Saturday, 31 December 2016

A Foodie, Boozy Year in Pictures

2016 has been a year of true ups and downs. Everyone seems to be blogging their resolutions, goals, memories and complaints about how this year has treated them and I don't know if I can be bothered to reflect on it all here. However, we have had a great year of fantastic food and drink, so let's see some of the best in my foodie year in pictures! Click on the caption to read the original post.

NB - sorry to anyone that didn't get a mention - the post was already getting far too long - what a year it's been!

What was your gastronomic highlight this year?

We had some superb japes courtesy of the Western Park Beer Festival team
We enjoyed a predominantly vegetarian affair in India
A phenomenal trip to Porto rounded off a busy start to the year
2016 was the year all food went blue for LCFC. And so did my hair.
The Birmingham Foodie Festival was a great treat
Incredible menus were presented at Chutney Ivy
Sadly we said goodbye to some Leicester food greats - like The Kitchen at the Cookie
The Parcel Yard presented some blinding special menus - this was for the Queen's Birthday
We visited Ireland for the first time and enjoyed phenomenal fish and Guinness!
I enjoyed the best wine tasting of my life care of Recaredo
We went on a staycation and fed an American more pork pie than is advisable
2016 was the year of the Afternoon Tea, like this bottomless example from Exchange
We rubbed shoulders with some of the greatest Gelatiere in the world, including Leicester's Gelato Village at Via Del Gelato, Turin, at the Terra Madre festival
We welcomed some new friends to the city, including Bodega!
Local wine tastings were on par too - like this example in Oakham with Bat & Bottle
And finally, the festive offer has been strong, like 33 Cank Street's incredible menu with Ben Martin

Friday, 30 December 2016

Festive Afternoon Tea at 1901, Leicester

We've been following the process of the 1901 at the Turkey Cafe for quite some time now. Their dedication to innovative cocktails, in beautiful settings, has only gone from strength to strength in that time.

Amazingly I had accidentally managed to reset my camera to a low resolution so apologies if some of the photos don't quite do it justice. I wondered why everything looked so weird on the viewfinder!

So... mulled Jaegermeister. That's a thing.

During the present season of goodwill, they have created a bespoke festive cocktail menu, supported with a delicious afternoon tea and I was delighted to be invited along to give it a try, since they have happily extended the menu to take us all the way through the dark month of January.

Yep. That's Santa's Boot.

Here we are, in the slow time betwixt Christmas and New Year, and yet at 1901 the festive spirit will remain alive for some time to come. The festive cocktails are subtle, for the most part, yet extremely clever and totally delicious. I'll grant you, the Santa's Boot isn't particularly subtle, but the Christmas Spice Espresso is a clever take on an old favourite. Slightly sweeter than your average espresso martini it gets its flavour profile from the heady coffee, the deep salted caramel vodka, and a light, but fragrant in-house made Christmas spice syrup.

Don't worry, he didn't drown. I had already eaten his head.

And then we were on to the afternoon tea, and what a spread it was. Beautifully presented on a delicate cake stand, we were treated to an array of finger sandwiches, including the obligatory turkey, cranberry and stuffing. They were light and delicious.

From there we were on to the cream tea - a fluffy, homemade scone with absolutely perfect texture served with jam and a thick clotted cream. With the afternoon tea you have a number of options - for £9.95 per person you can have it with unlimited tea and coffee, and this would be super with the scone. You can upgrade at £14.95 to have sparkling afternoon tea, or go the whole hog and have a festive cocktail with it for £15.95. This is a super great deal as the cocktails cost between £8 and £10 for the seasonal specials. Bargain city!

At the top of the afternoon tea tower was a fresh cake pop - with sponge, white chocolate and coconut for texture. It was sweet and decadent, bordering on the 'so wrong it's right'. I'm not the world's most dedicated sweet eater but I just couldn't put it down until it was all devoured. Another homemade classic, then followed up by the homemade mince pie. A winter spectacular and no mistake. And so very filling!

It would have been rude not to have another stab at the festive cocktail menu before leaving, and so I managed to squeeze in a maple and frankincense Old Fashioned. Once again, this was a new twist on an old favourite and I love those heady, strong cocktails from the old school. The frankincense bitters added a really unusual, distinctive but delicious perfume, which was complimented by the surprisingly heady aroma from the smoked ice ball. Yep, that's a smoked ice cube. The touch of sweetness coming through from the maple was just enough to offset the mule kick of the Jim Beam oaked bourbon and overall this made for a cocktail which summed up Christmas in a log cabin, in front of an open fire, to sweet perfection.

Stir it up!!

