Sunday, 22 January 2012

Afternoon Tea at The Marsh Cat Review

There's no place like home. And there's not many restaurants where you'll be made to feel more at home than at The Marsh Cat in Parkgate. A jewel in the Leisure Peninsula's crown, there is hardly a Wirral family who hasn't celebrated some kind of family occasion in The Marsh Cat, and if they haven't, they have been missing out.

The MC/The Bog Mog/The Rezzie as it is colloquially known by some has recently started serving afternoon tea for £9.95 a head between 2.30pm and 4pm. My friend was home this weekend from London so we decided to book a table for afternoon tea to celebrate her birthday.

I have been for afternoon tea at three different venues in the past year - two in London (The Athenaeum Hotel and One Aldwych) and one in Manchester (The Radisson) - and all were formal, suited and booted, stand on ceremony kind of affairs. Afternoon tea at The Marsh Cat is different. Its relaxed, its friendly, the crockery is mismatched and vintage, you're more likely to sit next to a table of pensioners than a table of botoxed WAGS like you get in some afternoon tea venues and you get stunning views of the Welsh hills out of the window.

The tea is served in nice floral tea pots (you don't get a tea menu) and the finger sandwiches and cakes are served on a chintzy cake stand like the one in the photograph. We had egg and cress and ham sandwiches which were demolished pretty quickly. The chef Phil came over to say hello and clearly sensed we liked our food and kindly brought some additional sandwiches made of smoked salmon and also duck with cherry sauce.

Two hours of eating, drinking, laughing and chatting later, we settled our bill and said our goodbyes and all agreed what a lovely time we'd had. If you're looking for afternoon tea in the Wirral/Cheshire area I would definitely recommend The Marsh Cat. It is what it is. Soft finger sandwiches and a selection of cakes with scones, clotted cream and jam washed down with a nice brew in a local restaurant known for its laid back class.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

I am a Tesco Robot

I think I have a Tesco Extra addiction. I walk in with my trolley, am immediately seduced by the flowers and plants and select a bunch of roses or lillies depending on which look healthier, then linger around the magazine aisle thinking 'Look or Grazia, Look or Grazia?' and almost always end up buying both so I should just learn to throw them both in the trolley and stop wasting time. I then go to the card section and think about what month it is and whether I need to buy any cards for anyone. Then I always look at what offers they have in Homeware and wham bam I'm sold on candles, anything seasonal (de-icer and scraper before Christmas which actually came in very useful this week so not a wasted purchase), napkins, some form of kitchen gadget and most recently glassware. (This is all before actually buying any food.)

Tesco are currently running an offer on Royal Worcester glassware where if you collect five coupons you get 70% off. So in went a box of four red wine glasses which are huge - Cougar Town style- and some tall heavy bottomed tumblers which make even lime cordial and soda water feel glamorous and expensive. They were £7.99 and £4.99 which I decided was a very good price. Sold. Another robot purchase.  More Clubcard points. More robotic behaviour.

I am definitely addicted to building up Clubcard points. Things I have purchased with Clubcard points over the years include tickets for the Eurotunnel for a holiday to France, a BBC Good Food magazine subscription, countless Pizza Express vouchers, champagne, flowers and books. All of which are pretty good in my (robotic) opinion. And it keeps me going back for more. I spend an increasing amount of time in the foreign foods aisle these days buying things like 'Ting' - fizzy Caribbean grapefruit drink - which I clearly don't need but reminds me of holidays in the West Indies.

I know I'm addicted to Tesco Extra but I don't mind. That's the sad thing. I go in once a week to do the big shop. My husband half heartedly offers to come with me but I always say oh don't worry I'll be quicker doing it myself. That's a lie. It takes me ages. But I just don't want him to see the sick way I go into a trance and stare at the selection of Pyrex dishes on the shelves.

Then I 'pop in' on the way home from work a few times a week. A pint of milk becomes a new top for work from Flo and Fred, a tube of toothpaste becomes shampoo and conditioner on BOGOF, and a box of cereal becomes a bottle of wine reduced from £12 to £6. I am up sold, cross sold, every-which-way-possible-sold yet I continue to go in and buy practically ANYTHING they offer me. Apart from the BOGOF bags of mini eggs I looked at tonight. A small victory. I held my head up high and walked right past those small bags of crack thinking YESS I have defeated the Tesco marketing machine. That was until I bought two tiny boxes of mini eggs for £1 instead.

My name is Cookie and I'm addicted to Tesco Extra.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

2 Lions Sabatier Jupiter 5 Piece Knife Set and Block

I bought a nice new shiny set of Sabatier kitchen knives last weekend in John Lewis. It astounded me how I'd managed to use my previous set of knives for so long after I tried these for the first time. They glide through food effortlessly as you cut which is of course what they should do. My old set of kitchen knives were clearly blunt in comparison. This block of knives includes:

1 x paring knife
1 x utility knife
1 x bread knife
1 x chef's knife
1 x slicing knife

The block is really compact and sits nicely next to the hob. I've never actually maintained a set of knives correctly before (are you meant to sharpen them after every use?) so will have a go at keeping these nice and chef-like.

