Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Restaurant Review - The Ship, Redbridge, Hampshire

Traditional pubs sometimes seem few and far between, with high streets overtaken by chains and drinking holes out in the countryside a bit hit and miss – you never know what to expect when you step through the door if you’re not a local. So when my boyfriend and I went to see my sister and her boyfriend in Southampton, they suggested a nice pub for lunch and I was happy to trust their judgement.
The Ship Inn at Redbridge dates from 1654 and has been restored with original features and nods to the nautical theme – in a totally non-cheesy way. In the 19th century the pub was run by one Horatio Nelson – well, Horatio Nelson Smith to be exact. The website lists the pub landlords dating back to 1847 and the pub appears to have only changed hands 17 times during that time. The current hosts have run the pub since 2008 and seem to have created a popular, friendly pub.
The menu was particularly extensive for a pub (for a pub that isn’t a Wetherspoons, anyway) and it took me a while to decide what to have. I love fish and due to the nautical theme there were a lot of fish dishes, some quite unusual for a  pub such as swordfish and red snapper. I was intrigued by the ‘seafood mariner’, £11.95, described as smoked salmon, hake, Pollock and prawns in a seafood sauce on a bed of rice noodles served with garlic bread. It seemed quite an eclectic combination and I had images of the seafood sauce being the pink kind you get from jars, but with the noodles being like a stir-fry. My sister was quite dubious about whether it would be very nice; she and her boyfriend ordered substantial baguettes and my boyfriend had a burger. When my dish arrived, we all agreed it didn’t look anything like we expected and actually looked better – and tasted really good. I would have described it as seafood pasta – the rice noodles reminded me more of linguini, and the seafood sauce was a creamy, delicately flavoured sauce with large chunks of the different fish. It was a fairly light dish which is probably why it came with garlic bread, but I’m never a huge fan of garlic bread and had already promised it to my boyfriend.
That meant we still had room for dessert – which I had been hoping as soon as I read the dessert section on the menu. Again, the Ship Inn really pushes the boat out. As well as typical desserts like sticky toffee pudding and apple pie, there was ‘the Ship’s cookie mountain’ – ice cream, cookie, chocolate sauce and chocolate flake – a four layer chocolate cake, millionaires’ ice cream cake and raspberry pavlova – but I was more interested in the sharing desserts. The Ship’s Wreck sounded good, with meringue, white chocolate buttons, ice cream, raspberries, raspberry sauce and chopped nuts, but my boyfriend doesn’t eat raspberries or nuts, so instead we had The Ship’s Chocoholic – ice cream, whipping cream, marshmallows, Dime bits, chocolate fudge cake, maltesers, chocolate buttons and chocolate sauce. And at £7.95 not bad at all – I’ve paid this much for a tiny individual dessert in London restaurants.
When it came to the table we were slack-jawed. Served in a giant glass – like those ‘whole bottle of wine in one glass’ ones you can get in novelty shops (I had one once, and wish I’d kept it now!) it was full of chocolate and full of calories. The ingredients were broadly layered, with the cake on the bottom, the ice cream in the middle and the cream on top. The other chocolate bits were all mixed in, but seemed to be in groupings – so you only got the dime bits if you ate from one side for instance. Even sharing with my boyfriend who loves this sort of pudding it was too much for us! I think if we ate here again – which I would be happy to – I would order a different dessert, one that is more ‘home made’ rather than simply assembled – but it was a great end to a very enjoyable meal.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Meal Planning Monday - week 10

Lunch: SW ready meal
Dinner: sandwich - out at blog event
Lunch: SW ready meal
Dinner: sandwich – at cake decorating class
Lunch: baked sweet potato
Dinner: out for work drinks
lunch: sandwich
Dinner:  spaghetti bolognese
lunch:leftover spag bol or sandwich
dinner: salmon burger for me beef burger for him
Sat lunch: packed lunch – out all day at a marshmallows and meringues course
Dinner: pizza party at mine
Sunday lunch: packed lunch as I’m out again at a sugar paste modelling class (I didn’t realise they were the same weekend when I booked them!)
Dinner: roast chicken

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Giveaway: Exclusive new Slimming World recipe book

