30 May 2016

Blogger Night Out at the Bradford Leisure Exchange

Much as I love this fair city of mine, I have to admit that big blogger events are pretty thin on the ground within the BD postcode area. I usually have to follow any invitations that come my way over to Leeds, where I will spend the evening passively-aggressively complaining about how much I hate Leeds, and subsequently never get invited back anywhere. Oops.

But hurray, a blogger evening in Bradford? With food and bowling and a cinema trip? I was all too happy to avoid my neighbouring city and spend a happy evening at Bradford's Leisure Exchange!

It's been aaaages since I've step foot inside Pizza Hut, despite it being very popular with the young 'uns - we do occasionally get them to deliver when I'm feeling very lazy, way too lazy to actually go out, so I never really think of the restaurant as a 'going out to eat' option. I just figured it'd be the same as at home but with less comfy seats, but there's a shiny new menu with loads of unexpected offerings - definitely worth popping out for!

The staff on the evening seemed very proud of their new milkshakes, so we thought we'd best give them a go. My Salted Caramel milkshake was delicious! I got to try my partners Lime Sherbert Milkshake too - this was interesting, very sweet, bit I'd have struggled to get through it all for sure! Mine, I had no problem with, despite their generous size! The only problem with the milkshakes as part of a meal is they are pretty filling so might not be the best choice if you want to stuff yourself with pizza, but they'd make a great drinkable dessert option!

I generally have pretty simple pizza tastes (honestly, boring as it is, it takes a lot to beat a good plain cheese pizza!) but this was not the time to fall back on familiar staples. There were loads of interesting topping combinations I've never seen pop up on the takeaway menu, and after toying with a couple I settled on the Beef Fajita Pizza - shaved steak, beef, caramalised onions and mixed peppers on a salsa tomato sauce and, in this instance, a cheese stuffed crust base.

Now, my plus1 for the evening doesn't eat pizza (no, I don't get it either), so was a little worried about what we'd find for him to eat at Pizza Hut. I knew they did a couple of pasta dishes,... but he doesn't eat pasta either. So it was a relief for us both when we spotted the Rack of Ribs on the menu. This is the last thing I'd eat is somewhere that specialises in pizza, but glad it served the purpose for my fussy fella - he said they were grand too.

Another dish I liked the look of was the Hot Crisps with BBQ Pulled Pork, that were ordered to share for the table. Such a dead simple but potentially tasty idea - unfortunately I was way too stuffed at this stage to appreciate them!

When no one could eat any more, we forced ourselves up and across the way to Hollywood Bowl. We often end up here on our works Christmas night out, and I rarely think of it through the rest of the year but we really should come more often. I'm an incredibly inconsistent bowler - I got a few strikes, and a few times I missed the pins altogether - I like the idea of secretly getting really good at it so I can beat my colleagues next Christmas!

After our various successes and failures on the lanes, it was time for dessert so we headed off to Frankie and Benny's to check out their new offerings. My kids love Frankie and Benny's so I'm pretty familiar with the place but 'new desserts' seems like a great excuse to visit again! Unfortunately I was still too full of pizza to really make the most of the opportunity, but I did try a few nibbles 'for journalistic purposes'... My favourite thing on the menu is 'The Can't-Decider', mini-slices of four of their top desserts served with ice cream! I'm terribly indecisive when it comes to desserts, mainly because I want to try everything, and this way I can get pretty close!

I've been meaning to go to Grosvenor Casino for ages - I wanted to go before I went to Las Vegas to get myself prepared, I've been meaning to go since I got back to compare experiences. I've mainly wanted to go because I heard the food is surprisingly good and they do some grand deals. But this was the first time I've actually made it! Despite my previous not-so-good blogger gambling experiences, I was doing ok at blackjack (with pretend money, I'd never be so brazen with my own!) when it was time to make our last stop of the evening!

We finished up at Cineworld, where we had tickets waiting for Captain America: Civil War. It was actually the second time in as many weeks I'd seen the film there, our most-visited cinema! Though the film has been the source of much falling-out over recent weeks (I'm squarely on #TeamCap, t'other half disagrees... strongly), I love it! (Incidentally, if you are a fan of Marvel and have lots of money to spend on really wordy academic type books, I can highly recommend this wonderful book!)

After a couple of hours of super-hero angst, it was time to go home, and how nice that home on this occasion was just a couple of minutes up the road, no sketchy train stations or dark motorways! I've always insisted you can have a great night out in Bradford, but it turns out you don't even have to leave this small area to have a full experience!

