Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Merry Christmas and a guest post

This month I have done a guest post at Midlands Food Bloggers all about Food Banks. Please see my article here:


Merry Christmas, one and all!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The M Kitchen Pop-up Restaurant

If posts become ever fewer and far between from me, it is because since October this year I have started studying for an MA in History with the Open University. I have cut down my hours at work to accommodate this, but I am still pretty busy. And I am trying to plan a wedding (trying being the operative word, there...).

Wednesday afternoon I was supposed to be studying, but I went to the M Kitchen pop-up restaurant instead. This was a promotional event to market a new range of products from Morrisons. I went to the one in Birmingham at The Custard Factory.

As it says on the website, "Five of the UK's leading chefs – Pierre Koffmann, Aldo Zilli, Nigel Haworth, Atul Kochhar and Bryn Williams – have each contributed a classic dish to the delicious menu at the M Kitchen."

The picture to the right shows the five dishes that each chef has contributed. Theses dishes will be available to buy in ready-meal form from Morrisons M Kitchen range. But enough of that for the minute - onwards with the meal I had on Wednesday!

I had never been to a Pop Up Restaurant before and haven't ever really shopped at Morrisons, therefore I had no idea what to expect from a pop up restaurant run by Morrisons and a complimentary one at that. (Incidentally, this was the first time I have ever dined out alone too!)

First of all, the staff were wonderful. Very polite and attentive and helpful. Upon being seated I was greeted with a glass of Morrisons champagne. Now, I am not a champagne expert and to be honest can't massively tell the difference between the cheap stuff and a bottle of Bolly, so perhaps not the best judge; but, the Morrisons stuff seemed nice enough to me.

Then I was brought some bread and olives. The marinated olives were lovely and I ate most of them, which turned out to be a mistake given how much food was to come...

For my starter I chose Roast tomato soup with Chorizo and Manchego. I was interested to see what the chefs had managed to do with a tomato soup. It was very tasty and I loved the addition of the spicy chorizo to a classic soup.

I was then brought another starter, compliments of the chef! It was scallops with broad beans and peas. Hardly seasonal, but, this was the first time I had ever tried scallop (yes, I know, I am a rubbish foodie) and oh. my. god. The scallops melted like butter in the mouth and the soft, sweet, warm scallop was offset nicely by the fresh, slightly bitter (but also slightly sweet) broad bean and pea accompaniment. This was definitely a highlight of the entire meal.

For my main, I ordered the beef bourguinon with creamy mash. This dish was created by Pierre Koffman, who is apparently head chef of Koffman's at the Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge. The blurb says of this dish: "The rich, opulent and sticky flavours of Pierre's Bourguignon come from premium British ox cheeks, along with his unique cooking method." Not sure what his unique cooking method is, but again, this was very tasty. I agree that it was rich and sticky, but 'opulent' is perhaps going a bit far. The beef was lovely and tender and falling apart and the sauce was, as I say, rich and sticky. The carrots were perfectly cooked. The best part, however, was the creamy mash. The creaminess of the mash complimented the richness of the sauce very nicely. I can't quite imagine how this is going to translate into a ready meal, but I plan at some point to find out. If it's approaching as good as it was in the restaurant, I will be a happy lady.

For dessert I had the cheesecake. It was gooood. Very creamy and served with sharp, sticky berries. Yummy. I polished off the lot, despite all the food I had already consumed. Unfortunately, looking at the promotional material I was given, starters and desserts do not feature in the ready meal range - clearly, these were given to us to sweeten the deal.

I didn't try any of Morrisons range of wines because I was planning to do some studying once I got home; and I needed to make sure I could find my way back to the train station after the meal.

I very much enjoyed my meal courtesy of Morrisons and was very impressed with the quality of the food. I will definitely be trying their new range of ready meals. More details about the M kitchen range can be found here.

It was also lovely to bump into Jo of Jo's Kitchen and her adorable 1-month-old son! I look forward to reading Jo's review of the experience, as she ordered different things than I did.

Disclaimer: This meal was complimentary for review purposes. I was not required to write a positive review, and all views are of course my own.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Antigua part 1 - The Sandals resort

I arrived home from a holiday to Antigua this week, and while still really rather jet-lagged (over-night flights are punishing!) I wanted to tell you about some of the lovely food I had.

Firstly, I should explain that I was lucky enough to win the holiday to Antigua. I won an all-inclusive 7-night holiday to Sandals Grande Antigua, and we paid to stay on another 7 nights to make a lovely long relaxing holiday.

