Wednesday, May 30, 2012

May Foodie Penpals

It's my favourite time of the month again - Foodie Penpals reveal day! This month I was sent a parcel by Nic from The Fit Writer who took what I told her in the email I'd sent her about my likes and dislikes and put together the most perfect, thoughtful parcel!

I was super excited when a packing slip came through my door one day so I set off for work early the next day so I could pick the parcel up on the way. Great plan, apart from I ended up leaving too late which meant I couldn't rip the parcel open there and then, I had to drive with it next to me, tempting me the whole journey! Naughty parcel.

I followed the correct etiquette of present opening which states that you should always be polite and open the card first, I loved the funny picture of people having a bit of food - very appropriate!

And now, onto the nitty gritty, what were these delicious treats that the fabulous Nic got for me?

Well, first of all there was an excellent selection of different posh tea bags and Nic had really played a blinder here as I love drinking tea, plus my favourite at the moment is chai tea and there were two different flavoured chai teabags in there! I have drunk all of these now and thought they were really lovely so will be trying to get my hands on some more of them.

I'd told Nic about my love for Japanese food and she'd included something I'd never even seen in the shops before - Japanese Green Nori Sprinkle! What a cool present. I used this for the first time at the weekend to coat the outside of some reverse maki rolls and it was a really tasty alternative to the sesame seeds I normally use.

Nic also sent me a block of tamarind which I've only used in paste form before. It's quite a coincidence as I'd been saying to Bailey that I wanted to use my Levi Roots cookbook again as I haven't made anything out of it in ages! A lot of his recipes call for tamarind so I will be sorted!

I was very intrigued to take out the Gourmet Mix of Quinoa, White Raddish and Lentils and I think this will be right up my friend Kate's street so I'm going to save them for next week when she is coming over, I will probably sprinkle some on a salad!

Nic also sent me some Honey Halva which I am really looking forward to trying sometime soon. I am ashamed to say that despite living just off the Curry Mile where there are countless wonderful Indian sweet shops, I've never even tried halva so I'm waiting on a special occasion for this one.

Nic also included some Chia Seeds in my parcel which I have heard of but really have no idea about! They sound exciting though and are apparently super popular in Mexico. I've found this useful website which gives 40 ways to use chia seeds which has some fabulous tips - I like the idea of making a traditional Mexican Chia Fresca drink so will probably whip one of those up over half term!

Finally Nic also included some cinnamon sticks which I totally love putting in my Christmas mulled wine. However I decided to use them for a lovely batch of rice pudding yesterday and it was awesome!

I have to say Nic's parcel was absolutely spot on - everything was quite unusual and exciting which I really loved and she had really made sure she included items she knew I would like. What a great Foodie Penpal Nic has been! Thanks so much lovely Nic, you made me very happy!

My Foodie Penpals match for this month was Helen from Casa Costello. I was a bit pushed for time this month so was sorry not to bake anything for Helen but instead I tried to find her the finest of treats from my favourite suburb of Manchester - Chorlton, of course. I nipped into the fancy Épicerie Ludo and Barbakan Delicatessen and grabbed everything I thought looked nice. I hope she liked it!

To see more of this month's Foodie Penpals reveal posts and learn about what delicious foodstuffs have been flying around the country via Royal Mail, click here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Chilli Chocolate Mousse

I am a bit of a geek in that if I get my hands on some lovely food I always want to think of something really fun I can make with it, rather than just eating it.

This was the case when the fabulous Janey gave me a posh box of Hotel Chocolat Chilli & Nibs Sweethearts for my birthday - delicious heart shaped delights of dark chocolate, chilli and Madagascan cocoa nibs!

I had been saving them for a couple of weeks with the intention of making a Chilli Chocolate Mousse, then the perfect opportunity arose when Roy and Aída came to Manchester for a Sunday afternoon barbecue.

It was also a great excuse to use my gorgeous sundae dishes that I've been collecting in a variety of colours over the last few months! I totally love them.

I made the recipe quite healthy (apart from the chocolate of course) so that we can still get into our playsuits and things in the coming summer months, however, I did make sure I saved a good few choccies for us to eat on their own and of course to decorate the mousses!

