Tuesday, July 31, 2012

July Foodie Penpals

This month's Foodie Penpals box was sent to me by Jess from The House Tales. I didn't tell Jess much about myself other than that I'm not really a big snacker. Well, she really put together an amazing parcel for me this month and I absolutely loved it!

The note Jess sent with the treats was written on a Norwich postcard - very exciting as it's so far away but I am familiar with the place due to my friend living there and it being near where some of my family live. All the items in the box were really thoughtful and there were bits and bobs from all over the place which I really like!

Jess included some 'Dragon Whoopsies' (which were basically dragon poos, erm, I mean chocolate drops!), some sprinkles for my cake making, some Options white chocolate which is already one of my favourites but that I haven't had in ages (perfect!) a pack of Jumbo Stroofwafels filled with caramel (drool!) which I have actually been saving but I think I'm going to finally nail them tonight!

Another thing that Jess sent was some Nando's Piri Piri Seasoning which sounded amazing. As I'm not a meaty person I thought maybe I could try it out with some roasted veggies. Well it just so happened that my parcel arrived on one of the hottest days of the year. What better time to roast up some piri piri roasted veg and eat with cous cous while sitting with my feet in a paddling pool of cold water?! Very yummy and spicy they were too.

Even more brilliant than any of these awesome things that Jess sent was my very favourite Foodie Penpals item EVER - this lovely Chocolate Bark! It was fantastic and had sea salt running through it which was quite subtle but occasionally you'd get a really salty hit that would make you go "Ooooh!" ... I have to admit this didn't last long with me and Bailey around!

I wanted to say a huge THANKS to Jess who really came up with a fantastic parcel for me. What a star! My penpal for this month was Naomi who strangely enough was also from Norwich. She told me she was a fan of Italian food and Bailey's! So a trip to Épicerie Ludo sorted her out with some smoked garlic, tiny pasta for risotto making, some buckwheat crêpe mix and a pot of Chocolate and Irish Cream Terrine! She isn't a blogger so hasn't written a reveal post but I hope she liked it!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Moroccan Kefta Tagine

Currently times are hard as we are saving up to buy a house, this means less gallivanting around eating out and more home cooking which is no bad thing really as we haven't tried any new recipes in some time. We had arranged to meet our buddies Beth and Dave to go out for a meal on a Saturday night but due to lack of funds we convinced them to pop round to ours for a tagine and a few cheeky glasses of wine. As they are both clued up about drinking (and we are not) we were happy to let them bring along the wine. Each bottle they brought had a story behind it and so before we had even tasted a drop we enjoyed hearing all about how they had been made, by who and how Beth and Dave had obtained them.

I have to say that Beth and Dave have really inspired us to think not only about what food we shove in our gullets but also the booze that goes with it. I've already made every effort to sidestep the consumption of mass produced, fizzy lager (also inspired by our trip to Brewdog Manchester) and we are going to carry on trying to educate ourselves about wine and asking more questions when we meet those people in the know. For now I will just say that the red wine we had on the night was definitely the best tasting I had ever had, each of the bottles had its very own unique set of flavours.

So on to the food. We went for something that we were comfortable cooking and whipped up a Moroccan mezze of Khobz bread, Zaalouk, chicken brochettes and a few other bits and bobs followed up by vegetable cous cous and a Kefta Tagine. When we were in Morocco we had a couple of vegetarian tagines but never got round to having this extra meaty version which includes spiced meatballs and eggs.

The food turned out pretty good, for once we kept it simple and so we had enough time to get everything done in advance of our guests arrivals. I think Moroccan food always packs plenty of flavour in and this set of dishes was no exception. My only complaint is that there seems to be a small sub-set of ingredients that go in to every single dish which does result in several dishes tasting pretty similar, I think next time we will plan our menu to involve a couple of different flavour combinations.

