Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Show The Love This Mother's Day

Once a year we celebrate Mother's Day or Mothering Sunday to recognise the one special person in everyone's life that is always there for them no matter what. (well most mothers anyway).

It is a special day to go out of your way to treat mum, perhaps with a meal out or you could cook the Sunday lunch.  It is also an opportunity to give mum a special little gift to say how much you appreciate her.

Here are a few things I have been sent lately which would make a great Mother's Day gift:-

TKMaxx is a must for me to pop into whenever we go into the city centre.  They always have something I cannot live without!  I had a look around for some ideas for Mother this year.  Enamel is very big so I was really pleased to find this enamel coffee pot (which fits perfectly underneath my filter coffee cone) and keeps the coffee hot for longer. I also found this enamel mug filled with chocolate from Hasslachers filled with Columbian chocolate discs which you can whisk into warm milk for a creamy, chocolaty drink.  In their produce section I was thrilled to find some Peanut Butter Cup flavoured coffee!  And to finish the treat Pfeffernusse (little sugar coated ginger bread cookies that melt in your mouth) - all this to make a lovely morning coffee or chocolate to treat mum.
Aldi have a range of gifts for the home or garden for the Spring.  I was sent a lovely throw blanket which I will probably put on the spare bed as well as a garden ornament duck and a lovely candle holder for the patio. 
Aldi also have a range of special treats for Mother's Day.  A few of the specials are a frizz-taming hair dryer,
lunch tote perfect for mum to take to work or even a little girl who wants something special.  I was also sent a Cocktail Set - everything you need to create your favourite cocktails - all you need now is the alcohol and the ice!
And what better to toast Mum than Aldi's Prosecco!

Aldi's range is on a 'buy it when you see it' basis so check them out quickly before they are all gone.

If you are wanting to bake mum a cake for her special day this fab Wham Cook cake tin. It's Teflon coated so completely non-stick and I am sure any mother will love that it is heart shaped!
Rococo Chocolates whose main shop is at 5 Motcombe Street in Belgravia London has an exquisite range of gifts for Mother's Day this year. Their chocolates are perfect for any occasion however couldn't be more perfect a treat for Mum.  This box of chocolates contains a selection of delicate fillings of Rose, Violet, Geranium and Lavender.  These centers are inside a 65% dark chocolate.  Their chocolate can be bought in their shops or on-line.
So raise a glass to your mother whether she is near of far and tell her you love her.  Cheers Mum!!

I was sent a selection of products to show your for Mother's Day.  I was not paid to write a positive review. As usual all opinions and photos are my own.  No photos may be reproduced without my written permission.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Pancake Day: A Compendium of Pancakes

As I am an American pancakes to me are round, thick and fluffy usually covered in maple syrup.  In fact in the USA any day is Pancake Day!!

As I live in the UK I have also come to love the traditional Pancake Day, the day before Ash Wednesday the start of Lent.  I am not very accomplished at making the British versions of a pancake so this year I decided to do a round up of pancakes available in the supermarkets at the moment.

I was sent some Flavorking plums from South Africa. They are available only from M&S, sweet and taste like candy and are only around for 3-4 weeks - a very short season indeed.
I griddled some plum halves sprinkled with brown sugar and put them on top of some freshly whipped double cream.
Aunt Bessie is well known for her frozen roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings so I guess it makes sense that she also makes frozen pancakes.
Gluten free is very much the buzz word at the moment with a large amount of producers now making a gluten free version.  Crumbles is already a well established producer of gluten free bakes (I love their coconut macaroons!) and this year have a mix you add water to and ladle onto the hot pan.

There are a few of the plastic containers called pancake shakers that you add water to a fill-line, replace the cover and shake vigorously until thick. Pour into the hot pan and continue as directed.
Morrison's Plain Pancakes are made with buckwheat and are very much like the Staffordshire Oat Cakes we used to get when visiting relatives in the Manchester area. They are fantastic heated in the frying pan after cooking the bacon!
Because they work so well with a savoury partner I made a cheddar cheese sauce with mushrooms and smoked ham to pour over the warmed pancakes.
And finally who remembers those little frozen pancakes filled with a cheese sauce, folded over and breaded then fried. They were made by Birds Eye and were really popular when I was first married but seemed to disappear from the freezer compartments.  Well hurrah they are back.  I took a little trip down memory lane and served them to Mr R with a side salad.
Which ever way you enjoy your pancakes have a great Pancake Day. I would love it if you would leave a comment below to say your favourite pancake topping or filling.  Cheers.

I was not paid to write this post. All opinions and photos are my own.  No photographs may be reproduced without my written permission.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

North Carolina: Making Moonshine at Broadslab Distillery

In the 1920s America there was no work or money due to the financial crash - the depression and no alcohol because of prohibition.  It was no fun sitting around with friends with no money and no drink so ultimately men began to distill their own.  The practice of illegal stills in isolated backwoods locations under the silver moon was given the name of 'Moonshine' whiskey!

