A little life update…

Hey folks, it’s been a while.

I would normally apologise and make excuses, but I’m trying to stop apologising when I don’t need to be sorry. I’ve always been the kind of person that leads a generally busy life and constantly juggles hobbies or priorities, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. Some things slide for a while to make way for others, that’s just life.

So, what has been going on?

I have no idea whether anyone’s really interested in these ‘life update’ posts but when it’s someone I follow and read their posts regularly I know I like to be a little nosy so I figured ‘what’s the harm?!’. If it doesn’t interest you, you don’t have to read. More than anything I’ve been thinking it might be good to get my blog-related thoughts down on paper to hold myself accountable too.

Firstly, you probably already know from a few tweets and Instagram stories that my OH and I are buying a house which is all very exciting, but moving is something I find to be very stressful. I’m a control freak so have trouble just letting things happen, I prefer to make them happen myself. Buying the house in fact isn’t even the start of where my posting has gone awry; we were uncomfortable in the flat we were living in and decided to negotiate with our agents to leave our contract early, which in itself took time and then there was the whole closing everything down, moving everything out, getting our deposit back debacle to deal with. And now we’re living with my in-laws whilst the house is going through. Fair play to them, it’s so good of them to take us in in this interim period and we’re getting along really well but as it’s transitional, I still kind of feel like I’m moving. When you put it all together I think I’ve been ‘moving’ since July. But like I said, I really can’t (and don’t mean to) complain because I honestly don’t know how we’d have coped without having the support from our parents. Plus, we now have chickens at my in-laws which is great fun!

The knock-on impact from this is that I’ve been trying really hard to manage my money better lately (difficult for me at the best of times) and eating out a bit less than I used to, on top of the fact that I’m not actually living in Cardiff right now. Me three years ago would never have believed how much I miss our little city life at the moment; I grew up in a very rural village and then went to uni in the bubbliest uni bubble you’ve ever seen (Aberystwyth, woop woop!) so I remember being very intimidated by the ‘big city’ when I moved here. Cardiff, of course, isn’t big at all in the grand scheme of things but it certainly is for me!

In terms of blogging, I have a handful of half-written posts that I now feel are too far gone to finish. For this I do apologise, whole-heartedly, and intend to make up for in quality going forward if at least not in quantity. I’d also intended to come back with a food post having written so much about my single-use plastic journey recently but at the moment plastic is coming more naturally to me and to be honest, I haven’t been all that adventurous food-wise either (besides the Chai Street vegan menu the other week which was seriously good stuff). So heads up that the next post is probably another about plastic, but hopefully one that a few of you may be particularly interested in, we’ll have to wait and see. I have a few food posts in mind and a particular idea I need a little more work on, so will be trying my best to get back into some sort of swing from now on.

There you have it. Nothing ground-breaking and certainly a far cry from some of my best work but I felt the need to get something out there to explain why I’ve been so absent and hope that you’ll continue to bear with me while I sort my life out (although it’s about to be another very busy year both in and outside of work). Most importantly, the passion is still there. Also importantly, Ripple Living announced last night that it’s going to be on Albany Road, just a short walk away from our new house. I couldn’t be more excited!

I’ll be back very soon,

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Recent round-up: Charlie’s foodie finds

I’m aware that I’ve been talking more about plastic than food lately, I’m very passionate about both, but so as not to stray too far away from the point I figured it was high-time I write about some of the meals I’ve had recently.

Here below is a run-through of a handful of outings which I wanted to talk about but either forgot to take a photo of menu or simply had too much fun eating to worry about taking enough notes. For that I do apologise. 

Dusty Knuckle Pizza

I cannot rave about this business and its pizza enough. I first came here last summer for one of Imran Nathoo (Kitchen Clonc)’s post-Masterchef supper clubs, which was delicious and totally changed my mind towards peach, but had yet to visit for their own offerings. Since my boyfriend and I eventually did tick it off our list earlier this year, we’ve recommended it to all our friends & family and been back several times ourselves – I can’t get enough!

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I’m not one of those naturally gifted photographers, okay…

It’s ever so slightly off-the-beaten-track on Llandaff Road in Canton but so, so worth the walk out of town. Conveniently, the fantastic little St Canna’s Ale House is also just a hop, skip and a jump away for some after dinner local beers and often live music. I’m yet to head there for one of their foodie pop-ups, previously including the likes of Brother Thai and Pettigrew Bakes, but we absolutely love this cosy, fun and very friendly little pub. You get such a good local vibe without it feeling exclusive, which for a village girl like me is wonderfully nostalgic. Anyway, back to Dusty Knuckle.

