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Out and About: Las Iguanas, Temple Street Birmingham

The amount of new restaurant openings in Birmingham is quite staggering. One of these latest additions to the restaurant scene is the new Brummie branch of popular South American chain, Las Iguanas. Birmingham is already home to two branches – at the Arcadian and Resorts World – and the new opening is located on Temple Street in the heart of the city.

Las Iguanas opens at Temple Street, Birmingham.

I was excited to be invited to check out this latest opening. In the main my enthusiasm was because I thoroughly enjoy the food at Las Iguanas (I’ve been to the Leamington Spa restaurant). Also, the fact that this was my first night out since having my daughter in March, and the thought of taking a small handbag with just essentials rather than my huge mum-bag full of nappies, toys and the like, added to my excitement.

The restaurant is housed in the former Temple Street Social and the new décor is very fun, colourful and funky. The tables are well spaced out (I personally hate tables that are crammed in together too tightly) with some booths for larger groups.

Las Iguanas opens at Temple Street, Birmingham.

After arriving at the restaurant and being greeted by very friendly staff, we were seated promptly. The menu was given to us which listed food on one side and cocktails on the other. We got straight into the drinking (although just the one for me as I’m breastfeeding – just pointing out there that I try my hardest to be a responsible mother) with a strawberry caiprinha which was fresh and fruity. There was a definite kick of alcohol, but just the right amount to give me a light buzz without being overwhelming.

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The menu has a great range of cocktails and the majority are 2-4-1 every day, which is an added bonus.

Last time I visited Las Iguanas I stuck to the more well-known Mexican food including nachos and burritos. I fancied being more adventurous this time, so I chose Bolinhos De Caranguejo to start, which are crab, prawn and potato croquettes served with lime aioli. They arrived quickly and were freshly cooked. The potato was light and fluffy, with the crab and prawn adding a delicious uplift to the taste. The lime aioli was indeed as the menu stated, zingy. Even though the croquettes are deep fried they did not taste too oily, which was very welcome.

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My friend went for the Pato Taquito which is roast duck and caramelised onion in a flour tortilla. She enjoyed them, and said that the spicy cranberry salsa served with the taquito was a tasty addition.

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For main course, I plumped for the Halloumi Churrasco Skewers, which were skewers of halloumi, beetroot, artichoke, red onion and pepper. While I’m not a veggie, I do love a good vegetarian dish and often choose the veg option if it looks interesting. Plus I adore halloumi, so it seems a perfect choice for me.

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The skewers were served with a honey peri-peri sauce, salad and cassava fries. I was pleased to see there was plenty of halloumi on the skewers, with a good helping of the vegetables as well. It was cooked really well, nicely grilled without being overdone. The portion of salad and fries were generous.

My friend had a dish which looked super interesting, called Xinxim (still not sure how you pronounce it). It is a Brazilian dish, featuring chicken and crayfish in a lime and peanut sauce. It’s served with spring onion rice, fine green beans, coconut farofa (Google tells me this is toasted cassava flour mixture) and plantain.

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I was slightly disappointed that while the starters were served about 10 minutes after ordering, we waited 45 minutes after our first course for our mains to arrive. The restaurant was really busy and I appreciate things can get held up, but this did seem a rather excessive wait.

In between courses we went in for our second cocktail of the night, the Citrus Samba. Mine was sans-alcohol, but even without it the taste was crisp and refreshing.

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Overall we had a great evening and the food was certainly very tasty. I wouldn’t hesitate to visit this branch again as the location is ideal, and overlooking the long wait between courses, the food was freshly cooked, thoroughly enjoyable and more interesting than many other chain restaurants. The cocktails are also particularly delightful and the 2-4-1 offering is nice and easy on the wallet (helpful as my maternity pay is drawing to an end!). Non-alcoholic cocktails are also available on the 2-4-1 menu.
Sarah

Thanks to Tara and the team at East Village PR for inviting me to the launch event, where food and drink was provided free of charge for the purposes of this review. As always my reviews are honest and are not influenced by the provision of free products. 

