Chillies and empowerment, #WithOxfam

As you know, I love chillies. Anything spicy – I’m there.

In my eyes, chillies are a super food. But what makes chillies so great? And why should we be using more of them in our diets?

Here’s my top 5 reasons to eat chillies followed by an awe-inspiring case study from Oxfam; which really proves that chillies are going a long way to becoming a true super food. The little fiery red capsicum’s are being used in Bangladesh to empower women to make better lives for themselves and overcome poverty caused by adverse weather conditions in that part of the world.

red finger chillies

Why I think chillies should be considered super-scran;

They contain a lot of vitamin C (up to seven times more than the average orange)

They add flavour, vibrant colour and warmth (but not always hot-heat) to a variety of dishes

Chillies can increase the speed of your metabolism, and help burn fat

They aid sinus congestion, which is why your noes runs after a hot curry!

There’s such a huge range to choose from, there’s literally a chilli for everyone and every dish!

habaneros variety
habaneros variety

Chillies in action #WithOxfam

So chillies might be good for our health, metabolism and taste buds, but when Oxfam contacted me to see if I wanted to hear more about how they coordinate projects across the world and use chilli farming as a way to empower women out of poverty, I was excited to find out more.

In Bangladesh, many of the poorest people live in areas badly affected by terrible weather conditions like flooding, cyclones and heavy storms. These conditions make communities in the area vulnerable; there is little work and many people are forced to go hungry as their crops and cattle get washed away with the floods.

Due to food being scarce, women need additional support as their husbands are away for long periods, seeking work in the cities.

Oxfam work with their partners in Bangladesh to help flood-hit communities earn an income through growing chillies.  Amazing, right?

Joygun Islam, who’s pictured above, is directly affected by Oxfam’s work. She said:

“We eat less food when there is a flood. We mostly eat dried food, and we try to save some rice if we know the flood is coming.

“Sometimes we have two meals a day, but some days we only have one meal.

“I’ve benefited a lot from growing chillies. I now eat better than I used to before. I wouldn’t be able to eat before but I’m getting good quality food now. I now have some disposable income to spend on things like chicken and fish.”

Joygun is now vice president of her local community based organisation (CBO). The CBO uses chilli production as a practical catalyst to improve peoples lives in these badly affected villages. She’s received full training on how to grow chillies, which she says has given her confidence and self-belief. Her husband now recognises the important contribution she makes to the household income, and this financial boost allows them a more varied and nutritious diet.
Chilli (10)
I fully support this sort of project work and feel that more should be spoken about these incredible projects and how a regular donation can really improve people’s lives in the simplest but most effective ways.
Cheshire Food Blog
Joygun Islam spreads chillies out to dry in the sun, they take between 3 and 11 days to dry thoroughly. The dried chillies are then sorted for quality, colour and size. Only the best go to market.

What can a regular donation do?

£9 can provide a family with manure, organic fertiliser and training in eco-friendly farming techniques.
£24 can provide a family with the tools, seeds and training to set up an allotment, helping them to feed themselves.

Empowering people to help themselves is key to a sustained solution to overcome poverty. Women like Joygun can now give their children nutritious food and prepare for future disasters.

I hope you have enjoyed this read and finding out more about this type of project. This is just one of many, many initiatives Oxfam run to help beat poverty across all corners of the world. The next story I am going to feature is about coffee production in Honduras, so keep your eyes peeled for that one and in the meantime follow Oxfam on Twitter for their latest project updates ❤

Dried Chillies for sale in the market <3
Dried Chillies for sale in the market ❤
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Christmas tip sharing

I wanted to do something Christmassy on the blog this week, so when SHEilds contacted me about their Christmas Tip Share I was quite excited to get involved.

I’ve joined 7 other bloggers to share our top Christmas tips for this year – ranging from foodie tips to general health and safety around the house during the festive period.

As I don’t have any kids or pets, I will just be sticking to staying merry this Christmas and eating my way through lots of cheese and lots of turkey. Oh and drinking lots of mulled wine 🙂

Cooking at Christmas

I have not yet been solely responsible for the Christmas dinner in the family, but I help my Mum each year usually feeding 7 of us.

Planning ahead really is the best option. My advice would be to plan your timings beforehand, and sanity-check them over with a family member. Write down a list of what needs to go in/on and when. Stick it on the fridge and use it as a guideline throughout the day.