* Our night of food and fun in Bradford was provided free of charge.

19 May 2016

24 hours (ish) with Gourmet Society

As a person who equally enjoys eating out and saving money, 'twas a happy day indeed for me when I was recently sent a Gourmet Society card and encouraged to eat and save to my heart's content!

Gourmet Society membership allows the card (or app) holder to access great discounts at a huge range of participating restaurants, from local independents to national chains. I was challenged to spend 24 hours with Gourmet Society, to see what kind of great deals could be had over the course of a breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I did stumble slightly at the first hurdle, as I did struggle to find somewhere locally that I could use the card for breakfast. It does look like a couple of breakfast options are available in other areas, so if you are a big-city-living breakfast fan, fear not. But, I reasoned, I would rarely go out for breakfast anyway (I make a mean bowl of Cheerios at home), and an early enough lunch could count as brunch, which is essentially breakfast, right? Especially if it contains bacon! So with that in mind I had another search for something that'd fit the bill! (the search function on the site is really easy - you just put in a place/postcode and it'll list all the local options, you can also search for restaurants by name!)

The Wyke Lion belongs to the Vintage Inns group, and my previous experiences with them have left me convinced we'd find good food in a cosy country-pub atmosphere - perfect for a late-breakfast-lunch thing!

They do some grand full meals, but for a lighter lunch the sandwiches are pretty perfect. My bacon and Camembert melt was an absolute joy -- mmm all that gooey melty cheese!  The sandwiches are served with chips or salad too - the chips were great big fat fluffy things too, beautifully seasoned - loved them! 

I didn't realise 'til the Gourmet Society site highlighted it that we had one of these inns so close to where I work and I'll definitely be back again now I know how convenient it is - especially with the 25% off the bill we got, £4.08 saved! 

A favourite Bradford stop off for lunch or dinner is the Brew Haus. I love the food here and their cocktails list is mighty impressive but it's still nothing that can't be improved by an 25% off - the discount available when you flash your Gourmet Society card.

I called in with my mum and sister-in-law as a pre-theatre outing (the Brew Haus is just up from Bradford's glorious Alhambra theatre so prefect for a pre-show bite - but make sure you leave plenty of time, the service is always friendly here but can be a little... leisurely!), where we started with drinks.

Taking advantage of not driving for the day, I headed straight to the cocktail list and settled on a refreshing sounding gin based 'Phil Collins', and the others opted for lager and wine respectively.

Food wise, my mum had the bacon cutlet, and my sister-in-law decided she fancied a juicy burger, and the feedback was positive from both. My first dish of choice was unavailable and pizza is never a bad back up so I ordered the Diablo - how thick is that pepperoni?! It was my first time having pizza here and I wouldn't hesitate to order one again!

Again, I just showed them the card when I went to pay, and 25% was knocked off - a saving of £9.65!

Our evening meal proved to be a great excuse to re-visit the Yo Yo Bar and Restaurant in Shipley. I've been meaning to return to the Asian-inspired restaurant since my first visit a couple of years ago but had just not got round to it until the promise of a great deal gave me the push I needed!

The Gourment Society card offers a free main meal at the restaurant when another one is purchased, so we quickly got to perusing the extensive menu, which is split into dishes from China, Japan, Thailand and Malaysia.

I only got a little nibble of my companion's Duck Teriyaki but it was truly delicious, and I was a momentarily a little jealous that I didn't order this myself - but once I got started on my Chicken and Beef Kway Teow Goreng (a Malaysian noodle dish with beansprouts, spring onions, and fresh chilli) I was happy again!

Plus, the 'free main' made it really easy to justify ordering a dessert too - though to be fair I don't think anything would have stopped me ordering Ice Cream Tempura anyway!

As promised, the cheaper of the two main meals was deducted from the bill - a saving of £11.50.

Three meals out in Bradford and not a curry amongst them! (Don't worry though, still plenty of curry options amongst others on the participating restaurants list for me to work my way through!) 

As an alternative to the 25% off total bill deal, and 2-for-1 offers available with the Gourmet Society, some places will offer 50% off the food portion of your bill - the relevant offer per restaurant is laid out on the site or app though, so you know what you are getting, along with any restrictions (some discounts can't be applied on weekends, for example, or during certain hours). It's always recommended to book ahead, mentioning the card, but honestly the only one of my meals I booked in advance was the Brew Haus one - for various reasons we just turned up at the others and they were more than happy to accept the card. Not that I'm recommending this - I don't want to be blamed for any rejections - but it certainly made using it a lot more convenient for me! 

