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Favourites This Week (28 Aug 2016): Cranbourne Tales

This week, we stuck a pin on a map and ended up going for a walk near Cranbourne – I’d never heard of the area before, but it’s well worth a visit! We found a walk online and gave up halfway through – it was hot, overgrown, full of insects and flies, and seriously boring, traipsing along hedgerow-lined tractor paths with no view of anything except the hills ahead. But the village and the garden centre on the outskirts were gorgeous!

We even found a garden where they were giving away produce, including this beautiful beef tomato and some fresh peas. Yes, thank you!

I have a bit of a thing about gorgeous front doors (funny, because mine is actually pretty unimpressive), so whenever I go anywhere I have to take a snap at some of the pretty ones I see!

Anyway, I’d definitely recommend a little trip to Cranbourne, if only for the little garden centre or the pretty pubs and restaurants located there!

I’ve also been continuing with Louise Parker’s Lean for Life – which led me to a stunning realisation… Microwave poached eggs are actually the easiest way to make them! I used this recipe, which is as follows: crack one egg into a mug half full of water, then microwave it on high for one minute. Then, you just empty the water out and drain the egg on a paper towel, before transferring to your plate. Crazy simple!

There have been no end of salads here since the kitchen was pretty much out of order – I was dying to try this pommy Cobb salad from the recipe book and it was gorgeous. Good job the weather suits cold food!

And that tomato got put to good use too, on an antipasti platter! A simple selection of cured meat, artichoke hearts, mozzarella, olives and spinach makes a great dinner or lunch – another hit from Louise Parker’s book!

When it comes to keeping up my step count, I must confess, I don’t just go walking in the woods and through fields – I’m partial to a bit of shopping (how did you guess?!) and a trek around Gunwharf Quays was a lovely way to get to my step count in the evening. And I couldn’t resist snapping these gorgeous salt and pepper shakers, below – what a beautiful rainbow!

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Asha’s Manchester: Thoughtful and Innovative Indian Cuisine

Last month, I was lucky enough to be invited to review Asha’s in Manchester – a contemporary Indian restaurant in the centre of the city. Like most good Britons, I love a curry, and I also know pretty much what to expect from an Indian restaurant. I’m happy to report that Asha’s completely exceeded my expectations, and provided some delicious surprises along the way!

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First impressions count, and Asha delivers from the moment you step in through the door. The restaurant features opulent interiors with gold lanterns, beaded wall hangings, plush sofa booths, tarnished mirrored walls and warm wooden floors. Lighting is low and cosy, with pretty ornate shadows thrown by the lampshades.

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The next opportunity to be courted comes via the hugely impressive and thoughtful menu. The innovation starts as soon as the poppadoms and chutney is brought out – anyone can rattle off the usual list of much-loved chutneys offered by restaurants up and down the country, but Asha breaks with tradition by offering four fresh flavours, including tomato and chilli, green apple and blueberries, fresh pineapple, and mint and coriander relish. These were all light and zingy, the perfect start to the meal!

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Even my husband (who I’ve mentioned before is notoriously picky) found an unlikely favourite from the selection, plumping for the sweet and delicate apple dip.

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The staff were super attentive, friendly and informative, letting you know how long your meal will take and checking in with you about possible allergies. The waiters take pleasure in knowing the menu inside out, and when serving will tell you how the dish was cooked and how spicy it is (all dishes are available in varying degrees of spiciness if you tell your waiter what you like!). Now, as I’m often invited by the restaurants to do reviews to feature on my blog, you’d think I’d be continually buttered up by wait staff and managers – but in actual fact, it doesn’t usually happen! And, I was pleased to note that we weren’t being given special treatment at all – the tables around us were all given the same treatment, and it’s obviously something the restaurant prides itself on (and rightfully so).

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For our starters, we went with the traditional chicken tikka, plus a slightly more unusual salmon tikka, both of which were served on a fresh garden salad garnished with cherry tomatoes, radish, silverskin onions and dressed with an olive oil and coriander sauce. The salmon was soft, tender and flaky, with a creamy texture, while the chicken was flavoursome and had more of the characteristic smoky tandoori crust.

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I have to take a minute to talk about the drinks, too! The table water was scented with cucumber – although you could also request to have it served plain. From the huge and tempting cocktail menu, I picked Asha’s punch – served in a teapot packed with ice, with Bicardi Fuego, cognac, honey mead, cherry wine, osmanthus flower tea, citrus and house grenadine, finished with champagne, it was utterly delicious, and served in a lowball glass.

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I loved the way you could pour this yourself from the teapot – such a cute idea!

