Pancake Day (as its commonly referred to) was never really a big thing in my family. We actually had them at least once a month growing up so they weren’t really a treat, though it was pretty much the only day of the year I was allowed to put ice cream, nutella AND sprinkles on the same plate! Now I’m at university Pancake Day is a much bigger occasion; last year the campus stores were completely out of flour and eggs by lunchtime. Though I must confess, me and my housemates still eat pancakes at least once a month…
Now because I can’t ignore that fact that it isn’t just Pancake Day…Pancake Day gets its name after the fried batter recipe traditionally eaten on Shrove Tuesday; they were designed to use up the ‘rich food’ of eggs and flour before the 40 days Lent. This BBC article actually explains the significance of pancakes to tradition in a way I could never do, so have a read if you are interested!
Now onto the yummy stuff…
This year me and the girls are combining Pancake Day with a girly night in. After a long day of lectures we’re cooking up Toad in the Hole, and then gorging on pancakes. And maybe doing each others nails too! Because I knew (1) I’d never remember to take pictures, and (2) it would be too late to post the recipe, I had an excuse to make pancakes with my boyfriend for a chilled Saturday breakfast this weekend. The sacrifices I make for you guys!
Normally I’d use a simple batter recipe, but my boyfriend favours a crepe style pancake, so when eating with him we stick to Deila’s recipe from her Crepe Suzette dish. I’m not going to reproduce it here due to copyright, so have a look at the link.
My top tips for pancakes are:
Fry in butter. It might be unhealthy, but it just takes better. However I do like the next few alternative is a low-calories oil spray – normal oil always makes them heavy.
Get the pan and fat really hot before adding the batter.
Swirl the batter round the hot pan quickly to get a thin and even pancake.
Leave the pancake alone until it moves when you shake the pan – otherwise it will stick.
I like to sprinkle my sugar as soon as my pancake is out of the pan – whilst it is still very hot. It then goes a bit syrupy. Yum yum!
My favourite pancake topping is the simple lemon and sugar (my tastes have become somewhat more sophisticated since my days of preferring ice cream and sprinkles!), but I am also partial to a mix of nutella with chopped nuts.
A bit of a romantic themed bake for you today. If you remember last weekend I posted about making Cake Pops, and promised you my favourite chocolate cake recipe? Well here it is! I originally found it here, but have altered it ever so slightly to be more to my taste. Really all I have done is increased the cocoa:flour ratio and decreased the sugar slightly. The cake is rich and moist, but to make it even more of a treat (looking at the weather forecast, I’m getting more and more worried that I’ll be spending V-day crying into a plate of cake…so if the weather/train gods are reading this, I’d like the lines to be clear from Northampton to Canterbury please!) I added a very rich frosting. I haven’t eaten it yet, but I have a feeling it will be chocolatey heaven!
If you aren’t in the romantic mood, this cake fits perfectly into two 20-inch sandwich tins. To be honest I reckon heart-shape tins bake unevenly, so I’d recommend you use a normal tin really!
So to the really easy recipe!
Grab three eggs, and weigh them in their shells. Weigh out the same amount of butter, and make sure it is really, really soft. Weigh out the same amount of sugar, then put around 25g back. Weight out the same amount (again!) of flour, but 70g of it back and replace with 70g of cocoa powder. That’s your weighing done!
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy…this is a great way to burn the calories in the cake before you’ve eaten them! I always find beating the butter before adding the sugar helps this step a little.
Now beat in the eggs one by one. If you add them all at once (like I did in this recipe) it will go wrong and curdle. Curdled mixture is fine in the long run, but it doesn’t look pretty, and often the cake is a little greasier than it should be!
Gradually sift in the cocoa and flour mixture, incorporating the mixture fully. It should be thick and fudgy looking (a little like brownie mixture!) but if it looks too thick add a splash of milk.
Spoon into a tin (which you have greased well, obviously…don’t be silly like me and forget!) and bake for 20-25 minutes at 170C, until firm to the touch, but with a slight give. Let it cool completely before removing from the tin.
Now to make the frosting! I used this recipe, but found it to produce ridiculously thick icing which I had to thin with a lot of water. It wasn’t exactly ideal, but it sure tastes good! I’d like to try this frosting again but on a slightly plainer cake.
You want to melt 100g of chocolate, beat into 100g of soft butter, and then beat in 400g of icing sugar and 50g of cocoa powder before thinning down with two tablespoons of strong coffee. I used 300g of icing sugar and it was still very thick!
