roasted chestnuts, the Harrod's window displays, and Christmas lights on Oxford Street are traditions which made winter in London what it was for me as a child. As I go back to visit over the years I'm always glad to see they are all traditions which are very much still alive, never failing to add that special atmosphere to this time of the year especially.

Obviously I arrived with a list the length of my arm of places I wanted to try, and even though I didn't get to try them all, there was certainly the odd day where I ended up eating three mini lunches just so I could fit in said places all in one go! Of course, as a self-proclaimed sweet-tooth there were also plenty of days when dessert naturally replaced lunch or dinner - the things we do as a food blogger! I admit, a few of the places I visited were based on other food blogger's recommendations, but I did try to add spots in of my own, and I also tried to visit some of my favourite places having grown up as a Londoner. Since there are too many to fit into one post, look out for a follow up post soon.

GAILS Artisan Bakery, Portobello Road

I made a point to visit Portobello Road and the Notting Hill area as its a part of London I used to frequent often during my school years as a teenager, and hadn't explored in a while. Gails was on my list to visit and I am so happy I did. They have a huge selection of in-house freshly made sandwiches, beautiful baked breads, baked sweets and pastries. I had the mini sesame bun with avocado guacamole and plum tomato, and a mini poppy seed roll with smoked wild salmon and chives (as seen in the first image). Both were out of this world - so so fresh, and I for one am not even a bread person. My only complaint is that I couldn't try more of their selection as this was lunch no.2 for the day. This is somewhere I definitely plan on visiting again and again whenever I am back.

Millies Cookies, Hammersmith Station

Foodies have always claimed Ben's Cookies as being the best, but I have never really understood this - if you ask me, Millie's Cookies is where its really at. As a school girl in Hammersmith, I had to navigate my way through the Broadway Centre everyday to get to the tube station, and buying cookies from the Millie's Cookies stall became a mandatory ritual. Sort of a welcome comforting respite after a long school day. So much so that an employee ended up giving me a special discount card reserved for ...shhh, Millie's Cookies staff. Guess who became the envy of all her friends? Fact.
So naturally when I found myself getting off at Hammersmith this time to change tube lines, I had to make a little stop to the same stall and reminisce over my favourite milk chocolate chip, and salted caramel and pecan. One each, just as when I was a school girl.
They're super soft, buttery, a little chewy but with an ever so slightly crunchy exterior. Whats great is they still taste exactly the same as they did all those years ago, and really, nothing made my tube journey home that much better.

L'Eto Caffe, Knightsbridge

Having heard so much about L'Eto Caffe from friends, family and bloggers this was the first stop on my list. A visit to the Knightsbridge branch for lunch was made to refuel post a gorgeous walk in nearby Holland Park with the husband. I ordered the Pumpkin and Feta Cannelloni with Roasted Butternut Squash Puree & Baby Spinach off their menu. I wasn't expecting the portion to be quite so small, but I genuinely loved it and especially liked the way it was presented. However I was totally in awe of their fantastic platter display and in hindsight it was a mistake to order off the menu. I would definitely go for their seasonal salads next time! For dessert I got their popular Honey Cake which had also been recommended to me by many, and it was definitely the best version I've tried. The dessert display is a real spectacle (even when compared to Dubai brunch dessert displays!) and I lost count at how many passers-by stopped to glare in through the window.

Tinseltown, Ealing Broadway

As a Muslim who only ever eats halal, it naturally became more difficult to find halal-friendly food that wasn't only Asian or Lebanese, once I was living away at university. So you can imagine how amazing it was as a uni student to discover Tinseltown, an American style diner which served halal burgers in the city. Tinseltown ended up becoming a great spot for birthday get together's as well as late night impromptu meals.

It only made sense then to make sure I brought my husband here during our trip. We decided to visit the Ealing branch, as it was closer to where we were staying, although my previous visits were always either to the one in Hampstead or Farringdon. We ordered a garlic chicken burger and a classic beef burger along with a side of fries, but no trip to Tinseltown is complete without a milkshake. They are especially known for these, which you can custom make from literally any popular chocolate bar you can think of. I know what you're thinking - aren't there lots of milkshake places like this now (Shakeism in Barsha, Dubai is my favourite) but back then (2007!) it was one of the only places to have this concept, at least in London. My milkshake of choice this time? The Wunder Kind - a Kinder Bueno and ice-cream milkshake topped with whipped cream, rich toffee sauce, chocolate sprinkles and a wafer. The perfect compliment to an American style diner meal.