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Review: AQUA Carpatica

I’ve long been an advocate for nitrate-free food (check out my blog post on Unearthed to read more about this) so I was very pleased to be offered the chance to review AQUA Carpatica. This bottled water is naturally nitrate-free and has a low sodium level, which is an impressive boast over other bottled waters. I’m currently breastfeeding, so anything I can do to improve the quality of what I eat and drink makes me feel better about feeding my 5 month old daughter.

AQUA Carpatica is sourced from the Carpathian Mountains, which spread across Eastern and Central Europe. The water source is protected from chemicals, fertilisers, CFCs and other contaminants. Again, very good news for anyone conscious of what they eat and drink.

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With a very impressive background to its production, the next thing on the agenda was to give it a taste test. The water has garnered great reviews and has just won a taste test with Olive Magazine, so I was keen to see whether I shared the opinions of their judges.

I’m happy to report I certainly do. The water tastes so fresh and clean, which I know water should (!) but I find some bottled waters have an unusual aftertaste. Some definitely have the salty taste that AQUA Carpatica avoids. It was very refreshing and easy to drink, which makes it great for keeping hydrated.

I also love the packaging. The glass bottles are really classy and look great on the table, and the square small bottles are lovely to hold and drink from.

Another notable benefit is the price. I’m always a bit wary of healthy products, as I feel the price is hiked up to capitalise on the benefits they offer. Contrary to this, AQUA Carpatica is reasonably priced, especially given its nitrate-free benefits.

  • RRP 65p for 500ml Still Natural Mineral Water
  • RRP 69p for 500ml Naturally Sparkling Natural Mineral Water
  • RRP 79p for 1 litre and £0.99 for 1.5 litre Still Natural Mineral Water
  • RRP £1.09 for 1.5 litre Naturally Sparkling Natural Mineral Water

AQUA Carpatica also naturally contains electrolytes and minerals, including Calcium, Magnesium and Potassium which are vital for hydration during pregnancy. While I don’t plan on having any more babies, I would certainly recommend this to my pregnant friends and blog readers.

AQUA Carpatica is available at my favourite online supermarket, Ocado, as well as Amazon and a number of other outlets across the UK. I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys bottled water, or wants an added incentive to keep hydrated. It is a superb addition to the bottled water market and I for one can see it has a great future ahead.

Have you tried AQUA Carpatica? Given its benefits would you buy it over other brands?
Sarah

Thanks to Palm PR and Aqua Carpatica for offering me the products for review. As always my reviews are honest and are not influenced by the provision of free products. 

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Baking recipe: Chocolate Mocha Caramel Cake

I’m the first to admit that I’m not the best at baking, but I do like to give cakes a go from time to time. This recipe was based on one from my BBC Good Food Cakes and Bakes book. It must have been more of a success than I anticipated as it came second in my husband’s bake off competition at his work. In fact the only reason it didn’t win is because he hadn’t made it himself! Yes, I am a good wife to make his cake for him ;o)

To make this incredibly rich chocca mocha caramel cake, you will need:

  • 2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons hot water
  • 175g butter, softened
  • 175g golden caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoon golden syrup
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 4 tablespoons milk
  • 100g Cadbury Caramel squares (I used a 200g bar split in half)
    And for the icing:
  • 100g Cadbury Caramel squares (I used the other half of the 200g bar)
  • 50g butter
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 100g icing sugar, sifted
    To decorate:
  • Bag of chocolate buttons

What to do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4/fan oven 160C. Line the base of a 20cm round cake tin with baking parchment and grease the sides.
  2. In a cup or small measuring jug, mix together the coffee, cocoa and hot water to form a smooth paste.
  3. In a large mixing bowl add the butter, sugar, eggs, syrup, flour, milk and cocoa paste. Beat with a wooden spoon or electric beaters (if you have them) until smooth. Break the caramel bars into small sections (I decided to cut each square into quarters) and stir into the cake mixture.
  4. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 35-40 minutes until the top is nice and springy when you press it. Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then remove and place it on a rack to cool.
  5. Once the cake is cool, prepare the icing. Break up the caramel bars and add them to a small pan with the butter and milk. On a gentle hob setting, stir the mixture continuously until melted and smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the icing sugar. Leave the icing to cool until it has thickened up enough to be spreadable.
  6. Spread the icing over the top of the cake, not worrying too much if it falls over the sides of the cake. Leave the icing to set. Finally, press the buttons into the now iced cake, covering the top evenly.
  7. You’re done! Admire your work and enjoy :o)
  8. Sarah

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Foodie Family: My Newborn Essentials list

Since having my daughter in mid-March, it’s taken a few weeks to figure out which are the essential products to get me through these first few months. From nappies to wipes, and products to support breastfeeding (which isn’t always easy in my opinion), I wanted to share my thoughts on the brands and baby items that make life that little bit easier.

Aldi Mamia Nappies

These nappies are amazing! They are great value, easy to put on and hold their own during even the worst explosive nappies (sorry for TMI!). I had seen rave reviews of them when I researched nappies while I was pregnant, and can definitely see why they are so popular. We are just about to move onto size 2 from the newborn size, and I’m confident in the ability of the Aldi Mamia nappy to keep my little one dry as she gets bigger.

Waterwipes

I know wipes aren’t for everyone and some people prefer cotton wool and water. Personally I’m not that organised so wipes are a much easier solution for this mama. Waterwipes are a brilliant concept, wipes made moist with just water (99.9%) and 0.1% fruit extract, so their cleaning ability is superb while remaining nice and natural for baby’s soft skin. They have been a firm favourite on our changing table since birth, and the small packs of 10 wipes are perfectly sized for the changing bag or popping in my handbag.

NUK Luna breast pump

I have been experimenting with combination feeding, trying to express a bottle every now and again to give me a break and also let my husband get involved in feeding. The NUK Luna breast pump has made this so much easier; it’s comfortable to use with clear instructions. The two speeds of the pump help with the process and it is very straightforward to take apart in order to sterilise the different parts. I have also recently invested in a set of NUK bottles as little miss seems to prefer the NUK teats to any others we have tried.

Wimmer Ferguson Grasp and Grow rattle

Wimmer Ferguson toys are very cleverly designed for newborns, making great use of black and white images. We discovered this is because newborns only see in black and while during the early days of their development. This Grasp and Grow rattle is brilliant for engaging with little miss, she loves the face on the rattle and it holds her attention for ages. We also have a small mobile for her cot which keeps her entertained for a few minutes while I slip off to make a cup of tea or nip to the loo!

Boppy

My Boppy breastfeeding pillow has been great since my baby girl has got bigger and therefore heavier. The pillow is very sturdy and secure to take the weight of baby, which takes the strain off my arms especially during long feeding sessions. I’m looking forward to using the pillow as my little one grows and can use it for tummy time, and then helping her to sit up.

Vital Baby Aquaint Sanitising Water

This has been a fantastic find for cleaning up after nappy changes, wiping baby items clean, sanitising hands at home and on the go – you name it, this water can take on the cleanliness challenge! With no alcohol or harsh chemicals, this sanitising water is perfect for our skin and sensitive baby skin. We use the big bottles and keep one in the living room and one at our changing station, although I know there are small bottles available for handbags and changing bags.

What have been your best finds for your baby?
Sarah

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Midweek Meal recipe: Harissa Chicken

I’m a huge fan of middle Eastern and Arabic cuisine and have long tried to find a way to introduce it into my cooking. Many of the recipes I have seen take a long time and while I’m always up for a challenge, working full-time means easy meals are always more welcome. Even more so now I am a mummy on maternity leave where my main focus is looking after my new bundle :o)

I was therefore intrigued when Steenbergs Organic herbs sent me an Arabic spice kit to try out. Steenbergs is a family run company that sells organic spices, loose leaf tea and organic cooking ingredients. I was immediately drawn to the harissa with rose, especially as I had indulged in the most delicious harissa chicken sandwich at a nearby pub. The kit came with a handy recipe sheet which I used to whip up a very simple and exceptionally tasty chicken dish.

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Some of the yummy herbs I have in my cupboard from Steenbergs Organic

These quantities fed two of us, and you could easily scale up for more people.

You will need:

  • 350g chicken breast, cut into strips
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons of Steenbergs Organic harissa with rose
  • 1 knob of butter

What to do:

  1. In an ovenproof dish, add the chicken and coat with the oil.
  2. Add the harissa and mix well.
  3. Add the butter and mix again. I had garlic butter in the freezer so used that, plain butter would also work or you could add garlic separately.
  4. Leave to marinade for up to 24 hours – the longer you can leave it, the more flavourful the dish will be.
  5. Cook in the oven on 180 deg C for around 25 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
  6. Serve with salads, or flatbread, homous and mixed leaves. To make the meal even easier for us, I served with Waitrose ready made cous cous salad and a wild rice salad.

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That’s all there is to it. I love marinating because it is so easy to do, and delivers such great results.

What are your favourite marinade recipes?
Sarah

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Musings: News and views from January & February 17

Since the start of 2017 we’ve been in our final trimester of pregnancy and it’s been a bit busy to say the least (I’m now only 3 days away from due date, eek!). So there’s not been lots of time to keep up with my foodie explorations but I have found a few new discoveries that I wanted to share.

Steenbergs Organic herbs

Steenbergs is a family run company that sells organic spices, loose leaf tea and organic cooking ingredients. I have two different sets of their herbs, the thai set which is great for trying out different thai recipes, especially as it contains some more unusual and difficult to find herbs and spices. The set includes 8 mini jars such as freeze dried lime leaves, cassia and galangal. I also have the Arabic set which has been brilliant for exploring middle eastern cooking which is one of my favourite cuisines. I’m particularly struck on the harissa which I used to make a very tasty chicken dish, which I’m planning to  blog soon.

True Foods beef stock

We’ve been shopping with Ocado for many years now and about 2 years ago were invited to be part of their reviews panel. Every month we are sent codes to try out new products for free, which is a great way to discover new foods and household items that we love (and those that we don’t). One of our most recent reviews was for True Foods beef stock, which we used to make a stew. The stock is fantastic quality and tastes delicious, and made the stew full of flavour.  We enjoyed it so much that we reordered this the following week and will definitely be buying it again in the future. I love that all of the ingredients are natural, and how a real stock would be if you made it at home. Sadly I just don’t have time to make stock at home, so this really is the next best thing.

Dryck Blabar blueberry syrup from Ikea

I had visited Ikea to buy a bookcase as we’re having a big sort out ahead of baby’s arrival, and couldn’t resist a look around their food market. As well as a ridiculously large bag of mini Daim bars, I picked up a bottle of their blueberry syrup drink. I had originally chosen the elderflower syrup, but the main ingredient is sugar. Yes, the blueberry syrup is still very high in sugar so it is a treat rather than an everyday drink, but the main ingredient is blueberry juice at 50% of the contents. Topped up with sparkling water this is a fruity and refreshing alternative to alcoholic drinks.

CafeDirect Machu Picchu Peruvian coffee

I am a coffee lover and although I’ve hugely reduced my intake during my pregnancy I still have indulged in a cup every now and again. We have an Andrew James coffee machine which we have been pleased with, particularly its grind feature as both my husband and I think freshly ground beans have the edge over pre-ground coffee. We discovered the CafeDirect Machu Picchu coffee after I was given a bag at Christmas and it has become our firm favourite since. As well as the rich and indulgent flavour, I appreciate the fairtrade ethics of the product.

That’s the round-up of my favourite discoveries from the start of 2017. What are your latest finds?
Sarah

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Foodie Finds: Henny & Joe’s Chocolate Chai

When it comes to hot drinks coffee used to be my go-to, but as I’m pregnant and need to limit my caffeine intake, I’ve been exploring different options for the past few months. I’ve always loved chai drinks but find many on the market can be overly-sweet, so when I discovered Henny & Joe’s Chocolate Chai, which is caffeine-free, I was keen to give it a try.

Henny & Joe’s Chocolate Chai is a syrup infusion that can be added to hot milk (of any variety) or hot water to make a chai drink, or alternatively used in baking, cocktails or milkshakes. I was immediately pleased  that it uses all natural ingredients, primarily spices, including cinnamon, ginger, all spice and vanilla. The blend of ingredients is used in Henny & Joe’s classic chai syrup, and then chocolate is added to create their latest infusion.

I wanted to try it as a warm drink first so I heated a mug of milk (I used the simple method of microwaving) and added two tablespoons of the Chocolate Chai. The bottle recommends adding one or two, but I was feeling in an indulgent mood. I used my aerolatte to froth the milk, and left it to cool for a few minutes before giving it a try.

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The rich and warm flavour of the spices instantly hit me, with the chocolate adding an even-deeper taste. I loved that it wasn’t overly sweet, with the spices really coming through rather than sugar, which  I have found with other mass-market chai drinks. It came together as a delicious drink and I also found it a very soothing flavour compared to the zing you get from coffee. For me it was the perfect drink to wind-down after a busy day.

I also tried out the syrup with cold milk as a sort of milkshake and while I enjoyed it, the hot version was the winner for me.

I would definitely recommend Henny & Joe’s to any chai fans, or anyone looking for an alternative to caffeinated drinks. It’s also a great product for those who want to embrace more natural food and drink, as many of the flavoured hot drinks on the market contain a lot of additives.

As an added bonus, Henny & Joe’s cares about the environment and sustainability, reducing waste wherever possible and using recycled cardboard for their packaging. They also work with exclusively with independent companies, which is lovely to see that Ash the founder, is supporting other growing businesses.

You can buy Henny & Joe’s Chocolate Chai and the classic Chai Masala over on their website, where you will also find some recipes including the syrups, which look yummy.

Do you love Chai?
Sarah

Thank you to Henny & Joe’s for sending me a bottle of Chocolate Chai for this review. As always my reviews are honest and are not influenced by the provision of free products. 

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Foodie Family: Feeding and Weaning Wish List

Anyone who knows me well will probably know that I like to forward plan. So with the birth our first baby fast approaching next year, I’m already way ahead of myself and thinking about feeding and even onto weaning. I know it’s barmy but cross a big planner with a food blogger and that’s the result!

As part of my thinking ahead, I’ve been deciding what to put on my Christmas list to help me on my way as I move into motherhood. My plan is to combination feed so my hubby can help out and be part of the feeding process too. These are my top five picks that I’m hoping Santa brings me this year.

Boppy

boppy

Whenever people talk about breastfeeding pillows, Boppy is the one that I think has the best reputation. I’ve seen different brands when I’ve been baby shopping and this is definitely the make for me; I think the pillow is the sturdiest and will therefore offer the best support for Little Miss. I also love that it can be used for tummy time and then helping the baby to sit up. As a bit of a thrifty spender I’m always keen to invest in anything that offers more than one purpose and has longevity.

NUK Luna electric breast pump

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As I’m planning to combination feed a breast pump is going to be essential. I’ve done lots of research and decided to go for an electric pump, and NUK Luna electric breast pump has excellent reviews and I know it has won parenting awards. There are two settings so I can choose to alter the pumping action, and reviews say it is easy to use and comfortable. So onto the Christmas list it goes!

Vertbaudet nursing tops

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I hadn’t heard of Vertbaudet until I got my Emma’s Diary pack and there was a small Vertbaudet catalogue enclosed. I couldn’t resist a flick through, mainly because of the super cute baby grows on the front page, and I was really taken with a couple of their nursing tops. I like that tops can be used for maternity wear and then nursing. As well as being practical they are super stylish, which is a great combination. The range of colours and styles is also impressive. For me, my favourites that will be on my list are the two adaptable maternity and nursing tops in the photographs – one in marine blue and one in grey marl. Just lovely!

Chicco Polly ProgressThis product looks amazing! It’s a highchair that lasts form 0 months up to 3 years as it converts from a baby recliner to a booster seat, with the different stages in between. It seems a very sensible option as it’s just one product that will last for 3 years. And you don’t have to worry about regularly upgrading your recliner to a highchair and then a booster seat when they get older – it’s all here for you! The fabric is bright and vibrant as well which for me is a selling point as I want lots of different colours and patterns , but I know this is a personal choice.

Ella’s Kitchen First Foods book

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Now this definitely is getting ahead of myself as I’ve obviously got ages before I need to think about weaning. However, as I said I like to forward plan, plus I love reading recipe books (even if it is for baby food!). Ella’s Kitchen is another brand that seems to be a firm parenting favourite, and from what I’ve seen of their First Foods book I’m sure it will become a favourite of ours too. I like that their website is packed with advice and information as well, as a new parent to be I need all the help I can get!