I sandwiched the two cakes together with some of the icing, then attempted to smooth (not so neatly!) the rest over the top and sides. I was slightly constricted with the size of my tin (I AM buying a domed cake stand with my leftover Amazon vouchers!) so it wasn’t the neatest work I’ve ever done. To try and disguise the damage I added a final flourish of grated white chocolate (grated a piece of my nail off in the process…) which I think works well!
So that’s my little Valentine’s themed post – together with my favourite and easiest chocolate cake recipe. Its the type of sponge that’s easily adapted to anything – I’m thinking of introducing orange and/or chilli to a version soon!
After a week of deadlines, the start of some rather scary modules, and horribly wet and windy weather, a night out was less than appealing. This led to me and a housemate (she blogs over at Life of Libby and took the fabulous pictures on this post, if you’re interested!) spending a Friday night in making cake pops. Actually we didn’t make the cake pops that night. We kinda underestimated the time and sheer effort they take, although the cake element did get made! The cake part is a recipe I’m working on that you should be able to read in less than a fortnight once it gets a Valentine’s makeover, so today I’m just going to talk about Cake Pops.
Cake Pops are an American thing, and haven’t been overly popular here in the UK. I reckon that’s because they’re not really a commercially baked good, they really wouldn’t be great at anything but their freshest. They are baked a good cake, crushed into crumbs (gotta admit doing that hurt a little, especially as the cakes looked pretty much perfect!), mixed with cream cheese, left to harden, and then dipped in melted chocolate and decorated. To be honest if I was ready this I’d have stopped by now. My reaction is pretty much “why on earth would you take good cake, break it up, and mix it with cheese?!” But I have to admit these do make a good and calorific change to plain old cake, they’d be fantastic to make with kids and, if you are better at decorating than us, they’d be a pretty impressive bake.
So, to make cake pops;
Make a cake. We went for a rich chocolate sponge (recipe coming soon).
Blitz the cake in a food processor until it’s all crumbs.
Beat some cream cheese until a little lighter than it normally is.
Add the crumbs to the cream cheese, We used 1 sandwich tin worth of cake (freezing the crumbs of the other) to one tub.
Mix really, really well. You don’t want any cheesy lumps!
Shape into balls and push a stick halfway through.
Refrigerate for a few hours. We didn’t do this, and found it was a really important step. If you don’t, you will make a mess and lose many cake pops as they turn into mush.
Melt some chocolate. We went for a mixture of white, milk and orange chocolates.
Dip the cake pops into the chocolate. There’s an art to this, and unfortunately its not one we possess.
Decorate as you see fit, we took the easy options of chocolate shavings to hide our dreadful dipping!
And that’s it, a quick guide on how to make cake pops! They do taste nice, I did enjoy them, but they were a lot of effort and at the end of the day I’d rather have a slice of cake. And save a couple of hours, and plenty of washing up…
Its the time of the year when glittery nails come out (see this post by my lovely friend), daring dresses don’t seem quite so daring (I’m in love with this one), and even the parents don’t frown on staying up/out til the early hours of the morning. This year my New Year’s is turning out very tame – I’m helping my boyfriend’s parents to host a dinner party. In that last few days we have baked bread, made pate, and we’re currently in the process of creating a Chocolate & Whisky Torte with the Venison Casserole in the oven. But that doesn’t mean I’m making an excuse not to get dressed-up and go a little OTT with the make-up routine! So, here’s what this evening will involve for me…
This is my New Year’s dress. Not expensive, just £13 from Primark a few weeks ago, but it fits me perfectly, is an on-trend colour (which just happens to be one of my favourites, as I’m sure regular readers will know!) and its a classy shape – so no embarrassing moments at dinner!
I’m really into wearing a bold lip this winter and one of my New Year’s Resolutions (check back tomorrow for a full post) is to make sure my nails are painted and in good condition most of the time, so I was delighted to receive this Ted Baker Duo for Christmas. I’ll be trialling it tonight, and I’m really looking forward to it!
As I’ll be painting my nails, I’ve decided to lay out my make-up all ready – there’ll be no chipping due to rummaging in a bag tonight!
I’m going with a tried and tested base look. Throughout the day I’ll be moisturising my lips with Burt’s Bee’s Pomegranate formula and my face with Garnier Moisture Match Illuminating Lotion. I introduced a weekly face mask to my routine last week, which I’ll be blogging about soon, so my skin is already rather soothed and exfoliated.
