Thursday, 27 February 2014

Easter Inspiration 2014

Spring is in the air (a little bit) and all the atheists amongst us are looking forward to Easter, in all its chick and bunny filled goodness. Chocolate, two bank holidays, what's not to like? Well, normally Easter passes me by I must confess, so this year I'm trying to be organised and have a little looksee at what's out there. If you're looking for something crafty, something fun or a special gift for a loved one, you'd do well to make a start on your preparations with the Extreme Housewife's look at this year's Easter offerings.

Felt Easter Basket
£1 from The Works

I'm starting with this basket, because it's just the cutest thing. Get yourself an Easter Egg Hunt going off with one of these. 

For a homemade egg hunt, why not paint your own boiled eggs to find, or even better, why don't you crochet your own eggs, that can be used year after year? This free pattern is available at Petals to Picots. They make super cute decorations for an Easter table centre as well.

Easter Egg Lolly Mould
£3.99 from Lakeland

Rather than making your own Easter Eggs, which looks fiddly and annoying, why not keep it low key with some chocolate lollys? Lakeland's moulds are a quick, easy and conveniently sized product that lets you make your own treats with a significantly lowered chance of covering the entire kitchen, and yourself, in a thin sheen of chocolate. 

They would also make lovely gifts or treats for visiting relatives. Cover a piece of floral foam with seasonal greenery and daffodils to make a great lolly display stand! You can poke the sticks in so they are shown off at their best.

Personalised Silver Bunny Necklace
£32 from Lily Charmed at Not on the High Street

There are a lot of cutesy bunny based necklaces out there, but this is definitely one of the nicer I've seen. 

With your own letter charm to personalise, this makes a great little present to thank whoever that busy bunny in your life is. Or get one for yourself. 

Or buy two, then you can keep one and give the other away.

Tefal Toast N' Egg
Currently reduced to £29.99 at Home and Cook

What better Easter breakfast could there be than eggs and toast? Well now you can make it in slightly less than the normal short time it takes to create with this toaster and egg poacher all in one. It also features a warming plate, so if you happen to have the odd cooked sausage hanging around as well, you can heat that up too. And who doesn't have cooked sausages hanging around, just waiting for breakfast time? Anyway. This is a fun gadget. Totally pointless, but that's what gadgets are for.

Seed Pack Organiser
£19.95 at Garden Divas

Now Spring is in the air, you need to get your gardening underway, so a great Easter gift for someone like... well, someone like me... would be a cute little seed organiser. All mine life in an old, lidless icecream tub. It is most indignified. So this lovely organiser is a great gift for your favourite gardener at Easter. Get those Spring vegetable seeds organised and close at hand.

Enamel Bake Set
£52.95 from Howkapow

Ready for all of your great Easter culinary creations, you could treat yourself to this lovely enamel bake set. This five piece set is oven safe, dishwasher safe and can also be used on the hob for a great gravy.

Easter is great time to break out some pie recipes - the delicious spinach and ricotta of the Italian Torta Pasqualina, as per the great recipe from Italian Food Forever. If you're having a cute overload, why not try a nice Rabbit Pie. The English Kitchen has a lovely recipe.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Campaign For Real Salad: Supermarkets vs Fast Food Restaurants

You all know about the Campaign for Real Salad and my petition by now. I'm trying to take supermarkets to task for making their prepackaged salads unecessarily calorific and fat heavy. Thanks to the interesting comments put on my previous post, I decided to have a little looksy at how the supermarkets shape up to the fast food restaurants. Surely when you're grabbing lunch on the go, their salads will be a healthier choice than heading to McD's, KFC or Pizza Hut?

To give the fast foodies a fair crack of the whip, I've chosen their grilled meat options, not the deep fried ones. Both options are available.

Grilled Chicken and Bacon Salad (with a choice of Caesar or Balsamic Dressing)

No idea if the nutritional values include the dressing or not. The ingredient list suggests that it doesn't. Points off McDonalds for another example of confusing labelling.