Altogether I saved more than £25 over the course of three meals, so I imagine it'd be pretty easy for someone who eats out a lot to save well over the value of the card over a year! It's currently really easy to see how much you could save yourself too, as the Gourmet Society are currently offering a three month membership for just one pound!

* I was compensated for this post.
** I didn't actually visit all these places and consume all this food with the same 24 hour period. I definitely could have done though.

13 May 2016

Afternoon Tea at Fodder, Harrogate

I was recently invited to Fodder for Afternoon Tea, and you know I never say no to an Afternoon Tea invitation! 

Fodder is a Yorkshire food-lovers dream - a well stocked, mainly local, food hall with accompanying cafe based at Harrogate's Great Yorkshire Showground. It's a beautiful part of the country to visit, so we decided to make the most of the recent bank holiday and go stuff ourselves with cake, hurrah! 

The Afternoon Tea is only served between 2.30 and 3.30 on weekends, and it's well established on these pages that I'm useless wih organisation and timings, so sadly I didn't leave us enough time to really investigate the shop (though a cursory glance on the way through told me it's well worth a visit in it's own right). It's also worth bearing in mind that Fodder don't accept bookings, so there may be a little wait for tables at busy times. We had about a 15 minute wait - it may be worth factoring this into your visiting schedule! 

The tower of goodies that arrived at our table once seated made the wait totally worthwhile though! 

The sanwiches are rarely my favourite part of an afternoon tea, and the provided fillings here of smoked salmon and egg mayonnaise just didn't float my boat - that's entirely personal preference though as I'm a bit of a fusspot. The sandwiches that came with the kids meals were very generously filled with good quality ingredients on nice soft bread, so I have no reason to assume the afternoon tea ones were any less good .... I do feel a bit naughty for not eating them though!

Thankfully though there were other savoury options, so I could pretend to not be a child who wants to skip to dessert without eating anything sensible! The bacon pastry twist was just awesome - you really don't get enough bacon with afternoon tea! There was also a very tasty mini vegetable quiche. 

With the savouries safely tucked under my belt, 'was time to get to the good stuff! The little scone was so light, an absolute delight with the generous amounts of jam and cream served alongside. The lemon meringue tart was my favourite, sweet and zesty with a delicious buttery pastry. The wee teacup was not only adorable but filled with a lovely Baileys, chocolate and coffee parfait.

Millionaire's shortbread is rarely anything but a thing on wonder, and this was top notch - so much gooey caramel, mmm! Unfortunately, the shortbread was so rich, so sweet, so decadent - that I just couldn't touch the last of the cakes and istead let one of the still-hungry kids take one for the team. He wolfed it down and spoke very hightly of it though! 

It's not very often I don't finish an afternoon tea, but this one was pretty huge, and with so much stuff to eat (imagine if I had eaten the sandwiches too!?), a bargain at £28 for two (including tea). 

Obviously, stuffed with cake and sugary things, we didn't try any of the hot meals available at Fodder but everything we saw come out of the kitchen looked great, as did the huuuge cakes on display that weren't part of our afternoon tea - a return visit is definitely on the cards!

9 May 2016

Degustabox April 2016

Another month sees another delivery from food subscription box heroes, Degustabox. If you aren't already familiar with the company, a Degustabox subscription means that a box of food items (ten or more, made up of unfamiliar brands or new/limited edition releases from established brands) turns up on your doorstep once a month - who wouldn't want that?

And if you want to know what a typical box might contain... here's what I got in my most recent arrival!

Candarel Sugarly (RRP £3.00) I have the vaguest memories of my mum occasionally using sweetner in her coffee instead of sugar,.. either in the form of a little tablet or some sort of powdery substance. Since I've never had sugar in my hot drinks I just figured sweetners weren't for me - but this one looks, tastes and acts like real sugar so I can use it baking for lower calorie baked treats (which means I get to top said cakes with extra chocolate/icing/whatever!)

Thor Dry Apple Spritz (RRP £1.80 each) The drinks are often my favourite parts of these boxes, and this month has proved no exception - I loved these tasty and refreshing apple drinks, especially the ginger one! It's the sort of thing just made for sunny days, and would be the prefect drink for lazy beer-garden afternoons when I'm fulfilling my role as designated driver so can't hit the booze.

