Food: Bella Italia’s Bargain Secret Menu

An evening out involving delicious food and handsome date? Who was I to say no…? Bella Italia recently invited me and W to try out their new Student menu and we jumped at the chance.
Bella Italia is a family favourite as it has enough choice for everyone. Out of my parents and my sister, one is allergic to citrus, one to tomatoes (shifty eyes…), and one doesn’t eat cheese. It can cause problems when eating out! We all have a great choice at Bella Italia so it’s our go-to for a family meal, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s great value too. And with this menu it’s even better…

 photo c8eedda7-fb49-42b7-8939-fdd3806e549f_zpsxnymooya.jpgFor just £5 with a valid NUS card students have a pretty huge menu to choose from. It’s shorter and more basic that the regular menu, but FIVE pounds?! A KFC can cost more than that…
I was also pretty impressed that there was a good choice of non-tomato options. I was expecting to be lumped with carbonara (no complaints!) but even I had options. Including two pizzas. Most places can’t manage a tomato-free pizza when charging £10+ but here it is possible. Impressed to say the least!

 photo a185efe9-1d06-4a35-ba09-2e854a4f8470_zpsb6dxusdd.jpg photo c9093e59-feaa-4f4d-a344-5204ca29a2df_zpsmfoalyb8.jpgIn the end I did go with carbonara, and very nice it was too. Especially after my customary heaping of parmesan and black pepper. A massive plateful, creamy sauce, and beautifully cooked pasta.

 photo 30cb34fa-d3ca-4194-961f-6b46fb916e1c_zpspsf9jo8b.jpgW made his own pizza, adding ham and chicken. It was “mightily delicious” – he really enjoyed it. For £5 our mains were excellent value, cheaper than some ready meals and a darn sight nicer. They certainly didn’t skimp on the amount of meat on his pizza, or the portion size of my dish!

 photo 72145b0c-6fa0-49ae-b5dc-5d10b2ee1de0_zpsv0elu5xq.jpgI accompanied my meal with a Bella Fresca – a combination of peach puree, rum and some other alcohol. I found it sweet, fruit, refreshing and with a great kick. Whilst it was pricey at just short of £6, most cocktails at Bella Italia are 2-for1 with the student menu which makes them slightly more affordable.

 photo 477cc375-f2cc-4793-b3ba-8431c920dc0b_zpsveqqh94e.jpg photo c6293a79-3e9e-4302-abc6-582172ac7451_zpshfrbn0tw.jpg photo d91213cf-09cf-4e4e-ac0b-366e50113bef_zps7kx15zjp.jpgWe were pretty full after our mains (not bad for £5) but shared  three desert shots. Banoffee Pie wasn’t great, rather artificial tasting and a bit gloopy. Panna Cotta was the best, tart cherries, sweet syrup, creamy base. The Amaretto Chocolate was good, but scarily rich and a little too cold.

 photo c1ddfd40-b47a-4609-9420-99430d20aebb_zps08o8ybn6.jpgService was excellent, friendly, smiley, without being awkward or over-the-top. I’d perhaps suggest they don’t flash the lights on and off with a Happy Birthday (I’m badly affected with dizziness when there are flashing lights), but other than that I thoroughly enjoyed my evening. After this carb-fest then a weekend away I definitely need to get back to my healthy-eating!

Have you ever been to Bella Italia? What did you think? What’s your favourite Italian restaurant?

What’s Cooking Wednesday (#11)

Last week I completely forgot to write this post…oops! Instead I will start this week’s installment with a few pictures of my meals over the past seven days;

 

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Some amazing food here – including chocolate sausages, and a red wine gravy – details to come soon! Now onto this week’s menu:

Wednesday – Lentil Korma

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Thursday – Something with Leftover Rice

Any ideas? I don’t really fancy fried rice, which is a bit annoying as that’s what I’d usually go for!

Friday – Cottage Pie

My freeze is full of these, so I will take advantage as I’ve had a bit of a poor week in the vegetable eating.

Saturday – Three Bean Chilli

I think I’ll let Friday & Saturday’s meals be interchangeable so I can adjust based on the quality of my veg!

Sunday – House Dinner

We have a guest cook of a housemate’s boyfriend treating us to a meal this week, and I have no idea what is planned. I took an extra turn last week and made Cottage Pie for 6, which ended up being a mammoth but very delicious task!

Monday – Vegetable Noodle Stir Fry

I’ve been craving one of these for quite a while, so fingers crossed I’ll have enough veg leftover – I’ve not been to do a proper food shop in two weeks already, so am running a bit low!

Tuesday – Carbonara

Something quick and easy for shopping night, and carbonara is probably my favourite pasta dish anyway!