Yep, you guessed it, although I have fallen for the espresso martini as much as everyone else, the Old Fashioned was definitely my favourite. Its charm was understated and intelligent. You should get down and try it.

Thanks to 1901 for inviting us along for such a gorgeous treat. I loved sitting at the upstairs bar, watching the world go by and enjoying the beauty of the original tiles at the back of the bar. The Turkey Cafe building is really such a unique gem in Leicester. Long may it reign.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Riders vs Lions: Leicester basketball action

The Leicester Riders took on the London Lions in a pre-Christmas game last week. We were fortunate to be invited along to be guest of Rider's sponsors, Everards, and we had no idea what a game was in store for us.

I love the Riders, not only are they the home team, but they are genuinely an awesome team full of spirit and talent. I enjoyed a game at the Leicester Sports Arena earlier this year, not long after it first opened. You can read about that one too...

It was a close game throughout. We knew the Riders had been having a good season so far, and they lived up to expectations, but the Lions kept up point for point throughout the game - and then, they began to edge away.

Temperatures were rising all around the arena, and a bunch of extremely questionable foul calls against the Riders started to get the crowd really vocal. By the fourth quarter, the Riders had lost ground, but unbelievably, they made up the deficit to cause a tied game.

By this point everyone was shouting and hollering for their team! We had an extra period of 5 minutes to live through where the game could go either way, but the Riders came out strong, stronger and victory! I haven't shouted so much since Leicester won the Premier League! 

So if you want a night of fast paced action I would highly recommend heading down, and of course you can enjoy a nice pint of Tiger during the game. Fantastic fun, I loved it.

Celebratory pint - winners!

Friday, 23 December 2016

Ragdale Hall winner

We have an early Christmas present for one Extreme Housewife reader. The winner of our competition with Ragdale Hall and Rothley Wine has been selected at random using the Rafflecopter app and that winner is...

Caroline Clarke!

Congratulations! I will be sending you an email later today regarding receiving your prize of an Evening Spa Experience at Ragdale Hall. Remember, if you didn't win it's not too late to get those last minute gifts of Ragdale Hall vouchers, or to pop to Norths of Rothley, 23 Wine and Whiskey or other stockists to pick up your delicious Rothley Wine for Christmas. I personally recommend the Spirit of Freedom rose sparkling for the Christmas table!

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Tapas tricks they don't want you to know, and bonus wine tasting!

So I spent a very jolly afternoon with the effervescent Mmm...Miranda and we came up with these little videos. Some tapas ideas, wine pairing inspiration and a whole lot of Sunday drinking. Enjoy!!

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

12 Pairs of Christmas at 33 Cank Street

I was at a meeting the other day, where some quite significant local figures were discussing the limitations that Leicester currently had on it. Among other infrastructure issues, they bewailed the lack of a Michelin starred restaurant in the city. This made me laugh, as I think any of you that have read this blog before will know, I adore the city's food scene and believe that we have culinary talent that is well up there with any of the best in this country. And, quite frankly, (sorry chefs) I am pleased that I can get Michelin quality food without having the commensurate price tag!

I was invited to another example of these secret wonder-menus at 33 Cank Street last week. This bar has been a firm favourite for me since it opened, because of their innovative cocktails, fabulous jazz and blues evenings, and of course, that cheeky Pinotage they have as the house red. It was also one of my absolute favourites in 2015's Tapas Trail with their beautiful Spanish menu.

This Christmas they offered 3 evenings of beautifully crafted menus in conjunction with the incredibly talented chef, Benjamin Martin. Named the 12 Pairs of Christmas, each exquisite course was matched not only to the song, but also to a carefully selected drink or bespoke cocktail. How did you miss it? I don't know - I totally warned it was coming up in my pick of festive foodie events. It was clever, it was thoughtful and it was absolutely stunningly executed. You can tell I liked it because I think I'm already starting to bubble over and I haven't even started talking about the food yet.

Who needs the Michelin guide?
Nine Ladies Dancing
Dancing prawns infused with a Marie Rose sauce matched with a White Lady

Immediately I was absolutely floored by the quality of this dish. The sweet, juicy prawn was matched with the passionfruit coulis and delicate Marie Rose sauce, which was complemented by the crisp vegetable and fragrant dill, all tied together with the lovely texture of the rye bread croutons. Perfectly presented.

And of course, with this we had our White Lady. The basis of this (besides gin of course) was the homemade Clement-cello (the Canksters' take on the classic Italian Limoncello) which complemented those delicate sweet flavours in the dish. The egg white foam gave a lightness of touch which meant that this drink truly danced over the palate - and I cannot emphasise enough just how effective the super-subtle garnish of a kaffir lime leaf was on the top, adding beautiful fragrance each time you lifted the drink to your lips.

Yeah, I liked this one a lot. I would pretty much drink that Clement-cello as my desert-island drink.

Ten Socialites are Slurping
Hog roast slider matched with a Christmas spiced and fortified cider

Then the slider. Oh the slider. I can tell you exciting foodie things, like how the roast ham was gently cooked in cider and roast ham - making it the perfect match for the warming glass of Christmas cheer that was the mulled cider. I can tell you how the accompanying mustard mayonnaise was somehow robust and delicate all at the same time - creamy and warming and amazingly delicious. The light texture of the handmade roll, with its crispy top.

But the fundamental fact remains, this was essentially the best bacon sandwich I have ever had. I know, that's not strictly true because it wasn't bacon, but it was thick cut, flavourful ham with a delicious sweet coating, served warm and mouthwatering.

Eleven Pipers Piping
Christmas dinner terrine with fermented potato bread and pickles, paired with Piper Heidsieck champagne

On to our main and I was absolutely fascinated with how this course was put together. I think the best way that I can describe it is that the key elements of a Christmas dinner were deconstructed, and then put back together as a cold Boxing Day lunch. But with subtlety and incredible balance. This knocked yer turkey sandwiches into a cocked hat. I don't care if you're having a gourmet ham delivered especially for Boxing Day, this was better.

For me, the soft terrine of turkey and a beautifully aromatic stuffing was just beautiful and having the dense potato bread with its olive oil and salt seasoning really brought out the best in it. This combination of flavours matched the dry refinement of the Piper Heidsieck champagne and of course the bubbles gave the real sense of celebration. What could be more appropriate for Christmas than fizz from one of the oldest Champagne houses in the region?

Obviously I can't let this one pass by without commenting on the brussels sprouts. Oh the sprouts. Never in all my days have I been served individual leaves of a sprout. I'm sure with a more sensible person, perhaps one who hadn't enjoyed three drinks at this point, would find this the highlight of haute cuisine. I found it hilarious. Gut wrenchingly hilarious. There you go, I'm not a sensible person. Doesn't make it wrong though. Or does it?

Twelve Drummers Dramming
Nutmeg and orange blossom creme brulee served with a Christmas pudding infused Rusty Nail cocktail made with Monkey Shoulder whisky

By far the most creative and best determined expression of the 12 Days of Christmas theme for me. Drummers Dramming! Ha!

As you would expect, a perfectly executed creme brulee in every way, from the satisfying crack when you broke through the crisp sugar shell, to the smooth and decadent cream filling with its delicate Christmassy flavouring that was made all the more permeating in combination with the delicious Rusty Nail. The Christmas pudding infusion was clearly in evidence, and using the excellent quality Monkey Shoulder whisky made it all the more delicious.

The accompanying shortbread 'drumstick' was crumbly and light. The cocktail had a GIANT icecube in it which kept it at the perfect temperature throughout. The orange peel and rosemary garnish on the side of the glass kept that delightful festive aroma present throughout the course. And the creme brulee was served in a little drum ramekin. Just perfectly. If I was wearing a hat, I would have to take it off to chef Benjamin Martin and Cank Street's talented mixologist, Kal Ruparell.

So, there were three of these nights, and if you didn't go then you missed out. Sorry. However, I'm sure this is not the last pop-up collaboration we'll see between Mssrs Martin and Ruparell. So remember to keep checking in with me and I'll let you know when it's happening. In the meantime, if you haven't set your plans for New Year then I think 33 Cank Street's Rhythm & Booze extravaganza would be a good shout. It's a black tie jazz and blues special, with what will undoubtedly be fine canapes and out of this world cocktails. And of course bubbles at midnight. A more refined new year celebration. You can pretend you're in a New York speakeasy. Fabulous.

Monday, 12 December 2016

It's a Burger Off

I previewed the latest UK Burger Battle a few weeks ago and had the pleasure of judging the actual event at the LCB Depot. It was a fun evening out, with the Sailor Jerry and Brewdog bar in full swing and an assortment of tasty treats on offer for us to sample, including the lovely lads from Gelato Village with their artisanal delights.

The Burger Battle was being held between LCB Depot residents, Gray's Kitchen and newcomers to the city, Cured. We started off with the Euro burger from Gray's. I loved the subtle savoury spice that came from the Nduja butter and it was a gorgeous, thick, freshly ground patty that was juicy and delicious. The smoked Lyonnaise onion was deliciously flavourful, although I think I had a little too much on my burger, so it went everywhere! That's all part of the fun though. In all, this was a fantastic burger with every single element having its place in the flavour profile. It was well constructed, with a good structure, including the bun. I liked the creativity of having a sun-dried tomato crouton in there as well, which added some excellent texture. I'm not sure I'll ever see a crouton on a burger again, so that's another one off the bucket list.

