Week 22 – getting ready for baby

img_6493.jpgA few weeks ago I got a bit of a shock when I realised I had just 11 weeks left until D-Day (providing the baby turns up on time), and I shared a panicky status update on Facebook saying that so far my preparations had so far stretched as far as buying one t-shirt for the baby, which prompted several of my lovely friends to offer both advice and items their own children had grown out of (including a very welcome pram, cot, moses basket and clothes).

Today brings the milestone of 8 weeks until our estimated due date, which is even more scary, but I am pleased to say that we are in a rather more prepared state now. That’s thanks to the generosity of our friends and family, and the fact that we have actually got off our backsides and started sorting things out.

We were lucky to be in a position 4 years ago (almost to the day!) to buy our first house, which came with three bedrooms, so we have enough space for our boy. However, four years in our house has meant we have filled those four bedrooms with our own things, including a rather indulgent dressing room. The dressing room has now been upgraded to baby’s room, which meant we needed to get new fitted wardrobes in our bedroom.

My friend Charles is a carpenter who moved back to the UK from Sweden a couple of years ago and has impressed me with the photos of his work on his Facebook page, so we had him over to measure up and quote for us to have bespoke wardrobes made, which exactly fit the space we had in our room.

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As you can see from the picture he did an amazing job, and we are totally thrilled with our new wardrobes. He also knocked up a little shelf unit for us for our bathroom, finally finishing that job which we started over a year ago!

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Sadly I don’t have billions of followers to whom I can promote Wood That I Could to, but if any of you need something beautiful to be built then please contact Charles, who is based near Colchester. Our next project is to have him back to build a dresser in some redundant space in our hallway.

So now our clothes have been relocated, we’re spending next weekend decorating the baby’s room (I am already picking up tips from fellow food bloggers such as Roz at The Foodie Couple, who is due around the same time as me).

We also spent a very informative couple of hours at the John Lewis nursery department where we had all of the items explained to us (we literally were clueless) and put together a list of items we might need. The service is free and there is no obligation to buy anything, but allows you to put together your shopping list, review it at your leisure, and have everything delivered in time for the baby’s arrival.

Now I am starting to think about what I can prepare food-wise before the baby comes. One of my favourite bloggers The Little Loaf, who recently had a baby boy, has written about preparing meals during maternity leave which she could easily reheat after the baby’s arrival. That sounds like a plan to me, so I am hoping to spend the next few weeks emptying my freezer so that I can re-fill it with simple go-to meals such as shepherds pie, bolognaise, lasagne, pizza dough, stews, curries etc. I also want to make some cakes and biscuits so that I have snacks in stock for when people come and visit us and the little one (and for when I need a quick energy pick up!).

So with that plan in my mind, here’s what’s planned for this week to help me empty the freezer:

  • Monday – lightly dusted plaice fillets with vegetables
  • Tuesday – Mexican tacos
  • Wednesday – thai chicken curry (I am a bit nervous about this as throughout the pregnancy I have been ‘off’ curries, but I am hoping a mild one might help re-introduce me to the flavour)
  • Thursday – a night out, so no dinner!
  • Friday – fishcakes
  • Saturday – ham, egg and chips
  • Sunday – roast chicken dinner

I was also sent a pack of goodies from Heck this week to mark Vegetarian week, so I’ve decided to munch through these for packed lunches this week … I’ll let you know next week what I think of them.

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Andrew has already informed me that there is no way he will touch them, but I am quite looking forward to the cheesey burgers and sausages …

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Week 21 – feasting in Paris and London, plus The Fat Bear review

img_6477.jpgI never anticipated how tiring growing another human could be, and recently my diary hasn’t reflected this added burden. Wednesday evenings are NCT evenings nowadays, which gives us 2.5 hours of baby ‘training’: how to hold a baby (using a doll), the realities of labour (scary), and of course the opportunity to meet seven other couples from the same area who are going through the same experiences as you. It’s been good so far, but the 10pm finish is past my bedtime, and after a day at work it’s quite exhausting.

Last week I also spent three days in Paris for work, which left me very tired. I did manage to squeeze in a delicious dinner with my friend Leonie, where I tried this pregnancy friendly (not) carbonara:

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I also enjoyed a Salade Parisienne for lunch on Tuesday … this is Andrew’s kind of salad: topped with piles of sauteed potatoes, with ham, cheese and egg!