You might have seen from my meal plan recently that I spent a week eating Slimming World ready meals to try out the new range. I wasn't able to have them for quite every meal as sometimes I was out and I did have a few treats as well, but I still lost weight that week.
I don’t normally eat ready meals and prefer to cook from scratch from recipe books, and since I started Slimming World I’ve purchased or received as freebies in group several of their recipe books. In fact I have over 100 recipe books in total, and probably ten or so of those are Slimming World ones.
So last week when I received a new recipe book in group I decided not to add it to my collection but instead to give it away to one lucky reader! This giveaway is not affiliated with Slimming World and so the postage comes out of my own pocket so I’ve decided the competition will only be open to those with UK addresses, sorry.
This is a full-size recipe book (not one of the mini ones we sometimes receive at group) and at the moment is only available in Slimming World groups if you buy a 12-week countdown, so you can’t buy it in the shops. The book is called “Food Glorious Food” and contains recipes such as beef wellington, steak and kidney pie, fish and chips, London particular soup, Welsh onion cake, summer pudding and Pimms jellies.
The whole family can enjoy Slimming World food whether they need to lose weight or not – the recipes are filling, satisfying and tasty and there’s nothing to stop you from serving them with extra pasta or potatoes for someone who wants to eat more. This is not what you might think of as ‘diet food’!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Alphabakes Roundup: V

I've just managed to squeeze in this round-up before the end of the month and the day before we find out what the next letter is - I don't know myself yet! The letter I chose for February was V so there were lots of Valentine's entries but plenty (well, a few) more besides.

Kat from The Baking Explorer kicked us off this month with a beautiful raspberry and limonello tart for Valentine's day. I love how she cut out heart shapes from the pastry lid and made some mini heart-shaped versions as well.

I also went with the Valentine heart theme with this no-bake ice cream cake; it was easy to make and delicious if you use good-quality ice cream. I used a new flower-shaped mould I got for Christmas which gives you heart-shaped slices, and drizzled it with butterscotch sauce.

I also wanted to share this wedding cake with you - I didn't actually make the cake (it's part dummy, part shop bought!) but I decorated it as part of the wedding cake decoration evening class I'm taking at the moment. You can read all about how I did it in the post. I think weddings fits the Valentine's theme!

And finally my third Valentine's entry; I made these chocolate hearts using Hershey's kisses and a few decorations. They were quick and easy to make and made a lovely Valentine's gift for my boyfriend.

If you still have chocolates from Valentine's day you could make these wonderful chocolate box brownies by Dom at Belleau Kitchen. And if you're feeling romantic you could cut them into heart shapes like he did!

From brownies to blondies - Stuart at Cakeyboi sent us these raspberry mint chip blondies, which are pink from the raspberry so perfect for Valentine's day. It's not a flavour combination I've seen before but if Stuart says it works, that's good enough for me!

My mum Jacqueline sent in two entries, first these Viennese fingers, which would be perfect for Sunday tea:

and secondly Valentine's heart cakes, though she says the icing came out more pink than she intended!

Here's another heart-shaped cake from Corina at Searching for Spice; it has dark and white chocolate ganache as well as chocolate buttercream and looks very decadent. I'd love to try a slice!

Kate at The Gluten-Free Alchemist made this raspberry lemon drizzle trifle with some leftover homemade cake; the raspberries were also left over from another cake so turning it into a dessert was a great idea. The serving glasses are really pretty too!

My Alphabakes co-host Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker decorated these cookies to look like penguins as a Valentine's treat. They are easy to make and so cute!

Laura at How To Cook Good Food had a Valentine's meal at home with her family and made this pretty mochaccino mousse, which consists of a chocolate espresso mousse topped with a caffe latte cream. This looks like a lovely treat to round off a dinner party.

Here's another no-bake recipe from Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker; she used the candy canes you can buy at Christmas to make chocolate hearts, and includes a short video showing how to make them.

Fiona at Sweet Thing You Make My Heart Sing has got some new cookie stamps and tried them out on these Valentine's shortbread biscuits, which are gluten free and lactose free. They look really cute!

Our first entry using V for an ingredient rather than for Valentine's! These vanilla buttermilk pancakes come from Kate aka The Gluten Free Alchemist, and are served with berries and homemade chocolate sauce. These are too good to keep for pancake day alone!

Johanna at Green Gourmet Giraffe also used vanilla as her V ingredient in these gluten free vanilla cupcakes, which she decorated with jelly beans and took as a snack on a day at the zoo. It looks like a fun day out!

For something a bit different this month we have a savoury dish: vermicelli (semiya) upma, from Revathi at Revi's Foodography. This is a quick south Indian breakfast dish which Revathi says is easy to make and looks very tasty.

Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog made this chocolate cashew nut butter, which is suitable for vegans (hence the 'V') and a healthier take on a well-known chocolate hazelnut spread. I spied from a later blog post that she then used this in chocolate brownies which looks great!

