Meal prep top tips; Charlie’s cheats

#MealPrep has become a huge thing recently with the boom in food and fitness on Instagram and throughout our current culture; this is not to say that it didn’t exist before, of course it did, but getting people thinking more about their food can surely never be a bad thing.

Personally, I go a little bit nuts if I don’t plan my meals out. Not only because it results in spending way more on my weekly shop without a set shopping list, but also because I like to be organised and know what to expect and when. Plus, reducing your food waste is a huge bonus for your pocket and the environment if you plan it right. So, how do you begin to make it part of your routine?

Cook in bulk

I don’t mean you have to make a cottage pie for 8 and freeze the entire thing, but if you usually cook for one then cooking a little extra is usually easier because most recipes IMG_6227cater for two anyway and you can then have dinner again for lunch the next day without any extra fuss. Simple and effective.

The best dishes to do this with tend to be pastas, casseroles, curries, soups etc. but to be honest the key for me is rice. Simple, white rice (purely because it cooks quicker than whole grain, but it’s up to you) is super easy to cook a big batch of and can last you a good few days if you don’t mind eating it cold. If you do want to heat it up be very careful and be sure to absolutely zap it! If you have a steamer as well then you can chop your veg and have that steaming away at the same time, perfect. As I said, this for me is key because I can cook four lunches worth of rice & veg in one go (simply add tuna/chicken/protein of your choice), all whilst cooking my evening dinner at the same time. [Pictured is a Gousto halloumi salad which I’ll come back to later].

Keep it simple

IMG_6030As stated above, tuna, rice and mixed veg is a pretty simple, balanced lunch to prepare. But it works. Don’t get me wrong, it can get boring after a while! In these cases, however, I like to mix it up by sometimes roasting some butternut squash, parsnips, chickpeas etc. instead or having Quorn sausages as my protein rather than fish. This is only a base meal, there’s nothing to stop you having leftovers once or twice a week instead. Have a play around and find what works for you, something that’s easy to prepare but also well-balanced and hits the spot.

Pick your meals by their ingredients

First off when planning your menu & shopping list, pick one or two meals you really fancy this week – spag bol, fajitas, or cottage pie for example. Then write these in for the appropriate day of the week (i.e. Tuesday dinner, Wednesday lunch) and base the rest on similar ingredients. Take fajitas for example:

  • mince/Quorn/fish (optional, beans & chickpeas would be a fine base for a vegan version*),
  • peppers,
  • kidney beans/black beans/tin of mixed beans,
  • chickpeas,
  • red onion,
  • fajita spice mix (I use Schwartz ‘cos it’s in a handy little jar),
  • butternut squash or sweet potato, if you like*
  • wholegrain wraps

Think about these ingredients, therefore, in relation to the rest of the week: peppers you could use again to steam or roast for lunches; sweet potato could be a mash with sausages or homemade chips or even form part of a hearty salad; sausage/meat/fish could go with the remaining sweet potato or veg; you could even use mince (or Quorn mince) and halve it between the fajitas and a cottage pie, allowing you to use the remaining peppers, beans, sweet potato and onion all in one.

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[Bad] example of my meal prep weekly calendar

At the end of the day it’s totally up to you, but personally I like to think about what I’m going to use the ingredients on my shopping list for before I buy them so I can make sure I use them all and there’s as little waste as possible. This week, for example, I’ve got fajitas on my menu but I’ve converted it to a burrito bowl with rice instead because I don’t think I’ll use a whole packet of wraps and from personal experience they don’t freeze well (plus they come packaged in plastic which I’m trying to reduce, but that’s another post for another day!)

Stock your cupboards

The best thing I find to reduce your spending and food waste whilst getting in a good, balanced meal is to have well-stocked cupboards. Think tins; tuna, mixed beans, red kidney beans, black beans, baked beans (I like my beans… we get it), chickpeas, chopped tomatoes, and rice pudding in case of emergencies. Also frozen veg can be a life-saver. Whilst I’m not an advocate of using frozen veg all of the time – I personally think that frozen broccoli and carrots bags are gross and remove most of the actual flavour – but frozen peas and sweetcorn are real saviours in my house if I’ve run out of fresh veg or I’m trying to stretch it out ’til payday. Even better, if you happen to have a few packets of microwave rice in the cupboard for emergencies then if you’re ever caught off-guard you can just grab a tin of tuna, a packet of micro-rice and chuck some frozen peas in a small tupperware. Boom! A convenient, healthy lunch with no fuss! (For some more healthy work lunch ideas refer back to my previous post which also touches on food prep).

Finally, keep it exciting!

No one wants to eat exactly the same meals every single day of the week! Whilst it’s great to be consistent, it’s also great to try new things or make small changes to make all the difference to your meal time satisfaction. One of the ways I like to do this is to order Gousto boxes from time to time [examples below], where you can pick your meals for the week online or on their app and all the ingredients come readily weighed out and carefully packaged delivered to your door. Yes, I have mentioned these boxes before and no, (sadly) I’m not being sponsored to do so, I just genuinely find them a really good way of trying new foods, cooking new foods and they can take the hassle out of dinner times because those meals are then planned for you and all you have to do is sort out lunches and breakfasts. The minimum portions you can get is 2 but even if you’re only cooking for yourself, have one for dinner and one for lunch!

My only gripe with these is that the packaging is pretty over-the-top. They can also get pricey week-on-week so personally, I’ve had a break; but I definitely recommend them to anyone wanting fresh inspiration!

IMG_4427.JPGOne last point to remember: don’t forget snacks. If you’re a snacker then factor this in too else this could end up being an additional cost over the week you hadn’t initially planned for. Whether that’s making your own healthy snacks such as protein balls [pictured left, a #LeanIn15 recipe] or fresh fruit and yoghurt, or adding a box of energy bars into your weekly shop, it’ll all help in the long-run!