One our first visit we enjoyed the sauerkraut & pear and anchovy toast starters, followed by the Nduja and Blas Y Mor pizzas. The sauerkraut was sharp but not over-powering and was a new experience for me, whereas the anchovy toast was very fishy so a word of warning for the faint-hearted, but for us it was fantastic. My Blas Y Mor pizza was an ode to Welsh cuisine; laverbread, cockles and samphire all came together to create a unique taste experience, balancing well with the sweet tomatoes and gooey cheese and creating a class flavour combo. Their dough is the perfect balance of soft and easy-to-tear yet firm in the right places (no soggy bottoms here!), not too bloaty either in my experience. Basically I just don’t see what’s not to love. 

On subsequent visits I’ve tried the asparagus with an egg on top, the four garlic pizza (which I fully intend to go back and eat a whole pizza of, apologies in advance to my boyfriend), the goats cheese and beetroot chutney and their vegan option from last week’s Cardiff International Food Festival; courgette, burnt lemon, onion, pomegranate and nigella seeds. All of which I loved, all of which I’d have again in a second. Just writing about it is making me hungry… So if you live in or around Cardiff and haven’t checked this place out, put it at the top of your list and get down there.

Side note: they also do metal reusable takeaway boxes nowadays which I think is effing fantastic (collection only I believe).

Maria’s Greek Taverna

Situated in the heart of Cardiff’s bustling Crwys Road, this place is certainly a welcome addition to the already plentiful restaurants and cafes in this part of town. Some girl friends and I went to try it out for an early post-work dinner one evening and managed to get in there just in time to take advantage of the small plates offer – 3 for £12. So obviously we picked 3 each…

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Inside the restaurant is painted a cool, sea blue with coordinating decorations giving you real holiday vibes without having to leave the city. Judging from Gourmet Gorro’s opening review, it seems this is a whole family affair with Maria herself as the matriarch and you can taste the authenticity in the food. We ate until we were full and then I took home the leftovers to eat some more, I wish I could remember exactly what we had but it’s on my list to revisit soon – the more halloumi fries and goats’ cheese I can get my hands on the better! [Keep an eye on Wriggle for deals]

Restaurant Tommy Heaney (The Great House, Laleston)

Birthday celebrations with both sets of parents (my own and the in-laws) meant we had to go for something special. I’d heard great things about Restaurant Tommy Heaney from my friend The Octopus Diaries and others and fancied the taster menu more than that of James Sommerin in Penarth (I always worry about the veggie swaps for taster menus unless specifically stated). On arrival the hotel itself was gorgeous, outside and in. We were seated next to a big fireplace on a circular table, which was nice as everyone could easily talk, and after having spotted a bread basket on our way in, we tucked into bread and olives whilst perusing the menu and ordering drinks.

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Some of my family, however, share my enjoyment in reading a menu ahead of time so we’d pretty much already decided on the taster menu; although we weren’t asked on booking to specify, and our servers warned us that if one wanted the taster we’d all have to have it too, they seemed a little surprised when we all dived in. I think it perhaps wasn’t expected as we ended up being the last ones in the restaurant by the end of the evening (not a bad thing) and some of the younger members of staff weren’t entirely familiar with the taster menu’s contents – I assumed they were going through a changeover ahead of Tommy Heaney’s move to take over the former Arbennig site in Pontcanna, taking some of his staff with him. Unfortunately on this occasion I forgot to take a photo of the menu (I mean, it was my birthday…) so you’ll have to forgive the lack of detail, but here’s some photos to demonstrate. It was all very tasty and very well done, I can assure you that, and swapping the meat for fish for me was absolutely no problem – hoorah!

All in all we had a delicious meal all round and agreed we’d love to try out his new Cardiff set up – which is actually undergoing crowdfunding at the moment – however, the small hiccup of some unfamiliarity with the taster menu and/or not always introducing the dish whilst placing it in front of us, plus a very long wait for a taxi, let it down. I would still recommend dining here as the food was of a brilliant standard and the setting was idyllic, but if you’re planning on having the taster menu I’d recommend asking them to make a note of this when you book to avoid any such issues in the future.

P.S. There’s a chance to try out his cooking a little closer to home for a few weeks now (hopefully longer!) as he opens his pop-up in Arbennig over the next six weeks to support his crowdfunding campaign to take over the venue permanently. Find more info here and get involved if you can!

