Thursday, 27 February 2014

Giovanni's - Cardiff City Centre

To celebrate my mum's birthday last weekend, my family and I went to Giovanni's for dinner, which is an Italian restaurant established in 1983.

We went to the restaurant on The Hayes, which was very authentic and cosy. When we arrived, we were greeted by the friendly, Italian staff and seated right away. Our drinks order was taken immediately, with the drinks appearing about a mintue later. We took a while to decide what to order, but once we ordered our starters arrived pretty quickly and were delicious. I had the calamari, which was delicious and not too rubbery.
It was a pretty large portion for a starter so I didn't eat it all, but I easily could have done if I didn't care about leaving enough room for my main course.
For main course I ordered my favourtie meal, which unfortunately isn't available in every Italian restaurant - veal in a creamy, mushroom sauce. Although they offered veal in a cream and mushroom sauce, I chose the variation which was in a cream and white wine sauce with bacon and mushrooms. It came with a salad garnish and a side of sautéed potatoes and seasonal vegetables. 

It might not look particularly good but it was absolutely delicious. The veal was cooked perfectly and the sauce was creamy and indulgent, without being too rich. I struggled to eat the last mouthful because the portion was quite big but there was no way I was going to leave any of it on my plate! The rest of my family were also pretty full by the end of their main courses, so we skipped dessert and just had some coffee.
The service was wonderful. As soon as we had finished our starters, our plates were cleared away and our main course arrived very quickly. The staff were very attentive and efficient yet we weren't made to feel like they were rushing us out.
We had a really enjoyable meal and I will definitely return! I don't think I could fault anything, the food and service was flawless and the restaurant was relaxed and full of character. If you're looking for a great Italian restaurant in Cardiff, check out Giovanni's! 

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Strawberries and Cream White Chocolate Cake

This cake really is as good as it sounds. It was my mum's birthday this weekend and I made this for her birthday cake. Its easy to make and it isn't difficult to make the decoration look impressive; if your cake decorating skills aren't brilliant, you're bound to be able to make this cake look good! I got this recipe from one of my baking recipe books but I changed a few of the steps along the way.

To make 1 large cake you will need:
2 fairly large sandwich tins, greased and the bases lined
For the sponge
150g of good quality white chocolate
200g of unsalted butter, softened and diced
3 large eggs at room temperature
150g of caster sugar (both white or golden will be fine)
Finely grated zest of half an orange
200g of self-raising flour
For the filling and topping
At least 400g of ripe strawberries
Juice of half an orange
Caster sugar to taste (about 1 tablespoon)
200ml of double or whipping cream
About 20g of good quality white chocolate, grated
Firstly, preheat the oven to 180°C and prepare the cake tins. A useful tip when lining the bases of cake tins is to draw around the base on greaseproof paper and cut out the outline so the paper will fit the tin perfectly.
Start by melting the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of hot water, being careful not to let the bowl touch the water, over a very low heat. Stir frequently to ensure the chocolate is melting well, and when it is nearly all smooth, remove the bowl from the pan and add the butter, stirring to ensure it all melts and combines smoothly. Its important to make sure the butter is soft before adding it to the chocolate otherwise the butter won't melt.
Next, in a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs with an electric whisk until frothy. Add the orange zest and sugar and whisk on a high speed until the mixture is thick and leaves a ribbon-like trail (shown in the picture, right).
Add the chocolate and butter mixture to the egg and sugar mixture and stir until just combined. Sift in the flour and gently fold in using a large metal spoon until you're left with a thick, smooth batter. Split the mixture between the cake tins and make sure the batter is pushed up against all the edges and its fairly level. Bake for about 20 minutes and try to put both tins on the same shelf so the cakes bake evenly at the same speed.

When the cakes are cooked, run a sharp knife around the edge of the cakes to release them from the tins and leave to cool completely on a wire rack. While the cakes are cooling, thinly slice around 300g of the strawberries (saving the best looking ones), place in a bowl and add the orange juice and a little sugar. Taste to see whether more sugar needs to be added, and then leave for about half an hour to let the flavours infuse.

When the cakes are cooked, and the strawberries have been soaking in the juice for a while, place one of the sponges on a serving plate and spoon the strawberries and juice on the cake, spreading them out evenly. Whip the cream until it is lightly whipped (I find its better to do this with a manual whisk to prevent the cream from becoming over-whipped) and spoon roughly half on top of the strawberries and spread so the cream is even. Place the other sponge on top and put the rest of the cream on top of the cake. Spread the cream out but it doesn't need to be spread to the edges of the cake. Cut the rest of the strawberries in half, removing the stalks and arrange in the middle of the cake, and sprinkle the grated white chocolate over the top.

This cake is great for a celebration or just for afternoon tea, particularly in the summer when strawberries are in season!

Thursday, 20 February 2014

The Green Man - Harbourne, Birmingham

It was my friend's birthday yesterday so to celebrate we went to The Green Man in Harbourne for dinner. It is part of the Ember Inns group and is a lovely, traditional British pub.

After debating whether to try something different to my usual pub option, I decided that what I usually order was just what I fancied. We didn't have to wait long until our food arrived after ordering. I had the cheese and bacon burger with a side of onion rings.

 Overall it was a good burger. The meat was tasty and flavoursome. The patty was just the right size, not too thick but not too thin, however, it was a bit too well done for my liking, so it wasn't very juicy. The bacon was nice and crispy but I wished there could have been a bit more cheese. The bun was really good, firm so the burger held together, but soft enough to eat easily and the salad in the burger was just the right amount (although there were a couple of slices of gherkins which I had to remove immediately as they are the food of the devil). I really enjoyed it but one thing that really disappoints me is if food isn't piping hot when it is brought out, so it tends to get cold really quickly and unfortunately the burger got cold quite fast.