This is the first time I had ever been on an all-inclusive holiday before and, boy, did I take advantage of it. (I didn't realise quite how gluttonous I'd been until I got home and got on the scales...). Not only were breakfast, lunch and dinner included, there were snacks and plenty of drinks to be had too (including cocktails, 'mocktails', beer, house wines and soft drinks).

The various bars did a wide variety of cocktails unique to Sandals as well as all the old favourites. I discovered a penchant for pina coladas, but also very much enjoyed the Sandals Banana Sip Sop, which was like a banana milkshake but with alcohol in it.

This bird enjoyed the cocktails too...

One of the swim-up bars at the resort.

Breakfast was a buffet-type affair. I was impressed with the range of items available. There was everything from fresh fruit to sausages and bacon to pancakes. I was a fan of the baked beans, which tasted homemade rather than from a tin, and the same with the hash-browns. I also enjoyed the nods to more local cuisine, including Jonnycake, Escoveitch fish and fried plaintains.

There were a number of different restaurants open for lunch and dinner. Our favourite lunch spot quickly became Barefoot by the Sea, as it did a variety of salads, sandwiches and some more local foods such as Antiguan Jerk Chicken. We also liked the pizzeria, which had a wood-fired oven, and served some very tasty pizzas. We tried the lunch buffet once, but found it a little uninspiring.

For dinner there were three restaurants which required you to book a table, and a few which you could just turn up at. Out of all the restaurants for dinner, two stood out for us, both of which you had to book.

Firstly, there was Eleanor's, serving Caribbean cuisine. I liked this restaurant for obvious reasons. When I am holiday, I do like to try some of the local cuisine. Highlights for me were the lamb curry (I love Caribbean-style curries - there's something about the mixture of sweet, savoury and spice which is very appealing) and the starter of Red Bean Soup, which was the perfect blend of meaty and salty - I could imagine eating a large bowl on a cold evening. I will have to try and find a recipe.

Next, there was Kimono's - a teppanyaki restaurant.
The food here tasted amazing. You chose a starter and a soup or salad and then were served a small(ish) portion of each of the three different mains on offer by the teppanyaki chef who cooked the food in front of you. The chef's name was Suga (pronounced 'suger') "aka Mr Lover Lover" and not only did his food taste wonderful, he was also a great entertainer. His talents also extend to singing, using his spatulas as percussion instruments and generally cracking jokes and making everyone laugh. This is a restaurant with great atmosphere as well as great food. I loved the salmon with garlic butter and lime and the orange chicken.

Other restaurants weren't quite as memorable but they all served pretty good food. The Bayside restaurant sometimes did themed nights, and Steak Night was truly excellent - I've never had a better Ribeye - and it was massive too! No wonder I gained so much weight...

My next post will be about food and drink that we consumed outside of the resort (which wasn't a huge amount given that the all-inclusiveness of the resort, but definitely worth its own post.)

Help! All this food is ruining my figure!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

thespicery.com: Singapore Noodles

For my birthday last month my sister-in-law bought me a subscription to a monthly spicebox from www.thespicery.com and tonight I made my first recipe from it.

The idea is that each month you get sent a box containing a couple of recipes (a main and a pudding) and the spices that are needed for it.

Tonight I cooked Singapore Noodles. It was handy having the spices already mixed, although I found the recipe itself a little fiddly. (It was supposed to have prawns and beansprouts in it too, but I left them out). The mix of spices made this a highly flavourful and fragant dish, although the spice was erring on the slightly-too-hot side for both myself and my fiancé, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.

I would definitely recommend giving a spicebox from thespicery.com a go. I feel like it is giving me inspiration for new and different things to cook. The recipes include what the spice packs contain, so you can recreate it yourself with your own spice blends.

The website also sells individual spices as well as various spice blends.

This certainly made for a unique (and useful!) birthday present!

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Beer Experiment

A quick post just to tell you about a new blog. My fiancé has started a blog all about beer - a subject on which he is very enthusiastic:


I'd join him in his beer experiment, except I don't like beer.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Chicken and chorizo jambalaya and cajun seasoning

I had the sudden urge to cook something different tonight, but it was too late to amend my online grocery order which was due to arrive this afternoon, so I had to work with what I had already ordered. After a quick search on BBC Good Food, I decided to make this Chicken & Chorizo Jambalaya. The only things I didn't have were the chorizo and the Cajun seasoning. I sent my boyfriend out to get the chorizo (he ended up getting one from Asda from their Extra-Special range, and I can recommend it - it was delicious!).