Levi Roots Coat 'n Cook Sauce (RRP £1.00) I'll admit that I've sadly not tried this yet - not through lack of enthusiasm, but the sad demise of my long-suffering washing machine means my kitchen isn't currently in the best state for cooking! I've been informed by my cousin that the sauces (available in three flavours) are great though and I can't wait to try it once I'm organised!

Popchips (RRP £1.99) Since no cooking was necessary for the popchips, I wanted no time in getting stuck in! I'm quite keen on popchips anyway, so was definitely intrigued by the new limited edition flavours (sea salt, garlic and rosemary, or sea salt caramalised onion and thyme). These are quite unusual but pretty darn good!

Rejuvenation Water (RRP £1.99) I did have high hopes for this as I enjoyed the apple and mint Thor drink so much, but sadly wasn't as keen on this one. It was just that little bit too minty to the point it felt a bit like I was drinking mouthwash (sorry!). Rejuvenation water is supposed to be great for you though - it's enriched with amino acids that fuel the immune system and build a natural resilience to stress, depression and anxiety - so I'd love to try their other flavours. It's also available in ginger & lime, and Spanish orange.

Veetee Microwavable Rice (RRP £1.29-£1.49) Despite these not needing a lot of time/space/effort to cook, I've been saving them for when I get to crack out my Levi Roots sauce. We've used the rice before though and it's perfect for lazy cooks like me, looking forward to trying the Quinoa blend!

Milkybar (RRP £1.00) and Smarties (RRP £1.29) Chocolate. I've tried chocolate from world-renowned premium brands, and from artisan chocolatiers in Belgium, and still, Milkybar remains one of my favourites! The little Milk & Crunchy bars perfect for a little treat!

Bebeto Fruit Strings (RRP £1.99) If you've read a few of my Degustabox write ups before, you may have noticed a trend. It seems that whenever I receive one of these healthy, fruity type snacks, my response is usually 'oh the kids will love these', whereas the less healthy goodies, like the Milkybar chocolate above always get a 'I ate all this and loved it'. Oops. But still, the kids DO love these fruit strings!

Parle Biscuits (RRP 25p) and Rusks (RRP 89p) The Parle G biscuits are like a slightly less sweet version of 'cow biscuits' (is that their actual name? You know what I mean though, right?) I was hopeful for the rusks as I recall nibbling on a fair few of the baby-biscuits when my young 'uns were tiny - but these were not quite what I was hoping for! They're enriched with Cardamom and I liked the flavour but they were so dry that they just weren't fun to eat,..

Green Lady Sparking Tea (RRP £1.99) It's no secret that I like tea, but for me it usually comes hot. I was intrigued by this cold sparking tea though, if for no other reason that it might be a more enjoyable way to get some green tea in me (it's not usually my favourite!) This was really lovely - definitely my favourite 'healthy' drink, and I love the branding too - thumbs up!

If you want to get your hands on a delicious box of new goodies to try, there's no better time as at the minute you can get a whopping £6 off your first box with the code BLDEG15. This means your first box will only set you back £6.99 including delivery - a great price for all those treats!

2 May 2016

#Jet2Sunchester - An adventure with cake

I hate to open with one of the biggest clichés ever, but seriously, what has been going on with the weather recently? I know April showers are a thing, but I expected less of the April snowfall, hailstone, and thunderstorms. It's definitely had me reminiscing about the sunny temptations presented to me at the recent #Jet2Sunchester event. I've flown with Jet2 many a time but never taken advantage of the package holiday deals they offer, so the event gave me a great opportunity to get to know some of their recommended destinations. And since I unfortunately have no immediate plans to jet off, I figured the best way to become more familiar with these well-loved resorts from home was through cake, obviously.

The first destination we were introduced to was the sunny island of Mallorca, where representatives from two very different resorts were available to tempt us with tales of pool parties and all-inclusive cocktails! BH Mallorca is a full-on party hotel, with big-name DJs and the worlds first adults-only waterpark. They were also responsible for the amazing cocktails we were drinking on the day!

The Sol Katmandu resort, on the other hand, is a super-family-friendly place to stay - the hotel looks great but definitely plays second fiddle next to the fabulous on-it Katmandu Park, complete with soft play area, splash park and huge crazy golf course. We visited the park on a family holiday nearby last year, and wouldn't hesitate to book Sol Katmandu for a full trip next time!

