Monday, 30 September 2013

Recipe: Fruit Smoothie - The Immuniser from Loveshake

Recently I was sent a recipe to try from Loveshake, a smoothies and thickshakes bar located in West Orchards Shopping Centre, Coventry.

The recipe is for a smoothie called 'The Immuniser', designed to stave off winter colds with a blend of fruit rich in vitamin C. Given that I woke up this weekend just gone with a sore throat, I thought it might be a good time to give the recipe a try.

The trick is to use equal parts of strawberry, kiwi and pineapple, and then top up with apple juice. I used the following amounts, which made about 2 glasses:

160g Strawberries
160g Kiwi fruits
160g Pineapple
250ml fresh apple juice

Stick it all in a bowl/blender and blend!

Loveshake use frozen fruit in their smoothies in order to give a crushed ice texture, but I hadn't been that organised. The smoothie was still very tasty, however, and it made me feel very healthy! It was also surprisingly easy to make (although the fruit was a bit expensive to buy) - I had never made a smoothie before and I wasn't sure how well it would work given that I only have a stick blender, but it actually turned out pretty well. I only found one small lump of fruit in my drink, so I will chalk that up as a win.

For those local to Coventry, you can pick up the Immuniser smoothie when you're out and about doing your shopping from Loveshake at West Orchards for only £2.70 (12 oz.).

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Restaurant review: Michael Wan's Mandarin, Blackpool

A few weeks ago it was my 30th birthday, which I spent in Blackpool. There are a number of reasons Blackpool was my destination of choice for my birthday.

1. I had never been before.
2. I love run-down seaside towns.
3. There was a really good deal on Amazon Local for a 2-night stay at the Blackpool FC Hotel.

Yes, Blackpool is rather run-down in places, and I have also never seen so many slightly tired and out-dated B&Bs along one seafront in my life, but I also thought it was amazing. I lost count of how much money I spent on the penny falls; the all-too familiar copper smell stayed on my fingers for the entire three days I think, and the cheap and tatty keyrings I won felt like wonderful victory.
Penny falls galore at the North Pier
 On my birthday itself I woke up to an unexpected birthday present of a shiny Google Nexus 10. The plan is that this will help me with my blogging! After a very filling Full English Breakfast at the hotel, we wondered out into the street and hopped on a tram towards the Sealife Centre to make use of one of our many 2-for-1 Merlin vouchers carefully cut-out from cereal packets. The Sealife Centre was a bit small, but we enjoyed the behind-the-scenes talk and the Pirate Mini Golf at the end.

Pirate Mini Golf
Obviously, we had to go up the Blackpool Tower. Tell me this view isn't amazing?

While we were gazing down at the view, I startled my husband by suddenly exclaiming, "Spoon, jar, jar, spoon!"

My favourite Tommy Cooper skit is immortalised in the concrete below the Tower (click the photo to make it larger).

Sealife and Tower fun done, we rested a bit before it was time for dinner. I had of course done my research into the best places to eat in Blackpool and had settled on Michael Wan's Mandarin, enticed by the promise of crispy duck and a £5-off voucher for signing up to their newsletter. When making the booking, I may have mentioned that I would be celebrating a special birthday.

When we arrived and were seated, we found our booth decked out in balloons and birthday decoration, which was awesome.

We ordered some prawn crackers to start, which came with a lovely sweet chilli dipping sauce.

We decied to share a starter as we were also planning to have a duck course. We had Garlic Mushrooms, which were delicious, but VERY garlicky (luckily, we like garlic). We were not in any danger of being attacked by vampires that evening.

Then it was time for duck. For some reason, my husband seemed to think we needed to order half a duck. It was a lot of duck - crispy as promised. It was absolutely delicious. My husband said it came close to duck he had in China. We were quite quickly very full of duck.

We had both also ordered main courses which we soon realised was a mistake. I managed a little of my chicken chow mein, but I can't really comment on it because I was so very full of duck. The waiter offered to put it in a doggy bag, but unfortunately we couldn't accept due to staying in a hotel, and not having any fridge facilities.

