Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Holiday planning: Paris

I'm off to Paris in a few weeks for a long weekend, thanks to getting overexcited when the Eurostar sale was on at the end of last year... and promptly booking tickets in March, even though the sale was only valid until February. They were still an awesome deal though, and we've just secured a cute airbnb apartment that I'm really excited about.

I found it really useful to do a trip planning post when I went to Florence - as much as I hope that it helped you guys if you're looking to go, I found myself referring back to it loads when I was in Italy. And as so many of my favourite bloggers seem to spend their weekends in Paris, I'm stealing lots of inspiration from them for when I go.

This was going to be about 'things to do' but it turns out that all I want to do in Paris is eat, so...

1. Fondue
I want to go to Pain Vin Fromage partially because it came up when I googled 'best fondue in Paris' but equally because its name translates to Bread Wine Cheese, which sounds like my kind of place. I think I might want to live there.

2. Burgers
Carrie has some great Paris recommendations, but the one that's stuck in my mind is this burger restaurant, Blend. I wouldn't necessarily think of having a burger in Paris, but these look so good...

3. Steak
I like my steak so rare it's still breathing, so I'm pretty up for the land of steak bleu. There are lots of great sounding steak restaurants popping up on my searches - I'm probably going to go for one of these.

4. Macarons
I do love Laduree, but their flavours are a little safe. Pierre Herme has been on my list forever, so maybe this time I'll finally sample a few.

5. Wine
Matt's already promised to bring no clothes with him so we can fill a suitcase full of wine to bring back - the perks of going via the Eurostar! (FYI, there are restrictions, but nothing like on a flight) I've tracked down these tips on buying wine for cheapos. Yay! Cheap, good wine!

Do you have any other Paris recommendations for me (they don't have to be all food, but it doesn't hurt). I've been before and done most of the sights, so I'm excited to go for a more leisurely trip this time. It's also our first anniversary when we're there, which seems pretty apt for the city of love. I found this list of cheap date ideas in Paris, which I may have to work my way through too. We're only there Friday-Monday though, so I don't know how many we'll be able to fit in!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Cheese & Mashed Potato Comfort Food

It's absolutely comfort food season right now. All I want to do is hibernate under my duvet and eat stodgy, greasy food - preferably bought to me by someone else. But actually, cooking is a really nice thing to do on a cold day. It doesn't involve going outside, and slaving over a hot oven is pretty pleasurable when you're chilled to the bone. By the time you sit down to eat, you're toasty and satisfied - and you have a good, home cooked meal awaiting you.

Today's recipe isn't a difficult one, nor is it particularly calorific - but it does tick my stodgy comfort food boxes, as it's basically just potatoes and cheese. It's adapted from a recipe I found in the book Pie! by Genevieve Taylor, which I got as part of a set along with Stew! and Mince! Despite the 'states-the-obvious' names, they're actually really good cookbooks, full of recipes that make me go 'Ooooh, I want to make that!' which is generally what I want to get out of a recipe book. They're on sale at the Book People right now for £7.99 for all three, a pretty awesome deal. S'where I got em.

I'm actually trying to challenge myself to cook more from recipe books. I tend to find most recipes online - I'm a Pinterest junkie, so constantly have a list on the go of ones I want to try - but I'll also do a quick search if I have something to use up or an ingredient I want to experiment with. But I also have a stack of recipe books that I never use, so my mission this year is to use them more. I'm going to try and do at least one recipe a month from a recipe book, which doesn't sound too difficult... so we'll see. I guess this one counts, even though I've changed it quite a lot from the original recipe!

These quantities serve 4. If you're not cooking for 4, I recommend either halving the recipe or popping the other half in the fridge, all made up and ready to be topped with cheese and to go in the oven for the final step. I'm not convinced this would freeze amazingly, but report back if you give it a go!

Cheese & Mashed Potato Comfort Food
4 baking potatoes
150g Danish Blue
10 x bacon medallions
200g x mature cheddar (I used Cathedral City Lighter Extra Mature)
4 tsp Lurpak Lighter
Splash of milk
Salt and pepper
1 red onion
2 cloves garlic
200g peas

1. Chop up your potatoes and boil for 15-20 minutes, until cooked through.
2. Grill your bacon until nice and crunchy.
3. Dry fry your onions with your garlic, and add any other veg you might fancy (mushrooms would probably be good)
4. When your veg is just about done, throw in your peas to heat through

5. Drain the potatoes and add the butter to them, then mash them well. You may need to add a splash of milk to the potatoes if they're dry - this will just ensure they're nice and smooth.

6. Break up your Danish Blue and stir it into the mash. It's a soft cheese and should dissolve quite quickly.

7. Throw your onions, garlic and peas (and any other veg you're using) into the mash, then chop up your bacon and throw that in too. Stir until well distributed.

8. Add salt and pepper if required, for taste.
9. Transfer the mixture to 4 oven proof dishes, or into one large dish if you're serving it all then and there.