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My husband tried two of their non-alcoholic cocktails, the first one was strawberry passion crush – a sweet long drink over crushed ice, with lemon, lemonade and rose water. This was sooo dangerously drinkable, it’s a good job it didn’t have alcohol in it, or we both would have been smashed! The second drink, pictured above, was vanilla berry: a long drink of crushed raspberries and blackberries lengthened with cranberry and apple juice and dusted with a fairy sprinkle of homemade vanilla sugar. Another imaginative and delicious offering!

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Then, it was time for the main courses! I love aubergines, so I had to try the hare baigan ka bartha: silky smooth aubergine, cooked with ginger, garlic and green chillies, then mashed with satisfyingly crunchy red onion, dried red chillies and fresh chopped coriander.

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Then a potato dish, aloo masala: peeled waxy new potatoes in a rich, oily onion and tomato sauce, studded with spicy cumin, mustard and fennel seeds. I’m a huge fan of waxy solid potatoes that don’t break down in the cooking and muddle the sauce, and this was utterly delicious! When it comes to side dishes, I’d definitely say they’re best shared between one or two people – they’re dainty portions, which is great to allow you to try lots of different things!

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We selected a chicken and a lamb dish for the main curries. Muscat gosht, on the left, was tender lamb in a rich, thick gingery gravy. It was very oily and favourful, and the sauce is super concentrated just the way I like it, spiced with black cardamom, black peppercorn and coriander seed.

Murg makhani, on the left, was slightly tart, sweet and creamy – a classic interpretation of the British favourite, butter chicken. You can’t go wrong with this one here, even if you think it might be a less exciting choice, because it has a vibrant, complex and bright taste. The butter is added three times during the cooking process, with adds a complex depth of flavour without overpowering the dish (I told you the waiters gave you loads of information about the dishes!).

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We also had a selection of naan breads, including truffle, garlic and sundried tomato. They were slightly dense and doughy, cooked competently enough – but didn’t standout as much as I expected them to.

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By the time it came to dessert, we were stuffed, but we HAD to try the blood orange and caramel kulfi – one of the most talked-about dishes on the menu! And it was beautiful – a caramel milk icecream topped with basil seeds, which were soaked beforehand and really had a delicious, basil-scented taste. On the side was a caramel-crusted segment of orange, along with fruit and spears of hard sugar caramel. It was utterly delightful and hugely enjoyable!

I can’t recommend Asha’s highly enough – it wasn’t just a great meal, but a fantastic experience as well. The décor, the staff, the menu, the food, the drinks – it all came together to make a fantastic evening. The chain has restaurants in Manchester, Birmingham, as well as Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar. Check it out at the website, here. (Also, they do Christmas party menus as well – book in and you’ll be the office favourite, I guarantee it!)

My only complaint about Asha’s was the fact that they don’t have a branch down south yet. Please, open one in Hampshire as soon as possible!

My meal at Asha’s was complementary – the opinions were my own.

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Favourites This Week (21 Aug 2016): The Back To Reality Edition

I’m determined to catch up to myself, but for a few weeks, you’re going to have to bear with me while I go over my backlog of favourites of the week posts!

After my lovely holiday I landed right back in the thick of things – a deadline, a new eating plan, and kitchen walls that were streaming water everywhere thanks to a leak that had sprung up from upstairs. Thankfully that seems to be sorted now, but for almost two weeks, I couldn’t cook anything in my kitchen! Luckily, I’d just started Louise Parker’s Lean For Life, and so I was ready to dive into a world of delicious salads…

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Lean for Life has a few basic ideas central to the plan. First of all, don’t call it a diet. (Sorry!). Secondly, exercise should consist of at least 10,000 steps a day plus at least 20 minutes of strength and toning / body weight exercises a day, six days a week. Thirdly, that you should ditch low quality carbs (potatoes, white rice, etc) and ramp up your intake of protein. There are a few other aspects to it, of course, but those are the main ideas I’ve taken away so far!

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I’ve been surviving on the odd meal made on my outdoor gas stove (which was originally bought to make okonomiyaki!), like the delicious frittata above (finished with a blow torch!), and many rotisserie chickens (CostCo do the best tasting and best value for money version, unsurprisingly!).

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The Best Bistro Salad is one of my favourites – peas, gem lettuce, chicken, and baked prosciutto, amongst other things…

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I’m also a huge fan of the Super Cherry Bircher, which includes a sour cherry concentrate, yogurt and oatbran. Lots of breakfast recipes consist of a basic base of oatbran and yogurt, which you mix together overnight, usually with some stevia and vanilla paste to sweeten. It’s a great idea, especially if you’re not keen on the texture of oats or granola.

