Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Review: Coori gluten or dairy free food box.

Throughout July, I've been reviewing a Coori box. It's basically a big box of edible goodies - my kind of box! The twist is that it's all catered for people with allergies and intolerances, so you can customise your box to be free from gluten, wheat, dairy, lactose, egg or MSG, with vegetarian and vegan options available too.

Firstly, it's pretty exceptional value. My box was worth £75, and inside was:
  • Fresh gnocchi
  • Fresh gluten free spinach & ricotta ravioli
  • Fresh gluten free Parma ham & Parmesan tortellini
  • 3 x gluten free pies
  • Red pepper pesto
  • 2 x gluten free pizza bases
  • Risotto ai funghi porcini
  • Zuppa mediterranea
  • Magic Pillow cereal (like Crave)
  • 3 x bags of maize & rice crisps
  • Rice bread breadcrumbs
  • Lentils
  • Gluten free cantucci (like biscotti)
  • Gluten free biscotti
  • 4 x bags of potato crisps
  • Gluten free cookies
  • Gluten free lasagne sheets
  • Gluten free ready to fill profiteroles
  • Gluten free hamburger rolls
  • Gluten free foccacia
  • Gluten free bread mix
  • Gluten free puff pastry mix
  • Gluten free pizza mix
  • Gluten free Couscous
  • Gluten free petit pains
  • Rice cream
  • Soy cream
  • Gluten free, dairy free tartare sauce
  • Gluten free, dairy free, soya free Mayo alternative
  • Hot salsa
  • Chocolate rice pudding
  • Rice snacks with chocolate or almond filling

That's a lot, isn't it? Considering that most free from foods tend to be more expensive than the non-free from stuff, I was pretty impressed. Less so when I had to carry the box to my car from work, but that's my total lack of upper body strength for you.

Most of the things inside the box don't need refrigerating and have decent sell-by dates, but a few of the items were fresh and I prioritised using them up first of all - the gnocchi, the ravioli, the tortellini and the pies. I still haven't used everything in the box, but I'm working my way through it. Because I'm not gluten free, it's been interesting to try the foods out and see if I notice a difference in the taste or consistency.

Here are some of the items I've cooked so far:

Gnocchi & red pepper pesto
Really tasty. Gnocchi tends to be gluten free (it's made of potatoes) so I don't imagine any major changes were made to either of these to make them Coori-friendly, but they were lovely and fresh and full of flavour.

Beef & ale pie and chicken & mushroom pie
These were disappointing, as they were incredibly dry inside. It didn't really make any sense to me as to why a different pastry would make the filling so bland and dry. There was also a cheese one in the package, but we didn't get a chance to eat it before it went off (these had the shortest sell by dates of everything in the box).

Tortellini with a homemade tomato sauce
I honestly couldn't tell the difference between this and gluteny pasta, and the same goes for the ravioli (not pictured). It was slightly overcooked though (more on that below).

I've cooked a few more things too - we've made garlic bread with the foccacias, have thrown the lentils in plenty of salads and are planning to have the risotto for dinner tonight - and have taken a lot of the snacky bits into work, which has made me quite popular with my colleagues - everyone loved the cantucci and biscotti!

My criticisms would be that I wish Coori included a list of the items in the box - I had to sit and write that massive list out, but once I did it was so helpful as it meant I knew what food I had and what else I need to buy to turn it into meals. It's impressive that the items are sourced from lots of different locations, but an issue in that is that a few of the items have no English on the packaging which isn't very helpful for reading ingredients or knowing the cooking instructions. The fresh pastas, although they were in English, also had no cooking instructions - I had to google the cooking times, but as they weren't specific to gluten free they weren't quite right - I definitely overcooked the tortellini, for instance. I found that really annoying - it definitely needs to be addressed.

I'm lucky enough not to have any allergies so using this box for a month was more of a novelty for me, and I continued eating wheat and dairy the rest of the time. But I've suffered in the past, and have family members who do,so I know how expensive it can be - that's the best thing about the Coori box, as it's really reasonable considering how much food you get. I'd consider a box like this if someone in my family or I had allergies, for sure, although personally it would be something I'd dip into a couple of times a week rather than being the only food I cooked all month - I'm an improvisational cook and like a lot of variety.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Recipe: Tweaked Tabbouleh with feta, bulgur wheat and chickpeas

I am constantly guilty of spending too much money on lunch. I like the idea of bringing it in, but when it comes to it... I just don't. Instead I'll cheerily spend my hard earned cash on salads, soups and sandwiches and wonder why I have nothing left in my bank account at the end of the month. It's so much worse on days that I work in London, too. The lunch options near my office are so fantastic that I think nothing of spending £8 on a salad and drink, despite knowing that if I did that every day I'd spend £160 on lunches a month. Ouch.

