Thursday, December 7, 2017

I is for IceCream

A few weeks ago, my workmate Cathy was kind enough to lend us her ice cream maker to play around with. This is how we got on!

The first ice cream we made was lemon frozen yoghurt. Made up of lemon juice, sugar, greek yoghurt and cream. You mix all the ingredients together and chill them for 30 minutes so they're cold. You have to pre-freeze a bowl that sits inside the machine so you have to plan making ice cream at least 6-8 hours beforehand. Put the bowl in the machine and set the paddle going. Pour in the ice cream mix through a hole in the top and leave to churn for about 20-30 minutes. The machine clicks as the paddle starts turning the opposite way when it's done. Turn off the paddle and quickly scrape out the ice cream into a plastic tub and freeze for about an hour to firm it up. Or just eat as it is if you don't mind looser ice cream.

The frozen yoghurt made a really smooth creamy ice cream. We all enjoyed it and it was a good start to our ice cream journey.

Next, JD wanted to try some chocolate ice cream made with ready made custard. You make it by melting chocolate with thick double cream in a pan until it's smooth. Leave it to cool a bit then stir in the ready made custard. It looks delicious like this too!

Chill the chocolate pudding in the fridge for 30 minutes and then churn it in the machine exactly the same way as before. Freeze it for an hour in a tub again and you have chocolate ice cream.

This ice cream was also delicious smooth and creamy. I could get used to this.

Next we made a plain vanilla ice cream and added chocolate chips. Vanilla ice cream was made by mixing vanilla, double cream, milk and sugar. Chilled as usual and churned until thickened. We found that the ice cream mixtures that started off thick took 30 minutes to thicken whereas mixtures that were more runny in texture thickened much quicker. About 10-15 minutes. We added the chocolate chips near the end.

We experimented with different toppings and had ice cream cones. This one has M&Ms and toffee syrup stirred through it. We tried mint choc chip ice cream, clotted cream ice cream and vanilla gelato.

I think my favourite was the chocolate custard ice cream. We had it again this time with choc chips. Yum!

The ice cream maker was easy to use as long as you followed the instructions to the letter. It was a bit noisy to have churning for 30 minutes at a time and the paddle was difficult to scrape ice cream off. But other than that it was great to have freshly made ice cream whenever we wanted. The ice cream was enthusiastically received for the first couple of weeks then we all got a bit sick of eating it so often. JD and I preferred the plainer flavours of ice cream such as the lemon or chocolate rather than ice cream with syrup and toppings. I think Leigh was the only one keen to continue eating ice cream indefinitely.

It was fun to play with for a few weeks anyway, thanks Cathy :)

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Burger It 7: Pork Sausage Burger

Something terrible happened with this burger and it's only now a week later that I can bring myself to tell you about it. We ate a burger without a bread bun (without bread of any kind in fact). I know my Dad would not approve.

Years ago when I was a teenager we were going to have an impromtu barbecue. But as often happens on the rare sunny day in the UK when this can happen, the local supermarket had been ransacked by other hopeful barbecuers. There were no bread buns to be bought anywhere. My Dad had a bit of a tantrum about it when my Mum suggested we go ahead with no bread buns. He said "You can't have burgers without any fucking bread buns". And he's right.

This recipe suggested serving the burger on a rosti with onions on top and God help us that's what we did.

Make the burgers from pork sausagemeat adding in some salt & pepper, cayenne pepper and lemon juice.

Cook them until they're done in a frying pan. Serve on a rosti with balsamic onions.

We sat down to this travesty of a burger feeling amused. It didn't look like a burger or even something we wanted to eat. But, it tasted great. The three components went together really well. It was delicious even though it had to be eaten with a knife and fork. With the addition of a bread bun and some sauce it might have been one of the best burgers I've ever had. From now on, whatever the recipe suggests we'll be having a bread item of some kind to encase the burger. It's what my Dad would want.

Ratings: JD - 4, Emma - 4

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Reverse Advent Calendar

Christmas is a time of indulgence for many of us. Chocolates, mulled wine, Christmas cake and lots of extra treats in the food shopping. I for one love eating cheese and crackers washed down with a snowball or two!

But this year in the media there's been a lot of stories about families struggling to make ends meet. People turning to food banks to get them past some tricky times financially.

This time of year it's especially important to help out those people. Christmas should be a time of giving. Not just giving presents to family and friends but thinking of how we'd feel if we didn't have enough money to feed our kids.

There's a brilliant idea doing the rounds that anyone can join in with to help out. The Reverse Advent Calendar!

Decorate a box with some festive paper and every day leading up until Christmas put one item of food in the box. When you have 24 items, donate it to your local Food Bank. Ideally you'd start doing it a week before December starts so you can deliver your filled box just in time for the food to be handed out for Christmas.

Put the box in your kitchen and get into the habit of buying a couple of extra items when you go in a shop. It doesn't have to be expensive brands, just whatever you can spare. Food bank websites will detail exactly what they accept but generally anything with a decent shelf life is good. Tea, coffee, sugar, pasta, rice, tins of anything. Also don't forget toiletries are needed too. Toilet rolls, sanitary towels, shampoo etc.

Our box is off to a good start!

It's a great way to get your kids involved in giving to others. Encourage them to help pick out foods they think other kids would enjoy in a food bank parcel. It's a lovely project to encourage us all to think of others less well off.

Here's a link to the Food Bank Network if you want to find your local drop-off point:

Give it a go. Let's try make sure everyone has a Merry Christmas xx

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Restaurant Food at Home: Wagamama

JD and I love noodles so we thought we'd try recreating our own Wagamama meal. The kids were away at their Dad's for the night so this is an ideal meal for just the two of us.

We looked at their menu and picked out the following meal.

Bang Bang Cauliflower - crispy, wok-fried cauliflower coated in a firecracker sauce.

Chicken Teppanyaki - teppanyaki is a big plate of sizzling noodles, stir-fried quickly in a hot pan. This means you get soft noodles and crunchy vegetables.

Two ciders

This would have cost us £37.90 at Wagamama, which isn't terrible for a meal out for two. But we can do much better!

JD likes stir-frying food so this was a nice one for him to cook. I made our version of the Bang Bang cauliflower and our local corner shop provided the ciders.

It all tasted great and there was enough for a second bowl of noodles each. Our version had much more chicken per portion, we were really pleased with how the food worked out.

Our meal cost £16 to make (with £5 of that being the ciders). We could have made it cheaper but we were quite generous with the chicken. It made a delicious, filling meal with alcohol for £21.80 less than going out to Wagamamas. Pretty good, I'd say. :)

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Subscription Box Review - Graze

Leigh and I decided to try out a Graze Box. It's a subscription delivery of healthy snacks that you can have weekly, fortnightly or monthly. Each box is just £3.99 and contains 4 snacks.

The box is perfectly shaped and sized to fit through your letterbox which makes delivery really convenient.

There's over 100 snacks to choose from, you rate them so they know what you like the look of then they send you 4 surprise snacks. 

We had honeycomb flapjack, lemon poppy bar with tea, chocolate brownies and chocolate pretzel dippers. All sweet things even though they have a massive selection of savoury snacks too. We liked the look of more of their sweet treats!

I'm struggling to find something I don't like about Graze! You don't even have to subscribe, they're happy for you to have a one-off box or just buy their snacks online or in stores around the UK. If you do subscribe you get offers such as your 5th box free or a free box for a friend. You can easily cancel your subscription online or pause it if you prefer.

They do several types of Graze boxes, the variety box that we tried or a light box with lower calorie snacks or a Protein box with high protein snacks. What I like most is the range of options, you can enjoy their product without feeling hassled to subscribe weekly if you don't want to. But why wouldn't you want to, I'm extremely tempted myself as the snacks were all delicious!

I'd recommend this subsciption box to anyone who enjoys trying new tasty healthy snack ideas.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

H is for Harrogate

Harrogate is the town we live in. It was voted Happiest place to live in the UK in  2013, 2014 and 2015. Confirmed by this cheerful graffiti I photographed a couple of years ago.

One of the nicest things about Harrogate is that it's surrounded by The Stray, 200 acres of grass with paths which are great for picnics, games, walks, running etc. There's plenty of space for lots of activities. Sunday football, Bonfire Night, Bank holiday fairs and lots more.

Harrogate is well known for several things. One of them being it's mineral springs. Years ago people would travel to this spa town to take it's waters for good health. You can still taste the water if you visit the Pump Rooms but it tastes awful and smells of rotten eggs due to the sulphur in it.

Another popular Harrogate attraction is Betty's Tea Rooms, you can often see a long queue of people outside. The Tea Rooms are owned by the Betty's and Taylors group. They have several tea rooms in the area and also make Taylors Coffee and Yorkshire Tea.

In 1926 Agatha Christie dissappeared from her home causing speculation that she'd killed herself. She was missing for 11 days before being found at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate under an assumed name. I suspect she chose Harrogate as the perfect place to get away from it all. It's a lovely old-fashioned hotel, now a Grade II listed building.

One of my favourite places in Harrogate is the Valley Gardens. It's not far from our house, there's a playground, skate park and crazy golf. We like walking in the pinewoods behind it and that there's often fun stuff going on there in the summer.

Harrogate isn't a huge town which makes it a nice place to live. Leeds and York are both less than an hour away if you want to go to a city for shopping etc. You don't have to go far out of Harrogate for some gorgeous countryside, there are plenty of beautiful places to visit or walk.

Yep, we like living here. :)

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Oh Burger! 6: Sesame Salmon Burger

I'm not sure how I feel about a fish burger. I don't think I've had one before. I'll have to get used to the idea though because there are several in this book I'm working through! I know people eat them, McDonalds has one on it's menu. But who picks that over a cheeseburger? Not me :)

Coat your salmon in sesame seeds and then cook it in a frying pan with some sesame oil.

 Toast the bread bun and put a layer of thinly sliced cucumber and onion on it.

 Top with the salmon, I also added a bit of mayo or you could use tartar sauce.

My misgivings were unfounded, this burger was great. The sesame flavour was quite strong from the oil but it goes really well with salmon. There was a nice meaty bite to the whole burger which is just what you want. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.

Rating: Emma - 4

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Subscription Box Review - Degustabox

It seems you can get almost every kind of monthly subscription box now. Food, snacks, make-up,  socks, gin, clothes, stationery etc. I probably won't review them all but I'm going to review a few.

First up is Degustabox, a surprise delivery of 10-15 grocery items every month for £12.99 per month. Promises new products for much less than you'd pay in the shops.

Our box arrived on the day it was due in the given hour time frame. It was nice not to know what might be inside. Like an Amazon delivery but more exciting.

It came well packed in a nice patterned box with delicate items bubble wrapped for safety.

Our box had 12 items in it. 9 things that we liked or could use. 3 things I'm not sure what to do with. I'd filled in some quick questionnaires about products I would like/dislike so they'd done ok I think.

Things I liked about this subscription were:

New products to try and maybe things you wouldn't pick up at first
Surprise element is exciting
No commitment means you can cancel after just one box
Delivery and packaging were great

Things I didn't like were:

You have to cancel your subscription with an email instead of just clicking a button
They want you to review products, which seems like something they should pay you for not vice versa
Surprise element works both ways, could get items you don't want

I wouldn't want to have this subsciption box every month but it was nice to try it. A rough comparison with Morrisons (where I usually buy groceries) put the box's worth at £14 which was more than I thought. Including postage it's not bad value. Though I expect they get the products much cheaper from companies wanting to find out what the shoppers think of them.

I'd recommend this box for people who like surprises and trying new products before anyone else.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Burger Off! 5: Roast Chicken Burger

With JD away in America visiting his family, I had a browse through the book for a suitable burger to eat with Leigh and Erin. They have very 'refined' tastes but I found this recipe for a roast chicken burger and optimistically decided we'd have it for tea one night.

We've had a lot of Roast dinner/Christmas leftover sandwiches in the past for our Saturday Sandwich but I've never eaten a Roast Chicken Dinner in burger form before. Until now!! :)

The patty part of the burger is made up of stuffing and sausage. Mix together some sage & onion stuffing with some sausagemeat and form into a burger shape. Place on an oven tray along with some chicken breasts and roast until cooked.

Assemble the burger by making a nest of lettuce on the bread bun and topping with the stuffing patty along with two pieces of chicken breast.

The hero of this burger was the delicious sausage/stuffing patty which I would happily eat on it's own and may change Christmas forever now I've tasted this winning combo. It went really well with the chicken of course but it was lacking something to moisten the whole burger. I'd add a bit of mayo next time. Erin wasn't interested in the stuffing patty but enjoyed a chicken sandwich. Leigh tried it and was quite enthusiastic about how good it was, which was nice. I imagine if JD was here he'd have wanted to dip the whole thing in gravy, that would certainly have moistened it!

Ratings: Emma - 3, Leigh - 4

Thursday, September 21, 2017

G is for Games

I love games. I love board games, video games, pen and paper games, card games, word games, dice games...pretty much anything slightly gamish.

When I was a kid we'd often play card games with our parents. My sister Caroline and I usually had a game of Monopoly on the go on our bedroom floor. My youngest sister Sally and I played games like Key to the Kingdom and Anticpation. Once my Dad came home with a second hand games console in a cardboard box. I think it was a texas instruments console, anyway it came with a cassette player to load the games onto the console and it took ages to get set up. That started our love of video games.

I spent hours in my room as a teenager listening to music and playing Yahtzee by myself on a felt board my Dad had made. I loved when Christmas came around , there was often a new board game to play and plenty of time to play it all together. Family would come around and we'd play Charades/Give us a clue. I loved it.


My love of games led me to be looking for free online games to play which is how I met JD, also playing an online game. Not the best game but a forum with a lot of great people we got to know over the years we played. We'd play games on the forum together, I enjoyed Rock, Paper, Scissors tournaments we had and trying to beat each others high scores at games such as Helicopter or Winterbells.

My Dad loved gaming (pictured playing Rocksmith on the XBox). In the early years he played a lot of RPG type games, we'd have to help by drawing maps of caves or dungeons he was exploring. No auto-maps back then. No saves either, if you died you had to decide if you wanted to spend the time getting to where you were when you died or give up for the day. I don't know how he had the patience for it to be honest. We've had some great times over the years playing some really good video games but also plenty terrible ones too. Games my Dad couldn't get through even if I was sat next to him reading from a walkthrough in a magazine.

Simple games have always been useful for passing the time when travelling or waiting for a hospital appointment. You just need a pen and paper to play Hangman, Noughts and Crosses, Battleships or one of tons of games. Word games like I-spy, The Lord Mayor's cat or I went to the shop and I bought etc are also good for those times. I was talking to a Portuguese friend at work recently and realised we played a game in common. It's the game where you have to think of a thing for each category (like animal, country, film etc) and they all have to start with the chosen letter. You get points if no one else picked the same thing as you. She called it Stop because of how they choose what letter to use (someone is thinking the letters of the alphabet until someone says stop). I have no idea what we call it, maybe the Alphabet game. It's fun though and I remember us playing it as kids. I could never get an animal starting with N :D

Games are a simple pleasure for me, I'm always up for playing something. I enjoy spending time with my family playing a game. I'm not even that competitive, I just enjoy playing. I like winning of course but I've never flipped over a board game in a rage or anything. Honest!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Burger That! 4: Sticky Lemongrass burger

This recipe looks interesting. I love fusion food and this is a great example. It's a perfect meal for JD and I to have while the kids are away at their Dad's. I do all the prep, making up the burgers and then relax while JD cooks them in the frying pan. I don't have the patience to cook something that needs constant watching, if it was left to me we'd eat things before they were fully cooked and suffer from food poisoning. Luckily JD is on hand to save us from that!

The burger is made up of chicken mince mixed with spring onions, lemongrass puree, ginger and garlic. Formed into patties and then cooked for 4 minutes on each side.

Then to make it sticky you mix together soy sauce, fish sauce, rice wine vinegar, water and sugar to make a syrupy sauce. Pour it over the burgers and cook covered for a further 3 minutes. Serve in a bread buns with cucumber sticks and lime wedges on the side.

I really liked the sticky glaze on the burgers. It worked perfectly and gave the meat a lovely asian flavour. Squeezing lime over the burger before you eat it adds a subtle sour tang which I also liked. Very nice!

Ratings: JD -3, Emma - 4

Sunday, August 27, 2017

F is for Frugality

Frugality - the quality of being economical with money or food; thriftiness.

