Café Adagio, Croydon 

My partner and I love a trip to Café Adagio on Lower Addiscombe Road here in Croydon. It is our very most local independent cafe and happens to be run by a really love guy. In fact my partner likes it so much he sometimes goes there without me to sit and read his book!

There is fierce competition in Addiscombe for the title of the best coffee house or café and often several of them grab awards in local independent publications but also get serious honourable mentions in the likes of Timeout and similar London wide sources.

So, if you want to succeed around here you need some serious tasty food, a fantastic attitude amongst all the front of house team and to know how to make an absolutely banging brew. Café Adagio not only hits the brief with all those three essential basics but they also bring an incredible unique selling point of having live music and events whilst exhibiting exquisite artwork on the walls (that is also available to buy)! It describes itself as a “suburban music cafe” but feels very much like a little community hub and especially when the front of house owner remembers so many visitors by name and is always sure to make time to have a little chat.

Hot choc and coffee

We aren’t just talking your bog standard latte or perhaps a bit of a fancier powder of instant cocoa we are talking incredible combinations that have been carefully curated to provide the perfect flavour and aesthetic balance; my partner had a wonderful looking coconilla latte, which I informed him was almost certainly coconut and vanilla, and I opted for a mexican hot chocolate that had the nicest little punch of spices mixed into the deep and rich chocolate mixture.

And in typical blogger style, or perhaps it is just a millennial thing that the news hasn’t picked up on yet, I adore the decor and that is certainly helped by the hefty marble tables that are a more natural shade with gold detailing. The changing artwork always stands out against the red walls and the lighting is the perfect level of ambience to be able to feel able to chat, relax and just clear your mind a little. Everything comes together to feel homely, cosy and like a place you really want to spend some time; it is so different to our pale blue washed rented walls that it really helps to bring warmth and joy to my life. Isn’t it funny how a cafe decor can feel more homely and refreshing than where you actually live?

Soup and bread roll

They don’t do a huge selection of proper food in the cafe but they do soups, specials that include savoury options and platters to go alongside a variety of cakes (that include vegan, gluten-free and other allergy/nutritional choice options) that are so incredibly soft, bouncy, fresh and full of flavour.

The food is well done and wonderfully presented whilst also being a further hit of that homely feel. On the day I had a potato and leek soup my partner opted for a thick slice of deliciously freshly made pie (and who doesn’t love pie!?). It is clear that they take pride in every single item that they produce and as a result it does take a little longer than it might in another cafe but if it was speedy it wouldn’t really fit the vibe that the rest of the cafe and experience provides.

For me this is a spot that really helps to warm me heart and allows my mind to focus without being so entirely zen that the minute I step out I fall into a panicked daze as I walk back along Lower Addiscombe Road to return home. It pours out happiness, comfort and care and genuinely goes that step to fit into the community and to bring all us grumpy sleep-deprived Addiscombe dwellers more than just another coffee shop.

If you don’t believe me why don’t you read some of the Croydon Citizen articles or the Tripadvisor reviews!

One of my local friends that wants to chat over coffee (or in my case hot chocolate or delicious tea) then hit me up because I’m always looking for reasons to sit in Café Adagio! If you happen to be local and have visited the cafe why not share your thoughts on your experiences in the comments below?

Quick Chicken And Sweetcorn Risotto

Cooking a proper risotto takes time, care and only a few ingredients. This is not one of those proper risottos as it is done from start to finish rather quickly and is loaded with dairy products and other needless ingredients; it tastes delicious and is delightful to make all the same.

This is a recipe that you can easily change the ingredients around for and adopt to your own taste; add in a few different spices, choose a different meat or meat-free substitute and choose different vegetables. The same person can cook a risotto ten times and it look and taste completely unique and that is a fantastic way to keep the meal idea alive and in rotation for a quick go-to mid-week meal.

Before you even consider giving this recipe a go, please make sure you have a really good non-stick saucepan. Unless you have trained the eye to know when the risotto is going to need that little bit more boiling stock it can be a little difficult to avoid the odd bit of sticking and a dodgy pan will do you no favours at all here.