So I'm trying to turn over a new leaf, starting with this salad. It's actually the perfect lunch salad for me as it involves very little effort. In fact, it puts me in mind of this quote from the ever wise Cordelia Chase:

Cordelia: I have to cook, and everything!
Xander: You're cooking?
Cordelia: Well, I'm chips and dips girl.
Xander: Horrors! All that opening and stirring.
Cordelia: And shopping and carrying.
Xander: Well, then you should have a person who does such things for you.
Cordelia: Well, that's what I've been saying to my father, but does he listen?

Man, I love Buffy. Have you watched Buffy? You should watch Buffy. Anyway, this salad is basically about opening, stirring, shopping and carrying. And a little bit of chopping. You can make it a few days ahead (I probably wouldn't go much more than 3) and make as much or as little as you want. It's based on Tabbouleh, but I've made some modifications to turn it from a side dish to a main meal - basically adding a bit more protein in the form of feta, and making it bit more filling with the chickpeas. I also cut down the olive oil - I tried to leave it out but it does improve it, even though the vegetables make it lovely and moist. It's yummy - fresh and full of flavour, and good for you to boot.

You should be able to find bulgur wheat at most supermarkets (I got it at Sainsburys). It's super low in calories - a large 50g portion is under 50 calories - and really easy to prepare. Just pop it in a bowl, make sure it's just covered with cold water and leave for an hour. Donezo. Then just chop everything up, stir it through, and dish up. That's my kind of salad.

Tweaked Tabbouleh with feta, bulgur wheat and chickpeas
100g bulgur wheat
1 can chickpeas, drained
1 tomato
1/3 of a cucumber
1/4 red onion
1 red chilli, deseeded
100g feta cheese (half a block)
4 tsp olive oil
1 lemon
Bunch of coriander
Bunch of chives
Salt and pepper, to serve.

3 / 5 WW Propoints

1. Place your bulgur wheat in a bowl and add water until it is just covered. Don't worry if you overdo it, you can always drain it afterwards. Leave the bowl out at room temperature for at least an hour.
2. Dice all your vegetables, herbs and feta (not the lemon) and set aside.
3. When the bulgur is done, stir well with a fork and drain if any water remains.
4. Throw in your can of chickpeans (drain it first, obvs).
5. Add all your vegetables, herbs and feta to the bowl, and then squeeze your lemon juice over the lot, then your olive oil. Add some salt and pepper and then stir well with a fork to distribute everything evenly.
6. That's it! Portion up into boxes and feel smug that you've sorted your lunch for the next few days.

This is an easy recipe to play with, so feel free. I've seen recipes that use mint and parsley instead of coriander, you could mix up the cheese or add meat instead, you could even add raisins or pomegranate seeds to give it a burst of sweetness. I also feel that the chives could be left out - they don't add a lot, so unless you're using them in something else, I wouldn't buy them especially.

Let me know if you give this a go and if you made any modifications in the comments or on Twitter!

Friday, 24 July 2015

Wishlist: summer wedges

Even though I'm someone with a lot of clothes and a lot of pairs of shoes, the older items are always the ones I wear the most. Particularly with shoes. I've recently had to throw away a couple of pairs that were falling apart, and it broke my heart a little. They weren't even expensive - both from Matalan, in fact - but there was nothing more comfortable than my narrow black peep toe wedges or my black patent Mary Janes, even though they were both around the 5 inch mark.

So suddenly, I feel like I have no nice pairs of shoes, and with wedding season on our doorstep, I need to rectify that. The dream is a smart, comfortable pair of wedges that will go with everything to replace my beloved Matalan ones... maybe a pair of these will fit the bill!

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Nailbox: monthly nail polish subscription service

I dabbled in the beauty box trend a few years ago, back when they were huge. There were lots - and I believe there are still a few around - monthly boxes full of a random selection of beauty products. I loved the idea, but as I'm not a beauty junkie, I found myself giving away most of the contents to friends and family - I can only think of a couple of products I went on to use regularly (and yes, one of them was of course the HD brow palette).

When I was asked if I wanted to give Nailbox a go though, I was a lot more enthusiastic. I may not be a beauty girl - I'm certainly not a beauty blogger - but I've always been a big nail polish fan. In an ideal world I'd definitely have perfectly polished talons every day, but even though I don't, I still take care of my nails and like to paint them whenever I get a chance.

So Nailbox sends you a random assortment of polishes every month, at a cost of £15 a month (£13.50 a month if you commit to 12 months). It's really good value, when you consider that most nail polishes cost about £10 each. Here's what I got:

Essie - Reorrrrange

Nails Inc - Colville Mews

Tanya Burr - Mischief Managed

Seche Vite topcoat

The nail polishes alone are worth around £35, and I also got a cuticle clipper. The Essie shade, Reorrrrange, is my favourite - a bright, wearable orange creme with a nice thick consistency. I don't really suit neon colours, so this is perfect as it's bright without being TOO bright. I haven't tried the other two shades yet, but I've used Seche Vite several times before and it's a great topcoat - and not cheap at £9 a bottle!

I would seriously consider signing up for Nailbox on a monthly basis - I'm really impressed with their offering so far and am looking forward to seeing what they'll be giving away next month.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Books read in 2015 so far

I always aim to read more than I do. At heart, I'm still that little girl who always had her head stuck in a book - the family joke was that I didn't know my way anywhere because whenever we were in the car, I was looking at a page rather than out the window. Many years later, when I learned to drive - guess what? Turns out it wasn't a joke. I had to use a sat nav to get to my Granny's house, where she's lived my entire life.

Growing up though, meant less time between the pages and more time out in the real world. I've driven to work for the last eight years, and apparently reading at the wheel is pretty frowned upon. I actually really like driving to work, but I do sometimes think it would be nice to hop on a train instead and spend the journey reading.

This year though, I've been working in London once or twice a week, and it's given me the chance to recapture it, a little. Last year, I kept a track of the books I read on Pinterest and was on 25 by the end of the year - this year I'm on book 15, only halfway through, so I hope I'll beat last year (25 doesn't seem very many to me!). And I thought I'd summarise them here....

1. Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
I'm hesitant to say too much about Grasshopper Jungle, because I think it's best to go into it with no prior knowledge, like I did. It took a chapter or so to grab me, but then I couldn't put it down. I learned after finishing it that Edgar Wright is planning on directing the movie of this, so yeah - it's going to be huge. Read it now, and then you can be smug when the movie comes out!

2. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
You've already read this, right? Everyone has! With the film coming out on DVD earlier this year, I wanted to read the book first, and devoured this on a train journey to Wales. It's compulsive, which isn't always a mark of quality, but this is really well written and not at all predictable. The film is a really great adaptation too (the book's author wrote the screenplay) so I massively recommend both. I figure you already know this, but if not, it's the story of a man whose wife goes missing, and how he deals with being a suspect in her disappearance. I loved it.

3. Yes Please by Amy Poehler
I love Amy Poehler. Everyone loves Amy Poehler. In fact, the only bad things I've heard about Amy Poehler were in this book, by Amy Poehler. It's half advice book, half autobiography, and while it maybe seems a little rushed, she's so likeable and warm that I didn't mind one bit. Plus, bonus gossip about Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation!

4. Room by Emma Donoghue
This is such an interesting book. Interesting, but did I like it? I'm not sure. It's the story of a woman who was abducted as a teenager and has been imprisoned in a room for years, along with her son Jack, who was born in the room and doesn't know any different. It's told in first person, by five-year-old Jack, and the author was inspired by the Fritzl case. It was really hard to put down, but I didn't love it, and I can't really put my finger on why. I'd recommend it though, as it's very different.

5. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
This is a short read, but one that will stay with you. It's been written from the point of view of someone who has locked-in syndrome, so he can't move or speak, but is completely aware of everything around him. It's a frightening affliction, but rather than focus on that, this book is positive and life-affirming. I loved it.

6. My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler
This is a eBook I've had on my iPhone forever, and decided to give it a go during a boring train journey when I didn't feel like anything heavy. It was ok, with amusing moments, but I was left with an overwhelming feeling of 'Why should I care?' It's a book about Chelsea's one night stands, and while part of me kind of liked that there wasn't a message, and it wasn't preachy - at one point I did wonder if it would end with her in Alcoholics Anonymous - it just didn't really leave an impression. I'm actually struggling to remember how it ended...

7. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
I wasn't sure if I was going to read this young adult book, because I thought it would make me sob as much as The Fault in our Stars did. It's a really short, quick read about Mia, who has been in a car accident and is having an out of body experience while she's in a coma fighting for her life. It's an intriguing premise, but it didn't hit me emotionally. I didn't really get why it was such a big hit, but maybe it was one of those situations where a young adult book is really aimed at the YOUNG adults. Not the 30 somethings.

8. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
My friend Jo got me this for my birthday last year, and it took me about six months to read it. I'd pick it up on holiday or a long trip, read a couple of chapters, then forget about it when I got home and read something else. It just didn't grab me. The frustrating thing is that once I actually sat down and said 'Right, I am finishing this book', it absolutely did grab me. About half way through, the plot gets seriously compelling and exciting, and I can see why this is such a classic. Stick with it, but I feel it's a holiday book - something you can read over a few days, rather than dipping in and out of. It's about Rebecca, the dead ex-wife of the narrator's new husband, and how she effects everything about her, even after she's gone.

9. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
After finishing Rebecca, I was in a classics phase so gave this a go. I've never read any Agatha Christie before, but it's clear why she's still renowned as one of our best mystery writers. This is a classic locked-room murder mystery that I've seen emulated and spoofed so many times before, but surprisingly I didn't clock whodunnit until it was just about revealed.

10. Animal Farm by George Orwell
Still in the classics phase! I decided to try Orwell out again, as I hadn't read him since school (more on that in a second). Animal Farm is a quick read - I think I finished it in an afternoon - but good, although I found the metaphors a bit heavy handed.

11. 1984 by George Orwell
I decided to stick with Orwell and read 1984 again. I read this as a 12 year old, intrigued after an assembly, and rereading it now I can't imagine that I understood anything in it at that age! I didn't remember much about the first read, actually. But I enjoyed it. It's fascinating reading it now, seeing how much of it has gone into popular culture - Big Brother, Room 101... it's a scary vision of the future, and although I felt like the second half wasn't as good as the first, it's still an incredible book that's had a huge impact.

12. September Girls by Bennett Madison
Oh, I LOVED this novel. It's about a boy's summer at the beach, first love and a little bit of magic. A perfect holiday book, but lovely to read at any time. Yes. Read it.

13. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
I went on a major Diana Wynne Jones phase last year but neglected to read this one for some insane reason. I am insane, we all know it. This is a fantastic novel about quiet Sophie, who gets cursed by a witch and makes friends (well, sort of) with a wizard. It's also a pretty wonderful Studio Ghibli film, so I recommend you devour both, pronto.

14. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
This is basically the new Gone Girl, and I picked it up after it seemed like everyone on my Twitter feed was posting about it. It's just as compulsive - pretty much impossible to put down actually, I started on the way to work and spent the day trying to resist the temptation to read it under my desk! It's about Rachel, who gets the same train every day and likes to watch the people in the houses that she passes - something I'm sure a lot of us do. But it all goes a bit far, and then it gets a bit strange. I won't say any more, but it's an excellent summer read.

(Yep, I know the image isn't working, I'll fix it as soon as I can)

15. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
I've had this on my bookshelf for about three years, and once I finally picked it up, I couldn't believe I'd waited so long. It's SO good. I love Patrick Ness - his Chaos Walking trilogy is one of my favourite series ever and made me sob - and his follow up book, More Than This, is equally amazing. A Monster Calls is about a boy whose mother has cancer, who is visited by a monster. It's a powerful look at adolescence, grief and coming to terms with the worst thing that could possibly happen to you. Read it, do.

I'm currently reading The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, but I think this is another Rebecca in that I've been reading it for a few months and keep picking up other books instead (I'm also halfway through rereading To Kill A Mockingbird). I've also got Wild by Cheryl Strayed to read, and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt but I am always looking for recommendations - what have you read and loved this year?

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Hendricks Gin Fling Garden Party, Hertfordshire

Gin keeps getting thrown my way lately, and I'm kind of ok with that. I think it's just super trendy right now, so everyone's just jumping on the gin wagon. Funny, really, when you consider how long gin's been around these parts for - since the Middle Ages, don't you know. I do love the idea of Anne Boleyn enjoying a nice G&T to take her mind off her awful husband, don't you?

(FYI, history is the only subject I ever failed, so cut me some slack if my dates are messed up.)

Anyway, I do hate to ignore gin, so I went along to the Hendrick's Gin Fling garden party which took place in Wheathampstead last week. They brought along their awesome Hendrick's bus, and served G&Ts to happy people. They also ran regular gin masterclasses, to educate everyone on the wonders of gin. Including me!

I've always thought of Hendrick's as a really established, almost antique brand, due to their old-fashioned bottles and vintagey aesthetic, but actually it's only sixteen years old. They've worked hard to learn from gin-makers of the past and have created a gin that's not quite like anything else out there. Our guide talked us through all the components that make up gin, and gave us the chance to touch, sniff and taste jars of elderflower, coriander seeds and juniper berries. Ever tried a juniper berry? It's basically just the taste of gin, but in a berry. Pretty weird (and great).

As I've said before, I'm not a big tonic fan - I just find it really bitter - but I persevered with my G&T and it wasn't TOO bad. Maybe I can learn to like it! I did it with wine! I think it was the combo of Hendrick's, which is quite a flavourful gin, and Fever Tree, which is quite a mild tonic (according to Twitter). I'm not a full convert yet, but I am going to persevere - or maybe I'll just cop out and become a bitter lemon or elderflower girl.

We had a great time at the gin fling at the Wicked Lady (a bit more on this lovely gastro pub soon) - pop along to enjoy some gin this summer, or keep an eye on your local area, as it may be coming to a pub near you this summer!