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Thai Street Food at Chilli Banana’s Sunday Buffet

I have been eating Thai food until I pop, again. And this time was even more fun than last time. This time, Chilli Banana Wilmslow were shaking things up at their regular Thai Sunday buffet; introducing more street-food dishes including authentic Thai street carts to serve them up in! I got invited along to sample the whole lot and take some photos of the experience. Here’s how I got on….

We arrived just after 1pm and the place was almost full. Busy across both floors with hungry families, groups of friends and couples (old and young) meandering around the place with full or empty places getting their fill of tasty Thai treats. As we looked at the menu we were amazed at the variety on offer. Our table was upstairs on the terrace (that was covered up, with heaters on) directly opposite a cute Thai cart serving up fresh pork noodle soup… I knew what I was going to try first!

The list of dishes on offer featured an impressive 5 starters, 8 main dishes and 3 desserts plus traditional Thai coffee, all of which were being served up throughout the building. Each serving station had plates and an array of appropriate condiments/seasoning’s to enhance and personalise each dish to your liking.

You guessed correct, we started with noodle soup. Each bowl was made fresh to order by a lovely Thai chef. The dish comprised of a stunningly seasoned broth, pork meat balls, strips of pork, bean sprouts, cabbage and rice noodles.

Once chef had served you a bowl of hot soup, it was then time to top and season. Crushed peanuts and sliced spring onions added lovely texture and even more flavour to the dish. Sugar, fish sauce and chillies added an extra depth of flavour that you could tweak until you got it just how you like it.  This was such a stunning dish and I really couldn’t recommend it enough! A great was to whet the appetite!

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Goyteow Moo Namtok (pork noodle soup) the stunning finished product ❤

Downstairs, in front of the kitchen all of the starter dishes were laid out, being readily topped-up by chefs on the busy shift. We sampled the vast majority of them, and there were a few real stand-out dishes. The Kanom Gui Chai was dim sum stuffed with chives and marinated in sweet soy. They were also referred to as ‘chive cakes’ and they really were delicious.

Another great dish from this selection was the Si Ooah – Northern Thai spicy sausage. This was served in chunky slices, and it was spicy. It was packed full of Thai flavours like lemongrass, chilli and spring onions. I’d not tried this before but I really, really enjoyed it.

The marinated pork and chicken skewers were also gorgeous and the peanut sauce served with the chicken was particularly good. There was also salad bits to choose from if you wanted to keep things light. The only disappointing dish I tried was the vegetarian spring rolls, the filling was a little thin on the ground so all you could really  taste was the pastry.

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selection of Thai starters ❤

By this point, we were starting to get a little full. But there was still sooooo many dishes to taste, so we soldiered on. I wanted to try something a little different so went for the Kow Man Gai – steamed chicken and rice served with cucumber and a rich, fragrant sauce.  The chickens were steamed whole on a rotisserie, which made them unbelievably juicy and tender. I’d not tried a Thai dish like this before but I really enjoyed it and it did feel like quite a clean, healthy option that was still packed full of flavour through the sauce.

Back upstairs, and Bradley was getting stuck into ‘the curry shop’. A stall in the upper floor restaurant that was serving up Raan Kow Gaeng – a selection of Thai red, green and a pork stir-fry curry. We tried the Thai red curry and the port stir-fry… The curry was packed full of bamboo shoots and chicken and had a really nice creamy texture and was mild on the spices. The pork was a little on the salty side for me but overall it was a nice dish and the green beans were really crunchy.

As if that wasn’t enough, we still had some more dishes to try. This was one of my favourites, and I think another lighter option for those wanting to watch the calorie intake. The Pad Thai was stunning. This is one of my favourite Thai dishes, but to have it made fresh to order by a Thai chef and to watch him make it in front of your eyes in the middle of the restaurant is really special. I went for the vegetarian (tofu) option, but they also had chicken.