Have you eaten something extra-yummy lately?

Recipe: Fried Pea Sandwich (a.k.a. A Cheat’s Samosa)

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My boyfriend’s dad is currently taking part in an Indian cookery class, and luckily for me I was able to sample some of the things he made before I left for university. One of last week’s goodies was what I can only describe as a fried sandwich with a filling of spicy peas. I loved it – it was spicy, fresh, crunchy and warming with an almost summery hint coming from the peas. And of course I asked for the recipe.

Reading the recipe I came across a big problem. I’d never even heard of some of the spices (hing anyone?!) and I definitely knew that most students’ budget wouldn’t cover them. Mine definitely didn’t! So I decided to improvise. This recipe is what I came up with, and for about 10 minutes of work and some very cheap ingredients it was damn tasty! It makes a perfect snack or light lunch, so give it a go as something different!

I’m just going to go straight into it and give you the recipe, its so simple you don’t even need an ingredients list…

In the morning, get a handful of peas out to defrost. Get your bread out too – you want it slightly stale for this as it will go crispier.

2014-01-19 13.28.15Get some spicy out on a small plate. I used curry powder, cumin, tumeric and crushed chillies, but even just curry powder would do!

2014-01-19 13.32.44Tip your peas onto the spices, and crush with a fork. The original recipe said they should go like breadcrumbs, mine didn’t look that way! As long as they aren’t whole and they aren’t mush they should be fine…

2014-01-19 13.35.57Press the pea mixture into a slice of bread. Try and press it down as much as possible as this will prevent the sandwich from falling apart.

2014-01-19 13.39.23Top with the second slice of bread (pressing down well!) and then fry in a preheated oiled pan for about 3-4 minutes on each side, or until golden and crispy.

2014-01-19 13.48.37This is delicious served on its own, but I’m thinking it will be even better with a cucumber-yoghurt dip. Watch this space!

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I never would have thought to try making a ‘samosa’ from a fried sandwich, but this really works. Let me know if you give it a go!

EDIT: by request, I’m adding this to Deena Kakaya’s Fabulous Fushion Food Challenge – a challenge which to be honest is right up my street! There’s already some great entries for this month, so please do have a look at them!

What’s Cooking Wednesday (#8)

Welcome to the first What’s Cooking Wednesday of 2014. It feels like ages since I posted one of these!

My aim this term is to eat more vegetable-based dishes, and try and cut down on my food bill as much as possible. I was lucky enough to be able to stock up on loads of dry foodie items at the start of term, so fingers crossed it’ll be just fresh things I need to buy.

Wednesday – Tomato Free Lasagne

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I did a little bit of batch cooking at the weekend, and one of the things I made was some Tomato-Free Bolognese. Tonight I made it into a lasagne, which I had with a spinach salad – it made a nice change, although I can’t say I was too impressed with the quality of my ASDA cheese!

Thursday – Potato Bake with Bacon Spinach

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I’ve put this into my meal plan to use up the leftover white sauce.

Friday – Mushroom & Sausage Pasta

This has a potential to change – any remaining white sauce will be used here, but if there’s none left I’ll be coming up with an alternative dinner!

Saturday – Mushroom Pasta Bake

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I ended up making loads of sauce on Friday, so incorporated it into a pasta bake the next night. Four meals out of one batch of white sauce – bargain!

Sunday – Chicken & Ham Pie

It’s my turn to cook this coming weekend, so I thought I’d attempt to recreate a favourite. Wish me luck – I’ll be posting the recipe on here soon if it’s successful!

Monday – Chicken & Ham Savoury Crumble

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An experiment which really, really worked well! I served this with bubble’n’squeak leftover from Sunday and it was a delicious and interesting dinner.

Tuesday – Toad in the Hole

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Another of my favourite recipes – this time I adapted it to be milk-free and it was delicious. I always serve this with plenty of veg, and it definitely cheers up a wet and miserable evening.

How do you get more vegetables into your meals?

Recipe: Simple Beef & Carrot Stew (Black Pudding Optional!)

Okay, maybe this is turning into a bit of a foodie blog. Not that that is a bad thing – I love foodie blogs! But (I say defensively) I know so many people at university who simply cannot cook, who rely on oven meals like chicken nuggets, and their only “proper” meals are ready meals. Though to be honest even knowing how to cook isn’t the whole story – my boyfriend is a fabulous cook (he even makes chocolate fondant puddings and souffles!) but even he survived off ready meals for a while at university. It is unfortunately a huge opinion that cooking from scratch takes too much time, too much effort, and too much money. So I’m hoping that my recipes will change a few peoples minds, and get a few students cooking! And of course my recipes aren’t just for students – I like to think they are suitable for everyone, albeit with potentially scaling up as a lot of what I cook makes just one or two portions. What are you waiting for – get in the kitchen and learn to cook!