Another tip I have is get others involved! It’s a time of year when there is always loads of spare people knocking around the house. So get them working for their festive feast! Set the table, light the candles, carve the turkey, stir the gravy, check the roasties, get the cheese out, crack the wine open, set out the nibbles and keep the drinks flowing. Use your guests to their full ability to make sure you don’t end up doing absolutely everything!

Keep things simple. Don’t try to be overlly extravagant on Christmas day with the menu. Your guests will be happy with a simple, well-executed meal with all the trimmings rather than something less-practiced and fancy.

Finally, enjoy yourself and the quality time with your loved ones.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my lovely readers! ❤ xxx

Cheshire Food Blog

Christmas Gifts for Foodies

I thought I would treat you all to a last-minute Christmas gift guide. I am not the most organised of shoppers, usually opting for a hectic dash around the shops the week before…

So if you’re doing your Christmas shopping this week, like I am, these gifts might just make it in time for Christmas!

Foodie frames

notonthehighstreet.com is a great website if you’re looking for something a bit different.

Their lovely food-themed framed images would brighten up any food lovers kitchen or dining room. I think the British foods map or the one that just says FAMILY, FRIENDS, FOOD, FUN are particularly stylish/charming. And reasonably priced.

Personalised food jars

Both Marmite and Nutella are offering personalised jars this year. You can do the Marmite ones via their Facebook page and Nutella have stall in most Selfridges stores where they label them while you wait.

Great little stocking fillers, and they can be washed out and kept afterwards to store pencils on your desk. Cute!

marmite

Food Photography Workshops

If you know someone who enjoys photography and loves eating street food – this is the perfect, practical gift. A Street Food Photography Workshop where you get a guided tour around London’s street food hotspots snapping images along the way.

Sounds like a fun, visual and culinary adventure and an opportunity to learn and make friends too.

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For the organised foodie

If you know a foodie who likes everything just-so, then they might appreciate these. These mini Kilner jars means they can organise their spices, and even store them outside of the cupboard on a shelf for easy-access that looks good too!

These are also kind on the environment as they encourage you to then buy the re-fill packets instead of new plastic or glass jars each time – so in the long run better value for money too. Win-win for the practical food lover.

Gifts for Dads of Grandads

Food-themed gift boxes – men are notoriously difficult to buy for, but also quite ‘easily pleased’ if you get it right. My advice is to keep it simple when buying for the men in your life – be it brother, boyfriend, dad or grandad. If they like food and drink (most men do, right?) then something like ‘The Man Box’ from the Portly Grocer should hit the spot!

The Portly Grocer also make these wonderful wooden cheese larders, which are beautiful if you know someone who appreciates good cheese and is passionate about it. They are perfect for a dinner party too, with a bottle of port and some grapes. Yum.

And if you’re still left scratching your head…

Then buy something that will really benefit someone else. Oxfam sell an amazing range of ‘Unwrapped’ gifts. A few caught my eye but the ‘Pile of Poo’ stood out.  It isn’t just any pile of poo. It’s the ideal mix of manure, organic fertiliser and training in eco-friendly farming techniques to help a family grow a lot more crops. This means regular meals and a more varied diet, ultimately helping people out of poverty.

I have already purchased it for someone in my life who I think will find it funny, and will really appreciate the good cause.

Buying this gift supports Oxfam’s ‘Making a Living’ projects, and I really think this is charity gifting in its best form. The gifts also suit any budget so if you’re stuck for a materialistic gift this Christmas, this might just be the answer!

Cheshire Food Blog
Oxfam Unwrapped – Pile of Poo in action ❤

Happy shopping!

Cheshire Food Blog

Meet the Makers, Selfridges Food Hall

Cheshire Food Blog
Canapé plates being prepared by Selfridge’s Food Hall Chefs

Last month I got to go to a great event at Selfridges Food Hall in the Trafford Centre, ‘Meet the Makers’. Events at the Trafford Centre (Manchester’s largest indoor shopping mall) are usually pretty epic; like the time we got to Dine our way around the Dome… man, that was fun. This time, we were focussed on Selfridge’s and Selfridge’s only, and boy does this place have an eclectic mix of local, artisan and bigger more well known brands – all showcasing their individual offerings.

The event was an opportunity for brands both big and small to show off their products to a load of hungry food and drink lovers. Hopefully it will be a regular event, rotating the suppliers each time to give them all a chance to shine!