Grilled BBQ Rancher Salad

Again I call misleading labelling - I think this information does not include dressing once more and I could not find any information about the nutrition of any of the 'choice of dressing' you have available to make a 'delicious salad'

Burger King
Grilled Chicken Salad

Again offered on its own or with a choice of two dressings, but once again not a snifter of information about the nutritional information for the dressings. Starting to see a recurring theme here.

Pizza Hut
All you can eat salad bar

Pizza Hut offer unlimited salad with any main, but you can also buy it on its own for £5.55. On their website they just give us calorie information - 160kcals. Looking at the list of items available I think you'd be hard pressed to keep it down to that amount - pasta salad and potato salad are not going to help, before you even get to the bacon bits and crispy onions!

However, I can't help but notice they do offer a Low Fat French Dressing - round of applause! And after digging around their website a little more, there is full nutritional information available for the entire salad station - both the fresh salad vegetables and the dressed salad items. Consider my mouth agape! And, for your enjoyment, here it is - a fast food restaurant giving full, honest nutritional information about their salad dressing.

So, while we might all struggle with the 'all you can eat' element of Pizza Hut's salad bar, at least you can be properly informed about making decent choices for a healthier meal. Very impressed. How is the salad bar at Pizza Hut, anyone got a review?

The closest comparison I could find in the supermarkets was the Asda Chicken and Bacon salad pot. To be fair, having looked at the fast food websites, the supermarkets now seem positively transparent in their product labelling as everything is given in its entirety, with the dressing included in the total. (But don't forget, they've got a long way to go to create easily understandable nutritional labelling)

So the whole comparison is generally impossible at this stage. But at least you have a bit more information about the salads that are out there and the fact that everyone is giving you too much dressing, that is too fatty and too calorific. Buyer beware.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

REVIEW: Will's Bar, Leicester

UPDATE: Will's Bar has sadly closed, but will be replaced by a shiny new Brewdog bar in 2015!

We sauntered off into town to watch a spot of comedy last night, and beforehand we decided to use a Groupon (this is my referral link - if you buy the Groupon for yourself using this link I'll get £6 Groupon credit) we had for Will's Bar in Leicester to get some grub. Newly opened, this is where the old Varsity was. You can see that the renovations have been done with style, it's a nice looking and welcoming bar, but sadly was very, very quiet when we got there at 6.30pm - just us and another couple.

When we got there, the staff were super SUPER friendly. Really welcoming and genuinely pleased to seat us. We were surprised that we'd had a table reserved for us, since we'd had to book to use the Groupon. And it was really quiet, but it was a Tuesday night I guess.

The voucher cost us £10.95. and for that we got dinner and drinks. I had a glass of wine, which was a nice rioja, that I really enjoyed. It was a great quality red for a house wine. The Boy was not quite so happy - the voucher only included three lagers, all bottles, so there was no ale for him. It seemed a bit strange as you would think that a bottled Hoegaarden would cost more than a pint of Hobgoblin, but there you go. He had a wine as well, and still enjoyed it.
For my main, I ordered the bangers and mash,  which came with seasonal vegetables. It took quite a while for our meals to come - about 20 or 25 minutes from the time of placing the order - I'd hate to see how they cope with a lunchtime rush! For some reason, they seem to serve every meal on a wooden board, and my sausages came in a bowl, but I got the meal I wanted, so I can overlook the gastropub pretentions.

It was a pretty good sized portion, and the sausages were a nice quality, with a slightly sweet flavour. There was a nice dollop of mash, which had a creamy aftertaste. The veg was served chunky, al dente and in an additional bowl (probably why it all came on a board).

The gravy was the only let down - medium thick and still with traces of unmixed in granuales! I reckon if I'd paid £9.50 I'd be expecting real gravy. But it was filling and tasty, for the price I paid I was happy.

The Boy had the cottage pie, which sadly was not as good a meal as mine. As you can see, it came on the obligatory board, with a dish of vegetables and a little jug of additional (ready mix) gravy. He said the flavours were OK, but that the cottage pie was really shallow, so you didn't really get much. It didn't feel quite like a full meal - either you'd need a lot more mash on top, or it should come with another side of chips or potato to really be satisfying. Sadly, he was hungry again pretty soon after we left!