What to Cook & How to Cook It Book Review

I recently bought What to Cook and How to Cook It by Jane Hornby. I bought this book after it was recommended to me by my mother in law. It was around £16.99 on Amazon. It's a nice big hardback book with two red ribbons inside to use as bookmarks. This is a good step by step book with each recipe starting with a photograph of all the ingredients you need laid out on a white surface. I think its fair to say this book is perfect for people who are new to cooking and it would be a good present to give a student leaving for university or anyone setting up home for the first time.

The book is split in to the following sections: Breakfast & Brunch, Light Lunches, Simple Suppers, Food for Sharing, Weekend Cooking, Side Dishes and Desserts & Baking. There is also a nice introduction telling you about kitchen equipment and store cupboard essentials.

There are a couple of recipes I have bookmarked which include Aubergine Parmigiana and Lamb & Potato Curry with Fragrant Rice. I don't find it an overly inspirational book but I would pull it off the bookshelf when cooking something traditional like a cottage pie or lasagne just to double check ingredients. All the instruction is written very simply and clearly and gives you reassurance nothing could go wrong with anything you make.

A good trusty cook book but doesn't transport you to exotic far away places like most of the other cook books I own (and paid less for).

Orzo Salad with Sundried Tomato, Mozzarella, Basil & Spinach


The name of this lunch box delight is best pronounced with an accent straight out of Aldo Zilli’s kitchen. Have a go. This bright and sweet orzo salad was made with:

2 x handful Orzo
Small pot of sundried tomatoes
1 x mozzarella ball torn
1 x handful spinach leaves chopped
1 x handful basil leaves chopped
1 x tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 x tbsp. red wine vinegar
Salt and black pepper

The orzo is cooked in a saucepan of simmering water which takes about 10 minutes and is then drained and rinsed with cold water. Then add the orzo to a mixing bowl with the sundried tomatoes, mozzarella, spinach and basil and fold together adding some salt and pepper to taste. Finally, drizzle the oil over the mixture, add the red wine vinegar, stir and there you have a lovely homemade orzo salad to brighten up a January lunch time.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Arrriba! Arrriba! Mexican Rice Salad

Spicing up the lunch box tomorrow is this Mexican rice salad. Ingredients include:

1 x 400g can of mixed beans
1 x boil in the bag Basmati rice
1 x red pepper
1 x handful of spinach
1 x lime
1 x tbsp cajun seasoning

Cook the rice according to packet instructions and then drain and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Add to a mixing bowl with the drained mixed beans, the chopped red pepper and chopped spinach. Mix all the ingredients together. Then juice the lime and mix with the cajun seasoning and some black pepper. Pour the dressing over the rice and stir.

When your partner is not looking, put your face to the bowl and breathe in the fresh scent (optional). Then spoon in to two lunch boxes, sit down and watch Location, Location, Location.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Quinoa Salad with Sweet Chilli Chicken, Red Onion, Red Pepper, Edamame Beans & Watercress

Here is another lunch box delight using my new found favourite grain quinoa. I cooked the quinoa in simmering water for seven minutes and then threw in the edamame beans whilst it simmered for a further three.

I then drained the mixture through a sieve and poured through cold water and placed into a mixing bowl (pictured).

I bought this mixing bowl in sunny Portugal and it brings extra smiles to my face on such windy rainy days as we have had recently.

Then I added all the other ingredients, drizzled over some lime juice, folded everything together for about five minutes, and placed into his and hers lunch boxes with a dollop of Greek yoghurt on the side.

Best eaten the day after an ashtanga yoga class whilst feeling at one with the world. Aaaaaaaaand............relax.

Quinoa & Bulgar Salad with Salmon, Watercress, Edamame Beans & Broccoli

January is the month of all things superfood with light lunches and sensibly sized portions. 'Boring!' I hear you cry. 'Oh no no no no no no' I say in my best Churchill the dog voice.

Quinoa, pronounced 'keen-wah' and not 'kwin-noah' as I so confidently talked about the other day, is the exciting new couscous in our house and it goes with almost anything.

Having read a lot of nutritionist food blogs, magazines and books I thought its time to start getting some more grains, beans and veg in to the diet.

Quinoa salad is pretty sensational both in terms of taste and ease to make. You cook the quinoa in the same way as rice, rinse through with cold water, add to a bowl and mix in all your ingredients. For this salad I used edamame beans, watercress and broccoli topped with flaked salmon and a drizzle of lemon juice. The quinoa soaks up all the flavours and saves well overnight ready for lunch the next day. This new staple in our cupboard is said to provide multiple health benefits and is packed full of complete protein. There are lots of quinoa recipes on the BBC Good Food website.

To summarise, quinoa comes highly recommended. Even if you just keep it in mind as a 'qu' word in Scrabble.

Cereal for Birds

And by birds I mean ladies. This is what I told my man I had bought as no matter what cereal I buy myself he always sneaks a massive man sized portion before bed. Leaving me left with literally a bird sized portion in the morning.

This new find from dorset cereals was £2.69 which is the same price as Special K. But the packaging is so much slicker ;-) It looks pretty posh for a breakfast cereal (nothing wrong with that sweetie darling!) and tastes very fresh and light. Better than Jordan's crisp and better than Tesco's Strawberry Crunch, the clusters don't crumble to dust at the bottom of the packet.

I might keep this little black box hidden at the back of the cupboard.....