Friday, 30 January 2015

Burgers and hot dogs from The Snug, St Albans

I'm moving in a few weeks and will yet again be a few minutes walk from the centre of St Albans. I can't wait to spend more time discovering places and sharing my favourites with you - lately it seems to be becoming a very cool little city and I'm happy to spread the word.

A couple of weeks ago, Matt and I headed to The Snug for lunch - a cosy pub by the clock tower with excellent cocktails and amazing food. I was pretty obsessed with trying their Christmas burger this December, but upsettingly I never managed to make it in time (pleeease bring it back this Christmas - I hate to miss limited edition food!). However, their regular menu more than makes up for it - lots of American inspired food, which is right up my street. I was a very happy lady indeed when they asked if I fancied doing a review.

We both had a non-alcoholic cocktail to start with (I know, I know, but I was driving and Matt was feeling a bit delicate) but despite the absence of delicious booze, the English Fizz was really good - apple, cranberry, raspberry puree and elderflower. Yum.

Nachos were next, which we shared. They were really tasty, with lots of toppings and cheese layered all the way to the bottom. It didn't look like a huge bowl but it was more than enough, especially when we got to our mains.

Hot dogs are The Snug's thing, and I couldn't resist. I had the Pig Dog, which was topped with pulled pork, crispy bacon and American mustard. It was so good. I did have to lame out and eat it with a knife and fork so I didn't get it all over my face and clothes (which is my speciality, I'm a classy lass) but that's hardly a criticism. I would have preferred a brioche bun, but as the filling was so flavoursome, the simple soft roll actually complemented it really well. And I've never met a portion of sweet potato fries that I didn't like.

Matt chose the MYO Snug Burger, which meant he could choose his own toppings from an epic list. His bacon, brie and onion relish combo was such a winner, I didn't even get to try it! Outrageous! (Ok, I totally didn't share my hot dog either...)

We didn't have dessert because we were stuffed to the gills, but I'll be heading back soon to try their Oreo sundae. Oh, and their mac'n'cheese. And halloumi sandwich. Hey, I may just start early and go for the lumberjack breakfast (how good does that sound?)

We had a lovely time - the service was great (and always has been, whenever I've gone in, for the record). It's always packed on weekend evenings, but I love heading in for an early drink or beer garden times in the summer. As it's right in the middle of town, it's a great option to grab a bite - a hearty two thumbs up from me and my (very) full belly.

Thanks to the team at The Snug for a lovely trip - we'll be back!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Hello, petal.

Getting flowers in the post is always a lovely surprise, whether they're from family, friends or someone you fancy like mad.

Even though Valentine's Day is next month, and smug ladies all over the country will be receiving flowers delivered to their office, I think sending flowers is a nice thing to do to anyone you love, whether or not you're in a relationship with them. I don't hold much stock by Valentine's Day - I was single for so long, it really brought home that it is just a day, and also how much some people fixate on it. So not worth it. But I like seeing people who use it as an opportunity to tell everyone they love how they feel about them - the more platonic, the better.

So if you have a friend you just want to give a squeeze this February, send them some Valentine's flowers. They'll love you for it - and almost definitely won't think it's a subtle hint that you fancy them. Unless you do, in which case you should jump on the chance to dispense with subtle hints and put a saucy message in the florist's card, or heck, maybe just send them a link to these engagement rings from Pragnells the jewellers instead...

The flowers in this post were sent to me from Debenhams Flowers. This is the Moonlit Meadow bouquet. They came beautifully packaged and are still going strong almost two weeks later - I'll definitely be ordering from them again! Debenhams have given me a 25% off voucher to share with you all, so why not show someone how much they mean to you?

For 25% off at Debenhams Flowers please use DFBLOG25. The only bouquets exempt from the discount are the 'Flowers By Post' range. Terms & conditions apply, yada yada.


Sunday, 25 January 2015

Why I moved back home

On Christmas Eve 2013, at the grand old age of 31, I moved back in with my mum and dad. I’d been in a houseshare for a year and a half, but one of the girls was moving away and the other was moving in with her boyfriend, and when I talked through my options with my mum, she started trying to convince me to move back in. I really didn’t want to. I get on absolutely fine with my parents – they’re lovely, supportive people – but living under the same roof as them just isn’t COOL, especially at my age. It’s more than that though – I’d become used to having my own space and freedom, and I knew things would be different when I moved back.