As with the drinks choices, there were some pretty weird restrictions on the menu choice. You could pick anything up to £9.50, but not the burgers (most of which were £9.50) and not the steak sandwich, which costs £10.50, but you could pay the extra pound to have the £10.50 scampi or fish and chips. The Boy wanted to try the piri piri burger, so perhaps he had taken against the cottage pie from the beginning.

So for the £10.95 we paid, this was a nice glass of wine and an OK meal, with absolutely super service from lovely, bubbly bar staff. I'd definitely come back, but only for drinks. I'm not convinced the menu represents good value when you can get better quality pub nosh for a bit cheaper in many places in Leicester - The Globe and The Orange Tree to name just two alternatives.

I give Will's Bar a 6 out of 10 Extreme points. They've made a promising start and their service is lovely if a little slow. The menu could do with tweaking, but their drinks selection is excellent. Definitely worth popping by and I shall be interested to if the whole thing takes off over the next few months. It's a great, central location and I'm always happy to award additional points, especially to a local, independent business. One less Varsity bar in the city is no bad thing.

REVIEW: MrNutCase customised phone case

Mr Nutcase asked me to have a little looksy at their personalised case website - any device, any design. I was more than happy to do so - my ipod gets some rough treatment and I keep forgetting to use the crochet sock I made, so I needed something a little more robust.

Using the website is super easy, you simply select your device, choose which option of case you would like and then pick a template into which you add your images or photos. I decided to go for the full crazy cat lady option. It was simple to upload photos, and resize them to fit the four picture template I had chosen.

If you want to, you can also add text or clipart, but I think clipart is the devil's own creation, so didn't bother. You can also add a background colour, which I did, but was actually pointless in my case because the photos covered the entirety of the design. It would be good to be able to customise your photo frames, in the way you would on Instacollage, to make the pictures smaller, or have rounded edges, if you wanted to have a plain border colour. This would have made mind look a bit classier I think.

I chose the leather flappy case, which currently comes in plain white with your photos on the back. I think it would be good to be able to choose a colour for the whole case - I can see that I am going to get mine plenty dirty, plenty quickly, but perhaps I have a skankier handbag than most people. This design comes in a £19.95, which is not the cheapest, or I could have had a one sided plastic case for the iPod 4th generation at £14.95. There are different options for different types of phone and device which have different pricings. The good news is that all worldwide shipping is free, so there are no extras on that initial quote.

The checkout is also nice and easy, you get a confirmation email and woo hoo! You're done. And all you have to do is wait. But not too long. I ordered mine on Sunday evening and here we are, on Wednesday and I have my case! Brilliant!

The printing is a little heavy, so one of my photos came out much darker than I would have expected, but otherwise the design looks great. All my favourite kitties. The ipod fits snugly and feels secure and there are holes in all the right places, except for the charger, which you have to open the case to fit.

The quality of the leather and the stitching is OK. It's not a particularly plush leather, which you might be forgiven for wanting for twenty quid, but it is a good fun and practical case. It's nice to get your own design and they would make good presents. I'd give Mr Nutcase a pretty nifty 8 out 10 Extreme points. The service is easy, quick and convenient, but it's just a smidge on the pricey side for my taste. Can't fault the website though, it's really user friendly.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Ways with Pumpkin

The more elephant-like amongst you (in a good, memory-based way) will remember that this Autumn, the Boy and I won a prize winning pumpkin! He was called PumpKing Dickie, and won us a complimentary night at the Ramada Encore in Leicester. (Thanks guys, we're saving our prize for a very special night out!)

Anyway, as you can expect with such a massive pumpkin, it took us a long while to get through it. I made a record of some of the many pumpkin offerings that we made during that glorious squash glut. Then, like the total fool that I am, I completely forgot to actually write a blog post about it. Now I think, therefore, that this post should be a tribute to Dickie and all of the great meals he made for us. Come back next Autumn and use some of these ideas for yourself.

The first use, of course, is propogating the species. We have a big bag of seeds, ready to have the fun growing experience all over again next year. There was certainly no shortage in there. If I hadn't used the pumpkin flesh over so many meals, I would have scooped out the whole lot and roasted some for delicious pumpkin seed snacks, but that is one for next year. When we grow Dickie II!

