Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Christmas at Costa

Even though I absolutely love Christmas and the festive time of year, I hate getting into the Christmassy spirit too early. Its still November, and I don't let myself really think about Christmas until the beginning of December, but with the recent change in temperature and the end of term fast approaching I guess there's no harm in starting to feel a bit festive now. Especially if that means I can enjoy the Christmas specials in Costa.

I love Costa. I think their coffee is really nice, the food offerings are pretty good and it has a nice feel to it. There are a couple of stores on campus and I find myself there quite a lot, either meeting friends, grabbing a coffee to keep me going through the day or on a table in the corner doing some study.

On to the Christmas menu!

First, take a look at how cute this cup is! I love the Christmas cups from Costa. There are four designs; rudolph, snowman, elf and Santa. They are all so cute and you can also buy ceramic cups with these designs on.

I have to say I was a bit gutted Costa didn't bring back the Honeycomb Hot Chocolate from last year but the Black Forest Hot Chocolate has made a return which I am thrilled about.

Costa's hot chocolate is good anyway as its pretty thick and is chocolatey but not sickly. The Black Forest Hot Chocolate on the Christmas menu also has a shot of blackberry syrup and is topped with whipped cream, chocolate curls and some cherry sauce. I love the combination of chocolate and berries, and this tastes like a liquid black forest gateau. Very indulgent but perfect for a treat on a cold day.

I've had a sample of the Orange Hot Chocolate, which for a non-orange/chocolate fan was pretty good and I'll probably try a full sized version and I've also had the Brownie Hot Chocolate.

I asked for only a bit of whipped cream, hence why the picture above looks a bit lack lustre. I'm not sure I'd have this one again because I prefer other drinks at Costa but it was yummy and I definitely enjoyed it. It has a shot of walnut syrup which made it very brownie-like and it was topped with tiny pieces of brownie.

I probably sound like I spend all my time in Costa because I've had a couple more things from the Christmas menu. (Its true, I do go there a lot - goodbye student loan). Before a two hour lecture on Monday I popped in to get a coffee and I decided to go for the Praline Cappuccino, which I was pleasantly surprised by. I like my coffee very strong, so for me I couldn't taste coffee at all, but the praline syrup was a really nice flavour, and when it was topped with a gold dusting it really brightened up my day. (Sorry I don't have a photo)

On the food front, when I had lunch with a friend a couple of weeks ago I had the bacon, brie and cranberry panini which was very festive and so good.

I'm not huge on cheese but I like a bit of brie every now and again and I'm glad there wasn't too much in this panini. I haven't had any of the cakes but I've heard the gingerbread muffin is tasty.

On the whole a lovely, festive menu that will help to get anyone in the Christmas spirit!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Handmade Burger Co - The Bullring, Birmingham City Centre

If you didn't know already, I love a good burger. I also love restaurants that specialise in burgers and Handmade Burger Co is one of my favourites. The menu is so big that you can always have something different and there are plenty of options for non-beef eaters, but it's not overwhelming and it's easy to find something that you fancy.

A couple of weeks ago I headed into town with a couple of friends for some burgers. I'd been desperate to visit Handmade Burger Co since I came back to uni in September and I was so glad we finally went there. It was pretty busy for a Tuesday night but we didn't have to wait long for a table and we quickly decided what we wanted as we were rather hungry (and by rather I mean absolutely starving). There was a bit of a queue to order but our food arrived pretty quickly after ordering.

The American Cheese Beef Burger

The Peppered Beef Burger

The Avocado and Bacon Beef Burger

We all enjoyed our burgers. I've had the peppered beef one before and it is really good but seeing as I'm still obsessed with avocados I had to go for the avocado and bacon burger. It was really good but I have to say that I think I prefered the same one in GBK. In GBK they cook the burgers medium and for me that really improves a burger. I still really enjoyed the one in Handmade Burger Co though and the meat is of really good quality, I just wish it wasn't so well done!