I’ll apply Maybelline’s Better Skin foundation (I’m currently trialling, it’s due on sale next month, and there’s a full review coming soon!) with Bodyshop’s foundation brush, then contour with my beloved MAC Love Joy blush. This is probably the most extravagant single product I have, but I don’t regret it one bit!
For my eyes, I’ll be relying on mainly these products, but with a new and very much loved addition.
Yes it might not be budget friendly, but this is my pride and joy at the moment. It came to me at Christmas from my lovely boyfriend, and despite me not getting a chance to use it much, I already love it. The colours are perfect for my skin tone and eyes, they blend beautifully, and I honestly think it’s the perfect palette for any occasion. The downside? I want to buy the others, and I’m not sure I could ever be fully happy with ‘drugstore’ eyeshadow again.
A final spritz of Oscar De La Renta ‘Live in Love’ and I’m ready to go!
This isn’t strictly a Christmas post, but I felt like it was getting forgotten, and one of the items of clothing included is rather Christmassy (and rather vintage…)!
I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite things to wear/do over the winter and Christmas season, so here goes:
I absolutely adore my tartan scarf this season – I actually bought it in August, not to be stylish or fashionable, but because I was at the Edinburgh Fringe and it was cold and windy. The scarf was needed so I bought it, and I’m so glad you did. Mine is 100% lambswool, and is a little itchy, but I couldn’t quite stretch the budget to a cashmere one!
I’m also loving all of the lovely berry-coloured hats this year – I bought a beret from Primark a few weeks ago and I really like wearing it. I’ve also asked for a bobble hat in the same colour for Christmas!
Then there’s my beloved Kindle – there’s nothing better than curling up in front of the fire with a good book.
Finally, there’s this chunky cardigan, which has become my favourite thing. Its baggy and cosy, looks great with skinny jeans or leggings, and is perfect for lounging around, layering under coats for a cold walk, or indeed lectures. Best of all – its older than me! It was actually one of my mum’s 18th birthday presents, it features in many family photos (including her getting ready for her 21st and her hen night, and loads of my baby photos) and its such a constant thing in my life that I love getting it out each winter. Check out the pattern on the back too;
So cute, I will definitely be wearing this at some point on Christmas day!
Here’s a couple of other things I’m loving this winter/Christmas!
First of all, you can virtually always find me in thick fluffy socks, even in summer. I’m liking these Cath Kidston bed socks as they are non-slip, not too thick (so can actually wear in bed) and they have a cute penguin pattern. I’m lucky enough to have the matching pyjamas too!
Then there’s the hot chocolate and chocolate combo – I’m a huge fan of Cadbury’s, so that’s my go-to brand.
Toastie’s. I love a good toastie in the winter, and this book has been great for making up new ideas and combinations. I don’t actually own a sandwich toasted, and currently fry mine in a pan, but I’m looking to invest in a cheap one in the new year.
Now the last things is a little strange, but I’ve become addicted to room and linen sprays lately. I find that having the central heating on and drying clothes inside can lead to a musty smell, and this covers it perfectly. Not the cheapest, but wonderful when it’s half price!
What are you loving this Christmas? Do you have any much-loved handed down clothing items?
Remember this brownie post, where I compared some of the brownie recipes I’ve tried? And this one, where I made amazingly good peanut butter brownies? Well tonight I whipped up some healthy-ish brownies for a friends birthday treat, using her favourite food – mayonnaise. I’ve made these multiple times before, and they are a pretty fail-safe recipe. As long as you don’t overcook them (a hideous crime to brownies!), they always seem to work well.
I’ve based mine on this recipe, but made it a little more budget friendly – what student really has several types of sugar (even though I do quite a bit of baking, I only ever buy cheapy cheap granulated and soft dark brown types) and buttermilk. You can make your own buttermilk by ‘curdling’ normal milk using lemon juice but (1) I’ve never tried it, (2) it doesn’t really appeal to me, and (3) I’m trying to avoid *too much* dairy at the moment.
If you are a brownie addict and looking for a less-sinful version to snack on, look no further. If you have mayonnaise to use up, try this. If you just want an easy no fuss, no beating with electric whisks (as in my all time favourites) brownie recipe, then this is definitely one for you. Let me know if you try it!