I went along with my sister, Hannah; and as we arrived we were taken straight over to meet the lovely Sarah, founder of Hey Little Cupcake. She was manning her stall and poised, ready to teach us how to hand-ice the perfect cookie monster Cupcake. We each had a go at making our own. As if that wasn’t fun enough on its own, we also got to take a “Cupcake Selfie” which was later printed on a Cupcake complete with Violet sparkly icing underneath. One for each of us to take home. Off we went to sample further delights whilst our cupcake selfie was prepared…

Cheshire Food Blog
Hey Little Cupcake – making Cookie Monster Cookies

Next up was wine tasting, and the cupcake making certainly got us ready for a little tipple. It was off to The Wine Shop where the very knowledgeable, Carl, gave us a great talk about sparking wine. The talk was focused on the key differences between the ever popular and ‘wine of the moment’ Prosecco and it’s 2 main counterparts – Cava and of course,  Champagne. We got to sample all 3, and I can confirm these three things: I still love Champagne, Selfridge’s own-brand Prosecco is to die for and Cava still reminds me of my Nan (in a good way!)

Cheshire Food Blog
Fizzy Wine sampling at Selfridge’s Wine Shop

After a little tipple we were ready for some more action. This time, Krispy Kreme invited us over to try our hand at icing our own doughnuts. This was fun. It’s sort of a “dunk and swoop” motion that’s required. I didn’t eat the doughnut though… I’m not really a fan, but my boyfriend Bradley is, so I saved mine for him and I’m pretty sure he ate it in about 4 bites when I got home later that evening 🙂

Cheshire Food Blog
Krispy Kreme Doughnut Glazing skills

It was around this time we headed over to Yo! Sushi, to view a sample of their “Sushi School Masterclass” and of course, eat some sushi! Hosted by the lovely Kat and Kai (pictured below), this was a real chance to see some sushi masters at work. At 23, Kat is Yo! Sushi’s youngest Head Chef and Kai, her  eager Sous Chef showed off her speedy wrapping and chopping skills. They made avocado hand rolls, cucumber and avocado Maki and California rolls with salmon and fish roe on the outside. Very clever indeed. It was great to see how they make the different kinds of sushi shapes – I have yet to try making my own sushi, so would be interested in trying out a full-length class there in the future.

We nibbled on sea-salted edamame beans (yum) whilst the sushi was prepared, and also got to try some of Yo! Sushi’s warm dishes. These dishes are made to order if you’re there as a regular diner (i.e. not on the famous conveyor belt). We went for the chilli beef dish – it was warming with a hint of spice and was a really nice addition alongside the chilled sushi. Also up for sampling was some authentic sake which I really love. The perfect way to wash down sushi!

After sushi, it was time to meet more makers! This time though, back to beverages – we met the very friendly Andy from Just Bee Drinks, a Manchester-based duo of friends who love bees and honey. The two decided to make these wonderfully balanced and refreshing soft drinks by infusing spring water with honey and other natural ingredients like blueberry, ginger and lemon. Which is just genius if you ask me. These little bad boys have been on sale in my gym for a while now and I have purchased them on a couple of occasions before meeting Andy at this event.

It was great to speak to maker direct I really wish the two all the best with these lovely little beverages. My favourite is the Apple, Ginger and a hint of Honey. They are all thirst-quenching and flavourful drinks so I am sure they will be flying off the shelves for a long time to come.

Cheshire Food Blog
Just Bee Drinks

To continue with the tour – yes, we ate more food. Last, but not least, was an impressive showcase of Selfridge’s Food Hall’s ‘party food’ offerings. All prepared by their very own chefs who work onsite. We could see the chefs putting the finishing touches to the canapé-style dishes, and although we were full they just looked too tempting not to try them!

Cheshire Food Blog

Cheshire Food Blog

The quiche was still warm which was really delicious, and it was amazing how much flavour came through each little mouthful. My personal favourite was the blue cheese and chutney, whereas Hannah loved the tomato, mozzarella and basil bites. All gorgeous party food I must say.

Cheshire Food Blog
Canapé plates at Selfridge’s Food Hall

To round things off, we ventured back across to Hey Little Cupcake to pick up our Cupcake Selfie (yes, the cupcake with a an edible photograph of our selfie on it) which pretty much blew my mind. Ha. ❤

Cheshire Food Blog
Our Cupcake Selfie – Hey Little Cupcake

Overall this was a fantastic event and a great opportunity to meet and speak to local, artisan food suppliers. All of which were offering a great range of products to try. The more ‘hands on’ elements were particularly fun, and I hope they host another event like this soon!

