Saturday, 21 October 2017

The Viking Arty Party

Viking Arty Party at lambert's yard, Leeds

You know when you have just the absolute best Saturday? I feel like the weekend of the #VikingArtyParty was definitely one of them.

Despite having an absolute hangover from hell and waking up to the reality of having lost my debit card the night before (LOL I’m a disgrace), I kicked off the day by heading to If Coffee for brunch with Caroline before the event. Needless to say, I perked myself up by nailing that millennial cliché and photographing my avocado on toast from all angles before inhaling it. If you’re in Leeds, I’d definitely recommend If (it used to be called Graze if you’re from round here), as the food is delicious and they’re very good at catering for dietary requirements – the vegan red velvet looked pretty damn dreamy. After brunch, it was time to get our craft on at Lambert’s Yard.

Viking supplies office stationary and the like, and as stationary is something I’m v keen on, going to get crafty with them is definitely my idea of fun. It was really lovely to go to a blogger event that’s something a bit different and more creative – whilst I love going to events and trying food and drink, there’s something special about taking home something you’ve made. My first activity was block printing where I did a questionable effort at a Christmas tree design on a file holder.

Viking Arty Party at lambert's yard, Leeds

Second up was making crackers which I absolutely loved as I think it’s a really creative way to give small gifts to people. We were meant to be making them into an advent calendar (as you can string up 24 of them and put a chocolate in each), but I think I’d rather make mine into Christmas place settings as they’re really cute.

Viking Arty Party at lambert's yard, Leeds

Our final challenge was to master calligraphy which was really interesting and so much harder than it looked! You know when you see those speeded up videos of people doing calligraphy and it looks really easy? Turns out it’s definitely not. We learnt the technique then practiced our letters – a bit like how you’d do hand writing practice at school – then started to write out words and phrases. I played it safe and stuck to my blog name but there’s definitely something satisfying about seeing swearwords and phrases written out so beautifully... maybe next time! As the event came to a close, I received my first Christmas gift of the year from the Vikings team which included some incredible stationary which I’m already excited to take to work.

Viking Arty Party at lambert's yard, Leeds

I rounded off the day with a visit from my sister and being the good egg she is, she brought me the jeans I accidentally sent to her work (my bad), presents from her recent holiday (woop!) and her old MacBook which is possibly the greatest hand-me-down I’ve ever received. Needless to say, it was an excellent visit, though she didn’t do too badly out of me, as she left with a Yankee candle and two dresses.

As Saturdays go, this was definitely one of the best ones I’ve had in a while. What do you think of my Christmas crafting? Let me know in the comments.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

On loving the lead up to Christmas

On loving the lead up to Christmas
Christmas flatlay

Is it just me who freaking loves the lead up to Christmas? In fact, it’s almost more fun than the day itself. This year I’m getting that festive feel on way too early but you know what? The season of loving and giving and Cadburys chocolate snowmen can last for as long as it likes in my books.

Working in social media and as part of a wider digital PR team, we have to get festive pretty early anyway, as we’re planning our campaigns well in advance, plus in blogger world, Christmas starts fairly early too as it’s important for brands to have influencers chatting about their products before Christmas shopping kicks in. Can you tell that I’m trying to justify this? Yep. Excellent.

Christmas flatlay

There are a few things I seriously love about the Christmas build up and buying gifts is one of them. I’ve already started planning what I’m going to buy people and have actually already bought some little gifts for my mum and sister as I like to have some gifts that are useful as well as the stuff on their Christmas lists. If anything, planning my present buying in advance means it doesn’t give my bank balance a kick in the balls in December when my real priority is my Christmas party outfit. I find that picking bits up in the supermarket/doing a self indulgent Ocado order is a great opportunity to get the stocking filler gifts sorted.

Christmas flatlay

Christmas food is obviously on my list of things I love as what can I say, chocolate tastes better in the shape of a snowman. I have to embrace my love of cheese in the lead up to Christmas as we don’t really have it back home (my mum has serious issues with cheese, she hates it with a passion), but it turns out my new office is full of cheese addicts so I don’t think it will be difficult. I was recently sent some chutneys to try from The English Provender Co and not only do they have the prettiest of packaging but they’re the dream with a cheese board. I ended up taking them to the work cheese night (see what I mean? My new office loves the stuff), and they went down an absolute treat. I’m also a massive mince pie fan but I’ll be honest, they sell them all year round in Thomas the Bakers so they’re no longer a Christmassy treat.