The finished product was stunning, and again you could add bits and season yourself to get the balance just how you like it with crushed peanuts and fresh lime. It was steaming hot, the tofu and egg tasted fresh and the veggies were crisp and delicious. The chef was a really nice chap too 🙂

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Traditional Pad Thai ❤

So after this epic feast, there was just puddings to go. I must admit, Thai puddings don’t really have anything on English, French or American. But we tried all options with an open mind and were in some cases, pleasantly surprised. First up was the Kanom Krok (coconut cakes) which were again being made fresh on a large purpose made hotplate that gently cooked the coconut milk, rice, sugar and spring onion (yes you read that correctly!) and the other dish we tried was the i-teem Kati (coconut ice cream with traditional Thai toppings). The coconut cakes were nice, quite light and sweet. However, I wasn’t keen on spring onion as a topping, I found this a little too savoury for a dessert!

The coconut ice cream however was delicious. The toppings were a little strange (diced sweet potato in a sweet syrup!) but overall this was a lovely way to end traditional Thai feast, particularly when washed down with a cup of kaffee bolan – Thai coffee served with sweet condensed milk. Naughty, but very nice indeed:-)

Overall we thoroughly enjoyed this culinary adventure and enjoyed the vast majority of all the dishes we tried. I think the introduction of street food to the Sunday buffet is fantastic. It adds a new sense of adventure and makes the whole thing a really fun thing to do on a Sunday afternoon.

There were lots of families there with young children, so I’d say the buffet was a great place for families and a good way to introduce kids to the exotic flavours of Thailand by allowing them try little bits that they like the look of.

This epic feast has also got us planning our trip to Thailand! Thanks very much to Steve and Mai for inviting me 🙂

Find out more about Chilli Banana on their website here, and to book a table at the Wilmslow Sunday Buffet, contact below:

The Chilli Banana Thai Restaurant,
71 Water Lane,
Wilmslow,
Cheshire,
SK9 5BQ

T: 01625 539 100

E: wilmslow@chillibanana.co.uk


I was invited to the Chilli Banana to sample the new menu and as such the meal was complimentary, However, as with all of my reviews, my thoughts and opinions are as honest and objective as possible.
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Fluffy Eggs and Mushrooms on Toast

Scrambled eggs on toast is a wonderful veggie option for brunch, especially at the weekend. Here is my recipe for a quick, simple and satisfying breakfast that you can rustle up in no time.

#bestofthebrunch
#bestofthebrunch

Weekends are all about a lie-in and a decent brunch – if you ask me. Here’s a weekend breakfast classic which is quick, easy and not all that unhealthy. Fluffy scrambled eggs with herby mushrooms on granary toast. Mmmm. A splash of Tabasco Green Pepper Sauce at the end tastes great and helps if you have a hangover!

You’ll need a wok or a large frying pan for the scrambled eggs, and a little separate frying pan is perfect for the ‘shrooms.

This recipe serves 2, and takes about 10-15 minutes in total.

What you need:

  • 5 free-range eggs
  • a dash of milk
  • a small handful of finely chopped, flat-leaf parsley (or you could use thyme or coriander – whatever you fancy)
  • a big handful of sliced chestnut mushrooms
  • a shallot, very finely sliced (optional)
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  •  2 knobs of butter or spreadable Lurpak
  • a little bit of olive oil
  • 4 slices of granary bread
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper for seasoning

What to do:

  1. prep your work station – get the wok and frying pan ready on the hob, toast in the toaster (but don’t toast just yet) and get your plates and cutlery out ready.
  2. crack your eggs into a bowl and beat lightly with a fork, adding the dash of milk and salt and pepper. Mix in half of the chopped parsley.
  3. put one of the knobs of butter into small frying pan with the olive oil, and wait until it starts to foam. Then, add the sliced mushrooms and chopped shallots (if using). Leave them to fry gently, tossing every 30 seconds or so.
  4. add the other knob of butter to the wok and again, wait until it starts to foam (a medium heat should do it), pour in the eggs and using a wooden spatula start to stir them immediately, continuing to stir until they start to come together.
  5. pop the toast down in the toaster!
  6. as the eggs cook – turn down the heat, but keep folding them over with the spatula.
  7. check your mushrooms to make sure they are going nice and golden, and add the chopped garlic and the rest of the fresh parsley for the last 30 seconds or so.
  8. by this point you should be ready to bring it all together, get your toast buttered and serve the scrambled eggs on one slice, then a generous pile of the mushrooms on the other.
  9. season to taste with freshly ground black pepper, and a dash of Tabasco hot sauce to taste! Enjoy!

