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christmas 2013: from handmade gifts to hearty grub.

just a few snaps from this christmas. this festive season has been lovely. there's been christmas bake offs at work, festive afternoon teas, my first clandenstine cake club and i even had a little go at making some handmade christmas gifts.

party canapes with pidy.

hope you're all enjoying the festive season and had a lovely christmas! this is year i was in charge of starters over at my mum's house. and since i'd been kindly sent some pidy pastry products to review, i was inspired to try out a few canapes for my family to share. it actually turned out to be like an afternoon tea style canape course which i rather liked. you could maybe try these out for new year's eve party food too! so here is what party food i made from pidy pastry (ooh that's a bit of a tongue twister!)

festive afternoon tea at harriet's secret tearoom.

Mum and I have been up to lots of festive things lately; including making a chocolate christmas wreath and going to the christmas party at the birmingham coast to coast. So to top it off, it made sense to go for a little festive afternoon tea. We headed over to Harriet's Secret Tearoom in Melton Mowbray to sample their Christmas style lunch with beautiful mismatched vintage crockery and cutlery.

Amendment: This tea room sadly doesn't exist anymore but there is a new tea room in its place - I'm yet to try.

lily o'brien's chocolates.

calling all chocolate fans! grab your christmas lists and get your chocolate quills at the ready. here's a new addition which would make the perfect present for any sweet tooth... a box of luxurious treats from lily o'brien. 

the irish based gourmet chocolatier lovingly creates an assortment of themed gift boxes, hampers, keepsakes personalised chocolate gifts and wedding favours. not to mention a pretty delicious desserts inspired collection which i was lucky enough to sample. and no wonder mary o'brien's company has won so many awards!

cinnamon spiced christmas tree brownie pops.

feeling festive yet? the amount of christmas baking i've been doing this year has certainly sent me in the right direction. armed with an abundance of chocolate, a new silicone christmas tree mould, an explosion of edible gold stars and a fist full of candy striped cake pop sticks... i set about making these cinnamon christmas tree brownies for my office festive bake off.

london christmas markets: in pictures.

this weekend i paid a little visit to the big smoke to wander around the market stalls of festive food and generally soak up the christmas spirit. we headed to southbank christmas market as well as winter wonderland at hyde park - a great opportunity to try out my camera and eat lots of lovely food. there of course were lots of gift, craft and jewellery stalls but i was of course all about the grub!

favourite thai, burton on trent.

in the search for somewhere new, a cuisine i don't normally try and somewhere i don't usually venture, i thought i'd have a little peruse on tripadvisor. although living in the midlands means all the brilliant places of london are a bit of a trek, i'm lucky enough to live in a little pie of counties. leicestershire, derbyshire, warwickshire, west midlands, staffordshire and nottinghamshire are all just a short car journey away. mmm pie. 

so long story short, i stumbled across this place which comes up as the numero uno restaurant out of 95 in burton on trent. (seriously go check out the reviews to see how much people are raving about it!) so did this become my "favourite thai"? well i can certainly see why everyone else loved it so much...

chocolate christmas wreath cake.

last weekend i went to not only my first leicester clandestine cake club but my first festive club! my mum and i made this christmas chocolate wreath cake from last christmas's women and home magazine. it has prunes and lots of golden caster sugar so is really rich and sticky; with a chocolate crème fraîche topping for even more indulgence. a great alternative to christmas pudding, yule log or fruit cake!

giveaway: have a night in on morrisons!

the first few advent calendar windows have been opened, the christmas tree has taken over the living room, you’ve pulled a random name out of a hat to spend £5 on, the christmas pudding is getting more boozy by the day and you’ve managed to mend the fairy lights… it must be december! and yet the words on everyone’s lips are “can you believe it’s already december?”

now all the christmas prep has begun, wouldn’t it be lovely to cosy up on the sofa with a mince pie in one hand and a glass of wine (or sparkling grape juice) in the other watching your fave christmas flicks? i thought so too :)

morrisons kindly got in touch to collaborate on a giveaway, to celebrate the relaunch of their tasty m kitchen range which is lovingly developed by professional chefs. their m signature all butter deep filled mince pies were just last week rated second overall in bloomberg’s annual mince pie tasting. 

making sushi at home: sushi simplicity by miyuki matsuo.

if you follow my little old blog, you'll know that i'm quite frankly sushi mad. so when i was asked if i'd like a preview of the upcoming sushi simplicity by miyuki matsuo it was a no brainer. on the shelves in early 2014, i couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy and try out some diy sushi at home! sadly i don't have a sushi belt in my house (yet) but i have to say still had lots of fun playing around with techniques colours, and flavours.

black olive, chorizo and chicken stew: a josé pizarro recipe.