I really like cooking with the tagine for two reasons. Firstly its pretty hard to mess up, you stick the ingredients in and whack it in the oven for as long as you possible can and you pretty much always end up with a really rich stew full of lovely tender ingredients. Secondly people always go 'Oooooooh' when you bring the dish through and lift the lid while bucket loads of steam and flavour particles billow across the table.

Two things that didn't work so well with the tagine this time was the eggs (I put them in a bit early so they were too well done when they got to the table) and I'd added too much liquid to the sauce which mean it wasn't as thick and stew like as I would have liked.

All in all though I was really happy with it and even if the food had been a real dogs dinner when it was paired with such amazing wine it was still going to be a winner. Once the main course was out of the way we still had a fair amount of wine to shift alongside the traditional Moroccan biscuits that Jules had cooked called Ghoribas.


For the tomato sauce
1kg ripe tomatoes
1 onion
1 1/2 tsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

3 cloves garlic
A few drops hot sauce
6 tbsp fresh coriander
Splash olive oil

For the meatballs
1 onion
880g minced beef
2 tsp Paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp pepper
10g fresh coriander

To serve
3 eggs

Chop the tomatoes and onions up and stick them in a large saucepan with your paprika, cumin, salt and pepper. Add a few drops of hot sauce to your taste, we of course used The Rib Man's Holy Fuck.

Chop up the coriander and add this to the saucepan along with the oil.

Put the pan over a medium heat and bring to a simmer then leave for about 20 minutes.

While the pan is simmering, get on with your meatballs. Chop the onion and put in a bowl with the beef, spices and seasoning then chop the coriander and add that too.

Using your hands, make small meatballs out of the mixture and refrigerate these until it's almost time for you to eat.

About an hour before you're planning to eat your dinner, get the tomato sauce mixture into your tagine then put your meatballs into the tomato sauce evenly spaced around the base of the tagine.

Put the lid on the tagine then put the whole tagine in the oven at 200 degrees C and leave until the meatballs are cooked through and the sauce is rich. When you're happy with the sauce, crack the eggs onto the top of the meatballs and put the lid back on. Cook in the oven for around 5 minutes until your eggs are cooked to your liking, I went overboard on mine and they came out way too well done.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

TOTAL Greek Yoghurt Cookery Event

I was really excited when Alison from TOTAL Greek Yoghurt contacted me to invite me along to their Nutritional Cookery Event they were organising for us bloggers up north at The Cheshire Cookery School. As the Total 0% is a real favourite in our house I was delighted to accept. I'd been to The Cheshire Cookery school before for a Clandestine Cake Club event so had already gawped at the amazing cooking equipment and gadgets while we munched on cake, but obviously hadn't had the opportunity to try any of it out.

At the aforementioned cake club, we'd watched The Pastry King whip up one of the most delightful but heart-stoppingly unhealthy cakes I've ever seen so it made quite a nice change that on this occasion we would be learning all about healthy eating, nutrition and how we can prepare good foods using ingredients that make us perform better while feeling and looking good too.

Seeing as the event was to be all about healthy eating and keeping fit, I thought who better to invite along to keep me company than my lovely friend Kate who is one of the most healthy and fit people I know - her body is a temple and it shows - she's positively glowing!

Arriving at the cookery school was very exciting and we pulled up a pew with the other guests at the event which included Claire of Good Egg Foodie fame whose blog I already read, so it was really cool to put a face to the name.

We were then introduced to the celebrity nutritionist who would be hosting our event - Martin MacDonald whose opening gambit was to hand us a glass of his delicious 'Performance Smoothie' which he explained was made from TOTAL yoghurt, milk, coconut milk, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, vanilla whey and honey. Really lovely and creamy.

Martin was really good throughout the whole event but he did really well at bringing us all together during his presentation at the beginning which actually ended up being more of a group discussion. He made us all feel very comfortable with eachother and we were soon exchanging ideas and feeding back on the information Martin was giving us. He told us all sorts of interesting things - some which Bailey was very pleased to hear such as frying in butter and lard is better for you than processed vegetable oils, it's fine to add salt to your home cooked meals (yes!) and that we should eat plenty of dairy. Lovely stuff.