Adi’s, Bridgend

Wandering back east towards Cardiff I had the pleasure of discovering Adi’s dessert bar in Bridgend a few weekends ago. Whilst the idea is much the same as many other dessert shops – pick your base (waffle or pancake), pick your ice cream, sauce, toppings etc. – the thing that made Adi’s special was that there were alternatives available for everyone. And I mean everyone; my boyfriend’s sister is both dairy and gluten intolerant and was in absolute heaven!

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Gluten free pancakes or waffles? Sorted. Dairy free ice cream? Not a problem. Non-dairy milkshakes? No worries. And that’s on top of all the full dairy, full gluten ‘regular’ options too, making it an ideal place to go if you’re catering for a variety of needs or searching for somewhere to treat yourself as I was. We opted for bubble waffles which look as funky as they sound, a couple of dollops of ice cream each, some fruit, sauce, sweets, the works. We left very happy chappies and I wouldn’t hesitate to go here again next time I’m in Bridgend – my boyfriend’s sister already has!

And there you have it, a round-up of all the places I’ve meant to talk about recently but hadn’t got around to it. You can probably tell which one is my favourite 😉 but I would give a thumbs up and a recommendation to any of the above depending on what you’re looking for. I do plan to begin writing proper reviews again soon so anywhere you’d recommend or if you try any of these for the first time, do let me know in the comments! Next up on my list; the brand new 39 Desserts, Tommy Heaney’s pop up and John Cook (previously of Arbennig)’s DIRT pop-up in Ogmore, watch this space…

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

National Vegetarian Week – My top 5 vegetarian dinners

A little earlier in the week than my usual blog post but I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about my top 5 favourite veggie dinners this week, seeing as it is National Vegetarian Week, in the hopes of giving at least a few of you some inspiration to try something new or different!

First off, I’d like to add two disclaimers: a) I’m not full veggie but have become more so recently, only eating fish a few times a week, and b) some of these recipes are my own but I don’t claim to be any amazing chef or anything, I just like throwing stuff together to see what I can make. Take from that what you will.

1. Veggie risotto

This is one of mine and is detailed in its own blog post from a while back (click here for the recipe), but is brilliant for cooking in bulk or for feeding guests as it’s super easy to bulk out – just keep adding more veg! The trick here is not to underestimate how much stock is needed and to be careful to add it slowly and steadily, waiting for it to be absorbed into the Arborio rice before adding more.

You can also mix it up by using a different cheese of your choice or by using butternut squash instead of pumpkin, just see what you prefer or what you’ve got in the fridge. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

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Veggie risotto with pumpkin and halloumi

2. Quorn cottage pie

Some people really aren’t keen on Quorn and that’s fine. I used to be quite picky with it myself and actually went off it for a while, but when I realised I was eating a crazy amount of fish instead I decided to bring it back into focus and have rediscovered a love for its diversity.

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Mini Quorn cottage pie

Again, cottage pie is pretty easy to make a few extra portions of so I’d recommend making this on an evening when you’ve got a bit of time (it isn’t the quickest dinner in the world but definitely worth it) and saving the rest for lunches the following day if you can. It’s not only packed with flavour and goodness, it’s also proper comfort food if you do the mash right. My mash is something I take great pride in but, unfortunately for you guys, is and shall remain a secret recipe… Just trust me when I say that playing around with the ingredients a little can make a world of difference.

Quorn have their own recipe on the website which uses their mince and is the one I usually follow, making a few of my own tweaks along the way, but there are loads of recipes for it online too so have a Google and see what you most like the look of.

If you’re not into cottage pie their mince is also good for a bangin’ veggie spag bol (title photo of this post) – also a recipe on their website.

3. Quorn sausage casserole

(Believe it or not, I’m not sponsored by Quorn, I just eat it a lot. If I was I’d be asking for some more changes to their packaging, but this isn’t a plastic post so I won’t go on).

