Monday, 30 November 2015

The Snug, St Albans - Christmas menu review





If I had one regret from the festive season last year, it was that I didn’t get to try all the seasonal food. I’ll never get to try all of it, to be honest – every year, more and more places bring out Christmas sandwiches and burgers and other fantastic festive fancies, and I feel both excited and saddened that it’s not possible to try everything. The one that stung the most last year was The Snug Christmas menu, because not only did their Christmas burger sound pretty mindblowing, it was LOCAL. But we just couldn’t fit it in. Devastating.

I’ve reviewed The Snug before – it’s a pub in St Albans that does excellent burgers and hot dogs, and the only reason it didn’t make it onto this list was because I’m planning to do a similar one at some point on the best foodie pubs in St A (there are just SO many places to eat, you have to put them into categories sooner or later). Anyway, I’m happy to say that I was invited to try out their Christmas menu, and I got to try EVERYTHING.

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Saturday, 28 November 2015

Christmas gift guide: the best of the independent shops


As soon as I start buying Christmas presents, I find myself wanting to share them with everyone because I'm so excited about my awesome gift-buying skills. It's true - I'm bloody good at it. There's nothing like the feeling of someone opening a gift and saying "Oh my god!" as you skip up and down in your seat in glee, is there? Nope. There is not.

So this post is playing the long game, because I'm going to recommend to you a few things that I bought last year and was forbidden to share, because of, you know, surprises and that. It's very Etsy-focused (I went a bit Etsy mad last year) but that's great, right? Supporting independent businesses, and all that.

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Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Tea advent calendar by Victoria Mae Designs



Ah, December. That joyous month where it’s legitimately fine to eat chocolate every single day thanks to the wonder of advent calendars. But it’s not just chocolate! You can get advent calendars for all sorts of things these days – the beauty ones seem to do big business, if the excitement of my Twitter feed is anything to go by.

Speaking of all sorts of things, I was recently sent a tea-themed calendar to review. Victoria Mae Designs sell two different advent calendars, one with just English Breakfast tea and one with mixed teas. The former seems a bit pointless to me – where’s the fun in that? But the mixed teas are plentiful. Out of the 25 included, there are six or seven different types including Moroccan Mint, Earl Grey and Mountain Honey Bush.

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Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Molecule-R R-evolution edible pearls and foam review with I Want One Of Those



I know what you're thinking - "What the heck is THAT?" All will become clear, I promise.

A few years ago, I got really into baking and then rued the day I mentioned it. Every birthday, every Christmas, all I got was baking books, cupcake stands, icing nozzles and anything remotely related to it until I was inundated. I know, that sounds really ungrateful, but the truth is that if someone has a hobby, they usually have more than enough supplies to do it and won’t really thank you for buying them more. After all, buying supplies is one of the best bits about starting something new.

Anyway, I quietly asked my loved ones to stop, and they did. I only get cookbooks these days if I’ve put them on my wishlist and I haven’t been bought a cupcake stand in six years (which is good, as I haven’t made them in about three years). But it does mean that I rarely get bought adventurous bits of kitchen gadgetry, and sometimes it’s fun to experiment.

So the chaps at I Want One Of Those (IWOOT) must have read my mind, as they sent me some delightfully random kitchen weirdness to play with. And then shamefully, I left them on a shelf for a couple of months, a bit frightened to push my boundaries. Bad SBV. There's so many unusual gift ideas at IWOOT - have you looked lately?

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Sunday, 22 November 2015

Exploring Newcastle with Travelodge



Any excuse for a mini break, eh? I go on quite a few every year, but why not - we live in such a well connected part of the world. Our country is home to some amazing history, astounding sights and incredible areas of natural beauty and that's not even considering how quickly we can hop across the channel to another country. We're pretty lucky, really.

I'd love to go away more, though. Hopping in the car and visiting somewhere in England really isn't a big deal - you can get pretty much anywhere in an afternoon. The other weekend, for instance, we went about as far North as we could get without crossing over into Scotland, to Newcastle. It took about five hours in the car - not the shortest of journeys - but accompanied by old Adam & Joe podcasts and the Book of Mormon soundtrack and lots and lots of chocolate, it really wasn't so bad.

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Thursday, 19 November 2015

Recipe: Peanut and coconut chicken curry


I've totally embraced this whole Autumn/Winter thing. As the days have become colder and crisper, I've been spending more time in the kitchen. When it's cold outside, spending an hour or so over a hot pan is quite a nice time to spend your time - I'm all for being toasty.

Lately, I've been making a lot of curries - funny, as they really weren't my thing a couple of years ago. But the more I make, the more I learn about spices and flavours, and this post is the result of me completely improvising one. I was aiming for something a little like a massaman curry, and... well, this is a LITTLE like that. But it's something else, really - milder, creamier, and with more of an Indian mix of spices than a Thai one. Let's call it fusion food, shall we? Or just a mad improvisation that worked, because that's totally what it was.

But it DID work. It was so very, very tasty that I grabbed my laptop and wrote the recipe up the second I finished eating because I wanted to make sure I remembered it. Mostly for you guys, obviously, but also for me - I am absolutely making this again.

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Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Review: Duck & Waffle - lunch at the highest restaurant in the UK




I have wanted to go Duck & Waffle forever. It's constantly popping up on my Instagram feed, and taunting me with how awesome it looks. We've even tried to go a few times, but it's been booked up, or the timings haven't worked out - you know how it is.

