Friday 31 July 2015

Restaurant Review: Jackson & Rye, London

 With a name like Jackson & Rye I should have realised straight away this was an American-style restaurant. Rye is used in making whiskey and Jackson is the capital of the state of Mississippi. The restaurant, which has three branches in London, has a ‘rye list’ – like a wine list but different types of whiskey – and a ‘blue plate special’ section. This is a term I’ve come across in other American restaurants like the Diner in Spitalfields and am never quite sure what it means – I even asked an American colleague once and she was a bit unsure but said it was a mixture of a specials board and a special (low) price.

I was there for dinner with two friends and found it difficult to choose from everything on the menu – this is a restaurant for people who like their food, and plenty of it. From steak and eggs to fried buttermilk chicken and crab cakes – and of course hamburgers – the menu is American through and through. There are also salads and pasta dishes, and fish – including lobster – and side orders including creamed grits, baked mac and cheese and maple bacon.

I chose the shrimp burger which came in  a brioche roll with fries; it had a chunkier texture than I was expecting (I’ve had fish burgers that are more like fishcakes) and was delicious. My friends ordered the lobster and one of the daily specials, a rack of lamb, and we decided to have the truffled mac and cheese starter to share. My friend then also ordered the truffle arancini, which was delicious, and a side of maple bacon, which I didn’t try – I found it quite strange as an idea. I can understand ordering extra bacon if you want to put it in a burger or mix it into your mac and cheese but as a side to eat with a rack of lamb? Each to their own I suppose!

Thursday 30 July 2015

Chocolate Animal Biscuits

I don’t know what it is about Cadbury Animal biscuits that makes them so moreish.
It’s not just the Cadbury chocolate on one side, but the biscuit itself – which is actually made by Burton’s, who also make Wagon Wheels, Maryland cookies and Jammie Dodgers – which I love. They are so cute too – shaped like different animals and the chocolate side – if I remember correctly, as I haven’t bought them in a while – has a distinctive ridged pattern.
I was sent some products not long ago by Mein Cupcake which trades in the UK as Cake Mart and among the items I chose was this cute little cow cookie cutter. It’s a nice cutter – very robust so it won’t get squashed out of shape, and you get enough detail without it being too fiddly.
I decided to make animal biscuits and kept the recipe fairly simple; I used:
250g butter, softened
150g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla flavouring
1 egg
250g plain flour
Pinch of nutmeg
100g milk chocolate

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl until you have a dough. Wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour.
Preheat the oven to 180C, and roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface. If the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour and work it in.
Use your cookie cutters to cut out the shapes and place on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden but still slightly soft.
Allow to cool.

Melt 100g milk chocolate in a bain marie or microwave and spread over the back of each biscuit. Use a fork to run through the chocolate before it has set to make the vertical marks. Refrigerate until the chocolate has set.

These were lovely – not quite the same as the Burton’s/Cadbury’s biscuits (I wish I knew their recipe!) but really good, and they would be fun for children to make too.


Wednesday 29 July 2015

Restaurant Review: Belize

As part of our recent Mayan Explorer tour with Kuoni we crossed the border into Belize. Our first stop across the border in San Ignacio, and a welcome break from travelling in a not particularly comfortable minibus, was at a restaurant called

Hode's Place San Ignacio

This was a busy place with lots of people eating fast food and sitting with their friends in large groups; we had a set meal arranged for us as we were on a busy schedule, which our guide said was a chance to try the local speciality of rice and beans. I wasn't thrilled at the sound of that but the food turned out to be very nice. We had unlimited orange juice (we had just passed through some orange groves), a sort of marinaded grilled chicken that was very dry but had a nice flavour, a mixture of rice and beans, potato salad, coleslaw and dry bread (a bit difficult to eat). We paid $13 (£8.50) each which seemed expensive for what we had compared to other places we ate but with the amount of travelling we were doing, a stop for lunch, whatever we had, was always welcome!

We left our minibus and crossed a river on a hand-cranked ferry, but luckily there were cars waiting for us on the other side (arranged by our tour company) as it's a bit of a trek up the hill otherwise. At the top we found a relatively small (compared to other sites we visited) grass area with three main temples, one of which you can climb. The whole site is one square mile, apparently with 26 temples and palaces, but we didn't visit the others.

The main temple, El Castillo, is the second-highest structure in Belize and you do get some amazing views from the top - judging by the photos my boyfriend took. I wasn't sure whether to try climbing it or not and went up a couple of steps which were so high I could barely climb them - and when I turned around I realised I would have major problems getting down. My boyfriend said afterwards that he wished he hadn't climbed it - if he had realised we would have the opportunity to scale many other temples which were all a lot easier and in better condition! He said there were parts where the steps were crumbling, there was nothing to hold on to and there was a sheer drop on one side - you're about 130 feet up at the highest point. This is definitely not one for people who are afraid of heights!