After Martin's talk we were really excited to get stuck in and get going in the kitchen. We started by baking a batch of Martin's Chocolate Chip and Almond Cookies. This was particularly exciting for Kate as it was the first time she'd ever baked anything! The cookies were really easy to make and I would definitely make them again as they tasted delicious and had a lovely texture from the ground almond flour which we used as a much more nutritious alternative to plain flour.

While our cookies were baking it was time for us to whip up our lunch. There was a choice between Spicy Fishcakes jam-packed with salmon and prawns and Thai Tofu Curry with Cauliflower Rice. Both sounded delicious but we were really intrigued by this cauliflower rice to decided to go with the curry. I'm definitely going to try the fishcakes another time though as they looked and smelled ace.

Despite mine and Kate's complete inability to follow the recipe, we had lots of fun making our tofu curry and it turned out really yummy.

We used tofu fried in coconut oil which we then mixed with some peppers, green beans and mushrooms and made a sauce out of TOTAL yoghurt, creamed coconut and water.

I was open minded and very intrigued about the Cauliflower Rice but I did expect it to be a bit of a disappointment in comparison with the real deal, and something I'd definitely struggle to get Bailey to agree to eat. I'm a bit of a carb monster and this cauliflower disguised as carb sounded a bit wacky for my liking.

The 'rice' is very easy to make - simply stick half a cauliflower in the food processor, blend, cover and microwave for 5 minutes. It actually tasted really nice - more like cous cous than rice to be honest, and I think with a few bits and bobs added for flavour it could be a real corker. I'm planning on trying out half-rice half-cauliflower next time I do a curry (can't go cold turkey straight away!), I think this would be really tasty!

Once our food was ready we went and joined the rest of the bloggers at a lovely big dining table that had been set out for us to eat at - what a treat!

After we'd eaten our dinner and had a lovely chat with everyone it was time to make our way home. But we were not leaving empty handed - on our way out of the door we were presented with a lovely cool bag (I needed one of those - picnics ahoy!) of TOTAL Greek yoghurt in all the different varieties for us to try. I have to say there are worse things to fill your fridge with than delicious yoghurt so I was a happy bunny.

Kate and I really did have an amazing time at the cookery event, it had been really well organised and we both said what a lovely way it was to spend a Friday afternoon. We learned loads of new tips to do with ingredients to be used as part of a healthy diet and it made me think about some of the things I perhaps ought to put in my mouth less often! I wanted to say a big thanks to Martin and TOTAL for inviting us and for giving us one of the most fun Fridays we've had in ages!

Friday, July 27, 2012


Last Saturday was the long awaited hen party of the lovely Miss Jennifer Hall. Even if we say so ourselves, we thought it was surely the most ladylike and classy of all the hen parties in Manchester that evening as we started off with afternoon tea at Richmond Tea Rooms and continued partaking in many other civilised events throughout the day.

For the dinner part of the hen party we'd booked a teppanyaki table at the aptly named Teppanyaki in China Town. This place was actually a recommendation from the hen herself and I've wanted to go here for ages for a bit of traditional teppanyaki in the heart of Manchester. 

Although the restaurant had been recommended to me quite a few times, I hadn't really ever noticed the building before as I have to say it's a little lacklustre. However, we mustn't judge a book by its cover and in fact the inside is definitely an improvement and not as old school as the outside (still quite old school though)!

Things were very swift and efficient from the moment we arrived and we were wined / saki'd up, bibbed up and sat down at our teppanyaki table before we knew it.

We all decided we would go for one of the Teppanyaki Set Courses as they seemed to offer a nice variety of different stuff all cooked right in front of us on the grill and good value to boot.

All of our set menus came with a Zensai of various little appetisers. There was a bit of confusion concerning people like me who had ordered fish but who didn't eat meat... this was sorted pretty quickly though and my meaty plate was replaced with a fishy one in time for me to tuck in with the rest of my party.