 

So, there you have it. My top tips for introducing successful meal prep into your own lifestyle 🙂 once you get into the swing, you get so used to it that it feels normal, trust me! Any other tips and tricks you have or if you find the above useful, feel free to comment below and let me know. Best of luck!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Top 5 Cardiff breakfast spots: Charlie’s current cravings

I don’t know about you but I really feel like breakfast (or brunch) has upped its game recently. Gone are the days when going out for breakfast just meant a full English or a greasy fry-up; now it’s all about the picturesque pancake stack, the avocado on toast or the perfectly poached eggs we see flooding our Instagram feeds. I, however, welcome this change with open arms (I’ve never been much of one for full English breakfasts anyway) so have rounded up my current favourite breakfast/brunch spots in Cardiff.

In no particular order…

  • Juno Lounge, Wellfield Rd

I’ve written about this place before and honestly really miss the days of living just over the road. It saved me from many a hangover and hosted me writing many a blog post in the early days. Juno is great for any occasion in my opinion (and it’s pup friendly which is a huge bonus!) but for breakfast I’d recommend: the avocado brunch, triple-stacked buttermilk pancakes with fruit & yoghurt OR bacon & syrup, or the lounge breakfast (like a fry-up) also available as vegetarian. They’ve also recently added sweet potato waffles to the menu which look and sound delicious…

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Sorry, I’m always too hungry to snap breakfast… but used to love writing here with a burger & pint!

  • The Moos, Whitchurch Rd

A wonderful little vegan cafe which celebrated its first birthday earlier this year, The Moos is a great place to go for a filling, healthy breakfast. Their speciality is smoothie bowls and/or açai bowls which come in a variety of colours, wonderfully decorated and taste as good as they look. There’s also avocado toast if you need to satisfy that craving, as well as a range of delicious sweet treats, takeaway wraps & sandwiches and a recently installed pick-your-own salad bar so you can easily take home a lunch or snack for later. It’s also worth noting that AIM yoga studio has not long opened in the space above the cafe with a wide range of classes available to book online – dream combination really!

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Yes, this was all for me… I was hungry that day…

  • Barkers 

These cafes are split into Barkers Tea House and Coffee Barkers, one in each of the arcades either side of High Street in town. Both are cute, comfortable and perfect for a casual catch-up with a friend, afternoon tea (booking is necessary), or a weekend brunch with a nice hot pot of tea. The eggs royale and salmon & cream cheese bagel are my personal favourites, with plenty of freshly made sandwiches, paninis and cakey bits also on offer. It’s without doubt one of my go-to places in town and I look forward to one day trying the afternoon tea!

  • Milk & Sugar/Llaeth & siwgr

After seeing such a buzz online about the opening of the new branch in the Old Library in town, I went to try it out with The Octopus Diaries last month. I can safely say it was one of my favourite brunches so far! We both went for the chilli avocado & poached eggs on toast (obviously) and it was dreamy, perfect yolk if ever there was one (see my instagram for evidence). It was just enough, not too heavy for a Saturday morning. Other options available include full Welsh breakfast, thick-cut toast with sweet & savoury options, classic cheese omelette and many more including an ever-changing specials board which looked very tasty. The space is big and open without being cold and airy, great for people watching over a delicious breakfast or lunch. I’ll definitely be visiting again!

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Seriously dreamy poached eggs right there…

  • Penylan Pantry

The most recent of my breakfast escapades, this place did not disappoint. I’m sure you can guess what I went for… (organic crushed avocado & chilli on toast with a poached egg, of course) but it was absolutely delicious, so fresh and full of flavour. Another great people watching spot too if you’re sat in the window. I’m keen to go again soon because the menu had so many tantalising options (80% of which are available as gluten-free according to their website!) such as healthy chocolate porridge, the healthy start bowl, homemade Pantry beans & toast and gourmet grilled cheese on toast – the latter of which my boyfriend’s parents tried when we went and said it was delicious. There was a small mix-up with our meal which meant a slight delay but otherwise the quality and flavour were fantastic. There’s also a deli counter, an impressive selection of local organic produce and all kinds of pantry items available to buy (perfect for those Christmas hampers). To top it all off this place has a nice neighbourhood feel, I’m a fan.

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I don’t know who decided to add feta to the mix but definitely a good choice

And there you have it, my current favourite Cardiff brunch & breakfast spots. Trust me, there are many more on my list to visit! Any particular recommendations are most welcome, but if you’re looking for somewhere to brunch this weekend I’d definitely recommend one (or a few) of the above; all of them delicious, fresh and very satisfying.

Happy weekend!
Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

The Marvellous Metropole, Llandrindod Wells

I recently stayed at The Metropole Hotel in Llandrindod Wells on business and felt it worth writing something about. I’d definitely like to return!

The hotel itself is family-run and has been in the same family ever since its conception in 1896, which these days is something very special! This old Victorian building in the lovely little spa town of Llandrindod Wells has a truly rustic charm with creaking stairs, great grand mirrors and ornately decorated wallpaper and is 4* rated, deservedly so. The rooms were a good size (from my experience), the service was very friendly and accommodating and the food was very good. There’s a spa where we took a lovely dip in the hot tub – could use a lick of paint here or there but the facilities were of a good standard and it fit the bill well for a relaxing swim & soak before dinner. Everything else such as the sauna and showers appear to have been renovated in the last few years; there was also a small gym room, mostly cardio machines but there seemed enough weights for a decent mini session.

Primarily, let’s get back to the food.

As part of our stay we had a 3 course dinner in the award-winning Radnor Miles Restaurant which is dedicated to using only the freshest organic, local produce – music to my very ears! I’ve spoken before on the importance of using local, fresh ingredients and I love that in Wales we’re in the prime environment to do so.
Of the options (click here for the menu we had) my choices were as follows:

Chef’s Homemade Soup of The Day
– which was Sweet Potato. Smooth, refreshing and light yet good, full-bodied flavour (as sometimes I find potato soups can be a little bland); this was the perfect starter to whet the appetite and leave me looking forward to the courses to come. It also went superbly with the accompanying buttered brown roll (or two), but what soup would be complete without a bread roll anyway.

