27 November 2014

Pizza Express - Christmas Menu

Mmmm Pizza  -I love pizza! Sadly, the other half won't touch it so my opportunities to go out somewhere to get the good stuff are few and far between! Thankfully, I was recently invited along to Pizza Express to try out their new Christmas Menu - the perfect excuse!

No, I didn't drag the Mr out - he wasn't up for it even with the promise of a festive theme (usually right up his street!) but it didn't take much convincing to get my little brother to accompany me! We headed over to our nearest branch - the one at Birstall Retail Park - as it's not only closer but so much easier for parking than any of the city centre branches! It was my first time at this particular Pizza Express but it was a very handsome restaurant, crisp and modern with a cool central open kitchen and some very funky decoration.

I'd usually take advantage of ability and willingness to drive us and have myself an alcoholic beverage or two, but it was the Sicilian Still Lemonade that most jumped out at me on the menu - despite not being particularly festive - and I wasn't disappointed. It was sharp, sweet and zesty. My brother ordered the Belvoir Raspberry Lemonade and was a big fan of that too!

pizza express drinks

In terms of food, the limited edition Christmas menu featured a very convenient two new starters and two new pizzas for the season so we figured the fairest thing to do was to order one of each and split them! The festive starters are Arancini Provola - baked risotto balls with spinach and provola cheese...

...and Pork and Pancetta Croquettes - pulled pork, pancetta, cheddar and basil croquettes breaded and baked. I'd expected to prefer the arancini out of the two of them but to my surprise it was the pork croquettes really offered something special - their more rustic appearance complimented a fresh and flavoursome taste and you could definitely believe these to be hand made.
pizza express christmas menu starters

We aimed for the same approach with the pizzas - ordering both and splitting them between us - and once again I was surprised as to which one I enjoyed most! My expectations were high for the Anatra Romana - pulled duck, shredded courgette, red onion and mozzarella on a light plum hoisin sauce finished with rocket and spring onion. It was very tasty but I don't think I'd have managed one of these on my own! I found the sweetness from that sauce a little overpowering, though that didn't disturb little bro who chowed his way through three quarters of this one while I struggled to finish two slices!

christmas menu pizza duck plum hoisin sauce

The Festiva Romana - brie, leek, pine kernels and mozzarella with garlic oil, rosemary and sage on a bechamel base served with rocket and gran moravia - was the one I was less sure about. It seemed strange to not have a tomato sauce base (I know the duck one didn't either but the hoisin sauce seemed a closer alternative than the bechamel base of this one) and wasn't sure if it would feel like it was missing something because of this omission. I need not have worried though, the overall effect was a deliciously creamy and indulgent pizza. This was served with a cranberry dipping sauce - a nice festive touch!

cream christmas pizza

Desserts left us with a bit of a pickle - while there were two starters and two mains to choose from there were three desserts meaning we sadly had to neglect one of them! In the end we decided to ditch the Chocolate Tortufo - rich dark chocolate with a praline mousse centre - which sounded delicious but perhaps the most 'standard' dessert option, the one out of the three it seemed easiest to find or replicate elsewhere. Instead we opted for the Mince Pie Cheesecake - rum soaked fruit in a clotted cream cheesecake on a crumbly shortbread base - that really did capture the essence of a mince pie but with all that extra creaminess from the cheesecake, yum!

pizza express christmas desserts

The other dessert we had between us was a portion of the Snowball Dough Balls. I love the Pizza Express dough balls, they're one of the main things I associate with the chain and could eat them all day long but I'd never considered them a dessert food before. However, as served here sprinkled with cinnamon and icing sugar and with a pot of a gorgeous vanilla cream dip, they're not likely to be confused with the more traditional starter dish! The dough balls were light and melt-in-your-mouth, and the cinnamon and icing sugar dusting gives just the right amount of sweet-and-spice for a perfect way to end a Christmassy meal.

festive desserts pizza

Pizza Express might not be your first thought for a Christmas meal - and obviously the offerings are far from traditional seasonal fare - but I'm really impressed by the Christmas menu they've put together and would definitely recommend it for a casual festive feast! There's a two course lunch option at £14.95 but my recommendation would be to go all in at £19.95 for three courses and a glass of prosecco - it is Christmas, after all!
* Meal provided free of charge in return for review

24 November 2014

Summer Swap!

I realise that with only a month to go 'til Christmas a post entitled 'Summer Swap' is incredibly out of season but it I could have told you punctuality isn't a strong suit of mine! Despite initially signing up to the swap at Tales of a Pale Face months and months ago, my swap partner Simone and I have only just managed to get our gifts to each other last week! 