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Sunday round up. 10/01/16

I’ve decided to start writing a quick Sunday round-up post by way of summarising the week’s happenings, good or bad. This week, overall, has been pretty hectic. Back to work was full on. Most evenings all I wanted to do was get in, eat, bath and sleep. Which is pretty much all I managed, plus the odd blog post here and there. But that’s OK. The main thing is… WE MADE IT. We survived the first week back to normality, now that Christmas is but a distant memory.

So, I have decided to focus on the good stuff. Some pretty cool things happened this week…

Here’s a quick summary of this week in words and pictures:

A recipe for the most epic steak I have ever eaten in my entire life EVER was published on the blog.

I purchased, cooked and ate beef reared ethically and locally, just 1 mile from my house!

Saturday afternoon cooking saw Twitter endorsement from the woman herself (I made a recipe from Gizzi Erskine’s Healthy Appetite book and she tweeted her approval). Swoon.

On Monday, I was featured on the blog at work in their “a day in the life of” series. Read here to find out what I get up to in my day job… Cringe!

I did my first online shop with Ocado. I was really, really impressed. WHY have I not done this sooner? I will be featuring my thoughts on online shopping on the blog very soon. In the meantime, if you would like £20 off your first Ocado shop, message me on Facebook with your email address and I will send you a voucher 🙂

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THAT STEAK THO! click for recipe ❤
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super cringe but kind of interesting if you want to know about my day job!
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Online food shopping is the future, why have I only just done it?!
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Flat Iron steak with rocket, Parmesan & potato wedges

So it’s nearly the first ‘proper’ weekend after the Christmas and New Year break… How is everybody feeling? Are you ready for another feast yet? If not, fear not, as this might just get you in the mood…

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This recipe is a real weekend treat – Flat Iron steak with all the delicious gastro-pub style trimmings. Consider it a big, fat WELL DONE to you if you’ve been watching what you eat this week. It’s now time to treat yo’ self. This meal also really does make you feel as if you’ve just eaten out at your favourite pub or Italian eatery but for a fraction of the price too, which is even more brilliant in January of all months.

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400g Flat Iron steak from the butchers at the Cheshire Smoke House.

Flat Iron steak is also known as butlers’ steak or shoulder top blade roast. It’s from the top of the front leg of the animal (hence the name shoulder) and is packed full of flavour and marbled with a fair bit of fat. Make sure you ask your butcher to remove any excess fat or gristle so you can just get on with cooking and enjoying it.

I get mine from the Cheshire Smoke House (just outside Wilmslow) and at £5.99 for 400g that EASILY feeds two, this is such excellent value for money as well as down right delicious.

I cannot stress the importance of rest time in this recipe, so do not skip it and you should end up with something really tender, pink and juicy.

What you need:

  • 400g Flat Iron steak (at room temperature before cooking)
  • sea salt flakes
  • black pepper
  • chilli flakes
  • 2 medium potatoes (I like Maris Piper)
  • olive oil
  • balsamic glaze (I use this one)
  • half a punnet button mushrooms
  • 1 tsp ghee
  • 1 tsp garlic paste
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • half a pack of ready-to-eat rocket
  • 15-20g freshly shaved Parmesan cheese

What to do:

Lightly rub both sides on the meat with olive oil then season generously with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and chilli flakes. I find one pinch of chilli flakes per side of the steak gives enough ‘heat’ but if you like it fiery, add more.

Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees.

