Saturday, 31 January 2015

REVIEW: The Cornerhouse, Winchester

Hidden away in the quintessential streets of Winchester is a little cafe, nestled between one road and another. Inside, you'll find sweet decor, a table groaning with cakes under glass cases, and a menu full of fresh, honest food.

The Cornerhouse in Winchester had been recommended to me by a friend, and seemed like the perfect place to take my dear friend C for lunch when she came to visit the city. It sounded wonderful, and I was pleased to find that booking a table (as I had been advised!) was simple - I did it by email, and had a quick and friendly response, which was a great start.

At 1pm one January Saturday, C and I found our way to our lunchtime destination and were led to our table straight away. The Cornerhouse is a little meander away from the main Winchester high street...but don't let that fool you. It's no secret hideaway!

Within moments I could understand why I had been told to book. A queue of eager and hungry Hampshire folk had suddenly sprung up and was weaving through the door and outside. It certainly seemed like a popular place - which is always a good sign.

After ordering our drinks (raspberry lemonade for me, hot ginger beer for C) we set about trying to decide on our food. The menu wasn't too big, but there was plenty of choice and everything sounded delicious; from the simple sandwiches to the main courses. I ended up plumping for the Roasted Butternut Squash, Pumpkin and Goat's Cheese Salad, while C eventually chose the Chargrilled Halloumi Skewers (who can resist cheese?!). I'll be honest, I had my eye on the salad since I had a sneak-peek at the menu a few days before, and had set my heart on it.

While it was busy enough for us to have a little wait (we weren't bothered - more time to chat!) our food came surprisingly swiftly. We were impressed with the neat and colourful presentation...but even more so with the taste.

I love salads when they're done properly, and only order them if I think they'll be something really special - this one really, really was. My lunch looked fresh and inviting, and contained such a wide and unusual range of ingredients. It was such a wonderful, flavourful dish.

The pumpkin and butternut squash and grapes (grapes!) were sweet and complemented the cheese perfectly - I adored the beetroot and thyme dressing and, to my delight, it was a slightly warm salad - even better on such a chilly day. It was incredibly moreish and comforting. I ate it all very quickly, and couldn't stop telling C how much I loved it. It was definitely one of the best salad's I'd ever ordered!

Not that C was listening, of course - she was too busy tucking into her halloumi skewers which, she assured me, were 'completely amazing'. We both declared our dish the best, and then agreed to disagree (though I'll admit, I want to try her dish next time to see what her fuss was about!).

Though the portions were generous, we both decided we couldn't come to Winchester's Cornerhouse without trying their cake. I had been told that I must, and had trouble deciding which flavour - in the end I opted for a Salted Caramel creation, and really enjoyed it. 

The cake itself was really well baked and the slice was a generous size. I wasn't one hundred percent sure about the icing - the centre had been slathered with a layer of crunch peanut butter - hence the salted caramel - and the top was dripping with a caramel icing. It was unusual, but it was still very good. C had a gluten-free lemon cake and found hers to be very tasty. It may not have been the best cake I'd ever eaten at a cafe, and I feel like it may have been hyped up a little too much, but I do think Mary Berry would approve. I'd pop in for cake again.

We payed our bill (presented to us in an adorable Beatrix Potter book!) and left completely raving out our lunch. I am not joking when I say our praises cropped up in conversation every five minutes for the rest of the day, and even now we are Whatsapp-ing our desire to go back and eat it all again.

Thank you, Cornerhouse, for a memorable and wonderful lunch. I'll be back for more next time I am visiting!

If you're in Winchester and fancy a good lunch, breakfast or cake stop, I couldn't recommend The Cornerhouse enough. The staff are lovely, despite how busy it gets, and the food is brilliant. Take a peek at their menu online beforehand, and I'd really recommend you book beforehand so you avoid being disappointed! I can't wait to go back to try breakfast (and, who am I trying to kid...another slice of cake!)

For now, however, I am left trying to figure a way to recreate that salad at home.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Recipe: Spanish scrambled eggs

My brunch choices nearly always involve eggs - soft boiled, poached or scrambled, they're always an essential part of my meal.

