Tuesday 31 October 2017

Smoked Haddock with Creme Fraiche Butter Sauce and Ozeri Electric Grinder Review

Another fish recipe from me now... I was going through the freezer seeing what needed using up and found some smoked haddock I'd bought to make a fish pie. I've gone off home-made fish pie a bit though -for some reason when I make it, it's always more bland than the shop-bought versions. I think I need to play around with the recipe a bit!

I had a look online to find something else I could do with the smoked haddock and found a recipe from Delia Smith online for smoked haddock with crème fraiche and a chive and butter sauce.

It's easy and quick to make - put the fish in a frying pan and add some freshly milled black pepper. Pour in some milk and simmer until the fish is cooked.

Remove the fish from a pan, increase the heat and add the crème fraiche to the pan. Simmer until reduced, then whisk in the butter and return the fish to the pan to heat through.

You are supposed to then scatter with chives but I used dill instead as I didn't have chives!

I used my brand new Ozeri Artesio electric pepper grinder for this recipe; it was part of a set (with the salt grinder as well) that I received from the company to review.

It took me a while to get started as I hadn't realised each grinder needed four batteries, and I didn't have eight of the right type in the house. I'm hoping because it needs so many batteries that they will go a long time without needing changing but I haven't had the grinders for long enough yet to know!

I had to read the instructions to figure out how to unscrew the grinders as I hadn't used ones like this before, then put some whole peppercorns into the chamber at the bottom. For such tall grinders there isn't actually much space for the salt and pepper as the chamber is mainly for the batteries! But you only use a little bit of salt or pepper at a time so shouldn't have to refill too often.

The simplest touch of the button sets the device grinding and you get a fine dusting of freshly milled pepper which is really nice - I almost got carried away and used too much as I liked pressing the button and seeing the pepper come out!

The grinders are sleek and stylish, and with black for pepper and white for salt, you won't confuse which is which. You can buy the grinders from Amazon.

I don't actually use pepper that much and have never had electric grinders before but I think I'm converted!

Monday 30 October 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 44

Something exciting to look forward to this week - we find out on Wednesday if mini Cowe is a boy or a girl!

I've been suffering extreme fatigue for several weeks now, always in the middle of the day. The midwife just puts it down to my blood pressure tablets (though they never made me tired pre-pregnancy) and since it always happens around lunchtime - in fact, after I've eaten - I'm looking at what I'm eating at midday and trying to switch to a low GI diet where possible. Recently as I've been so busy and quite tired in the evenings I've just been throwing a sandwich together, which I thought was OK as I was using granary bread, but I'm starting to think that's not the case and I need to spend a bit more time preparing my lunches. So here's the meal plan for this week:

Monday - working from home as I have an antenatal appointment
Breakfast yogurt with fruit
Lunch baked sweet potato with tuna and feta - make one for tomorrow as well
Dinner chicken pie and mashed potato (going to do this last week but didn't)

Breakfast yogurt with fruit
Lunch baked sweet potato with tuna and feta - make one for tomorrow as well - reheated in office microwave
Dinner  Chicken and broccoli pasta bake with wholewheat pasta

Wednesday working from home and my husband has taken a day off (lucky him) as it's our scan today
Breakfast porridge
Lunch probably pick something up on the way back from the hospital or leftover pasta bake
Dinner salmon with broccoli and sweet potato mash

Breakfast porridge
Lunch carrot and coriander soup
Dinner fishfingers/ chicken kiev and chips

Breakfast porridge
Lunch not sure yet - depends what we've got left!
Dinner quick risotto as I think I will go to yoga

Breakfast yogurt
Lunch broccoli soup for me, tomato soup for him
Dinner pan-fried hake in lemon butter sauce I was going to make last week but didn't

Breakfast yogurt
Lunch chocolate French toast based on this recipe
Dinner  sausage casserole

Join in the blog hop!

Saturday 28 October 2017

Lime and Coconut Halloween Slime Ghost Cake

Halloween baking is such fun - you can really push the boundaries of how you would normally decorate a cake, and make it as over the top as you like! Obviously subtle black and purple looks very stylish and striking but this Halloween I decided to go for..... green slime!