Meanwhile deep down south there were many men stood guarding their home made stills where they were distilling a colourless liquid. The problem with this liquid was that it was very high in alcohol content and as it was during the prohibition period of the depression it was also highly illegal.  It was also a dangerous pastime - if the still didn't blow up and kill you often the moonshine would!

Fast forward to present day and today you can make moonshine with a licence under strict conditions, a bonded warehouse and a legal still. Moonshine making has been in Jeremy Norris's family for five generations and is alive and distilling in Benson, North Carolina.
Broadslab Distillery doesn't purchase commercially available grain alcohol, they take pride in growing and Harvesting their own food grade white corn.  Their special malting process produces a smooth mash when blended with pure cane sugar and left to ferment in oak barrels.  Broadslab Legacy Shine is distilled in small batches in a large copper still.

Take a tour of the still and hear Jeremy tell the tales of moonshine distilling form  his granddad's days
Broadslab produce five different spirits.  Broadslab Legacy Shine, Broadslab Legacy Reserve (limited edition product with a light amber glow from aging in traditional charred oak barrels, Broadslab Legacy Appleshine as well as Carolina Coast Spiced and Silver rums made with premium, table grade molasses and pure granulated cane sugar, crafted and distilled on the premises at the distillery in Johnson County, North Carolina.
You can make a purchase of Moonshine in the gift shop however due to a weird North Carolina law you can only purchase 1 ltr per person per year from the gift shop! Guess I will have to go back again to get another bottle!
Once the tour is finished you get a tasting session in the bar/gift shop where you can taste the nuances of the different blends (my favourite was the Spiced Apple - which I think would make a great liquid to soak sultanas for an apple and spice cake!).
I thought Moonshine would be rough and the first sip is kind of rough however from the second sip onwards it is smooth like the clouds rolling over the stills in the woods!
I thoroughly enjoyed my tour of Broadslab Distillery and look forward to getting another bottle of Moonshine this year! I was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions and photos are my own.  
No photos may be reproduced in any form without my written consent.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Valentine's Day -Who gets your heart?

Yes, I am a big softie when it comes to Valentine's Day - I like to make everything heart shaped and if possible red!

Mr R's sandwiches will be heart shaped along with the fillings where possible as well as having his dinner served in a shape as close to a heart as possible!

Mr  R and I will also have steak on Valentine's Day as is our tradition as well as a very nice bottle of red wine.  To accompany the steak will be a salad and heart shaped pasta with butter, Parmesan and parsley.
Don't tell Mr R but I have got him some Maille mustard to go with the steak as his Valentine's present.  We love the seasonal choice of mustard poured from a hand pump in the Piccadilly boutique. This season it is a black truffle and cep mushroom mustard. So delicate with an incredible flavour.
I used to make my children a large, pink heart shaped sponge cake to take to school on Valentine's Day each year however they are now grown up with children of their own.  This year my daughter and her boys will be at my house so I decided to make them their own little cakes as well as have a few other heart surprises for them.

Heck sausages have a special edition heart shaped sausage for the special day! It is their usual sausage but specially shaped for the occasion.  The sausages are made in small batches for better flavour and contain 97% pork which doesn't leave much room for other ingredients!
Mr R will enjoy his heart sausages along with heart toast.

Oh yes the sausages come with a Valentine's message inside too.
Rococo Chocolates have a beautiful range of special chocolates for the heart lovers out there.  Rococo's chocolates are outstanding and perfect for any occasion however the special occasions are really, really lovely.

Rococo have sent me two of their limited edition range this year. Their chocolate can be bought in their shops or on-line.
If you really want to treat your special one Nespresso have the cutest little coffee pod coffee maker - the Inissia which is totally portable.
The machine comes in a range of colours but the red is particularly appropriate for Valentine's Day!
I love taking ours with us when we go away for a weekend.  We are able to have a proper cup of coffee wherever we go!
These are just a couple of highlights in our house this Valentine's Day.  Did you get an extra special gift or did you surprise your Valentine?  Please leave a comment below.

I was sent some of the items mentioned above but not all of them.  As usual all opinions and photographs are my own.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Best Dressed Oysters in Town - Irish Atlantic Oysters

I first fell in love with oysters on a beach in Cancale in France where the oysters were brought in from their beds only a few yards from the shore to the shacks selling them by the coast.  They were so fresh filling your mouth with sensations of sea, sun and saltwater.

Fast forward to now and I will order oysters whenever I get a chance.  I was therefore no hardship for me to attend The Best Dressed Oyster event at Hix Oyster and Chop House in London at an event put on by Bord Bia the Irish Food Board.
Champagne was flowing,
and oysters by the dozens,
kept us busy whilst 10 chefs competed across two heats and in two categories - hot and cold oysters basing their recipes on creativity, working methods, hygiene, presentation, taste and flavours.

The guests had the pleasure of sampling all of the entries which was no hardship whatsoever!  The overall winner in both categories (hot and cold oysters) was Simon Lamont from Shuck
who blew the judges away
with his Blown Seaweed, an oyster grilled with a blowtorch gently sweetened with mustard and miso and balanced by clean, tart ginger.