We refused pudding because of our very full bellies, but then a complimentary dessert arrived in honour of my birthday.
Yes, we ate a little before we remembered to take a photo. Fortunately banana and ice-cream wasn't too filling and we managed most  of this (would have been rude not to).

All in all, great service, delicious food, and reasonable prices (check out their menu). If I ever find myself in Blackpool again (which I very much hope to), we would definitely return. Maybe have a little less duck next time. Or maybe not. 

After our gorgeous meal, we waddled from the restaurant and down the seafront to enjoy the illuminations. Magical.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Recipe: Pot roast Chicken with chorizo and white wine

My meals are planned around two major things: 1) what is on offer on the Ocado and 2) what vegetables are available from the garden (or in season). I'm a bargain hunter and can't resist a good deal - and a good deal is not necessarily the cheapest thing, but something of quality for a good price. This week just gone Ocado had free range chickens and chopped chorizo on offer, so of course both items were purchased. (I know I could most likely get a whole chorizo sausage for cheaper even with the offer on, but sometimes it is handy to have some chorizo in small quantities, especially if there are only two of you.)

There were a few carrots not yet dug up in the garden and my leeks are starting to get to a decent size. 

 I couldn't be bothered with the faff of a regular roast last night (nor all the washing up), so I decided to go for a pot roast instead. What better meal to have on the Autumn equinox? Taking inspiration from my favourite pot roast recipe (Nigel Slater's Pot Roast Guinea Fowl with Sausage and Apple), I came up with the following and it was pretty delicious.

serves 2

60g chorizo, chopped
1 large onion, roughly chopped into chunks
1 large leek, roughly chopped into chunks
2 - 3 large carrots, roughly chopped into chunks
2 medium potatoes, chopped into chunks
1 small chicken, about 1 - 1.3kg (mine was 1.1 kg)
100ml dry white wine
2 bay leaves

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C.
2. Meanwhile, place a large casserole dish over a low-medium heat. Add the chorizo and cook for a few minutes until it starts to release its oil. Add the onion, leek and carrots and cook for about 5 minutes more until the veg starts to get a little soft.
3. Move the veg to the side, up the heat a little, and brown the chicken on all sides (I use a couple of big spoons to turn the chicken over when in the pot - this is probably not the official method, but it works for me).
4. Add the wine and the bay leaves and let simmer for a minute or two.
5. Put a lid on the casserole and put the pot in the oven. Cooking time will depend on the size of the chicken - I cooked my 1.1kg chicken for 1 hour and 5 minutes (plus 10 minutes browning on the hob). Check the packet of the chicken as a guide, or allow 45 minutes cooking time per kg, plus an extra 20 minutes.
6. At the end of cooking, check the chicken is done by inserting a skewer into the thigh - if the juices run clear, it is done. If the juices are not clear, whack the bird back in the oven.
7. The result should be a nicely cooked chicken and a big gooey mess at the bottom. The gooey mess is normal. This is pure concentrated flavour. (You could always check during cooking if you need to add a bit more liquid.)
8. After leaving the chicken to rest for 10 minutes (or 2 minutes if you're hungry), remove it from the pot and carve. And then serve with vegetables and the gooey mess.

Bon appetit!

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Cov Food Fest, 21st September 2013

I was delighted to learn that Coventry would be holding its own food festival in the City Centre this weekend. So, yesterday we headed over to Broadgate to see what it was all about.

Cov Food Fest consisted of a number of stalls promoting their wares and some cookery competitions and live cookery demonstrations.

The number of stalls were fairly limited and I do hope if they put on this event again it will increase in size and also generate more publicity. It was good, however, to see a number of local restaurants and businesses represented at the festival - including Etna's Ristorante, Chi Bar, The Establishment, Garden Organic, Coventry Market, and The Heritage Cake Company. However, it would have been good to see even more local restaurants and businesses - although Coventry is not exactly teeming with restaurants, there are plenty more to choose from than were at the festival and I believe there is some very good food to be found in Coventry; it just tends not to shout too loudly about it!

We had a wander around the stalls - they were fairly busy, and it was good to see people getting involved. Sadly, by the time we got there there weren't many samples left! I did however buy a couple of Coventry God Cakes (more info here and here) from The Heritage Cake Company.