I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that Santa brings me these lovely pressies! What’s on your Christmas list?
Sarah

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Foodie Finds: Christmas Gift Guide for Foodies

With Christmas fast approaching if you’re anything like me then there is always at least one person on my gift list who leaves me stumped over what to buy them every year.

I’ve kept my eyes peeled over the past few months and weeks to create a list of what I think would make fab gifts for foodie fans. Hopefully they’ll provide inspiration for those last gifts you need to buy, or perhaps ideas for what you’d like on your own list this Christmas.

Mister Berwyn Circus Range
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How beautiful is this range? Mister Berwyn is a relatively new homeware brand having launched earlier this year by founder and clearly very talented illustrator Amy Brown. My favourite products are the circus range, which encompasses a lovely mug (£16), delightful plates (£22.50 each) and co-ordinating tea towel (£12 each).

Steenbergs Mulled Cider Spices

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAsteenbergs-arabic-spices-in-a-blue-box-giftI have a huge range of herbs and spices in my cupboard as I love cooking recipes from all over the world. From my collection, my favourite brand would be Steenberg’s as they offer a great range with lots of unusual herbs and spices, and they are packaged beautifully. For Christmas their Mulled Cider Spices (£3.50) packaged in a Christmas cracker would make a lovely stocking filler. As I’m pregnant I’ve tried this out with apple juice and it is truly yummy! Or for a larger gift Steenberg’s gift boxes are fabulous, such as the Arabic spice set (£10) featured in the photo below.

Savisto Popcorn Maker and Cocktail Shaker

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I came across Savisto earlier this year when they kindly sent me a salt and pepper mill set to review. Savisto has a great range of homeware and kitchen accessories at exceptionally good prices.. Having tried out their products, I can vouch for the quality, which is excellent.

For Christmas gifts, I don’t think you could go wrong with their vintage style popcorn maker (£21.99), perfect for creating popcorn at home for a night in cuddled up on the sofa watching TV or movies. Or for the cocktail lover in your life, go for the 7 piece Manhattan cocktail shaker gift set. It’s presented in a gift box complete with shaker, bar measures, a recipe book and other essential cocktail paraphernalia, all for £20.99.

Ross & Ross curing kits and food hampers

bacon-kit-over-head_sqRoss & Ross food photography

This is another brand that I have been lucky enough to try out first hand this year. Ross & Ross, which is based in favourite part of the country, the Cotswolds, offer a range of great foodie gifts and home curing kits. Having tried out their bacon curing kit I can highly recommend this as a fun and quirky gift for any friends or family interested in artisan food and home curing.

I also like the look of this Pig & Beer box (£12) which would be great for anyone that loves, well, pig and beer. A big thumbs up from me that the box is championing locally produced beer from the Cotswold brewing company.

Cornishware Mugs and Pudding Bowl

family-personalised-mugs pudding-basinA stunning range of crockery that would add a touch of class to any home. The iconic Cornishware stripes are particularly lovely in blue and white. Choose from a range of different sized mugs (one for all of the family) which can be personalised on the Cornishware website.

Alternatively for those who love cooking and baking, a personalised pudding basin would be a super gift. Versatile and sturdy, this is a kitchen essential, and well, it’s just nice to have such nice things isn’t it?The mugs range from £9 up to £15 and the pudding basin is £24; personalisation incurs an extra charge.

Womanish Affairs teabag holders

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I’m very excited to include these teabag holders in my gift guide as they are handmade by the very talented Sabah over at Womanish Affairs. She has just launched her own online shop selling a small but perfectly formed range of items for the home. Tea lovers will undoubtedly super happy to receive one of Sabah’s handcrafted teabag holders, and as the gift giver you’ll be supporting a new small business. What’s not to love? The teabag holders can be personalised and are a snip at £6 each.

Biscuiteers iced Christmas medium gift tin

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I’m sure plenty of fellow food-lovers out there will have heard of Biscuiteers, and I have to say I think their gift range is adorable. All of their biscuits are hand-iced and the packaging is always gorgeous, so I’m always delighted to send these as gifts (even though I’m quite envious of the recipient). For Christmas, the iced Christmas medium gift tin is my top pick, a real box of festively decorated biscuity treats including snowmen, snowflakes and a Christmas pudding. You can also have the present biscuit personalised for that extra thoughtful touch. Price is £30 including delivery.