100g of (preferably dark) chocolate
80g plain flour
25g cocoa powder
80g granulated sugar
60g soft brown sugar
1/3 of a mug of coffee – made black, and very strong (I used two teaspoons)
100g of mayonnaise (I bought big jar of Aldi’s own brand for 40p)
Extras – chopped nuts, or chopped chocolate (or anything else you fancy) – I went for chopped milk chocolate as that’s all I had, but white chocolate works very well
Turning these rather odd ingredients into yummy brownies…
Preheat the oven to 180C. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, then leave to cool slightly. Weigh out the other ingredients whilst it cools, or do some of the reading you’re meant to be doing.
In another bowl, mix together the flour and cocoa powder.
By now your chocolate should have cooled! Add the sugars to the chocolate, mixing well. It will look gritty and not particularly pleasant.
Gradually add the coffee and it should look something like this:
Then add your beaten egg and mayonnaise. Mix in your extras at this point too. Mmm chocolate…
Gradually sift in the flour/cocoa mix. In between siftings, fold the mix together gently. Eventually it will look all fudgy and yummy;
Put the mix into a baking tin I should have told you to prepare earlier (it needs to be greased/lined). Ease into the corners and smooth down the top. I recommend NOT licking out the bowl in this recipe – you will taste the mayonnaise in the raw mix.
Bake for 20-25 minutes (there should be a slight wobble in the middle). Then turn the oven off, and leave to cool in there. This works perfectly for me everytime when making brownies, especially with a temperamental oven.
Once completely and utterly cool, remove from the tin and cut into pieces – I got 12 good size pieces out of this amount of ingredients, but this recipe is excellent for scaling up. I’ve made it for parties before and it’s gone down very well!
Now all that’s left is to enjoy, and feel slightly smug that you’ve made a healthier version of something totally yummy.
Do you have any tips for making ‘naughty’ recipes healthier?
Here is a guest post written by my lovely boyfriend – as he did the cooking for this recipe, I decided it was only fair he did all the hard work of writing too! Any of my annotations are written in italics, so you can easily differentiate between both of our witty comments. He found the original recipe here.
Upon trying to think of a pudding to make for a house of 4 girls plus yourself, the best option by a long mile is chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate. Cue lots of googling around for a sensible recipe that won’t break the small student bank balance or ask for all kinds of fancy kitchen gadgets.
In the end I settled on a delicious chocolate torte (plus a raspberry coulis – how fancy, right?). It went down extremely well with the 4 girls plus myself and another boyfriend; even if I do say so myself! Perhaps, dare I say, slightly too rich? Hmm… No. I wouldn’t actually. It was lovely! Onwards with the recipe for the torte…
75g of Unsalted Butter (split into 50g and 25g)
200g of Dark Chocolate – at least 70% cocoa – and please please please don’t skimp on the quality. As cheap as supermarket ‘Value’ chocolate is it simply won’t taste anywhere near as good! Split the 200g into 50g and 150g.
100g Digestive Biscuits – about 7 biscuits
1tbsp Cocoa Powder
250g Mascarpone Cheese – this tends to be available in tubs of 250g which is great because trying to weigh out mascarpone out isn’t fun
50g Dark Muscovado Sugar or Dark Brown Soft Sugar
Now, you’ll also need a heatproof bowl (Pyrex or metal – just not plastic) and a 20cm/8inch loose-bottomed cake tin. Sadly, we didn’t have the latter in the house, so I had to make one out of a cereal packet and tin foil – if that’s not budget lifestyle then I don’t know what is! You could of course buy a tin, but where’s the fun or cheapness in that?!
And how do you turn these ingredients into something amazingly yummy? Keep on reading!
First of all, melt the 50g of butter with 50g of the chocolate in a saucepan over a LOW heat and stir to combine. Definitely a low heat though – otherwise bad things will happen to your chocolate. Horrible bad things…
Meanwhile, crush up your digestive biscuits. I like to do this in a sealed sandwich bag using a bashing-type tool. Usually a rolling pin; in this case a potato masher.
When the chocolate and butter have fully melted and combined add your crushed biscuit and stir well until fully combined before pouring into the base of the tin, levelling out, patting down, and shoving in the fridge to cool for a bit until firm.
Then, put the remaining 25g of butter, 150g of chocolate and cocoa powder into a large heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water (or you could use a bain-marie on the off-chance you own one). Stir occasionally and allow to melt together. Once it has melted, set it aside and allow to cool slightly.
Beat the mascarpone in order to soften it before beating into the chocolate mixture until it is thoroughly combined.