Tuesday 28 July 2015

Mug Cakes: Sticky Toffee Pudding and Dr. Oetker Review

Last Christmas I received a book called 'Mug Cakes' full of recipes to make in the microwave in a mug. It's a brilliant concept- when you really fancy something cake-y for dessert but want it then, not in an hour's time! I have already made a few mug cakes (chocolate, and toffee and pear) and when the weather was bad a little while ago we really fancied cake, so I flipped through the book until I found something we would both like where I had all the ingredients. I decided upon a sticky toffee pudding.

To make one, you need:
The largest mug you can find
2 tbsp. butter, softened, plus extra for greasing the mug
4 tbsp. toffee sauce
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp. dates, chopped
3 tbsp. brown sugar
4 tbsp. self-raising four

Grease the inside of the mug and spoon in 3 tbsp. of the toffee sauce.

 Place the butter, egg, 1 tbsp. toffee sauce, vanilla and dates into a small bowl (or another mug, but a bowl is easier) and beat together with a fork. Fold in the sugar and flour and mix in. Spoon into the mug that has the toffee sauce at the bottom.


Microwave for 2 and a half minutes on high if you have a 600 watt microwave or 2 minutes for a 1000 watt microwave. You can estimate somewhere in between eg 2 minutes 15 seconds for a 800 watt microwave.

Leave to cool enough that you can eat it; you can either turn the cake out into a bowl as the toffee sauce at the bottom should then run over the top, or eat it straight from the mug - to save on the washing up!

That's what we did and the cake was lovely and the toffee sauce at the bottom was an added bonus.

Not long after this I saw that Dr. Oetker had launched its own range of mug cake mixes which are even quicker - you just mix milk with the powder, microwave them for a minute and you're done! I thought this was a brilliant idea - mug cakes are pretty quick anyway but you still can't quite make them in a television advert break by the time you have found the ingredients in the cupboard and mixed them together! Whereas the Dr. Oetker mixes really are super fast.

I was sent three flavours for review: chocolate, chocolate chip and lemon. I have to admit I haven't tried the lemon yet (but will update this post when I do!) - the weather has gotten warmer again and I don't really fancy cake!

You literally just mix the powder with milk. This is the chocolate chip...

... and this is chocolate flavour.

Microwave and the cake is risen and ready.

I was sent a few other bits and pieces by Dr Oetker including this chocolate cupcake centre - it has a nozzle you insert into the cake, squeeze and it fills it with chocolate sauce.

I topped it off with a mini chocolate heart. These are so cute and brilliant for decorating cakes or desserts.

This is the finished chocolate cake - it hasn't risen anywhere near as much as my home-made mug cakes do.

Side-by-side an instant hot dessert. The cakes did definitely taste more artificial than my homemade version and I found them incredibly sweet. I'd prefer these with a little less sugar but for those times when you have immediate cake cravings - or like when I was a student, you don't have an oven - I think these are a great idea.

Thanks to Dr. Oetker for sending the cake mixes, chocolate filling and hearts for review. All opinions are my own.

Monday 27 July 2015

Meal Planning Monday week 31

Lunch: chicken and cous cous salad
Dinner: chicken curry
Lunch: salad/sandwich from whatever is in fridge
Dinner: pizza for him at his request; salmon and veg for me
Lunch: salad/sandwich from whatever is in fridge
Dinner: working late
The company I work for reports H1 results today and as I work in communications I have to be in the office several hours before most other people:
Breakfast: probably sausage sandwich from the canteen after my early morning work is done
Lunch: salad/sandwich from whatever is in fridge
Dinner: Enchiladas
Lunch: salad/sandwich from whatever is in fridge
Dinner: fish and vegetables for me, chicken kiev for him
Lunch: Potato wedges nacho style from Slimming World magazine
Dinner: BBQ if the weather is nice
Lunch: out. I need to practice driving longer distances so will pick a location and we can find somewhere for lunch
Dinner: Salmon en croute with veg for me, chicken pie for him

Sunday 26 July 2015

Restaurant Reviews - Mexico Part 2

Part 2 of my Mexico food diary/ restaurant reviews/ travelogue...
Campeche by night
After leaving Palenque we drove to Campeche and spent the evening in the town, which had a pretty row of buildings with large sculptures in the street, and a smattering of bars and restaurants. We ate in one that was recommended by our tour guide:

 Known for its seafood, we saw a lot of locals there which is always a good sign, and the menu is in both Spanish and English. We were brought a bowl of nachos to start which is common everywhere but this time instead of just salsa, which is usually provided with the nachos, we had a plate of spicy crab meat (for free) which was delicious.

 For my main course I had prawns in coconut breadcrumbs which came with what tasted like apple chutney - and no sides which I hadn’t realised, it was literally just a plate of breaded prawns -  but it was still quite filling and was very good.