Fresh Pasta with Prawns – again very fresh and well seasoned, plus it’s always a bonus for me when the prawns are already shelled as I’m not great at the whole taking its face and legs off thing… However, as lovely as this main was, I slightly regretting choosing something as heavy/large. Pasta is easily one of my all time favourite foods and I regularly choose it when eating out, yet it runs the risk of being a little too filling and leaving you struggling to find room for dessert which, if you’ve a sweet tooth like me, is not what you want. Nevertheless, it was a very tasty pasta and had it not been part of a 3-course deal I’d certainly choose it again.

Warm Sticky Toffee Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce (and ice cream) – honestly, it’s rare that I ever choose a dessert that doesn’t involve ice cream. Or, more often than not, I’ll ask for ice cream to be added on as well as I did in this case. Both the dessert and the starter were lovely and warm without being too hot, yet not the kind of warm when you’re worried it may have just been reheated. This was all fresh and fantastic. As a result, the butterscotch sauce ran off the top and around the sides with a delicious viscosity and the ice cream began to soften quickly, just as it all should. It tasted lovely, although could have been a little more moist; myself and two of my colleagues agreed that sadly, it just didn’t quite top the sticky toffee pudding we had at The Hilton bottomless brunch a few months ago.

All in all, however, it was a very tasty, good quality, fresh meal produced to a high standard. The service throughout our dinner – and throughout our entire stay – was impeccable and attentive to our every need. The restaurant itself was also an appropriate temperature, something I’ve not mentioned in previous posts but recently came to my attention as a definite influential factor in the enjoyment of a meal and/or experience, especially if you feel the cold like me it can be distracting or even off-putting. Following the meal, we marched back to Spencer’s Bar and Brasserie where I continued to make good use of the gin collection on offer, comprising the Warner Edwards rhubarb gin I’ve become rather fond of, which I was very pleasantly surprised with – a big selling point for my wanting to return next time I’m in Mid-Wales.

I’d definitely recommend The Metropole if you’re in the area, it was a very enjoyable stay from start to finish and personally it ticked all the boxes. Great food, nice spa & gym, comfortable room, bath, well-stocked bar (although this is likely because there’s not much else in Llandrindod Wells) and very helpful, highly professional staff. The only criticism I did have was there seemed a distinct lack of power sockets in my room, but you can’t have everything and sometimes it’s nice to unplug!

Have you stayed here before? What did you think? Let me know in the comments or on social media!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

My fabulous first year!

So today my blog is officially a year old – time flies! It’s definitely been a learning curve and I’m still learning new things all the time with plenty more still yet to come. However, I thought I’d write a quick little update on what I’ve learned in my first year, so here goes…

It is a hobby, but it’s a lot more time-consuming than you may first realise.

Social media is a huge part of our lives these days, for better for worse, and it’s where many of our main influencers now come from. With this in mind, it’s a hugely important part of promoting yourself and gaining recognition as a blogger and widening your audience. Yes, some people are much better at taking the typical ‘instagrammable’ photos than others especially if they have a fancy camera, but you can still do a lot with the photos you do take just by trying different angles and edits/effects. Either way, this takes time; I’ve found that working full time in something unrelated can make it hard to juggle everything so the fact you can save things as drafts and schedule posts nowadays is an absolute life-saver – it’s basically a part-time job! Although it does depend on how seriously you want to take it and at the end of the day, I’ve gathered you get out what you put in.

Also, twitter is a huge part of engagement and networking with other bloggers, restaurants and influencers so when the twitter convo strikes up it’s important not to be late to the party if at all possible. I’ve also realised there’s no need to be afraid to talk to people you recognise from twitter or Instagram, this is how you make meaningful connections and even friendships and therefore gain supporters for your blog and vice versa. It also means that if you both go to the same event or go out together, you both come away with useful material.

Don’t be afraid to do things on your own.

File_000 (73)For me this wasn’t really an issue anyway as I enjoy meeting and speaking to new people and don’t find social situations too awkward, but it links in with the above in that it’s important to physically talk to others you recognise from or have connected with in the blogosphere as this is how you make friendships and good connections and may just lead you onto opportunities you wouldn’t have otherwise known about (such as the fabulous Cardiff Gin Club, for example!).

Read other peoples’ blogs and take interest.

This, again links back to making friends and connections but also, as a new and developing blogger it was really useful reading other popular blogs to get a sense of how everyone portrays their own individual style and also how other bloggers have designed their websites, whether there’s anything you like about theirs that you can work into yours somehow. I’m yet to do a review and rehaul of my page but it’s something I’ll be considering over the next few months so watch this space… Plus, reading other peoples blogs can give you ideas for new posts of your own, give you great insight into some of the places on your to-eat list you perhaps haven’t quite got around to yet, or even just give you something to talk about next time you see them.

Finally, there are no hard and fast rules. Yes, engagement and all the PR side of things is important and if you’re dead set on posting three times daily then you’re doing very well for yourself, however it’s different for everyone. Just remember that comparing yourself to others never did anyone any good – true in many aspects of life. As I said, it starts as a hobby at the end of the day and if you start stressing yourself out over it all (as I have done many a time and probably still will) then you’re in danger of losing the funFile_000 (72) and why you started it in the first place.

For me, it’s a creative outlet where I don’t usually get one in my day job. Also happens to give me a perfect excuse to eat out a lot. However through this I’ve met some lovely people and eaten some fantastic food and I really look forward to seeing where else I can go with it all.

 

Happy Anniversary to me!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

*the cover photo is a personalised olive wood cheese board my boyfriend was lovely enough to buy me!