The theme for Food 'n' Flix this month is Ghostbusters - the 2016 remake which was chosen by host Coffee and Casseroles. I did enjoy the film and didn't think there was anything odd about an all-female cast - the film was funny, it carried on the ethos of the original Ghostbusters film and there were even several nods to the original - which I won't spoil if you haven't seen it, but you will have fun spotting the cameo roles to the extent that I'd worked out who Patty's uncle was (who she refers to a few times) long before he appears on screen!

My heart is loyal to the original Ghostbusters though (the first one anyway, not the sequel - which I don't remember being that bad but is largely panned). It came out when I was five years old so I don't imagine I would have seen it right away, but by the time it was shown on TV (in the days of only four channels, you had to wait a couple of years for new movies to appear on screen!) I would have been about seven or eight and was transfixed. I even used to run around the playground at primary school with a group of friends acting out Ghostbusters stories - though as one of the only girls I was always forced to be Janine. Though it could have been worse, the other girl played Slimer!

In terms of choosing a recipe for Food 'n' Flix, my mind turned straight away to the Stay Puffed Marshmallow man from the first movie... from the remake, one of the over-riding foodie references is to Chinese takeout - there's a standing joke about takeaway food that Abby (Melissa McCarthy) gets from a Chinese restaurant, and their HQ is above a Chinese restaurant.

But as it's Halloween I wanted to make something 'spooky' and not Chinese food. Slimer, the friendly green ghost, features in both the original movie and the remake, so I took him as my inspiration and decided to make a cake oozing with green 'slime' buttercream!

For the cake itself I used this recipe from RTE for Irish chef Rory O'Connell's toasted coconut and lime cake though I did change it a little. I didn't cover it with the toasted coconut and I didn't make the cream cheese filling and instead did a lime flavoured buttercream which I then added green food colouring to.
Despite being green the cake looks quite elegant like this... but I wasn't going to stop there!

On top of the cake there is more green buttercream, plus some green candy floss I bought in a tub from a shop called Tiger and some marshmallow ghosts and chocolate eyeballs, also from Tiger.

Does it look like Slimer has been at this cake?!

I'm sharing this with Food 'n' Flix and Cook Blog Share.

Wednesday 25 October 2017

Restaurant reviews: Gozo, Malta

If you’re heading to Gozo, a small island that’s part of Malta, then hopefully these restaurant reviews will come in useful!

We stayed at the Bella Vista Farmhouses in the summer, which I have already reviewed.

We were mainly self catering during our stay (despite the very poor barbecue and oven we could barely work) but did eat out sometimes, mainly in the village of Xaghra where we were staying.

Also sometimes written as Dvenue

Located on the village square in Xaghra, the restaurant has both indoor and outdoor seating.

Service was very slow – we were at our table for 15 minutes before anyone came to take our order, then half an hour to get our drinks, then another half an hour for our food to arrive. I had a local traditional ravioli dish filed with cheese which was nice. My husband enjoyed his fillet steak (22 euros) which he said was really good. I wasn’t so impressed by the drinks though – my ice tea came to the table in a can which had been kept at room temperature. At least my husband’s coke was cold.

While eating we were treated to some entertainment – a sort of pageant and mixture of dance and narrative, telling the story of Xahgra’s history – we assumed this must be a special occasion and during the summer we were told most towns and villages have their own fiestas – we often saw fireworks in the distance from our balcony!
Latini Restaurant

Another restaurant on the other side of the village square with a good view of the church, where this time we had an early lunch. My husband enjoyed the cooked breakfast which was served until noon. I had pasta with chicken in a gorgonzola sauce – not having realised until a few days later that I was actually a couple of weeks pregnant!

Luckily the blue cheese didn’t seem to do me any harm. The dish was nice but the chicken strips seemed a bit processed – the texture reminded me of when you buy strips in Iceland that are ready frozen. Either way that’s just my opinion, and it was a nice enough place otherwise.
Il Logga is a boutique hotel as well as a restaurant which is beautiful inside, but the outside is a bit of a shame – it’s on a corner between two roads, and while there isn’t a lot of traffic, the small outdoor seating area means you are in close proximity to cars going past. So we decided to sit indoors and were surprised to see the lovely huge chandelier, wine racks and more – this is a really elegant restaurant, with good service.

We received a complimentary bruschetta with tomato and a bread basket to start. My husband had steak which he said was very good, and I ate tuna with some sort of salsa verde which was delicious and the piece of tuna was huge. It came with  vegetables that looked like a sort of ratatouille that neither of us liked, plus some roasted potatoes – the whole meal was very nice, and it was actually a celebration of finding out that day we were going to be parents – though looking back I think we were in shock it had happened so quickly as well and this would be our last holiday as a duo!