My boyfriend doesn’t eat seafood so had a more limited choice from the menu (though there are non-fish dishes); he had a chicken breast covered with parmesan cheese in a lemon sauce. He said it was very nicely cooked but the lemon and cheese together was a very strange combination as both flavours were quite strong.

We didn’t order dessert but were brought two free cocktails which were tamarind margaritas and really very nice – the bill only came to 550 pesos (about £22) which was more expensive than some places but still cheap by UK standards and the food was very good .

We stayed the night here: the room was pretty average and we were on the right side of the hotel to have an ocean view but unfortunately had a ground floor room so the only view we had was of the street. When I opened the curtains in the morning there was a workman leaning against our window having a cigarette, so I had to shut the curtains again! I was very surprised given it was low season and that the hotel wasn’t busy that we didn’t have a better room, particularly as we were on a very expensive Kuoni tour and I would have thought they could have found us a better hotel or at least made sure we got a good room in the hotel.
I also found it impossible to use the shower without flooding half the bathroom.
They have a free shuttle bus into the town centre which we used – you let them know at reception what time you want to go, assuming someone hasn’t already booked it. It’s only a 15 minute walk so we walked back after dinner; it was nice not having to walk into town in the heat but the only way of getting the shuttle to come and pick us up afterwards, as we didn’t know in advance what time we would want it, was to call – and we didn’t want to make an expensive international phone call.

The breakfast selection was fairly poor, the only cooked option was egg and refried beans along with a selection of fruit, some sliced bread and a selection of small pastries and muffins but what I thought looked like a sweet pastry was actually savoury (and plain) and what I thought was an English scone was also plain savoury pastry.
An ancient Mayan city with a great deal of significance- the buildings are apparently known for their size and decoration.

The site is very large and the first temple we came to had smooth walls and a flight of steps up the front, in contrast to others we have seen where the whole front consists of steps. Snakes are an important icon in Mayan culture and there were many carvings with snake heads and also jaguars. I was glad we had a guide to follow around the site, as we walked around –he told us which ones we could climb up and explained how games were played in the ball court. He also opened one of the drainage ducts saying there were usually snakes living in it but (un)fortunately there weren’t any at the time! We saw plenty of iguanas sunning themselves though including this photogenic little chap.

Mexican iguana
Mexican iguana

Restaurant Halach-Huinic, near Uxmal
We visited here as part of our group tour with Kuoni and had a great meal, though it’s something that I assume has to be pre-ordered. We were shown to an area at the back of the restaurant where there was a hole in the ground with a cover over it. The staff removed the cover, lifted out a box and opened it; took out the leaves covering it and then took out some baked potatoes, then showed us the marinaded chicken and pork that had been cooked in the ground.

It was very interesting to see and tasted delicious. It was served with tortillas and rice, with a  chicken and lime soup to start that was very good as well.


At the end, we were each given a shot of tequila and Kahlua, and the bartender went to each person in turn, put a sombrero on their head, put his hand over the top of the shot glass and slammed it on the table three times, mixing the two liquids together. We each downed it and then he grabbed our heads and shook them around, some sort of weird drinking tradition to make you feel more dizzy I think!


In a 1950s style with lots of original features, this was a nice hotel – not what you’d call upmarket but fairly pleasant with a nice lobby area, where I spent a lot of time sitting as the wifi signal wouldn’t work for me at all in our room, though my boyfriend could get onto it there for some reason. I had been dying to have a swim as we’d been on a busy sightseeing tour, but when I looked at the pool it was full of leaves. It was the beginning of low season (early May) so I guess if the hotel wasn’t busy they didn’t bother keeping the pool clean but that was a shame. We were only here one night anyway so it didn’t really matter.
As we were with a group, we weren’t given the breakfast menu that I saw other people with and instead had a set meal. We were given a fruit plate and a basket of mini croissants, and were offered scrambled eggs, which I declined as I don’t like them, expecting to be given another choice but got nothing, which was a bit disappointing since they were clearly able to prepare other dishes (and though we were a group we didn’t actually all come down to breakfast at the same time so when we were there, we were the only ones at our table and they weren’t exactly busy).

There are some good little souvenir shops in the town and also a proper artisan craft market- I can’t remember the name but ask any local. The people were really friendly and two of them separately stopped us to offer some shopping and sightseeing advice! If you want tequila or mezcal to take home there is an off-licence (alcohol shop) just off the main square, where I bought a bottle of mezcal for 49 pesos (£2) then saw the exact same bottle in a souvenir shop around the corner for 120 pesos (nearly £5)!
Main St Restaurant and Bar, Merida
We’d been touring around Mexico, Guatamala and Belize for nearly a week now and my boyfriend had a real hankering after a pizza, so when we saw this bar/restaurant on the main square in Merida we decided to eat there.