When the Happy Egg Co. got in touch challenging bloggers to make the humble scrambled egg a little more exotic, I couldn't resist. Given the choice, I would always choose poached or boiled over scrambled egg...but it's time that changed! Scrambled doesn't have to be bland.

It's no secret that breakfast and brunch are my favourite meals. Nothing beats sitting down on a weekend morning with a steaming cuppa, your favourite people...and some great food. This was the perfect chance for me to try something new!

So, last Sunday I headed to the kitchen, fresh from my post-run shower and in desperate need of some brunch. That morning, Spanish-style scrambled eggs seemed the perfect antidote to the chilly January air.

This recipe is inspired by my visits to Madrid and Barcelona and the flavoursome food I experienced there. I loved Spain when I visited, and the culture that I learnt about when I studied Spanish at school. Warm summer days surrounded by tapas bars, bustling streets and hot cobbles underfoot. These eggs brought a little slice of Spain to my kitchen.

I've combined some simple, tasty Spanish flavours to bring a little luxury to a breakfast staple. No Spanish meal, for me, is complete without chorizo. I wanted to make the accompanying toast a little more interesting, and decided to recreate a national dish of Catalonia, pan con tomate, which was served with every meal during my visit to Barcelona in 2011 and is incredibly popular. It's moreish, fresh, and a little different.

This is a quick and easy but delicious alternative to the humble, plain scrambled egg - I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Serves 2

You will need:

5 medium eggs (I used Happy Egg Co. eggs, laid by happy hens!)
1 fresh tomato
1 clove of garlic
1 loaf of ciabatta bread
1 chorizo sausage
black pepper
splash of milk

(whisk, bowl, frying pan, knife, chopping board)

Gather your ingredients together and get started with preparing everything - it's the easiest way to start!

Crack your eggs into a bowl, add some oregano to taste, a few twists of black pepper and a splash of milk. You won't need salt - trust me. Put this to one side.

Finely chop your chorizo into chunks - for two people I recommend half a standard sausage, but this can be more or less depending how much you want!

Add the chopped chorizo to a pan (no oil needed) and cook over a medium-low heat until the meat is hot and there is oil from the chorizo is in the pan.

As the meat cooks, slice your ciabatta into medium/thick slices and toast. Peel your garlic and halve your tomato.

Make sure you have time to make a cuppa now! It all happens quite quickly from here. An extra pair of hands could help, so get your friend, family member or other half involved. You need to keep an eye on the meat.

Run the garlic clove over your toasted ciabatta, then rub the tomato - cut side down - onto the bread. This should make the ciabatta moist, full of flavour, covered in tomato flesh and pips. You can make it as tomatoey or as plain as you want. Pop onto a plate, ready and waiting for your eggs.

You can't deny it - it's looking pretty tasty by now. I'd suggest doing a few extra slices to nibble on as you finish cooking!

Pour the eggs from the bowl into the pan with the chorizo and fold over a medium heat until they're scrambled to perfection - don't dry them out! The oil from the chorizo will turn the eggs a glorious colour and the smell should be making you very hungry by now.

Serve hot, fresh and tasty straight from the hob with your pan con tomate. ¡Que Delicioso!

If you fancy a veggie alternative, consider adding chunks of tomato, olives and mushrooms instead.

I couldn't get enough of this brunch dish, and it'll be making a very regular appearance on my kitchen table when friends and family visit. I think it's the perfect way to jazz up your simple eggs, bringing a little sunshine to even the chilliest day.

Let me know if you try this recipe out - I'd love to know what you think! How do you spice up your scrambled eggs?


*This was not a sponsored post - I chose to take part in the Happy Egg Co.'s blogger challenge after being contacted by email because I love to be creative with food. I never post about a company unless I genuinely love their product.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

REVIEW: Ebb & Flow, Southampton

Last weekend I met a friend for a long-awaited catch up over good food and drink. Much to my delight, she suggested we head to a new restaurant in the centre of Southampton: Ebb & Flow.

I've often found that the city centre is in need of more unusual coffee stops and cafes - there are a few, but it's always good to have a few more places to stop by for a light bite and tasty coffee between grabbing a bargain at your favourite shops. When I heard that somewhere new had opened up, I knew I had to try it!