 I can't remember what we had for dessert, but it was lovely!

Ta Karolina restaurant, Xlendi

For our last meal on Gozo we decided to go a bit further afield - though nothing is very far as it's such a small island! Speaking to our local taxi driver about restaurants, he recommended we check out Xlendi so I had a look at restaurants on Trip Advisor and chose Ta Karolina, partly because of the name, but also because it had good reviews and a waterfront location. It only took about 15 minutes to get to Xlendi and our taxi driver promised to return if we phoned when we had finished our meal, and he was there soon after

I think I definitely chose well with the restaurant - there were several restaurants not far from the water but where you wouldn't have had any view, then a handful in a line along the actual waterfront. Each of them had a row of about 4 or maybe 5 tables along the edge of what was basically a harbour leading out to the sea, but Karolina was on the corner, with half a dozen tables along one edge (with rows of other tables behind them) then a single file row of tables for two leading up the side of the harbour. We were lucky enough to get one of these tables, so were right next to the water - literally, if I'd moved my chair leg a couple of inches I would have fallen in - and didn't have rows and rows of other diners around us. It was actually quite romantic, and fun to watch the fish in the clear water right next to us.

My table leg and the proximity of the water: see pic

I ate salmon with prawns and a sauce that I think might have been white wine based but it doesn't look that colour from the picture! Needless to say it was really fresh and tasty.

It was a beautiful evening and wonderful to finish off our dinner and holiday as the sun was setting.

Costa Coffee, Malta Airport

Actually, our last meal in Malta was technically at the airport - at Costa Coffee! Malta was under British rule until the 1960s (at least I think that's correct) and there are a lot of British influences still evident (including lots of ex-pats) - though definitely somewhere that also has its own identity. It's not the best holiday we've ever had - we were a bit disappointed by the accommodation, and nothing could live up to our trip to the Galapagos Islands for our honeymoon the year before but for somewhere short haul, not too expensive and relaxing, I definitely recommend Gozo.

Monday 23 October 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 Week 43

smoked haddock with crème fraiche from this recipe for me, chicken chargrills for him

macaroni cheese with bacon and sausage

Wednesday- chicken pie and mashed potato

Thursday something from the freezer with chips

Friday probably at yoga though haven't booked it yet

Lunch bacon sandwich for him, sardines on toast for me
Dinner chicken schnitzel in katsu spices from Waitrose

Lunch fresh filled pasta
Dinner pan-fried hake in lemon butter sauce

Join in the blog hop!

Sunday 22 October 2017

Mini Trick or Treat No Bake Lemon Cheesecakes for Halloween Party

Party food for Halloween parties is pretty easy, I think - as well as all the usual suspects (sausage rolls, sandwiches or mini burgers or quiche or whatever) and then any kind of 'scary stuff'. Here's an idea that's hopefully a little bit different.

I wanted to make something a bit different for Halloween but wasn’t quite sure what. I was in Iceland picking up a few groceries and saw these on the Halloween display: a pack of six mini plastic pumpkins, which you can fill with treats (or tricks!) and use as a game, a bit like an Easter egg hunt perhaps. They were only £1 so I bought them. I had a better use for them though – use them to serve desserts!
Of course these are plastic and can’t go in the oven but my mind went straight away to no-bake mini cheesecakes. When I got home I devised the following recipe.

I made, and served, each mini cheesecake inside the pumpkins – I went with a lemon flavour with a ginger biscuit base, but you could always do pumpkin flavour cheesecake or anything you like. I wanted to make one of the six a ‘trick’ rather than ‘treat’ and thought about putting a small plastic spider inside to surprise the recipient – but didn’t think that would go down too well with my husband!
Instead I decided to colour one of the cheesecake toppings green with food colouring. You could easily do that to all of them for a children’s Halloween party, but I thought it would be a nice touch when I served the mini cheesecakes in the closed pumpkins, if everyone chose their own and when one person opened theirs, they got a bit of a surprise!

Here’s the recipe I came up with

Mini no bake Halloween lemon and ginger cheesecakes - an original recipe by Caroline Cowe @Caroline Makes

Makes six mini cheesecakes

You can also make these mini cheesecakes in paper cupcake cases, or ramekins, or anything you think will work!