I was really happy with how the mousses came out - really light and bubbly, not too sweet, chocolatey and with a surprising hot chilli kick at the end of a mouthful. The cocoa nibs in the Sweethearts were an excellent addition as they were a nice surprise every now and again in the mousse. Right up my street as well as Roy and Bailey's as we all like a bit of spice. Poor Aída isn't so into spicy but she still ate her's up! 

I will definitely be making this Chilli Chocolate Mousse again but now that I've come up with a basic recipe that works, I will have a little play and see what other summery puds I can come up with!

1 sachet gelatine
135ml hot water
500g Greek yogurt
5 tbsp Splenda
1 tsp chilli powder
100g chilli chocolate
2 egg whites
4 chilli chocolate shapes, to decorate

Whisk together the gelatine and hot water and leave to cool for around 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix the Greek yogurt, Splenda and chilli powder together in a large bowl.

Melt the chilli chocolate in the microwave or over a bain marie. Pour the melted chocolate into the bowl with the yogurt mix and stir well. Add the cooled gelatine water mixture to the bowl and make sure it is fully combined.

Now whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks.

Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mousse mixture using a metal spoon.

Transfer the chocolate mousse into four serving bowls.

Refrigerate the mousses for a few hours until fully set and moussey. Top each chocolate mousse with a chilli chocolate shape and serve! Deeee-licious!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Lead Station

Every time I've asked local folk where the best breakfast in Manchester is, someone always mentions The Lead Station, followed by "try the Eggs Benedict". We've been in before for a drink and the food has always looked and smelled great. Plus one time we saw a real life celeb on the terrace at the front. Must be good.

Well our time finally came on my birthday when Bailey told me he wanted to take me out for a slap up petit déj., and asked where I wanted to go. It was really difficult to choose between Thyme Out Deli, which I will surely visit very soon, and the Lead Station. In the end we went for the latter as I love Chorlton so it made sense. We arrived very early and as it was my birthday I was feeling very smug as this picture shows...

First port of call was a good coffee and both Bailey and I ordered cappuccinos. A great cappuccino it was too - loads of thick frothy milk and the most ace little shortbread biscuit which was so buttery Bailey almost had to spit it out. In a good way.

Although I had been recommended the Eggs Benedict so many times, I decided to rebel and ordered the Smoked Haddock which came with a poached duck egg, spinach, hollandaise sauce and a potato cake - a much better deal as if you ask me, potato cake > toasted muffin. 

I was not wrong - my breakfast arrived looking and tasting absolutely splendid. The hollandaise was rich, the potato cake soft and buttery, the spinach lovely and fresh, the haddock tender and tasty and whatever that glaze on the plate was, it complimented it all perfectly. The duck egg was really well cooked too - the white was quite firm but the yolk was nice and runny.

Bailey ordered the Full English Breakfast which consisted of egg, bacon, sausage, hash browns, black pudding, tomatoes, beans, mushrooms and toast. A well piled plate if I ever saw one. Bailey said everything was "spot on" - he loved the sausages in particular. He also mused "normally toast is just a tool to get to the other ingredients but that was a highlight". He didn't eat all of his black pudding, but that's because he doesn't really like black pudding. Don't think the hash browns were homemade though.

The service was pretty good, if a little rushed - I think maybe twice things were brought to us without the staff member saying a word then scurrying off. Still, it was all very efficient, in fact, it was all over a bit too quickly - we wolfed down our brekkies as we were dead hungry and as I was excited, I wasn't in the mood to sit and drink coffee and read the papers. This meant we were in and out in what felt like (and may well have been) half an hour! Good if you're in a rush.

So impressed were we with our Lead Station brekkie that we left raving about the place to our chums and I also decided to go back there that evening after our meal at Yakisoba down the road. Unfortunately our return wasn't so successful - the staff were a bit rude to us and seemed annoyed that we had  arrived and ordered a drink when they were planning on an early night. I've worked as a barmaid in the past and I can imagine their hearts probably sank when they saw a party of 20 stroll in at ten past eleven BUT I think if your establishment is open for business it's your responsibility to give them the same good customer service you'd give anyone else. We ended up wondering why they'd taken our money if they didn't want us to be there!