My box was totally worth the wait though, wanna see what I got?

Nicole OPI polish sounds grape to me

Two gorgeous nail polishes! Defiant by MeMeMe is a gorgeous deep teal - it's my first product from the brand and a lovely introduction, a great glossy finish and a wide brush make it a very welcome addition to my nail polish collection! The Nicole by OPI polish - Sounds Grape To Me - is my favourite though, what a stunner! This reddy-browny-goldy shimmer polish has autumn written all over it and has been stuck on my nails since I opened the box! 

Another nail treat in the form of top coat extraordinaire Seche Vite. I've had a bottle of this before but didn't get very far through it before losing it so I'm glad I get to give it another go! The shade of the Revlon Eye Glitz Powder is right up my street too, a soft lavender shimmer in 'foiled passion'.

I'm always happy to see any lush product in anything that comes my way, and the Amandopondo bubble bar is a great one to come across! I've mentioned this one before on the blog here - the rosy fragrance is one of my favourites! 

Another couple of welcome products were the Vaseline lip balm - you can never have too many lips balms, especially at this time of year, and I like the idea of it leaving a rosy tint on my lips! I love the Montage Jeunesse mask too - I've gone through many of their masks in my time, but never this one! 

And it goes without saying that the inclusion of both tea and cake in my box made me a very happy blogger!  I've not tried the Sainsbury's English Breakfast Tea yet as it's getting safely packed away for my forthcoming cottage holiday but I can confirm the brownies lasted pretty much no time at all! Mmmmm they were delicious too! 

Huge great big thanks to Simone for all my goodies, and to Kat for organising the swap in the first place!

19 November 2014

Christmas Gift Ideas - Household Gadgets

You can tell that you are getting old based on the sort of Christmas presents people buy you. My ever practical parents - never ones to spend on fancy beauty products and pretty shoes as gifts even before I had way too many of either - are long time fans of the household gadget as gifts, which works really well as I'd never want to by myself a new toaster as a treat even if I do need one more than I need another dress!

Here are some of my favourite ideas and wishlist items!

teasmade nutribullet breadmaker

1 - Teasmade. We got one of these two years back from the in-laws and it's completely changed my life. Or at least, several cold mornings. When it was first suggested as a gift my boyfriend's darling mother said 'what would you want one of those for? All it does is make tea in bed for you in the mornings'. Think about that statement for a second. All it does is make tea in bed. How anyone would not want one of these is beyond me! Sure you've got to set it all up ready before going to sleep - it's not magic (but close!) - but it sure beats getting up and going aaallllllll the way to the kitchen on those cold winter mornings for that much needed brew!
2 - The Nutribullet is included because my kids are obsessed with it for some reason! I think they caught an early morning informercial thing and now think it's the most amazing invention that ever existed. I pointed out we have a blender 'but does it crush nuts, mum?'... I wonder what they'd say if I just got them one of these between them instead of any toys though, I can't imagine they'd be too impressed! I missed the infomercial (probably enjoying the teasmade!) but do realise there's quite a bit of fuss around these at the minute!
3 - Breadmaker. My dad and brother both already have these, which means I visit a lot! Fresh bread takes a lot of beating, and my recent obsession with my new soupmaker (incidentally, also a great present!) has only increased my desire to have fresh homemade bread to go with my fresh homemade soup! This fancy looking one from Panasonic has 25 bread and dough modes - plenty to work through, and it makes jam too!

*Collaborative post

17 November 2014

Gusto Cookridge - again!

At the risk of sounding a little unoriginal, this post will be once again highlighting the virtues of the lovely Gusto restaurant in Cookridge, Leeds. On my first visit I declared the place the perfect fancy date venue but I was there at the time for a very unromantic meal with my little brother, and have only returned since on an equally unromantic occasion with the kids, so I figured it was about time to introduce my significant other to the culinary delights available at this charming Italian restaurant.

Being familiar with my glowing reports he was of course eager to join me and he wasted no time in selecting the Deep Fried Calamari for his starter.

Calimari squid starter

I don't 'get' Calamari, the thought of it makes me feel a bit icky and I'm definitely not eating anything with visible tentacles *shudder* but the other half is a big fan and doesn't get to eat it very often so was very pleased to see this on the menu. Needless to say I didn't try it so can't really comment on it's quality but the squid expert out of the two of us was most impressed!