Although I didn't have ready-made Cajun seasoning, I do have a lot of spices in my store cupboard, so I googled it and found this recipe. I pretty much followed the recipe, except I didn't have any onion powder/granules, so simply left that out, and I used less salt.

It worked well in the jambalaya recipe, giving it a warm heat without being too spicy. Perfect for a chilly Autumnal evening!

(NB: I used more chorizo sausage than the recipe said because chorizo sausage rarely comes in packs of 75g and I wasn't going to waste it. And, I love chorizo. Nom nom nom. I also used about 500ml chicken stock.)

All in all, a fairly simple, hearty, warming dish. And one that could be easily doubled or tripled if you are entertaining friends. I will definitely make this again!

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Recipe: Summer Chicken and Chickpea Stew

I made this dish a couple of weeks ago, but have only just got round to blogging about it. I suddenly had inspiration to concoct something of my own design after a long, dry spell. Have I mentioned how much I love one-pot cooking? This is possibly related to the fact that we don't own a dishwasher.

My fiancé and I both thought it was very tasty, so here is the recipe should you want to recreate it in your own home.

Serves 4


Olive oil
1 large onion (I used red onion because it was all I had, but I'm sure white would work just as well), chopped
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 red pepper, chopped
1 medium aubergine
2 free range chicken breasts, diced
300ml chicken stock
1 400g can tinned tomatoes
2 table spoons tomato puree
1 teaspoon dried thyme (fresh herbs could be used, but I didn't have any...)
a pinch of dried chilli flakes
salt and pepper
1 400g can chickpeas, drained and rinsed


1) Heat a little oil in a large pan. Fry onions over a medium heat for a few minutes until starting to soften.

2) Add garlic and pepper and fry for a couple of minutes.

3) Add chicken and cook over a medium-high heat until starting to brown.

4) While the chicken is cooking chop the aubergine (it is important not to chop beforehand as aubergine oxidises very quickly - if you prefer to prepare your aubergine by 'salting' or 'relaxing' it, you will need to prepare it beforehand. Me, I can't be arsed.) and then add to the pan.

5) Cook until chicken and aubergine are cooked all the way through.

6) Add chicken stock, tinned tomato, tomato puree, dried thyme and chilli flakes. Season to taste. Bring to the boil and then turn down the heat and simmer, partially covered by a lid, for about 20 minutes.

7) Add chickpeas. You can also add some more water if it's starting to look a little dry. Simmer for another 10 minutes.

8) Serve with some nice bread.

Bon appetit!

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Restaurant review: Mount Fuji - Birmingham

I must have written this review ages ago and then forgotten about it. I only discovered it among my Word files because I have recently got a new laptop, so I have been moving things across from my old hard drive. Anyway, on with the review...!

A few yards from Jamie’s Italian in Birmingham, there is a rather underrated Japanese restaurant called Mount Fuji

Before I dined in Mount Fuji I’d never really tried Japanese food (I don’t think Marks and Spencer’s sushi really counts...) and I didn’t know what Bento was. Essentially, it’s a lunch box – a meal in a box. I have had several bento boxes at Mount Fuji now and they have all been delicious, interesting and nutritionally balanced: the meat and rice is served with equal amounts of vegetables and salad. I love the organisation and the aesthetics of the compartments of the box – it makes your meal feel a little like a picnic or a buffet.

And that reflects the atmosphere of Mount Fuji – Japanese food served simply in an informal setting. The high bar-stool-type chairs and the long counters give the restaurant the air of a coffee shop or diner. The food is generally brought out as and when it is ready and it works well to order several different things from the menu and share with friends. 

Favourites from the menu include the vegetable tempura – coated in paper-thin batter and served with a sweet chilli dipping sauce, a light and flavourful starter perfect for sharing; the sushi must be tried particularly if you’ve never had genuine Japanese sushi before; and the freshly made desserts are definitely worth a go – I like the giant profiterole filled with matcha cake, cream and ice cream.

The service is quite informal to match the informal style of eating that this restaurant provides and staff are polite and usually attentive. The kitchen is an open kitchen in the middle of the restaurant so you can watch the chefs at work!

Mount Fuji is truly an experience not to be missed.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The McDonald's Experiment

When I was in my late teens, I made a conscious decision not to eat at McDonald's anymore. This was for a number of reasons including not really finding the food that appetising. I was also starting to discover my own political and ethical views and decided I didn't like the way McDonald's marketed their, what was in my view, massively unhealthy food products to children. I decided they deserved no more of my money or custom. (My KFC habit took a little longer to die, however...)