10. Top with the cheddar (50g per dish) and bake for 20 minutes.

11. Serve with some veg on the side, and eat immediately.

This is such a simple dish, and one that I wasn't originally going to share (because it's so easy) until I was asked to on Instagram. But the nice thing with it is that it's really easy to customise. It's basically just cheesy mash, so have fun with it - use different cheeses or vegetables, or mix up the meat - I think this would be great with chorizo, for instance.

It works out at about 15PP if you're on Weight Watchers, but this can be reduced with less cheese or smaller portions.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Chocolate, Caramel, & Peanut Butter Pie

The recipes I've made lately seem to involve using up awesome ingredients - the kind of ingredients so awesome that it seems baffling you'd need to find a way to use them up. This one involves leftover salted caramel sauce. I KNOW. I made two versions for caramel truffles over Christmas, and this - my tried and tested recipe - is not thick enough for truffles (use this one). I tried to roll frozen sauce into little balls to dip into chocolate, and it wouldn't hold together for more than a few seconds. So into the freezer it went. And, what with moving soon, we're trying to use things up, so here we are.

I found this recipe, and I was super excited about it, but then I decided that I couldn't be bothered with all that palaver. So instead, I cobbled something together based on that age old scientific principle of combining nice things to make one extra nice thing. It totally worked.

Chocolate, Caramel, & Peanut Butter Pie (with a brown sugar pretzel crust)
1 portion of caramel sauce (I used this recipe minus the booze)
1 large tablespoon of smooth peanut butter
1 bag salted peanuts, chopped
300g dairy milk chocolate
25g dark chocolate
150g finely crushed pretzel sticks
55g firmly packed light brown sugar
170g melted butter

1. To make the crust, stir together the pretzel sticks, brown sugar and melted butter (I used this recipe)
2. Firmly press crumb mixture on bottom, up sides, and onto lip of a lightly greased 9-inch pieplate.
3. Bake at 180 / 350° for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned (I'll be honest - it looked about the same). Allow to cool crust for 1 hour or until completely cool before filling.

4. Make your caramel sauce and when it's still hot, stir in a large tablespoon of peanut butter until combined.
5. If you are using leftover sauce, like me, heat it gently in a pan over a low heat and when it's back to a saucy consistency (you should be able to stir it easily), add the peanut butter. Feel free to add more to taste - two tablespoons like this was about perfect.

6. Pour the sauce into the pie crust, and leave for at least an hour to cool.

7. Break up the milk chocolate and melt it in a bain marie or carefully in the microwave.
8. Pour the chocolate over the top of the pie, and then sprinkle some peanuts over the chocolate before it sets.

9. Leave the chocolate to set hard in the fridge or overnight (I just left it on the side) and then chop up and serve with cream, if you have it. Which I did not.

I would say that my chocolate was a little thick - I've adjusted the quantities above so you should be fine if you follow that. I'd recommend a few less peanuts on top, and this definitely would benefit from some whipped cream on the side to cut through the richness. But it's amazing - the crust was my favourite part. FYI, if this is a 'but I want it NOW' kind of deal, then I think you'd get on ok filling the pie crust with hot caramel. I don't think the chocolate would set on top until the caramel was cool, but even without chocolate, this would be a tasty pie. Or you could do trendy chocolate shavings on the top or something, along with the peanuts... but the chocolate would probably melt.

I took this to a family do last weekend and everyone liked it, which really sucked. I was more than willing to eat the whole pie myself.

Monday, 9 February 2015

#SimplyBeReal moments

You may have seen some bloggers recently posting beautiful illustrations of their Simply Be Real moments, (those moments that show life doesn't go as planned) in collaboration with SimplyBe. Well, I'm joining in - I was recently approached by SimplyBe to share one of my typical moments as a blogger, to be immortalised in an illustration.

As a fashion blogger, there were so many silly moments that made me look like a complete weirdo to non-bloggers. Things like rushing outside in the snow to get a picture of my outfit before I got dark, always trying to wear an outfit I hadn't blogged about so I could feature it, receiving an embarrassing amount of shoes sent to work... the list is pretty endless. But now I blog more about food, I feel like I am less weird. It is kind of nice going out and not worrying so much about what I wear (although there's also part of me that MISSES caring so much), but instead, now I just can't eat something without whipping out my camera or iPhone.

And that's definitely my SimplyBeReal moment - but more often than not, it's Matt that suffers. He'll be dying to eat something, and I won't let him until I've taken the perfect photo. I do this to him all the time - I think it's because if I'm dishing up, I'll take the messy plate and give him the neat one... but of course, that's the most photogenic one. I would say 'Poor Matt' but he gets awesome food cooked for him all the time, so I don't feel too sorry for him.

Anyway, onto the point of this post - my illustration! I love it - Michael Jefferson perfectly captured those moments (although you can't see Matt's hangry face) and is so good - I thought it was a photograph when I first saw it. Thank you so much, SimplyBe! You can check out other women's real moments by visiting the #SimplyBeReal hashtag, and share your own too.

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 a flower delivery 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 Tarratt 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