I was given some little wontons filled with what I think was surimi with a creamy sauce which were very lovely although the pastry was a little soggy on the triangular ones. They still definitely did the job of whetting my appetite ready for the main event, espeically as the chef had arrived and started frying up a load of garlic which smelled amazing.

Not only had the chef started to prepare our mains right under our very noses, he'd also treated us to some mealtime theatrics including fireball making and egg juggling. Although quite entertaining (and a little bit nerve-wracking - the fire was hot!) I couldn't help comparing our chef to the very charismatic guy we'd had at Wasabisabi in Sheffield which had been a slightly more exciting experience. Wearing the bib was good fun but there wasn't any of the whole food catching in the mouth malarky so it seemed a little pointless. Still enjoyable though and I definitely found seeing what was going in my food very interesting.

As I'd gone for the Mount Fuji menu, my main consisted of king prawns and salmon served with egg fried rice and veggies.

I loved seeing all our salmon cooked in front of us and this was absolutely delicious - moist, soft and slightly charred on the outside. It was especially lovely when dipped in their flavoursome soy sauce. You could tell it was a good quality bit of fish ('multi award winning' Loch Duart, apparently!)

The king prawns I wasn't quite as impressed with as they were a little overdone for me and had become quite crunchy and chewy. Their flavour was still very good and they went down OK with the super tasty rice and vegetables which were both nicely cooked and well-flavoured. Once our mains were cooked, our chef was gone as quickly as he had appeared, I felt like I wished I'd made the most of watching him while he was with us!

After eating our main it hit us all that we had really eaten a lot and we still had the rest of the night out to go. I thought perhaps a pot of green tea might help as a digestif, I think it perhaps did or at the very least kept me hydrated for the rest of the evening's festivities. The waitresses were very good at making sure I was kept topped up and that my teapot was full.

We did still have to make room for dessert, I think the waitress could see our pain as she sounded quite sympathetic when she offered it to us. I had actually moments earlier whispered to Kat "I hope it's melon", so I was overjoyed when she read out the dessert options of "Ice cream, fruit salad or melon". Usually I would quite possibly have turned my nose up at this seemingly uninspiring selection and some braver folk than I did go for the ice cream but honestly, at that moment melon was just the ticket and I couldn't have been happier to order this.

We left Teppanyaki absolutely full to bursting with food so what I would say is you get a lot of food for your money. However as soon as we stepped outside we realised that part of our lethargy was due to how hot it is inside the restaurant due to the heat of the teppanyaki plates - I really think this affected the atmosphere of the place as the general feeling was very calm and subdued rather than upbeat and exciting which is what we would have expected from the experience, particularly as we were on a hen night. I reckon if they got a bit more air circulating in there you would have a much better party atmosphere, although maybe they don't want that!

We did really have a nice time at Teppanyaki and it's a lovely meal to go to with a group of friends like we did but I think it might be a better spot for a date due to the more subdued nature of the restaurant. I couldn't help but compare it to Wasabisabi which was my other experience of this sort of evening out and would have to say this evening wasn't quite as magical. This was also partly due to the fact that the bit where our chef was cooking with us was over so quickly as he had so many other tables to get round whereas at Wasabisabi there were only two teppanyaki tables so the chef was ours for the whole service.

Still, I do think our meal at Teppanyaki was very good value and the food was of a high standard. There is a note on the menu explaining where all their excellent produce comes from and the quality of ingredients was reflected in the food. The service was also really good (one of the waitresses felt sort of like a knowing mum who knew exactly what you wanted all the time before even asking you) and I think I would return with Bailey so he can try the food. Although not the best teppanyaki experience I've ever had, Teppanyaki is a good restaurant and I would recommend it for lovers of Japanese food and novices alike to see your yummy dinner cooked in front of you!