Cut your potatoes into even sized wedges. Add to a large pan of salted, boiling water and par-cook for 8 minutes. Drain well in a colander and allow the moisture to evaporate from them. Transfer to a roasting tray and drizzle/toss with plenty of olive oil, then season well with sea salt and pepper. Cook in the oven for 30 mins – turning once to ensure they cook evenly.

Half the mushrooms and add to a small frying pan with the ghee, garlic paste and dried thyme. When the wedges have 15 mins cooking time remaining, turn on the heat beneath the mushrooms to the lowest setting. These will now cook slowly until everything else is ready. Keep and eye on them and stir/toss when necessary.

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Mushrooms with ghee, garlic paste and dried thyme

Heat a heavy-based griddle or frying pan read for the seasoned steak. When the pan is nice and hot, add the steak and cook for 2 mins on each side. And no more than that for a nice, rare and juicy steak.

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steak on the griddle with the mushrooms sizzling away.

Immediately remove the steak from the pan and wrap in tin foil to rest and keep warm for up to 10 mins (but at least 5 mins). This bit is the key to epic steak – so don’t skip it!

Arrange the rocket on each plate, sprinkle with Parmesan shavings and drizzle with the balsamic oil. Add the wedges and mushrooms to the plate and slice your steak diagonally with the sharpest knife you own.

Dig in & enjoy.

Sophie -x-

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Brad’s juicy portion with plenty of wedges and loads of garlic mushrooms!
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What the Pho?!

Before Christmas I ate out at Pho, Manchester, with my little sister Hannah B. We had a bit of a feast. Plus wine. We were catching up, it was a Saturday. It was all very fun indeed. Here’s a little more about the scran…

Pho brings Vietnamese food to Manchester’s Corn Exchange

Set in the newly refurbished and very stunning Corn Exchange, this place is a true delight. Over 3 floors, the ground floor welcomes you to high ceilings, super-cool decor (including trendy neon lights) and a little bar in the corner that serves some great wines, cocktails and beers. We tried their version of a mojito, rather aptly named the ‘Phojito’ and it was sharp, refreshing and delicious. I also highly rated their sauvignon blanc, and Hannah enjoyed the pinot grigio blush as we hungrily scanned the menu…

The starter collection is extensive “dipping, rolling and sharing is what our starters and sides were made for” it reads… Chicken wings, meatballs and summer rolls, to name a few.

We opted for the rather healthy fresh rice paper rolls (aka Gỏi cuốn) – king prawns meticulously wrapped in sticky rice paper with coriander, vermicelli noodles and pickles. You can choose from either ‘nước chấm’ or peanut sauce – we opted for ‘nước chấm’, a sharp, slightly sour chilli sauce that absorbs into the contents of the perfectly stuffed rice paper as you dunk.

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fresh rice paper summer rolls with herbs, vermicelli
& pickle

Being seafood lovers, we also shared the ‘Muc chiên giòn’ – tender fried baby squid with a salt, pepper & lime dip. The dip arrives separately and you get to mix it up yourself at the table, adding to it as you wish the array of table condiments (Siracha, soy or fish sauce). The squid was piping hot, juicy and fresh. We thoroughly enjoyed it.  The portion size was also very generous, so if you’re sharing like we were there is plenty to go around.

For the mains, Hannah went for prawns, again. Yes, there is a theme occurring. She chose the ‘Xào’ which was described on the menu as a ‘stir fry of chilli & greens in a mild gingery sweet sauce’. We both enjoyed it – but I would not, in any way, describe the sauce as ‘mild’. The sauce was in fact rich, light in its consistency (pictured below) and absolutely slapped you in the face with a fist full of tangy ginger and dark soy. It was amazing. But, I fear, possibly slightly misleading when described as mild!