Therefore, until yesterday, I hadn't eaten a McDonald's meal for about 10 years. The documentary Super Size Me and the book Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser kept me mindful of the fact that McDonald's is Bad.

So, what made me crack? Simply, a massive craving for a Big Mac. I cannot even fully explain why, especially given that I never even ate Big Macs when I used to eat at McDonald's.

And, how was the meal? Not bad. I quite enjoyed it in a guilty kind of way. McDonald's, it seems, is my forbidden fruit. It was a little on the cold side by the time I got it home (no longer do McDonald's provide polystyrene boxes for their Big Macs!) and I felt the special sauce overpowered the flavour of everything else in the Big Mac. Not that anything else tasted of very much. Except the gherkin. The gherkin was probably the best bit. The fries were goooood, though. There is something about the crispiness and saltiness of McDonald's fries that is very more-ish.

Buying the meal was interesting. I just asked for a Big Mac meal and was immediately asked if I wanted a large meal (I opted for a medium). According to the menu, you have the choice of having it with fries or a salad. Seriously, who orders a Big Mac with a salad? Not very many people, apparently, because I didn't even specify and got given fries. I chose to have orange juice as my drink in an attempt at having something healthy, though.

Another thing that has changed since I last stepped into a McDonald's is that they now print nutrition information on the boxes of their products. I was actually slightly impressed that my entire meal came in at about 800 calories; I was expecting it to be at least 1000. There's obviously quite a lot of salt and fat in the meal, though - but I guess that's what I was craving.

I have since been trying to work out why I have been strongly craving McDonald's for quite a while now and why I finally caved. At first I thought it couldn't be anything to do with advertising because I don't watch commercial TV and I don't listen to commercial radio. But then when I was walking into work this morning I noticed two McDonald's posters on the way. Also, often when I go into the shopping centre in town, I go past the open plan food hall, which includes a McDonald's.

One of the things discussed in Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser is the associations made with food during childhood and how fast food companies exploit this to gain lifelong customers. Having been thinking about this recently, I've realised that I have quite a few memories associated with McDonald's and all of them actually make me feel warm and fuzzy and nostalgic. I remember The Little Mermaid Happy Meals; I remember birthday parties and getting to go 'behind the scenes' to see them 'cooking' the food; I remember Ronald McDonald and the Hamburglar. So, perhaps something triggered a nostalgic memory for me and I suddenly wanted a McDonald's.

Or maybe I am just greedy and crave sugar, salt and fat in large quantities.

Would I eat food from McDonald's again? Yes, I think I might, although I am unlikely to make a habit of it. It's not that I've stopped thinking certain things about the fast food industry are unethical; it's just that sometimes I really, really want a Big Mac. Like NOW. (See, I told you - greedy.) I HAVE BEEN SUCKED IN BY THE CORPORATE MACHINE. RUN, SAVE YOURSELVES. There's no hope for me now.

For an alternative look at fast food from the Super Size Mes of this world, check out the episode of Penn & Teller's Bullshit! on Fast Food.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Product Review: Very Lazy Posh Sausage Casserole

The nice people at Very Lazy recently sent me some of their Very Lazy Posh Sausage Casserole to try and review.

Now, I'm not usually a fan of sauces that come in jars, but as you're aware I haven't been too well recently and haven't been able to cook so much, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to try something new that may well fit with my lifestyle.
It certainly was pretty easy to make. I followed the instructions and fried the sausages (I used 6 rather than 8, as there were only 2 of us), even though I normally oven cook sausages (I prefer them that way - plus, it is easier than poking sausages round a frying pan!). I cooked them well in the frying pan before transferring them to a casserole dish because I am always paranoid about undercooking things like sausages. 

I then chopped an onion and added it to the pan with the concentrate - I thought it smelt a little weird; not unpleasant, just a little strange. Probably because the sauce is concentrated, so it smells quite powerful.

I added the 200ml water and then poured the sauce and onions into the casserole with the sausages. It didn't look like very much considering it is meant to serve four people. It does say on the packet to add more water if you want more sauce, but I wanted to follow the instructions exactly for the purposes of this review - and as there were only 2 of us eating it, I didn't think I would need to add more.

It then went into the oven at 180C for an hour, as instructed. It didn't say whether to put a lid on or not, but I did because I didn't want what liquid was there to evaporate. When it came out it was very well cooked. This might have been my fault for cooking the sausages so well before putting them in the oven, but when the instructions say 'brown' the sausages, I never know how brown it means. 