And while my final choice is not actually edible, this is still very lipsmacking…

Lush Lip scrub and lip balm

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Having spent years suffering from dry and rough lips, it was a blessing when I discovered lip scrub from Lush. It only uses natural ingredients, and as the main ingredient is sugar you can scrub your lips and it doesn’t matter if you end up eating some! You can then follow up with a lip balm to keep your smackers nice and soft. So for a foodie/beauty hybrid gift, choose sugar plum fairy lip scrub (£5.75) and key/lime pie lip balm (£6.75) available from Lush stores or online.

There we have my round up of Christmas gifts and inspiration. Has anything taken your fancy either for someone else or yourself?
Sarah

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Reviews: Ross & Ross bacon curing kit

I first came across Ross & Ross when I headed to the Farm Shop & Deli show back in March. I loved the idea of curing your own meat and fish, which is just part of Ross & Ross’ offering, so I made a beeline for their stand at the show to find out more.

Ross&Ross

After meeting the guys behind the brand, I was kindly sent a bacon curing kit of my very own to try out. Included in the kit is everything you need to cure three different bacon joints, with either sweet, smoky or original curing salts. I loved that the kit even came with plenty of pairs of plastic gloves so you can make sure you are being very hygienic when curing your bacon.

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Ross & Ross kit what's inside

I was a bit apprehensive as it’s not something I’ve dabbled in before, but the instructions accompanying the kit were very clear. Firstly, I headed to my local butchers to buy the belly pork I needed, which was easy to do as the instructions let me know exactly what to ask for. I found this super helpful as I’m not particularly au fait with cuts of meat (I’m learning but I do have a habit of sticking with what I know).

The next job was to get curing! I won’t go into every stage because I don’t want this review to become a step by step guide. So instead I’ll talk about how I found the experience overall and the end result (the proof is always in the eating).

Bacon curing stage 1Bacon curing stage 2

I found the kit really easy to use, like I say largely because the steps were clearly outlined in the instructions. Do make sure you read them in advance though, as you will need seven days for the whole process, so don’t get exciting thinking that if you start on a Wednesday you’ll be chomping your home-cured bacon butties by the weekend.

Also make sure you clear a space in the fridge before you move onto the stage where the bacon needs to hang in the bag. The muslin bag and hook is provided in the kit, so it’s just a case of ensuring there is room to hang it without it touching other items or the side of the fridge.

I tried out the original cure first and it did make truly delicious bacon. My husband said it was the best bacon he had ever had, which I would certainly take as a ringing endorsement for how good the end product is from this kit. I liked how natural it tasted, it didn’t taste overly salty or too processed, which many shop bought bacons can.

I also noticed that when I cooked the bacon (I grilled mine) it didn’t lose loads of water and really shrivel up. This meant I was left with really chunky pieces of bacon which for me was a nice bonus.

For me there was also a real sense of achievement that I had learnt a new skill. Yes, okay, the kit takes most of the hard work out of the task, but it still requires patience and a bit of effort, and then you get to eat the delicious fruits of your labour. What could be better?

I didn’t do a very good job of photographing the bacon curing process (my snaps look a bit gross), but just so you can see a selection of the different stages I thought I would add them to the post.

I did however get a better shot of the bacon (just ignore the slightly burnt bacon, my fault for leaving it under the grill too long) served up with homemade American pancakes and maple syrup. Heaven on a plate.

Bacon and American pancakes

At £21 the kit isn’t something you could probably do regularly, but as a gift it would be super, or if you were having friends or family to stay and wanted to present your own-cured bacon sandwiches then it’s worth every penny. I also think curing your own bacon for occasions such as loved-ones birthdays or Boxing Day would be a really nice touch.

Ross & Ross also offer salmon curing kits and a range of other foodie delights and gifts. You can check them out at rossandrossfood.co.uk.

Do you fancy curing your own bacon?
Sarah

Thank you to Ross & Ross for sending the bacon curing kit free of charge for the purpose of this review. As always the views expressed in my blog are honest and my own, and are not influenced by the provision of free products.