6 McVitie’s ginger biscuits
2 level tbsp. butter or marg, melted
175g cream cheese
60ml double cream
50g caster sugar
Juice of ½ lemon (or more to taste)
Couple of drops of green food colouring if desired

Crush the biscuits either in a food processor or with the back of a wooden spoon. Melt the butter either in a small pan over a low heat or in the microwave and stir in the crushed biscuits.

Divide between the cheesecake cases and press the biscuit mixture down using the back of a teaspoon.

In a separate bowl, beat the cheese, cream, sugar and lemon. If you want to colour all the cheesecakes, add the food colouring now.
Divide the cheesecake mixture between the cases. If you are only making one green, reserve a little of the cheesecake mixture in the bowl, add the food colouring then fill the final cheesecake.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.
I'm sharing these with Treat Petite, hosted by Kat the Baking Explorer and also with Cook Blog Share.

Thursday 19 October 2017

Banoffee Tool Box Birthday Cake

We had a family barbecue for my father-in-law’s birthday in August and I wanted to make a cake that would stand out. I tried to think of things I associated with him – my father-in-law is really handy, at everything from fixing fences to building a child’s ride on car from scratch so I had the idea of a tool box cake.
Looking at Google Images I realised there were some incredibly detailed, realistic tool box cakes and figured I wouldn’t have the time or skill to do anything like that. Rather than make something else altogether, I decided to make a simple rectangular red toolbox, with a separate lid, and make some tools separately to pull the whole thing together.

My father-in-law really likes banoffee pie so I decided that would be a good flavour for the cake and found a recipe in Fiona Cairns’ Birthday Cake book. The recipe in her book is designed to make cakes in the shape of a pair of dice – for someone who likes a game of chance perhaps – but it was easily adapted to a loaf tin shape. You can find the recipe online at Cooked.

I decided to make the lid separately and as I didn’t want it to be too heavy, I thought rice krispie cakes would be perfect. I’ve seen cakes where all sorts of parts were sculpted from rice krispies – like an animal or person where the limbs were made from rice krispies. I wasn’t sure what consistency to make my rice krispie cake so took the easy way out and (kind of) cheated by using Kelloggs Rice Krispie squares. I sandwiched 6 – a mixture of chocolate flavour and plain – together with melted chocolate, in a block the length of my loaf tin, and put them in the fridge to set.

For the cake, I followed the recipe, mixing butter, sugar, mashed banana, eggs, vanilla, milk, flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon. The mixture baked nicely in my loaf tin – it did create a bit of a dome which had to be sliced off to level the cake. I also cut some corners – because I had a lot of other food to prepare for the barbecue as well – with the frosting. Fiona Cairns gives a recipe for toffee buttercream which sounds really nice, but as I had a tin of Carnation Caramel I decided to make some regular buttercream and add that.
After filling the cake I covered the whole thing plus the rice krispie cake block in red fondant, and made a handle out of fondant for the lid and some black panels for the front of the box. I wasn’t that confident at making tools even if I drew a template and followed it, so I bought some cookie cutters from Amazon and cut out a saw, pair of pliers, hammer and spanner, then did the same again in coloured fondant to make the handles. I think they worked really well, what do you think? These are the ones I used:

Finally I placed the tools on or around the tool box, secured the lid with a couple of cocktail sticks in an open position and the cake was ready to be presented. The cake itself was moist and delicious – I do recommend checking out Fiona Cairns’ recipe!