I went for a much safer (more boring?) choice of starter - the tomato and basil bruschetta. I've said before that I don't know how such a simple dish can be SO tasty but it always is! This was no exception - fresh and tasty. If I'm being really fussy I might have preferred a slightly higher bread-to-stuff ratio, but then I am a complete bread fiend!

gusto cookridge leeds bruschetta starter

Never one to turn down a good steak when it's available, my guest ordered the 10oz Rib Eye. Now this, I did try! It was absolutely gorgeous - perfectly cooked as per the order, juicy and full of flavour. The rib eye is served with truffle butter and sautéed wild mushrooms, and the Mr treated himself to a pot of peppercorn sauce to smother it in too. I couldn't help be a little jealous I didn't order this too!

Gusto cookridge leeds steak

A couple of sides seemed in order to accompany this meaty main and the first choice was the creamy mashed potato with salsa verde. In a further demonstration of my rather pedestrian taste in food I'd have preferred this without the salsa verde - but only because the potato itself was scrumptious. Rich, smooth creamy mashed potato like this is hard to beat!

gusto cookridge sides mashed potato leeds

To make a token effort at being a bit healthy, we also ordered a portion of the buttered winter vegetables. The sides are definitely 'sharing' size!

gusto leeds sides vegetables

Sadly none of the pictures I'd thought I'd got of my tasty pasta main seem to have made it home with me so instead I'll take a moment here to discuss my rather excellent Christmassy cocktail! Though the full Gusto Christmas menu (which sounds AMAZING - full details here!) doesn't really kick in 'til next week, the Christmas cocktails were available on the night of our visit and since they wont be around long it only made sense to try one while I can! This is the temptingly titled 'Yuletide Treacle' - made from spiced rum, dark rum and orange rum with a touch of cinnamon syrup, bitters and lemon zest. If you think that sounds like a lot of rum in small glass then you are not wrong and this definitely had a bit of a boozy kick to it! Very festive though, and delicious!

gusto leeds rum cocktail christmas

Then obviously came dessert time! The Sticky Toffee Pudding seems to be a favourite of my dining companions as it's what my brother had last time, so I knew it was going to be good! I borrowed a spoonful and I did feel one more little pang of jealousy after tasting the  soft sponge, sweet syrup and creamy vanilla ice cream but it didn't last long...

gusto cookridge desserts

... only until I caught sight of my amazing Chocolate, Pistachio and Clementine Mess. An inspired winter twist on the classic Eton mess, my pile of cream, meringue and clementine segments (all topped off with rich chocolate and crushed pistachios) was delicious - one of those great desserts that you don't want to come to the end of!

gusto leeds desserts winter mess

These big indulgent meals at Gusto seem to be getting a bit of a habit of mine, but not one I want to break any time soon! In fact, all things considered, it seems only fair I check out the Christmas menu too, right? I mean, there are still a bunch of the festive cocktails I haven't tried yet.... 

14 November 2014

Memebox My Dessert Box

I should be really glad that there's not been a whole lot in the way of new offerings from Memebox, as I seem to have had so many delivered recently! Since it's Friday afternoon and a time for treats (ok so anytime is a time for treats!), I though I'd share one of the latest - the My Dessert Box - with you.

cute korean cosmetic box based on desserts

I'm a massive fan of Korean beauty products, as those of you familiar here will know - at best they are cute and fun as well as being highly effective and these are all factors I appreciate in my cosmetics! Memebox is a great way to dip your toe in a perhaps unfamiliar world, as they package up and send out boxes of great products, often along a theme, like this one! Here's what I got in the My Dessert Box:
Delskin Skin Juice 90 Real Ampoule ($30) - This ampoule (to be used after toner but before moisturiser, Korean skincare has a heck of a lot of steps!) is made of 90% juice xtracts from 13 different kinds of fruit and veg! I don't know why that's particularly desserty -fruit salad? (with broccoli?) but it sure does smell fresh and fruity!

Korean skincare fruit veg ampoule
Navillera Tradtional Dessert Soap ($5) - Each box came with one of nine different versions of these pretty little soaps, each one created into the shape of a traditional Japanese sweet dessert often served with tea. It's supposed to be extremely gentle and suitable for all skin so might let the young 'un have this!