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On Tuesday night I was invited to dinner by my colleague Odile, with her husband Philippe. While they explained to me their love of Downton Abbey, I enjoyed a  delicious meal of beetroot with cream cheese and crushed biscuits (an idea which I stole and used last night for dinner with a friend!), pork wellington, cheese (de rien, we are in Paris) and stewed rhubarb with my favourite thing IN THE WORLD, fromage blanc (basically fromage frais).

I didn’t take pictures of the dinner but I am still reminiscing about them in my mind! What’s better than a truly seasonal meal with friends?

On Wednesday evening I had a bite to eat on the Eurostar before heading straight to the NCT class, and then after a day back in the London office on Thursday, we had dinner with our lovely Canadian friends, who are sadly (for us) heading back to Toronto in the summer.

Steph had picked for us to visit The Fat Bear – an American-style restaurant just by our office in St Pauls. It’s above the Rising Sun pub and if you didn’t know it was there, you’d definitely walk past it. Luckily we were directed by Steph, and settled ourselves in for a night of American-style binging (which I can almost manage despite the fact that all my insides are squished up around my chest … I am not called greedy for nothing).

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For starters we each chose something different so we could share. Beef tacos (a bit spicy for my current taste), deep fried pickles (strange, but nice, although I wouldn’t want a whole portion to myself), pimento cheese (amazing: flavoured cheese on crackers), and corn dogs (beef sausage stuffed with cheese, and fried – also one of my favourites).

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For main courses, Andrew and Mike both chose Juicy Lucy burgers (you may remember Andrew’s attempt at these), with poutine (a Canadian dish of chips with gravy and cheese curds).

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Steph and I picked the buttermilk southern style chicken burger with fries. I asked for blue cheese to top mine, as I miss blue cheese at the moment and they cook the cheese onto the top of the burger which kills any risky bugs and allows me to chow down.

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Although the burger was tasty, there was a spicy sauce which wasn’t completely to my taste (I have not been a spice fan during this pregnancy). The chicken was deliciously juicy and moist, and the chips were crispy, so I managed to eat it all despite the spice!

When it got to pudding time, none of us were hungry but we greedily decided to share an Oreo cheesecake and a peach cobbler.

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I didn’t try the peach cobbler, but the cheesecake was rich with soft cheese and full of oreo cookie flavour. Definitely one worth replicating at home.

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I’d go back to The Fat Bear – it’s not the cheapest option but the service is efficient and friendly, and the food is excellent (although the menu is somewhat limited). You are definitely not looking at the cheapest option (although compared to nearby Barbecoa – Jamie Oliver’s BBQ joint – it’s not bad), but I’d say it’s worth a trip if you are nearby.

After a restful Friday night, where I fell asleep in front of the television by 9pm, we had our friend Eve to dinner yesterday. I was really pleased with the menu, which started with my beetroot dish inspired by Odile – beetroot with goats cheese and crumbled biscuits:

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Firstly I dressed the beetroot in some rapeseed oil, mustard, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and served it on some lamb’s lettuce with pieces of soft (pasteurised!) Welsh goats cheese, with crumbled Tuc biscuits on top. The earthiness of the beetroot mixed with the creamy sharp goats cheese is a lovely combination, and the crunchy saltiness from the Tuc biscuits is a great added texture.

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For our main course, I simply roasted some cod with vine tomatoes. I served this with a dish inspired by Galton Blackiston (from Morston Hall): boiled jersey royals mixed with crispy lardon and onion, with green beans. The green beans were supposed to be samphire, but I couldn’t get hold of any. However, the potatoes were delicious and the salty lardons were a great accompaniment to the simple cod.

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I also made a strawberry cheesecake for pudding, but as we ate this in front of last night’s Eurovision (not my favourite show to watch when sober!), I didn’t take a photo.

This week won’t be much quieter, as I have my mum over on Monday and a Manic Street Preachers gig on Tuesday (luckily I’ll be sitting down at the Royal Albert Hall so should be comfortable). On Wednesday we’re back to the NCT so a quick meal is in order. The rest of the week will be more peaceful, and I even have a day off work on Friday to attend an NHS parenting class. So the rest of my time will be spent nesting!