As soon as I stepped through the door, I immediately fell in love with the place. Inside, the cafe bar is just gorgeous - quirky decor, with oversized floral lampshades, a beautiful bar with copper taps, so many different chairs and tables...I could go on. It's pretty spacious too and has plenty of seating. At 1pm on a Saturday it was busy, of course, but I settled on a little table for two near the back. Despite being fairly open plan, it still felt cosy, welcoming and just so friendly.

The menu is a long list of delicious-sounding all-day brunch options, flavoursome flatbreads and tasty main meals, so I had a tough time choosing! It's a casual 'order-at-the-bar' service, which reaffirms Ebb & Flow's laid-back, friendly nature. 

After a lot of dithering and deciding (the sign of a great menu!) I finally settled for their Bubble and Squeak, which was served with a poached egg, hollandaise sauce and pancetta, accompanied by a Wild Berry juice.

Upon ordering we were told that it would be a 40 minute (or so) wait. This was fine with us, since it was peak time on Saturday and the place was packed, and it gave us plenty of time to catch up over our delicious juices! I don't mind a slight delay with food when it's fresh, tasty and the restaurant is cute!

Oh...let me tell you about those juices! They were served, to my delight, in a large jam jar with ice in, and a cute glass, and were so, so fresh. It was sweet, but naturally so, and incredibly refreshing. I loved the quirky presentation (perfect Instagram material, of course!) though there was a lot of ice in there, which watered it down a bit if you left it for too long. I will definitely head back for one in the summer months to cool and refresh myself after work!

My meal arrived hot and very well presented on a beautiful plate - I swear this place will be my interior inspiration! I always like to be polite, and wait for my company to receive their meal too, so that we can eat together. There was quite a long wait between both of our meals being brought out however, and while I really appreciate food being brought out hot and fresh as it comes, it would have been nice not to have waited so long to eat together. I didn't want to eat my whole meal before my friend had even started hers!

Thankfully though, her choice arrived and we both tucked in with relish. My meal was delicious and it was so nice to have something a little different! My poached egg, unfortunately, wasn't runny as advertised on the menu, but it was still really tasty and I'd definitely order it again. I heard many great things about the open omelette too (mostly in the form of yummy noises from my friend!). 

Everyone around us seemed to be enjoying themselves too, and all of the food looked and smelled amazing! I wish I could have tried more from the menu but, alas, we didn't have the time. I suppose I'll just have to return to try more! I have my eye on the flatbreads next...

I left Ebb & Flow with a huge grin on my face - how better to spend a Saturday afternoon than in a gorgeous new cafe bar with great food, very friendly staff, and lovely company? Its the perfect place for a mid-shopping catch-up  with friends and, I imagine, post-work cocktails.

I'll be honest - I didn't care about the longer waiting time - it was a busy Saturday, and it meant the the food was fresh to order. It was a shame it took a while for us both to get our meals, but the staff were great about it,  food was really worth it, and there's a pretty relaxed atmosphere, so it didn't bother me for too long.

I'll definitely be back for more food and to try their sweet treats - they even do afternoon tea too, which I am very keen to try. I'm so pleased to see another unique eatery pop up in the city. Welcome, Ebb & Flow - you'll be seeing much more of me this year!

Ebb & Flow can be found on Above Bar street, near other restaurants and not too far from all of the shops, including West Quay.

If you want to read another (rather fab) review, Tammi of Tammingtons got there before me (and she eats Gluten Free, so perfect for other GF foodies!)

There's nothing like a pretty, friendly and tasty cafe catch-up to start the weekend off well. Let me know if you've been and what you think in the comments!

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Running 10km: the beginning

Taking part in an organised run has always been something I'd love to achieve. I've always admired those hardy folks who take part in the London Marathon, pounding the city's streets for miles and miles, smiling and waving, exhausted but elated. It's an experience of a lifetime, I am sure (if you ignore the chafing and blisters).

I am in no way even near enough considering the London Marathon. However, as I briefly mentioned in my 2015 resolutions post, last summer I found out that a Half Marathon and 10km race were being hosted locally, and thought it was the perfect opportunity to actually do something about my desire (or lack thereof) to run. So, I signed up for the ABP Southampton 10km race.