Boozy Bottomless Brunch at The Hilton, Cardiff

A few weeks ago I broke my Bottomless Brunch virginity at The Hilton, Cardiff and it was such a good deal I felt it worth shouting about. We went for a work friend’s birthday (because who doesn’t love bottomless prosecco?!) and we were pleasantly impressed by how attentive all the servers were, not once did our prosecco actually get to the bottom of the glass before being refilled – ideal! From when all guests sit down you have 90 mins to take full advantage of the free refills to the best of your ability and we were determined to do just that. (So much so that it became an afternoon of day-drinking in the sunshine afterwards but what can I say, make the most of our youth!)

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There isn’t just prosecco at this Bottomless Brunch, Grey the Hilton’s restaurant also offer two courses within the deal, some savoury and some sweets. You can even pick two of the same if you wanted to, we’re not here to judge. My first choice was the crushed avocado & chilli onimg_5388-1 rye toast with a poached free-range egg. The rye toast was thick and delicious and not too overpowering or heavy, whilst the avocado and egg were perfectly balanced in flavour and, as always, really complimented each other. This is already one of my favourite weekend breakfast/brunches and this was no different, I’d definitely have it again. It was a fairly small portion, more so than if you were ordering in one of Cardiff’s many brilliant breakfast spots (Juno Lounge, The Pot Bistro, Society Standard just to name a few) however this was part of a two course brunch so room was needed for more…

Next, I chose a sweet as my second course and had the warm sticky toffee pudding with local sea salted caramel ice cream. Sticky toffee pudding isn’t honestly something I usually go for, I’m often more of a img_5391gooey chocolate brownie or as-much-ice-cream-as-you-can-eat kind of girl, but this dessert restored my faith and really hit the spot. It was delicious! There was the perfect amount of toffee sauce in my opinion (it was smothered in it) and the pudding wasn’t too hot, just the right temperature that it went perfectly with the ice cream. My only slight critique with this dish was that the actual plate it was served on didn’t quite lend itself to scooping up every last bit of ice cream/sauce, perhaps something with steeper edges might’ve been more appropriate.

All in all, we all had a great time and enjoyed our meals – even more so the prosecco! We worked out that we must’ve had somewhere between 5-6 glasses each in the 90 mins, (it was hard to tell as they were topped up before being fully emptied) which equates to just over a bottle each. The bill was £30 each for the two courses and the ‘bottomless’ prosecco, which we found very reasonable. This was perfect for a girls’ outing, the restaurant was full of hen do’s, birthdays and groups of women celebrating various occasions, and I will surely be doing it again the next time I find good enough reason to! (Although, do we really need any excuse?)

Have you tried this bottomless brunch? Or have you any others you’d recommend? Let me know!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Fancy food in Penarth etc.

I’d read somewhere about Etc, Penarth before but hadn’t got round to visiting them yet. Last week, however, my boyfriend decided to splash out on date night and booked us in for our first visit – what a treat it was.

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A friend who’d been there told me it was ‘very gold’ and upon entry I saw exactly what he meant, but it wasn’t the tacky kind of gold-plated everything you sometimes see; in fact it was all very tasteful, classy and complimented the already-very-impressive (decorative and functional) champagne cabinet fantastically, giving a shimmering effect and a warm-feel to the place overall. Particularly exciting were the fire features outside, reminiscent of a warm holiday evening somewhere in continental Europe (rather than an unusually warm Welsh summer phenomenon). As soon as we walked in the service was brilliant, staff were very attentive to our needs and I was glad to have a window seat with none of that awkward squeezing-past-your-table-in-a-rush business you get in some places that can be a bit uncomfortable – plus, prime position for people-watching. Everyone was enjoying their meals and having a great time, it was a great place to be. And then, we ate…

It’s rather a rare occurrence when I’m spoilt for choice in restaurant menus, but eventually we decided on fishcakes (salmon and prawn served with ‘ocean pearls’) and scallops (glazed with coconut milk and topped with laver seaweed) for starters. Both were very well presented and both the perfect amount so as to leave plenty of room for dinner. The flavours balanced brilliantly, we had nothing but praise for either dish, in fact the scallops may have even been the best we’ve had yet!

Next, after some deliberation, we chose our mains: crab meat linguine with a chilli and cherry tomato sauce and confit duck leg with parsnip purée, a range of vegetables and pineapple jus. Both were well balanced and generously portioned! Sadly I couldn’t finish all mine (as I wanted to leave plenty of room for dessert) although it’s worth noting that this was the nicest crab meat I’ve had yet, it’s been a bit hit & miss for me in the past. The duck also seemed light but well-done, flaking off the bone nicely in the 5 minutes it lasted on the plate before being scoffed away with glee.

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Finally came the show-stopper, the one we’d all (us and the ladies next to us) been waiting for: the volcano. After years of watching Masterchef I’ve seen so many sweat, cry, agonise over and triumph the complexity of the coveted chocolate fondant, yet this was my chance to finally try one for myself for the first time. Very glad it wasn’t me making it. Moreover, no dessert in my eyes is complete without at least one scoop of ice cream, yet this volcano went one step further and boasted a steaming pink foam that spilled over and gave the erupting volcano effect that was so exciting. Needless to say, the foaming pink cylindrical nature of this was far too entertaining for all the wrong reasons (head over to Instagram to see the video), but it did taste rather nice in addition to the rest of the plate, almost strawberry milkshake-like. On the other side of the table sat the vanilla panna cotta with fresh berries and a raspberry coulis, another first but for my other half this time. This was also was very much enjoyed and well presented.