Wednesday 18 October 2017

Restaurant review: Rocksby's, Portsmouth

My sister and I wanted to take her baby daughter to the Portsmouth Aquarium a few months ago. I’ve realised it’s difficult to make an early start when you have a baby to get ready – by the time we arrived in Portsmouth it was already late morning, and we had decided on a quick trip to the Pyramids Centre soft play centre first.
My niece seemed to have a great time with the foam shapes and ball pond, but was most interested in some noughts and crosses on the wall which spun around as she touched them. I was quite tempted to get into the ball pond as well but it wasn’t big enough!
Baby had her lunch at the soft play, then my sister and I wanted to find somewhere to get some lunch ourselves. The Pyramids had two small café areas – one is right next to the swimming pool (and open plan) so noisy and steamy and the other was outside the main entrance by the turnstiles, but only had a couple of tables – so we decided to find somewhere else.
Walking along the sea front on a fairly dull day we decided not to go too far, as we still wanted time to go to the Aquarium. We found ourselves outside Rocksby’s, a fish and chip restaurant with a fairly broad menu of other dishes as well. I liked the décor, with seaside and fishing paraphernalia strung up from the ceiling and on the walls; the cheap white plastic chairs were comfortable enough and we were offered a high chair as well. They were busy but there was still plenty of room for the buggy.
I had mac and cheese, a bargain at £7 for a huge dish (and I mean huge), with an extra £1 for crayfish tails. It was delicious – I couldn’t even finish it! Definitely a dish I would recommend here.
When we left it had just started raining so we pushed the buggy up to the Aquarium, about a ten minute walk away. We were a bit concerned that we hadn’t left ourselves enough time in the afternoon, with my sister wondering when her daughter would want a nap as she hadn’t had her usual one that morning – only to find that as we arrived at the aquarium, baby was sound asleep. Rather than wake her – or spend money to go around the aquarium ourselves with her oblivious to the fish – we decided to go back to the car and head home. So our day out in Portsmouth consisted of soft play, lunch, and a brief walk along the seafront – but nonetheless a good time was had by all!

Tuesday 17 October 2017

Meal Planning Monday 2017 - Week 42

Posting this a day late because I forgot on Monday night!

pork chop with sweet potato for me, peppered beef steak with mashed potato for him

Tuesday - working from home - have invited my mother in law around for dinner.
Fish in lemon cream sauce from this recipe, with hasselback potatoes

something easy from the freezer as we have a heating engineer coming this evening

My husband is out at a work event so I'll have spaghetti Bolognese with Quorn mince

Out with a friend

lunch TBA maybe cheese toasties
dinner - steak and chips at my husband's request

lunch bacon sandwich
dinner giant filled Yorkshire puddings we didn't have last week

Join in the blog hop!

Sunday 15 October 2017

Curly Whirly Cream Cheese Brownies and my new Ozeri kitchen scales

One day at work I spotted a sign advertising a Macmillan charity bake sale. The thing was, the bake sale was in two days time, meaning I didn't have very much time to shop for ingredients and bake something, as I'd already decided I needed to bake my dad's birthday cake at the same time so it was ready for the weekend!

I didn't want to miss the Macmillan bake sale since a recipe I devised appeared in the Macmillan Little Book of Treats, which came out in 2013. You can see that recipe, for toffee popcorn cupcakes, here on my blog or on the Baking Mad website.

Since I didn't have much time I went to a failsafe recipe: chocolate brownies. They are so easy to throw together and everyone loves a chocolate brownie. I chose the Curly Whirly Brownies from the Konditor & Cook book Deservedly Legendary Baking as they looked a bit different but still quick and easy to make.

At the same time I decided to make a start on my dad's birthday cake - unfortunately it was a bit of a disaster! The cake tasted great and was really moist, but that was part of the problem -so moist that it broke apart across the top while in the oven, then broke more when I was putting it into a cake tin, then by the time I reached my parents' house the cake was pretty much in three separate pieces!

I used my new Ozeri Pro Digital Kitchen Food Scale, 1g to 12 lbs Capacity, in Stylish Black which I was sent by the company to review. At only £9.99 currently and with free delivery on Amazon they are a real bargain - compact enough to not take up much room in the cupboard but the weighing plate is big enough for almost any bowl or plate, or you can put food directly onto the scales. If you're using a bowl, the 'tare' button allows you to subtract the weight of the bowl. The chrome weighing platform looks good and is easy to keep clean as well.

You can weigh in pounds, ounces, grams or kilograms and can change from one to the other by pressing a button - I found the scales very precise and as good as much more expensive ones. What's more the two AAA batteries you need come included.

So disregarding the cake which didn't quite work out, I also used the scales to make the chocolate brownies. Here's the list of ingredients from Konditor and Cook's recipe and then in my own words a bit about what I did:

To make about 16 brownies, you need:
3 eggs
275g caster sugar
175g salted butter
200g 54-60% dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
100g 70% dark chocolate, chopped into chunks
175g plain flour

for the topping:
200g cream cheese
75g icing sugar, sifted
seeds from 1/4 vanilla pod
1 egg yolk

Preheat oven to 180C. Line a 20x34 cm tin with baking paper or greaseproof paper.

Beat the eggs and sugar together in a bowl.