These Viennese hazelnut bars are a bit like wafer biscuits, according to Suelle at Mainly Baking; they are made of hazelnut shortbread with redcurrant jelly sandwiched between, glazed with apricot jam and then iced. Suelle says they are quite crumbly and delicate but sound delicious!

Finally we had these pretty Valentine's cupcakes from my sister Clare. They are red velvet cupcakes - a great V entry and one I hadn't thought of - with vanilla icing. I bet her boyfriend enjoyed them!

Thanks to everyone who took part - head on over to The More Than Occasional baker tomorrow to find out which letter we are baking with in March!

Friday, 27 February 2015

Snowboarder Birthday Card

I made this card for a friend who likes skiing and snowboarding; I bought an A4 page which had circles in varying sizes of the same picture, but with a smaller circle showing only part of the picture each time. The idea is to layer these up with sticky pads to give a 3D effect. I mounted them on a piece of blue swirl backing paper which I thought gave the idea of snowboarding and the finishing touch was a 'happy birthday' label from the same set.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Restaurant Review: The Big Easy, King's Road, London

The closest thing to a crabshack that I know of in London is the Big Easy – a restaurant serving food from the American south, with a strong emphasis on BBQ and seafood. I’d wanted to go for a while and finally got around to it last year with a friend and her boyfriend (now fiancĂ©). There are two locations, Covent Garden and King’s Road, and we thought it would be easier to get a table at the King’s Road branch.
I was a bit early so sat at the bar for a while enjoying a cocktail (they have an extensive cocktail menu) and then when our table was ready went downstairs into a huge cavernous room.
Looking very stylish
The Big Easy has daily specials – I was a bit disappointed we weren’t there on a Tuesday when I could have had unlimited shrimp for £18.95. But the main menu had a lot of choice all of which was very appealing if you like lobster, crab, shrimp, or any kind of barbecued meat. They also have burgers, fajitas, steak, salads and soups like clam chowder. It was more American than a lot of restaurants I’ve been to in America!
I love lobster and knew from the outset that’s what I wanted; my boyfriend had a burger as always and my friends had unlimited ribs – I think it was a Monday which has an unlimited BBQ “and a brew” offer so they had ribs and chicken and a drink included. There was an awful lot of food on the table!
One thing that is worth mentioning is that you get a disposable plastic bib – actually pretty necessary if you’re eating ribs with your fingers or dripping sauce from your lobster. The waiter came up behind me and tied it around my neck before I even realised what was going on – and the effect was hardly flattering. So I wouldn’t say this is necessarily the best place to go on a first date, though it is fun, and the food is certainly good!


The restaurant has live music as well, which sounds great but we were the closest table to the stage and towards the end of our meal a performer – I think it was a saxophonist – started up. I would have enjoyed the music more if he hadn’t been two feet from my ear and it meant my friends and I could hardly hear ourselves speak!
I think the Big Easy has quite a following; you can even buy their own brand of sauces to take home. This isn’t cheesy American and it’s not a quiet restaurant but proper, smokey BBQ southern food with the atmosphere to match.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Homemade Sausage and Egg 'McMuffins'

I don't really get the obsession with McDonald's breakfasts. I like a McDonald's burger well enough - in fact it's something of a guilty pleasure - but I was disappointed when I tried one of their breakfasts (and also disappointed that they only serve the breakfast menu in the morning). Yet I know people who will literally go out of their way for a McDonald's breakfast - if you do the same, please let me know in the comments, and let me know what is your favourite item to order!

As it's sometimes hard to think of brunch or lunch dishes to cook on the weekends at home, I had an idea and decided to make my own sausage and egg muffin - like the 'McMuffin' - to see if I liked it any better.

I've no idea how they get the egg like that - obviously they use a shaped mould to make it perfectly round, but it's so deep as well! For me the sausage patty is a bit on the thin side so that is one advantage of making your own.

I have never even attempted to make poached eggs by slipping the egg straight into a pan of water - one of my friends is an expert at this but says it could have something to do with using freshly laid eggs from her own chickens. I have a microwavable egg poacher which is very handy as it means I can have smoked salmon and poached eggs for breakfast at work - one of my favourite meals to start the day. However it's very easy to overcook the eggs and even make them explode and I never seem to get the yolk to stay runny when the white is cooked. Even if I follow the instructions it depends on the size of the egg and the power of the microwave.

So when I was offered an egg poacher by British Lion eggs I was really excited - not least because it is a traditional egg poacher (rather than an electronic one) which I remember my mum using when I was a child. I didn't even like poached eggs at the time but was fascinated by the little cups that sat in the pan!