All in all, we had a fantastic evening at Etc, Penarth and I really would recommend it if you fancy a treat or something a little fancier for your date night (we love any excuse to get dressed up!). It is a bit higher in price than your standard evening meal but we felt this was deserved, not only for the food but for the atmosphere, service and experience overall. For a truly perfect finish, you could even go for a gorgeous evening stroll around your favourite Penarth viewing spot or the harbour like we did.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Pigging out at The Pickled Radish, Llandaff

I’d heard tell of The Pickled Radish in Laleston before but hadn’t yet got round to trying the nearest one to me on Llandaff high street. A few weekends ago when my parents were visiting and we were catching up with old friends, it seemed like the perfect time to try somewhere new.

Inside The Pickled Radish the décor portrayed a rustic, slightly edgy/hip but still very comfortable feel and despite my initial table cock-up the staff were great and found us another tableFile_000 (67).jpeg right away. Obviously I’d looked at the menu before we even entered the restaurant so knew exactly what I was after and had been looking forward to it all day, as I do with most food outings where possible (means you can enjoy more of the experience without having to pour over the menu, plus it’s fun to get excited!). Overall however, there seemed a good selection on the menu including Welsh lamb and some other locally sourced ingredients, a great touch – instant brownie points from me. From a pescatarian perspective, there were a few options; the delicious-looking wild beetroot & Brecon Gin cured salmon or a Welsh goats cheese & onion tart (both starters); but in terms of mains there were only really mussels (which I do love but for me, personally, nothing quite beats The Hashery so far for freshness and flavour) and a mushroom pasta dish (which I don’t love, sadly). If you do like mushrooms though you won’t be disappointed, my mother had this dish and said it was delicious!

After tasting a lovely warm squash soup appetiser, I chose the Fancy An Indian as my starter; scallops, coconut, fennel & onion bhaaji’s and several different seasonings – I have to say, it was fantastic! The bhaaji was my favourite although very small; the scallops were so soft and cooked to perfection it was a delight to eat and to look at, decorated with lovely edible flowers which seem to be all the rage at the moment. My mother had the Green Peas & Ham which was a pea veloute with a little ham & spring vegetable bon-bon and some cutesy decorations – very well enjoyed and even more fun to watch our friend serving us pour it onto the plate!

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Falafel & halloumi burger

For mains came my saviour from the chargrill menu: the falafel & halloumi burger with chilli mayo in a brioche bun. I’m sure you can recall from my last post that I always get halloumi when it’s available on a menu, well this was no exception! And this definitely competes with the other halloumi and veggie burgers I’ve had in the past, great balance of flavours & textures and really hit the spot without being too much to handle. The triple cooked chips on the side proved to be a bit too much for myself but hey, the cheese was the important part for me… Other mains in the group included Welsh lamb rump, Sirloin steak and the wild pasta already mentioned. Everyone enjoyed their meal with no complaints, meat well-cooked to our tastes and we’d all be very happy to visit again, only wishing we’d had enough time to stay for a dessert as they all looked very tempting!*

All in all, it was a delicious meal and our service throughout was impeccable. We were served by the acting manager who’d come in from the Laleston branch at short notice, but fair play to him he couldn’t do enough for us! Very friendly and personable too. The only thing to note here is that we were dining at 5.30pm due to a concert in the evening, so we were the only people in there most of the time which may have skewed our experience slightly. Despite this, I look forward to returning – I’ve got my eye on the afternoon tea menu, maybe a few of those desserts too…

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

*NB: We paid in full for our meal and the restaurant were not aware I’d be writing about them.

Glorious Glastonbury: 2017 Festival Highlights

Yet again, time seems to have gotten away from me and I haven’t forced myself to sit down and write something. Glastonbury, however, was something I knew I had to write about… it was an absolutely magical, life-changing experience. I realise that ‘life-changing’ may sound a tad over-dramatic, but what I mean is that once you’ve experienced the cream of the crop, you can’t go back down. It just won’t feel the same. And Glastonbury really is the cream of the festival crop, the shining beacon of beauty that all other festivals can only dream of coming anywhere close to.

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Unsurprisingly, the food selection was vast; over 300 different vendors were there over the weekend! Despite all this, however, our first meal was a McDonald’s breakfast en-route (classy, I know)… but what else can you do when you’re up at 4am?! We had that giddy excitement mixed with slightly funny stomach feeling you have when catching a really early flight, yet it was definitely worth getting there as early as we did; we were through and pitched up by 11.30am which is pretty good going by Glasto standards! Not to mention by this point the midday 30+ degree heat(wave) was kicking in… no joke for those who had high-piled trolleys and apparently didn’t get the memo about packing light this year. The anticipation though was fantastic, we were buzzing to get stuck in!

Our first venture was to the Silver Hayes area close to where we’d pitched in Pylon Fields, featuring a few smaller tents, a funky little DJ set up, several very well-equipped shops (convenience and camping stores) and of course food. After an initial celebratory glass of prosecco I hunted down my first meal which, if you’ve been to Glasto yourselfFile_001 (22).jpeg you’ll know, had to be halloumi. I’m a big fan, jokingly referring to it as ‘bae’ on many occasions; it’s something I will always order when on a restaurant menu! So the sesame halloumi flatbread with mixed salad and a minted yoghurt dressing from Kebabylon hit the nail right on the head. I’d have visited these guys again but I wanted to try as much of the plethora of options available as possible.

Not everything I tried was amazing; sadly there was a disappointing pasta dinner that did not satisfy my hunger pangs and a garlic bread that was a bit too big to handle as well as a slice of pizza, but overall the quality and diversity of food available was spot on. Other meals included the following:

  • Crispy duck rolls from the Thai house were a dream, perfectly crisped and really succulent duck with a sweet hoisin sauce.
  • I couldn’t have survived the weekend without an ice cream (it’s genuinely one of my top 3 favourite foods) so somewhere along the way I found a homemade honeycomb ice cream that sorted me right out.
  • Cheese was also a lifesaver at Glasto to be honest, obviously in halloumi form as I basically lived on varying takes on a halloumi wrap/flatbread for the majority of my meals, but two other things that really hit the spot were a creamy and well-balanced mac ‘n’ cheese and a banging late-night tuna & cheese toastie. 
  • Pot noodles and porridge pots were Trangia staples back at our tent, we even joked that I should’ve done a detailed comparison of each supermarket’s own brand although this would’ve meant I’d had to try them all and we were very hungry – next time!