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king prawn Xào stir fry of chilli & greens in a rich, gingery sauce

I, of course, decided to go for the Pho. I went all out and chose a house special; Pho dặc biệt: king prawns, tofu & flash fried steak with garlic in beef broth. The broth itself was full of flavour, piping hot and contained loads of fresh herbs and veggies which was delicious. The prawns were also really big, plump and juicy. The flash-fried beef however, was a little on the tough side. And I thought the tofu overtook the dish a little so I had to leave a load of it out. But apart from that the dish was tasty, filling, warming and fresh. Next time I’m going to try one of the spicy seafood broths instead! No tofu!

Overall we really enjoyed our meals and I am looking forward to returning to try more dishes. The staff were very attentive, although it wasn’t too busy as we visited at 4pm on a Saturday, so in between the lunch and dinner rushes.

Have you been to Pho yet? What did you think? Would you recommend any other  places to eat in Manchester’s Corn Exchange?

I was invited to Pho to review some options from their menu, as during the launch I didn’t get any food as there wasn’t enough to go around. 🙂 However, all opinions are my own and I have tried to be as objective as possible throughout my visit and review.

Sophie -x-

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Food for Thought – a Healthy Study Guide

Back to work, back to school. Same difference. We all dread it. I hope your Monday wasn’t too horrific?

Some of you may not know this, but I used to work in a school as a teaching assistant. And I almost went back to uni to train as a teacher.

Then things changed. Government funding cuts back in 2011 meant my precious place on the PGCE Psychology course got scrapped. Along with that of about 25 students in the same boat as me. So, after a seocond attempt not working out either, I decided it wasn’t meant to be. So back to the drawing board, and that’s when I took the opportunity to work for an IT company in Manchester and London. And here I am now working for a top organic search agency near Chester.

But – my time spent as a TA was fun. I met some really smart, funny and innovative kids. And also some right little sh*t bags. But, I can honestly say in their own ways, they were all fantastic and I do feel privileged to have worked with (and hopefully helped) some of those kids along the way.

So when the opportunity arose to help form this ‘healthy revision guide’ for GCSE students, I was excited to get involved.

A revision guide, with a difference

An online focus took place to gather top revision tips and tricks in order for the revision guide to be shared with current GCSE students. Those involved include current students, former students, health and fitness experts and teachers.  All giving their best tips for a healthy revision schedule covering topics such as diet, exercise, sleep and music and how they play a vital role in a young person’s revision tactics.

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Eating the right foods during stressful times

Health food expert @SpamellaB gives her advice on the best food to eat during the exam period, and I have used her top tips as the featured image on this post (see above).

I think she is right, a mix of complex carbs and protein make for the best breakfasts. Eggs, milk, nuts, fruit, lean meat, baked beans, wholemeal toast are all great options. Bananas are life savers. Based on my own experience, this advice for eating the right foods during exam times doesn’t just apply to students. In all walks of life, eating well, or as well as you can, during stressful times is key to getting through it in one piece!

Some days at work I find I am more stressed than usual. Perhaps because I have a lot on my plate or  have a tight deadline to work towards. But sometimes, I actually know I am more stressed because I am hungry (AKA hangry). I just can’t function properly if I don’t feed myself well. And this must be the case for loads of kids who struggle through their exams due to eating badly, skipping meals or consuming too much sugar.

Taking the advice here will hopefully help at least a few kids along the way to a healthier revision schedule. Better revision means better results. And better grades at school, well, the sky’s the limit!

Below is a little sneak-preview of some of the other pages, and see below to the link to download the full eBook!

The full eBook is completely free and can be downloaded via the link below:
A Healthy Revision Guide For GCSE: Free Download

 

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2015/16: What I’ve learnt & Where I’m going

So, New Year, new me? I really, really hate that cliché. But of course, this is the right time of year to reflect on the past and look forward to the future.

I thought I’d share with you what I’ve learnt in 2015 and what my plans for 2016 are. Feel free to share your resolutions or tips in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you.

I learnt what healthy eating really is.

I think this came about due to a conscious effort to start looking after myself more. It was also nicely geed along by the surge of health-food focussed chefs, bloggers and cookbooks taking to the scene to promote well-being and healthy living through good, honest food.