Christmas flatlay

Does anyone else love a good Christmas-themed book in the lead up? I’m absolutely obsessed with Christmas chick lit as it’s always feel good, has a Ali Harris’ Miracle on Regent Street and Milly Johnson’s A Winter Flame are my favourites and I’ve read both several times over. When it comes to Christmas films, Santa Who is my favourite even though it’s a made for TV film and nobody else appears to have seen it. It hits me right in the festive feels every time I watch it.

So, that’s what I love about the build up to Christmas – what do you love? Or do you kind of want to hit me around the head with a Christmas tree for being too early? Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Wine tasting with Veeno

Wine tasting with Veeno
Veeno Leeds

It will come as no shock to anyone that I’m a wine fan, mainly as I seem to have a glass in hand in one hell of a lot of my selfies – what can I say, I’m a cliché. I didn’t start drinking wine until I moved to Leeds and realised it was time to leave my vodka and diet coke days behind me. Like with a lot of things, there’s definitely trial and error involved in finding drinks that you like when you don’t know much about it but I’ve found that doing wine tastings has really helped me know what to look for on menus – for example, I know that I prefer Sauvignon Blanc to Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio – and it means you don’t end up saying ‘oh no, you choose’ and ending up with something you’re not keen on.

I was recently invited to do a wine tasting at Veeno and absolutely jumped at the chance as I’ve heard really good things from a few friends from work about both the wine and the food that it’s paired with. I took my friend Juan with me, and he actually guest-blogged about it on our friend Hayley’s blog, Prawnstar Martini – if you’re into foodie content, check her out.

Veeno Leeds wine tasting

We did the Selezione’ Wine Tasting which is £26.90 per person and with that, we tried six Italian wines, two white, two red, one rose and one sweet wine, with a board of meats and cheeses, plus tiramisu. Throughout the tasting, a member of the Veeno staff will explain each wine to you and which food to pair it with.

Veeno Leeds wine tasting cheese and meat board

We started with the Grecanico white wine which was fruity and paired with mozzarella cheese. I really enjoyed this wine as I felt that it was fruity and refreshing but not too over-powering. It is described as a mid-dry white wine which is definitely to my tastes personally. The second white we tried, I preferred was the Inzolia wine which is the fruitiest white on the menu and this was paired with a much stronger cheese so it was the perfect balance of sweet and salty flavours.

We moved onto the rose wine which was the Tasari, and paired this with speck ham. I must admit, I surprised myself when I liked this as my rose days date back to trying to force myself into liking wine at university, when needless to say, I wasn’t too fussed about the flavour. I’d definitely drink this again though as it’s very fruity and would make a perfect summer drink.

Veeno Leeds wine tasting cheese and meat board

Red wine is a bit of a minefield for me as a few bad experiences aged 17 has ruined it for me until now, but I’m desperate to appreciate it, especially with the right food. The Perricone red was my favourite out of the two, and it was paired with cured beef. I couldn’t believe how much the right pairing of food can alter the flavour of the wine and I could really taste the undertones of red fruits and liquorice. The second red we tried was Veeno’s best seller, the Nero d’Avola, but we agreed with our wine expert Angelica that the Perricone was better. This wine was paired with a soft blue cheese which complimented the oaky flavour of the wine.

Veeno Leeds wine tasting dessert wine

Veeno Leeds wine tasting tiramisu

We finished the evening with a dessert wine and tiramisu. I must admit, I’m not a big fan of tiramisu but I could definitely appreciate that this one would be delicious if you’re a coffee drinker (luckily Juan loved it so it didn’t go to waste!). This was paired with a dessert wine that was incredibly sweet but I really enjoyed it more than I expected and together, it complements the creaminess of the dessert.

Overall, I’d absolutely recommend heading to Veeno for a wine tasting. The sharing board of food really adds to the experience and it’s definitely good value for money. I always find that I learn something new when I do a wine tasting, but this has been the best for making me really appreciate how important the pairing of wine to food is – plus who could honestly be disappointed by a board filled with such delicious meats, breads and cheeses?

What’s your wine of choice? Let me know in the comments.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

First Class train travel – is it worth it?

Virgin trains East Coast First Class
Virgin trains East Coast First Class

I recently did a couple of long distance train journeys and decided to live my best life and go first class. Yo to the freaking lo, etc. I’m lucky that it’s easy for me to travel from both Leeds and York so I got straight on it with the Virgin Trains East Coast seat sale and bagged myself tickets to both London and Edinburgh in first class. But was it worth it?