Unfortunately, I was so keen to get involved and soak up the atmosphere (and usually so ravenous by the time we got food) that I slacked on my food photos as the weekend went on and so can’t thank the vendors personally, much as I’d love to! Just trust me, you will never be short of options at Glasto no matter what your interests, especially as it’s widely regarded as the most vegan & vegetarian-friendly festival!

One thing that struck me right away was the bright, colourful flags that guide the way File_000 (65).jpegthrough the main footpaths, glorious in the first day sunshine and gently reassuring us that there was a refreshing breeze somewhere, whether we felt it or not. Glastonbury was a feast for the eyes as well as the belly in so many ways, all part of the theme and the vibe of the overall festival as it was made to celebrate the arts, creativity, environmental awareness and all things hippy. I loved it and this vibrancy and positivity is what I believe makes it so special. I’ve never been to a festival that cares so much for the environment it’s in and this was music to my very ears (no pun intended) as someone who cares deeply about protecting and preserving our beautiful planet – but let’s not get into that because I will go on forever… Despite there still being litter about the place, it was only on the last day that I saw anybody (and even then very few) squat down and disobey the ‘don’t pee on the land!’ posters, absolutely unheard of anywhere else! It was very refreshing and something I was more than happy to be a part of and support.

At the other end of the campsite the colour and craziness continued with The Park area and the Glastonbury sign, as well as a great, tall rainbow viewing tower that looked out over the whole site which was pretty cool. The mysterious hidden/secret ‘rabbit hole’ bar based on Alice in Wonderland, however, unfortunately remained a secret from us this time. Down the road a little was the Tipi Village leading into the Healing Fields and this was one of my favourite areas, all kinds of amazing-looking vegetarian & vegan food about the place (including a halloumi curry that I’m still dreaming about, wishing I’d tried), an actual explosion of colour and wavy patterns and some really comfy looking chill-out tents – this is where to go if you’re looking for yoga, massages or holistic therapies. We were even lucky enough to witness a Hand-Fasting ceremony, the celtic marriage tradition involving promises (like vows), sweeping away your old lives with a broom and bringing in the new one with cake & ale. It was super cute!

 

One of the best parts about Glastonbury was that things kept popping up all over the place, a random acoustic open mic here, a spontaneous circus show there, a popular band doing a surprise set somewhere else (I’m gutted we missed Elbow). There literally was something for everyone, so much to see and do and occupy your time with you’dFile_004 (16) never get chance to experience everything in one go – and I suppose that’s what keeps people coming back year-on-year. Even the kids section of the campsite looked like a whale of a time for young ones, but after all this excitement it was time for some more food, this time a chocolate and banana crepe – deeeelish. I also had a cheeky Grazing Shed over the weekend, would’ve been rude not to! It was great having this little home away from home and if you’ve not tried them in Cardiff yet I definitely recommend – currently renowned as the best burger joint in the city.

 

By the final day, I was dying for some mash & gravy but was gutted to discover that the well renowned Square Pie who’d I’d been eyeing up all week keep potato skins in their mash potato, something I have the weirdest and sometimes super inconvenient allergy to. Fortunately, there was a sausage & mash place nearby that provided me with the vegetarian sausages, mash and gravy I so needed. They were okay, mash holds a particularly special place in my heart as the first food I ever started experimenting with ingredient-wise and being honest, I’ll always prefer my own homemade version. But like I said, it was the end of the weekend and I really needed this hearty meal! It did the job well enough, still would’ve preferred a pie though.

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Foo Fighters on Pyramid Stage (photo credit: Niamh Flynn)

Musical highlight for me was easily Foo Fighters, closely followed by Biffy Clyro (in the sunset, amazing) and Royal Blood. The teenage emo kid in me was loving life. Haim and Sundara Karma were also really good as they were on at a time of day that means you know the people who turn up are genuine fans and there’s a very nice feeling about that, makes for a great atmosphere. I’d go as far as to say though that Foos was one of the best experiences of my life so far; they’re a band that have been around and in my life a long time with so many memories, so many songs that speak to you and just generally have a great time, I enjoyed every second! And Dave Grohl surely has to be one of the most bad-ass daddies in rock ‘n’ roll… Foos, Queens of the Stone Age, Tenacious D AND Nirvana?!

We couldn’t have gone without seeing ‘the big spider thing’, Arcadia, which breathed out fire everywhere and was pretty cool. After a while though the spider bits got a bit samey and we didn’t fancy waiting long enough for them to pick someone out of the crowd at long last, so we grabbed a pizza slice on the way and head home. Block9, the Unfair Ground and Shangri-La were also good fun, prime people-watching material let me tell you. Jazzy decorations and bright flashing lights with house DJs, even a built in waterfall that was pretty sweet – there was never a dull moment to be had anywhere in Glastonbury! Although the utterly bizarre design of the Unfair Ground was something I would only recommend experiencing in a sober to merry state…

File_000 (62)The point is, Glastonbury was brilliant. A truly unique experience (I’m still finding glitter dotted about the place), one that I’ll never forget and would love to go back to some day. Great music, great food, so many opportunities and experiences to be had I would highly recommend to anyone to register for tickets – or failing that, volunteer with one of the many charities that help out there! Oxfam and WaterAid had several volunteers all across the site, it’s a great way to enjoy the festival for free by working a few hours a day/a few shifts.
Top 3 highlights: Foo Fighters, glitter, halloumi. My Glasto in a nutshell.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Edinburgh Adventures pt.1 – Castle, Kismot & Countryside

I’ve been back over a month now and I still can’t stop thinking about this beautiful, magical place. And by magical I mean literally because Edinburgh is the birthplace of Harry Potter himself, something my other half was ridiculously excited about… But let’s start at the beginning.

