Friday, 22 January 2016

Friends Chinese Supper Club

 January, eh. That dull, cold, post-festivities lull, that trying-to-be-good month. The worst time of year to have a birthday. (Except this year!)
How to beat those blues? Here's how I did it:
Take a trip to see your mates from Uni. Cook Chinese food. Drink cocktails and lots of red wine. Book a trip to New York!
We try and meet up at least once a year, and it's always like we're still housemates. Even with all the marriages, children, divorces, illnesses, career changes, we still chat and laugh as if we were students. Okay so maybe we don't drink so much (ahem, well some of us), but at heart we're all still the same. What better way to celebrate our twentieth year of friendship, and our respective fortieth birthdays, than by heading off on a once in a lifetime trip to the Big Apple?
In order to plan, it was completely necessary to meet, eat and book our seats.
On the inspiring menu, we had our hostess's delicious Thai Salmon fishcakes with sweet chilli sauce and an Asian salad dressing.
Thai Salmon Fishcakes with sweet chilli sauce and Asian dressing
For mains, I took my trusty Chinese Unchopped by Jeremy Pang across the Irish Sea, and between us we rustled up Sweet and Sour Pork (except it was chicken), Steamed (except they were roasted) Aubergine with Garlic and Spring Onion dressing, and Stir-fried Green Beans with Chilli Hoisin sauce.
All dishes needed to be gluten-free, so one portion of fishcakes was coated in gram flour rather than breadcrumbs, the chilli Hoisin sauce was kept aside, and all other sauces made using a gluten-free soy sauce.
Sweet and Sour Chicken
Roasted Aubergine with Garlic and Spring Onion
Stir-fried Green Beans with Chilli Hoisin sauce
Dessert provided by our guest of honour (one of the aforementioned children) was a delicious Key Lime Pie, a nod to our upcoming Stateside visit. The only issue with this was whipping the cream after one or two French 75 cocktails. Some of it may have ended up on the walls (the cream, not the cocktail). Oops!
Love those girls. NYC here we come!
'Dreams change, trends come and go, but friendships never go out of style' - Carrie Bradshaw

Saturday, 9 January 2016

The One Where Annie Turns 40...

It's the big one! My 40th... Yikes!

It was with some trepidation I faced up to the fact that I was reaching the big Four-Oh. Only a number, a far-off time, it-will-never-happen-to-me milestone. But happen to me it did, and although I still feel... maybe... 26, and just out of university, the truth is I am now grown up and it gets me wondering what, if anything, I have achieved so far.

I have a husband of 14 years, two children, a mortgage, two tenants, a job (which will potentially save a lot of lives) and a bunch of fabulous friends. So what else could a girl possibly want? I have a pretty hectic social life, a love of food and writing (which may or may not lead to something more, depending on whether I get this 40-year-old ass in gear), and a healthy new year plan to cut back on the alcohol (and subsequently the pot belly). So it's all good, yes? Worth celebrating? OF COURSE!

It's not perfect, whose life is? But I am luckier than most. And the mind is a powerful thing. If I can be better, I will be. If I can focus on changing one little thing at a time, then I'm sure I too can make this world a better place. So with all that advice to myself, I will be happier this year, and I will try to spread the joy to my loved ones.

So let's party, people!

I LOVE planning parties, so there was no way I was going to hand this one over. With around 80 guests, there were a few last-minute nerves, but in the end it was, for me anyway, a brilliant night.

It was a New York themed party with a Friends dress code. Twinkling fairy lights (just like Ross&Emily's wedding), and a snow machine (New York Winter/Phoebe's wedding). I was hoping for a few Holiday Armadillos, but sadly none showed up...

I wore a Monica chef's hat with 'Hey! How You Doin'?' written on it. I wanted to be a bit glamorous so didn't go for the whole chef's outfit. Himself dressed as Gary Oldman (and/or Joey) in his WWI outfit from The One With Monica and Chandler's Wedding. The best costume was my friend Kim in her Monica waitress costume, with massive fake boobs and blonde wig. Also, Princess Leia and the gold bikini showed up looking wonderful - she was also in charge of the playlist - thanks Emma (and Rhona)!

I wanted to have Central Perk coffee cup shaped cupcakes, so I ordered some vintage wrappers. They never arrived (who was in charge of cups? 'She's gonna rue the day she put me in charge of cups...'), so I made do with some polka dotted cases in various colours. The cupcakes were lemon, with a white chocolate and lemon ganache and an Italian meringue topping (recipe here). Just like a cup of coffee then! The handles were piped by my sister in the shape of, er, handles.

'I can handle this. "Handle" is my middle name. Actually, "handle" is the middle of my first name.' - Chandler Bing.

Central Perk Coffee Cupcakes

New York

Big thanks to Himself, my sisters, and all my friends and family who made it a night to remember, and for all the wonderful gifts. As I now have to accept the fact that I've reached an age where I'm officially old, it's actually become kind of cool. I'm not 40, I'm 22 with 18 years of experience.

Life begins...