Japanese dessert soap pink flower

Dearberry Single Scoop Blusher in Chiffon Pink ($11) - How cute is this little ice-cream-scoop blusher? Yup, I was definitely taken in by the sweet factor with this product! It does seem like a nice little blusher too though, which helps. The 'scoop' is a cream type consistency but when you blend it into your skin you end up with a more powdery finish. It's not massively pigmented but will give a nice soft glow.

korean ice cream scoop blusher pink cute

It's Skin Cookie & Hand Cream ($9) - I won't lie, this little tub is probably the reason I'm so into this box! The hand cream looks and smells exactly like mint choc chip ice cream. It's incredible and it makes me SO hungry! Smelling this on my hands all day has been driving me a little crazy actually, but the good kind of crazy where you don't want it to ever stop. I'm going ice cream shopping tonight because I can't take the thought of going a whole night without eating any! It's actually a really nice hand cream too - sinks right in, moisturises without being greasy and you only need the tiniest amount. I wouldn't normally have bought hand cream in a tub as it just doesn't seem overly practical for just throwing in my bag, but I'd forgive this pretty much anything.

Mint Choc Chip hand cream

Carver Korea Le Petit Prince Crème ($46) - I was initially really excited to see this because I thought it had something to do with the book - one of my favourite - but is apparently a collaboration product with a famous Korean make beauty blogger. It's still proper cute though! The only dessert association I can find is the description on the Memebox card of the products 'pudding-texture', which is a bit tenuous but I'm not one to hold a grudge when they send such nice things! It really does have the weirdest texture though! It looks like a gel but it's really thick, practically solid. Weird, but feels nice on your skin! This apparently can be used as toner, emulsion, ampoule, cream and face mask all in one which is nice as it cuts down on some of the steps I really don't understand!

Korean skincare pudding

Shara Shara Lemon Tea Pore Stick (£12) - The pore stick is used to control excess oil and brighten up uneven skin tone when it's applied directly to the skin. It's another product in the box that smells fantastic, and it gives a lovely cooling effect on sore skin too. A winner!

korean skin care pore control

The box would have cost $23 plus P&P at full price (though there's usually discounts floating round!) and I'm very happy with it! There are no bad products and a couple of really good ones! This one is sadly sold out at the moment as I mentioned above, Memebox seem to be having a bit of a 'new box drought' at the minute (which is probably good for me!) but there are still some great sounding boxes left on the site!  
And now if you'll excuse me, I have to go buy ice cream....
* Contains Affiliate Links

10 November 2014

My Week In Beauty

I spent a lot of my Saturday this week tidying the house. I don't enjoy tidying, but it does have some little side effects - one being that you find loads of long lost goodies! 

This little tidy-up session resulted in the reconciliation of this little nail trio! I got them all in a set found in TK Maxx aaaages ago on our last blogger holiday but I think that trip was around the last time I saw them all together... the polish disappeared quite quickly and by the time I'd found that the topcoat had gone missing. I came across the top coat again a few weeks ago but had by that point left the base coat at my mums. It might be worth pointing out now, just to add to the confusion, that the set also came with a really lovely baby powder scented nail polish remover which I actually didn't lose, but finished up ages ago! 

Lillibet's Jubilee Nail Polish

Individually, I've used the base coat (or 'nail foundation') plenty and really like it - it gives a really nice smooth finish on my usually ridged and rubbish nails - a great base for applying colour. Especially one like this. Lillibet's Jubilee - released to celebrate the queen's 60th anniversary a couple of years back, is a gorgeous silvery foil with an ever so slight lilacy hint. It's a really beautiful shade but I find foil-type polished can be a bit of a disaster if you don't have a decent base to work on as they seem to show up every teeny flaw in application. I don't think I've done a perfect job but it's not too bad either and I reckon the colour is so pretty it might distract from my sloppy application! 

Nail Polish Swatch - Butter London's Lillibet's Jubilee

This lovely bath bomb from Lush also found its way into my hands (and then my bath) this week.... Sparkler is one of this years Bonfire's Night releases and bought it with the fifth of November in mind (though it took me a few extra days to get round to using it!) It did look a lot neater - and in one piece - when I first got it, but I'm clumsy. Plus this smells so good I've sort of wanted to carry it everywhere with me despite risk of demolition!

Rose Jam Scented Bath Bomb from Lush

This bath bomb shares my absolute favourite Lush scent, Rose Jam, and produces a spectacular shimmery golden bath. You just can't beat pretty bath water for making me smile! I as left with just a hint of a sparkle on emerging the bath - something maybe to bear in mind if you have any professional appointments or anything - but it all rinsed away from the bath with minimal effort. 

What does the sparkler from Lush look like in the bath

Plus getting my fireworky bath bomb used up means that next call is the Lush Christmas stash - can't wait to dive into that lot! 