My mum is desperate for me to some day own my own place, so we struck up a deal; that if I saved a certain amount in a year, she would match it. It was both generous and awesome, and what’s more it was achievable. I fought it for a little bit, but inevitably gave in because I realised it would make a huge difference to my life.

So, a year on, I’m not ready to buy a place yet. But I am in a much better place, financially. I know that if I run out of money before the end of the month, I’ll be ok. I have no credit card debt any more. I have a new car. And I have an ISA with five figures inside it.

Most importantly, I’ve learnt to budget and to save. I weirdly enjoy going through my budget spreadsheet and seeing my savings build up, and working out where they’ll be in a year. Saving some of my wages every month is just a given now, and as someone who was permanently broke no matter how much she earned, I’m happy and amazed to have cracked it.

It hasn’t been that easy. I've struggled with the loss of freedom. For instance, at my parents’, I don’t feel like I can leave dirty plates out on the side. I would never lounge on the sofa in my pyjamas for an entire Sunday. I have to let them know if I’m going to be out all night. They eat my food. I eat their food. They get a little offended when I don’t want to talk about my day. It’s never got too much to bear, but sometimes it’s a bit irritating. But I feel guilty complaining about it though - I really haven't spent a lot of time here this year as I've had Matt's flat just up the road to escape to, and I know I'm lucky to have been given this opportunity and to have supportive parents.

Buying a place of my own probably won’t happen until 2016 now. As much as I could save even more if I stayed at home another year, I don’t want to. A year has been plenty, and I have a handsome young flatmate lined up to rent with next month, so I’m more than ready to fly the nest again. I’ve moaned about living at home quite a bit this year, but for anyone who has their finances in a muddle and is considering it, I can’t recommend it enough. I really feel like it’s set me up for life, and I think that’s pretty damn amazing.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Traditional English Scones

As much as I adore cream teas, I always feel a bit disappointed with the scones. I don’t think anyone makes proper scones, not like my parents make. The more realistic outcome is probably that the scones my parents make are not traditional scones, but they’re so much nicer.

Scones are always what my Dad makes when there’s milk and eggs to use up. There’s not even much milk in them, but it’s an excellent excuse to have hot scones regularly, so no one questions it. They may be traditionally a summer dessert, but there are few things more comforting on a cold wintry Sunday. There’s nothing like a scone fresh out of the oven, so hot that the butter disappears into it, and it leaves your fingers greasy and your stomach happy.

It rhymes with stone, by the way.

Proper English Scones (probably)
400g Self Raising flour
100g softened Butter
100g granulated or caster sugar
1tsp baking powder
1 egg, beaten
Splash of milk
Handful of raisins (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 160c.

2. In a bowl combine flour, sugar and baking powder

3. Add the butter and rub into the dry mix with your fingers – it should go sort of pebbly

4. Add the egg and then a splash of milk – just enough for the dough to be soft and easy to handle (it may be slightly sticky – also fine)

5. Add raisins if you fancy!

6. Grease or line a baking sheet and then add spoonfuls of the scone dough to it. You can roll them into balls, but in our house, we prefer ugly lumps. They are just so much more inviting than the uniform, cut-out versions, don’t you think?

7. Pop into the oven and cook for 20 minutes.

8. Eat immediately, with butter, or jam, or butter and jam. Or eat them later. All options are good options.

Friday, 16 January 2015

New home wishlist featuring Matalan, Tesco and B&M Bargains

I've been hard at work flat-hunting lately, and even though we haven't found anywhere yet, there's only a few weeks until we're planning to move. I'm ridiculously excited. I have really missed having my own place, and I'm obsessing a little too much about what it's going to look like and the furniture and lovely home bits I'm going to buy. I'm having to force myself not to buy loads but it's hard - I think once I'm in I'll be a little out of control! Although I'm still trying to save money with a view to buying somewhere in a year, so I'll have to restrain myself.

I've been looking on H&M Home a lot - they have some lovely products, but the only store I've seen them is in Oxford Street and it's a bit of a trek for me. I always prefer actually picking up products and looking at them before I buy them, you know? But I've seen tons of nice - and great value - stuff in Tesco, Matalan and B&M Bargains, all of which are near me, hooray!