For now though, I've been fulfilling any Majorcan fantasies by indulging in this delicious Almond Cake, or Gató d'Ametlla.

Almond trees are plentiful in Majorca, and so almonds feature heavily in a lot of their regional recipes - like this delicious and easy to prepare sponge cake. Here's how you make it:

5 eggs
165g icing sugar
1 lemon (zest)
165g ground almonds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Separate the egg yolks and whites, and whisk the whites until they form stiff peaks. In a separate bowl, mix together the egg yolks and icing sugar. Add in the almonds, cinnamon, and lemon rind. Combine both mixtures and pour into a greased baking tin. Place into a pre-heated oven (150) for 50 minutes, then leave to cool in the oven. Sere cold with ice cream (almond ice cream is suggested but since I didn't have any I can confirm that it definitely works with salted caramel Haagen-Dazs...!)
I've never been to Tenerife but I know my mum has always been a big fan, so I was excited to learn more about what makes the largest of the Canary Islands such a great holiday destination - it didn't take long at all before I fell a little bit in love with the Hotel Botanico. The luxurious hotel is set in six acres of luscious landscaped gardens and has a fully operational spa as well as a handful of pools for a truly indulgent relaxing retreat, but has easy access to a huge water park (Siam Park) and zoo (Loro Parque) so my body and brain don't get *too* lazy!

Until I can get this trip booked, I've been enjoying a traditional Canary Islands dessert Bienmesabe.

Bienmesabe ('tastes good to me', roughly translated) is a sort of almondy cinnamony custard-type thing (don't I sound professional?), and it's made a bit like this:

2 1/4 cups almonds - blanched, toasted and ground
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 lemon (zest)
3 egg yolks

Boil the water and dissolve the sugar in to make a syrup. Stir in the ground almonds cinnamon and lemon zest. Set on a low heat and stir constantly as the mixture cooks and thickens (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and allow to cool for about 30 minutes. Once cooled, beat the egg yolks and fold into the pan, stirring constantly. Return to medium heat until it boils and then remove from heat. Pour into individual serving dishes and allow to cool. Store in fridge until ready to serve! This is another dessert that's great with ice cream, mmm!

Malta is a destination I wasn't at all familiar with before the event, but a combination of its nine UNESCO sites and it's year-round sunshine have placed it firmly on my wishlist!
Before I explore the beautiful coastlines of Malta, I've been exploring a typical cake from carnival time, Prinjolata! The name comes from the Maltese words for pine nuts, a key ingredient that can be found inside the dessert as well as decorating it!

You put it together by first creating a sponge cake, then breaking up the cake (this was hard for me to bring myself to do!) and mixing it with other ingredients before moulding into the traditional dome shape, before decorating! If you want that a little more specific, here it is:

4 eggs
200g caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla essence,
1/2 tsp lemon zest
200g self raising flour

Beat the eggs and sugar together until smooth. Beat in the vanilla essence and lemon zest, then fold in the flour. Bake for around 35 minutes at 180, and allow to cool. Break into small cubes, around 1cm, and mix with the rest of the filling, which includes:

Sponge (as above)
50g pine nuts, toasted and chopped
50g glace cherries, chopped
200g butter
2tsb icing sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
2tbs cocoa nibs

Beat the sugar and butter together until smooth, then add the other ingredients and combine together. Your sponge cake will be entirely decimated by now, but it will work out ok, I promise! Line a bow with cling film and fill the bowl with the mixture, pressing it down for a nice dense texture and to make sure it fills all the gaps. Then pop in the fridge or a couple of hours.

I didn't come a cross a definitive answer for what to use to top the cake, so I used dream topping... because I love dream topping. Fresh cream is used b many though, as well as icing, buttercream and carious other forms of topping... so I think as long as it's white and sugary you are good to go! Then decorate with halved glace cherries, pine nuts and chocolatey drizzles. Everywhere I've found pictures of this cake, it looks beautiful with a mixture or red and greed cherries... but goodness knows where people have been buying those green ones, I can't find them anywhere (not even that weird shop near my brothers house that sells everything...!) but mine still turned out pretty tasty if not as colourful as others!

Apologies to anyone who knows better than I for any authenticity issues in any of these recipes, hopefully I'll get to travel to some of these sunshiny destinations soon to check how close I got them - in the meantime though a huge thanks to Jet2Holidays for providing plenty of inspiration - for both cakes and holidays!