Eggs are really good for you - a great source of protein and while there has been a lot written about cholesterol in eggs, evidence now suggests that dietary cholesterol does not increase the risk of heart disease in most healthy people. Eggs are also pretty cheap and it's easy to make a filling meal from them. Check out the British Lion Eggs website for more information and recipes.

The egg poacher was very easy to use - simply put some water in the base, and bring it to the boil on the hob (this pan even worked with my induction hob) with the lid on top. You do need to lightly grease each cup - I sprayed them with Fry Light, or the eggs will stick when you try to take them out. Crack your eggs into the cups and replace the lid and simmer for 4-5 minutes, and you're done! My eggs came out perfectly poached with a solid white and runny yolk, just how I like them.

The poacher is made by Kitchen Craft, available from lots of stockists but you can buy one from Amazon here:

So here's the recipe for my sausage and egg 'McMuffins'
An original recipe by Caroline Makes

You need
2 English muffins
5 sausages - the fairly soft kind rather than butchers' sausages with the higher meat content. I used Richmond.
2 eggs
2 cook-from-frozen hash browns
2 processed cheese slices

Squeeze the sausage meat out of the sausages and shape into patties. Heat some Fry Light in a frying pan and fry the sausage patties on both sides until cooked.

Meanwhile cook the hash browns according to pack instructions - I fried mine.

Poach the eggs as explained above.

Slice the English muffins in half and lightly toast just before the sausage and hash browns are cooked.

To assemble, place the bottom half of the muffin on a plate and layer up the sausage patty, hash brown, egg and cheese slice then place the top of the muffin on top.

I pressed down gently and sliced mine in half as it made it much easier to eat. It tasted delicious - far better than takeaway fast food in my opinion - and was very filling!

I'm sending this to Cook Blog Share hosted by Lucy at Supergoldenbakes

I'm also sharing it with Tea Time Treats, hosted by Karen at Lavender and Lovage and in alternate months Janie at The Hedgecombers as their theme this month is anything toasted.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Slimming World-style Cauliflower Rice

I’d seen a few posts on Facebook about Slimming World cauliflower rice – not an official SW recipe but something that people following the plan were making. It’s a low-carb alternative to rice or potatoes, and fits in well with Slimming World’s new Extra Easy SP plan (the SP stands for ‘speed’ I think, as it’s a way of giving your weight loss an extra boost). The other advantage is that it only takes a couple of minutes to make.
It’s really easy to make and tasted OK – you can tweak the added flavours as you like – but it did taste very strongly of cauliflower. That seems an obvious thing to say but what I mean is that the taste is very condensed and intense, as you are reducing down the cauliflower. I would say the texture is more like cous cous than rice but it seems to have developed this name which has stuck.
You can grate the cauliflower by hand but it’s much easier to use a food processor if you have one with the correct grater or shredder attachment. Cut the raw cauliflower into florets and grate until you have fine crumbs.

Place in a microwavable dish and cover with a lid or piece of clingfilm, leaving it a bit loose. Cook on full power for 2 minutes. If you don’t have a microwave you can cook the cauliflower ‘rice’ in a steamer but make sure the steamer has very small holes so it doesn’t fall through!


Add salt and pepper to taste and any other seasonings you wish – herbs and spices are ‘free’ on Slimming World so you could add cumin, parsley, whatever you like. You could also treat this like a cous cous dish and add raisins, or spring onion, or anything else that takes your fancy.

I’ve only made this once but did enjoy it and think I will try to have it once a week instead of potatoes, pasta or rice.

 I bought a really cool plate from Amazon which helps with portion control; the plate is divided into three sections. The largest section can either be for your protein or your veg and the smaller portions are good for carbs such as potatoes, or a sauce, or anything that you want to control the portion size of. If you want to buy one you can click on the 'shop now' link below.

I'm sending this to the Spice Trail Challenge hosted by Vanesther at Bangers & Mash as the theme this month is 'temple food' and this is really virtuous!

Monday, 23 February 2015

Meal Planning Monday 2015- Week 9

I put on two pounds last week - well, over the last two including my Valentine's weekend away - which I'm quite disappointed by. So I have come up with an unusual plan: I'm going to live off ready meals for the week. But not just any ready meals - as you may have seen in the press or in Iceland, Slimming World has launched a range of ready meals, which are all syn free.

They recommend that you eat the meals with plenty of fresh veg and provide the recipe on the back of the packet - the idea being that these meals are great if you are short of time but ultimately you should be eating freshly cooked food, which I like. I also like the fact that the portion sizes are quite big - the packets are double the size of the ready meals sold under the name of a certain other weight loss brand!