Anyway, this was the result served with some mashed potato:

It was quite nice. My fiancé thought that the flavour of the sauce overpowered the flavour of the sausages (which were Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Outdoor-reared Cumberland sausages - normally quite a nice flavour: very meaty) and I have to agree. The sauce is quite strongly flavoured. And, it's not a bad flavour - as I say it was nice, but nothing overly special. Also, 6 sausages and 200ml water in the sauce was about enough for 2. I know we are both a bit greedy, but I'd say you'd definitely need to dilute the sauce more for 4 people (and that probably would have made it taste less overpowering as well!).

I do think that if I'm going to go to the effort of frying sausages, chopping an onion and making mashed potato as an accompaniment, I might as well cook a sausage casserole from scratch. But that may well be because I enjoy home cooking and am confident enough in my cooking to do so; less confident people may be more inclined to go for the jar option.

For the record, here is my favourite sausage stew recipe from BBC Good Food: Italian Sausage, Puy lentil & rosemary stew.

Disclaimer: I was sent this product for free for review purposes. I was not required to write a positive review, and all views are of course my own.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Foodie adventures in Guernsey

Last saturday we arrived home from Guernsey. It was a great holiday and one which included many foodie adventures as well as cultural ones!

We stayed in a self-catering holiday cottage at Les Brehauts Farm. This was the first time we had opted for a self-catering holiday and we liked the flexibility it offered. Our welcome pack from the lovely people at Les Brehauts Farm provided everything we need for breakfast the next morning.

There was also a little shop on site that sold fresh eggs from the farm and homemade jam.

I was impressed by how much local produce was sold in Guernsey - they are very self-sufficient! Many people sell their produce on the road side using a honesty box. I did find purchasing food for home consumption to be a bit more expensive than here, but then there are no really big chain supermarkets in Guernsey (apart from Waitrose, which has recently opened) and a lot of the food was local, so probably not mass-produced on the same scale as on the mainland.

I of course loved the Guernsey milk and butter and ice-cream, which were all very creamy and rich. The butter is so yellow! I will have to see if I can get hold of some over here.

There are plenty of great places to eat out in Guernsey too. Our favourite was the Longfrie Inn, which was a five minute walk up the road from where we were staying. We liked its informal atmosphere and varied menu. The lamb cutlets were absolutely divine. I commented to my fiancé at the time that that particular dish reminded me how good lamb can be - they were as good as any steak I've ever had!

We ate out for lunch a few times at St Peter Port, the capital, which is hustling and bustling with restaurants and cafés.
Most places sold fresh Guernsey crab and lobster. I tried the crab and then realised I'm not a huge fan of crab in general!

We also discovered some fabulous tea rooms that sold sandwiches and cake. Mmm, cake. My favourite was probably Hearts Tearoom at Sausmarez Manor. I had the most fabulous ginger cake there and a banana milkshake.

Another very good piece of cake was had at The Pavilion Brasserie. Unfortunately, we never managed to make it for lunch or dinner, because the one day we decided to try there for lunch (Monday), it was closed and then we somehow never made it back until the morning we were due to fly home. Still, we had a damn fine piece of cake.

I had the victoria sponge and my fiancé had the chocolate cake. The victoria sponge was very moist and had a crazy amount of icing sugar on the top - delicious, though. The chocolate cake was also very tasty - it was more like a mousse than a cake and very chocolatey - yummy! A great end to a great holiday.

If you would like to see a few more photos of our holiday to Guernsey, please check out my Flickr account: http://www.flickr.com/photos/norfolkian/

Sunday, 10 April 2011

No Love Sincerer now available on Kindle!

You can now subscribe to my blog via your Kindle should you feel so inclined.

Subscribe to No Love Sincerer via Amazon!

We checked it out on my fiancé's Kindle and it's pretty good - it displays pictures as well (albeit in black and white)!

Clever, huh?

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Graze boxes

Recently a friend gave me a voucher code for www.graze.com which got me my first box free and my second half-price. I'd heard about these boxes before but been a bit sceptical as I got the impression for some reason that it was just all nuts and seeds and it didn't really appeal. Once I actually had a proper look at the website though, and received my first box in the post, I was pleasantly surprised.

There is quite a range of foods included, including focaccia breads, olives and many weird and wonderful combinations of dried fruits. Also, they have a system when you can tick what you like and what you don't like, so you can choose not to be sent the stuff that doesn't appeal or you can try it and if you don't like it ask not to be sent it again.

The idea behind the box is to provide healthy snacks to nibble on throughout the day, keeping your blood sugar balanced and as the tagline says "eat more health food (fewer biscuits)".