What is healthy eating?

Looking after yourself is important, we all know that. The mantra that ‘you are what you eat’ is becoming increasingly apparent to me as I get older, and so recently I have been favouring an intake of more lean protein, ‘good fats’ and fibre, and in turn less sugar, saturated fats and unnecessary carbohydrates.

All the big dogs seem to be on the health-hype too. Deliciously Ella promotes a healthy lifestyle with her “clean-eating, gluten free” recipes. The Hemsley and Hemsley sisters also promote a healthy approach with their #TheArtOfEatingWell campaign, and I have recently taken to following @TheBodyCoach (Joe Wicks) on Instagram, as I love the way he is revolutionising quick-and-easy meals for gym buffs with his “#LeanIn15” recipes.

Jamie Oliver has also recently released his Everyday Super Food book, along with a full series on Channel 4; really promoting a healthy approach to food to the masses. Another firm favourite of mine is Gizzi Erskine, she’s always promoted healthy eating and her newest cookbook, Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite, shows us how healthy can be delicious and doesn’t always have to be rabbit food!

I love all of the above chefs and foodies and have taken tips from all of them (as well as recipes, of course) over the past 12 months. My version of the Hemsley sister’s light cottage pie makes use of cauliflower and sweet potato mash instead of the usual mashed white potatoes. And Gizzi’s roast duck and noodle soup is low on calories but doesn’t compromise on flavour whatsoever.

My approach to healthy eating is simple, I try to follow a sort of 80:20 rule (eating more considered 80% of the time, and relaxing it a little for the remaining 20%). When I first started my blog, there was a split between ‘Mid-week rustle up dinners’ and ‘Weekend gourmet’ dishes – so I am going to be focussing more on this approach going forwards. It works for me and can work for you too!

Below is a short list of some of my favourite bloggers who promote a healthy lifestyle:

www.spamellab.com – Pamela focusses on gluten-free, high protein, healthy AND tasty recipes, made from clean ingredients. Her #IndulgingInnocently campaign proves that you can have your cake and eat it, its shows that sweet treat don’t need to be packed full of sugar and additives.

www.tessward.com – Tess says ‘Count colours not calories and goodness not grams with simple, unprocessed, stripped back dishes.’ Her ‘naked’ recipes are vibrant, simple and gorgeous.

www.thebodycoach.co.uk/blog – I mentioned him earlier, and I will again. You can catch most of Joe’s amazing #LeanIn15 recipes on Instagram for now, but I mean it when I say his recipes are SO QUICK, SIMPLE, LEAN and taste fantastic.

www.minimalistbaker.com – these guys are so cute, and their ethos is simple: easy-to-make, delicious food, all recipes either require 10 ingredients or less, 1 pot, or 30 minutes or less to prepare. Many are vegan and/or gluten-free too.

How do you define healthy eating, and which approach do you prefer? Who are your favourite bloggers, cooks or chefs that inspire you to eat well and use fresh, quality ingredients? 

In my next blog post I will be sharing my key tips for keeping your diet healthy, fresh and interesting. Make sure you stay posted our subscribe so you don’t miss it ❤

With love, Sophie -x-

Yard & Coop, Manchester

If you live in Manchester, you’ve probably already heard – there’s a new kid in town in the uber cool Northern Quarter. You may already know from my own recipe, I LOVE Buttermilk Fried Chicken, so when I heard about this place I was so clucking eggscited I just had to go see what all the wing flappin’ was about… SORRY, I’m bad at that, I will stop now I promise!

Yard & Coop is the brain-child of Carl and Laura Morris, the co-owners who are actually not married, or even related for that matter! Carl has a background in Sales & Marketing having worked for Revolution for over 10 years, and Laura has formerly worked for Northern Quarter’s Terrace and Simon Rimmer’s Greens in Didsbury. The pair saw the trend of quality fried chicken taking off in America, and wanted to bring the hype back to the wonderful city of Manchester. And boy are we thankful for it.