B&M Bargains



Tuesday, 13 January 2015

How to lighten up a recipe without sacrificing flavour

Back in 2013, when I was trying to fit into a bridesmaid dress, I got really good at the whole healthy eating lark. I managed to figure out the balance between losing weight and eating tasty homecooked food, and I thought I was set. Unfortunately, a variety of reasons saw me falling well and truly off the wagon (America, Christmas, new relationship – yeah, that’ll do it) but I’m determined to get back to where I was. As much as I want to lose weight – and I’ll admit it, I do – my goal is to feel the way I did when I was eating healthy, made-from-scratch food. I felt awesome! No bloating or tummyaches, and I got super efficient at food shopping. No waste, no overspending – I rocked.

One thing I got really got at was looking at a recipe and learning to lighten them up. I’m still going to post recipes on here, but I’m all for encouraging people to get into the kitchen, so here are my top tips.

Bacon & Chorizo
This pair are high in fat, but high in flavour, which makes them awesome to pop into a sauce. The key is not to use too much – you’d be surprised at how much difference a little bit can make. For bacon, I always buy medallions. All the fat has been trimmed off, and if you only add half a packet to a pasta sauce, it adds flavour but not many calories. I also really like the uncooked chorizo sausages you can get in the raw meats aisle - they have a lot more flavour than the cured stuff.

Low fat substitutes
Well, duh. I always buy low fat cheese and butter, for instance, but there are a few other good things out there. Campbell’s low fat mushroom soup is great (the full fat isn’t too naughty either, though) and makes a really easy creamy sauce, as does a tub of low fat Philadelphia (I always go for the ‘Light’ – never the lightest as I feel like it's mostly water though).

Add more carbs
This is such a simple trick, but it took me forever to realise it. If you’re making a pasta sauce, you’ll usually find that adding in a couple more portions of pasta will make no difference to the sauciness or the taste. Most pasta sauces can stretch quite far, and if you’re using a big pan (I love my wok), then you can just throw in six or eight pasta portions at the end, stir it all together and then portion it up. This means you’ll feel way less guilt about adding in ‘naughty’ ingredients like chorizo or cheese or red wine, because it’s going that much further – but you’ll still get the taste.

Weigh those carbs
Yeah, it might seem a bit much but it’s worth doing. When you serve pasta by eye, you’re pretty much guaranteed to overserve. Think about how many times you’ve been in an Italian restaurant and thought your pasta dish looked a bit small, but been nice and full by the time you finish? Exactly. I usually have 40-50g of pasta, and it’s always plenty. And I am a hungry girl.

Bulk out with veggies
It’s a no brainer really. There aren’t really any savoury dishes that can’t be improved by adding more vegetables. They add flavour, texture, and they’re good for you. A nice bulky sauce will stretch further and be much more substantial to eat. I always throw onions and mushrooms into everything, but I’m also a fan of peppers, courgette and leeks. Grated carrot adds bulk and sweetness to a tomatoey sauce, mushrooms will absorb the flavour in a slow cooked meaty dish like this one, and I love the texture of onions.

Lose the oil
Occasionally you need oil for dishes, but 9 times out of 10, you can lose it. Get a decent non-stick frying pan (or wok! I always vote wok!) and that will help a lot. I still find that food sticks a little, so I often add a splash of water. Food will cook fine, and if you’re making a sauce then you don’t need to drain it away. If a recipe calls for butter, I usually use Lurpak Lighter, but I make sure I use less than the recipe states. Butter counts as oil too, which isn't very good for you - but if you’re doing my trick of making one sauce stretch to lots of portions, then a couple of spoonfuls of butter isn’t too bad. The reason I mention it is that using butter is worth it for the flavour, but oil doesn’t really add any flavour. So what’s the point?

Go meat-free
I inadvertently ate vegetarian food a lot when I was being really good. I’d work up a recipe, and just wouldn’t see the point in adding meat. Some meats do add flavour, like I mentioned earlier, but others really don’t. I hardly ever put chicken in my sauces, for instance, because I don’t actually think it adds a lot of flavour - and if it's a choice between chicken and cheese, cheese is going to win every single time. A lot of meat substitutes aren’t too bad either, like Quorn mince – great in a Spag Bol, especially if you’re wary of eating too much red meat.