The first meal I made was a super healthy one (well, the veg element anyway!). Spicy pumpkin wedges, roasted off in a pan with some sausages and then a chopped leek sprinkled over for the last 10 minutes. All served with gravy, this was really a robust, filling and highly flavoured winter dish. 

I used a mixture of paprika and cayenne on my wedges, but you could use any spice combination. I think a garam masala, Indian inspired effort would work really well with the slightly sweet pumpkin too. It's a lower carb alternative to potato wedges, and really tasty. If you have a fresh pumpkin and can't be bothered to peel it, then don't bother - the skin softens up just fine in the oven. That way you can also use less oil if you choose, as you can stand all the pumpkin on the skin side and it won't stick.

Another meal which I didn't quite finess properly was using the pumpkin as a low fat basis to a sauce for pasta. Here I had some home made tortellini style pasta with a spinach and low fat cream cheese centre. The pumpkin was cooked and pureed up with a touch of sauteed onion and garlic, sage, a bit of stock and finished with a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan on top. As you can see from the picture, it didn't emulsify together quite as well as I'd hoped, so it needs a bit more experimentation to get the consistency right, but it was really good to eat!

I think my favourite use for bits of Dickie was this super creamy curried pumpkin that The Boy made for me.  This lasted us a number of meals and was a real treat to warm up in the office for work lunches. 

He cooked the pumpkin low and slow with some lentils and Indian spices, finishing with coriander. The long cooking made a really silky texture, it was beautiful. I served it here with cous cous, but we also had with rice and naan and also as a vegetable side to meat curries. I cannot recommend curried pumpkin enough!

We also used some of Dickie to make a pumpkin bread, which was moist and lovely. Not a pumpkin pie in sight, but definitely a real mixture of interesting, home grown meals. I am already looking forward to next year's crop!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Watches for Him and Her

With Valentine's Day fast approaching, you haven't got long left to choose a gift for that special someone. A watch is a lovely idea for a present, especially when you can find something that really mirrors the personality of the person you are buying for.

I found picking the right watch was made a lot easier by visiting The Watch Hut. They have an absolutely massive range, so there is certainly something for everyone. They also are easily searchable by function, brand or even colour so you can quickly put your finger on what would suit you best.

If I was to choose the ideal set of his n hers watches for me and The Boy, I would look for something that reflected our shared characteristics. We're a pair of old hippies who love getting out into the great outdoors, riding our bikes and catching some sun. And lo and behold, I found the perfect pair for us.

Seiko Gents Solar Powered Chronograph

For The Boy, this lovely watch would be perfect. Currently on sale with 20% off at £199, I know he would love the fact that it is solar powered, making it that bit more sustainable and environmentally friendly than your average offering.

It's up to 100m water resistant and has a lovely clear dial. In addition to the solar glowing hands, this means it is an excellent choice for an active man, perfect for when we spend the night camping under the stars.

Finally, the brown leather strap is classic, and would appeal to his sense of style, matching all of his outfits but being a little bit different from the norm, just like him!

Citizen Ladies World Time A T Chronograph

To complement my selection for The Boy, I picked this beautiful watch with a complimentary brown strap. It's a bit more feminine, but equally functional and also has the snazzy eco-drive feature which we love so much, making it a sustainable choice.

It is radio controlled and also features a world clock - perfect for knowing when the right time comes to Skype our lovely friends in California. 

Priced at £369, this watch would suit any occasion, from a day out cycling to a gallery launch (and whatever falls between those two parameters). I think that we would really be the toast of the town wearing this selection.

Have a little browse of The Watch Hut for yourself - which watches would suit the personalities of you and your special Valentine?

This is my entry into The Watch Hut's special Valentine's Day competition - I hope you enjoyed it! I had a lot of fun trying to find the perfect watch to suit our needs.

Valentine's Special: Duerr's Aphrodisiac Jam

Those crazy folk at Duerr's have been at it again, this time knocking up a special concoction just for Valentine's Day. Apparently back by popular demand, they have relaunched their limited edition Strawberry and Champagne jam, with an extra special addition, horny goat weed.