Carl has spent the past year perfecting the recipes – from the signature seasoned crumb, Buttermilk frying technique and all the homemade speciality sauces and sides that go with it. On the launch night I also met the lovely Clair, Carl’s wife and also front of house manager for the new fried-chicken shack. She’s also in charge of their social media, so chicken-puns-a-plenty: and yep, she’s really clucking good at it 😉

The Food Menu

Let’s waste no time and get straight to it, the chicken. The menu itself is easy to navigate and starts with their main offering – Buttermilk Fried Chicken with their secret crumb recipe. First you chose from Breast or Thigh (£6 and both boneless, yay!) or for veggies you can opt for ‘Not Chicken Nuggets’ – crumb coated nuggets of halloumi cheese which are absolutely delightful. I tried both the thigh and breast varieties and I must say both are super-succulent, although I think the thigh pips the post everso slightly. Next up you chose your ‘style,’ you can keep it simple with the Yard & Coop classic, or chose from their extra seasoned varieties; Chip Shop Curry, Cajun or Afrika Bombaataa which are all seriously good and distinctive in their own ways. Personal fave is the classic, followed by the curry-style for something a bit different. It just works really well (pictured below coating a fat, juicy thigh!)

For the finishing touch – you choose your speciality sauces. On offer is Bourbon BBQ (a surprise favourite for me), The Bee’s Knee’s (which is Cayenne pepper, lime and honey) or the classic Blue Cheese. All the sauces are light, packed full of flavour, shiny as you like but without being sticky. Absolutely nailed it.

Next you pick from ‘Small Plates, Sides, Bits and Things‘ which is a deliciously colourful mix of light and tasty side orders to accompany your chicken. A few noteworthy options we tried were ‘Peas and Love’ (£2.5); garden peas with fresh mint and chilli, ‘Thai Street Salad’ (£3.5); red cabbage, cauliflower, carrot and red chilli, ‘Heritage tomato salad’ (£3); chunky heritage tomatoes, red onion and fresh basil in their home dressing, Chips (£3) which come with a topping choice of Chip shop curry, Monterey Jack cheese or gravy. And finally ‘Battered Salty Jalapeños’ – salty, pickled peppers lighted coated in crispy batter.

I must say, the peas are delicious. My sister and I totally fell in love with them and found them very addictive. They are served cold, the mint is super fresh which is nice between the bites of chicken. The Heritage tomato salad is also deliciously fresh and sweet, and the slaw is crunchy, vibrant and healthy. Really nice to see such fresh sides with such a variety too.

Another stand-out section of the menu is the Wings and Balls section (personal fave) but don’t be alarmed, it’s not an entire section dedicated to deep fried chicken offal. The Wings come in 2 varieties (both £4.50) Bourbon BBQ and Bee’s Knee’s. The ‘Monkey Balls‘ are in fact one of their bestsellers and are their take on the American ‘monkey fingers’ dish (tender bits of chicken deep fried and apparently popular on Halloween!) Yard & Coop style they are balls of buttermilk fried chicken served with 2 of their speciality sauces for dipping (£6.5). Originally intended as a bar snack, these balls were merely meant to be nothing but a nibble between friends over a pint, but the chicken-lovers of Manchester have insisted they are a firm favourite as a sharing side to accompany main dishes! WHY NOT!

Monkey Balls with Bee's Knee's and Bourbon BBQ speciality homemade sauces
Monkey Balls with Bee’s Knee’s and Bourbon BBQ speciality homemade sauces

Other offerings are their Large Plates which includes a range of Burgers, Wraps and Salads (£8.5-9.0), all complete meals so no side orders required. But I BET you order the Monkey Balls anyway… it would be rude not to. In true chicken-restaurant style they also have a sharing bucket, complete with beers, which I think it a great option and awesome alternative to a KFC or a Maccies.

The Drinks & Cocktails

As well as a totally epic food offering, these guys have also properly thought out their entire drinks selection. I will soon be returning to sample more of their cocktails – but for now I can tell you that the following ones are awesome;

Jimi Hendrix; invented by Paul the barman and I must note what an absolute GENIUS he is. El Jimador Blanco tequilla, Hendricks Gin, Fevertree Elderflower tonic garnished with cucumber and watermelon. So refreshing and summery and LOVELY.

Mini Jimi Hendrix Cocktails
Mini Jimi Hendrix Cocktails

Rule the Roost; Lychee and rose liqueurs with Lychee Rubicon topped with Prosecco and garnished with rose petal. A very lady-like and pretty tipple. Sweet but not overly so and very pleasing on the eye!

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Rule the Roost ❤

Juice Springsteen; Vodka and Blue Curacao with lemon juice and cherry bitters topped with apple juice. Extreme refreshment and very thirst-quenching which was delicious.