In another heatproof bowl (or the same one with the previous contents moved into a different bowl of any kind) put the eggs and the sugar together and, again, place it over a saucepan of simmering water. Now, if you have an electric whisk, definitely use it! You need to use a whisk to beat the egg and sugar mixture until it is much lighter, paler and thicker than when you started. Much, much thicker. It will also increase in volume!
This egg and sugar mixture should then be folded into the chocolate mixture. Be patient with it (unlike myself who usually gets far t0o bored by the slow folding process – I will add here that I did this part!) to make sure you keep as many air pockets in the mix as possible – making for a nice light chocolate torte.
Then pour this combined mixture on top of the chilled base in the tin, smooth out the top and fill all the gaps, then place in the fridge until it has firmed up and you are ready to serve.
Now time to lick the bowl!
When it comes to serving it, remove the side of the tin and leave the torte on the base. Cut into the desired wedges, place on a plate and add the optional coulis.
Eat, enjoy and be very, very happy in chocolate heaven!
For those interested, for the coulis, blend about 50g of raspberries per person with icing/caster sugar and a splash of lemon juice in a blender or food processor. Then force the blended mush through a sieve into a jug. The seeds won’t pass through the sieve and the coulis will be nice and smooth! I used frozen raspberries as they are much cheaper than fresh at this time of year – simply heat slightly in the microwave to defrost them before attempting to blend them.
This chocolate torte really was amazing, especially paired with the coulis.
Does anyone have any favourite easy-to-make dessert recipes for entertaining? That question was a huge mouthful!
Another baking post for you! Anyone would think this is turning into a food blog, but that isn’t really the case…much as I love food I still want to keep this as much of a lifestyle blog as I can manage. Food is just a big part of my lifestyle…
Anyway, this recipe has quickly proved to make a favourite baked good of mine. These brownies are rich, gooey, crunchy from the snickers, with a savoury hint coming from the peanut butter. Wonderful on their own, but spectacular warned with Ben & Jerry’s Peanut Butter Cup ice cream. Diet = ruined.
I will say is that the snickers did make this very unstable and virtually impossible to cut. The crunchiness of the nuts is a pretty key part of the finished bake, but I’m not sure whether Snickers bars is the best way to achieve this. I plan to make another batch trialling a slightly different method, which I will blog about in due course. I will also add my method of using tins is slightly odd – I always line with tinfoil and grease this, then add greaseproof paper. Mainly as it eases the washing up…
So, here is the recipe for some of the best brownies I have ever eaten. Gooey, crunchy, chocolatey and salty. If you ever bake one thing from this site, make it these!
I made these as part of a bunch of presents for my lovely old boyfriend, for our third (yep, third – sickenly loved-up couple alert – but happy anniversary again my lovely!) anniversary of being together. His reaction was pretty impressive, so I think he liked them. They have been greatly appreciated by parents and housemates alike (and also travelled the five, yes five, thanks Southeastern Trains, hour journey to said boyfriend in a suitcase relatively unscathed) so would be great to make when meeting new people, having family visit, or for sending home in the hope of a fund relieving cheque in return…
Brownie mix (I used this recipe, as it is my go to for brownies. I also like this slightly healthier one, but I admit to using Tesco’s “just add water” mix on occasion, as baking ingredients can be expensive!)
Peanut Butter (around two tablespoons, smooth seems to work better in baking)
Snickers bars (I used three snack sized bars)
Preheat your oven to around 180C.
Chop your snickers into rough chunks.
Once your brownie mix is made up, stir through your chopped up Snickers, and add roughly half the mix to your prepared tin.
Warm your peanut butter slightly in the microwave to make it a little runny (photo is before microwaving!).
Add around half of your peanut butter over your brownies, trying to drizzle it evenly over the mix.
Add the rest of the brownie mix, and drizzle over the rest of the peanut butter. Smooth the top down.
Bake for 20-25 mins, turning if your oven cooks unevenly. If it is slightly underdone when you check it, my tip is to turn the oven off and leave to cool in the oven. It should finish it off nicely.
Leave to cool completely before removing from the tin and cutting. If you do this while they are still warm, so know from experience that you will just make a mess.