what can i say... olive it! i was recently sent a variety of black and green olives to play with along with some brilliant recipes by spanish chef josé pizarro. it took me ages to pick which one to try first as i love anything with olives in. almost as much as the pun in the campaign name... there is also a cheeky little video of the recipe if you fancy cooking along with the celeb chef himself.

christmas foodie gift ideas.

i really enjoyed putting together a round up of foodie gift ideas last christmas - so thought i'd have a little research what was out there for 2013. i really think food related gifts are becoming a real trend these days as everywhere seems to have a section on their site. not that i'm complaining - i love it!

now i may be generalising here, but i'm yet to meet someone who loves baking and doesn't simultaneously love cath kidston. this floral spatula, along with a few other baking sets would make a brilliant stocking filler or secret santa for the office foodie. 

carrot peeler £9.99
this giant sharpener style carrot peeler from lakeland is absolutely brilliant! long gone are the days of peeling veg being boring. gimmicky but equally pretty useful. just don't try and fit a potato in there...

curry set £35
i've been eyeing up this curry set from next for a while. with lots of dishes that will keep warm at the table - it just screams dinner parties! i'm thinking it would be brilliant for nights of homemade tapas, chinese and morrocan tagines alike!

indoor allotment £24.95
how cute is this? i've always wanted a living herb garden in my kitchen and now thanks to prezzybox i could have one with a picket fence and everythang. but what would i put in the shed? 

custard cream biscuit tin £10
i've seen nice biscuit cushions and cupcake teapots, so why not a custard cream biscuit tin? even better, filled with custard creams :)

scizzas £19.95
another prezzybox find, can you guess what these are for? move over pizza slice, for scizzas simply snip down those pizzas in double time. 

just call me delia tea towel £10
what can i say - this tea towel is just fantastic! i found this on notonthehighstreet along with just call me nigella, just call me jamie and one which simply said "come dry with me let's dry let's dry away..."

cherizena christmas coffee £3.25
i was recently sent cherizena christmas coffee to review and can wholeheartedly recommend it for those who love christmas in a cup. read my cherizena coffee review here :)

what do you think to my foodie picks? will you be buying any for friends and family... or perhaps a treat for yourself? 

bbc good food show winter 2013.

the pastries have been baked, the juices have been squeezed, the cupcakes have been iced and the speciality spirits have been stacked with precision. not to mention the hundreds of cheese entries lovingly laid out for the world cheese awards 2013. that's right... the stalls were all set for the bbc good food show of winter 2013! i couldn't wait for my first visit, let alone my first time on the press list :) so here are a few of my favourite producers and brands from the show, as well as the food we enjoyed throughout the day. 

slendier: the 8 calorie pasta alternative.

wow, when was first introduced to slendier i saw the words low calorie, fat free, pasta alternative and was instantly suspicious. i'm very wary of diet style foods and personally think you should enjoy a mix of healthy, traceable and sustainable fresh food whilst enjoying a little bit of what you fancy in moderation :) i also really enjoy making my own pasta so wasn't into jumping into an alternative. 

i wondered what kind of "pasta" could possibly only be 8 calories per 100g and it made me think of the things i've heard they put in low calorie and diet drinks. actually, as i continued to read the press release, i was pleasantly surprised. this is actually a brilliant concept! slendier is a pseudo-carb which is actually made from konjac, a starchy vegetable which is a japanese style yam. i guess i've heard of rice made from grated cauliflower, lettuce instead of bread and sweet potatoes as chips? so since its a vegetable and not made of chemicals, i'm happy!

i wanted to try it out as part of healthy pasta dishes - so how did i get on and what did i make?

lovely foodie finds.

a few lovely foodie finds from the last couple of weeks. i felt truly lucky to have some really thoughtful birthday presents from my friends and family - mostly food related of course - so wanted to feature them in a post. i've also been sent some brilliant products lately that i thought would fit well in a foodie gift ideas round up :) i hope you love these foodie bits and bobs and much as i do - to perhaps buy for a friend or even treat yourself!

little tokyo, leicester.

another birthday meal: a feast of japanese treats! based in leicester along braunstone gate, i can't believe this is the first time i'd been to this lovely little gem. i took a few quick snaps of the food before devouring this delicious asian banquet.

vegan cupcakes.