In a saucepan, melt the butter over a medium heat until it is melted and just starting to bubble. Remove from the heat and stir in the 54-60% chocolate and a third of the 70% chocolate until melted.

Add the chocolate to the egg mixture and mix well then fold in the flour. Stir in the remaining chunks of chocolate.

Pour into the prepared tin and level the top with a knife.

In another bowl, bbat the cream cheese, icing sugar and vanilla until smooth then mix in the egg yolk.

Using a piping bag or a teaspoon drizzle or pipe the cream cheese mixture in swirls over the top of the brownie mixture, using a fork or the tip of the teaspoon to drag across the lines.

Bake for 22-25 minutes in the preheated oven then leave to cool in the tin. When cool cut into squares.

The brownies were lovely and fudgy and the cream cheese topping had a slightly sharp contrasting flavour, a bit like sour cream; it made the brownies look more interesting as well and they disappeared very quickly at the bake sale!

Saturday 14 October 2017

Restaurant Review: Crate Brewery, Hackney Wick

The Olympic Park in Stratford, London, is home to the London Stadium, the Aquatics Centre, the Lee Valley VeloPark and other venues that were used for events at the London 2012 Olympics. I’d never been there before – I did manage to get tickets to one Olympic event, but it was elsewhere – the beach volleyball on Horseguards’ Parade near Westminster.
I was at a work event nearby recently and my colleague had booked a pub restaurant for us to have some dinner afterwards – the Crate Brewery in Hackney Wick.
It’s a surprisingly long walk across one side of the Olympic Park to the other so I was pretty thirsty by the time I got to the pub. It’s right next to the river (or canal? I wasn’t sure), with big wooden tables outside (with benches, sharing style); inside is fairly industrial-looking with big beer crates and seats made from wooden pallets and a bar made of railway sleepers. They are a brewery as well as a pub/restaurant, and you can book brewery tours, hire the space for an event and buy their beer online.
Their food menu seems to consist entirely of pizza (with a few salad and bar snack options) – all made from scratch and with some quite unusual toppings like sweet potato, stilton and walnut, Kashmiri dahl or Middle Eastern lamb, along with more traditional margherita and salami.
We went at the end of summer and sat outside enjoying the last of the nice weather, sharing several pizzas between our group. Unfortunately at this stage I hadn’t quite announced my pregnancy so none of my colleagues knew – which meant I was very limited in what pizza toppings I could eat, but couldn’t explain why!
The pizzas had a thin, flat base, and weren’t that gooey – good if you like the drier-style pizza though I’m quite partial to a deep-pan myself. I’d recommend a whole pizza or equivalent per person – they cost around £9-£11 each- but it’s definitely the sort of food you can share between friends while enjoying a beer (or something non-alcoholic otherwise!).
This place is quite out of my way so I’m unlikely to come back but it made for a nice end to the evening with a nice view of the river and being a stone’s throw away from the Olympic park.

Tuesday 10 October 2017

BlogCampOnBoard the MSC Preziosa - My First Impressions of Cruising

Cruising is just for old people, right? I've never been on a cruise ship before and imagined them as floating palaces full of old-age pensioners, playing bingo and dressing for dinner at the captain's table in their faded finery as they cruise around colonial-era Caribbean islands.

I had the opportunity to test and maybe challenge my assumption last week after being invited to spend the day on the MSC Preziosa, while it was in port in Southampton. An event for bloggers called Blog Camp on Board, run by Flea Enterprises, the company behind the Tots100 and Foodies100 indices and blogger communities.
The bloggers
I was expecting a fairly big ship but was amazed at my first glimpse of the MSC Preziosa - it was the size of several blocks of flats. There's a reception and drop-off area next to the ship, then boarding took a little while for security reasons, but as they called names alphabetically, I was in the first group to board and led the way up the steps onto the ship.

My first impression was of glitz and glamour - plush carpets, shining surfaces, wide corridors and big open spaces. In fact it was very easy to forget I was on board a ship as it reminded me more of a luxury hotel.

We were initially shown into the theatre, which can seat over 1,600 guests - though today there were only about 140 bloggers in the audience. We were given an overview of the kids' club offering by the Youth Activies Manager Mateo, with a little help from two of the ship's mascots. As I'm not a parent blogger - or a parent yet - I wasn't that interested in the children's facilities but it was impressive hearing that they have five different kids' clubs they have, divided by age, and some of the activities the children can get up to across the MSC cruise fleet - from cooking to mixing DJ sets and filming a web series called Kelly & Kloe - of which we saw a quick snippet. Children can also participate in activities where at the end of the cruise they take home a certificate stating they are junior ambassadors for Unicef.