Now sit and eat, preferably with a class of milk or a cup of tea. Oh, and although the snickers might make the base sticky, it means great pickings for the baker…
Many, many months ago I had to deal with one of the worst aspects of being in a relationship; what to buy them for Christmas/Birthday. This is made all the worse by my other half very inconsiderately having his birthday at the beginning of January. So two presents in just a few short weeks. This stretches both my pocket and my brain, as I do generally want to treat him to something special. For the first year, I went generic male present with a watch and wallet. The year after was his eighteenth, so I found 18 little meaningful (I hope!) things. This year I cheated and moved away from the tangible goods (see, I did learn something in Economics lectures!) and went with an experience. I booked tickets to see the Charlie & The Chocolate Factory musical (which, by the way, is fabulous and if you get a chance you should definitely go!), and a hotel in Covent Garden. I say hotel, I mean a travellodge. Well, student budget and all… Anyway, this trip was taken over the last few days, so I thought I’d blog about the experience, blog about interesting things to do in London, and hopefully offer a few tips on how to survive a few days in London without spending too much money.
First of all, transport. We (or I) booked our train tickets from our home town wayyyy in advance. Well, about 8 or so weeks ago. Doing this meant we got a excellent deal, but it did mean we were limited to exactly timed trains. But it saved us a lot of money, and I think it worked out to be around £3.95 each way, per person. A generic one-month return is generally around £25, so we saved a considerable amount of money. I recommend any young person gets a 16-25 rail card. Mine has more than paid for itself (I only have to do two journeys to the boy’s university to make up what I my parents paid for it). Then look around for the cheapest deals, and try to book as far in advance as possible. A trip to the boy’s, with railcard, costs a scary £56+ booking the same week of travel. Booking in advance I have managed to reduce this to under £40. However, train prices for next year seem to have skyrocketed, and currently I am less than impressed at the prices, even for trips in September. I also recommend you follow 10 Ways to Have More Money As A Student Without Working, as they often have deals whereby you can gain vouchers to use on Red Spotted Hanky, a train-booking site. I prefer this site, as they don’t charge booking fees (ahem, trainline) and it is free to have tickets delivered to your address.
For the tube, it IS pricey. The standard travelcard for zones 1-2 (which is generally all you will need, unless you want to visit Stratford shopping centre) is £7-something, which is quite frankly ridiculous. But, if you first state that you have a railcard, you can then get a card covering all 6 zones, for £5-something. Definitely the cheapest and most flexible option, although the ticket machines don’t exactly make it easy for you to find it!
For where to stay, I’m not sure you could beat the Travellodge in London. The prices in the area are just extortionate, with the only other affordable options being hostels where we’d be sharing a room. Not exactly romantic if you know what I mean…
I booked the Covent Garden travellodge for around £47 for one night, with an additional £1.50 cancellation insurance. This turned out to be far better inside than out (the exterior of the place looks, to be honest, pretty horrible and grim!), which a very welcoming reception area (although the self check-in machines did annoy me slightly – I do like to talk to a real person occasionally!). The room itself was spotless, the bathroom not so. It was clean, apart from the bath which needed a good wash before I used it! The room was also lovely in its decoration, and smelt very fresh. And we got this view, what more could we want…?
It was a surprisingly quiet night for a stay in the middle of London, with an exceptionally comfortable bed. Even with my recent bout of insomnia, I managed a good bit of sleep. Recommended, particularly if you want somewhere close to Covent!
Now, for food; a romantic dinner for two. Please, please, please; whatever you do, don’t just turn up at a restaurant as you will pay a fortune. Look around, find deals, book in advance. I spent a long time looking for a nice pre-theatre menu. There are some lovely ones out there, but unfortunately with an allergy to tomatoes I was so limited in choice I decided against them. Instead I found an offer at Cafe des Amis, a lovely restaurant just off Covent Garden. I was first introduced to the place by my dad late last year, and really enjoyed the food. And this offer was far too good to pass up; two course, a glass of proseco, for two, for a grand total of £28. It had to be paid for in advance, via Paypal. And as I have £5 credit on my account (a joining incentive if I remember correctly) this made it even better value for money. I duly paid for and booked a table, and then slobbered over my laptop as I stared at the online menu. I’m notoriously known between friends and family for taking a long time to decide what to order, so I started in advance. It definitely made the decision easier on the night!
For my starter, I went for a crab risotto, topped with scallops, and served with a lemon-caper butter sauce.
This photo isn’t mine (for credits see the end of this post – I must say it is far better than any I could have taken!) but it definitely shows the delicacy of the dish. Mine was topped with rather less green stuff, although I still picked it off – I don’t like restaurants who insist on garnishing like this, as I find it rarely compliments the dish. The risotto was wonderful – rich, creamy, sweet and fishy, with a fabulous bite where the rice had been perfectly cooked. The sauce disappeared beneath the other aspects of the dish, but it wasn’t missed. The scallops, however, were definitely the star of the show. Cooked to absolute perfection, they melted in the mouth and were no-where near the chewiness that tends to put me off ordering them. A fabulous dish, one that I truly loved.