Whilst our early morning flight might have at first seemed like a bit of an inconvenience, it did, however, mean that we were leaving Bristol airport as the sun began to rise. It was absolutely beautiful – talk about early morning views!

This also meant that we arrived in Edinburgh and got to the hotel around 8am, way earlier than the standard 3pm check-in, although once we arrived to drop off our bags the man working on reception was kind enough to check us into our room straight away hassle-free – if we hadn’t have been so tired, dazed and confused we’d have acted as delighted as we were! We chose to stay in The Village which was a convenient 15 minute drive into town, also hosting a spa and very well-equipped gym which suited us perfectly. After a last-minute room upgrade, we also had Sky TV and a king-size bed – perfect! A quick recovery-nap later, we set out to explore the city and headed straight for the top of our list: the castle.

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We were v big fans of the cute theme

Edinburgh Castle is situated right at the top of the Royal Mile, the buzzing main hub of Edinburgh city centre. The architecture of the whole city especially in this area is astounding; everything has original character and you can walk around and perfectlyFile_003 (3) imagine how it all was back in Victorian times, Edinburgh has managed the miracle of modernising and keeping up with the times whilst retaining and glorifying its originality, history and authenticity. On our approach to the castle we stopped by the Luxury Scottish Ice Cream van, this was a real treat.

As we got chatting the vendor proudly told us of how this was a family business for generations, 100% of the ingredients used are sourced locally within Scotland, many of them coming from Edinburgh itself and surrounding areas, even the flavouring used was naturally and locally produced and how this and the process itself was a best-kept family secret which created the rich, creamy texture that made this ice cream so special. And it was rich, creamy and special – we loved it! I’m a big fan of responsibly sourcing local ingredients (and ice cream, of course) and it makes me so happy to see it proudly advertised like this. It really does make a difference in terms of taste, in my opinion.

The castle itself was great fun to explore and has amazing views out over the city. Standing proudly is a huge cannon named ‘Mons Meg’ who has an incredible history having been capable in her hay-day of blasting a whopping 150kg gunstone two whole miles! There’s also all sorts of passages and look-outs as well as live demonstrations of historical practices, yet our visit wouldn’t have been complete without a quick tea & scone stop and a browse through the gins and whiskeys in the castle shop. I came away with small bottles of two types of Edinburgh Gin and a Stag’s Breath honeycomb whiskey, all of which were delicious, as well as a fridge magnet for my mother’s ever-growing collection.

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Next was our dinner stop which I’d chosen based on a recommendation from a friend and which I could not wait for: Kismot.

Despite being a little away from the main city centre, this family-run independent business is an absolute gem and deservingly highly rated on TripAdvisor. It hosts a wide variety of unique dishes such as the protein passanda, the deshi khani, the Kismot killer and the chocolate massallam as well as the exclusive haggis, marshmallow or chocolate naans. There are still plenty of regular Indian and Bangladeshi dishes to choose from but it’s always great to try something different and this was certainly a treat; I choseFile_004 (3) the marshmallow naan and a king prawn chocolate massallam (featured right) aka grated milk chocolate in a tandoori yoghurt and cream sauce. Although this sounds strange, like a bowl of chocolate sauce, it was actually deliciously creamy and rich and the chocolate added texture rather than overpowering with its sweetness. Genuinely an incredible dish, I would 100% recommend.

Also, the marshmallow naan I have been preaching to everyone about since my return as it was absolutely amazing! Again, sounds strange but I loved it, without a doubt File_005 (4)my favourite naan I’ve ever tasted despite its sugary stickyness. The other half chose the exclusive homemade deshi khani (featured left) which comes with its meat on the bone for extra added flavour. All in all, we both had brilliant plates of food and would definitely go back again – although maybe don’t order too much if you go because we struggled to finish and I was very upset that we couldn’t take it home and save for later (due to the obvious lack of microwaves in hotel rooms).

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Next day, full of fuel for the adventure, we decided to take on Arthur’s Seat in the (temporary) glorious sunshine. There are two different routes you can take and being the seasoned, bold adventurers we are we went for the more challenging route up, saving the leisurely stroll for the way back down. The views were incredible, looking out over the city with the castle standing proudly over it, this was a city we had instantly fallen in love with. A bit of a scramble and what felt like several thousand steep steps later, we made it to the top and almost fell back down again – the winds were whipping up a right old frenzy and I clung to the summit for dear life. But, views were totally worth it. 4 kilometers, 6036 steps and just over an hour very well spent and would certainly recommend to anyone visiting Edinburgh.

To be continued in part 2…

 

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Summer is coming and The Hashery’s got some brand new summer sizzlers!

The Hashery has been an independent foodie favourite of mine since its opening last December on High Street in the centre of Cardiff. Home to burgers, cubanos, mussels and cocktails this place hosts a friendly and relaxed atmosphere with some cool artsy decorations such as comic book style wallpaper and a confessions wall by the bar (dangerous, I’m sure). Recently, it’s seen a surge in popularity since the launch of its lunchtime deal; £7 will get you any main and side, including a classic mussel pot – which for the quality of their mussels is an absolute bargain!! Although the majority of the menu remains below the £10 mark, making it a city centre steal at any time of day.

Summer is now coming on fast (we hope, although the weather can’t seem to decide) and this means one thing – summer menus! This week myself and some other lucky bloggers got a first taster of the fresh new delights launching at The Hashery on 24th April. Here’s how it went…

File_001Firstly, prosecco on arrival. Big tick. What could possibly be better? The dimmed and fairy lights always make it feel cosy to me and with the impressive spread laid out in front of us, we were sure to be in for a great evening.