After a fitting break for digestion, we moved on to the Cured Stack burger. This was not a special creation for the event, so is something that you can try for yourself when you head up to see them above Brewdog. This was a much thinner patty, bolstered out with treacle and barley brisket - by far the star ingredient of the whole show. With the pickled cabbage, herbed tomatoes and homemade sauces, this was definitely a much wetter, more physical burger which created many a messy face and sticky finger.

I shan't reveal how I voted, but suffice it to say that the judges were in something of a deadlock. It took quite some time for this to be lifted and eventually Cured emerged as the judges winner. By contrast the public voted for Gray's and it was nice to see both competitors thereby acknowledged for their efforts - particularly Cured who had the delight of serving their burgers from a marquee in the courtyard in the freezing cold!

The Sailor Jerry Lady had a nice time.

Along with the burgers, we were entertained by a live DJ and the guys from Plukd coming down to offer guests the opportunity to participate in the Wing Sting Challenge. Once again, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the select group of self-elected competitors moving through a range of emotions from fear to shock to intense discomfort when trying to run through those spicy, spicy chicken wings in the alloted time. I think it's safe to say it is my absolute favourite spectator sport. Apparently Plukd will be finding a permanent home in the city soon and that is definitely something to look forward to.

Action shot taken by The Boy. I was filming this for Plukd on their camera. Look, that's my hands below left.

Finally, we were treated to seeing Emma Dalton, competitive eater, working her way through 6 burgers in well under 20 minutes. Yes, I know that competitive eating is frivolous, but seriously it was quite a feat. I ate two burgers in 3 hours and I felt like I might die I was so full...

Emma Dalton, halfway through and still having a great time!

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Divine Boutique, Leicester

Divine Boutique has moved from Silver Arcade to Silver Street, in a convenient change of address and it was my pleasure to be invited to their re-launch. If you are looking to find a dress for that special occasion where you can feel like a million dollars without spending it, this is the boutique for you.

Already generating interest when I arrived!
As a dedicated sewing enthusiast, naturally I spent most of my time pawing at seams and thumbing hems and I can confirm that the quality of the workmanship and the materials is as good as it looks from the pictures.

Some of the ballgowns are absolutely decadent. Wonderful soft chiffon finishes sit atop beautiful satin linings with pristine rolled hems. This is testament to the hard work of the team at Divine - they buy some dresses in and then customise them, adding detailed embellishments and a little bit of extra zing and they also create their own designs from scratch. So whatever you buy, it will always be unique to you - never have the embarrassment at the Christmas ball when you up in the same outfit as a colleague again!

They also have a select range of accessories to match the outfits - I particularly loved the snakes head bangles, but there were also some sparkly shoes, extremely bling clutch bags and more. There was also an absolutely gorgeous grey feather wrap which was so delightfully soft, it must be like wearing air when you have it on.

If anyone is looking to buy me a Christmas present... :)
At the launch we were treated to bubbles, my first mince pie of the season and of course, gorgeous truffles from Divine Boutique's near neighbours, the ever delightful Cocoa Amore. And this gives you a sense of the atmosphere that Divine are working hard to create - one of understated elegance and class. 

That's not to say that their dresses are not showstoppers - if you want to look like a princess and turn heads then they have some real jaw droppers for you - but all of this is done in an atmosphere of quiet refinement and confidence in their tailoring.

This tailoring prowess continues to the first floor, to the bridal boutique where there really are some of the loveliest bridesmaids dresses I've ever seen. And I've done the whole wedding thing. These more muted colours absolutely suited my taste down to the ground and were a little more understated than some of the gowns I had seen downstairs. However, across the shop there is something for any colour scheme.

In fact, I was absolutely amazed to discover that not only are the ticket prices on the dresses extremely reasonable, but they also include alterations as standard - and this includes bridesmaids dresses. So you can buy your dream and have it fitted to you perfectly. I just cannot believe this sort of service where the prices I saw ranged between about £100-£600 for truly beautiful pieces. And if you've got a group of bridesmaids to cater for, then you'll really save on the hidden expense of getting items altered to fit properly.

This understanding that we all come in different shapes and sizes feeds through to the sizes of the clothes available in store - they're not all 6-8, there are plenty for those of us of the larger hip persuasion, dresses to suit the bigger-in-booty and so forth. So whatever your size you will surely find something that makes you look divine.

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