Food is going to look a bit like this:

  • Monday – sausages, jacket potatoes, veg (a comfort meal!), along with leftover cheesecake
  • Tuesday – something out before the gig
  • Wednesday – a speedy pasta dish of some kind before we rush off to the NCT
  • Thursday – prawns with rice and vegetables
  • Friday – fish fingers
  • Saturday – chicken schnitzel
  • Sunday – inspiration has failed to strike so far, but there’s plenty in the freezer to work from, so I’ll have a rummage and decide

Now, I intend to spend the rest of the day in my comfy clothes in front of the telly. Bon week-end!

Week 20 – summer Sunday roast chicken dinner

Not too much to share at the moment, as pregnancy has been severely messing with my foodie plans. Either I spend my time guzzling Gaviscon, or have to fast and then ‘breakfast’ on Lucozade as part of my gestational diabetes test. Yummy.

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But I did have a lovely and summery roast chicken dinner at the weekend: I simply roasted the bird with salt and pepper in a moderate oven, and served it with Paxo stuffing, Jersey Royals boiled with mint leaves and with a knob of butter stirred in, and peas cooked in bacon, onion and chicken stock. Delicious!

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For pudding I topped up the rhubarb from the garden with some apples to make a crumble. I don’t add sugar to the fruit, just a drop of orange juice, but the crumble topping has butter, plain flour, coconut, porridge oats and brown sugar. Perfect served with a dollop of cream.

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At breakfast Andrew had demanded eggs benedict – his favourite breakfast. I still had the last of the homemade English muffins from Christmas, so served these toasted with ham, poached egg, and hollandaise sauce.

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This week I’ll be away in Paris yet again for work, followed by a couple of evenings with friends, so I won’t be cooking much. That’s not always such a bad thing though!

Weeks 18 & 19 – eating “Welsh” in Lille

IMG_6308When I recently visited Lille as an early birthday celebration (as on my actual birthday I will be quite heavily pregnant) I really didn’t expect to see the dish of the day in many restaurants proudly proclaimed as “Welsh”.

As we walked up the main foodie street ‘Rue de Gand’ I spotted a restaurant called ‘Well Welsh’ I was completely stunned, and attempted to discover more from the owner … which was always going to be slightly challenging as my French is by no means fluent (although working for a French company means I have picked up a good amount of French over the last 10 years to top up my A-Level standard).

What I believe he told me is that the dish is composed of beer-soaked bread, ham, and local Maroilles cheese melted with mustard. So a kind of Welsh Rarebit, I thought, and decided I’d have to try it at the first opportunity.

This opportunity came on our second evening in Lille, when we had a charming little restaurant recommended to us, called Les Compagnons de la Grappe. Welsh was on the menu, complete with a fried egg, and so I decided to give it a try.

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Well my goodness, I have never had a Welsh rarebit quite like this. What was bought to the table was essentially a casserole dish filled with melted cheese and topped by a fried egg. By digging around in the cheese I think I found some bread and ham, but cannot be sure, as there must have been (and I am not kidding here) at least 500 grammes of melted cheese in my dish. To make sure I didn’t go hungry the Welsh was accompanied by a pile of chips and some salad.

I won’t deny that this is a tasty dish, but even my love of cheese was defeated by it. Because the cheese wasn’t mixed with anything else (like wine or garlic as with a fondue) there was nothing to cut through the richness of the Maroilles cheese (which is pungent but delicious). Instead of chips to accompany the Welsh I think I would have preferred some pickles and bread.

However, despite not being able to finish the cheese (Andrew was delighted to help me out) I did manage to eat a speculoos mousse which was delicious. Speculoos, for those of you who don’t know, are caramel and spiced biscuits which I have previously made. The biscuits in this instance had been crushed to flavour the mousse and it was delicious and light (although probably not quite as light as I should have gone after the Welsh!).

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Andrew was jealous of my Welsh experience and decided to try the dish himself on our final night in Lille, where we were back again at Rue de Gand in La Vielle France restaurant. Although the dish was similar to the one I tried, his cheese was mixed with mustard and this made for a much tastier version. Bread and ham were again pretty much non-existent in the mound of cheese, but he thoroughly enjoyed it (plus the chips which accompanied it!). Once again I couldn’t resist a speculoos mousse, which was again delicious.