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It’s also been a great excuse to eat some of the fruit I adore but never usually buy – figs and cherries! And, I’ve purchased a new set of storage containers just for all the nuts I’ve had to buy too!

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I also experimented with making my own gravlax, thanks to The Guardian’s recipe. It turned out really well, but I’m all gravlax’d out now… I don’t think I can eat any more for a long while… (I made A LOT.)

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I also went blackberry picking with my family, to get some fruit to eat and freeze. Unless I freeze it right away, I usually end up leaving the blackberries in the fridge to go bad – an absolutely terrible habit I need to break right away! I also really want to make some kind of blackberry liqueur for Christmas, but I need to find the motivation from somewhere… Did you know that blackberry season only lasts until the end of September in the UK? Supposedly, as soon as the clock strikes midnight and we get to October, the devil rushes out to wee on the berries and make them sour. The more you know!

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I’ve also fallen in love with Superlife’s Mrs Green Mix – what a lifesaver! I adore Natural Blender because the recipes come with superfood supplements, and I wondered if there was a hassle-free way of replicating this for my own recipes. Superlife have blended together a variety of incredible supplements just for women, to make sure that every smoothie or juice you add it to is as packed full of goodness as possible. They sent me a couple of sachets to try, and I’m so impressed. The taste isn’t completely undetectable, but the crazy long list in this blend makes it well worth adding in. (I’d say it lends a deeper, earthy taste which is actually pretty pleasant if you add the right fruits and vegetables.) Pick up the blend from their site here, for £12.61 (and check out the rest of the range, and the discount options if you buy in bulk!).

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Finally, to compensate for all the fries and takeaways I’ve been skipping, I’ve also treating myself to some beautiful flowers from Bloom & Wild (the Harper is pictured above) and Bloomon, which is a really exciting and cool company. Check out their range here, and with my referral link you can get a free vase! Each delivery they provide a new and exciting arrangement of flowers in small, medium or large sizes, and the first one I received was super cool!

Channelling Louise Parker’s beautiful lifestyle certainly has its perks… pretty flowers, beautiful plates of healthy food, and a good start to my weight loss. Hurrah!

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Favourites This Week (14 Aug 2016): The Holiday Edition

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Welcome to a new feature I’m imaginatively calling ‘Favourites This Week’ – a place to talk about the fun stuff I’ve been getting up to, new products I’ve been sent to try, and other miscellaneous things that won’t fit anywhere else!

For my first trick, I’d like to take you on a mini tour of my holiday at the beginning of August, when my husband and I went oop north to celebrate our wedding anniversary in Blackpool, Manchester and the Yorkshire Dales!

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Whitworths very kindly sent me a week’s worth of these delicious fruity treats, and I have to say, they’re absolutely fantastic. I’ve been tucking them into my pockets and bags and taking them out during our long walks – they’re just the thing for a bit of energy when you need it. (They’re also fabulous with a cup of tea… Just sayin’.) You can buy Whitworths Shots in most major supermarkets, and they come in a huge range of flavours. My favourites were toffee and pecan, and tropical coconut!

By the way, did you notice that handsome lil bag up top, posed precariously on the floor of Blackpool Tower? My new favourite bag, an anniversary gift from my husband – a dark blue Edie crossbody from Lulu Guinness. (I knew I had to have it when the lovely Briony of A Girl, A Style mentioned there was a sale on!)

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(Not only did my husband by me a bag, but he also arranged for rose petals in our bedroom, the softy!)

I *love* the metal lip clasp on this baby – you can pick up similar designs still at Lulu Guinness, although the Edie has now been replaced by the Zoe crossbody and the Gertie tote.

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During the week, I have to say, the trusty combo of sunnies and umbrella proved to be an essential addition the Edie – I purchased a tiny umbrella as well from Lulu Guinness, and it’s the perfect size to keep stowed away in case of rain. Check out the whole range here, there are some gorgeous ones! (My current favourite is the black and red Bloomsbury stripe!) And, I have to give a shout-out to my new Ray-Ban aviators. I never thought I was cool enough to pull them off, but one advantage of being in my 30s is that now I don’t care whether I look cool or not…

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If you visit Blackpool, my recommendations are: afternoon tea in the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, drinks on the seafront at the Beach House Bistro (above), and fish and chips with a cup of tea near the Prom (I recommend The Sea Fish and Chips Restaurant, 1 Foxhall Lane, right by Madam Tussauds!)

Anyway, onto Manchester! For the remainder of the week we stayed in Airbnb places (use my code linked here and get £25 off, and I will too!). It was so much cheaper than a hotel and a lot more convenient as well! I have two awesome restaurant reviews to share with you soon, but until then, here’s a preview:

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Apart from two incredible restaurants, we spent a lot of time hanging around outside the set of Coronation Street, meeting famous people (one of whom knew who we were and seemed really pleased to see us. What a great actor!), and walking. Lots of walking. Oh, and this…

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…But that’s a story for another day…

The part of the trip where I really got involved was when we got to the Yorkshire Dales! We stayed in an adorable cottage with a loft bedroom, with absolutely no phone signal or wifi whatsoever. We made it out alive, but just barely. Luckily, the cottage was absolutely gorgeous!

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On the first day, we went to Ingleton Waterfalls, a private trail set up when you can view around nine waterfalls (honestly, what defines where one waterfall starts and another ends? This is a question that now haunts me) along a four and a half mile loop. (Current costs are £6 per person. Trust me when I say you can make a day of this very easily.)

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This was a definite wake-up call that I’m nowhere near as fit as I should be, because I was nearly dead by the time we got to the top. It’s hard work, okay…

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There’s also a cute tradition of pressing coins into trees and logs, which dates back to the 1700s in the North of England, and Scotland. There are some amazing examples right at the start of the trail here. I pressed my tuppence in and now I want my wish, please!

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The following day was our final one of the trip, and we went to visit the Wensleydale Creamery – a heaven made of cheese and dairy products. We attended a demonstration of cheesemaking, looked around the museum and giftshop, tasted a LOAD of cheese, and had a delicious lunch in the cafe.

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If you visit, promise me you’ll try their famous Wensleydale and ginger cheesecake – I’ve been dreaming of eating this again since my mother-in-law made us some one Christmas! I bought a huge wedge to bring back and make my own – it’s currently sitting in the freezer, waiting patiently for my birthday!

That was my week… what about yours?

 

 

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The Ultimate Afternoon Tea Experience: The Blackpool Tower Ballroom

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I’m no stranger to afternoon teas. Whether it’s champagne afternoon tea at The Ritz, or tea for two at the local farm shop, I love the tradition of gathering for tiny sandwiches, pieces of cake, and that all important jam and cream-topped scone.

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But if you had to ask me what the ultimate afternoon tea experience had to be, after my visit, I wouldn’t be able to say anything except afternoon tea at The Blackpool Tower Ballroom. Seriously, I had the best time of my life!

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Perhaps one of the aspects of the afternoon tea that made it such an incredible experience was that I was not at all prepared for one of the major aspects of the appeal – the dancing! I thought it would be tea served on the ballroom floor in opulent surroundings, and of course, I was totally down for that. But instead, I got dinner and a show, because for the entire time we were there, we were entertained by live music from the Wurlitzer, and dozens of couples taking to the floor to waltz and whirl in perfect unison.

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Usually, an afternoon tea would be judged (by me at least) heavily towards the food, with bonus points for the surroundings. This experience was a 180!

But, let’s talk about that food for a minute. When it comes to afternoon tea, I have high standards. I expect the sandwiches to be dainty, the scones to be light and fluffy, and the cakes to be tempting and irresistible. Blackpool Ballroom delivered on all of these – with traditional fillings and tasty little cakes, and a hearty and generous scone, I thought every part was perfect. It certainly wasn’t experimental, or foodie-orientated, or themed in any way (like the Prêt-à-Portea at The Berkeley, for example), and it certainly wasn’t as refined as The Ritz (the handful of crisps on the plate would never fly in Mayfair, darling), but it provided honest, good, Northern fayre with an emphasis on quality, variety and generosity.

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My husband is simultaneously the joy of my life and the bane of my existence (won’t any married woman tell you the same thing?). He’s wonderful in almost every way except he’s a bit of a fussy eater, and raisins are one of the things he just won’t eat. So when we were told they only served fruit scones, I winced – until the waitress suggested an alternative of a piece of cake. Instead of a scone, he was presented with a generous slice of chocolate and caramel cake, which was absolutely gorgeous and devoured in an instant.

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I, of course, am a staunch character and will only accept an offering of fruit scone with clotted cream and jam. There was a generous portion of cream, and the Tiptree jam even came with this cute Ballroom label, which was a lovely touch.

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Onto the cakes – and as any afternoon tea salwart will tell you, this is where you’ll usually run out of steam, despite having the best intentions… But these cakes were too good not to eat – a strawberry tart, millionaire’s shortbread, mini pavolova, and a lemon cheesecake. The only problem you’ll encounter is how to allot them between two (although we went for the time-honoured tradition of splitting them down the middle…).

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I must explain the reasoning behind us running out of room for the cakes – we were served ten different flavours for the sandwich course! I don’t even know how they managed to fit them all on the plate, but we had ham, cheese and mustard; bacon, lettuce and tomato; cheese; tuna and mayonnaise; salmon, cucumber and cream cheese; egg salad; egg mayonnaise; plain ham; plain turkey; and chicken mayonnaise. I highly suspect if the fancy came upon you that you could request any combination of the flavours you wanted, as it looked as though all of the sandwiches were made in the kitchen at the back of the hall.

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The Blackpool Tower Ballroom Afternoon Tea is truly an amazing experience. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it as one of the must-do experiences in Blackpool when you’re on holiday. It has the perfect combination of old-world, British grandeur with a pinch of cheesy seaside frivolity. And, don’t forget that classic afternoon tea menu – it always looks dainty, but trust me, you won’t need to eat dinner that day (and we were even offered more food too!). Oh, and the tea – of course, your choice of flavours, including Yorkshire tea, pride of the North (although a Southern lass like me is just as happy with an Afternoon Tea blend!)… or coffee, if you prefer.

The Blackpool Ballroom Afternoon Tea is available priced at £50 for 2, £70 for 3, or £80 for 4 people, and includes entry to the Blackpool Tower Ballroom. You can also splash out for the champagne experience (£69.95 for 2, £85.85 for 3, £99.95 for 4). There are sittings for afternoon tea (12, 12.30, 2, 2.30) and you can book online at http://www.theblackpooltower.com, or by phoning 0871 222 9929.

My afternoon tea experience was complimentary – my words, photos and opinions are my own.

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Have A Pizza This: Pizza Express Pasta!

Pizza Express launched a new range of filled pastas based on their most popular pizza flavours! This is such a simple idea, but it’s also a genius one – when the pizzas are so popular, it makes sense to see if those flavours will translate into tortelloni and ravioli. I asked Pizza Express to send me some so I could see whether they really stacked up, and I’m pleased to say they do. So, I decided to make a post about some ways to serve ready-made filled pasta, to give you some ideas!

First up, a classic. This is probably how you do it already! Serve them simply for lunch with olive oil and Parmesan cheese. My tip for some added crunch is to toast some pine nuts and toss them in, or some cooked cherry tomatoes, and maybe finish with some herbs.

Or you can make a meal of it with sautéed onions and peppers and roasted chicken breast. I did this with the American Hot and used some of the same spices inside the filling – paprika and chilli – to coat the chicken breast, which I then covered in foil and baked. While that was happening, I fried red onions, red peppers and yellow peppers in some olive oil, boiled the ravioli, and then tossed the drained, cooked ravioli in the veggies. Then, top with your cooked chicken breast and prepare to get really, really full!

How about a tortellini soup served with garlic bread? This is so simple to make. Sauté an onion and garlic in some olive oil until soft and tender. Add in a couple of cans of chopped tomatoes, then simmer until thickened. Blend into a thick soup and taste for seasoning. Now, add in your tortellini (I used the Margherita flavour for this!) and poach in the soup until cooked – this will only take a few minutes. Serve with chopped basil scattered over the top, and pop some homemade garlic toast on the side. You can even chop mozzarella and add to the soup just before serving for that extra cheesy taste – or scatter over grated cheddar cheese!


Finally, you can make it into a proper restaurant worthy dish by frying some chorizo and adding the cooked, drained tortelloni and a handful of spinach into the pan. It’s amazing what a fancy garnish will do! I used the Sloppy Giuseppe flavour for this, and unsurprisingly (as it’s my favourite Pizza Express topping!) it was my favourite of the four new flavours.

The range is available at Waitrose and Ocado now for £2.99/250g each. It includes Sloppy Giuseppe Tortelloni (spicy hot beef and pepper), Margherita Tortelloni (mozzarella and tomato), American Hot Ravioli  (pepperoni and hot pepper) and Pollo Ad Astra (chicken with pepperdew pepper).

What’s your favourite way to prepare filled pasta? Let me know in the comments below!

Pizza Express provided me with samples of the new range to review. The opinions, content and photography are all my own.

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Greater Than The (Dim) Sum Of Its Parts

Rumour has it that the best dim sum in London is to be had at the Royal China Group, so I was only too happy to pop along to the flagship Baker Street branch when they asked me to review their spread.

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Dim sum is one of China’s worst kept culinary secrets – you might think you’re content with sweet and sour pork balls and some egg fried rice, but if that’s the extent of your knowledge when it comes to Chinese cuisine, you’re missing out on an amazing experience! And when you finally get yourself to a dim sum place (especially one as good as this) you’ll realise you’ve been in the dark for far too long…

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The Royal China Group has locations all across London, including the aforementioned Baker Street branch (Baker Street is also home to the Royal China Club, the premium restaurant in the chain), as well as Canary Wharf, Queensway, Fulham and Harrow-on-the-Hill. Each restaurant has its own dedicated dim sum chef, and serves dim sum from noon to 5m – and believe me, the tables fill up fast, so if you want a seat, book ahead, or get there early!

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One of the most popular dishes on the dim sum menu is cha siu bao, or steamed roast pork buns, but don’t miss out on these gorgeous honey roast pork puffs, pictured above. While cha siu bao are traditionally served in a sugary, steamed, marshmallowy bread bun (second image), the pork puffs have the same sweet and savoury roast pork filling encased in flaky, buttery pastry. These didn’t last long!

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If you’re a fan of the Japanese gyoza, you should definitely try the original Chinese version. Thicker dough wrappers and a more amalgamated centre portion gives these a chewier texture – and they’re just as delicious as the Japanese ones!

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At dim sum, the idea is that all the guests select their favourites from a menu of tiny dishes – almost exactly like Spanish tapas or Greek / Turkish mezze. But don’t forget to check out Royal China’s scrumptious noodle dishes too, to bulk out your meal – we ordered the Soy Beef Ho Fun, above, and it was one of the tastiest noodle dishes I’ve had in a Chinese restaurant for a long time. Wide strips of noodles, tossed in soy sauce with generous strips of sliced beef, accompanied by spring onions, beansprouts, and topped with an egg, this was a great way to keep the meal flowing while we waited for various dishes to arrive.

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If you’re ordering dim sum, you need to move away from your comfort zone somewhat – otherwise you’ll miss some of the most delicious and intriguing dishes! These stuffed bean curd rolls were a case in point – earthy, wood-scented mushrooms with prawns, encased in a stiff, chewy casing, they were unlike anything you’ll get from your local takeaway.

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Also, this fried dough cheung fun – a slippery noodle layer encasing a spear of fried dough, served with a sweet soy sauce dip. The texture contrast is what makes this dish so moreish, and again, so very unlike anything you might be used to if you have a western palette!

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We also tried the Chinese rice pot, which was a pottery lidded dish stuffed with delicate rice, topped with corn-fed bone-in chicken, mushrooms and Chinese sausage, again served with a tasty sweet dip.

You also have to give the steamed meatballs a try (succulent beef with preserved orange peel and spring onions) – and make sure to round off the meal with egg custard tarts served with Chinese tea!

Three or four dishes will be more than enough to fill you up at a dim sum lunch, so pace yourself! The Royal China menu has most of its items priced at £3-4, although some items are more expensive (and the large noodle dishes, which are big portions, are around £8-9).

Also, whatever you do, don’t forget to check out the cocktail menu! I can highly recommend the Royal China Martini!


Head to the website at www.theroyalchina.co.uk to find out more about the restaurant group, find a branch near you, and to look at the menus. Royal China also do a more traditional ala carte menu, as well as tasting experiences as well! Check out the dim sum menu here, and try not to drool on your screen!

The meal I enjoyed at Royal China was complimentary – the views in this review are my own.

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Happy National Lipstick Day!

Happy 5000th birthday, lipstick! Actually, no… Today is not the 5000th anniversary of the invention of lipstick… but it is National Lipstick Day, and lipstick was estimated to have been invented around 5000 years ago in ancient Sumeria.So, put the two together, and I guess… we can eat cake?

Lipstick was supposedly originally made of crushed gemstones by Sumerian men and women (how awesome is that? Probably chaffing though…). Over the years, though, it became slightly more refined, and a bit more skin-friendly. In England, the craze for red lips was ignited by Elizabeth I, who wore a stain made of beeswax and crushed plants, contrasting her lips to her ash-white face.

However, the fashion became associated with ladies of disrepute over the years, and it wasn’t until the 1880s when lipstick began to be created commercially – before then, you would have mixed your own at home. According to a contemporary report from the The Times, makeup was finally socially acceptable for the fashionable set in London in the 1920s – and we haven’t stopped being obsessed with it since!

Original lipstick colours were limited to dark reds, but Elizabeth Arden introduced a range of colours in the 1930s, and soon other companies followed suit. These days, nude and soft browns are probably the staple of most beauty bags, but I thought I’d share five lipsticks from my own collection with you, all of which have a deeper meaning to me!

 

(Top to bottom: Burberry English Rose, Charlotte Tilbury Hepburn Honey, Dior 999, Bobbi Brown Twilight Pink, MAC Hot Tahiti)

Dior 999

This is the classic red lip, as far as I’m concerned. I love to delve into the history of established (and new!) brands, to get the stories behind some of the products we take for granted. So when it came to buying a red lipstick, I wanted one with a bit of heritage and old school glam.Dior 999 was the obvious choice for me, as it’s actually a reproduction of the first lipstick that Christian Dior created in 1955, which he called Dior 9. It’s since been reformulated and this shade was introduced in 2013 for Dior’s 60th anniversary. It’s super bold and I usually save it for occasions where I’m already feeling confident and happy!

Charlotte Tilbury, Hepburn Honey

Hepburn Honey wasn’t my first CT lipstick (that was Bitch Perfect), but it definitely is my favourite. It’s part of The Sophisticate Look, and I love the neutral brown tone. I also love the philosophy of Charlotte Tilbury herself – her ethos of enhancing beauty and adding a massive dose of glamour to everyday life. Personally, I’m not at all a beauty expert, but Charlotte’s products make it so easy to put together polished looks that I’m currently addicted to buying her palettes. Right now, Hepburn Honey is usually in my bag somewhere whenever I go out.

Burberry, English Rose

Burberry isn’t exactly one of the big names in make-up, but when they launched their new nail varnishes in 2014, I loved the colours so much I rushed out and bought about four of them in the first few months. One of the colours I picked up was English Rose, and when I noticed there was a lipstick with the same name, I snapped that up too. It was part of my everyday make-up for a long time, before I turned to Hepburn Honey. It’s a lot pinker than my usual colours, but I couldn’t resist the name, and it’s a great colour to wear if you’re after a neutral that’s a little bit more striking. It also has a creamy consistency, and a slight floral scent that reminds me of my nan!

Bobbi Brown, Twilight Pink

This is the colour I wore on my wedding day. I had my make-up done at Bobbi Brown to try out some ideas, and loved the blue-tinged, shimmery pink shade so much that I bought it right away and then insisted the beauticians use that colour instead of the one they’d already picked out when they put together my wedding make-up look. Back in 2010 I was only starting to get into make-up – especially spending a lot of money on make-up – and so this was the first proper ‘I’m now an adult’ colour I had. It means a lot to me because of the association I have with my wedding day, but I have to confess I rarely wear it now – and they don’t make it any more, either (I’ve linked to a Twilight Shimmer gloss instead!).

MAC, Hot Tahiti

This was the first red lipstick I ever bought, and I associate it with happiness, sunshine and buckets of confidence. I wore it all the time during my honeymoon in the Caribbean, and so when I think of it, I just think of beaches, tropical flowers and sparkling waves. The colour isn’t one of MAC’s classic reds, but it’s the one that suits me best – it’s actually a soft coral-red, and it’s a bit darker than 999’s true red. It’s still available, and something’s telling me to buy another tube…

What’s your favourite lipstick colour? Are there any shades that are dear to your heart for the memories they hold? Let me know below!

(Top left, clockwise: Dior 999, Burberry English Rose, Charlotte Tilbury Hepburn Honey, MAC Hot Tahiti, Bobbi Brown Twilight Pink.)

 

 

 

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10,000 Reasons You Should Download Pokémon Go

Okay, so I’m officially behind the times here in posting about Pokemon Go, but sometimes you have a great idea for a post, and you just don’t get around to posting it at the exact, right moment…

But if you’ve not downloaded Pokemon Go quite yet, I’d definitely urge you to download it and have a go! If you don’t know what it’s all about, it’s basically a map-based game that sees you walking around the real world, collecting Pokemon, and visiting PokeStops to grab items, or PokeGyms to challenge other players.

Really, though, for me, it’s been a fantastic opportunity to spend the summer out and about, exploring new areas in my local vicinity, and rediscovering places I already know and love all over again.

Having recently started the Louise Parker Lean for Life plan (don’t call it a diet – she’ll come and beat you up), I was eager to find a way to fit in my required 10,000 steps a day somehow. 10,000 steps a day is a definite challenge for me. I work from home and I live in a fairly small place (no stairs!), so building up steps without going out and doing it purposefully is nearly impossible.

Luckily, having Pokemon Go as an excuse has genuinely helped me to check out a load of nearby places, racking up tens of thousands of steps every week in the pursuit of virtual monsters. I’ve visited beaches, abbeys, city centres, wharfs, parks and graveyards, and along the way, over the past couple of months, I’ve walked 460km – around 7-8km a day!

Truth be told, the Pokemon Go craze has started to wane, even for me – but using it as an excuse to start a healthy habit has been a fantastic way to trick my brain into getting on my trainers every day and heading out the door.

You can see from the chart below just how sedentary I’ve been for the last few months. My daily average walking distance is now 4 miles for the past month, compared to a dismal 1-2 miles previously.

Getting outside, enjoying nature, enjoying healthy activity – this is definitely exactly what I’ve been needing. Without going into too many details, I have to confess I’ve been feeling incredibly low and self-destructive for most of the year following a death in the family – something which I haven’t been quick to share on the blog. Weight-gain has been an embarrassing side-effect of my struggles, but I’ve reached a point now where I’m taking a long, hard look at my life, and making sure I make my health and my happiness a priority.

I don’t expect you thought you’d be going quite so deep in a blog post about Pokemon Go, did you…?

You can follow me for more updates on my journey on the blog, interspersed with plenty of fun, food and fashion, of course!

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5 Swoon-Worthy Summer Pieces from a Few of Kate’s Favourite Designers

Elegant and timeless, the Duchess of Cambridge never seems to miss a step when it comes to dressing appropriately and fashionably for every occasion – that’s one of the reasons I’m so fascinated by her style. While I may not attend as many formal and special events as the dashing duchess, I can certainly pick up a few pretty pieces made by some of her favourite designers. From preppy to feminine to regal, she has mastered the art of picking proper attire without losing her own personal sense of style. I’ve gathered a handful of inspiring pieces that you’ll want to wear all summer long.

Temperley London

Blazer

If you wish to look smart like Kate while also keeping your cool in the summer heat, Lyst’s editorial team suggests a jacket in a lightweight material with thoughtful tailoring. The pink Lanai blazer by Temperley London is crafted from linen for breathability while still offering a polished and professional appearance. Wear an outfit like this with a pair of Kate-inspired wedges to the office, and then dress it up with jewellery and a clutch for cocktails after work. This looks so much like a riff on the peach Tara Jarmon coat that Kate wore when visiting Naomi House in Hampshire that I can really imagine her selecting this – a pretty pastel colour on a traditionally unisex item makes it ultra feminine and especially appropriate for summer!

Alexander McQueen

Dress

Named as one of her favourite designers by What Kate Wore, McQueen’s dresses are definitely staples in the royal wardrobe. Although pricey for the average household, you can still use the garments as inspiration for the pieces you can pick up within your price range (think Reiss or Whistles!). There’s something so ethereal about seeing the duchess in different shades of white, which is why I’ve chosen this lovely perforated A-line dress in cream and black. It’s perfect for baby showers, engagement parties, and brunch with the girls. McQueen has always been one of my favourite designers, too, and although the items are out of my price range for every day wear, I sometimes splurge on a item that could work season after season, for multiple events!

L.K. Bennett

Wedge

The royal fashion experts over at Kate Middleton Style assure us that L.K. Bennett shoes are definitely in her rotation. The duchess often selects pumps and court shoes, as well as bags, dresses, coats, and jackets by this designer. In this instance, though, I’ll focus on a pair of elevated jute wrapped wedges with tan leather straps. Priced under £300, these sandals are surprisingly affordable and definitely channel Kate’s easy fashion sense. Wear these anywhere a little open-toe shoe action is appropriate. Also, note that wedges are much easier to walk in than pumps, particularly after you’ve been hitting the Pimm’s – and they’re also perfect for stamping down the divots in between chukkas when you’re watching polo!

REISS

Print

With Kate being such a huge fan of the effortless ease of a flattering dress, especially now that she’s a mum of two, I’ve chosen another one that is reminiscent of her signature style. This conservative Carmen V-neck sleeveless dress by REISS is the perfect work-to-weekend piece. Pair it with a cardigan, polished pumps, and a structured handbag for a truly classy ensemble that’s perfect for the office, date night, and dinner parties. Blue florals prints are a favourite of the Duchess (think her ditsy blue Whistles dress she wore at the Diamond Jubilee Concert, or her Beulah scarfs in blue and white) – I can definitely see her in this with her hair up for a dinner out!

Emilia Wickstead

Trousers

Although we don’t see the duchess donning trousers very often, they are an occasional part of her repertoire, albeit usually in the form of skinny jeans. But there are plenty of Kate-fans who would love to see her make trousers part of her formal wardrobe, and what better way to start than with one of her favourite designers – Emilia Wickstead? These lovely high-waisted cloque trousers by Wickstead are perfect for the everywoman – you don’t have to to be Kate to find plenty of reasons for breaking these out of the closet. Excellent for an important meeting or dressier event outside of work, perhaps a charity or art gala, wear these with confidence. Pair them with strappy sandals and an embellished blouse for a more formal gathering, or with a simple silk tank and casual peep-toe wedges for a more casual get-together.

From dresses to blazers to trousers, these lovely garments are fashion forward and wearable at the same time, which is something I find so endearing about her style. I hope you’ve been inspired to start your own royal wardrobe with a few of my favourite pieces from a few of Kate’s favourite designers!

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