Anyway, it occurred to me to book it for lunch on Matt's birthday back in September, and so I just booked it straightaway, with a month to go, no more thinking about it. I DO like that you can book, by the way. So many places don't allow it, and I understand that it's fairer - in a way - because everyone comes in that day as equals. But, you know. Queueing. UGH. It was so nice rocking up and knowing we had a spot reserved for us. God bless reservations, that age old wonder.

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Friday, 13 November 2015

Review: Tefal Optigrill and the perfect steak



I'm happy eating vegetarian food a lot of the time. It's healthier, cheaper and usually contains cheese - I'm up for that. But I'm not a vegetarian, and the reason why is that every now and then, I. Just. Miss. Meat. And so when I eat meat, I do it PROPERLY. Whether it's a massive rack of ribs, a messy, oozy burger or a steak. Oh, a steak. It's always horrified my staunchly 'well done' father that I like my steaks rare and bloody. Still mooing? Perfect.

I love to order steak when I go out to eat, but it's always the priciest option on the menu, so it's nice to cook it at home sometimes too as it's so much cheaper. Even if I get a couple of steaks from M&S along with sides and desserts, I'll generally still spend less than one portion of steak in a restaurant! Plus, I get to eat it in my pyjamas. Win.

Tefal sent me their new Tefal OptiGrill to review, and I instantly decided to test its steak-cooking abilities. Matt isn't quite as carnivorous as me - he likes his steak medium, I like mine rare, so it meant I could see how the OptiGrill stood up to cooking two different levels of doneness.

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Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Weight Watchers Update: October



Now, stop me if you've heard this before. "I just don't seem to be losing weight at the moment. I'm eating well, and I'm exercising, but the scales aren't going down. I mean, there was that night out the other day. And then we went out for lunch a couple of days ago. Oh, and we did order pizza the other night. But seriously, why aren't I losing weight?"

This is me right now. Over the last month, I've lost my discipline and I'm really only admitting that to myself now. The thing is, I am being fundamentally good most of the time. But treats are slipping through, and I'm not tracking. I don't think you need to track what you're eating to lose weight, but me? I need to. Recording what I'm eating in my Weight Watchers app can be an eye opener - so many things can slip through the cracks. And doing it properly usually means I'll have enough points left for a Kitkat or some extra cheese on my dinner, so it doesn't mean I can't still have treats.

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Sunday, 8 November 2015

Review: The Pudding Stop and The Pudmobile, St Albans


Approximately 80% of working adults in St Albans commute into London. OK, I just made that number up, but if you're from around here, you believed it, right? The thing is, you can get a train into St Pancras in 20 minutes from St Albans City - less time than it takes to get from some parts of London to others - and as St Albans is a nice, safe, pretty town, it has a lot of allure.

The trains are also extortionate, which is why I'm happy to drive to my Hertfordshire office every day, but that's not the point I'm trying to make. The point is that commuters! There are many! And so the area around the station is starting to become quite bustling, with property developments and new restaurants and whatnot. That was quite a dull sentence, sorry.

If you hop off the train at St Albans on a weeknight, you might spot a little van waiting by the back entrance. That's The Pudding Stop. It sells puddings. Just puddings. It was set up by an ex-GBBO contestant who thought that people getting home after a long day working in London might like to pick up a pud on their way home, to have after dinner (or just on the walk back from the station - this is a no judgement zone. Now gimme a bite.). Mr Pud mans the van himself, advising you on the best way to prepare your pudding and what to have it with. He's ace.

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Thursday, 5 November 2015

Boozy apple crumble with amaretto and Jack Daniel's



I love Bonfire Night, even though I rarely celebrate it on today's date - it's usually on the nearest Saturday, when the St Albans fireworks display happens. It was only a few years ago that I realised it wasn't just your standard fireworks display, and people come from all over the local area to see it. One of the best in the country, apparently - I feel so sheltered that I don't know any different! But also, you know, super lucky and stuff.

We usually wrap up warm and bring flasks of mulled wine and cider along to drink as we "Oooh" and "Ahhh" at the glittering lights in the sky, then spend the rest of the evening in the pub. It's one of my favourite nights of the year. This year though, because we're all in our thirties now and life stuff happens, we've got pregnant ladies and small kids along for the ride and need some non-alcoholic alternatives so I'm packing a flask of Taylors Apple Tea too. Apple tea is the only tea I like, fun fact.

Taylors challenged me to spice up an appley recipe and, in the spirit of my somewhat boozy bonfire night memories, I opted for an apple crumble. The apples are caramelised first in butter, brown sugar and a splash of amaretto and Jack Daniel's, another splash of amaretto, before being topped with my mum's classic crumble.

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Sunday, 1 November 2015

Review: Sheba Curry House, Brick Lane


I really enjoy going out for a curry or ordering in at home, but am always very aware that it's my least adventurous food. I think I'm generally a pretty adventurous eater - I'll try anything once, apart from snails - but whenever I eat Indian food, I always go for a very safe chicken korma, mushroom rice and peshwari naan. I know I'll always enjoy it, so I order it again and again, but that nagging voice is in the back of my head saying "Stop playing it safe, woman!"

When I was invited to review Sheba on Brick Lane recently, I resolved to do just that - stop playing it safe. Sheba is one of the oldest curry houses on Brick Lane, and has a window full of signs listing all the awards they've won. Walking down Brick Lane on a Saturday night is a lot like walking down the strip at popular tourist destinations, as almost every restaurant has someone outside trying to persuade you to eat there. I usually find these to be the most disappointing restaurants on offer, so I was reassured to find that there was no one outside Sheba - and no need, as it was full already.

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