The Liberty of Norton Folgate, Liverpool Street

We stumbled upon this beautiful minimalist coffee shop whilst trying to seek refuge from heavy rain. The focus here is on serving a high quality selection of coffee and teas, as well as a variety of sweet treats. We both ordered a hot chocolate made with Koko Deluxe - a hot cocoa brand which uses some of the worlds finest cocoas and all natural ingredients. The result was a rich drink which certainly had a true chocolate taste, and was the perfect respite from the cold weather in the late afternoon.

Novikov, Berkley Street Mayfair

I have to admit I had never heard of Novikov until we were invited out to dine here for my aunt's birthday during this trip, and I was hugely impressed. The Mayfair fine-dining establishment is divided essentially into two restaurants - the front half a pan-Asian mix serving Chinese, Japanese and Malaysian, and the back focused on Italian. We were booked in for the Asian, but what is great again here is that the food served in both rooms is halal. They have a huge market-like display of fresh seafood and vegetables, along with an open plan kitchen, and their waiters were extremely knowledgable in helping us select our fish for the mains. Being used to choosing mocktails off dining menus in the UAE also meant I was happy to see they had a large selection of non-alcoholic drinks to choose from, other than just the usual juices. These were visually beautiful in themselves.

For our starters we ordered a variety of dim sum including spicy prawn moneybags, chicken buns and sashimi. I was especially taken by their grilled asparagus and even the non-veg eaters amongst us were captivated by its seriously delicious marinade. The ginger and soy steamed seabass was the star of our mains, alongside pak choi, sweet and sour chicken wings, Singapore noodles and prawn fried rice. Although this is what we settled on, I honestly would have chosen pretty much anything from the menu as nothing makes me more happy than good Asian food. Everything was so well prepared, cooked and presented.

Yes it is on the expensive side, and it does mostly serve a 'certain' crowd but the food is stellar and its just the kind of place if you're looking to celebrate an occasion with good food. I can't wait to bring my parents here for our next trip to the city.

Jaimie's Italian, Kingston

I'm ashamed to admit here as a foodie that I had never actually been to Jaime's before this visit. Apart from the huge faux pas made when the waiter served me and my friend alcoholic instead of the non-alcoholic drinks we had ordered, the food luckily made up for it. We started with the Italian Nachos - crispy fried ravioli stuffed with three cheeses and served with arrabiata sauce, the type of starter perfect for sharing and every bit as good as it sounds. For mains I had the Vegetable Rotolo Al Forno - seasonal pumpkin, squash and spinach rolled in fresh pasta sheets, baked with tomato and topped with herby parmesan crumbs, and it was perfection. My friend had the Prawn Linguine which she loved, and her young son had the fish fingers with crispy potato wedges from the kids menu, probably the most appetising version of the classic kids meal I've seen. Dessert was a beautiful Chocolate, Pear & Honeycomb Pavlova, one of those combinations you just know you have to try.

Granger & Co., Notting Hill

Australian chef Bill Granger needs no introduction and this was a place I solely visited due to blogger recommendations. I went on a mid-afternoon weekday and yet the casual dining restaurant was packed and bustling with diners, so much so that I had to perch myself on the ample-spaced bar top, albeit quite happily. I ordered their Quinoa, Sunflower Seed, Beetroot, Chili and Feta salad, which was extremely generous, wholesome, filling and full of interesting textures and flavours like any salad should be. As odd as it may sound I had this along with a hot chocolate - the real reason behind why I was compelled to visit, its made with hot milk poured over Callebaut chocolate drops. Though it was definitely good, it probably wasn't the best combo with my salad, and also teaches me to maybe not so blindly always follow other blogger recommendations..! The dessert display here was another feast for the eyes and its a shame I didn't have space to try what was on offer.

Read part 2 of my London Food Diary here