There are definite pros and cons to first class, as you’re paying for an experience but let’s face it, we know that trains aren’t the most reliable form of transport and paying extra won’t stop your train getting delayed or having technical difficulties. On the other hand, if you’re not paying all that much more than your standard class tickets, you can easily eat and drink the difference. I travelled on the Virgin East Coast line both down to London and up to Edinburgh, so experiences will vary by train provider.

First Class Lounges
Some stations have a first class lounge which you can use prior to your journey. When travelling from Leeds to London King’s Cross, I went in both, whereas when I went from York to Edinburgh, only Edinburgh has a lounge. The lounges have a selection of hot and cold drinks available, snacks like crisps and biscuits, charging ports (for all phone types, in addition to having plug sockets available), comfortable chairs to relax in before getting your train. Whilst I wouldn’t suggest upgrading simply for the purpose of going in the lounges, it’s definitely good if you have a specific train booked and might have time to kill beforehand as it’s a calmer space where you can charge your phone. The Leeds lounge wasn’t the greatest experience as the hot drinks machine was broken and it’s a windowless box hiding behind the ticket machines, but the Edinburgh Waverley lounge was absolutely lovely, as it’s a more classic style with winged armchairs and leather footstools. The King’s Cross lounge was definitely a highlight for me though as the day I was there, Virgin had brought in a company to do complimentary back massages which was the dream before my train home.

Virgin trains East Coast First Class

On the train
For longer journeys, this is where it becomes 100% worth it as the carriages tend to be quieter, there are plug sockets by every seat and I was able to book a single seat so I didn’t have to sit opposite a stranger whilst I was travelling. First class passengers get free Wifi too which meant I could spend the journey being entertained by YouTube videos, without worrying about killing my phone battery as I could charge it as I traveled. The seats are comfier, the tables are bigger and it’s an all round more enjoyable experience.

Virgin trains East Coast First Class

I’m entirely on board with train snacks, and I think this is where I got my money’s worth. I paid an additional £20 for my return to London, and an additional £30 on my return to Edinburgh, but I worked out that the number of hot drinks, snacks and the cost of Wifi for each trip meant that it was so worth it for me as on each journey I had the equivalent of a meal. The menus are available online but breakfast for me included Greek yoghurt and granola and lunches were a duck wrap or egg sandwich, plus crisps and a muffin. There are more hot options available too, like Mediterranean chicken and bacon rolls. From the four trains I was on, only once was full menu not available and it was cold food only in the evening. Whilst I don’t advocate binge drinking (LOL, well, occasionally), after 11am, alcohol is readily available and included in the refreshments so I definitely took advantage of this and sipped on a couple of G&Ts on those journeys.

Virgin trains East Coast First Class

Virgin trains East Coast First Class

Virgin trains East Coast First Class

So, was it worth it? I’d say yes. Though I’m not going to become someone who goes first class at every opportunity as LOL I’m not exactly balling, when it’s in the seat sale or booked far enough in advance, it’s a yes from me. Providing you make the most of it and use the lounges, log onto the Wifi, eat the food and drink the booze, you’ll easily get your money’s worth. 

Thursday, 12 October 2017

The best and worst things about The Solo Project

The best and worst things about The Solo Project
red converse on tiled floor

Since I started The Solo Project back in 2015, I’ve done a whole load of things by myself that I’ve really, really enjoyed, but it’s also made me realise that there are downsides. As ever, I want this blog to be my honest experience so here are the best and worst bits of going solo.

What other people think
Yes, I know, we shouldn’t be defined by what other people think, but I’ve definitely had a split reaction to The Solo Project. Some people think I’m clearly a weird loser with no friends, others think it’s a great idea that either they want to try themselves or already do on a regular basis. Hearing from other people that have read my blog and it’s given them the confidence to give going solo a try definitely makes it the most rewarding thing I’ve ever shared on here.

Photo opportunities
Whilst I’ve absolutely mastered the humble art of the selfie, I must admit, I do miss having someone to take photos with at landmarks. I mean, I’m definitely the only person who has been to the IAmsterdam sign and doesn’t have a photo of themselves sat on it. But at the same time, I have a habit which is irritating to non-bloggers as I take photos of everything, and when you’re by yourself, there’s nobody to complain that their food is getting cold!