Quick mid-week risotto

Ingredients (For Two)

  • Two small chicken breasts, or one larger one of course, chopped into 2x2x2 style cubes
  • Two portions of risotto rice. The one we use is Arborio rice from Asda where the packet is useful enough to tell you how much should be poured for a single portion
  • An onion, chopped
  • A large clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • A large handful of mushrooms, we just used standard white mushrooms, sliced
  • Salt, pepper, mixed herbs and a litre of boiling hot vegetable stock
  • Two cups of sweetcorn, we just use frozen but tinned or fresh from the cob is suitable too
  • A little bit of margarine
  • Some cheese, we probably use way too much, I would suggest about a handful of it once grated would be enough
  • (For the side you can serve with salad to balance out the dish and make it more nutritious)

Method

  1. Put the margarine into a large saucepan and start to heat up. Add in the chicken and wait until this is fully cooked before adding the onions, mushrooms, garlic and seasoning in
  2. Add in the rice and then add a small amount of the stock (usually two to three ladles at a time should be sufficient) and put the pan on a medium heat
  3. Make sure that you stir the rice occasionally as this helps to ensure that there is no sticking to the bottom of the pan but risotto rice also takes quite well to a mild stirring. When the stock seems to have disappeared keep adding a couple more ladles until the rice is cooked to the level of bite you like
  4. At this point you need to use your judgement and when you are adding in what you believe will be the last amount of stock pop the sweetcorn in and give it a good mix around. Doing it at this stage and giving it a mix should not result in it being cooled down too much and should help to add that final bit of liquid alongside the stock
  5. You need to turn the heat down that little bit more now as when the stock has gone there will be no additional liquid getting added and you do not want it to end up sticking or becoming dry!
  6. Take the pan off the heat completely and mix in the cheese well. If you wanted to add something in like spinach this would be the stage to do it as mixing it in with the hot ingredients in the pan will see it wilting but not too much that it turns to mush. This will change the consistency of the risotto so add a little of the cheese at a time until it is either cheesy enough for you or has a texture that you feel comfortable with
  7. Serve up

Storing/Reheating

This is not the sort of dish that I would recommend for reheating because of it having both chicken and rice going on but it could be transformed into something like risotto balls (minus the chicken pieces) that are reshaped, coated and then cooked at a really high temperature whilst being fried.

If you do have leftovers take the risotto straight out of the pan and put into a tupperware dish to cool down. The risotto will continue to cook and risk drying out if it is left in a hot/warm pan whilst you go off and eat the immediately served up food. Be sure to give it a good mix up with a fork before popping it into the fridge and before you go to eat it take it out of the fridge for 15 minutes to settle at room temperature a little as cold risotto can be a little claggy otherwise.

What is your favourite type of risotto to cook? The Cooking Up A Treat household gets through quite a few risottos over the space of a year so we are always on the hunt for new tasty combinations!

Peerless Flats By Esther Freud

What made me pick up Peerless Flats when I found it in a charity shop a number of years ago is a mystery. What is more of a mystery is what made me pick it up as my next book to read through. The reviews from 1993, when this book was revealed, to more recent reviews hardly sing its praises and yet a part of me wanted everybody else to be wrong.

They were not wrong. This book had so much potential and could have really packed a hard hitting punch but instead it was just a wishy washy story that came close to discussing issues and making a bold statement about society but it constantly fell short of the mark. The plot line was wholly unremarkable, the characters largely lacking personality or enough of anything to give you empathy for them and the writing of the story itself was dry.

Modern day Penguin book

The plot presented of a family leaving the countryside, essentially being homeless in London and crammed into a tiny flat with the “temporary” label, and becoming mixed up in love, drugs and anorexia is a combination that gave the expectation of tears, a real journey and a well-researched understanding of the concepts being presented but it very much felt like it was written by somebody with no regard for the sensitivity of the situation or the impact that their words could have.

To put it politely, this book is an absolute disaster. I got to the end of it being bitterly disappointed that I had battled through the first chapters waiting for the emotional punch and aloud whispered the words “was that it? what was the point in that?”. There was no point and it would not even stand up to being a good airport read. I would not recommend this book and it has certainly put me off the idea of reading anything else by Esther Freud.

Close up of book front cover

This book has sort of thrown me off a little because reading a bad book sort of puts me off reading, which I am desperately trying to get into, because so much time was spent reading a book hoping that it would get better and it just never did. Those hours could have been better spent doing something else where at least some sort of lesson would have been learned or some sort of thoughts might have been provoked but this did none of that.

Part of me wants to take it to the nearest charity shop immediately but the other part of me does not want to inflict this book on anybody else because it is just so pointless and meaningless. Perhaps that is the life lesson here and that it will help somebody else to remember that there really is so shit literature out there.

Are you following me on Goodreads yet? What book are you currently reading?

Vegetable Packed Mac N Cheese

Mac n cheese is a real comfort meal in the Cooking Up A Treat household but for something so comforting it actually involves more effort than the traditional thoughts of ‘comfort food’. It is the food of exhaustion but of wanting to reward and nourish, I suppose, and that makes those extra few moments of putting the dish together completely worth it; you get leftovers the following day to make it quick and comforting so it sort of balances out and gives you a day to recover from all the woes that led you to mac n cheese in the first place.

There is no real consistency in the mac n cheese that gets cooked here though; sometimes there is a lot of cheese, other times it includes meat and sometimes there is barely a vegetable contained within it. The basics are considered and anything else that gets added directly into it is a bonus but that entirely depends on when the food shopping was last done or our general mood. The versatility of a mac n cheese is certainly one of its greatest strengths.

Top of mac n cheeseIngredients (For Four)

  • Tablespoon of margarine
  • Plain flour
  • Approx. a pint of semi-skimmed milk
  • Grated cheese (quantity depends on how cheesy you want the sauce and how much you want on top). Have a healthy block to hand and use what suits you and your tastes
  • 3x Salad tomatoes, quartered
  • A finely chopped onion
  • A large handful of mushrooms
  • 3x large carrots diced
  • A bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • Four portions of dried macaroni
  • Salt, pepper, mustard, general seasoning
  • (I like to put broccoli and spinach in there too – this one happens to have some bacon in but is completely optional or can be replaced with a meat-free alternative)

Grilled cheese and pasta insides of mac n cheese on a plate

Method

The Cheese Sauce

  1. Put the margarine into a small pan and let it melt
  2. Add some plain flour in and mix together to make a soft sort ball and turn the heat down
  3. Pour in a couple of tablespoons of milk into the mixture at a time and ensure it is stirred well
  4. Eventually this will become a smooth and thick white sauce
  5. Take this completely off the heat and add in some pepper, mustard and the cheese making sure you stir well before letting it settle, cool and thicken slightly

The Pasta and Vegetables

  1. Put the pasta into some boiling water with a pinch of salt
  2. Add in the carrots, and any other vegetables, when there is about five minutes of pasta cooking time left just to help soften it a little
  3. Drain it, pour some cold water over it to stop the cooking process and set aside

The Bacon and Other Vegetables

  1. Fry the bacon in a small frying pan
  2. Add the onion and mushroom into the pan and fry on a low heat until lightly golden. If you are not using bacon or anything that gives off fat/oil then add a little oil into the pan to cook the onion and mushroom
  3. Add in the pepper and tomatoes to help mix everything together and take that bite off of it completely

Mixing It Together

  1. Put your grill on a very high heat setting before you set about putting the dish together
  2. Mix the bacon mixture and the pasta mixture together and then pour it into the tray you are using to cook. If you are wanting to use something like spinach here is the time to do it as it will get mixed through well but not end up overcooked
  3. Pour the cheese sauce mixture, after stirring, evenly over the mixture. This should allow for the sauce to sink through the layers but if you are in any doubt give it a poke around to help it all get coated evenly
  4. Put grated cheese on top and then pop under the grill
  5. I usually find that it needs at least fifteen minutes under the grill but usually leave it for more like 20-25 minutes. Keep an eye on it and that it is not starting to catch and look for that perfect golden melted cheese look

Side view of mac n cheeseStorage/Reheating

Having mac n cheese for leftover is great and super simple to do. It often gets consumed with salad, coleslaw or similar light items in the Cooking Up A Treat household.