A few months later and I have started to integrate frequent runs into my lifestyle and am slowly but surely making progress bit by bit. I never really enjoyed running before, but the more I go out the better I feel afterwards. Not only do I feel positive for training for something significant, but boy, is it a great stress buster!

I technically started training back in October, but managed a miserable five runs between then and Christmas - I blame the poor weather and busy time of year (birthdays and Christmas events completely took over my time). Obviously the break has pushed me back a little, but I have been running regularly for three weeks now and it's starting to become nicely integrated into my daily life.

I'm by no means an expert - I end up huffing and puffing and my face turns beetroot red, but its an enjoyable challenge, and one I'm determined to complete!

In order to train myself properly and to build my stamina, I've decided to train using the NHS Couch to 5km podcast programme. This encourages interval training - so running and walking for set times on repeat, focused on stamina rather than speed, building up week by week.

I've just started the Week 3 exercise (I told you I was behind!) and am absolutely loving it so far - it's been so easy to use for a novice like myself. The podcast contains everything you need to keep you going - music as you run and walk, and tips along the way. You're also given encouragement, and told when to stop and start running, so you don't have to keep checking your watch and timing yourself. I'll be using their 5km+ programme once I'm good enough!

Half of the problem with motivation is the worry of not knowing what you're doing - for me it is anyway, but the podcast and my tracking app (I use the Nike+ app to track my routes and progress) make sure all I have to do is get out of bed and out of the door two or three times a week.

I'm also looking forward to better weather and lighter evenings, as the winter can be so un-motivational, and often the last thing I want to do is head to the gym straight after work to pound the treadmill for forty minutes...

Motivation is also coming from the donations which are starting to come through - I've decided to run for charity, and I've picked Mind - the mental health charity. Mental health is a topic close to my heart. Did you know 1 in 4 people experience mental health issues in the UK? Chances are, you know somebody dealing with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, PTSD or other issues. I want to support Mind in all the fabulous work they do dispelling myths and stigmas about Mental Health problems, and providing care and help for those who need it.

I'd like to document my running progress on my blog, so hopefully I'll be keeping you up-to-date with my training and how I am finding it as a novice! I'm considering monthly updates until the big day at the end of April, so I will hopefully keep this up.

If you're interested in donating, you can visit my personal fundraising page, and even if you're not, please do take the time to find out more about the work Mind do.

If you've ever taken part in a 10km or Half Marathon run before and have any tips, please leave them in the comments below - I'd love to hear them!

Wish me luck!

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Welcoming 2015

Happy New Year! 2015 has come around very quickly, and my days have been filled with nostalgia for Christmas and listening to other people's resolutions. Can you believe we are nearly half way through the month already?!

I've always loved the New Year. Yes, January is a dreary, grey month - and certainly not as exciting as Christmas, but after the intensity of December with its flashing lights, manic shopping, fervent socialising and overindulgence, I embrace the chance to get back to normal; to have a few days at the weekend to spend reading, cleaning, or writing; no pressure to eat all of the food, see all of the people, and buy all of the presents. It's calm, quiet, and a time for reflection.

This post is a little bit late, but I wanted to start things off well on my blog for the year, and nothing says a good start better than laying out the year ahead with some goals and resolutions.

I've read plenty of similar posts over the last few weeks and they've all been pretty inspiring - I could relate to so many. Bloggers are such an ambitious and motivated bunch, with juicing vows, fitness regimes and career objectives appearing left, right and centre. In particular I've loved Olivia's, Katy's and Zoe's.

I'd really like to have a chance to reflect on the last year and take a look at the things I'd like to change for the coming twelve months. These are pledges to myself, for my own good, to enrich and improve my life for the better, without the pressure of difficult diets, fitness fads and unrealistic goals. I'm not sure how many of you will care - but I think writing these down, talking about them, and putting them out there can seem more real and concrete. Which will hopefully mean  I'll be able to actually carry them out and see a real change by the beginning of 2016!

I won't share everything I aim to do in life on here - and my blog-related goals will appear in another post - but these are some of my personal goals for the next twelve months.