The chips were great; thick-cut and fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside. The onion rings were also very tasty and had a good onion/batter ratio.

Although I was pretty full, when we were offered dessert for just £2 it was impossible to say no. I had eton mess, which wasn't the best I'd ever had. There was copious amounts of cream compared to meringue and berries and it didn't look good enough to deserve a picture.

Overall it was a great night and The Green Man was a lovely place for a relaxed birthday meal. The staff were very helpful and enthusiastic and I spent just under £15 on a main course, a side, a desert and a bottle of expensive cider, which I think is excellent value for money.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Selly Sausage - Selly Oak, Birmingham

Going out for breakfast or brunch is a real treat. On Sunday I accompanied three hungover friends to Selly Sausage for breakfast. It was my first visit and I had heard a lot of great things so was rather excited. Selly Sausage was opened in 1991 by a University of Birmingham graduate and is a great place for students on a budget. Most of the menu (which you can view here) is under £5 and the portions are pretty large, especially when considering their low cost.

I started off with a smoothie. From a list of fruits, you can select three which the staff will then blend. I chose strawberry, mango and blueberry and it was one of the best smoothies I had ever had. It was a good consistency, not too thick but runny enough to drink and it was cold and refreshing.

For food, I went for their American style pancakes with maple syrup and extra bacon. This was a combination I had been craving for a while and I was hoping it wouldn't be a disappointment. Our food arrived pretty quickly, even though the place was packed. The pancakes looked very impressive and I couldn't wait to dig in.

The first few bites were great, the perfect balance between the sweet maple syrup and salty bacon (which was delicious and crispy) but after a while I found it difficult to carry on because the pancakes were pretty stodgy and not cooked enough for my liking. However, for a mere £3.50 I didn't feel bad about leaving the second pancake as I was pretty full (and my hungover friends gobbled up what was left so none went to waste).

I will certainly return to Selly Sausage - the cooked breakfasts my friends had looked great and are so much cheaper than more up-market brunch spots - but I think I'll give the pancakes a miss next time!

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Chocolate Chunk Cookies

 Homemade cookies are better than any you can buy in a shop.

These cookies are crunchy, chewy and easy to make. The great thing about this recipe is that, essentially you can make them how you want them to turn out.

To make a batch you will need

125g salted butter (softened - leave out of the fridge for at least half an hour)
100g caster sugar
75g soft light brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
225g self-raising flour
A pinch of salt
200g of chocolate

Preheat the oven to 180°c (I don't tend to do this until I add the chocolate to the mixture as my oven heats up pretty quickly) and grease and line a baking tray. Cream together the butter and sugars, making sure the butter is really soft. If it is still a little hard, put it in the microwave on low for a few seconds to soften it. Gradually add the egg before adding the flour and salt and mixing until it is all combined. For the chocolate, you can use chocolate chips if preferred, but I like them best as chunks, so I bought a bar of chocolate and cut it up into small chunks.

You can use whatever chocolate you like, but cooking chocolate works best. Add the chocolate to the dough so the chocolate is distributed evenly. The dough should be fairly sticky but firm. Next, get a handful of the cookie dough and roll into a ball before putting it on the baking tray and flattening it slightly. The size of each cookie is up to you, but they tend to spread to about double of the size of the ball of dough so keep that in mind! Also, make sure you spread the cookies out on the baking tray, otherwise when cooking they will merge into each other.

Bake in the oven for between 7-9 minutes until the edges start to brown. The brown edges will be fairly crunchy and if the middle is pale they will be fairly chewy and gooey in the middle. If you want them to be crunchy all the way through then bake them until they are golden brown all over. Leave to firm up on the baking tray before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days (if they last that long!).


Sunday, 2 February 2014

Red Lentil, Chickpea and Chili Soup

Homemade soup is one of my favourite winter lunch dishes. Its warming, filling and, more often than not, healthy. As someone whose favourite dishes tends to be fairly calorific, finding meals that I really want to eat that are satisfying, full of flavour and healthy can be challenging. Luckily for me I discovered this recipe for Red Lentil, Chickpea and Chili Soup on the Good Food website. 

This soup is wonderfully filling, has a great depth of flavour and is easy to make.
To serve 4 you will need
2 tsp of cumin seeds
Large pinch of chilli flakes
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
140g red split lentils
850ml stock (chicken or vegetable)
400g can tomatoes, whole or chopped
½ a can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
A small bunch of coriander, roughly chopped
Greek yogurt or sour cream, to serve
Heat a large saucepan and dry-fry the cumin seeds and chilli flakes until they start to jump around the pan and release their aromas. Add the oil and onion, and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the lentils, stock and tomatoes, then bring to the boil. I used chicken stock because I feel it gives soup a better flavour than vegetable stock, but I'm sure it would be great with vegetable stock too. Simmer for 15 minutes until the lentils have softened. Blend the soup in a food processor or with a hand blender until smooth and then pour back into the pan and add the chickpeas. However, if you would prefer a thicker soup, add the chickpeas before you blend it. Heat gently, season to taste and stir in the coriander. If you don't want the coriander in fairly large chunks then either make sure its chopped finely or add it to pan before its blended.  At this stage I found there wasn't enough chilli in for my liking so added a few more flakes to give it a bit more of a kick. To serve, add either a dollop of yogurt or (like I did) sour cream and enjoy!