My boyfriend opted for a ravioli, of spinach and ricotta, with a sun-dried tomato dressing. The dressing was very sauce-like, but apparently it tasted great. For obvious reasons I didn’t try the dish, and nor have I managed to source a photo. I also failed at finding a photo of his main; roast rump of lamb, with buttered green beans, pomme mousseline, and lamb jus. I have eaten this dish in the past, and I can confirm is is utterly superb and well worth a try.
For my main, I went for the venison medallions on a grain mustard mash, with a shallot and port jus. The menu advertised buttered salsify; I’m not sure if I received carrots instead, but whatever the vegetables were, they weren’t cooked enough and were far too crunchy. Again, this photo is not mine, but its very accurate to what I received. The meat was perfectly cooked, I definitely prefer how French restaurants cook meat (never overdone, if anything under what you ordered – so if you don’t like blood order well done). I love my meat almost running around the field, so it was perfect for me! The venison was also perfectly flavoured; this was the first time I had eaten it, and I will definitely order again. The mustard mash was a little too strong for my liking, although it worked extremely well with the sweet and sticky jus. Another more-than-satisfactory dish.
We declined pudding, and then had a bit of embarrassment when asking for the bill – we knew we had nothing left to pay, just the service charge, and this confused the waitress slightly. If you do this, I recommend ordering bread at the beginning, or an extra drink, so that you have more than the service charge to pay!
Service was excellent, if a little too fast. The atmosphere was lovely and romantic, until the adverts came on the playlist softly playing in the background – this spoilt the mood immensely, although it was quickly restored once the music recommenced. I would definitely visit the restaurant again, but would I pay full price? Probably not. My two courses, both the most expensive choices, were £11.50 and £24.50 – so we made a huge saving. Previous meals there have been using a Taste Card, which meant 50% off the food bill. In my opinion, prices are too high normally, but with the commonly-occurring deals, its a place well worth a visit as it is truly lovely food.
Obviously, I have only discussed one meal so far – and there are obviously many more that need to be eaten if staying in London more than a few hours. So, eating in London on a budget. A restaurant (sort of chain, there’s only a handful of restaurants, all in/around London) that I LOVE and that is affordable is Wahaca, and this will feature in a blog post of its own over the coming weeks. If you’re staying overnight, particularly around Covent Garden, I heavily discourage you from choosing to add a breakfast to your hotel stay. In the travellodge we were offered this option for £7.95 per person. I decided to send the boy out in the morning to one of the many local bakeries (we went for the Balthazar Boulangerie, attached to the restaurant) for pain aux chocolat and croissants. These were superb, far better than any I have eaten before.
He also came back with a fabulous full-sized baguette (the total of this came to, I believe although he didn’t divulge, just under £10 – a bargain for the quality) which would make up the bones of our lunch. We had originally planned to visit a food market to buy additional bits for a picnic. But it was a Tuesday, and we were struggling to find one within an acceptable distance, especially with our outdated A-Z street map. So instead we popped into an M&S and had a browse at their new/improved picnic range. I have to say, there is a huge amount of stuff I’d love to try in the range, but we went for the basics – a chorizo selection, and a punnet of strawberries, for the grand total of around £4.50. We went and sat in Green Park, in the rare English sunshine (I even managed to take my cardigan off…) and ate baguette torn with our hands, and chorizo, then fed each other strawberries, each grimacing at the icky display of public affection we were taking part in. It was a wonderfully romantic picnic, and incredibly cheap (far cheaper than two eating out at McDonalds!) for the amount of food we got. So, if in London on a budget, buy a picnic!
Now, for “things to do”. We could have gone really cheap, and visited (like the child inside me wanted) the free-entry science museum. There’s a whole host of free museums to take advantage of, but for us the weather was too nice to stay indoors.