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So our Welsh experience in Lille was overall a success, and I bought a package of Maroilles cheese home so I can try and make it myself (cooked cheese is a pregnant lady’s friend, as pasteurisation doesn’t matter). I haven’t opened the cheese yet, but each time I open the fridge door I am reminded that I need to use it soon!

Other things of note in Lille were … the Maroilles cheese tart (a light quiche made of the local cheese):

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Ch’ti beer, which was Andrew’s favourite:

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Be Yourself snack bar, where I discovered the Kinder cookie:

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Aux Merveilleux, macarons filled with cream then encased with cream and dusted with tasty flavourings (including the lovely speculoos):

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And WAFFLES:

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And a special nod to Aurelie from L’Echappee Biere, which runs beer tasting scavenger hunts around Lille. I was dubious about going on a beer tasting while 7 months pregnant but as you follow clues around town to find the next bar for your tasting you get to discover the city, and Andrew was more than happy to drink my beer. Find out more on their website – 100% recommended!

Here’s me comparing my bump with some Lille locals:

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J is for Jamaica – The Rum Kitchen

img_5201.jpgWhen Jo and Charlotte suggested Jamaican food for our latest Alphabet Adventure, I knew I’d be stepping outside of my comfort zone. It’s a cuisine which has never particularly appealed to me, mainly because I am a coward when it comes to spices and don’t enjoy hot food. I had never tried jerk, rice and peas, and wasn’t sure I wanted to, especially as I’d just discovered I was pregnant and was a little bit off certain foods.

However, it was too early for me to let on about my news, so I bit the bullet and met the girls at The Rum Kitchen near Carnaby Street in London. I entered the restaurant through a wall of noise and squeezed through tight spaces in between tables to meet my friends. I hate having to shout over dinner, and wasn’t immediately impressed by the place. I know I sound old but I am old, so there!

I ordered jerk chicken supreme with rice and peas and jerk gravy.

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Charlotte ordered jerk fried chicken with some sweet potato fries on the side.

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Jo had a jerk chicken bowl with sweet potato wedges, avocado and toasted coconut.

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Well I was really pleasantly surprised by the food: when I ate the first bite of my chicken supreme it was a bit overly spicy for my taste, but I quickly got used to it (it’s actually not overly spicy, it’s just that I am pathetic), and not only did I manage to clear my plate but I also stuffed several of Charlotte’s sweet potato fries down my gob.

Jo’s sweet potato wedges were the only slight dud as they were rather unusually combined with avocado and coconut which was a bit weird.

We had intended to order desserts but the rather flakey waitress took our order and then returned after nearly 10 minutes to tell us there weren’t any desserts available, so we trundled off home to wrap Christmas presents instead!

Next up is K, and we’re thinking of trying a Korean adventure this time – do you have any recommendations?

Foodie penpals – February 2016

img_5757.jpgThis month’s Foodie Penpal Charlotte was keen to receive a parcel of Asian goodies, finding them difficult to get hold of where she lives. You don’t have to ask me twice to pop to Chinatown for some supplies, and so I went there after work with Andrew to pick up a selection of goodies for her as well as myself!

As xxx said she was very adventurous and loved trying new ingredients, I am afraid I took her at her word and bought the most random selection I could find, including:

  • Dashi (which was a request)
  • Pickled vegetables (for students apparently!)
  • Pickled cucumber
  • Jackfruit crisps
  • Tonic soup stock for chicken soup
  • Asian noodles
  • Rice paper for vietnamese summer rolls
  • Hello panda biscuits

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I received a lovely little parcel from Vikki which included some gorgeous chocolate truffles, beautifully striped black and white pasta, garlic scented sea salt, apple crisps, and a range of fruity teas as I had mentioned I was pregnant so avoiding caffeine.

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If you want to take part, take a look at the Foodie Penpals Facebook page.

Week 16 & 17 – Asian food from Hoo Hing

img_6212.jpgEver since I first drove past Hoo Hing Asian supermarket on the North Circular (I say drove, probably a more accurate description would be ‘ever since I was first stuck in traffic by Hoo Hing), I have been keen to go there and indulge in my favourite hobby of filling my cupboards with unusual food.

The kitchen renovations got in the way: no point in filling cupboards which will need to be emptied very soon; but last weekend we finally made it to Hoo Hing. We found another branch in Enfield which is probably a bit further away from us as the crow flies, but isn’t on the North Circular Road so worth the extra mileage.