Entertainment for the adults sounded fab - I know that cruises offer different shows and often have resident singers or cabaret acts, but did you know that MSC is the first cruise line to announce a partnership with Cirque du Soleil?

The spa area

The day was divided into different sessions for smaller groups of bloggers and my first stop was the spa where we watched a make-up demonstration. It would have been better if they had done more of a tutorial but the idea was to show one of the things that passengers can have done on board (though you pay extra). We only saw part of the spa but the whirlpools certainly looked nice.

The MSC Preziosa is huge, with 18 decks, 14 of which are accessible to passengers, carrying 4,345 passengers when at full capacity - which it was that day, so we weren't able to see inside any of the cabins. It also has 1,388 crew which makes for an awful lot of people on board, though today most of them seemed to have disembarked and gone into Southampton - shopping at Primark judging by most of the carrier bags I saw people carrying when they were coming back!

One of the cabins we didn't get to see - complete with MSC ad on the TV screen. Photo courtesy of MSC
So it was unsurprising that we couldn't take in the whole ship as part of our tour, but I got to see the outdoor pools on the top deck, the Doremi kids club, a crèche (or kids club for very young children), a casino, gym, the Safari lounge and one of the bars, and the focal point - a staircase where every step is inlaid with Swarovski crystals. It must be the most photographed point on the ship - the bloggers I was with all took time to stop and take pictures and I can just imagine guests using it as a backdrop when they are glammed up for the evening!

The pool deck

Swarovski crystal staircase

Kids club - photo courtesy of MSC

We didn't get to see the children's Doremi castle, the 4D cinema, library, bowling alley or the art gallery or any of the shopping boutiques (there's even a duty free mini mall on board) so I indulged in checking out some photos and an online 360 degree tour afterwards.

Doremi castle - photo courtesy of MSC


roast pork with some other bits and pieces!

the dessert bar

We were treated to lunch in the main restaurant (there are about eight restaurants on board I think) with a choice between a menu and a buffet. I went for the buffet as I think you can tell a lot about the quality of food when you are serving yourself from a buffet. The options today were roast pork (carved straight off the bone by a crew member), sweet and sour pork or fish, with roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts (a shame the only vegetables on offer were ones I hate!). There was also a selection of salads, breads, hams and cheeses and of course an awful lot of desserts to choose from!

The food was good - I chose the roast pork, and a trio of desserts (they were fairly small - though not that small!). Unfortunately I couldn't enjoy the wine on offer as I'm pregnant but a helpful waiter kept bringing me soft drinks, which I needed as I'd gotten a bit dehydrated from not drinking much during the morning and watching the make-up demo in the warm spa!

After lunch there were some events aimed at bloggers - I went to a session on food photography presented by Sandhya from Sandhya's Kitchen - and Sally, founder of Flea Enterprises, did a session on blogger metrics.

The day ended with a glass of bubbly or a non-alcoholic cocktail and a Q&A with MSC's UK Managing Director Antonio Paradiso, where he covered everything from the background of MSC to carbon emissions of its ships.

MSC Cruises is known as more of a European cruise company and has had a relatively small presence in the UK, but next year the MSC Magnifica will have Southampton as its home port. There are already plenty of departures from Southampton on both the Preziosa and the Magnifica but this should make it more appealing to UK passengers.

gym with sea view
They are even making the effort to target their cruises more at a British audience, down to details like putting a kettle in the cabins and partnering with Yorkshire Tea as their chosen brand of tea!

MSC has 13 ships at the moment and is getting ten more in the next nine years; they are particularly focused on families and children and interestingly, Antonio told us that cruise demographics are changing, but even across the industry the average age of a cruise passenger is 55 - on MSC Cruises it's 43.

Having spent the day on board and seen the sparkly modern facilities, the range of services for both adults and children - and by adults, I mean people like me, not just my grandparents' age - I'm impressed. I still don't know whether I'd actually book a holiday but there's no denying it's an efficient way to visit several cities and countries on one trip - but the day definitely dispelled some myths and misconceptions. And there wasn't a bingo hall in sight.