Thursday, 16 October 2014

Postcards of Florence

I can't believe it's taken me this long to put up my holiday photos! It's been about a month since we got back from Florence, and it feels like a distant memory already. It doesn't take long, does it? So it's nice to go through my photos again and reminisce about what an awesome holiday it was.

It's actually the third time I've been to Florence, but the first time I've had a decent amount of time there. We visited a few years ago en route to my friend's wedding and only stayed three days or so, and then when I was in Lucca the year later, we went on a day trip. This time we went for five nights, which was the perfect amount of time to see everything. We'd neglected most of the sights when I went before, so this time it was good to see the Duomo, Michelangelo's David and the Boboli Gardens.

The trip also marked the first proper holiday Matt and I have been on together, and Florence was the perfect setting to be a bit mushy. Even though it's very touristy, it really is a beautiful city - the architecture is stunning and the scenery is amazing. Oh, and the FOOD! We ate so many incredible things, I'm actually going to do a separate post dedicated to it.

Walking up the steps to the Duomo might have killed me slightly, but it was worth it for the incredible view. But if you visit, make sure you head to the Boboli Gardens too - the view is just as good. We went on our last day, and spent hours lying on the grass reading. After days of walking around the city and cramming lots in, it was lovely to just relax and enjoy being there. It was one of my favourite parts of the holiday, because even though I don't really get a lot out of "sun" holidays where the aim is to spend as much time lying down and going as brown as possible (kind of pointless when your skin is closer to blue than brown), it's nice to take those moments to relax sometimes.

We just had the BEST time. We're already planning next year's holiday... I just wish it could be sooner!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Back to School.

I have this long-running jealousy of schoolkids. Which, out of context, sounds extremely weird. But no, don't worry - I'm totally over my uni days, when I lived opposite a school and used to stare enviously at the happy kids across the street whilst I was trying to write an essay about Chekhov on two hours sleep. Lucky little buggers.

Nope, these days, the jealousy I have is their clothes. Those cute little blue gingham summer frocks? I would wear the heck out of that these days, if they only sold them in my size. And I've never been able to find a pleated skirt as flattering as the little navy number I wore in secondary school. This has led me to the Back to School section on the New Look website, grumpily looking at all the adorable separates that I would wear in an instant, if I just had the waist of a 14 year old. I swear clothes weren't this adorable when I was at school!


Sunday, 12 October 2014

Slow Cooker Balsamic Beef Stew

One of my favourite things about Autumn is the good, hearty food that's plentiful at this time of year. Begone, salads and white wine, and hellooo rich stews and a large glass of red. I've been waiting for an excuse to make a good beef recipe in the slow cooker for a while now, and when Lidl got in touch and asked if I fancied doing a recipe post with some of their ingredients, that was all the excuse I needed.

I've had a hankering for more balsamic meaty goodness ever since our last night in Florence. The balsamic steak we had was to die for - it was covered in a thick balsamic glaze, which tasted both sweet and savoury at the same time. God, it was good. This recipe wasn't the same in the slightest, actually, because the balsamic was a much more subtle flavour, but it was still pretty damn good.

I must do a disclaimer first - this recipe nearly went horribly wrong. The beef roasting joint I used would have been better replaced with diced stewing or braising steak, and when I make it again (when, not if), that's what I'll be using. The joint was from the rump, and was a little dense and thick. We chopped it up and returned it to sit in the sauces for an hour, and it was excellent, but it wasn't the falling-apart-meat that I was expecting. Sometimes improvising can make an even better meal though, and I really think this did. It was incredibly, incredibly tasty, and a really flavourful, hearty Sunday lunch.

Slow cooker Balsamic Beef 
(adapted from a recipe from Shugary Sweets)

Lidl British beef roasting joint (but I recommend using diced steak instead)
1 litre beef stock
100g brown sugar
60ml balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp salt
3 cloves crushed garlic
1 large onion, finely sliced
8 mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp cornflour

Serves 6-8

1. Add all the ingredients except the beef, onions and mushrooms to a bowl and mix together with a spoon.
2. Slice the onion and mushrooms and add to the bowl and stir.

3. Transfer bowl to the slow cooker, then place the beef on top. With a large spoon, pour the sauce over the beef.
4. Cook on low for 7-8 hours.

5. If using a joint, after 7-8 hours, remove from the slow cooker and cut into small chunks.
6. Return to the slow cooker and cook on low for another hour.

7. If using diced steak, you can skip steps 5-6.
8. Remove the meat, onions and mushrooms from the slow cooker with a slotted spoon, and transfer the juices to a saucepan. Don't worry too much if the odd bit remains!
9. Make a cornflour paste with a couple tablespoons of cornflour and a small splash of water. Stir together until no lumps remain.
10. Add the cornflour to the pan with the juices, stir together and then cook on a high heat for about 10 minutes. Keep stirring, and it should start to thicken. If it's still a little watery, just add more cornflour paste.

11. Transfer the beef juices to a jug - this will be your gravy.
12. Serve your beef with mounds of buttery mash, honey roasted carrots and tenderstem broccoli, smothered in delicious gravy.

I'm a real convert to Lidl and their counterpart (who I won't name here!) - I've been shopping at both a lot more frequently lately, and have been genuinely surprised at how much more I got for my money. I spent about £15 on the ingredients for this, and considering it could serve 8 people, that's pretty impressive.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Bubbles and Lakes

Dog on a boat!

There are so many parts of the UK that I've been to on flying visits - either driving through or for work - that sometimes I forget that I haven't really been to them. The Lake District is one such place - I've been there for work a few times now, but I've never had the chance to properly see it or explore, so when my friends and I started discussing getting away for a long weekend in a cottage, the Lake District was one of my first suggestions. Even on a flying visit, it's impossible to miss how beautiful it is - the scenery is simply breathtaking.

It was lovely to get away from it all. We did the perfect mixture of doing things and doing nothing - we were right on the edge of Lake Windermere, so had a boat trip to Ambleside and a nice wander through the countryside. We also ate an incredible amount of cheese and wine. Like, really. You have no idea how much cheese my friends and I can put away. I love an excuse to get away, but even more I love it when everyone is on the same page, just as happy to be a bit lazy as not.

Waitrose, awesomely, sent me a crate of prosecco to share from their Italian Wine selection. I don't need any excuse to tuck in to some fizz, and we introduced the concept of a prosecco course which I will now be implementing into every dinner time, obviously. So that was my "Prosecco Moment" - good times, with good friends. And fizz. Fizz makes all times better, right?