As soon as I walked in I was struck by the delicious smells of Chinese spices, and I dragged Andrew around every single aisle so I didn’t miss a thing. Somehow I managed to spend over £100 on my shopping, but I did come away with a boot full of goodies, including the smallest bag of star anise I could find, which probably has enough star anise inside to last me for the rest of my life.

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As Hoo Hing is also a cash and carry, the freezer section includes a selection of food which would normally grace the tables of your local Chinese. In fact, some of the dimsum and dumplings looked extremely similar to those you might find at a Ping Pong or similar.

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As well as dumplings and spring rolls, we also bought curry pastes, dipping sauces, spices, rice paper, noodles and rice. I was truly in my element and Andrew had to drag me away from the Chinese takeaway containers I also wanted to buy (don’t ask me why!), but even he enjoyed the experience and said we’d definitely have to go back.

Since then we’ve had two tasty meals from our haul. First up was a selection of dimsum from the freezer cabinet, which Andrew steamed in his favourite gadget, my KitchenAid Cook Processor. We also had some fried options, which I was too scared to deep fry so shallow fried: spring rolls, panko encased prawns, and freshly made prawn crackers.

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Almost everything was delicious, although I wouldn’t buy the beef dumplings again, as they were a bit bland, and the prawns wrapped in filo were nothing special either.

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Next up was a tweaked Sunday roast: duck crown roasted with Chinese five spice, served with pad thai style noodles and Vietnamese summer rolls. Andrew (under my instruction!) made the dipping sauce to accompany the summer rolls.

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I love the freshness of summer rolls, which take just a few seconds to make: soak the rice paper for a few seconds in hot water, then fill with a mixture of prawns, rice noodles, lettuce, cucumber, carrot and coriander. Roll (badly, if you are me) and serve with a dipping sauce made from fish sauce, lime, sugar, chilli and garlic. Delicious!

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We’re off on a break at the end of the week, so only need to prepare a menu for the next few days. The plan is:

  • Monday – tiger bread baked with camembert (if you are on Facebook, you will have seen this video – what a perfect meat free Monday option!)
  • Tuesday – fishcakes and veg
  • Wednesday – smoked salmon and cream cheese pasta

What do you have planned for the coming week?

Week 15 – Juicy Lucy burgers (stuffed burgers) by Andrew

img_6135.jpgThe amount of times Andrew has cooked for me during our 20 year relationship could probably be counted on two hands until recently. Since the kitchen renovation was finished, and my pregnancy combined with long hours at work has left me exhausted, he’s been keen to help out by cooking dinner a couple of times a week.

Having never really cooked, he hasn’t suddenly turned into some kind of Escoffier in the kitchen, but he’s actually cooking rather than just heating up frozen pizzas. That does mean he needs me on hand to oversee certain aspects of the preparation (how small does this have to be chopped? how long do I have to cook this for? is it cooked? etc), and he is a stereotypical man in terms of how many chopping boards and knives he uses, and how much mess he makes.

img_6114-1.jpgLast week we had to make a boring shopping trip to Wilkos to buy a new curtain rail, and he discovered a JML Juicy Lucy burger maker in there, which he immediately purchased, telling me to buy some nice mince so he could make us these burgers at the weekend.

For those of you who haven’t heard of a Juicy Lucy  burger before, it’s a stuffed burger. Apparently invented in the States (where else?) our new little gadget would enable us to create the base of the burger with steak mince, create a hole for the stuffing, and then encase the stuffing with more beef. Of course this could easily be done by hand rather than with a £10 plastic mold, but I didn’t want to dampen Andrew’s culinary enthusiasm so we went for it.

I decided on a plain cheese stuffed burger for mine, and Andrew chose to stuff his with both cheese and chorizo. Alongside the steak mince for the burgers, and Monterey Jack cheese, I bought some lovely brioche buns from Waitrose (these are fantastic – buttery and soft, but not too sweet), gherkin pickles, onions to fry, mushrooms for Andrew, and potatoes to make some homemade chips.

While Andrew constructed the burgers, I made the oven-baked chips and prepared the accompaniments.