  1. Wait for the dish to cool entirely and remember it has been under the grill so the dish itself may remain hotter than appearances suggest. Approach with caution and at the beginning use an oven glove or similar to double-check the dish heat before handling glove free
  2. If you are wanting to reheat the dish the following day then cover it well with foil and pop this into the fridge. Take it out of the fridge about 30 minutes before you want to reheat it as otherwise it tends to get quite shocked by the heat of a pre-heated 180° oven. It will need about 30 minutes in the oven to be piping hot
  3. If you are intending to eat it cold or take it to work with you in a tub the following day then cut it and/or serve it into a tupperware tub before you put it in the fridge. I find this works better than trying to cut it when it is super cold the following day. If you are intending to microwave it then leave the tub out of the fridge for 15 minutes and then put it in on full blast (standard home microwave) for 3-4 minutes

More mac n cheese

What are your favourite ingredients to put into a mac n cheese? I would love to hear all about your favourite combinations in the comments below.

Sharing My Thoughts

A week or so ago I found myself staring at my blog, pondering the photos I take for it and the content I produce. It wasn’t until then that I realised I haven’t done a personal post over here on so long. Sure the odd bit of my life makes it into snarky sub-clauses in sentences on blogs or my general mood over on my social media channels reflects my attitude, emotions and what is going on but part of me wants to bring this blog back to including a bit of me.

Sure, this is the place of the Cooking Up A Treat household but it is also my space and somewhere that I feel is a home of its own. There is also a lot of “I” but not the sort with any substance and the change in my language from exciting, descriptive and slow has changed over time as I have got lazy in my trained journalism ways. My mind knows exactly what needs doing and yet that very rarely gets implemented; this is something that will be fixed from, by the latest, the start of February.

But right now here we are with a raw blog post, completely breaking the blogging other day trend by wedging itself right in between two normal posts, that doesn’t have anything more than the header of my site to call an image. I mean I can think of images that would work perfectly but my access to locations is that of the average person and therefore it was no images or bad random images; bad and weird imagines put me off a post much more than a lot of words so here we are.

These thoughts all came about after I chatted with one of my wonderful friends, whilst watching Palace get trounced in the FA Cup on the big screen in Boxpark, about how part of me wants to start a podcast and chat about all the football, culture and politics things that I used to chat about.

For newer readers let me fill you in on a bit about me; I used to cover Crystal Palace (including appearing on the club radio station that has since ceased to exist) as well as women’s football for a national newspaper, there was a time when I covered theatre and general local cultural events and back on my old blog in 2011 I won awards for my politics journalism but in 2015 serious depression and anxiety hit and all that, along with the journalism degree I was studying, went up in a puff of smoke never to be within reaching distance again. It is something that I always wanted to return to but was happy enough to plod along with my blog and the odd feature appearance elsewhere as my hobby in the mean time. Whilst changing my blog into my career is a pipeline dream it is not at all the aim or something that I considered when trying to pick up the pieces and get my life going again.

But people no longer know me for hitting the theatre once or twice a month, for getting invited to restaurant soft launches or that I actually know a reasonable amount about football (and in fact far too many sports to list). They just know me as this crazy lady that gets a bit panicked about things, finds themselves either at work or doing things for the local Labour Party and occasionally whacking a photo of something mundane onto my Instagram.

In fact at times I often question if I know who I am. The idea of Self is an extremely complex thing however and I more mean this in the sense of the “how do I fit into this group of friends? What do I bring to the table to make my presence worthwhile?” sort of ‘who I am’ rather than being defined as ‘the theatre-goer’ or the ‘foodie’ etc because those labels put somebody in a box and causes, known or otherwise, a sense of restriction about branching into other things or moving on. It is much more that I do little talking, expressing my interests or showing my knowledge to show who I am or what I am actually about and that is something that I want to desperately change.

Over 2018 there will be a reduction of doing things that I don’t want to do or enjoy in my life. There are certain things that I tolerate because they assist with the struggle to a better world but there are many things I find myself doing with no benefit or in fact any level of enjoyment. With this there will be time to focus more on my passions, hobbies and things that I enjoy and that realisation on how I allocate my time allowed my mind to further open up about what I actually want from my life right now.