9 November 2014

Make Your Own Pizza - Family Dining at Gusto, Leeds

I've been a big fan of the lovely Gusto Italian restaurant in Cookridge, Leeds since my last visit (so much so that I'm going again this week to check out their new menu, woo!) and any excuse for another visit suits me just fine. I'd been meaning to take the little ones up since I thought they'd enjoy the option to make their own pizza and when I heard that on Halloween they were offering free kids meals to those in costume it seemed like the perfect opportunity! Not only did I get to go back and eat more of their delicious food, I got to save money on the kids meals AND get more of my moneys worth out of the costumes - win all round!

kids making pizza restaurant

We popped along on the Friday afternoon as I had a couple of cheeky days off work in the half term break and got all settled in. And initial offer of garlic bread had the kids looking pretty eager so we got a portion to nibble on while we waited. It was a massive pizza-base style portion and plenty for all of us to share!

Gusto restaurant leeds garlic bread

Then it was make-your-own-pizza time! How it works is the kids are presented with a ready made base, complete with tomato sauce and they get to pick three of a list of ingredients (including cheese, ham, sweetcorn, tuna, mushrooms and pepperoni) to decorate their pizza base with. These are whipped away to the oven and presented fully cooked a few minutes later! 

DIY kids pizza leeds

The kids loved the novelty of being able to design their own pizzas, and they looked really tasty too! The kid meals are usually £5.95 and come with a dessert - they also got their own mini chefs hats and activity sheets on the back of the menu to keep them entertained while we waited! 

where can kids make their own pizza in yorkshire

I always find it harder to decide what I want for myself when eating out with the kids (too much time trying to make sure they are organised, not enough time to concentrate on my own menu!) and the options at Gusto are pretty plentiful so I decided to order form the smaller lunch menu just to make the decision easier! The lunch menu consists of around a dozen meal options all served with a drink (a glass of wine, beer of soft drink) for £11.95 and the kids more or less insisted I get the burger - I think they wanted to steal my chips!

Gusto Burger Cookridge Leeds

It might sound a bit weird, but one of my favourite things about this burger is that I could just pick it up and eat it. The last few I seem have eaten out have all been great but have very much been a sort of 'eat if with a knife and fork or get it everywhere' sort of affair, where this was a proper nice big tasty burger that I could eat as a burger was meant to be eaten!

My previous visit to Gusto impressed me but definitely left me with the feeling it was a very classy and romantic restaurant for adults so it was really nice to see they cater so well for the little ones too. They had a great time and I wouldn't hesitate to take them again. that being said, I'm leaving them at home next time so I can have another good look through that cocktail menu!

7 November 2014

Harewood House and Bird Gardens, Yorkshire

By heck it's getting dark! Since we seem to be living in perpetual nightfall, I've not been able do much in the way of picture taking so I've dug out these from a time in the recent past where daylight was on our side. I've posted before about our afternoon tea at Harewood House, but here's some more pictures from the rest of the day.

Days out Yorkshire harewood house

There are a couple of levels of admission available to Harewood House - you can get a ticket to just the grounds and 'below stairs' of the house, or one to explore those areas as well as the state rooms of the house. We bought a voucher on Activity Superstore that got us to all areas and included the afternoon tea.

Henry Moore at Harewood

stone fish yorkshire

After a little potter round the gardens we headed into the 'below stairs' area and had a nosy round the old kitchens and servants areas, as well has my favourite bit - a peek in the tea cupboard! 

Harewood House old kitchen

Harewood house kitchens

Harewood house pie

nice china yorkshire

We then headed upstairs to explore the state rooms - that's the fancy bit! The house boasts no less than THREE libraries - that's a heck of a lot of books! The elaborate bedrooms are rather lovely too though, mine doesn't look anything like that! 

manor house interior

bedroom at harewood house

harewood house bedroom green silk

fan display cabinet

My favourite part of the whole place though it the bird garden. Weirdly I never liked birds at all, in any form, 'til a couple of years ago when we happened upon an owl sanctuary stand on an beach and fell in love with a massive eagle owl. Through my owly obsession I've come to appreciate other varieties of the feathery fellas.. 

flamingos at harewood house bird garden

snowy owl at harewood house bird garden

Next to this snowy chap was the sweetest, tiniest little burrowing owl that I saw eviscerate and eat a mouse in the most disturbing and awesome fashion! 

blue and yellow parrot at harewood house bird garden

I have to admit though, the penguins were definitely the star attraction! I know these guys will be particularly popular now with the release of the sob-inducing John Lewis christmas ad, but really penguins are just ace any time of the year! 

Feed the penguins at harewood house yorkshire

harewood house penguins

They can splash though if you get too close!