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Healthy eating spread at the Holland & Barratt Bake Off ❤

This change in lifestyle enabled me the confidence to share my own tips for healthy eating with you all (which might come in handy this month as we kick-start January with our best intentions!)

Becoming closer friends with Pamela from www.spamellab.com, meeting Deliciously Ella and Ugne Bakes have all helped me learn so much more about healthy eating too! Thanks, ladies!

I learnt to have career confidence.

Those of you who know me on a personal level know I had a bit of a bumpy ride when it came to choosing my career path. However, starting my blog in August 2014 was the best decision I think I’ve ever made. That’s because it opened doors for me; to meet some incredibly talented and inspiring people, to kick-start my freelance writing and to enable me to do something creative that I love.

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From project coordinator to creative campaigns ❤

My blog also landed me my (fairly) new job as an Earned Media Executive for award-winning organic search agency click.co.uk. During my first 3 months I have learnt so much more about organic search and SEO. I’ve also had the opportunity to put my previous project management and blogging skills to the test to run lots of interesting client campaigns, alongside a great team of people.

Here’s looking forward to 2016, where lots more crazy campaigns will follow!

I learnt to surround myself with amazing people.

This might go without saying for some people. But in 2015, I learnt a valuable lesson that is; you don’t have to be friends with anyone for the sake of it. It can add unnecessary stress and pressure to your life, and let’s face it – life is tricky enough as it is.

What I don’t mean by this is that it’s OK to dump or ‘de-friend’ anyone who you might not see eye to eye with at times. You need to be friends with people who have different views and perspectives. However, what I do mean is that you don’t have to try to be friends with everyone. Especially those who don’t give you much (or anything) back in return. Just keep it simple and nurture the  friendships that are mutually beneficial for each of you in terms of fun, laughter, love, companionship and being there throughout the hard times.

Looking forward to 2016 and the friend-filled fun I know it will bring.

I learnt the importance of family.

This year I have learnt something valuable about family. Being focussed on getting a new job, staying in shape, having a social life, keeping up with blogging (recipes, events and reviews) as well as some freelance writing on the side – things got quite hectic, very quickly.

Looking back on 2015, I can see that it’s been my family who have taken the hit the most as I assume they still love me and think about me regardless of my busy lifestyle. Which they do, of course, but it doesn’t harm to make the effort to call or see them more often.

This is something I endeavour to do more of in 2016, and I am looking forward to it as I really am so lucky to have such a wonderful, crazy family. 🙂

I learnt that food doesn’t have to be complicated.

In 2015, I think I over-complicated food in some instances. Specific examples didn’t make it onto the blog, but in a nutshell at times I over think things, which can confuse the outcome of something that was otherwise intended to be straightforward.

This year in 2016, I will be focussing more on stripped back versions of meals that are easy to prepare, cook and eat. Full on flavour, minimum fuss food. Looking forward to sharing the outcomes with you all.

 

Thank you so much for reading the things I learnt in 2015 and what direction I’m heading in throughout 2016. I look forward to sharing lots more delicious, nourishing recipes with you that will hopefully encourage you to spend quality time with the people you love most.

 

Happy New Year,  Sophie -x-

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

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#HBBakeOff with Ugne, Holland & Barratt

If you follow @SpamellaB or I on Twitter / Instagram / Facebook you will probably be aware that we went to a rather excellent food event this Sunday just gone.

It was a Holland and Barratt ‘free-from’ bake off, hosted by no other than Ugne – who was one of the stars of this years’ Great British Bake-off series.

Getting excited on the train down to London, my good friend Pamela and I chatted the whole journey, all about our excitement for the event, the fear of losing and baking in front of so many other bloggers, and wondered what Ugne herself would be like. Oh, and we took loads of selfies… Of course 🙂

Travel was fairly fuss-free, so when we arrived to Cactus Kitchen in North Clapham, a quick tour of the building and we were ready to meet the team and get stuck in. Everyone else was already there (OK, so our train was 20 mins late) so we set about with quick introductions – then straight to the kitchens upstairs to get baking.