Anyway that doesn't take away from our experience in the morning and I'd have to say that you should definitely believe the hype about the Lead Station breakfasts - it was my favourite Manchester breakfast I've had yet!

The Lead Station on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Rose Garden

For too long have we stayed inside on a Wednesday night eating jacket potatoes and watching The Apprentice. With our gorgeous friends Hannah and Kate we decided we owe it to ourselves to eat more lovely meals out midweek, particularly when highly recommended places like The Rose Garden in West Didsbury are doing amazing week-night early bird offers such as their 3 courses for £16.95.

It just so happened that this particular Wednesday was the most beautiful day of the year thus far and therefore the whole of Didsbury was sat outside enjoying the sunshine. We thought The Rose Garden would be dead due to there being no outside seating but it was busy even at 6:30pm and just kept getting busier. 

We were quite surprised when we arrived as the impression we'd got from the photos we'd seen was that the mainly white décor would be quite cold and clinical. This wasn't the case at all, the fact that everything was white brought out the little splashes of colour in things like the yellow roses on each table and somehow made everyone sat inside the restaurant look really colourful too, if that makes any sense at all. 

The set menu had a nice range of dishes with a good option to suit every taste and everything sounded delicious.

For my starter I ordered the Mackerel Kedgeree which was a beautifully presented dish of spiced rice, peas and spring onions topped with a smoked mackerel fillet and a cute poached quails egg. This really was a lovely dish - I loved the crispy skin on the mackerel and the slightly runny egg, and the little surprise of finding loads of bits of yummy mackerel in the rice as well.

Bailey and Kate both ordered the Lavender Chicken Wings which were marinated in lavender, thyme and honey and came with a nice bit of coleslaw. Bailey said the chicken wings themselves were "a bit unremarkable" apart from the unexpectedly strong taste of lavender. The coleslaw however was velvety smooth, creamy and delicious. Bailey insisted I have a taste and I thought putting savoy cabbage in there was a great idea that I will definitely be stealing for my own future coleslaw making.

Hannah had the veggie option of Spring Veg Tortelloni which she said was a lovely "fresh" dish. So everybody happy!

For mains both Kate and I decided to go for the "Rose Garden Fishy Special" for the week of Wild Sea Trout. Another gorgeous looking plate of food and left me wanting to eat it all over again - I loved every bite including the crispy skin on the tender trout, the juiciest sweet roasted tomatoes, crunchy asparagus and deliciously dressed salad. A definite highlight was also the little celeriac and parsnip rosti which came with it which was crunchy and slightly sweet.

Bailey ordered the Zesty Rib-eye which he absolutely loved. He said "it was as delicious as it sounded", especially the pea and spring onion hash brown which is high praise from someone who has a phobia of peas. What really impressed Bailey was how little fat was on the steak for a rib-eye. 

Hannah was impressed by the flavours in her vegetarian option of Celeriac Risotto even though she found it very rich once she'd eaten most of it!

We then faced a difficult decision - to dessert or not to dessert? I secretly really wanted a dessert but Kate wasn't having one, Hannah was undecided and Bailey was doing that annoying thing of saying "I'll have one if you do". Harumph. In the end I just decided to treat myself seeing as I was driving and had been so saintly in not having any wine, which caused a domino effect around the table and resulted in both Bailey and Hannah ordering one too. 

Well that turned out to be a very good choice! I couldn't resist the Egg & Soldiers which sounded fascinating  - a duck egg brûlée with strawberry jam for the 'yolk' and 'soldiers' made of shortbread! Bailey ordered one too. We'd seen something like it done on TV by Martin Blunos but I never thought I'd get the chance to actually eat one so I was very excited. The dessert did not disappoint - firstly it was great because it was so much fun - like how eating a real dippy egg and soldiers is fun (we even played the game at the end where you flip your egg upside down and pretend it's a new egg) but also it was absolutely amazingly scrumptious. The brûlée was sweet, smooth and creamy with a nice vanilla flavour but not sickly. The burnt sugar on top was the perfect amount and the soldiers were quite soft and dense.