Quorn sausages are my favourite of the lot and actually the most versatile, in my opinion, because aside from having them as classic bangers I also like to cut them up into chunks to have in fajitas, pastas and casseroles. Casserole recipes vary online including Quorn’s own, but personally the below is what works best for me:

  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 4-6 Quorn sausages
  • 1 tin butter beans
  • ½ a leek, chopped
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 onion, diced
  • Italian herbs seasoning or similar
  • 1 red pepper, sliced

Method:

  1. Fry the chopped onions in a little olive oil in a large pan, at medium-high heat until beginning to soften. You can either add the sausages (cut into chunks) at the same time or grill them separately and add later.
  2. Once the onions are softened, add the pepper slices and leek and continue to fry for a few minutes. Drain and rinse the butter beans then add to the pan along with the chopped tomatoes. Stir around to mix it all up, then sprinkle the Italian herbs (perhaps two teaspoons or so, not too much) and add the frozen peas too.
  3. Reduce the heat a notch and let all that simmer away (with the lid on if you have one) for around 5 minutes, until the sauce starts to thicken and the peas have melted. If you didn’t add the sausage at the start, now add the cooked sausages cut into chunks.
  4. After simmering take off the hob, taste test the seasoning and serve. Save any leftovers for lunch the following day.

Alternatively, you can put all the ingredients in the slow cooker, no need to brown the sausages first, and do it that way but the sauce doesn’t thicken in the same way.

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It seems I’ve never thought to photograph my own casseroles so here’s Quorn’s. Source linked.

4. Chickpea curry

One of my own recipes, this is my go-to if I want to make a homemade curry. Super simple, very satisfying and easy to customise by varying the ingredients to include spinach, beans, sweet potato or butternut squash if you wish. My recipe includes prawns but for a vegetarian curry just omit those – it still tastes just as good!

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Butternut squash and chickpea curry

5. Burrito bowls

Finally, another one of my own concoctions but it’s one I make time and time again because it’s just so… you guessed it, quick and easy. Sometimes I chuck in some Quorn sausage chunks and sometimes I don’t, it’s completely up to you, and you can cook the exact same thing but enjoy as a fajita rather than a burrito I just haven’t been brave enough to make my own tortillas yet!

Best served with a little bit of mayo, yoghurt, or half an avocado (seasoned with salt and pepper), this is one of my favourite homemade vegetarian meals to date. Even my meat-loving other half loves it. Find the recipe within this blog post.

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Burrito bowl deliciousness

What about eating out?

If you’re not so confident in the kitchen don’t fear! There are all kinds of places in Cardiff offering fantastic veggie dinners that shouldn’t be missed: The Grazing Shed’s Naughty Shephard burger is a favourite of mine, anything and everything from Milgi (I’m still yet to try their Sunday roast but have been dying to for ages!) and Anna Loka is full of vegan delights, just to name a few. Many chains now also offer some great veggie and vegan menus including Wagamamas, Wahaca and The Stable.

Basically, you’re spoilt for choice whichever way you look at it so I urge you to try at least two new vegetarian meals this week – after all, variety is the spice of life! Who knows, you might even find something you didn’t know you liked until it was on the plate in front of you.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

This post was not sponsored in any way, all opinions or recommendations are my own.

Holiday eats – Restaurante Rebate, Alicante

Every now and again we all need a break. I recently returned from a lush two weeks off, one spent in Southern Spain with my wonderful other half who never takes holidays but was in dire need of relaxation, one spent milling around at home-home then driving across country to North Wales for some adventuring. All in all, we had a fantastic time and although I didn’t document this trip as much as previous holidays for various reasons, it was really good to have a proper break from pretty much everything. What we did do was sleep, eat, drink, repeat; basically my idea of living the dream (with some exploring thrown in of course). So without writing my usual fairly lengthy run-down of the whole holiday itself I decided to focus on my food highlight of the trip: Restaurante Rebate.

Staying in a family apartment not far away from the small town of Sucina, we hadIMG_7620 hired a car in order to get around and explore some places. This restaurant was recommended to us by said family and was easily one of, if not the highlight of the Spanish half of our holiday. Restaurante Rebate is tucked away down some remote, dusty roads towards Alicante and appears to be in the middle of bloody nowhere by all accounts; yet on arrival we were instantly impressed by the appearance, layout and style of the restaurant. Mostly focused outdoors, there was plenty of sun, plenty of shade and several gorgeous trees among the tables. A small platform had been placed in the middle for the main event; this was the Flamenco Show which is on every Wednesday and Friday lunchtime, according to their website, and which we’d booked a few days before flying out.

Setting the scene…

Once seated at our choice of table (sun or shade) we were offered drinks whilst perusing the menu, which we took gladly and I followed the waiter’s recommendation of a glass of IMG_7619Cava. Start as you mean to go on. Seeing as it was a gorgeous sunny day and we were planning on spending most of our afternoon there, we treated ourselves to the 4 course tasting menu for the bargain price of 24,50€. At this point I feel it important to mention how incredibly polite, attentive and accommodating the staff were to every question or request, adapting my courses to include only fish and vegetarian dishes without hesitation whilst my boyfriend took them as was.