The place itself is beautiful, quaint and quicky whilst also having some really impressive facilities and swanky kitchen gadgets. I’d expect nothing less from the legendary Michel Roux Jnr’s London based cookery school! We learnt that the place was also the set of Saturday Kitchen from BBC1, a show I watch almost religiously at home – so it was straight behind the scenes to get a few photos in. The lovely staff were happy to let us pose and even offered to take the photos for us!

The kitchen upstairs was out of this world. A beautiful, airy space in the loft of the building with high ceilings and stunning exposed beams painted in the cutest, pale, duck-egg blue shade.

The surfaces were polished, natural wood and all our ingredients were set out before us. Complete with Cactus Kitchen aprons and our own name tags to mark our individual workspace.

Ugne was warm, friendly and seemed as excited as we were. She told us about how she loved free-from cooking as she is passionate about baking with a healthy twist, saying that baking such beautiful, tasty treats shouldn’t always be full of fat, sugar, dairy and gluten/wheat.

We were baking an Apple, Pear and Cranberry cake – a Holland and Barrett recipe that Ugne was to judge at the end. Baking was a lot more relaxed than we had first imagined, with some bloggers less experienced than others. It was soon apparent that this was all just a bit of fun, although our competitiveness was quite difficult to suppress at times!

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Time for a quick selfie with Ugne in the midst of baking!

Whilst our bakes cooled – we were treated to a fabulous ‘free from’ lunch. Everything on the spread was gluten and wheat free and much of it was also dairy and sugar free too. It was all delicious, particularly the avocado and quinoa salad and the stunning cheese that was served with pickles and chutneys. There was also sliced ham, hummus, tortilla chips and various tasty salads that were all truly outstanding. Ugne of course joined us for lunch, and it was great to be able to ask her questions and enjoy her company whilst we covered all topics from food, weddings, blogging and GBBO.

After lunch, it was back upstairs to put the finishing touches to our free-from bakes and get a demonstration from Ugne as she baked her Apricot, Chestnut and Coffee Cake that was soaked in a little rum, but was free from gluten, wheat, dairy and refined sugar. It was great to see Ugne in action, she’s very clearly a natural at baking and it was a privilege to see her talk through the recipe and have the opportunity to ask questions. We got to taste her bake at the end and it was stunning.

And so for the finale – judging our free from bakes! Ugne was tasked with trying all 8 of the bakes individually. They had been set out in front of her by the staff at Cactus Kitchen, as to not reveal the identity of the bakers…… It was a tense few moments as Ugne carefully considered each bite, commenting on the pros and cons of each cake (in the nicest way possible – not in any way like Paul Hollywood does on the Bake Off!)

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My final cake, topped with dairy-free dark chocolate melted with coconut oil (Pam’s idea!) and topped with crushed pecans and cranberry jewels ❤

It was clear to see Ugne found it tricky to pick, all the bakes were pretty good (well, most!) and after much deliberation a winner was picked for the prize. Sadly, it wasn’t Pam or I this time – although we did get some absolutely cracking feedback (including Ugne grabbing my face with both hands and telling me my cake was beautiful!) I will certainly be baking more free-from treats in the future as I thought they tasted fantastic. It was great to experiment with new ingredients under such expert supervision!

Overall, this was one of the best food events I have been to yet. Meticulously organised, great staff and Ugne herself was the true star baker. I feel really privileged to have met such a nice woman and I think we can all expect to see great things from her in the future!

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Presenting her own TV show one day…..? She’s a natural 🙂

Here’s a few more snaps from the day. And a massive thanks to the organisers Jade and Manisha for doing such an excellent job!

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Katie, one of the other bloggers who was baking next to me topped her cake with a chocolate ganache and cashew butter! ❤
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It’s all in the detail….
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Food bloggers doin’ what they do best……
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I could get used to this 🙂 on the set of Saturday Kitchen! And sporting the festive jumper…
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OK, just one more selfie…. 🙂

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!