We sat outside to watch the world go by; he had a pizza though said the base wasn’t great, it had been fried in oil on the bottom by the look and taste of it. I had spaghetti in a tomato sauce with prawns which was quite simple but with loads of prawns and was quite nice. There was live music outside and a lively atmosphere inside the bar but we were still able to have a nice quiet meal.
Chichen Itza
I’m sure all of you will have heard of Chichen Itza or seen photographs – it has around 1.2 million visitors a year and was recently voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. That may be, as my guide cynically put it, because it’s nearer to Cancun than any other Mayan sites – but that can’t be the only reason. Chichen Itza is one of the largest Mayan cities with the largest ball court of its kind, a main pyramid – El Castillo – at 98 feet high; a Temple of the Warriors with carved columns and more – there is a wide range of architectural styles to be seen.

The main pyramid is an impressive site, though it’s pretty hard to get a photo without other tourists in it. You can’t climb it unfortunately – the authorities put a stop to that about ten years ago after two accidents, one of which saw a woman fall off and be killed. According to our guide the other accident happened because a local woman was climbing the temple in high heels but miraculously she survived. We climbed a temple more than twice as high as this one in Guatemala so in a way I was a bit bemused at quite why Chichen Itza is feted in the way it is- but the overall site is very impressive with so many different things to see, including some detailed serpent carvings.

Unlike the other temples we visited, this one has a whole market of souvenir stalls; I’m glad we didn’t come across these at the other places as it’s very touristy and you get hassled a bit by stallholders offering prices, but at the same time I was glad they were here as I did some shopping and bought some lovely ceramic bowls at much lower prices than we later saw in the shops!
We had lunch here as part of our group tour of Chichen Itza. They do a buffet lunch with loads of different dishes from burgers and hot dogs to local specialities. There are a few cooking stations where the food is cooked fresh and in my opinion these were much better than what was laid out on the buffet. The waitresses perform for tips balancing trays of drinks on their heads and spinning around to music! There’s a gift shop in the hotel but you will get much better prices at the market stalls around Chichen Itza itself.

Saturday 25 July 2015

Langos - Fried Bread with Cheese


When we were in Monument Valley in America we ate something called Navajo Fry Bread that was served either sweet or savoury and was kind of doughy on the inside and crispy on the outside. When we went to Vienna we wanted a snack while we were at the zoo and kept seeing snack stands advertising langos which were very similar but I think served with garlic butter. My boyfriend loved them and I kept intending to make them at home but never got round to it.

When I was looking for something to make for Formula 1 Foods to go with the Hungarian Grand Prix I came across langos - I think they are originally Hungarian even though there are popular in Austria. Result!

They are very easy to make; they take a little bit of time as you need to leave the dough to prove twice but only for half an hour each time, so I started making these at 11am and we had them for lunch. The recipe recommended serving them with sour cream and grated cheese which was delicious.

Mix the flour, yeast and water with salt dissolved in it so you have a dough.

Cover and leave to prove for half an hour and then roll out on a floured surface. I had to add a little more flour to my dough as I found it was too wet. Cut out circles with a large circular cutter - I got eight out of this. I would say this quantity serves 2-3 people as a lunch if you have them on their own but I think they would be great with some crispy bacon or you could have just one as part of a fry up.

After you have cut out the circles leave them to rise for another half an hour. Heat about an inch of oil in a frying pan and fry the dough on both sides for a couple of minutes until golden brown. Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream and some grated cheese.

I'm sending these to Formula 1 Foods, the blog challenge I created to tie in with each country hosting the Grand Prix. Please join in!

Friday 24 July 2015

BBQ Pizza - Pizza cooked on the barbecue

Did you know that you can cook pizza on a barbecue? I've been trying out some different things this summer since we bought a Weber gas barbecue and came across this article on the Telegraph website from a couple of years back. As it points out, you need a barbecue with a lid you can close as this recreates the effect of a pizza oven. It also recommends using a pizza stone to avoid scorched patches of crust, which I did but I still had a few burnt bits!

The pizza dough is easy to make following the recipe given; you can top it with anything you like. I used passata, mozzarella, grated Cheddar and leftover sausage and bacon which was already cooked.

pizza dough

I used my giant pizza paddle from the Dot Com Gift Shop that was reduced from £16.95 to £5.95 in their sale. It was just the thing to lift the pizza and slide it onto the pizza stone.

As I had enough dough for two pizzas - and only one pizza stone to use on the barbecue - I cooked the other pizza in the oven. It was nice but the pizza cooked on the barbecue was actually much better! So give it a go if you have a gas barbecue this summer!

I'm sending this to Tea Time Treats, hosted by Karen at Lavender and Lovage and Jane at The Hedgecombers as their theme this month is barbecue.

 I'm also sending this to Bready Steady Go, hosted by Michelle at Utterly Scrummy and Jen's Food.