The strawberry jam at the bottom was a lovely surprise and was really rich and perfect for having a lovely shortbread soldier dipped in it. I have to say I scraped every last bit of brûlée out of the duck egg shell and thought it was the best dessert I've had in ages. SO glad I got dessert in the end as it was my favourite course. Bailey gave it a "9 out of 10" (apparently the soldiers were a bit too dense for him to give it a 10) and we started plotting how we are going to recreate the dish ourselves to impress future dinner party guests. Lovely stuff, really really!!

Being the greedy guts that we are Bailey and I were happy to swoop in and snap up the last bit of Hannah's Chocolate Orange Tart which was also lovely (the bits of candied orange peel were amazing!) but I definitely think the Duck Egg Brûlée is a more fun dessert to order and I would recommend you get down there and try one for yourselves.

The meal overall was fantastic right down to the friendly and informal but very professional and efficient service. The waitresses obviously loved working at The Rose Garden and were passionate about the food which you could tell just from the way they explained the menu. The food was excellent and all in all it was a great experience - we returned home content and relaxed. Bailey actually turned to me as we arrived home (just in time for The Apprentice actually) and said "I think that was the best Wednesday ever". Amazing - thanks The Rose Garden, you made us very happy!

The Rose Garden on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 25, 2012

Revolución de Cuba

It was a while ago now that we went to Revolución de Cuba in Sheffield for a spot of lunch and a few... OK a lot of, cocktails. I meant to blog about it at the time but forgot. However, I keep seeing the photos I took that day on my phone and thinking back to how ace it was so have decided I will share the experience with you, my faithful readers.

Revolución de Cuba is the new venture brought to you by the people behind Vodka Revolution - yes, the purveyors of terrible tepid test tubes. A tired franchise if there ever was one. So they have obviously decided to do the sensible thing and abandon that sinking ship (apparently soon all Vodka Revolutions will change into them) in favour of something a bit more up to date. When you look closely they've actually kept the same basic 'format' for their Cuban themed bars - rum cocktails, flavoured rums (I believe the receptacle is now the traditional shot glass, no test tubes in sight) and above average pub food. However the whole thing seems to be a bit more classily done, with a Latin American twist to the whole thing which we all need a bit of in our lives. They also have a fantastic selection of rums which is a rarity and perfect for people like us who do like a nice glass of rum every now and then.

I also love the décor which is really authentic right down to the handmade tiles, in fact on several occasions found myself daydreaming that I was in the film Chico and Rita and not rainy England.

On arrival we were very jealous to see that Craig and Francesca were already drinking cocktails out of lovely enamel teapots and cups - like the ones you have when you go camping. Not wanting to be out-teapotted, we immediately ordered our own one of Cuba Libre. A winner it was too.

Craig also upped the excitement by ordering a Zombie, complete with flaming sugar in inside-out lime half.

Food-wise, there is a great menu comprising tapas, burgers, burritos etc. etc. Craig and Francesca told us they often pop in for the Mojito and Burrito offer. Bailey took advantage of said offer and was presented with a Steak Burrito. On first glance he was a bit disappointed by its apparent petite appearance, but as soon as he tucked in he realised the thing was jam packed with good quality steak that filled him right up. He really couldn't believe how much steak was there in fact.

There would be no complaints about size to be heard from Mr Craig Ockwell when his gargantuan Ultimate Cuban Hot Burger arrived. We were gobsmacked. It can be seen here belittling my dinner even though it's in the foreground of the picture. Mental. Love those enamel cups too.

I decided to have the Five Bean Chilli which came with a nice pot of salsa and some crunchy, salty tortilla chips. This was really lovely, topped with sour cream and mildly spiced. I added a fair few drops of Tabasco which pepped it up to my taste. I thoroughly enjoyed this and it really lined my stomach for the rum drinking that would ensue.

We loved our visit to Revolución de Cuba and if we lived in Sheffield we would definitely go there often as Craig and Francesca do. We are very much looking forward to the reported opening of a Manchester branch and will definitely be checking in on them for a cocktail or two when we arrive.

Revolucion de Cuba on Urbanspoon


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