Lighting and Snow Machine Hire: Powerhouse Hire, Barnet

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Khushi Indian Buffet Restaurant, Middlesbrough - Restaurant Review

 Middlesbrough's newest Indian Buffet restaurant has opened up on the outskirts of Linthorpe Village. The less-developed end of Linthorpe offers few decent options to eat and drink, but Khushi may just be the thing to remedy that.
Formerly the Red Rose pub, the building from the outside seems secretive and enclosed, but once inside it is bright, airy and spacious. The whole place has been opened up so as you enter you are faced with rows of buffet tables stacked with food. The staff were ever so lovely, friendly and always helpful.
Buffet style is new for me. Without wishing to sound above myself, going out for a meal means being served. Here at Khushi, you must grab a plate, fill it up with whatever you wish, and then bring it back to your table - like breakfast at a hotel. But the advantage of this is you can take your time, take as much (or as little) food as you wish, and wait as long (or not) as you feel like for the next round. Eat starters the whole time if you wish! I almost ended up doing that... A selection of prepared starters included pakoras and samosas as well as some non-Indian sundry dishes such as chicken popcorn and onion rings. An entire buffet table offers sauces and condiments. Hot starters such as chicken tikka, lamb sheeshk, and fish masala sit in a row of chafing dishes, along with slices of naan bread.
In the centre you can choose your main meal from a selection of curry, including lamb Rogan Josh, chicken Karma, Chicken Karachi and the Khushi special. Rice, Tarka daal, and a range of aloos also available.  

Pakoras, Samosas, Bombay Aloo, Chicken Tikka, Khushi Special Curry, two courses, and raspberry cheesecake.
  Food is good value for money at £12.99 per adult, when you can eat as much as you like. Even non Indian food fans can come along as there is also a selection of pizza and various fried food to cater for them. Perhaps even tempt them to try something a bit spicy? The drinks are a tad extortionate at £4.99 a pint, but you can have a bottle of house wine for around fifteen smackers. The place is clean and the staff are attentive, taking your empty plates away as quickly as they are finished. Quality-wise, the food is freshly cooked onsite en masse so is a good as can be expected when it may have been sitting there for a while.
Desserts are currently a selection of cheesecake, chocolate cake and fresh ice cream, with a variety of Indian desserts coming soon. Overall the restaurant is clean and the service, despite some reviews, can't be faulted.

Newly opened, Khushi has potential to become a destination restaurant for Linthorpe Villagers and visitors alike. A few tweaks to the buffet itself, and with the help of some local development and clientele, I wish Khushi all the very best. Eat with Happiness.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Christmas Cake

Christmas is nearly upon us! How many times have we read that recently...!
Tis true though, only a week away. Lots to do, so I've decorated my Christmas cake today. I made it in November sometime, and instead of one big round one as I usually do I made it into two smaller squares.
My Mum's recipe, as usual, had a weekly bath in fine Irish whisky, and I've used whisky marmalade as a glaze instead of apricot.
My 9 year old wanted to help, as it's for Grandma, so I let her off with some red sugarpaste and access to my 'toolbox'. Off her own bat she used a stocking shaped cutter (from last year's crackers, I'm sure!) and a gold edible pen, and we stuck the stockings round the edge.
I wanted to keep it simple, so I simply made lots of little white sugarpaste stars and made a Christmas tree shape, with red and gold edible glitter.
The other square cake I simply covered in white sugarpaste, pressed in some snowflake shapes and sprinkled in white edible glitter. Simples. That cake is already gone, so no picture...
Happy Christmas Everyone!
Ho ho ho...

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Homemade Truffles with Orange, Cointreau and Pistachio - Recipe

 A last minute chocolate-y treat for a visit to my lovely friends. I had a rummage to see what I had in, and what I could make in the couple of hours I had in between everything else that's going on! I had a bar of white chocolate, a jar of Terry's chocolate orange spread (like Nutella, just even more delicious!), a bit of cream, and then the usual store cupboard ingredients. I read somewhere about easy microwave truffles, so I thought, hmm... that should work!
I was really chuffed with my friends' response to these so I thought I'd share the recipe. Although normal truffles are made with dark chocolate, I used the white, and added in extra cocoa. The texture was soft and gooey but no worse for it...
Chocolate Orange and Cointreau Truffles
Makes: about 20
Prep Time: 30 minutes plus freezing and chilling time (at least an hour)
200g white chocolate
2-3 tbsps Terry's chocolate orange spread (of course you can use Nutella)
100 ml double cream
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp cocoa
1 tsp vanilla extract
Splash of Cointreau (for a bit of naughtiness and so the kids can't have any!)
To decorate:
Chopped pistachios
Edible glitter
Cocoa powder
Break up the chocolate, and in a microwaveable bowl, melt the chocolate, chocolate spread, cream and butter together in 30 second blasts, mixing in between, until it is all smooth and non-lumpy.
Allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then stir in the cocoa powder, vanilla and Cointreau.
Place in a flat dish and into the freezer for at least half an hour, longer if you have the time.
Once the mixture is quite solid (but not rock hard), remove from the freezer, and using a teaspoon make little balls. You can shape them in your hand, so prepare get messy! Ideally a watermelon baller thingy would work perfectly here, or a mini ice cream scoop.
Once you have shaped the truffle, roll it in either chopped pistachios, edible glitter or cocoa.
Pop on a tray lined with greaseproof paper and place in the fridge to set until you are ready to eat them. For a quicker setting time, stick them in the freezer for a bit.
Store in the fridge, as they lose their shape if they are not kept cool.
Gooey. But good.