It’s always going to be more expensive to go somewhere alone as there’s nobody with you to take advantage of splitting the cost of accommodation, travel and 241 deals with, but at the same time, it also means you don’t have to compromise on your budget. I’m definitely a trains and hotels, rather than coaches and hostels, kinda gal and when you’re by yourself, there’s nobody telling you that you’re wasting money. YAY.

Time saving
When you’re by yourself, you definitely get through things one hell of a lot faster in terms of attractions. If you’re going somewhere that has a recommended time to spend in there, by yourself you can cut it to a third as there’s zero faffing on and you don’t stand still for long. The plus side of this is definitely that you get so much more done in a day, the downside being that there’s a constant feeling of ‘what next’. When I’m by myself, whilst I’m more than happy to just mooch around a bit, having several hours without anything specific to do puts me on the default setting of ‘bored’, so I try and make sure I have loads of things to cram into a day.

So, they’re the best and worst things about going solo, let me know what you think in the comments.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Goal setting and a five year plan

Five year plan
wooden barometer

It’s crazy to think how much things have changed in the last five years and it’s almost like dipping my toes into the unknown to think about where I’ll be in another half a decade. The last five years have seen me become an entirely different person, so I’ll definitely be interested to reflect on my mid-twenties when I hit the big 3-0 in five years time. At 20 I was grieving the sudden loss of my dad, juggling a degree and part time job and had absolutely no idea what I would do after leaving education. At 25, I’m working a career that I adore, living in a new city and have found my voice both on and offline. But where do I want to be at 30?

1. I want to have moved out. I love my city centre shoebox flat but moving up a ring on the property ladder in the next five years is most certainly on my radar.

2. Be in a better financial position. I want to be someone who has a chunk of savings that’s there, not just as a house or holiday fund, but just because. It’ll take a lot of hard work and saving but by 30 I would like to have some solid savings going on.

3. Fall in love. Oh I know, I was nearly sick in my mouth as I typed that too, but whether it’s Mr Right or Mr Right now, I’m at a point in my life where I’m ready for a little settling down. Is this the start of a whole new me who’s no longer as scared of commitment as I am of spiders? Maybe.

4. Travel further. I conquered my fear of flying with a few solo trips away but I’m desperate to go further afield. Once Trump is voted out/sacked/gets abducted by aliens, New York is absolutely a plan I’d like to make but I think I’ll have to win the Powerball Lottery before I afford the luxury trip I’m planning on Pinterest. Or y’know, I’ll have those savings that I’m planning and I’ll spend that instead. #YOLO etc.

5. Keep doing what I love. I really want to get to 30 and still be in a job I love and be spending my free time doing what I love too. It’s so easy to get into both personal and professional ruts and I’m lucky to be in neither – I never want to be that person who doesn’t feel excited for their work or goes home and just doesn’t ever do anything fun. I want feel make sure that at 30 I still feel fulfilled.

So, that’s my five year plan, what’s on yours? Let me know in the comments.

*This post was written in collaboration with Multilotto but all thoughts, opinions and five year plans are my own.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

My Amsterdam Bucket List

My Amsterdam Bucket List

When I went to Amsterdam earlier this year, I pretty much fell into the tourist trap, trying to do as much as I possibly could in the day and a half I had in the city. I went to museums, did a canal tour, went to the Anne Frank House and ate some delicious food, but now I’ve done even more research into it, I have an even longer list of things I want to do there. Amsterdam is the first place I’ve fallen in love with outside of the UK. I’m definitely the kind of person to click with places very quickly – I was in Huddersfield for about 20 minutes before I decided aged 17 that I’d be going to university there, and I always aspired to move to Leeds after spending time here as a student. But outside of the UK, Amsterdam is the first city I’ve been to where I’ve warmed to it enough to be desperate to come back.  Though I haven’t got another trip booked (yet!), here’s my bucket list of things I want to see and do the next time I go.

1. Visit during the spring. Amsterdam is famous for tulips and I was so disappointed by the flower market when I was there in February as quite frankly, bags of bulbs don’t work on the ‘gram. I imagine Amsterdam to be simply stunning at the right time of year – maybe it will have to be a birthday trip in April?

2. Go with friends. Solo travel is fantastic but there’s a social side to Amsterdam that I want to experience that is difficult to see when you’re by yourself – and by that I mean going for dinner and drinks rather than smashing the spacecakes as that isn’t my cup of tea.