Season, season, season
A lot of diet food is rubbish because it’s tasteless. It’s full of salt, preservatives and not much else. It doesn’t have to be that way! I always throw in tons (and tons, and tons) of crushed garlic to everything, but I also love smoked paprika, dried rosemary, thyme and coriander (dried or fresh). I do add a little salt if a recipe calls for it, but I prefer to add lashings of black pepper instead. Balsamic vinegar and sweet chilli sauce add loads of flavour to loads of dishes, as do soy sauce, honey and sugar (or sweetener). None of those seasonings add anything to the fat content and have barely any calories (I rarely count them) but they can make a huge difference to the taste.

Portion it up
Even if you’re only serving one or two people that evening, portion up the entire dish as you serve it. That way you’ll have equal portions all stored away, and avoid giving yourself more than you intended. I love pasta bakes and lasagnes for this, because they’re so easy to portion up. I wrote a post on batch cooking that goes into more detail!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Boozy Coconut Truffles

I don't want this blog to be all about healthy eating in January, because that's no fun, and a little of what you fancy does you good. That's just science.

This is actually a recipe that I made just before Christmas. I'd had a little obsession for a while about making truffles for presents, and I spent an afternoon trying out some different recipes. My cookie dough ones were terrible, the peanut butter ones were awesome (I used this recipe) and the salted caramel ones tasted great, but were really tricky to make. By far, the easiest and most popular ones were my coconut ones, and so now I shall pass this immense knowledge onto you. You lucky people.

These have Malibu in them, but don't worry if you don't like alcoholic chocolates - you get a lovely hint of coconuttyness at the end, but no boozyness at all. So if a child ate one, there's 2 tablespoons stretched across 20+ truffles, so don't fret too much.

These are super easy but do take a while - there's just a bit of refrigerating and freezing though, so they're a good thing to, say, start in the morning and finish in the evening, and leave to set overnight.

Boozy Coconut Truffles
 400g white chocolate
90g cream cheese (half a tub)
30g icing sugar
100g dessicated coconut
2 tablespoons Malibu Coconut Rum

Makes 20-24 truffles.

1. Melt half of the chocolate (200g) in a bain marie, or in the microwave on a medium setting (checking and stirring regularly).
2. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese, icing sugar and Malibu together either with a wooden spoon or an electric whisk.
3. Stir in the melted chocolate and the coconut.
4. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 4 hours (if you haven't got much fridge space, decant to a smaller bowl like I did).
5. Get out the fridge and shape into 3/4 inch balls (about 24). Place on a baking tray covered in foil or greaseproof paper.
6. Put in the fridge for a couple more hours to set or in the freezer for 30-60 minutes. I recommend the freezer!
7. Melt the remaining chocolate as you did earlier, and then dip one truffles at a time into the chocolate. I used two forks to gently lift the truffles out, which allowed the chocolate to drip through the prongs and made it easy to pop them back onto the baking tray.
8. If desired, sprinkle the truffles with dried coconut, but be quick - if you've frozen them before dipping, you'll find the chocolate sets almost instantly.
9. Leave the truffles to set - I just left them out on the side overnight, but you could put them in the freezer to speed them up. They should last about a week in the fridge.

Nom nom nom.

Disclaimer: Malibu sent me the alcohol featured in this post. Thanks, Malibu!

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Normal is the watchword.

I'm one of those people who wears a watch every day, and will wear that watch for years. I had my last watch for 10 years before I replaced it - and even then, it was because I was sick of it, rather than it falling apart! But I must be getting more fickle in my old age, as I find myself looking around at new watches, even though I've only had my current one for a couple of years.

I was recently sent some info about Shinola, who recently launched their UK site and Carnaby Street shop. These aren't budget watches by any means, but as they handcraft all their products, these are real investment pices. I'm a fan of the watches (my favourites are below) but they even sell pet accessories too. I kind of love the idea of being matchy matchy with my cat, haha.


Tuesday, 6 January 2015

10 Good-For-You recipes to cook in January

Look. It’s January. We’re all in the same boat here. We all ate far too much over Christmas and we haven’t really stopped yet, but that resolution to start eating healthily again is blinking away and you know you really shouldn’t have oven pizza for dinner again.