I mentioned wanting to do a podcast to my partner recently, after the thought had been brewing in my mind for months before mentioning it to my friend or him, and he said he had been thinking of starting one too. Perhaps we could do some wild joint venture or maybe we could enter some great competition between the two of us to see who does better each week. My recording skills are, to be kind on them, a little rusty but radio and podcasting was always something I took to naturally; I nearly switched to doing the extended BTEC in radio when I started at college at 16 to do my extended BTEC in print-based media but the confidence of my voice meant I trundled along and learnt the skills of photoshop and illustrator instead (I got the best grades of all two years in my radio module of creating adverts, doing news stories and producing a radio show; perhaps one day I will listen to my true calling).

The thing is though… I still lack confidence in a bizarre way. You will barely hear my voice on Instagram stories or see my face on my grid. I hardly take any photos in a year and whilst I have been known to shut down a few unruly people in council selection meetings as an LCF delegate speaking in a room of people makes me nervous because “what if they hate my weird mangled northern accent?” whirls around in my head constantly. This is despite people telling me I smash my speeches, that I am able to use tone well and that I have got up and done a five minute speech in front of a hall of random people at a conference, produced videos at fifteen and appeared on local radio stations and being invited back at 17 etc etc (I hate talking about my successful times too because lacking confidence does that too you HA). Clearly I have the skills and previous experiences that mean I know I can do this so be quiet brain.

But this is my year for wanting to be happy and succeeding at doing things I like and make my heart feel good. This is not some career move, it really breaks my heart when people set up a blog, YouTube or podcast with the singular focus of it “looking good on the CV” (I have no issue with people making a career out of these but people that set up something specifically to get into some sector of journalism like darling it isn’t 2010 anymore), but simply something that I have loads of ideas for and talking about all the things floating around in my head will help to reground me and remind me of the things that I really enjoy.

Now just to sit down and plan it with my partner (of very nearly eight years might I add), though his doubts might mean it ia just me plodding along chatting to myself, to figure out a structure, timeline, where to publish it and how we are/I am going to go about recording it etc.

Would you be interested in more personal updates on my blog? Is a podcast that covers politics, recent events, football and more something that interests you? Perhaps you have some tips or suggestions? Let me know in the comments below!

Tomato Cous Cous With Halloumi

It’s a weekday and you are absolutely knackered but want something tasty to eat? This cous cous is packed with vegetables, flavour and can go with a whole variety of things including halloumi to make a tasty meat-free dish or be loaded with even more vegetables, whilst taking the halloumi away, to make a super tasty vegan meal; it is great to bulk up to produce leftovers too!

Tomato cous cous and cheeseIngredients (For Two)

  • Dried cous cous
  • Large handful of sliced mushrooms
  • A small to medium onion finely chopped
  • One pepper chopped into thin strips
  • Other vegetables; finely chopped carrot, sweetcorn, small pieces of courgette etc
  • Half a tin of chopped tomatoes
  • Boiling vegetable stock
  • Salt, pepper and dried mixed herbs
  • Standard packet of halloumi cut into 6-8 pieces
  • Large glass bowl with a fastening lid (or cling film)

Method

  1. Put the recommended amount of cous cous into the glass bowl. I do this by eye from the packet but the packet will give you weight recommendations or lines on the side to indicate one portion.
  2. Mix in the salt, pepper and any herbs you want to include for seasoning.
  3. Pour in the boiling stock just so it covers the top of the cous cous. Place the lid or cling film tightly onto the bowl as this will help the cous cous to soak up all the liquid and go soft.
  4. Fry the onion in a pan, oil is optional, until they go soft and start to brown before adding the sliced mushrooms.
  5. Once the mushrooms are nicely browning as well add in the pepper and any other vegetables you want to add in. If you have vegetables that struggle to cook in liquid then make sure you cook those with the onions and mushrooms before adding anything wetter such as carrot.
  6. Mix in the half tin of chopped tomatoes and put it on a low simmer. I opt for half a tin for two portions because when you go to mix this with the cous cous any more can make it a bit of a liquidy mess.
  7. Whilst the mixture is simmering away put a pan of oil on a high heat until it is fully heated up OR put the grill on a high heat with some foil underneath to catch anything falling. Once it has reached that point add in the halloumi pieces and step back! Wait for one side to go a light golden brown and flip it over until the other side is a similar colour; if you let it go more golden it can start to get a bit squeaky on the teeth.
  8. As the halloumi is nearing a finishing point make sure that the cous cous has absorbed all the stock and is soft to eat. Once that is confirmed add the tomato and vegetable mixture into it ensuring that it is well blended together.
  9. Serve the cous cous and put the halloumi on the side. This would also work well with a side salad in the summer.
  10. Enjoy!