We really like saving money or making money we spend go further. We like the philosophy of making do instead of buying more and we don't like things to be wasted. Here's a list of things we do to try save our money. 

1. Menu Planning

We've done this for a few years now and it cuts down our supermarket spend. Once a week I write a menu and we only buy food for meals and planned snacks. Leigh and Erin know what we'll be eating and when so it cuts down on 'What's for tea?' questions. We spend between £60-70 per week but it covers all our lunches too.

2. Ziffit

Ziffit is a site/app you can sell books, games, DVDs and CDs to. They make it very simple because they pay for postage, you just parcel up what you want to sell (a minimum of £5 worth) and post it to them. Then they pay you via Paypal within a couple of days. For someone that reads a lot it's a handy way to sell on books. You'd get more if you sold them on ebay or similar but it's really convenient.

3. Reduced Food

We're always on the lookout for reduced food in supermarkets. Whenever we go to Asda we'll seek out the reduced section or in our Sainsbury's Local we'll keep an eye out for yellow stickers. Last week we bought 5 packs of reduced Puff Pastry in Co-op and put them in the freezer when we got home. This week I put chorizo sausage rolls on the menu using the pastry and we've also had chocolate & custard twists and cheese straws for snacks. If we get something reduced it gets used up in a meal saving us money on that weeks food shopping. Unless its something like muffins which we shamelessly scoff as soon as we get home, haha!

4. Budget

Our finances are mostly a series of budgets. JD and I each have a personal spending budget each month. Like I said earlier, we stick to a food budget. We have a monthly spending budget for days out, clothes and treats etc. If we want to buy something too expensive for the budget or have a trip out that's costly we owe it to ourselves like we've loaned ourselves the money. Then we have to pay it back over the next few weeks or months. It might seem weird to other people but it works for us. Thinking about how much we've spent and keeping a budget stops us from spending too much. But if we do spend too much, we have the best loan rates in town at 0%!

5. Groupon

Days out are often quite costly so when I'm planning something fun to do I always check out sites like Groupon for money off. We've had some good deals through these recently. This summer we've done an Escape Room at £36 instead of £50. Gone to the Proms with 2 for 1 tickets, £32 instead of £64. Eaten out with 50% off. Me and Erin have a reduced Spa Day planned and Leigh and I will be having a cut-price Afternoon Tea. There's plenty of offers on things to do and places to eat but you have to check the original price on the company's website to make sure you're actually getting a saving. A lot of times you can save money by going at a quieter time of day so this only works if you check the details of use before you buy.

6. Buying Second Hand

A lot of things we buy we try not to buy new. We look in charity shops for items we need or search sites like eBay or Gumtree for listings. Today we carried home a bed for Leigh that we bought on Gumtree for £30 and last month we picked up a stand mixer that I bought on eBay for £50. JD's really good at searching online for things we need. I often manage to find some nice clothes for myself in charity shops too. The internet has made it so much easier to buy second hand, you can easily look up the price of things on your phone to check you're getting a good price. Buying second hand isn't everyone's cup of tea but we really like saving money plus making use of something someone else doesn't want anymore.

7. Vypr.

I use quite a few apps to make a bit of extra money but this one is the easiest. It's a survey app where you just have to answer a few questions for each survey. It's quick to do and the money soons adds up. You get more points for surveys answered while you're actually in the store running the survey too. The questions are sometimes bizarre and repetitive, you don't have to mind answering questions about which packaging you prefer or if you think milk is sensual. But apart from that it's worth doing. They pay out at just £5 into Paypal within 48 hours. Nice :)

8. Be Inventive

We like going to the cinema or having fun days out as much as the next person but to save money you can always try being a bit more inventive about having fun. We've had just as much fun doing silly stuff at home. We've held Beetle Drives, Bingo Nights, Guiness World Records Olympics, Minecraft events and much more. We have a film night every Friday with homemade pizza and snacks, watching a film from Netflix or Lovefilm. We play cards or board games and try to find cheap ways of making our own fun. If it means you have to to see how many post it notes you can put on your face or dress up as your own invented super hero (watch this space!) then just go for it. :D

Anyway, that's your lot. Some of the ways we try to be frugal with our money.