3. Head to some more obscure museums. I did a lot of museums when I was there last time but they were the bigger ones so on my next trip I want to go to the torture/cheese/sex museums rather than Van Gogh and the like. I mean, I know a lot of people go to the sex museum but I thought I’d look like a right weirdo wandering round by myself and taking a selfie with a giant cock, so I gave it a miss on my solo trip.

4. Eat apple cake. I never did this! And y’know, this gal loves cake. 
5. Have a photo with the iAmsterdam sign. Don’t get me wrong, I nailed that selfie action when I was there (and I even managed to flip my camera so it wasn’t a mirror image), but it’s not the same as climbing on top of it like every other tourist.

6. Go to the Amsterdam Lookout. This is a really high building in Amsterdam where you can see some incredible views over the city and they have a swing which goes off the edge of the building. Who doesn’t want to do that?!

7. Visit the Avocado Cafe. What can I say, I’m basic AF.

So that’s my bucketlist for Amsterdam – is there anything else you think I should be adding? I took a lot of my inspo from Culture Trip so definitely check them out if you’re planning a trip.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

George’s Great British Kitchen – Leeds

George’s Great British Kitchen – Leeds
George's great british kitchen Leeds

I’ve been desperate to go to George’s Great British Kitchen in Leeds pretty much since it opened earlier this year as hello insta-friendly everything, so I was pretty over the moon when they invited me to come in and review. I headed there with my plus one pro, Mummy Legge, and set about trying to cure a hangover from hell with all the tasty food. You’d think by 25 I’d have learned that nothing good happens when you stay out till 4am smashing the gin and tonics, but y’know, it was a wedding do and it would have been rude to leave. Needless to say, the food we had at George’s was the absolute one. Unfortunately trying their cocktail menu would have been too risky for me (and my mum was driving) but I’m 100% up for going back to try the cocktails as they look absolutely incredible (any volunteers?).

George's great british kitchen Leeds beach hut

We arrived and the first thing that struck us was the decor which is right up my street. Think dark brown leather Chesterfield style sofas and beach hut booths – think country pub with a seaside twist. That’s pretty much how the menu shapes up too, with a lot of traditional English dishes like pies, burgers and grills, but also a really wide range of seafood. If you’re into fish, I’d definitely recommend coming here as there’s far more variation on the menu than your average restaurant, especially when the prices are so reasonable for a city-centre location.

George's great british kitchen Leeds diet coke

After we were seated in the Scarborough beach hut booth (loved this), we skipped starters and went straight in on mains, and I chose a steak and ale pie which came with chips and gravy, and mum had the chicken in a basket which came with chips and sweetcorn fritters. We were both seriously impressed by the food and I’d definitely say to go there hungry as the portions are really big. My pie was absolutely filled with steak that was really tender and delicious and the chips were like proper chip shop chips, minus the grease. Mum enjoyed her meal too which was served in a cute little basket, and she said the chicken was tasty and the chips were perfect.

George's great british kitchen Leeds steak pie

George's great british kitchen Leeds chicken in a basket

Saying no to dessert just wasn’t an option after seeing so many people posting photos of them all over Instagram! I went for doughnuts which came with chocolate and raspberry dipping sauces and a cloud of pink candy floss. George’s has definitely found their niche with the seaside theme as both the food and the drinks are so photogenic and it’s in a way that’s different to anywhere else in Leeds – which is difficult in a city filled with so much variety. Mum opted for the higgledy piggledy apple crumble pie which was a small apple pie topped with crumble, icecream and caramac. Does anyone else remember Caramac bars? I used to think they were the bars of chocolate from Willy Wonka’s factory when I was a kid!

George's great british kitchen Leeds doughnuts with candyfloss

George's great british kitchen Leeds apple crumble pie

Overall, A+, 10/10 would recommend going to George’s Great British Kitchen and I will definitely go back. I’m desperate to try their cocktail menu (on a day when I’m feeling a little less delicate!), the price point is very reasonable and the menu is a crowd-pleaser. Have you been to George’s before? Let me know in the comments.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

The Solo Project #12 - London

Solo london trip
I’d always class myself as a city gal, but as a hardened Northerner, London is a new level for me. Every time I go, I absolutely adore the buzz of the capital, the fact that there’s always something exciting going on and how everything is the bigger, better and shinier version of everywhere else. I also love the feeling of getting on the train home and back to a magical place
called Leeds where you can get a glass of wine for less than a fiver. Oh and London makes my skin break out. Sigh.