They also have a range of Hard Shakes – alcoholic milkshakes all served in their signature Yard & Coop paper cups with a straw. We tried the Pina Colada and and Salted Karamel, each feature lashings of silky smooth vanilla ice cream, spirits, juice and/or syrups. They are light and fluffy in texture but pack-a-punch in terms of alcohol content which is perfectly balanced to make them very slurpable indeed. Three words: Who needs pudding?!

I haven’t yet tried the wine, but fell in love with the simplicity of the menu and its options. Dependant on your budget, simply choose ‘Great, Better or Best’ and check the board for the most recent wines available. Simple, effective, helping indecisive wine-pickers since 2015. Nice work, guys!

Visit Yard & Coop’s website and give them a follow on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook by chickin’ these links 😉

37 Edge St, Manchester M4 1HW
0161 710 2570


I was invited to review Yard & Coop on a complimentary basis, however, all opinions are my own and are completely honest.

A Persian Feast…

For my birthday last month I was bought a wonderful cookbook, Persiana, from my Uncle and Aunty. The book is by Sabrina Ghayour, a food blogger and supper club hostess from London, and I had never actually heard of her before. However, I trusted my Uncle’s judgement (he is a trained chef and worked in the industry for years, so he knows good food). Also, the wonderful Gizzi Erskine is quoted on the front of the book to have stated “Sabrina Ghayour is a phenomenal Persian chef” – so, naturally I was more than eager to give the book a go to find out for myself what all the fuss was about.

During the Introduction to the book, Sabrina talks about her supper clubs and the simplicity of Middle Eastern food. She talks about how Eastern food can be (as has been) misinterpreted over the years, to be something more complicated or difficult than it actually is. She talks of how her supper clubs put emphasis on bringing strangers together; using food as the focal point for shared, convivial experiences during which all else is forgotten and food and enjoyment alone become the focus.

It all got me thinking. No, not about starting my own supper clubs (but maybe one day!) Thinking about inviting some close friends round for a feast of good food, good conversation, fine wine and of course, a few obligatory card games at the end the evening! Ok, the last bit was just a spontaneous (but fun) add-on…

I wanted to keep the menu light, summery and varied – because the weather’s been nice recently, and I love the idea of mezze platters, sharing plates and tapas. I think food is so much better when you can just place it all in the middle of the table and let your guests dive in. To make the experience even better, my friend Rachel bought her new ‘Swiss Grill’ to the table – an electric grill which allows you to grill food and keep it warm at the table, as well as having 8 individual frying pans which you can fill up as you chose and set them down on the ‘hob’ to warm through. It was like having a BBQ only inside, and without men and fire! Bliss! 🙂

The Food

A Traditional Persian Mezze Sharing Experience:

Spice & Salted King Prawns

large, juicy king prawns lightly coated in a salty spiced dry-mix then fried in hot oil to make them crispy, light and very morish

Turkish Adana Köfte Kebabs (Lamb)

juicy, tender lamb mince pummelled like a dough to combine with finely diced onion, diced red pepper, garlic, chilli flakes and fresh parsley

Chargrilled Aubergines

with saffron yogurt, parsley & pickled chillies

Shirazi Salad

a beautiful, vibrant and refreshing salad of diced cucumber, ripened vine tomatoes, red onion, pomegranate seeds and sumac

Griddled Halloumi

the classic!

Harissa-Marinated Asparagus

marinated in Harissa, lemon rind, lemon juice, honey and sea salt

Homemade Cacik

pronounced ‘jajik,’ a wonderfully cooling mixture of cucumber, Greek yogurt, parsley and  dill

Persian Herb Rice (Sabiz Polow)

basmati rice, parboiled with finely chopped parsley, coriander, dill and spring onions then steamed in a lidded pan with butter to created crispy, indulgent base

As you can tell from the variety above, we really did have a true feast! Most things I was able to cook and prep ahead, and then heat up on the Swiss grill (asparagus, aubergine, lamb kebabs). The halloumi cheese we just cooked there and then on the grill at the table.

The other dishes (herb rice, king prawns, cacik, and salad) were easy to make ahead and serve when it was time. I also popped a shop-bought flatbread in the oven too, which was great for dipping into the creamy cacik and eating with the kebabs. Next time though, I will try making one of Sabrina’s flatbreads from scratch as they look and sound delicious.

Well, there you have it. I just wanted to share our Persian feast with you to hopefully inspire you to get creative in your own kitchen. All the recipes I tried from this book were easy and delicious. The only dish I wasn’t keen on was the aubergine and saffron yogurt – I loved the grilled aubergine, but I found the dish was too bitter (teamed with the saffron yogurt) – perhaps just a Persian paring my palate isn’t quite yet used to!