Firstly, I pledge to go offline more. I want to take more time away from the screen, living life, noticing little moments and making the most of my time on this little planet. Not everything has to be shared.  The chances are, nobody really cares that much, and nobody needs to know everything you do. This is a little hypocritical, since I blog - but I don't share everything on here, and that suits me fine.

Similarly, I'd like to make records of my life offline.  I want to actually own reminders of my life - and it's not the same scrolling through virtual albums. I have a collection of empty photo albums from Christmas and birthdays, ready to be filled with memories and moments with my nearest and dearest. I'd also like to start a scrapbook - the latest influx of people using Project Life has inspired me to make my own memory books (only without the pricey packets...I'll do mine the old-fashioned way!).

Usually, I write something about losing weight, of getting fit. This year, I don't want that pressure - I just want to be healthy and happy. Sure, I want to make conscious decisions about my eating and exercise - I want to eat better foods more often, with basic and natural ingredients - and I really do need to drink more water, a resolution from 2014 that barely made it off the ground (I walk around dehydrated 90% of the time). I won't be able to 'eat clean', 'quit sugar' or 'go vegan', but I just want to be more aware of what I'm putting into my body and to stop rewarding myself constantly with food.

I'm also training for my first charity run, which is a big tick on my bucket list, and will hopefully help to keep me in shape. I hope to keep running long after that takes place, as I have found so far that it's good for the body and the soul.

I want to read more (taking time away from the screen yet again) - making my way through the stacks of books on my shelves and finally reading some of those classics that you 'really should read' in your lifetime. As an English graduate, there are just some authors I should be more familiar with (embarrassingly!). Books were my first love, and the Internet has slowly dragged me away - but I'm slowly getting back to my old bookworm roots.

Cooking has become a real passion of mine, so I want to bake and cook more in my spare time, trying new ingredients and gaining confidence in the kitchen.

Finally, I want to travel to new places - a trip to Hamburg is already on the cards, and hopefully many more after that. Even visiting new places in the UK will be wonderful and I can't wait to find some new favourite spots.

So that's that! Phew!

I am not pledging to change my life from top to toe - I will always be me, and my habits are part of that - but these are a few things I want to do this year to challenge myself and to make myself happier. If you have any advice from your own experiences, or any recommendations, I'd love to hear them! I hope some of you will be joining me in completing them. Here's to a happy, healthy and exciting year ahead!

What are your personal pledges and resolutions for 2015? Let me know in the comments!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

#tasteoftravel - My three course travel menu

There are a few things you need to know about my travel habits, before you read any further.

Firstly, I've never really fully experienced proper wanderlust. I've always wanted to visit places, and see the world - but in my own time. Sadly, my worries about safety and money often mask my desire to roam the globe...but I am hoping this year will change that.

Secondly, I've never set foot outside of Europe. I've been to Spain, France, Switzerland, Germany...but no further. This, again, is something I'd love to change, though I think Europe has so much to offer, and I'd love to keep exploring it too.

Finally, I'd love to try as many foreign foods as possible - but the two previous points have hindered that slightly! Although I love the Thai, Chinese, Moroccan and Indian food I've eaten here in the UK, I'm pretty sure it's even better in their actual country of origin.

When I heard about #tasteoftravel - the chance to create a menu out of your most favourite dishes themed around travelling - I was concerned that I had not set foot in enough countries to participate. However, I have decided to take things in a slight alternative direction...

My menu reflects my third and final point; that my experiences of meals in Europe and in Britain have all inspired me to try something new. The meals featured that were eaten in other countries inspired me to keep travelling around Europe; and the meal(s) eaten in Britain have inspired me to visit their countries of origin to try the 'real thing'.

So, without further ado, here is my #tasteoftravel menu. Here's to an adventurous - and delicious - 2015!


Thai Crispy Squid - Mango, Southampton

This is the course that really relates to the whole 'inspiring me to travel more' statement above. Mango, a Thai restaurant in Southampton, is one of my favourite restaurants, and it was there that I first tried squid. As someone who isn't a huge fan of seafood (I've only just started ordering cod with my chips!) I was pleasantly surprised when I fell in love with this dish. I order it every time I go to the restaurant.