First tasters were the mezze board and mozzarella sticks: fresh bread, carrot and celery sticks and a homemade hummus dip made for a delicious mezze, much better than any of the times I’ve attempted homemade hummus! (Although I will keep trying…) As for the mozzarella sticks – these could very well have been the star of the show. Whilst presenting the food to us, co-founder Sean Hill explained that from their previous experiences in the restaurant industry food waste had been a recurring, shocking problem. Consequently, when opening The Hashery it has been a key focus to reduce the amount of food waste and to ensure locally and responsibly sourced File_008ingredients, making the freshest and best possible dining experience. Big kudos in my opinion; these are things I consider to be so important, for many reasons, and it makes me so happy when restaurants themselves feel the same way.

The menus have therefore been designed so that all ingredients are used in more than one dish – what does this mean for the mozzarella sticks? Nachos that don’t quite make the grade to be served as part of a nacho dish, having been chipped or damaged in some way, get ground up to form the breadcrumbs for the mozzarella sticks, giving them a unique and truly incredible crunch. I mean, seriously good. I don’t often order mozzarella sticks in a restaurant but I’ll find it hard to visit The Hashery again and not order a portion all to myself – and why not! Honestly, don’t knock ‘til you’ve tried.

Next newbie on the menu: due to the incredible success of the courgette fries on The Hashery’s original menu, they’ve introduced pickle fries in order to revamp (and reuse, reducing waste) the humble pickle so many of us overlook and/or carefully pick out of a burger. Some weren’t so keen on this idea, but having given them a go I can confirm they were actually pretty nice – although personally, the courgette fries still come up trumps.

File_000 (1)One of the key specialities of The Hashery (and my personal favourite) is the mussel pots; they’re so fresh you’d think you were in Cornwall or by the sea somewhere and so so tasty because of it! The new pot on this summer menu is The Orchard and as per usual it was super fresh and super tasty, I really can’t recommend the mussels enough. I still stand by the statement in my first post about these guys; these are the best mussels I’ve yet had the pleasure of devouring in my 22 years on this Earth. So good that tearing up the bread and absorbing every last possible mouthful of the glorious sauce these beauties come in isn’t even a question: it’s a must. I already want more just thinking about it…

The new summer menu also has some tantalisingly good-looking meat-eater options available: an absolutely huge beast of a burger called Dead Man and the only burger of theirs over the £10 price mark (modelled by co-founder Oscar GarciaFile_002 (3) in the photo). TWO homemade 6 oz patties, two lots of American cheese, pulled pork, crispy onions and your usual lettuce & tomato are crammed into this beast, however, and I’m sure I spotted an onion ring in there somewhere too. Although I couldn’t try this personally I heard no complaints from others around the room, so I imagine you get a good deal for your money’s worth. The other new meat option is a super fresh minute steak (and steak sandwich) which, as the name suggests, is cooked within minutes and served straight onto your lucky plate. These steaks are no exception to the local, responsible sourcing rule might I add, so definitely worth a try if steak is your thing.

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“The tart that’s bound to finish you off…”

Next, Sean introduced us to the “the tart that’s bound to finish you off”… to which he was referring to tiramisu, but needless to say that got some of us giggling away as a personal highlight of the evening. Desserts have made their debut on this new summer menu: Hashery brownie, salted caramel cheesecake, churros (brilliant! Who doesn’t love churros?!), market strawberries ice cream & cream (again, yay for local sourcing!), and our tarty friend the tiramisu. And boy, was she boozy! This was another dish like the mozzarella sticks that I normally wouldn’t order in a restaurant, yet have now been converted by The Hashery folks. Definitely worth a try, I fully intend on returning to try some of the other desserts as they all sound delicious!

Cocktails were the perfect end to the evening. And to any evening, in fact. The other main speciality of The Hashery besides their marvellous mussels is their 2-4-1 cocktails all day, every day for only £6.95; this is where co-founder Barnaby Bell comes into his element. Whilst some particular cocktail connoisseur friends of mine haven’t been so impressed as myself here before, I feel pretty confident that these new offerings will bring them around, especially sat outside in the summer sun looking out onto Cardiff Castle and people-watching all the passers by. The new and improved cocktail menu has now been colour-coded by main ingredient i.e. gin, vodka, tequila etc. making it easier than ever before to find something for everyone.

Summer Garden and Respect Your Elderflowers tasted smooth and refreshing whilst P.I.M.P My Pimms had a cheeky something extra on your usual summer sipper. Electric Tea is one I’d recommend having had it a few times now: rum, tequila, vodka, triple sec and blue curacao – sounds like a lot but it really does zing! Plus, 50p from every purchase of this cocktail goes towards charities supported by the lovely guys at The Hashery, what a great idea!

File_007 (1)Veering away from the 2-4-1 menu we have the Bulldog Margarita which was unlike anything I’ve ever tried before and something I would seriously recommend as a brilliant pre-drink; a frozen margarita, heavy on the tequila, with two coronas artfully resting against the sides of the funky skull fishbowl. It was buzzing and it was brilliant, in my opinion. If you love tequila you’ll LOVE this! Finally, I had the absolute pleasure of trying one of the dessert cocktails: lemon meringue cheesecake. I’ve never had this kind of cocktail before so didn’t know what to expect, but I certainly wasn’t disappointed! Very sweet with a milky, creamy texture and some crumbled biscuit on top it was a lovely finisher to a great evening. (Top tip for extra fun: if you want a real palate cleansing kick just ask about the special shots…)

The Hashery continue to impress me every time I visit, both in terms of brilliant food and attentive customer service. Sean, Oscar and Barnaby are always more than happy to help in any way they can. This new menu definitely got me feeling the summer vibes and I for one can’t wait to be sat outside in the sunshine enjoying my brand new mozzarella dippers with a delicious mussel pot and some summer cocktails. I really hope you do the same!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

P.S. Shout-out to my new blogger friends Sheri & Charlotte, lovely to meet you both!