As with my fruit and veg box, one of the things I like about it is the surprise of finding out what you have got this week. Here was my first Graze box:
I like nuts and I like dried fruit, so I ate the nut mix (mmm, pecan nuts!) and lemon raisins first. Raisins were very lemony and very tasty, but I found alternating a few with the nuts best to cut through the sharpness of the lemon a bit! Still, they kept me going through a day of work and I would have got through the day without any other snacks were it not for the homemade apple cake a colleague had brought in that day - it would have been rude not to have a piece, really.

I was expecting not to like the cracking black peppercorn rice-crackers in the top left, because in my experience rice-crackers are bland and comparable to swallowing a load of air. These were small and concentrated rice-crackers, though, with a really good crunch and bags of flavour! I needed a glass of water after such pepperyness, but I'd definitely eat them again - they're very low in calories as well!

The orange and ginger flapjack was nice and much less sweet than I was expecting, which is probably a good thing for blood sugar levels and whatnot.

This box was free and I wasn't sure whether £3.49 was a lot for four punnets of nuts and fruit etc., but then when I happened to be in Marks and Spencer one day last week, I spied a small bag of raisins which cost £1.60. So I've reasoned that as the price of the box also includes delivery, and the snacks it includes are really, really yummy, it is utterly worth it. I am completely sold! Here's a peek at this week's box, which I haven't eaten any of yet:

I can't wait to get stuck into this weeks tasty treats - I will do my best to save them for work, though. I have opted to get one box a week delivered to my home on a Saturday, so I have all my snacks ready for the week ahead at work: I can't guarantee how much of the week they will last me though...

If any of you would like to receive a free graze box, go to www.graze.com and use the voucher code: NTBYZLQ. I believe the offer is only available for a limited time. You have to sign up to receive the box, but if you decide you don't want it anymore, you can cancel at any time. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, though!

Friday, 4 March 2011

Product review: Hotel Chocolat Happy Egg & Tiddly Pot

Thanks to Jam and Cream PR, this week I received my first ever foodie product to review courtesy of Hotel Chocolat.

The product I was sent was the Happy Egg and Tiddly Pot from their fabulous-looking range of Easter eggs. This particularly Easter egg is supposedly aimed at children, although it does acknowledge on the packaging that it is also for those of us adults who are still children at heart.

I suppose it is a good size for a child - it was a lot smaller than I was expecting when I received it! Here is a picture of it next to a wine glass for scale:

And here it is in my hand.

I ate the entire Easter egg in about 5 minutes while my fiancé was out the room so I didn't have to share any. When my fiancé returned, he said, "You appear to have inhaled the egg." It was good, though. I really like Hotel Chocolat's 40% milk chocolate - it is pretty chocolatey, but still pretty milky - a nice smooth balance!

My favourite part of this Easter egg, though, was the tiddly pot:

This was filled with solid milk chocolate chicks and bunnies. Now, these I did share with my fiancé who really liked them too and was impressed that they weren't hollow. And that's what made them preferable to me than the egg, because they were good solid chunks of chocolate to get your teeth into. Also, nibbling on one or two at a time was enough and I was able to enjoy these over a few days. I did feel I needed to give them a thorough testing before writing this review, though.

Oh, dear, all gone! :(

This Easter egg perhaps seems a bit pricey at £7 a pop compared to most Easter eggs, but it really is good quality chocolate and I'd rather have a smaller egg like this that tastes much better than one of the more widely-sold larger and cheaper ones. 

Now, I'll just sit and hope someone buys me this for Easter...

Disclaimer: I was sent this product for free for review purposes. I was not required to write a positive review, and all views are of course my own.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Convenience foods: the argument for

Since starting this blog, I've become rather taken, some might say rather sanctimonious about, cooking from scratch. Normally, when I have been in full health, I have cooked a meal from scratch 4-5 evenings a week (with the odd takeaway, meal out, meal at someone else's house thrown in in-between). I work full-time too - 37 hours a week. (My fiancé generally works longer hours than I do and has a much longer commute and does not enjoy cooking, therefore I have happily taken on the role in lieu of other responsibilities (e.g. washing up)). I have generally eschewed all things convenience food from microwaveable dinners to sauces that come in jars to ready-made pizzas.

I'm all for slow food. Totally. It tastes better, I get more enjoyment from eating it, and plenty of satisfaction from preparing it. It's food how food is meant to be.