How lovely are these cupcake cases? They were a birthday gift from my friend Amelia. Since she's vegan (and vegans are allowed to enjoy desserts too!) I thought it'd be nice to try out some dairy and egg free baking. We made vegan cupcakes with lemon buttercream and pink, almond flavoured buttercream. 

lamb rogan josh.

having recently been sent some geeta's curry pastes and mango and chilli chutney, it seemed like the perfect time to try out one of my favourite curries. lamb rogan josh! i followed the recipe on the back of the paste whilst adding in some spinach and chobani yoghurt to finish. i just love spinach in curries! :)

so i here i present to you a saag and lamb rogan josh with geeta's curry paste...

cherizena coffee: handpicked around the world, blended in leicestershire.

living in the midlands, there are lots of lovely produce local to the area. obviously red leicester and stilton for starters, amongst melton mowbray pork pies and of course bakewell tarts. we most definitely (and much to my sadness) are not recognised for the likes of seafood or good old fish and chips. definitely wouldn't expect coffee to make the list either.

and so when i was told about leicestershire based cherizena coffee i was more than surprised. obviously, the fairtrade coffee beans aren't actually grown in the below zero temperatures of LE14. but this unique family run coffee company creates and produces its delicious flavours right here in leicestershire.

since my november birthday has now passed, people are now allowed to talk about christmas around me. and now i've seen those big ol' famous christmas ads i'm more excited than ever! so when cherizena sent me their latest christmas coffee to try out that was definitely the cherry on the christmas cake.

chorizo and thyme fougasse bread.

when i first saw lorraine pascale effortlessly make this bread on her baking programme, i knew i definitely wanted to try it when I had a proper mixer and dough hook of my own. there’s nothing quite like the smell of freshly baked bread; and the combination smokey chorizo and heavenly thyme that infused my kitchen definitely added to this.  

i seem to have acquired quite a few little kitchen gadgets and gizmos lately – my lovely granny bought me a pasta machine last christmas, my mum got me a huge mussel pot from france, i’ve raided kitchenware shops for ravioli presses, piping tips and tartlet tins and i searched high and low for a bamboo steamer to make my own dim sum.

i’ve always wanted to try out a proper classic mixer to help improve my basic culinary skills - and what better than the original kenwood chef? this comes with a k beater, balloon whisk and the much anticipated dough hook! argos sell a brill range of kenwood chefs and the like; including the gorgeous retro kmix, the sleek and sophisticated premier mixers and the timeless classic chef. i can’t believe they first launched in 1947!

happy national katsu curry week!

first and foremost, happy national katsy curry week! no i hadn't realised it existed either. but why on earth not would you not want to devote an entire week to the crispy coated, crunchy, fruity, saucy morsels on a bed of gorgeous sticky rice? to celebrate, yo! sushi have put the super mega katsu curry on the menu for £7 a bowl. with classic chicken, prawn and tofu to choose from, these beasts will definitely distract your attention from the rainbow of pretty plates on the sushi belt. 

almond biscotti with chocolate orange drizzle.

Last weekend i stayed at my mum's to look after her very cheeky little dog whilst she was away. On the Friday, I got a text saying "I've put a bottle of wine in the fridge for you and ingredients for almond biscotti, if you fancy it." Not one for being subtle, I knew that the rose was actually a mini bribe for the being a tray of biscotti in her kitchen come Sunday afternoon. 

I'm not quite sure why she requested biscotti as I've never made it before and feared it might be like the time she asked me to make scones (something she is amazing at anyway) and I accidentally used salt. Actually, I'm pretty pleased as it's not something I'd made before and think it would make for really cute homemade gift.

The recipe she left was this bbc almond biscotti one, which gave you options for various flavours and toppings such as pistachio and cranberry and hazelnut and date with a hot mocha dipping sauce. I went for the classic almond as in the recipe and then drizzled chocolate orange on top.

flesh & buns, covent garden.

this is somewhere that almost became my favourite restaurant before i'd even been. you know that feeling? where you just know as soon as you get there that you're going to want the whole menu? i'm absolutely enamored by japanese and chinese inspired cuisine, so as soon as i saw these steamed buns all over instagram i instantly knew i needed to try them. i realise these have probably been all over the place in the big smoke but coming from a little leicestershire town it's a real treat for me. 

i was down in london this week, luckily a couple of days before my birthday, and so it was the perfect excuse for grace and i to go wild on salmon, soya beans and steamed buns at flesh & buns ! 

goats' cheese, spinach and red pepper puff pastry tart.

this is my current favourite "cheat eat" which would be perfect for an easy midweek meal, sliced up with a salad for lunch or cut into pieces as party food. all you need is a puff pastry sheet, a sauce base and some tasty toppings! here i made it with tomato and marscapone sauce, wilted spinach, sliced somerset goats' cheese, half a red pepper and a couple of button mushrooms. put it in the oven on 200 degrees for 15-20 minutes and bam it's ready to devour!

carrot and ginger cake with coconut buttercream.

Carrot Cake

i absolutely love this time of year. the clocks go back, nights draw in, my birthday is just around the corner and the dip in temperature means i have an excuse to buy a new coat. then of course there are the autumn recipes; warming one pots, pumpkin soup, wholesome pies and comforting cakes and desserts with the likes of ginger and cinnamon. so inspired by the spice infused baking recipes over at schwartz, i set about trying out my first carrot cake. this variation on the classic recipe has a couple of extra teaspoons of ginger and a crunchy coconut buttercream topping.