After coaxing me up from the grass where I was soaking up the sun, my boyfriend decided he wanted ice-cream. After reading the Londoner’s review of an interesting ice-cream parlour place in Camden Market, I knew it was the perfect place for us to visit. Chin Chin Labs offers yummy ice-cream to satisfy me, weird machines and chemicals to (hopefully) keep my wonderful nerd of a boyfriend entertained (I lie, we’re both a little bit like that…)! The decor is nice and minimalist, with fabulous chairs (I love metal ones, my fashion sense of skirts disagrees as they were a little chilly!). The menu is also minimalist – a choice of four ice-cream flavours, with about 3 sauces, and then maybe 8 toppings. As soon as I walked in, I fell in love; they GRILL white chocolate. Mind is still boggling at that! We quickly decided to go for the specials (vanilla and chocolate flavours and permanently offered, with two specials per week) – I had “Strawberry and Hay” and chose a topping of the aforementioned grilled white chocolate, and W (the boy) went for “Griddled Peach” topped with a pistachio and cardamon crumb. The peach is dairy free, which was amazing as upon tasting it was so creamy, so I’m planning to take my dairy-free mum to London just to introduce her at some point. I couldn’t decide which I liked loved more. The staff pour the right amount of mixture for one serving into a KitchenAid mixer (my boy was already excited – I think it’s a lifetime ambition for us to own one in our future house, though we currently argue over what colour) and whilst it is mixing add liquid nitrogen. There is a lot of gas which is released at this point – not to worry as you don’t consume any. Or if you do then its a negligible amount. But its worth it for the ice-cream! Its then scooped into a bowl, and the topping of your choice added. At £3.95 for each, its not cheap. But this seemed to hit my pocket less hard than the £3.50 ice cream cost in the theatre the night before. It was definitely worth it, for the portion size, the smoothness of the ice-cream (the nitrogen isn’t just a gimmick, it prevents ice-crystals forming and makes the smoothest mixture imaginable), and the unique flavours. Whoever discovered the strawberry and hay combination needs a pat on the back, for it was simply gorgeous, and I hope I will get to try it again! The grilled white chocolate was a complete revelation, and my only regret is that I didn’t have enough cash (they don’t take card payments) to purchase a bag of it. Or a truckload. So good, and I will be back!
Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of Chin Chin Labs, although I have emailed them to ask if they can supply any, as I’d love to show you the experience a little more fully. I did however manage to get this picture:
That is clearly the face of a boy who has tried something that has change his life (I like to think he looked like that when he first met me!). As we were eating our ice-cream, in the hot sun, on freezing chairs, we noticed a board outside the neighboring shop. It was advertising Chocolate Bacon. I think if I’d have refused to go in I’d have been leaving London on my own! The shop was called Mighty Fine, and they make chocolate and fudge on-site, where you can view the production process. There was a lot of fudge to sample and chocolate to try, but we only had eyes for one thing, the chocolate bacon. At £1.50 per rasher, I’m glad it wasn’t me paying, but it was a delightful mix of salty and sweet, and worth it! Be warned, more than one rasher and you will be ill, as it is rich, but it is also delicous. We washed it down with one of their homemade ‘slush puppies’ which reminded us of our youth, but a lot better – this was a lemonade ice base, topped with a choice of either raspberry or passionfruit coulis. We went for raspberry, and it was immensely pretty (I insisted on carrying it) and very refreshing. A must on a hot day, and on a par with the rest of the drinks prices in Camden Market.
As for completely free-activities, I so recommend walking along the Thames. I love it, especially along the Southbank. It’s fabulously touristy, without having to dodge them (as in Oxford Street), you get fabulous views of the city, discover hidden gems (there’s many nice restaurants, and they’re noticeably cheaper on the north side of the river), and on a hot day like yesterday there’s a cool breeze which was very much welcomed. There’s the street performers in Covent which are well worth watching, although the acts are getting old (the same man has repeated the same performance over the entire length of mine and the boy’s relationship), and general window shopping to do. Camden is great for a wander round, but not with a suitcase. I also aim to head over to Portobello Market for a browse, and visit Primrose Hill for the view at some point.
For the more extravagant, you may want to see a show or musical. I highly recommend Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, but it obviously depends on taste – we’re a couple that are just two kids at heart, and we loved it. The scenes and props were utterly magical, the acting and singing superb. Another excellent product is War Horse, we have seen it twice (it really is that good) and I would also recommend the Bodyguard. A word of warning, don’t take a tall boyfriend into the balcony unless you have booked aisle seats. He will have to sit squished and folded up for several hours. One advantage of having short legs I guess!
So that’s it, my guide to doing London a little more cheaply. If anyone has any other suggestions, I’d happy hear them – I’m always open to new cheap ideas for days/nights out! For now I’ll leave you with one of the views across the Thames (taken a few months ago, hence the winter coat modelled by the photo-bomber…)