Link up your recipe of the week

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Godiva Chocolates launch Come Fly With Me at Hix Soho

Honoured once more to be amongst the 'select few' invited to the launch of the winning Godiva Chocolate Challenge dessert at Hix, Soho, I popped into the Brewer St venue on an otherwise dull Tuesday evening for a real treat.

Come Fly With Me at Hix

Heather Bennett, last year's winner with her Conference of Chocolate, returned as creator of THE most sumptuous dish, Come Fly With Me. The chefs at Hix have, in their wisdom, adapted it slightly for restaurant service, but you can find Heather's original recipe for Come Fly with Me here, and trust me, it's worth it.

Fuelled by a specially designed Chocotini (that's a Martini made with Black Cow's Milk-distilled vodka - the perfect accompaniment to any chocolate dish), I had an entire dish to myself. Whilst talking to Heather and the PR people, I do believe I zoned out, savouring every single mouthful of milk chocolate mousse, surrounded by chocolate and raspberry meringues and infused with rose cream and fresh raspberries to perfectly balance out the sweetness. Pure heaven. Hix Heaven. Indeed I did feel as though I could Come Fly With Me... 'inspired by the classic French Concorde, like its namesake and Godiva it is a symbol of Luxury.'

Chocotini at Hix Soho

Godiva's brief this year was more complex than last year: Mousse, Meringue, and a touch of pink - a task which Heather embraced with her inimitable talent for chocolatiering. For every entry, Godiva made a donation to Breast Cancer Now, and continue to donate with each purchase of their delicious Mousse Meringues. (For what it's worth, I LOVE the lemon one!)


Heather Bennett, Godiva Chocolate Challenge winner for the second year 
As for Heather, well... not only is she an accomplished Chocolatier, AS A HOBBY, she often spends weekends making up delicious chocolate treats. She has a pop-up chocolate shop at work and you can find many of her products on her website, Coco Cat Chocolates. Will she return next year for the next Godiva Chocolate Challenge? Please yes!

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Ma Petite Jamaica, Camden - Restaurant Review

Ma Petite Jamaica is London's newest Caribbean diner - a Jerk Pit and Reggae Bar. Just a couple of minutes from Camden Town tube, Inverness Street is a thus little-known part of the infamous Camden now peppered with several new restaurants, catering for tourists and Londoners alike.

I was invited along for a review for Love Food Love Drink on a quiet yet blustery Tuesday evening. We were seated in the centre in what felt like a spotlight, other quieter cosier tables scattered around under bamboo canopies, with colourful art and furniture brightening up a dull November.
The staff were lovely, young and friendly, and we could see the chefs at work in the kitchen at the back of the restaurant.

Nothing like starting with a cocktail to warm the, err, cockles. Many rum-based favourites like Cuba Libre and the might Mojito, but we opted for a Spanish Town Rumgria - basically, yes, a sangria made with 7 year old Havana rum, but MUCH more potent! - and a Bird of Paradise, a fruity colourful number, also extremely potent. Totally tropical, mon.

Bird of Paradise, and Spanish Town Rumgria

To start, we greedily ordered three plates between two of us: Pumpkin and chickpea curry with stuffed roti - creamy and full of warmth; Jerk chicken skewers, served with a peanut sauce - this was a huge portion, lacking in spice I found, until about halfway through, when the chilli hit me (maybe I was numb from the rum!); Salt fish fritters with a mango chutney - crispy and a little dry, but full of flavour. You can choose from a range of small plates and larger platters to share, tapas stylee, to get a flavour for all the traditional Jamaican dishes - patties, ackee dumplings and barbecued ribs.

Jerk Chicken Skewers, Pumpkin and Chickpea curry, Saltfish Fritters
Not quite stuffed enough, and continuing on the warming theme, we then opted for curried goat - of course! Served with rice and peas (obviously) and crispy fried plantain, this dish was the highlight of the evening. Tender (it had been slow cooked over 24 hours), rich, and just the right amount of spice. The only downside was the bones, but that was indicative of the length of cooking. Also, the red snapper, a meaty white fish, served with a barbecue jerk sauce - sumptuous.

Red Snapper, Curried Goat

As the evening wore on, the reggae played and the wine magically disappeared, we felt chilled, and warmed at the same time. A great little find in Camden town, for great food, tropical tastes and a totally relaxed vibe. Them belly full.

Ma Petite Jamaica
4 Inverness Street, Camden
020 7482 2977

Meal for two with wine/cocktails ~£65
Lunchtime Belly Full meals £7.50

Square Meal

Ma Petite Jamaica Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato