Party On: PopChips Review Extravaganza!

Recently, the nice people at PopChips sent me a box of tasty treats to review, and by a fantastic coincidence, they arrived the day of my best friends’ birthday (they are twins… the grammar is making my head ache)! Already armed with the super delicious (but highly calorific) Kettle Chips I had already bought, I took the box along to share, and get everyone’s opinions about PopChips.
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I first heard about PopChips through Jillian Michaels’ podcast, as she’s an investor in the company (and you know I love me some Jillian). These are often listed as one of her recommended snacks on her diet plans. However, these really aren’t diet food – but then, they’re not really crisps, either. They’re puffed up discs of deliciously flavoured, 100% real potato goodness, and each bag is under 100 calories.

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Think popcorn, but crisps! So, I took my magical box to the party (not just ANY party, a 30th birthday party!) to canvass some opinions. And to be honest, some of my friends sounded like they were auditioning for a job in PR when I asked them to text me their thoughts later – they obviously really liked these crisps! (And there were plenty of Kettle Chips that got left behind that night, let me tell you.)

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This is Charlie. He had plenty to say about PopChips, all of them in handy, bite-sized slogans. He started off quizzically.

“Who would have thought you could flavour air? Crazy!”

Then he upped the ante.

“They were so good, I had my sex-face on. Mmm-mmm.”

(I did not get a sex-face photo. Sorry.)

He finished off with:

“If Sting had PopChips, he wouldn’t need tantric sex.”

Indeed! Those salt and vinegar ones must be good. (What a scamp!)

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This is birthday girl #1, Rachel! She loved the salt and vinegar flavour too, and complimented them on their crunchiness.

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This is Lorraine, birthday girl #2! She was also heavily into writing slogans when I texted her about her thoughts. “Why have crisps when you can have PopChips?!” she demanded. “Taste just as yummy but fewer calories – just what I want from a snack! Particularly liked the barbeque flavour, very tasty!”

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As you can see, Omar was initially sceptical about the idea of low calorie crisps. He is a man’s man. Man’s men don’t eat low calorie crisps. However, he was won over, and pronounced them “tasty, and surprisingly light.” Well. He was eating the manliest flavour, after all.

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Here’s Sara (you might remember her from the post about WestQuay’s new Dining area). She liked her salt and vinegar flavour, and told me she reckoned they were “a good alternative to crisps.”

Finally, my dear husband, Michael. We don’t need a quote from him. Look how happy he is, just eating those PopChips.

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Really, the face says it all, doesn’t it?

You can buy PopChips at WHSmith, Waitrose, Ocado, Boots, amazon.co.uk and many other fine retailers. Check out PopChips’ site here! Or, visit them on Facebook. Tell them I sent ya!

In search of: the perfect gold nail varnish

You know, sometimes you get an idea in your head, and you just can’t shake it out. I was like that with gold nail varnish for the past year and a half. I got it in my head that what I really NEEDED for the holidays was gold nail varnish. Proper bright, sparkly, beautiful, rich gold nail varnish, varnish that would say “HELLO CHRISTMAS! Yes, indeed, I am ready to party!”

People, I am pleased to say, my search is over.

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Please excuse the hasty rush job on these nails, I got over-excited when they were drying… Sigh. Anyway, I hope you can see that gorgeous shade on the bottom thumb there – that is the gold of my dreams! What is this exotic metallic varnish called, I hear you cry?! Why, it’s OPI’s Goldeneye! The MUST-HAVE gold varnish for 2012, I reckon!

In a clockwise fashion from the bottom, these are the ‘gold’ varnishes I am wearing: Goldeneye (OPI, the clear winner), Gold Coin (Revlon, just not at all what I hoped for, it’s basically just silver!) Glimmer (TopShop, my second favourite, but more of a bronze), Gold (GOSH, another tame looking gold), then Star Dust (Rimmel, another bronzy one).

Here, though, is the clear winner. Isn’t it beautiful? You can purchase this shade from HQHair for £11.

Sweet treats for your Royal buffet

Victoria sponge cake

Image via Wikipedia

CLASSIC BRITISH TREATS

Victoria sponge

A beautifully simple, light cake – classically British, of course – dusted with icing sugar and filled with jam would make the perfect addition to your table. Add whipped cream and fresh fruit to make it even more indulgent!

Gin and Tonic jelly

A great Nigella Lawson recipe – a grown up version of a party staple, and what better way to toast in the newly weds than with some gin and tonic!

Sweet vanilla cream and dulce de leche butterfly cakes

My own recipe for ridiculously delicious caramel and cream butterfly cakes. Forget cupcakes!

Scones with clotted cream and jam

You could make your own scones with this excellent recipe, but, equally, I’m sure no one will mind if you buy it in…

Lemongrass and raspberry trifle

Another Nigella recipe – and if you fancy a classic version, there are tonnes out there for sherry trifle!

Eton Mess

Legend has it this was invented at at Eton College – which is where Prince William was educated, of course, making this the perfect dish to serve on the big day. Just remember to mix it just before serving, because the meringues will melt otherwise! This is Delia’s recipe, but you can also add a splash of Pimm’s at the last minute to transform it into an ever more celebrationary dish!

The ultimate sandwich ideas for a royal wedding watching party

Cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches with tea ...

Image via Wikipedia

I love sandwiches and they should have centre stage in your wedding party buffet! But you have to make sure you cut them correctly – not diagonally into quarters, but into long, dainty finger shapes as they do for afternoon tea at The Ritz!

Because I would imagine you’ve made your own sandwiches more times than you’ve made any other kind of recipe, I’m not offering quantities, just ideas. That way you can be inspired and dish up your own quantities, depending on whether you’re watching the wedding with friends, or the whole street!

SANDWICH IDEAS

  • Smoked salmon and cream cheese
  • Ham, salad and cherry tomatoes with dijonnaise
  • Cheese and caramelised red onion chutney
  • Roast beef with horseradish mayonnaise and rocket
  • Egg mayonnaise
  • Prawn mayonnaise
  • Thinly sliced cucumber
  • Chicken salad

Have an idea I’ve missed? Tell me in the comments and I’ll add it to the list!

Don’t forget to check out my other post, on your ultimate recipes for a wedding watch buffet, here!

Your ultimate recipes for a Royal wedding party buffet

spicy coleslaw

Image by elana's pantry via Flickr

I’m going to be making a series of posts chronicling the best recipes and ideas for your wedding watching party – starting with traditional British buffet staples! No spread would be complete without these old-fashioned favourites!

BUFFET STAPLES

Sausage rolls

Now, it wouldn’t be a proper British buffet without some sausage rolls on the table. For the record, I like mine hot! Here’s a Jamie Oliver recipe – although if you have Jamie’s 30-Minute Meals, try his version from that book which has fennel seeds! Also, don’t forget about sausages on sticks, another old favourite.

Scotch Eggs

Now, I’m not going to be making Scotch eggs for my party, because I’d rather buy them than stand over the deep fat fryer. But if you want to give it a go, this recipe will make some really cute quails’ egg ones.

Cheese Straws

An old-school treat – just make sure you use puff pastry for flakey, delicious straws!

Pork Pie

Now, I’m not convinced it’s worth your time to make a pork pie to go with a buffet – if you’re going to make such a glorious beast, you should at least make it the centrepiece of a luscious picnic! But Nigel Slater knows his stuff, so I’m recommending this recipe for all you gluttons (for punishment).

Coleslaw

Everyone knows how to make their own coleslaw, but this Nigel Slater guide gives you some ideas for ways to liven it up with some twists!

Potato Salad

I love Martha Stewart! I think that people both sides of the pond will be surprised at the other’s claiming that this is a traditional national dish, but just like apple pie, the British and American versions have been embraced by their home countries. Here’s a link to a video and basic recipe, which also has a guide for some great add-ins!

Quiche

Now, it wouldn’t be a proper feast without a quiche, or as my nan used to call it, quince. But what kind of quiche? It has to be something seasonal, and a little bit special – what about smoked salmon? Delia’s the queen of baking, so I offer up her recipe for a smoked salmon tart.

Coronation Chicken

I’ve had loads of arguments with people recently about coronation chicken. I maintain it’s not to be served for a royal wedding buffet, because NO ONE’S BEING CROWNED. But, still, it’s a royally inspired dish, so include it if you like! Here’s a Gordon Ramsey version to make it extra special!

How to theme your royal wedding party menu

Tea in a Meißen pink-rose teacup

Image via Wikipedia

When it comes to preparing your menu for your Kate and William wedding-watching party, I reckon there are a few themes you could employ to keep the nosh in the spirit of the day.

My personal choice is the English afternoon tea idea – you can’t get much more patriotic than cucumber sandwiches and scones. It’s also ideal for a buffet as it’s all finger food. Take inspiration from some of London’s great hotels which offer afternoon tea – you can read the Ritz’s menu here. I’m thinking smoked salmon sandwiches, fairy cakes (not cupcakes, fairy cakes are more English), and plenty of nice china. Oh, and doilies – I’ve already bought mine from eBay (to avoid the rush, dontchaknow).

A more alternative idea is to page homage to the location where the happy couple were engaged – Kenya! Unfortunately, it’s difficult to pin down Kenyan cuisine or get some of the staple ingredients, but a quick look online should help. You could try serving some exotic animals instead (there’s an online butcher here) – I’ve seen loads of episodes of Come Dine With Me recently where they’ve been chowing down on zebra, for some reason!

Perhaps you could try a menu composed of Will’s childhood favourites? Sadly, we have no idea what Kate Middleton enjoyed eating as a child (WHY NOT? Did no one THINK to ask her this vital question?) so this idea seems a little lopsided to me, but hey. I seriously doubt that cottage pie as most people know it will be gracing the banqueting tables (although I wouldn’t put it past a chef to try a ‘deconstructed’ version or some such nonsense), but it would make for a nice, easy hot buffet lunch. And pate and smoked salmon canapes – and champagne… I can do that!

You could always try to replicate some previous Royal weddings. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (The Queen Mother) enjoyed a meal of Consommé à la Windsor, Suprèmes de Saumon Reine Mary, Côtelettes d’Agneau Prince Albert, Chapons à la Strathmore, and Fraises Duchesse Elizabeth in 1923. In 1947 for the marriage of Prince Philip and our present Queen, diners enjoyed “Filet de Sole Mountbatten; Perdreau en Casserole, Haricots Verts, Pommes Noisette and Salade Royale; Bombe Glacee Princesse Elizabeth; Friandises; Dessert”. However, I’m not sure harking back to Will’s parents’ wedding would be in the best of taste, so best to avoid the dishes that appeared at their wedding breakfast in 1981: brill in lobster sauce, chicken breasts garnished with lamb mousse and strawberries with Cornish cream. Mind you, that last dish sounds pretty good…

Considering it’s, y’know, just another wedding (in the grand scheme of things, anyway), you could just serve your idea of fantasy wedding fayre. If you’re already married, maybe serve a few of the dishes you enjoyed on your big day. If you’re not married, maybe come up with some things you’d love to have for your wedding. Or just go with your classic wedding breakfast menu, which seems to be pate, soup or melon for starters, overcooked chicken breast in a mushroom sauce for your main, and something gooey and chocolatey for pudding (this is based on my memories of weddings past and looking through FAR too many brochures for my own wedding!) And don’t forget that wedding cake…

Finally, you could serve something based on the couple’s actual meal. No information is available about this yet, but there’s loads of speculation online. This is a particularly good article (and here) that details previous wedding menus and discusses some British produce that could be served – nab some ideas!

A quick Jamie Oliver menu idea for your royal wedding party

The custom of afternoon tea and scones has its...

Image via Wikipedia

For my wedding watching party, I’m thinking classic English tea party – cucumber sandwiches, Victoria sponge, scones and a great big teapot full of tea! But there’s a great menu in Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals which would be perfect for adapting to a wedding watch party; his British Picnic, which features sausage rolls, mackerel pate, asparagus crunch salad and Pimm’s Eton Mess. In fact, I might steal some of these dishes for myself… they sound awesome! The sausage rolls have fennel seeds and sesame seeds added to them, the pate features horseradish sauce along with the mackerel, lemon and cream cheese, and the crunch salad has watercress, pickled onions and pear… Interesting! It’s on page 252, if you’re up for it…

Kate and William: planning your wedding watch!

Distracted (what did you expect?) away from my Jamie project, I’m anticipating Kate and William’s wedding on 29 April – an excuse for a nosh-up if ever I heard one. I’m an unashamed royalist and can’t wait to throw an English themed tea party to celebrate, so expect plenty of planning posts as the day grows nearer…

Meanwhile, in anticipation, I present to you some important party-related details: nails and earrings.

It seems as though there are plenty of Kate and William related products out there for people to snap up – most of it is tacky, but I’m loving this nail varnish from Butter London, available to pre-order for £12 from their site: http://www.butterlondon.com/collections/no-more-waity-katie/no-more-waity-katie-0. Check out the hilarious name – not so funny if you’re Kate Middleton, I guess…

I also reckon you need themed earrings… I’m thinking crownsOr crowns with pearls, even more classy…

Or, to score extra bonus points, combine crowns with pearls and sapphires (Kate’s engagement ring stone):

Or, Accessorize has some pretty English-country-garden style stud sets here. And, let’s face it, you can’t go wrong with plain, simple pearl studs… Got to stay classy!

More planning tips later, including decorations, menus and party games!

Ultimate Lost Party Menus

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been a loyal Lostie since the show started. While I’m sure I’m not going to love the finale (so many unanswered questions!) I’m sure I’m going to have a blast watching it – because I’m planning my very own Lost finale party! When it comes to parties, there’s only one thing I care about, and that’s the food. So here’s my lowdown on the best menus for a Lost finale party, culled from the interwebs, and in places, my own imagination. I’ve got three ‘menus’ to choose from, although in reality they are just three lists – food inspired by the show, food from the show itself, and an extra special, cos I love ya low-fat/low calorie diet menu. Plus, as an extra special bonus, a list of drink ideas!

Menu from the show universe

  • Peanut butter (Charlie’s present to Claire – bonus points if it’s in a Dharma-labelled jar!)
  • Fish biscuits (from the Polar bear cages – as eaten by Sawyer and Kate) – recipe here.
  • Grilled cheese sandwiches (brought to Jack by Juliet when he was being held captive by Ben)
  • Muffins (cooked by Juliet for her book club)
  • Mr Cluck’s Chicken (fried chicken from Hurley’s fast food chain – use generic fast food fried chicken!)
  • Foraged fruits: mango, banana, passionfruit, guava, papaya, coconut, oranges (for Locke-smiles…). Serve them whole on a chopping board with a hunter’s knife for added drama and authenticity. Or, make them into a fruit salad like Hurley.
  • Hunted meat like boar (cop out and use pork! Roasted pork tenderloin, pork ribs, pulled pork… Mmm!), rabbit and chicken
  • Grilled fish, or sashimi ala Jin
  • Dharma-labelled food, easily created by printing out labels and sticking them on pre-existing packages. Some of the most famous Dharma food includes the aforementioned peanut butter, ranch composite (ranch dressing), Dharmalars (probably a version of Mallomars), and mac and cheese. Click here for an amazing array of Lost labels for your food!
  • Apollo bars (dark chocolate and nuts)
  • Alcohol salvaged from the plane in mini-bottles, or provided by Dharma, including beer, whiskey, rum, red and white wine.

Menu inspired by the show

Low-calorie Lost menu

Lost-inspired drinks

  • Tropical fruit juice
  • MacCutcheon whiskey (stick a fake label over a bottle of whiskey to create ultra-rare Lost whiskey!)
  • Wine from Moriah Vineyards, as made by Desmond the monk (as above)
  • Zombie (2 parts white rum, 1 part dark rum, 1 part golden rum, 2 parts lime juice, 1 part orange juice, 1 part pineapple juice, half part sugar syrup, ice, shaken in a mixer)
  • Pina Colada (1 part white rum, 2 parts coconut cream, 2 parts pineapple juice, shaken and strained)
  • Banana Daiquiri (2 parts white rum, 2 parts lime juice, dash triple sec, 1tsp sugar, crushed ice, 1 ripe banana, blended until smooth)
  • Mai Tai (1 part light rum, 1 part dark rum, 1 part Cointreau, dash Grenadine, tsp lime juice, 3 parts orange juice, 3 parts pineapple juice, shaken over ice and strained)
  • Blue Devil (3 parts gin, 1 part lemon juice, 1 tbsp maraschino, shaken over ice)
  • Blue Lagoon (3 parts vodka, 1 part blue Curacao, 3 parts pineapple juice, shaken over ice and strained)
  • Non-alcoholic fruit cup (2 parts orange juice, 2 parts grapefruit juice, 2 parts pineapple juice, 2 parts apple juice)

You can find some Lost-themed menus, ideas and resources at these sites:

Have fun! And, be sure to tell me what YOUR Lost party menu consisted of…

DISCLAIMER: I didn’t create any of the content linked to here, nor can I vouch for the reliability or deliciousness of any of the recipes, save Nigella’s awesome peanut butter fudge sauce… Click and make at your own risk!

Halloween Marshmallows

This weekend I’ve had the pleasure of spending a lot of time with Life is Sweet, by Hope and Greenwood, which is, as it so rightly says on the cover, a collection of splendid old-fashioned confectionary (buy it if you get the chance! It’s very reasonably priced and ever so good). I’ve made marshmallows, fudge and cinder toffee, and although the cinder toffee wasn’t the best I’ve ever tasted, I was particularly pleased with the fudge. However, as Halloween is coming up, I thought I’d make some spooky Halloween marshmallows by colouring them purple. The vanilla marshmallow recipe in Life is Sweet is unfortunately misprinted and the ingredients list is screwed up, so I’ve adapted my own from the recipe for Mallows D’Amour. There are a few technical aspects to this recipe which might prove difficult – you need a stand mixer (although I did experiment with an electric handheld whisk, and the patient might just be able to cope like this, holding it for around 15 minutes!) and a sugar thermometer. I had to borrow both of these, but a sugar thermometer is a great investment for making fudge, toffee, caramel and jam.

Halloweeen marshmallows with black stars

Halloween Marshmallows (adapted from Mallows D’Amour, Life is Sweet by Hope and Greenwood)

INGREDIENTS

  • 450g (1lb) granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp liquid glucose
  • 1 sachet powdered gelatine
  • Good dab of purple colouring paste (I used Wilton’s Violet)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large egg whites
  • Cornflour and icing sugar, to dust
  • Purple sugar/black stars or any Halloween themed decorations

METHOD

  • Line a 20cm/8inch square baking tin with baking parchment or greaseproof paper and dust with cornflour and icing sugar. I’ve found you need a heck of a lot of this to keep the marshmallow from sticking.
  • In a deep, heavy bottomed saucepan, add the sugar, glucose and 200ml of water and stir. Place over a medium-high heat and add your sugar thermometer. Keep cooking until the temperature reaches 127C or 260F. This could take 15 minutes or as long as 25, so keep an eye on it.
  • Whilst this is happening, put 100ml of boiled water in a bowl and sprinkle over the gelatine. Stir well until dissolved. This will really smell. Gelatine is not suitable for veggies, and from the smell of the gelatine, you will know why. Don’t panic, the smell goes away, and there is no taste of the gelatine whatsoever in the finished marshmallow. Now that would be Halloweeny…
  • When your gelatine and water is mixed well, add the vanilla and a good dab of purple colouring. For Halloween, you could also try black, orange and green – just remember that the colour will fade because of the egg whites, and the dusting of sugar and cornflour. When you add the food colouring, you should get a very dark colour. So much that you are secretly thinking ‘oh dear, I put too much in’. This will most likely give you a subtle shade…
  • When your syrup has reached the right temperature, you need to have a little panic attack and start jumping up and down and worrying you’re not ready. Don’t worry if you haven’t mixed your gelatine yet – I did this and it turned out all right. Just add it to the pan of sugar syrup and mix well. It’ll bubble, so watch out.
  • Get your stand mixer and whip the eggs until stiff peaks form. Turn the mixer down as slowly as it will go, and add the syrup and gelatine in very gently. Slow, slow. This could take a while… The heat from the syrup is heating the egg whites, so if you pour it on too fast, it’s likely the word could implode.
  • When you’ve done this, you turn the speed up to superfast and leave to beat for at least 15 minutes. The mix is ready when it holds onto the whisk well, and is thick and shiny.
  • Pour into your dusted pan. Leave it to set for a long time – the book says 2 hours, but I’ve left mine overnight before.
  • Turn the marshmallow out onto another dusted piece of parchment paper. If you’re like me, the mix will still have stuck to the bottom of your originally dusted piece of paper, so dust all sides until nothing is sticky. Then, slice and dust, slice and dust, into whatever shapes you like. Once you’ve dusted your marshmallows, you can shake off the excess coating by throwing them gently from hand to hand. Store in parchment paper.
  • Serve with edible sugar, as above, or with anything suitably Halloweeny…

Purple sugar Halloween marshmallows

How about black sugar stars, like the first photo? Or purple sanding sugar, like the photo above?Or, if you want to be more sophisticated, why not keep your mallow mix white, and then decorate with tiny gold stars? (I got mine from Jane Asher’s site.)

Starry Halloween marshmallows

These are too good to give to Halloween trick or treaters…