But the key phrase above was "in full health". Recently things have been a bit more tough. I really don't like to complain too much because my illness is not that serious and is treatable (and I am in the process of being treated), but the fact is that as a result of the radioiodine therapy my thyroid now cannot produce enough thyroxine to keep my body functioning properly and I am in early stages of treatment, which may involve some tweaking of medication before balance is fully restored. Anyone familiar with the spoon theory will know what it can be like to have a chronic illness. I'm not going to expand too much on what it's like to live with thyroid disease, because that's getting off the point a little.

The point is, I've come to learn that convenience foods have a place in life. In particular, they have had a place in my life recently.

At first I felt guilty. I felt like I'd failed in my mission to provide myself and my partner with nutritious whole foods, as is my general aim when it comes to food. But what choice did I have but to load the freezer with things I could stick in the oven? (I could get my fiancé to cook, but some nights recently he hasn't been home until 9pm, by which point I would be crawling up the walls...) Not all of these things have been convenience foods as such: things like sausage and mash have been do-able some of the time. But I still felt crappy about it - of course I did. It's natural to feel crappy about not being able to do everything you normally can do.

Eventually you begin to accept it, though - that this is the way things are at the moment and you have to make do as best you can. And, actually, stocking the freezer with things that are easy for me to cook has proved to be a smart piece of forward planning - during previous periods of illness, I have been less prepared and this has led to more disappointment, more guilt and more takeaways.

Quite often, I'll have two options for dinner on the go - for example, I may have some braising steak in the fridge to make a stew should I feel up to it, but at the moment, I usually have a back-up plan too, either in the fridge or freezer.

The convenience foods may not taste as good, may be less nutritious, less good for the environment and hardly using local or seasonal ingredients, but when my choice is between going hungry because I physically do not have the energy to stand up in the kitchen for long enough to create a meal and eating something ready-prepared in a plastic packet, I'll take the food where I can get it. And I'm not going to feel bad or guilty anymore, because I'm doing the best I can.

I still check the ingredients labels on everything though before I buy and I still can't face eating battery-farmed chicken. Most places seem to do ranges of ready-meals, soups etc. which have pretty (if not, wholly) natural ingredients too. I like Covent Garden soups and I recently tried a dish from Marks and Spencer's Gastropub range which was both tasty and filling (shock, horror!).

The good news is that I'm gradually starting to cook more as I'm starting to feel better. I still don't feel I'm functioning at 100%, but I did cook from scratch three nights in a row recently. That was huge for me. It felt good. It tasted good too.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Chicken and Mushroom (not) Pie

I think it was random Googling that took me to the Morrison's website at the weekend – it had never occurred to me to look there before: I don't shop there and I didn't really associate it with yummy recipes (before now). But then I discovered their 'Great taste less waste' promotion and found this great recipe for chicken and mushroom pie using leftover roast chicken (or chicken and mushroom not pie, as I called it - I didn't want to get my fiancé's hopes up that it might be a pastry-based pie!).

It's a fairly simple recipe and really, really tasty! I didn't have any dried tarragon, so used dried thyme instead, and I adjusted the quantities to how much chicken I had left over.

This stretched a 1.3kg free-range chicken which serves 2-3 people into two whole dinners for two. Economical, I think you'll agree!

Monday, 17 January 2011

Butternut Squash Risotto

I promised to post what I cooked with the obscene butternut squash, didn't I? I decided to make this Simple Squash Risotto recipe from BBC Good Food. One of the things I love about the BBC Good Food website is the user reviews and ratings of recipe - it's a really good guide to picking the right recipe, and as this recipe had great reviews, I thought it was worth a go!

This was the first time I had ever made a risotto and to be honest I thought the 'simple' label was pushing it a bit. But then I was also making this on Monday evening after quite a long day at work - I think if I make this again it might have to be one of my weekend recipes.

Anyway, I set about turning my butternut squash into something more family friendly:

That's better!

I was really worried I wouldn't get all the stirring in the risotto right somehow and that the rice would be ruined. But somehow it all worked out. My fiancé really liked the dish even though it had no meat in it. I left the parmesan cheese out for him because he can't have cheese - because of that this is the first risotto he had ever eaten. It was fine without the parmesan, although personally I wouldn't have minded some on mine to add a bit of saltiness. It looked pretty good in the end, though:


Sleepy now...

Saturday, 15 January 2011

And now for something completely different

A slightly more 'serious' photo.
Cabbage on 365 Project

I'm currently taking part in a project called the 365 project where the aim is to take a photo every day for a year, and if you click on the photo above (which is today's photo) it will take you to my 365 project page. Not all the photos are or will be food-related and my efforts are of the amateur variety, but it is a fun project which is making me look at things in a different light and, I hope, will ultimately improve my photography skills, which will in turn improve my food photography for this blog perhaps!

Friday, 14 January 2011

Possibly not safe for work...

Well, it's not that I haven't been cooking, folks, just that I've not felt massively inspired to blog about any of it. Or I've scoffed it so quickly I have forgotten to get a photo.

So, yes, I'm sinking to a new low in order to keep you entertained: rudely shaped vegetables.

Well, if it was good enough for Esther Rantzen...

To make up for this appalling lack of taste, I promise to blog about what I cook with it!

Monday, 3 January 2011

Android App Review: Urban Spoon

I have an android phone, so have decided to review some of the many food-related apps that are available. I will only be reviewing free apps, because I am too much of a tight-wad to pay for any.

The Urban Spoon app is based on the website of the same name. It uses Google Maps and GPS satellites to pinpoint your location so it can tell you the yummiest places to eat in your vicinity - could be very handy when travelling; except, my phone takes so long to get a satellite signal that I usually give up and opt to 'choose city' manually instead.

This app has the little novelty feature of using a slot machine-type interface which allows you to lock certain wheels and then you either click 'shake' or actually shake your phone and it comes up with a random restaurant fitting those particular options along with user reviews. This is good if you're not sure where you want to eat and want some suggestions. You can also look at a list of all the restaurants in a particular city and search for restaurants by city, but what you can't do is search for a particular restaurant name. You could argue that that's not what this app is for, but it would be handy if you wanted to look at reviews of a particular restaurant.

Of course, any app like this is only as good as its user generated content. From what I understand, users have to add restaurants before they appear on the app (at least there are relatively few restaurants actually on there for Coventry - but not that surprising considering it's a fairly small city), which means there could be some great restaurants that you are missing out on because they are simply not featured on the app. (I could, of course, fix this myself by personally adding all my favourite restaurants along with reviews, but so far I haven't had the time nor the inclination.) The reviews themselves are generally helpful. There is also the option to click 'like' or 'don't like' for each restaurant, the app then giving a percentage of how many people like the restaurant. I found it a bit frustrating that there isn't an 'it's ok' button.

I was going to write here how this application is generally reliable and doesn't crash very often, except when I've used it this morning to write this review, it's crashed twice on me and I've had to force it to close. Oh dear.

This is probably one of the better free restaurant finding apps on the market, however, and it can be fun for finding restaurants you never knew existed near you. It is also available for iPhone, apparently.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Left-over mincemeat tart (with dinosaur motif)

Happy New Year, everyone!

Last night we had our usual New Year celebration - my sister-in-law (to be) and her husband visited for a quiet evening of DVDs and games. I laid on a small buffet, and my centrepiece was a mincemeat tart using leftover mincemeat, my new silicone bakeware and dinosaur cookie cutters.

Unfortunately, we were so full from all the other food available, that we failed to have any room for tart! But I'm sure it will get eaten today!

Anyway, on to the recipe...

Dinosaur-themed Mincemeat Tart

Makes a 9" tart (wahey!)

200g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
450g plain flour
50g icing sugar
2 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons cold water
about 500g mincemeat (or however much will fill your tart...)
beaten egg to glaze (optional - I forgot)

Sieve the flour into a bowl, add the butter and rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Stir in the icing sugar. Then make a well in the centre of the mixture and stir in the egg yolk and the water to make a soft dough.

Knead the dough lightly until smooth, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for about half an hour.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out most of the dough (about 2/3) until it's (very) roughly half a centimetre thick. Carefully line your pie/flan/tart dish with the dough.

(I used a silicone pie dish, which was a mistake in the end because the tart is delicate and you want something you can cut the tart in, like a heatproof china flan dish (something like this, perhaps). My fiancé just managed to transfer the tart to a plate without the whole thing crumbling, but it was touch and go. I am pleased to report that both the tart and our relationship is still in tact.)

Fill the tart with mincemeat (here is the recipe I use for my mincemeat) and then cut the excess pastry off with a small sharp knife.

Roll out the remaining pastry and then use the cookie cutters (you can use any shapes you fancy) to cut out as many figures as will fit nicely on top of the tart, and arrange them nicely on the top of said tart.

If you remember to, brush the pastry topping with beaten egg. Then bake in the oven for 25 minutes.

NB: Pastry recipe is largely based on a mince-pie recipe from Christmas Cakes and Cookies.