Yes, you heard me correctly. The special ingredient is horny goat weed, Epimedium. Personally, I would have gone with one of its other names in my marketing - randy beef grass. This Chinese plant is known as an aphrodisiac and also credited with having benefits for osteoporosis. So, if you're feeling in need of a little extra spice in your life, or have come across a bit brittle then this is the jam for you.

It is a great little jam - full of fruity strawberry sweetness. I tested mine on my porridge and thoroughly enjoyed it. The champagne adds a little unusual dimension to the flavour and lord only knows what the horny goat weed added. Perhaps I wasn't eating enough.

Anyway, it's a bit of a laugh, ain't it? So if you're looking for the Valentine's Day gift for the person who has everything, I'd definitely recommend this. Set yourself up for a banging breakfast on Valo Day morning, and spend an inordinate amount of time laughing at the alternate names for Epimedium that come up in a quick internet search. Plus you'll have yourself a lovely pot of jam. I might whip up a batch of especially Tarty Tarts with the rest of mine. And maybe create some Randy Rice Pudding. I will certainly continue to giggle endlessly over jam-related innuendo, and so should you.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

REVIEW: The Place To Eat, John Lewis; Leicester Highcross

Like a lot of you out there, I've got straight in on the new my John Lewis card, which gives you a stonking six months of free coffee and cake. It's quite a clever marketing ploy really, because I have a self imposed ban from going into John Lewis, so for the last two months I have been nipping in and of course having a little looksy in the haberdashery and kitchenware sections - my secret vice. They do have fun crafty doodles!

Anyway, I was so busy in December that I completely forgot to use my voucher, so in January I resolved that I would do better and headed on in. The Place to Eat is on the top floor of John Lewis, Leicester Highcross and I had never been in there before. It's quite a peaceful, nicely laid out cafe of not insubstantial size, but it does get very busy of a lunchtime. You can sit and stare out the window of the crazily adorned building and look out over the north of Leicester. It might not look much, but I've come to appreciate urban landscapes much more over recent years. I like to spot the buildings I know and see interconnections that I perhaps hadn't appreciated before. I could see Old John, off in the distance and knew I was looking towards my house, where The Boy was. I also enjoyed connecting the dots, seeing the ancient street plan mapped out by the surviving routes of Roman roads and churches with medieval origins. Oh yes, I'm a lot of fun in tall buildings, I'm surprised I was there on my own.

January I nipped in on my lunchbreak. I opted for the biggest, richest piece of cake in existence, this mound of chocolate cake, with tonnes of extra chocolatey shavings. I accompanied it with a cappucino, because what I needed were some chocolate sprinkles to really finish things off. This would have come to just under £6, which is a little on the pricey side for me, but does compare relatively favourably with other cakeries in the vicinity. They do have other options which are less expensive - the big slabs of cake are the most expensive, but they also do muffins, cheesecake, scones, millionaire's shortbread, a whole range of stuff. It is all nicely presented and has that handmade feel to it.

In fairness, it was delicious - rich and dark and unctious. I did feel quite sick afterwards so I would recommend sharing a slice of this between two. The coffee was well made and tasty - just enough to water down the richness.

Come February I realised it was time to nip back, and so I ran in. This time I went for the cherry bakewell I had my eye on last time (it is one of my favourite desserts). I teamed it with a latte, which to be honest, was kind of like the cappucino, but in a glass. Still, this came to around a fiver (if I'd paid) and I really enjoyed the bakewell. Not so much as last time, with lovely crisp pastry around the outside and a soft, moist, almondy filling. The jam was tangy and sweet and the icing added enough sweetness without it being cloying. I would definitely recommend it.

I also really liked that every month, they donate £3k to local charities. You get a little token when you order, and as you leave you can choose which charity you want to support. They allocate the money according to the proportion of tokens each one receives. January I went for a local homeless charity, this month, it was animal aid. I noticed the month before they'd been supporting local arts charity, Soft Touch, which was a good thing. Let's hope they go for the Friends of Jewry Wall one of these months!