As you can see, the girls didn’t hesitate to get their phones out and start taking pictures of the wonderful feast! Here are some of the snaps they took…

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Ultimate Tabasco Menu: #FunWithFlavour

After the success of Tabasco’s #BestOfTheBrunch campaign (check out my brunch recipes here, and here) I was recently contacted again by the lovely people at Tabasco, but this time to be a part of their newest challenge #FunWithFlavour. This time, the bar has been raised and the focus is now about celebrating Tabasco’s uncanny ability to transform almost any dish.

In true food-blogger style, of course I agreed to become a #FunWithFlavour ambassador, and in doing so agreed to the challenge to create my very own ‘Ultimate Tabasco Menu’ – incorporating Tabasco Sauce into a Starter, Main Course and Dessert. An additional aspect was to throw in a cocktail concoction too, which I honestly couldn’t do on my own – so roped in some help from good friend and Bar Manager Nick Whitby, of the award winning New World Trading Company (yes, the company behind awesome bar/restaurants The Botanist and The Oast House). Nick is the genius behind the cocktail creation to accompany my menu. Nice work, Nick! -x-

I decided on a South American theme to my dishes, recently inspired by my visits to local food events and markets. Below is a summary of my Tabasco #FunWithFlavour menu, just click the links for the individual recipes! I hope you enjoy!

Cocktail: Red Chilli Caipirinha with Tabasco Original

Red Chilli Caipirinha created by Nick from @TheNWTC
Red Chilli Caipirinha created by Nick from @TheNWTC

If this doesn’t wet your appetite for a spicy Tabasco infused meal, I don’t know what will! For the full recipe and spec, click here. Thanks, Nick!

Starter: Spicy King Prawn Empanadas, infused with Tabasco Habanero

Spicy King Prawn Empanadas made with Filo pastry & Tabasco Habanero
Spicy King Prawn Empanadas made with Filo pastry & Tabasco Habanero

Empanadas are a staple dish in South America. They are a sort of pasty and are usually filled with minced beef, veggies or cheese and are more than often spicy! I have decided to use a filo pastry here, to keep them nice as light as a starter. For the full recipe, click here.

Main Course: Sirloin Steak with Tabasco Jalapeno Chimichurri

Flat Iron Steak with Tabasco Jalapeno Chimichurri, Spiralized Courgetti & Parmesan dusted chips
Sirloin Steak with Tabasco Jalapeno Chimichurri, Spiralized Courgetti & Parmesan dusted chips

For the main course I decided on the simple yet effective chimichurri sauce to enhance a standard steak and chips recipe! The Tabasco Jalapeno adds the perfect kick to the chimichurri, which also goes well to liven up the courgetti and pea side dish. For the full recipe, click the picture or here.

Dessert: Smoked Chilli Chocolate Brownies with Tabasco Chipotle 

Cinnamon & Smoked Chilli Chocolate Brownies with Tabasco Chipotle
Smoked Chilli Chocolate Brownies with Tabasco Chipotle

Finally, an easy brownie recipe with a hint of Tabasco smoked spice! The Tabasco Chipotle is certainly one of my favourites – it is has a smoked BBQ flavour which almost has a sweetness to it. Very yummy indeed, for the full recipe, click here.

Please Like & Share on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram if you fancy trying these recipes at home, and remember to use the @Tabasco_UK hashtag #FunWithFlavour! -x-


 

Get Involved – The English Italian Awards

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As the launch of the English Italian Awards is nearing (Spring this year), I thought I would share with you some further details on the awards themselves and the ‘low down’ on what’s involved. A little bit more of the ‘nitty gritty’, if you like, on these new kids in town!

I met face to face with Michael MacFarlane – the Press and Events Coordinator for the awards, as well as Michael Allen and Warren Paul the Event’s Organisers. Three lovely, humble, down to earth guys who love food and spectacular events, and who are on a mission to find England’s best Italian food spots. After all, being Scottish, they have already done this in Scotland – so now it’s our turn…

The awards are free to take part in, and any Italian business can enter (as long as the business uses Italian produce or is Italian run – you can enter). Once you have registered your interest, you will be sent a Voting Pack from the Italian Awards team. Then – the race begins, voting opens in Spring and the task then is to ask your customers to vote for you! The top 5 venues with the most votes for each category will be entered into the final – which involves an independent judging process. The Gala Awards final will be held later on in the year, a big event with lots of press and even Italian chef Aldo Zilli present on the night as celebrity judge!