Coventry God Cakes are basically mincemeat in puff pastry - they are very delicious. It was great to try something which is particular to Coventry's history.

We also decided to check out one of the cookery demonstrations. It was pretty entertaining (and smelled wonderful!) although there seemed to be some issues with the equipment they were using (wrong pans and they had trouble with the hob, which I'm guessing was induction style). 
The demonstration we watched (at 12pm) was given by the 'top fish guy' from Coventry Market (whose name now of course escapes me) and Carmelo, the head chef from Etna Ristorante (Etna's has been at the same site in Coventry city centre for 32 years). They demonstrated how to prepare fresh seafood and how to make some simple Italian pasta dishes. Technical hitches aside, it was great to see local business owners promoting Coventry food, and to get some good tips about buying and preparing fresh seafood, and how to make some simple Italian dishes at home.  

I hope the Cov Food Fest takes place again and that it gets bigger and better. I feel that this could be a really good annual event, and I hope more local businesses get involved, and that it becomes a great way to promote and celebrate good food in Coventry.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Restaurant Review: Playwrights, Hay Lane, Coventry

Playwrights is a restaurant that we have eaten lunch at many, many times - mostly because they do a good selection of chunky sandwiches, tasty salads, and jacket potatoes, as well as some larger meals such as fish and chips, chilli con carne, etc.

Despite being frequent lunch visitors, we had never eaten at Playwrights for dinner, so we decided to rectify this state of affairs a few weeks ago. We were a bit worried as we hadn't booked and it was a Saturday night, but we decided to turn up early and find another restaurant in the city centre if they couldn't seat us.

As it happens, we needn't have worried as the restaurant was empty when we arrived. This was worrying in itself at first, but it did start to fill up later on in the evening.

The service was really good from the start: relaxed but very friendly and helpful.

First of all we ordered some wine, which was Hidden Road Shiraz at £15.75 a bottle.
This was a very nice bottle for the price (well, as restaurant prices go...) and it complemented the spices in our food nicely.

For starter I had the Mozzarella, tomato & olive salad, finished with rocket & balsamic oil priced £4.25. Now, you can't go too wrong with a dish like this, and needless to say it was nice - it tasted of all the ingredients it was supposed to taste of. It perhaps could have done with a little more rocket to give it a bit more crunch, but otherwise, no complaints from me.

My husband had the Smooth Brussels pate, red onion jam, toast & mixed leaves for £4.75. Not a bad price at all for a very tasty starter.

Playwrights tend to do a fair bit of Mexican food, including Mexican nights on the last Saturday of each month. We weren't there for Mexican night, but we both chose something with a Mexican theme from their menu, as it had been a while since we'd had any decent Mexican food.

I chose the vegetable chilli burrito, white rice & salad (£8.95). I had never tried a burrito before, but it sounded like the sort of thing I'd like. There was a good variety of vegetables in the vegetable chilli, but perhaps could have done with a few more beans to add to the texture. It was fairly spicy (as you'd expect) and I had to ask for some sour cream to cool it off a bit - the waiter was very obliging. I thought there was probably a bit too much rice on the plate considering it was quite a large burrito, but having said all of that, it was on the whole a very tasty meal and I would quite happily order it again in future. 

Regular readers of this blog will probably not be surprised to hear that my husband had the Tex-Mex grill – A half rack of pork ribs, chorizo sausage & Cajun chicken breast, served with hand made battered onion rings, home made coleslaw, hand cut chips & salad (£14.95). He very much enjoyed this Mexican twist on his favourite meal, although he found the chicken breast was a little too dry and he would have preferred chunks of chorizo sausage rather than wafer-thin slices. Still, pretty impressive, I think you'll agree.

Desserts at Playwrights tend to be of the classic British variety. We were both pleased with our choices of Chocolate fudge cake served warm with vanilla pod ice cream (£4.50) and Treacle sponge pudding & custard (£4.50). 


Overall then, we had a lovely evening at Playwrights and would happily return for dinner again. The food is reasonably-priced and is tasty, home-cooked fare, the service was good, and it has a central location on historic Hay Lane. Perfect for an impromptu relaxed and cosy meal on a Saturday night.