Storage/Reheating

Cous cous is not something that I have ever attempted to reheat and is something that I probably would not recommend. It should be perfectly tasty and not have any texture issues after being covered and popped into the fridge. This is one of the few leftovers that can pretty much be served and eaten straight from the fridge within minutes (a lot of things normally need to get used to room temperature or be reheated first).

With the halloumi I would recommend just cooking what you want on the night and then doing the rest fresh either the following day or with the next meal that suits within a couple of days of opening. If you do not have any halloumi you could always get some pre-cooked chicken to go on the side or just add some salad with as fresh tomatoes and lettuce to bulk it out and give it some freshness.

If you have a particular cous cous recipe you love to cook, let me know in the comments below!

The Picture Of Dorian Gray By Oscar Wilde

Even though I really have not read in a long time, I still find myself knowing a pretty large amount about classic books (though if I was ever to go on Mastermind they would not be my specialist subject) and am often surprised when people have not heard of something; this book is one of those examples.

Being surprised by that is much more a reflection of my own bizarre interests and expectations than it is on anybody else because there are plenty of things that they can talk about like they are really commonplace but I have never heard of; TV shows or stars in them would be the most obvious example of that.

Returning to actually reading a classic book, after so long away from reading almost anything, was incredibly daunting. When I popped this onto my Goodreads it turned out I read the first two chapters in the middle of 2016; that made me question the book and whether I would like it almost as much as it made me question myself.

Spine of a classic book

But the Picture of Dorian Gray is a rather intriguing one. It tears me between being hooked on the story and also desperately wanting to pull away from it because of the uncomfortable nature of the entire plot line. It leaves me to think about things, simply by it being mentioned in one line, and question my own views on certain situations without it being explicit in expecting to provoke your thoughts. There is a clear reason that this book is a classic but somehow there are links to the modern world in terms of materialism, vanity and society being based on beauty not brain.

A moment when Dorian Gray hides a payment request for some new fancy items he has in his bathroom stating that his guardians wont understand the need for such a luxurious item feels very much like a modern day issue. How many times do we hear “how many pairs of shoes can one person need?” or “they do just the same job but are £5 cheaper because they are white not some fancy colour”? The book was written at that time when views were changing over items and materialism but also the middle classes aiming for more items and to be like those above them. It is not just in material items where this applies but also with marriage; a part of the book says how in the society of Dorian Gray the women always suggest marriage and the men always follow and it is only in the middle classes where the men openly seek engagement and to be married like those above them. Oscar Wilde picked up on the modern day trends, incorporated them seamlessly into the story and happened to write them in a way that still made them relevant to an audience a significant period of time later; it serves as a constant reminder of how people constantly have the aspirations for nice things and to all be equal and better themselves in society (even though some people have bad ways of trying to achieve this and others desperately want to stop it from even being a thought in people’s minds).

The uncomfortable realisation of people being so incredibly fixated on beauty for such a long time is not something that surprises me, there is a reason stunning travel shots on Instagram flop in comparison to an hourglass silhouette of a woman being featured in front of the view in our current era, but rather the idea that somebody being beautiful must have “traded their soul away”. It makes me uncomfortable because so many people seek anti-ageing products and to find ways to look young forever but the book is right that a lot of people find that confusing and slightly intimidating; it should not make people feel that way and if it does then that reflects more on their securities. In fact it highlights my own insecurities because the book is right that youth gives the impression of innocence and that living is the thing that ages you and growing old is find of scary… right?

Penguin Books classics seriesThe book itself really gave me a lot to ponder with regards to love, vanity, society and materialism and I think some of it has made me consider things in a slightly different way. Being able to capture a particular moment in time is both something to treasure and something to be cautious of because it highlights changes in our body and face especially.

Have you given this book, or anything by Oscar Wilde, a read? If so I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.