Below is a full list of this year’s categories:

  • Favorite Italian Business
  • Best Italian Restaurant
  • Best Pizza
  • Best Pasta
  • Best Bistro
  • Best Multiple Operator
  • Best Fish and Chips
  • Best Front of House
  • Best Newcomer
  • Best Wine List
  • Best Family Restaurant
  • Most Romantic Restaurant
  • Best Marketing Team
  • Best Restaurant Design
  • Best Deli
  • Best Barista
  • Italian Chef of the Year
  • Best Ice Cream Parlour

When I met the team, I put a few questions to the guys, before chowing down on some scrumptious Italian food in Manchester. Over dinner we discussed their plans in detail, but I have summarised the most important pieces of information below. Remember, for a little more background on the awards, you can click here to go to my previous post. For now, here is all the detail you need to know on how to get involved:

Q. How do restaurants/businesses sign up to be nominated for an English Italian Award?
A. They simply have to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or email us (events@paramountcreative.co.uk) and let us know they want to be involved. We will then send an information pack out when voting opens in Spring.
Q. Can restaurants/businesses apply for multiple categories – if so, how many?
A. There are no limits how many categories a venue wants to go for.
Q. Are there any geographical limitations? I.e. Manchester area or UK wide?
A. No limitations, venues across the whole of England can compete should they wish to.
Q. Who decides the short list?
A. The public vote decide the short list, the top 5 with the most votes go to the final.
Q. What happens next?
A. The top 5 are then individually judges by a panel of industry experts and scored on a scorecard which is also created by the experts. The winner of each category will be chosen within the 4 week judging process, and announced on the Gala Awards night.
Do you think you have what it takes to win one of these prestigious awards? Or do you know of a venue who would compete well against others in some of the categories?  THEN GET INVOLVED! THE BEST MUST WIN!
If you have any further questions, please contact:
The Italian Awards | info@italianawards.co.uk | www.italianawards.co.uk | 0141 774 5272

The Italian Awards come to Manchester

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So, the day is almost here. Tomorrow is the day I finally get to meet Michael and the team in person – the organisers of The Italian Awards UK. In their own words;

“Italian Communities across the UK are a vital and integral part of our hospitality industry; everyone has their own personal favourite Italian, and here at The Italian Awards we aim to recognise the true favourites across the country.

We strive to recognise excellence, and pick out the very best in categories ranging from “Best Pizza” to “Best Interior Design”. Giving initial voting power to the general public allows us to generate finalists that truly are the nation’s favourites, battling it out to become the best of the best.

Come join the family and help us decide this year’s worthy winners.”

Exciting concept, right? Well, this year, 2015, is the very first time The Italian Awards are coming to Manchester. Usually based out of Glasgow, the awards are a spectacular event celebrating all things Italian food in the UK. I’m am delighted to tell you that I have been chosen as an official blogger for the awards. I will be helping Michael and the team along with Taste Today and a few other great bloggers from the Manchester area. The awards themselves are set for September this year…Very exciting times!

Photo credit: http://scottishitalianawards.co.uk
Aldo Zilli, photo credit: http://www.scottishitalianawards.co.uk

I should also tell you that they have a celebrity judge on board, who joined them last year in Scotland and will again this year in our very own Manchester… The one and only Aldo Zilli! (@AldoZilli on Twitter). If you don’t already know, Aldo Zilli is an award winning celebrity Italian chef and restaurateur. He was the founder and chef-patron of some of London’s most exciting and innovative restaurants, Signor Zilli, Zilli Fish, Zilli Green, Zilli Café and Zilli Bar. He has also done consultancy work to help out other famous Italian restaurants such as Prezzo, and he has released many fantastic Italian cookery books. He’s also done countless TV appearances, and in 2012, he helped launch the upmarket Italian restaurant San Carlo Cicchetti in Manchester and London’s Piccadilly. He is now in partnership with San Carlo Group, who have 14 restaurants in the UK and four overseas. IMPRESSIVE!

Please keep posted for more regular updates on this wonderful affair. After tomorrow’s initial meeting, I will be able to tell you much more about our plans. If you think you can add value to the awards in any way, please feel free to contact me on sophiesscran@gmail.com, and I will be happy to see if there is something you can assist us with!

Ciao for now!

Sophie -x-