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This is another traditional-type recipe (a little more traditional and British that this casserole), very, very filling, very hearty, but slightly more expensive that what I would usually make. It’s not hugely expensive, probably around £2 per portion, and such comforting treat that occasionally it does no harm. Like with all my recent recipes I’ll try and do the costing, but bear in mind that I’m not particularly accurate!

The amounts I’m giving here made a HUGE meal for me and my boyfriend. If I was making it just for me, I’d probably stretch it to three meals, but my costings below assume it’s just being split into two.

Also, apologies for the pretty horrendous photos in this post – my kitchen was very crowded as at the time of preparation my boyfriend was also cooking this amazing breakfast – I am a lucky girl!

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Ingredients

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  • 300g approx of stewing/braising steak. I got mine from a local butchers, and they got me a cut out of the back that is perfect for a slow cooker. No idea what it was, but it cost £2.42 and was absolutely amazing! Probably some of the best I’ve eaten in a stew… You generally pay around £5 for 500g, so I’m going to estimate at £3 for the steak.
  • OPTIONAL – two slices of black pudding. I wouldn’t make a special trip just to buy black pudding for this, but I had some, and found it gave an extra meaty depth to the stew, as well as a warmth and spiciness. It melts down into the gravy, so suitable for even the most adamant “I don’t like black pudding” people. The sausage pictured cost me around 60p, it gave 10 slices, so 12p for this.
  • A couple of carrots. Probably costs around 10p.
  • Around a quarter of an onion. Probably around 5p, if that.
  • Some lard for frying. I’m not including this in the costing as the price in the amount used is tiny, and you could just as easily use whatever oil you have around.
  • Seasoned flour – 1 tablespoon of flour, mixed with finely ground black pepper, and a little paprika. 5p, if that.
  • Onion gravy – 10p for the amount used
  • Beef stock cube – around 10p per cube
  • To serve: three large potatoes (mashed with a little milk and butter), some cabbage, some broccoli – 50p maximum

All in all, around £4 (generously) for 2-3 portions of a good beef stew. Obviously as always it pays to shop around for your meat (do try and go to a local butcher), and bulk buy things like spices and stock cubes. But again this recipe shows that proper cooking doesn’t always have to be expensive.

Method

  • Heat some lard/oil in a wide pan. This is one recipe where I strongly advise searing and browning the meat before slow cooking, as it helps kickstart a meaty flavour and dark colour.
  • Whilst the fat is heating, slice your onion, and peel and slice your carrots.

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  • Toss your stewing steak in the seasoned flour until reasonably well coated. Doesn’t have to be perfect as you can see!

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  • Brown the meat in the pan, turning when seared on each side. You may need to do this in batches – transfer to your slow cooker pot when done.

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  • Add your onion slices to the pan, and quickly fry (stir often as they will catch easily on a high heat!) until turning golden. Throw these in your slow cooker too.

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  • Dice up your slices of black pudding, and try briefly until just beginning to crisp. Into the slow cooker these go…

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  • Finally toss the sliced carrots around the pan just to soak up any flavours.

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  • Once everything is in the slow cooker, make your sauce. Dissolve the stock cube and around 3-4 teaspoons of gravy in some boiling water. The mix should be quite thick.
  • Season it well with lots of black pepper. If you add too much black pepper, some lemon juice stirred through should counteract this – but be careful not to add too much as you don’t want a lemon taste.
  • Feel free to add any herbs you like to this recipe – I prefer my beef stew to be less messed about this, so I just stick to basic ingredients, but things like thyme work well.

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  • Add this to your slow cooker, cover, and turn to low. Leave it for at least six hours.

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  • After about eight hours (with the last hour turned to high, and lid off – to thicken the gravy) mine looked like this.

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  • Serve with mash and veg (and maybe a cheeky slice of bread for mopping up!) in a big bowl.

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  • If you don’t have a slow cooker, but in an ovenproof pot with a lid, and cook on 100-120 degrees for 4+ hours, although you may want to check that it doesn’t dry out.
  • Tip: I had some gravy leftover, so have frozen it in a bag ready to kickstart the flavour of another stew this winter. A bit like keeping a sourdough bread starter if you like!

So that’s that – a very simple beef stew, with optional black pudding. Let me know if you make this recipe! I know from last year that portions free really well (reheat in the oven on a low heat for a while though, it didn’t seem to taste as great microwaved/boiled!) so feel free to scale up and batch cook as it does take a while for the meat to render down to become tender. Does anyone have any tips for a really flavoursome beef stew/casserole?