This dish is memorable for me because it introduced me to seafood, and therefore to trying something new. Chances are, by trying something new, you'll discover something you'll love and, if not, at least it's memorable! I also love this dish because I have shared it with many people I love, and so eating it also holds fond memories for me; dinner dates and celebratory meals at Mango have always involved crispy squid and smiles!

This dish is just divine and so moreish. It's melt-in-the-mouth, meaty and not chewy (as good squid should be) and the flavours are stunning. I have it on good authority that Mango is very accurate in terms of it's authenticity, and so I would love to visit Thailand for myself to see what the food is like there in comparison. This dish has inspired me to go further and to try new things.

There's nothing like starting the meal off with something to really tantalise the taste buds - so why not go for something really exotic?


Tapas, Barcelona, Spain

I went to Barcelona in the summer of 2011 and spent all of my money on food. I adore tapas, and gorged on chorizo, patatas bravas, tortilla and calamari until my shorts felt too tight. You can't go to Spain without trying authentic tapas, and I've never had better.

Leading on from what I mentioned with my starter, I stupidly didn't try much seafood in Barcelona - and I'd love to go back now to be more adventurous! I mostly ordered meat and vegetarian paella and tapas dishes rather than indulging the city's famed seafood. However, I didn't miss out - every meal I ate was moreish, and bursting full of flavour.

Spanish food for me is also a comfort food. It's warm, spiced with paprika, laced with the heat of chorizo, manchego or tomato, and comes in enough small dishes to feed a miniature army. I love nothing more than picking at different foods, buffet-style, loading up my plate with rich, tasty bites with friends and family, so this as a main meal suits me perfectly.  Tapas is also my choice for my main because it's a dish which brings everyone together - it's a social meal, and the company you have at a dinner party needs to be just as exciting as the food. Where else does this better than Spain?

Tapas may be more 'main dishes' than 'main dish', but for me it's the perfect main meal at any travel-themed dinner party, and my love for tapas and fond memories of beautiful Barcelona has increased my thirst to return to Spain for more Sun, seafood and sangria (of course!)


Risalamande - Denmark

(Please excuse the poor photos! It was dark and I was hungry for pudding.)

In 2013 I visited a friend in Denmark - a place I never even thought I'd go to - and we went to a cake buffet. Yes, you heard me correctly! It was pure heaven.

Anyway, we enjoyed sampling all of the different cakes which had been laid out on a groaning table in the cosiest cafe, from brownie to rich apple pie. I devoured puddings by candlelight, surrounded by my friends, in a beautiful wintry country. The dish that stood out for me was Risalamande. 

This particular gem is a traditional Christmas dish from Denmark, which simply involves rice pudding mixed generously with vanilla, whipped cream and almonds, topped with an indulgent cherry sauce. You don't need too much to enjoy it, and it's lighter and fluffier than you expect. Creamy, sweet and unusual, I think this would be the perfect dessert for our three course meal. It's from a country which is the opposite of Thailand, where our starter was from, so you really have travelled the world in one sitting! It also reincarnates memories of a cold weekend in Denmark with two close friends.

This menu takes me around the world, from warm to cold climates, and every dish featured inspires me to continue travelling even more to taste new things, whether that's further around Europe, or beyond.

More importantly, this menu highlights the importance of having good company with your meal. The people who surround you, be they strangers or the closest of friends, make an adventure even more memorable. These meals all hold happy memories for me, and inspire me to make even more in the future. They take me back to special moments in my life, and remind me to take the plunge to try new foods and adventures. 

Travel is a multi-sensory experience - and often, it's who you do it with that can make a difference. My menu brings taste, love and adventure all together. It's an unusual mix of foods, yes, and maybe not very conventional- but the memories these dishes bring back to me of my past travels makes this my perfect dinner party menu. I can't wait to have more adventures this year, to try new dishes, meet new people, and make more amazing foodie memories!

Fancy creating your own #tasteoftravel menu? If you complete it by Monday 12 January, you're in with the chance of winning a seven-night cruise, and some other amazing prizes. If you've read this all the way through, and feel inspired, I nominate you to create your own (since it's too late to directly nominate four bloggers myself - oops!).

To find out more about #tasteoftravel and the idea behind it, pop over to Celebrity Cruises.

Happy New Year everyone!