I’ve been to London by myself a couple of times in the past but this time, I was there for an entirely self-indulgent night away. Well over a year ago, I booked tickets to go see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and as I was seeing both parts in a day, I decided to stay over as it would be a late finish, then my mum got me a ticket to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour for Christmas, so I could have a truly nerdy couple of days.

Here are the key bits which I loved/hated/struggled with on my solo trip.

Navigating London
I’m fine with tubes, I can use them easily enough and make it to the right destination but having always lived up north, it’s still a little unfamiliar to me so I tend to plan my route in advance, in as much detail as I can. Just y’know, so I don’t end up going in the wrong direction. I actually find it more stressful to travel around London with other people as I’m definitely on a mission and can’t be doing with other people faffing on. (I can just imagine Londoners reading this and eye-rolling at my Northern attitude to the underground).

leicester square tube map

Where I stayed
London is a bitch for hotel prices as a single person as I hate sleeping in single beds, and yet prices are sky high for a single person who likes to starfish. I luckily got a great deal on a hotel room as I booked the Ibis Styles at Kensington via Secret Escapes for £95, including continental breakfast. The room was clean, secure, I could leave my luggage with reception whilst I was out during the day and it was close to Earl’s Court tube station, meaning it was a quick walk back when I got back late.

ibis styles london kensington

Going to the theatre
I absolutely loved Harry Potter and The Cursed Child! No spoilers from me, but it was actually magic and easily the best production I’ve seen on stage. I’ve never been so moved to tears and nor have I seen a standing ovation in a theatre before. I did think I might feel a little self conscious going by myself but as I was sat on the end of a row, it didn’t bother me too much, especially once the lights went down. In fact, the only cringe moment was having my bag searched and the security guy looking through the sheer amount of Disney stuff I had on me to give to the blogger gals I was meeting in between the plays for dinner.

harry potter and the cursed child ticket

A cheeky Nandos
Not so solo, but I met three of my blogger gals and one of my friends from Leeds for dinner in between the plays. I must admit, that whilst I don’t mind dining alone, it’s definitely more fun with other people, especially after spending the rest of the day by myself. It was so lovely to see Hayley, Haydy, Kariss and Faiz and catch up with them for a couple of hours.

Blogger selfie in nandos

So, that’s my solo trip to London, would you explore the capital by yourself?

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The Dine Taste Test

The Dine Taste Test
Dine Venues The Mansion Leeds table centre

Luxury dining opportunities are definitely one of the biggest perks of blogging and I was so excited to be invited to attend an ambassador’s dinner with Dine Events at their flagship venue, The Mansion at Roundhay Park in Leeds. Having attended one of their events in the past, I knew I was in for a fantastic evening with brilliant company. The dinner was the night I got back from London, so after a quick turnaround to freshen up and change, I headed to The Mansion for the evening.

Dine Venues The Mansion Leeds Champagne glasses

We were greeted with glasses of fizz and some delicious canapés. I love the attention to detail with the presentation of their canapés as it shows how they’d be perfect to cater for a big event like a wedding or corporate do. My favourites were the wild mushroom aranchini and the fillet of beef rolled in pistachios. What more could a girl want than seriously rare meat and carby goodness? These are the types of canapés which taste as good as they look and definitely impressed us all.

Dine Venues The Mansion Leeds Canapes

Dine Venues The Mansion Leeds canapes

Dine Venues The Mansion Leeds Canapes

The group headed upstairs to one of the private dining rooms where around 20 of us were seated for dinner. As the evening was a ‘taste test’, we had a little quiz to do about the courses we ate, with the first question asking what was in the ravioli which was part of the starter. This course was called ‘Monkfish with flavours of the sea’ and consisted of monkfish, crispy seaweed, squid ink cracker, oyster ravioli (I guessed that one completely wrong!), scallop, cauliflower puree and seaweed oil. I’ve never been big into fish and seafood but both this event and the previous one I attended with Dine have really opened my eyes to how delicious it can be – though having it lovingly prepared by a professional chef must help that!

Dine Venues The Mansion Leeds bread roll

Dine Venues The Mansion Leeds Monkfish starter

Our main course was a duck dish - pan seared breast, confit leg & crispy wing, flavours of butternut squash, beetroot fondant, saffron Pomme chateau potatoes, baby courgette, heritage carrots, port reduction. We were asked to name the alcohol used in the reduction and once again, my guess was way off. I really enjoyed this course as I love duck but it’s one of those things I’d never cook for myself (unless, y’know, it comes in a spring roll), so this was a real treat. I’ve never had beetroot served hot before either as I usually have it in salads, so that was really nice to try too.

