Banana and Cashew Nut Ice Cream

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I was having a gentle browse through my food cupboard the other day, as I often like to do on an evening, and I realised that have 5 different kinds of nuts. Not to mention two different kinds of nut butter. This strikes me as quite excessive. But nuts, in my opinion, are a great addition to any meal. I have always been a devoted fan of peanut butter. The wholenut, crunchy variety in particular. I’ve recently discovered the joys of cashew nut butter, which is a whole new level of amazingness. You can only buy it in tiny, and ludicrously expensive, jars. But man is it worth it.

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This is yet another vegan miracle. Frozen bananas whizzed up in a blender make ice cream. No joke. It’s apparently quite a thing, and has it’s own hashtag on Instagram (#nanaicecream). This is what Paris and I made to go with our chocolate and beetroot muffins. The first time we tried it the bananas weren’t frozen enough, so it melted into a sloppy mush, and I remained skeptical. But on the second try, with really well frozen bananas, it worked. The bananas get broken up into small pellets, and then when mixed with the tahini and cashew butter they form a deliciously creamy ice cream – without any cream.

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It’s quite a revelation to be able to wolf down copious amounts of something that greatly resembles ice cream without much consideration for calories. A liberating experience, as far as ice cream goes. Considering the ‘ice cream’ is ninety percent banana, there isn’t an overwhelming banana taste. The cashew nut flavour complements the banana really well, and the occasional crunch of a nut is all the more welcome. And it’s pretty much guilt free.

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Sesame and Yoghurt Bread

Bread

I got home from work one day feeling particularly frazzled. It had been a stressful day, for whatever reason, and I desperately needed a way to wind down and switch off from the day. I tried my usual technique of going for a brisk walk around the block, but this did nothing to calm me down. I tried watching TV to distract me, but this didn’t help either. After wandering around in a hapless manner for a while, I decided that the only thing that would relax me was baking. I wanted the soothing reassurance of putting ingredients together and seeing them transform into something else. And I decided that baking bread would do the trick. There is something about the process of mixing the dough, kneading it into submission, then watching it rise, that I knew would provide the calming effect I was after.

Bread from top

I read in a recipe book once that bread just needs flour, a yeast and a liquid, but these can come from all sorts of different ingredients. You could include things like beer for the yeast, and milk instead of water for the liquid. So when I make bread, I get tempted to chuck all sorts of things in. This time, I experimented with adding an egg to enrich the dough, and natural yoghurt for the moisture, both of which helped to make the dough silky and soft. I used several flours too – mostly wholemeal, but mixed with some plain flour to lighten it slightly. I also used a little bit of Emmer flour, made from an ancient variety of wheat, that gives an interesting nutty taste to the bread. At the end of the evening, the act of inhaling the wholesome, homely, comforting smell of freshly baked bread was exactly what I needed.

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Bell’s Diner

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This place has been on my restaurant wish-list ever since I moved to Bristol. Widely acknowledged to be one of the best restaurants in Bristol, Bell’s Diner is tucked away in a small corner of one of my favourite Bristol neighbourhoods, Montpelier. Montpelier is renowned for its artsy vibe, with beautiful graffiti and brightly painted houses lining its winding, labyrinthine streets. It’s also known for its fantastic selection of cafes and restaurants: Katie and Kim’s Kitchen (read my review here) is a couple of doors down from Bell’s, and the Thali Café, Bristol’s legendary Indian café, is nearby too.

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From the second you walk into Bell’s, you can tell it’s going to be a special experience. The décor achieves that elusive balance between alternatively quirky and understatedly elegant. Crisp white tablecloths adorn dark wooden tables, with jars of blowsy fresh flowers on each table. Water is served in vintage ‘Dairy Crest’ milk bottles, the light of a single tea-light shining through them. The waiters, friendly and professional, glide from the open kitchen to the tables, ferrying plate after plate of the most delicious looking food imaginable.

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The menu is a slight to behold: it was honestly a struggle to not take a cursory glance at it and order the whole lot. How anyone could resist roast scallops with with leeks slow-cooked in yoghurt and chilli butter is beyond me. For starters, we ended up refining our selection to salt cod fritters with alioli, and peas in their pods with Iberico ham and Manchego. Popping the delicate, sweet peas from their pods, and nibbling the salty ham and crispy fritters, we began to relax, safe in the knowledge that we were in for a treat. And we were. Next came roast hake with mussels and garlic butter, pork belly with white beans and piquillo peppers, and the scallops. All the dishes were cooked in a confident yet unfussy way, allowing the ingredients to shine. For pudding, again I could have happily ordered the whole lot, but we went for a silky white chocolate and mascarpone tart topped with a scarlet stain of crushed raspberries, and some oozy salted caramel truffles. They made the perfect end to what has to be one of the best meals of my life.

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What I loved about eating at Bell’s was that the food is so inspiring: each dish had some elusive taste that was hard to place, leaving us dissecting every element in the hope that we might be able to recreate it. It motivated me to experiment in the kitchen, with different flavour combinations and ways of cooking, to see if I could, even vaguely, recreate any of these intriguing tastes. However, I will keep coming back to the restaurant, to gain new inspiration from the constantly changing menu. All in all, it was such a wonderful experience: a restaurant that gets everything so right it almost beggars belief.

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