As the cherry on top I opted for the accompanying wine flight, making it 25€, as I don’t currently drink red wine (nor much white wine that doesn’t originate from New Zealand) so was keen to expand my horizons. Also, red wine makes you seem quite adult, doesn’t it? This was a fantastic choice because our wine waiter was incredibly knowledgeable and clearly very passionate which made the experience all the more special – and myself proud that I’d chosen to be grown up and get sophisticatedly drunk on a Wednesday afternoon.

First course: ‘Waking up your tastebuds’

Parmesan & lemon jam, a hummus cone, orange & kale smoothie, fishcake on sunflower toast. Paired with a pale but fruity white wine which was delicious; not as sharp as I’d usually go for but very easy to drink. [Disclaimer: best to declare early-on that I am in no way a wine connoisseur so do forgive the lack of fancy terms here. Maybe oneday.] 

Needless to say, I was most excited about the hummus cone. It was awesome; sprinkled with a little paprika it was like a savoury ice cream cone of loveliness. Good crunch, too. I imagine that the fishcake could’ve been a close second because I love a good fishcake, however I think this was before they’d asked whether I ate fish or not so it was swapped out in place of a decorated cream cheese, also very tasty in fairness. The smoothie was weird as is any kale smoothie in my experience, but not unpleasant, and the parmesan with lemon jam was a delightful little sweet crunch to present a great texture contrast between the tasters. All of these nibbles complemented each other well in flavour and texture, so far so good. Before you ask, yes I did note the plastic bag and straw for the smoothie and yes, it could’ve been avoided but my Spanish is already very limited so I wasn’t sure how to convey this to the staff nor if they’d understand where I was coming from.

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I chose the wrong seat for insta-worthy lighting, didn’t I?

Second course: ‘Refresh moment’

Cesar salad, strawberry salmorejo, ceviche served on patacon, beetroot tartare. Paired with a medium white wine, sharper than the last but still soft and equally as drinkable. It still had a hint of fruitiness but less so to coordinate with the savoury tasters in this course.

The salad was very tasty and refreshing with a light crunch, likely my highlight of this course as I particularly enjoyed the sprinkling of crumbs on top. Beetroot isn’t usually to my taste but despite being a little sharp, the tartare was more pleasant than anticipated and accompanied the salad well. I hadn’t understood what ceviche was (I now know it’s a kind of seafood) but the components worked well together and atop the sweet patacon it was a lovely little mouthful. The strawberry salmorejo turned out to be a tomato and bread-based purée, originating in Andalucia, and whilst this balanced out the dish in terms of texture by contrasting with the crunchiness of the salad and patacon it wasn’t to our liking to be honest. The taste of strawberry just seemed a bit strange in conjunction with tomato, though I understand its intention was to be refreshing.

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Third course: ‘Fried specialities’

Mussel croquette, wild mushroom croquette, roasted chicken croquette, criolla pastry. Paired with a rosé wine, getting sharper again but with good flavour and body to it.

Here I had a vegetarian substitute for the chicken croquette but all of the fried delights were very satisfying and not over-greasy, fried just right. A heavier course than its predecessors, the sharpness of the rosé cut through the mashed potato within the croquettes nicely so that I didn’t feel overwhelmed or bloaty, just well fed (though the food-baby was beginning to kick-in). Moreover, by this point I was on my fourth glass of wine so was getting to the level of merriment that requires fried goods to keep you going. Perfect timing.

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Fourth course: ‘Tasty’

Creamy Spanish omelette, roasted pear with blue cheese, duck delights on sweet potato puree. Red wine, medium bodied and rich without being too heavy or bitter of aftertaste – I enjoyed, much to my surprise.

This was possibly our favourite course because of the presentation of the omelette; it was IMG_7649deconstructed in such a way that a lightly cooked egg laid atop a crunchy base of what I think was some kind of thin, tiny homemade potato chips and some seasonings, and you had to stir them all up together to form the omelette. This might sound strange but it was bloody delicious and so creamy! Definitely our favourite nibble of the whole experience and I think it’s quite fun to get involved with the food as well as simply eating it. The roasted pear was done very well and balanced out the strength of the blue cheese, though because of the cheese I was glad it was a small portion as oppose to a normal-sized dish else it could have been overwhelming. The duck delights was thoroughly enjoyed by my other half in his tasters – despite his taking a likeness to some particularly photogenic ducks strutting around the restaurant from a nearby pond, pictured – but unfortunately I can’t remember what my duck substitute was and had been so distracted by said photogenic ducks that I’d forgotten to take a photo of this course. My apologies! What is pictured below is the red wine with this course and the dessert wine for the next.