Whether or not you’re trying to lose weight, it’s always a good idea to try and eat well, and if you start now as you mean to go on, then hopefully you’ll be more likely to stick to it. Eating well doesn’t mean surviving on cabbage soup – there are tons of awesome, easy recipes that you can make to give your tummy some much needed TLC.

So what should you eat to get you back on track? Here are my suggestions - some are my own recipes, others are from my Pinterest wanderings. All are good for you, tasty and do NOT taste like diet food.

Butternut Squash Lasagne
This is still one of my most popular blog posts by far. It’s not the quickest of recipes, mainly due to how long it takes to peel and chop up a whole butternut squash, but it is super easy and it makes 6 hearty portions, so the time it takes is very much worth it. It’s so good for you as it’s full of veggies, and it’s easy to customise with whatever vegetables you have at home. What’s more, it contains two types of cheese and it’s incredibly filling. I’d quite happily have this every night, because I know it’s full of good things, tasty and filling but also less than 350 calories a portion (and 6 Weight Watchers points!).

Sweet Potato Skins
I worked out the WW points for this recipe and it’s really not bad at all – and that’s including the oil to crisp up the skins (which I feel is a necessity). Sweet potatoes are super good for you, and potato skins are super tasty – what’s not to love? The reason this isn’t too naughty is because it’s not a starter or a side dish, it’s DINNER. And honestly, with a nice big salad, it’ll be plenty.

Spaghetti Bolognese
My recipe isn’t very authentic and it takes hours to cook, but that just makes it worth it. I pack it full of vegetables and cook it down until the sauce thickens and the flavours mingle, and it makes an incredible amount. Last time I did it, it made four portions PLUS a lasagne (which was six portions!), so ten in total. I like adding red wine and olives to mine, but you don’t have to. I always use extra lean mince, and honestly, it tastes the same. I love Spag Bol because it tastes even better reheated, so it’s the perfect dish to portion up and pop in the freezer.

KFC Style Chicken
I love Amy's blog - I always head here whenever I need recipe inspiration! Her KFC style chicken is incredible, and it's about a million times healthier than the real thing as it's baked, not fried. We had it with homemade courgette fries and it was pretty damn wonderful. I'd like to try it in a warm salad next.

Mushroom Lasagne
This does NOT taste like diet food. It tastes like garlic and butter and cheese. But because the main filling is mushrooms – which are super low in fat and calories – it’s not naughty at all! Bonus fact: your house will smell amazing afterwards.

Cheeseburger Casserole
If you’re really missing burgers, this pasta bake incorporates all the flavours of a cheeseburger and isn’t a bad subsitute (although remember that you can make diet-friendly burgers too, like this one and this one!). I always add lots of mustard and tons of sweet pickles on top, but it’s so easy to customise.

Hunters Chicken
Another one of Amy's recipes - this is an amazing Hunter's Chicken dupe. It has a homemade BBQ sauce, so it's not full of additives and sugar, and by limiting the cheese and bacon, it's really not too bad at all. This is Slimming World friendly, too.

Blue Cheese Pasta Bake
This pasta dish has a LOT of cheese in it. But also a lot of veggies. It’s creamy and green and oh-so-good, and the perfect dinner for a cold winter’s evening. It’s also vegetarian, and super low in calories.

Pizza Casserole
This is a lot like the Cheeseburger Casserole in theory – taking something bad, adding pasta, making it not-so-bad. It’s easy to make, and the best bit is you can add your own toppings. I’m thinking of trying it with ham and pineapple...

Buffalo Chicken Mac ‘n’ Cheese
I still don’t really believe 1) how good this was and 2) how low in WW points it was. Every time I got it out of the freezer, I thought ‘This portion looks tiny!’ and every time it was plenty because it’s super rich. It takes a while to make, but pop Netflix on your laptop or iPad and take over the kitchen for the day. Cooking gets the blood going too, so it’s the perfect activity for a chilly January day!

Slow Cook!
Remember that the beauty of doing meat in the slow cooker is that it cooks in its own juices, so often doesn’t need oil to make it moist. This chicken recipe is a great one to try, and it makes loads - or check out my Pinterest board full of recipes!