We shared two portions of chips between the three of us which was about the right amount I think. There were a few left over but one portion wouldn't have been enough. I don't think I can stress enough how much I love their chips. They remind me of chips you get from fish and chip shops and they are the perfect balance of crunchy and fluffy. Word of warning though, they are boiling when they first come to your table and I always forget so dive in and end up burning my tongue. They are kinda worth having a burnt tongue for a few days though. SO GOOD.

What makes Handmade Burger Co even better is the value for money. I have a loyalty card that gives you free things every few visits (this time I got a free drink) and they do pretty good student discount. 15% off  with a valid student card and I think they still do 30% off between 3-6 on a Monday (I'm not sure on that though!).

All in all a great place to grab a burger, especially if you like your meat well done!

Friday, 7 November 2014

Current Obsession: Nakd snack bars

Always on the hunt for healthy snacks, I was delighted when I tried these on the recommendation from my friend Elise. I'm a firm believer in balanced diets - eating plenty of fruit, vegetables and other good stuff, not eating too much processed food but allowing yourself treats. I think the 80/20 rule is good and pretty easy to stick to. Life's too short to deny yourself chocolate every now and again!

I've been trying to make my lifestyle a bit healthier recently, working out a lot and trying to make the most of my work in the gym by not eating too much unhealthy food. I've been trying to reduce the treat part of my diet to about 5%  which is quite tricky if you're a chocolate addict with a constant sugar craving.

Cue Nakd bars!

I was sceptical as to how good these would be, but I honestly think they are so tasty and they really satisfy my chocolate cravings. Also, they are doubly good as they give you a wonderful feeling of smugness, knowing your eating one of your five a day but enjoying the delicious cocoa flavour at the same time.

My favourite are the Cocoa Delight, made up of dates, cashews, raisins, cocoa and natural chocolate flavouring. They look a bit weird, and the texture is nothing like chocolate but they are very dense and pretty filling.

I also really like the new flavour called Cocoa Crunch, which is similar to the Cocoa Delight but with some crunchy bits in it too.

I knew Elise loved the cocoa orange ones and even though I'm not a huge fan of the chocolate/orange combination, I have to agree they are pretty tasty too. I haven't tried any of the non-chocolate flavours as they don't really appeal to me, I like the chocolatey ones as a substitute to satisfy my cravings. My friend Elise did not like the cocoa crunch ones though, claiming they tasted like dog food (which I don't agree with but each to their own!).

Now, there is one major downside to these (for students at least) - they are pretty pricey. To buy individually from a convenience shop or the food section of Boots etc they cost around 85p which is probably about 20p more than your average bar of chocolate. From supermarkets the multipack boxes have four bars in and I think they are usually over £2 (I bought a couple of boxes when they were on offer in Sainsbury's for 2 boxes for £4) which is certainly not cheap. I don't have a huge amount of cash to spend, but for me, these are worth it. If I spend my money on these I can't really afford to buy other, unhealthy, snacks and if I know I have one of these at home I don't buy chocolate to satisfy any cravings I have. Plus, although chocolate is always advertised as being quite cheap, for example chocolate is always on offer for £1, its not really that good value for money. You can end up spending quite a lot on chocolate if you take advantage of £1 offers. So really if you think about it, buying these saves money (ok even if they don't it makes me feel better about parting with my money!).

I really love these. Perfect chocolate substitute, actually healthy AND they save you money! What's not to love??

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Roasted Butternut Squash and Red Pepper Soup

When Autumn comes around and butternut squash comes into season I dig out this recipe. Its warming, filling and looks and tastes like Autumn.

To serve 4 - 6 (depending on how big a portion you want), you will need:

1 butternut squash
1 clove of garlic
1 large/2 small red onions
1 large red pepper
1 cup of red lentils
1 litre of your stock of choice (I use one chicken stock cube to make mine, but if you want it to be vegetarian friendly use vegetable stock)
Olive oil
Salt and black pepper

You will also need a roasting tray, a large saucepan and a blender (as well as extra basic kitchen equipment)

Start by chopping your butternut squash into smallish cubes. Its quite tough so the bigger your chopping knife, the easier it is. Once you've gone through the gruelling job of cutting it up, place the squash into the roasting tray, drizzle with some olive oil and season with some salt and pepper and roast in a hot oven, pre-heated to 200 DEGREES C for between 25 - 35 minutes, until its beginning to soften.

Meanwhile, gently heat some olive oil in your saucepan. Crush or finely cut up the garlic and add to the pan, followed by the onions, chopped into cubes. Cut the red pepper into cubes and add to the pan and then leave to slowly cook. Prepare the stock so its ready to add when needed.

Once the butternut squash is ready, add it to the pan and give it all a bit of a stir. Pour in the stock, making sure the pan isn't too full, because the soup needs to boil, and then add in the lentils. Also, add a pinch of salt and pepper to season to your liking (I like about a teaspoon of black pepper and I sometimes add a pinch of chilli flakes for a bit of heat).

Turn up the heat and wait for the soup to come to the boil, before turning the heat back down and leaving to gently simmer for about half an hour. When its ready, the lentils will be slightly yellow, soft and will have grown a lot in size.

Grab your blender, I like to use a hand blender so you don't have to transfer the soup out of the saucepan, and give it a good blend until you're left with a thick, orange soup and there are no chunks left.

Without a doubt this is my favourite soup. Its easy to make, smells (and tastes) incredible and is really satisfying. Perfect for an Autumn day when you've got a bit of a cold.


Thursday, 9 October 2014

Weekend at The Plough - Harborne, Birmingham

Last weekend I was lucky enough to dine out twice at The Plough, which for a student with a fairly restricted budget, was a major treat. After my trip there at the end of last year (read all about that here) I was desperate to go back and try the rest of the menu.

On Saturday I headed to The Plough for brunch. I'm a big breakfast lover. I'm a morning person and never miss breakfast, so eating out for the first meal of the day is one of my favourite things to do, and after examining The Plough's brunch menu I was very excited. (By the way I find breakfast and brunch to be pretty similar - either way I always end up having a bit of lunch and I guess the only real difference is that you go out later for brunch).

I decided to go for a smoothie, I think it was made with strawberry and mango.

If I really think about it, it was probably a bit overpriced but it was yummy and we went out for brunch to celebrate my friend's 21st birthday, so as it was a special occasion I decided to splash out a bit. When I looked at the menu the coconut milk porridge jumped out at me and I'm not really sure why. I don't particularly like coconut but I think seeing as it came with honeycomb and mango that was what swayed me. I'm very glad I ordered it though.

The portion size was spot-on and as well as coming with a few chunks of mango, it was also served with a mango purée which was delicious.

The porridge was really tasty and I will definitely make porridge with coconut milk in the future for a a bit of variation. Everyone elses food looked really good as well, in particular the pancakes with bacon and maple syrup.

On Sunday my parents came up to visit so we went to The Plough for Sunday lunch. We all had the roast.

It was massive! I went for beef, which was served pink, and there was loads of it. I hate going out for Sunday lunch and only being given one small slice of meat but this is not something to worry about at The Plough. The beef was really tasty and seasoned with a fair amount of pepper. I found the roast potatoes to be a bit too salty for my liking but they weren't so salty I found them inedible. The Yorkshire pudding was good and the veg was great too (peas, red cabbage and swede mash).

It's not cheap but you definitely get your money's worth and it's all really good quality. My only niggle is that the potatoes were a tad too salty and I would've prefered more gravy, but I guess I like to drown my plate in gravy so most people would probably find it to be an adequate amount. It's the perfect place to go when parents come to visit, if you want to splash out for a special occasion or if you just love great food and money is no object.

I'm yet to try the burger so I guess I'll have to go back soon!