Here are a few photos of the amazing variety of oyster dishes created by the contestants:-
And my favourite - a deep fried oyster in tempura batter
Now for some oyster facts:-
* Irish oyster cultivation dates back to the 13th century but Irish people have been eating oysters for over 4,000 years - discarded oyster shell fossils have been found on Irish beaches dating back 5000 !

* Irish oysters can be found in the finest restaurants and fish wholesales throughout Ireland, Europe and around the world.

* Casanove, the great 18th century Italian lover believed in starting the day by eating 50 oysters.

* Only about 1 in 10,000 oysters contains a pearl! That's a lot of oysters to eat!!

My favourite way to eat oysters is simply as they come with a good squeeze of lemon juice and of course a glass of champagne in the other hand!

I was a guest of Hix Oyster and Chop House and Bord Bia. I was not required to write a positive review of the event.  All opinions and photos are my own.  No photographs may be reproduced without my written permission.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Guest Post - Tales of a Festival Virgin (part 1 of 3 - Kindred Spirits Festival)

When I was talking to Neil, my brother-in-law last year he was telling me about a couple of music festivals he had been to recently.  He was so excited and passionate that I asked him to write them down and share his experiences here.  So whether you are a festival virgin or experienced festival attender you will love his accounts.

Neil writes ...................................
As Big Ben’s “bongs” rang out at midnight on January 1st 2016 I raised a glass of scotch and toasted in the New Year with a pledge to make it the year I pursued my love of live music and entertainment and dip my toe into the water of the Summer Festival.
Despite being born and raised on the doorstep of Glastonbury – I had found myself a 43 year old Festival virgin. I didn’t want to dive into one of the big events like Reading & Leeds or V-Festival. I wanted to break myself in gently and experience some of the smaller, more intimate festivals that have emerged in their shadow. But where should I start? Which ones should I go to? I needed a guide. Luckily my good friend Frankie is a local festival regular and so was glad to help me on my odyssey – plus he has camper van with room for a guest! Result!
So, over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend I found myself at the inaugural Kindred Spirits Festival
Being my first taste of a festival I wasn’t sure what to expect but it was their first time too so we were both in uncharted waters.
Unusually for a Bank Holiday weekend, the weather was fantastic. With the exception of a freak, brief thunderstorm on the Saturday afternoon it was wall-to-wall sunshine and I managed to spend most of my time perched on a large log (one of several conveniently dotted around the site) just outside the main stage tent where I could sup a few pints of cider from Fanny Squelches well stocked and run bar and soak up the atmosphere, the music and some rays!
You got a lot of music for your money. However the scheduling of some of the bands meant that at times unfortunately some hard choices needed to be made between the different tents (The Main Stage, The Second Stage / Bar and the Dance Tent). All through the weekend there was a steady stream of great acts including the brilliant Dusk at Dawns, 
Ten Bob Notes and Antimatador on the Saturday and Kernow Vibrations 
and Duncan Disorderly & the Scallywags on the Sunday. However, the highlight from the Main Stage for me was Echo Town who put on a fantastic set on the Saturday afternoon. 
The quality and volume of sound from the two local brothers was absolutely amazing!
But when the sun had gone down you couldn’t help be drawn by the pulsating lights, lasers and beats emanating from the Dance Tent. A roster of talented DJs had been playing all through the day as a counterpoint to the bands on the other two stages but as they were winding down for the night the Dance Tent really took on a life of its own. The Saturday the evening was rounded off in style with a storming set by DJs Kraken and Kortez who had followed a real crowd pleasing session by young DJ and Producer ‘DNMO’. 
This 15 year old is ridiculously talented and is quite rightly already attracting attention of some big names in the industry.
The number of people filing through the gate was quite slow to start on the Saturday morning but steadily increased as the day wore on – perhaps families had returned from days out and wanted to do something to make the most of the late afternoon sunshine, or news was slowly percolating through the area that the event was well worth a visit. Either way by early evening the tents were nicely filled and there was a real buzz about the place. From snippets of conversations I overheard as I wandered back and forth to the bar many people seemed to have bought day tickets – preferring to check out the first day and then come back on the second if they liked what they saw / heard (which they did, in good numbers), so the camping area was underutilised but I certainly expect that to change for 2017.
I have met up with the organiser, Andy Leeds, a couple times since and talked to him about his ambitions for the festival. He tells me that there are already a number of changes in mind for 2017 (early bird tickets are now on sale HERE); the timings of the bands will be tweaked so that there isn’t too much overlap at some points and too much dead time at others, the bar will move into / next to the main tent and the second stage will be separated out into its own larger marquee. Andy has a very clear vision of how he sees the festival developing to make it a must attend event on the summer calendar. However, amongst all those long term aims Andy is determined that the festival will not lose any of its soul and ethos. It will still be a festival created with love.
They say you always remember your ‘first time’ and I will look back on that early summer music experience with much fondness as I am sure Andy and his dedicated and hardworking crew will too. However, if a small start-up festival like Kindred Spirits could deliver such fun, enjoyment and great music experience in its first year – I couldn’t wait until my next festival, the well established Leopallooza!

Thanks Neil, look forward to the next installment!  
All photos published with permission of DaveBurnsPhotography.