I haven't tried their main menu yet, I'm stuck on the free cake, but from what I saw of other diners, they appear to do one step up from usual canteen food. It's no BHS canteen (sorry BHS, but it ain't great). If you're in the area, why not stop by and let me know if the savoury food is worth popping in for on my lunch break?

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Campaign For Real Salad: Supermarkets vs Sandwich stores

The Campaign for Real Salad rumbles on. Lots of you are reading this, but not signing the petition. You could go and sign it now. Go on, click... and sign.

I thought I'd start to examine the supermarket competition in the pre-packaged salad market. Pret a Manger prides itself on its philosophy of providing food that is made 'avoiding the obscure chemicals, additives and preservatives common to so much of the 'prepared' and 'fast' food on the market today.' So presumably their salads are going to be a good lunch option.

Looking at their website, it's good to see that their salads are served with the salad dressing 'served in a small pot giving you the choice to add a lot, a little or none at all.' This is a good thing, giving the consumer the choice I've been banging on about. But then, the supermarkets do the same thing. Asda's Tuna Salad, for example, has its dressing served in a sachet, so you do still have the choice of how much to add. But this is no doubt intended to keep the salad crisp, rather than to allow consumers the option of ensuring that their salad remains a healthy choice.

Even more strangely, the Pret option specifically states in the ingredient breakdown that you're getting a 'large French dressing', so I'm not sure how that's a small pot.

So how do they stack up? The Pret Tuna Nicoise does seem to be roughly commensurate with the Asda Tuna Salad in terms of ingredients so lets see how they compare. Pret's nutritional info divides up between the salad and the dressing, so I've added it all together.

Pret Tuna Nicoise Salad
Serving size - 310g
Calories  - 399 (per 100g - 129kcals)
Sugar - 4g (per 100g - 1.29g)
Fat - 29.6g (per 100g - 9.5g)
Sat Fat - 4.1g (per 100g - (1.3g)

Pole and line caught skipjack tuna, baby capers, free-range egg, baby plum tomatores, salad leaves, freshly sliced cucumber, lemon, sliced red onions, pret seasoning, large French dressing

Asda Tuna Salad
Serving size - 220g
Calories - 163 (per 100g - 74kcals)
Sugar - 2.2g (per 100g - 1g)
Fat - 9.24g (per 100g - 4.2g)
Sat Fat - (per 100g - 0.6g)


Mixed Leaf (24.5%) [Iceberg Lettuce, Red Chard], Baby Plum Tomatoes (18%), BOILED FREE RANGE EGGS (13%), Green Beans (13%), Tuna (13%) [Tuna, Water, Salt], Lemon Dressing (9.0%) [Water, Rapeseed Oil, White Wine Vinegar, Olive Oil, Lemon Juice, Dijon Mustard [ containing Water, Spirit Vinegar, MUSTARD POWDER, MUSTARD HUSK, Salt, MUSTARD FLOUR, Allspice, Turmeric], Lemon Juice from Concentrate, Cornflour, Sugar, Lemon Zest, Salt], Pitted Black Olives (6.8%) [Pitted Black Olives, Water, Salt, Preservative (Acetic Acid, Lactic Acid), Colour (Ferrous Gluconate)

 There you have it. The supermarket choice is a much healthier option than a visit to Pret. Although it looks like Pret have a much fresher product in terms of fewer ingredients and no additives, I have been unable to find the ingredients for the Pret seasoning or the large French dressing.

 And I am surprised that the Pret offering contains more than double the fat. For all their talk of 'small pots of dressing' they give their customers more than double the amount of dressing that Asda does. An average woman should have no more than 70g of fat per day, so if you had a Pret tuna salad with all the dressing that is 43% of your daily fat right there. You could walk into KFC, and order a Flaming Wrap and a corn cob instead and you'd get 415 calories and 17g of fat, nearly halving the fat of your Pret salad.

Of course, KFC would give you less fresh vegetables, less vitamins and minerals, but the fact remains that there is a weird discrepancy in the fresh, vibrant choice of salad for your lunch and the actuality of the nutrition these choices provide. If you would like salad to be a healthy choice, sign the petition today and let's see where we can take it.

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