Dine Venues The Mansion Leeds Duck main

Dessert was of course my absolute favourite course as I have such a sweet tooth and it was made even better by being a trio of different desserts. The three desserts were a Dark Chocolate Tart, blackcurrant jelly with white chocolate mousse, Vanilla creamsicle with apple meringue dust. We were asked which fruit flavoured the meringue dust during this course on our quiz and we all got that one right as our host let slip – though I think I could have got that one! I loved the dark chocolate tart, it was so rich and melted in the mouth.

Dine Venues The Mansion Leeds trio of desserts

We rounded off the evening with a taste test of five white sorbets and it really showed how much we rely on colour to distinguish flavours! It turns out I’m really bad at guessing tastes, especially when everyone around you had an entirely different idea. I didn’t even come close to winning the quiz but we all had such a lovely evening. I really enjoyed getting dressed up and doing something different – dining with a twist like that really takes a dinner party to another level.

Dine Venues The Mansion Leeds sorbet tasting

How do you rate your tastebuds? Reckon you’d do better than me? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Getting my Christmas bake on

Reindeer Brownie Recipe
BBC Good Food Salted Caramel Brownie Recipe

Hi, yep, I just said Christmas. At the time of writing this, it’s September, which means I’m officially on the countdown to the most wonderful time of the year as I bloody love the cold cosiness of winter and all of the cute stuff associated with Mr Claus himself. I was challenged to do a Christmas DIY by Provident Personal Credit for their annual crafty Christmas campaign and after diving into the depths of impossibly creative bakes on Pinterest, I rose to the challenge. I bring you, reindeer brownies. Yup.

Salted caramel brownies

I saw a photo of these on Pinterest and did a little modification (as who the hell actually likes those weird small pretzel things?!) and chose a totally different recipe to the one that came with the post as I was determined to make these bad boys from scratch. Apologies and that to the several people I’ve misled in the past with the packet mix brownies I’ve passed off as my own – what can I say, adding extra chocolate makes it seem more authentic and fools everyone. My bad.

reindeer brownies

As a pro brownie eater but absolute novice brownie baker, I went for the BBC Good Food salted caramel brownie recipe as it looked easy, and not to humble brag, but these brownies went down an absolute treat when I took them into work the next day for the team.

Here’s what you need:
200g unsalted butter
100g 70% cocoa chocolate (I used Green and Blacks)
100g 50% cocoa chocolate (I used Bourneville)
397g Carnation caramel (sounds very specific but this is the size of the tin by Nestle)
1tsp flaky sea salt, plus a little extra for the top
200g golden caster sugar
4 medium eggs
130g plain flour
50g cocoa powder (again, I used Bourneville)

To decorate
White chocolate buttons for the eyes
Curly Wurlys for the antlers (or pretzels, if you fancy)
Red icing
Black icing

Here’s how you make them
1. Heat the oven to gas 4
2. Melt the butter in a pan, break in all of the chocolate, remove the pan from the heat and wait for the chocolate to melt into a deliciously gooey substance
3. Mix 175g of the caramel with the sea salt
4. Mix the rest of the caramel with the sugar and eggs with an electric whisk
5. Add the chocolate/butter combo to the sugar, caramel and eggs and whisk
6. Combine the flour and cocoa, then sift onto the chocolate mix and beat briefly until smooth
7. Pour half the brownie batter into a lined/greased tin and level it out.
8. Spoon half of the salted caramel onto the top of the brownie batter, in evenly spaced lines
9. Spoon the rest of the brownie batter onto try, trying not to move the salted caramel
10. Spoon the other half of the salted caramel onto the top of the brownie batter and use a knife to swirl it around
11. Bake in the oven for 30mins, until it is firm on top
12. Leave to cool before decorating

Decorating your brownies
1. Slice the brownies into rectangular pieces
2. Use icing to stick the white chocolate buttons to the brownie about halfway down
3. Use black icing to draw eyes onto the white chocolate buttons
4. Cut the Curly Wurly into inch long pieces and put icing on the underside to stick them to the brownie
5. Use red icing to draw on a nose

And voila, you have reindeer brownies! Who wouldn’t love this little festive treat?

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