I don't normally eat ready meals at all but lately I've found I'm too busy or tired to put any thought into packed lunches and end up making a sandwich, even though I know that isn't always the best idea (and on Slimming World, most types of white bread are high in syns). So I am going to take a SW ready meal into work for my lunch every day, and try to have a different one for my dinner in the evening on the nights I'm home (I do a cake decorating class on a Tuesday and have to take something I can eat on the way). I'm also hoping that the fact that the meals are syn free will inspire me to try harder with my snacks and have as few syns every day as I can. I've got to 7pm on Monday evening and had no syns so far today!
 I will still have to cook dinner for my boyfriend and resist the temptation of sausage and chips and the like, but I really want to do this as an experiment, to see if the ready meals work, to see if I can stick to the plan, and shift the two pounds I put on. And I'm quite curious to know what the new range of meals tastes like! Leave me a comment if you've tried them already!

I'm home alone for lunch on Saturday but do want to have a proper dinner with my boyfriend that night so I'm planning to make piri piri chicken with sweet potato wedges from Slimming World magazine which was on a recent meal plan but I didn't make it.

Similarly on Sunday I want a proper dinner and have got some lamb in the freezer I need to use so will try the Slimming World Caribbean Lamb from this recipe. Wish me luck!

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Restaurant Review: Cambridge Chop House

This year I spent Valentine’s day in Cambridge – not quite as good as Rome but still a lovely weekend away none the less. I went to university there and other than a reunion dinner hadn’t been back for several years, and my boyfriend had never visited the city, so I really wanted to show him around.
We went to Duxford (part of the Imperial War Museum)  on the way up, did a walking tour of a couple of the colleges in the morning and I showed him around my college and some of my old haunts in the afternoon, then on Sunday we went to the Computer History Museum, which I highly recommend – located on an industrial estate on the edge of the city centre, I wasn’t expecting much – but it’s a treasure trove of computers from every decade, where I spotted the computers we had at primary school, the Commodore 64 my sister and I had at home, and much more besides. You can even play on most of the games consoles! My boyfriend was in his element particularly when he came across a certain remote control car he had as a child, which he spent a few minutes playing with.

I’m never keen on set menus for Valentine’s day – I can understand why restaurants do them, but I’d much rather choose from the a la carte menu even if it means the potatoes aren’t cut into heart shapes. I looked on the internet to see what restaurants there were in the centre of Cambridge – much has changed since I studied there, though some are still there. The first two I contacted, over a month before Valentine’s day, were already fully booked which was a bit worrying, and the third sent me a set menu that only had a choice of three dishes for each course, none of which my boyfriend would have liked.
The Cambridge Chop House and its sister restaurant the St John Chop House were highly rated on Trip Advisor, conveniently located (the former is opposite King’s and the latter where the name might suggest, albeit at the back of the college near Madingley Road). There wasn’t a huge amount of choice on the menu if you didn’t want steak or chops but I knew we’d be happy with steak – in fact that would be my boyfriend’s preferred Valentine’s dinner. I was able to get a table but only for 6pm, but at this point – still several weeks before Valentine’s day – was happy to book it.
In the end having an early dinner was a good thing as we were quite tired from walking around all day. The restaurant is deceptively big – it only has a few tables at street level then you go down into the restaurant which has a nice cosy feel without being cramped. Our server was friendly and I chatted to him about what the restaurant used to be called in my student days as I couldn’t remember – it had the imaginative name of No 1 King’s Parade back then.
My boyfriend ordered the sirloin medallions (£28 for 255g) while I decided that I fancied fish after all, and had the roasted cod fillet with lemon and parsley crust with sweet potato rosti, chicory and shellfish sauce (£16). The cod delicious and flaked off at the touch of a fork and the sweet potato rosti was a nice change – I might have to make this at home! I loved the sauce but had never eaten chicory before and decided that I really didn’t like it!
Wine was reasonably priced and it was nice to see it available by the half carafe (500ml). We both chose the same dessert – sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and ice cream (£6.25) which was a good-sized portion and very tasty.
We had been told on booking that they needed the table back by 8.15 and as it took 45 minutes for our food to arrive I was a bit worried we would feel rushed but that wasn’t the case at all. We had a lovely meal with good service and I would definitely go back when I’m in Cambridge again. I have several friends who live there and I think my boyfriend is looking for another excuse to potter around the computer museum again!

Earlier we had been told about the Cambridge Light festival where various buildings were lit up that weekend, which made for a very pretty walk back to our hotel - this is the Senate House.