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Firstly he packed the base with mince:

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Then made the cavity:

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And filled the cavity:

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Then sealed with more beef:

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And what did we have? The world’s biggest burger!

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We decided to bake the burgers to make our lives easier (especially as the oven was already on to bake the chips) and the burgers took around 30 minutes to cook through, although we lost most of the cheese filling during the process which was a shame.

As if the burger wasn’t already big enough, once packed into the bun with fried onions, shredded lettuce, sliced tomato, gherkin and relish, the burger was HUGE, and Andrew had a hard time biting into his (I used a knife and fork!).

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Although the burger was delicious, as part of a meal it was just too much to eat (each burger was probably constructed with around 200g of beef!), and we couldn’t finish them. Next time we’ll have to bear that in mind and make them smaller, but well done to Andrew for making us burgers from scratch.

Next on the list for him to make is steamed dimsum! If burgers are your thing then here are some more from my fellow food bloggers:

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Foodie penpals – January 2016

img_5606.jpgFor my January Foodie Penpals parcel I received a goodie box of lovely treats from Vanessa, including lots of lovely snacks to keep me going throughout the wintry days in the office!

As well as a selection of detox, caffeine free teas, I also received some delicious chocolatey biscuits, lemon meringues, different flavoured chocolates and salted caramel fudge coated in chocolate.

The biscuits and fudge were especially delicious, and I still have a few pieces of fudge left to give me a very welcome sugar rush during the afternoon lull.

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I packed up a box of Welsh treats for Kate, thanks to our anniversary trip to South Wales. I wanted to include some nice goodies as Kate had previously sent me such a lovely parcel (including HOMEMADE WINE!!!). My parcel to her included:

  • Welsh cakes
  • Bara Brith
  • Welsh cream toffee
  • Welsh tomato chutney
  • Anglesey salted crisps
  • Tea

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If you want to take part, take a look at the Foodie Penpals Facebook page.

I is for Israel – The Palomar

img_4060-1.jpgOf course for our Alphabet Adventure beginning with ‘I’, an Indian would have been an easy one, but we wanted to try something a bit different and I’d read some fantastic reviews of The Palomar, which describes itself as serving food from modern-day Jerusalem. Centrally  located for all of us in London, we were a bit frustrated about not being able to make a reservation, but dispatched Charlotte there early to bag us a seat at the bar, assuming they wouldn’t turn away a pregnant woman with late friends … and they didn’t.

Sitting at the bar wasn’t particularly comfortable, especially as we were in a row next to eachother which made it difficult to chat, with our bags piled up by our feet. We were also regularly disturbed by waiting staff squeezing past us to attend to customers, and other people arriving and propping the door open whilst they waited for a table – this was all very annoying and I wouldn’t recommend going there if you can’t get a table.

However, the food was really spectacular. We started with kubanah, a Yemeni pot baked bread served with tahini and tomatoes. The bread was soft and doughy like chollah bread, with a hint of sweetness. I could have easily gobbled up the whole lot myself but was obliged to share with the girls.

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Jo and I shared the yiddish style chopped liver (unsuitable for the pregnant Charlotte), which was delicious but hard to eat (especially when you have to share!).

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Next up was a whole roasted cauliflower, which was one of my favourites. The top of the cauliflower was caramelised and served with lemon butter, labneh and toasted nuts.

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Then we had shakshukit – a deconstructed kebab with minced meat, yoghurt, tahini and pita. This was tasty and fresh, and definitely was nothing like your typical dirty kebab succumbed to after a night out.

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I didn’t have any of the Jerusalem style polenta which came with mushroom ragout, but the girls said it was delicious:

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I wish I hadn’t tried the Octo-hummus: octopus steak with chickpeas and tomatoes. We all thought we liked octopus but had been disappointed by it in the past, and this time we were all disappointed in it again – too fishy and tough for any of us to contemplate trying it again!

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For pudding we had carrot cake:

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Jerusalem mess:

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and a third pudding which I cannot for the life of me remember what it was (that will teach me to write up a post from September in March!):

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None of the puddings were spectacular, so you’d probably be better off spending your appetite on the mains, most of which were exceptional.

The Palomar is definitely worth a trip although it’s certainly not cheap (tapas-style sharing mains range from £10-15 per plate, and you need a few between you) or comfortable if you can’t get a proper table.

Next up we’ll be going J for Jamaican.