Teppanyaki on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Papa John's

The love affair that Bailey and I have with Papa John's started way back in 2007 when we had our first holiday to Gainesville for The Fest 6. We ate a hell of a lot of pizza on said holiday. All of it good quality. Our favourites in Gainesville included Five Star Pizza (where Roger from Less Than Jake reportedly once worked), Leonardo's by the Slice (a truly excellent place) and Papa John's. We had a great pizza from there one night which resulted in us taking this frankly hilarious photo...

Said pizza was so good we had to have a quick post-pizza nap: a nap so good we slept through and missed the best ever Paint it Black house show which went down in history, but that's another story... 

The love affair with Papa John's continued when I moved to Peru and discovered that there was a branch of the place just down the road from me. My housemate Jocelyn and I spent one of the most fun hangover afternoons there so when Bailey came to visit we were able to rekindle the love by ordering a takeaway which led us to acquire an awesome Peruvian Papa John's magnet which we still have on our fridge now!

When we moved to Manchester I was going through Sale on the way to work one day when I spotted a branch of Papa John's. I didn't even know there were Papa John's in the UK so I was very excited! However this excitement soon turned into sadness when Bailey and I found out they didn't deliver to our area. We vowed that we would try to get our hands on a pizza from there one day but never got round to it.

Then, joy of joys, just a few weeks ago we spotted a Papa John's opening in Fallowfield just down the road from us! We made a pact there and then that we would treat ourselves to a celebratory Papa John's on the day that we negotiated the moving date for our new house. This had been a long time coming so we were really excited about getting to eat a Papa John's (as well as the house obviously) when we finally agreed on a date the other day!

The time had come - Papa John's time! As it was a special occasion I told Bailey we would be eating it all civilised like, at the dinner table with a salad and home made wedges. We used the online ordering system which informed us of the Tuesday night buy one get one free deal. We couldn't believe it when our pizzas arrived in just under 20 minutes, I'd barely had time to make the salad!

Bailey had ordered the Mediterranean Sausage Pizza on Authentic Thin Crust with a pot of the Sour Cream dip which had made our pizzas so delicious when we'd had them in the past. 

Unfortunately the Papa John's man rang me up pretty much straight away saying they were out of the sour cream dip... horror of horrors for Bailey! He chose the Honey and Mustard dip instead and they gave him an extra one free but Bailey was displeased with its mega sweet taste and was quite disappointed. However his pizza was really good, with a delicious flavour to the sauce and covered in just the right amount of cheese and toppings. He thought the quality of the meat far surpassed what he'd expected from a chain pizza place. The base was nice - soft and chewy but a little too blackened on the bottom and when Bailey finished my pizza off he said my base was much better and more puffy around the edges. We also both thought the bases were a bit too thick to be called "authentic thin crust" but lovely all the same.

My Hot Pepper Passion pizza, also on Authentic Thin Crust was awesome and had it not been for all the wedges and salad filling me up I could have easily eaten the entire medium pizza and more. Bailey was absolutely spot on about the sauce - it was really lovely and rich with a unique flavour that brought back those Peruvian and Floridian pizzas flooding right back to me with one bite. I love jalapeños on pizza and along with the peppers I felt the toppings were still nice and fresh and crunchy.

One thing I will never understand about Papa John's is why they serve that revolting Special Garlic dip with their pizzas - I've had discussions with quite a few people about it and I have never met anyone who likes it, in fact most people seem to be utterly repulsed by the stuff. I suppose there must be some people out there who will eat it otherwise they surely would have stopped giving it out, or maybe they even want it to be a bit of a talking point. I opened my pot to take a photo and the smell alone was enough to turn my stomach - please don't send it to me again Papa John's!

Other than the Special Garlic 'incident' Papa John's was great, although Bailey thought not quite as good as our experiences across the Atlantic. Still I think they are doing a fabulous job, I never order from places like Domino's and Pizza Hut as I prefer to support the local takeaways but Papa John's I definitely would order from again. We were pleased to read that the dough is fresh and never frozen and as I said before we were impressed with the quality of the toppings. I don't think we will order from Papa John's all the time as I don't want it to lose its 'mystique' with us but for special occasions definitely. First night in the new house methinks!


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