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Fifth course: ‘Small desserts’

Cheesecake, fruit salad with sangria, carrot cake. Dessert wine, sweet and very rich but a great end and matched perfectly with the desserts.

The deconstructed cheesecake-in-a-jar was a good mix of sweet and savoury but lacked the biscuit base we are so accustomed to at home so wasn’t a full cheesecake as far as we were concerned – enjoyable all the same. I helped myself to both portions of the fruit salad with sangria which was both refreshing and deceiving in the sense that fruit sounds healthy, but when one considers the four previous courses and sweet but tangy alcohol alongside, perhaps not realistically part of your five-a-day after all. But we don’t go on holiday to diet do we?! (Christ, wouldn’t that be a miserable world).

Last but not least, the carrot cake was perfectly spongey and deliciously moist. As someone who doesn’t like an over-abundance of carrot in their carrot cake, this was spot on; as was the relative amount of frosting (because I’m not keen on too much frosting either, I often find it over-powering). The cake especially paired with the dessert wine as light and moist met rich and flavourful, whilst the natural sweetness of each element of this course was what made it work well altogether to round off the meal without being sickly.

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Final thoughts?

We loved this tasting menu and the experience overall. It felt personal, it felt special and everything was executed to a high standard for a real bargain price. At the end of the meal we felt full but not uncomfortable, very content and in my case very ready for an afternoon alcohol-induced nap. As I said at the beginning, this was likely the highlight of our Spanish holiday and as well as the brilliant food, the attentive and knowledgeable staff and the venue as a whole provided such a welcoming, friendly and easy-going atmosphere that you felt right at home spending several hours there as we did. I really would recommend visiting if you find yourself in the Alicante area, especially for the traditional Flamenco Show which was an encapsulating and exciting performance of several phases, a fantastic accompaniment to the meal itself. Information can be found below – if you visit too I’d love to hear your thoughts!

IMG_7626Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Information: 24.50€ for the taster menu, 25€ including wine flight.
Address: Carretera CV 952, Km. 10,5, 03190 Pilar de la Horadada, Alicante
Bookings: reservas@restauranterebate.es
Website: Restaurante Rebate

Brilliant breakfast at Big Moose Coffee Co.

You may have seen a post of mine about my top 5 favourite breakfast spots in Cardiff a while ago; this is a place that deserves a new spot on that list.

Big Moose Coffee Co. is a new coffee shop tucked away in Cardiff’s city centre offering sandwiches, omelettes and some seriously tasty breakfasts with a twist. Crowdfunding exceeded all their expectations and allowed this charitable group to make their dreams a reality without becoming a charity; these guys have the sole mission of ‘leaving the world a better place than we found it’ and intend to do so by employing homeless or disadvantaged youths through Llamau, training them up for the world of work with the customer service and transferable skills many of us take for granted.

Not only that, but their offerings in the café are serious contenders in the Cardiff food & drink scene. I’ve been twice already and will not hesitate to return time and time again, not just because of the incredible service and perfectly executed breakfast, but also because the coffee shop itself has such a welcome, friendly and relaxing feel to it that you simply don’t want to leave. It’s a large space but it feels warm with the right lighting, not to mention the pleasant greenery on each table and potted planters on one of the walls, adding both a decorative touch and a strange sense of peace – perhaps all the hoo-hah about plants being good for the mind and soul is true after all?

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As well as all of this, there are two extra features I feel I have to mention which make this place really special: firstly, the stairs are incredible, serious home-deco inspiration I intend to recreate one day when I’ve a house of my own. Mix & match tiles sounds so simple but it’s so effective in my opinion, donating a very personal touch which large open spaces like this so often lack yet make you feel at home, comfortable, content.

Secondly, the toilet is uniquely kitted out with a grass-like wall, fairly lights and a wall print reading “Be kind” which is perfect for toilet mirror selfies but also serves as a reminder for everything Big Moose represents. Embrace it, welcome it and let yourself feel at home in this coffee shop and I can confidently say you’ll enjoy the whole experience.

Menu options vary from sandwiches to omelettes, toast to tea & cakes but the two breakfasts I’ve had there so far have been easily two of my favourite breakfasts in a while. Big Moose is already right up there with Milk & Sugar (the old library) in my go-to city centre brunches. First to be put to the test was my classic, ‘basic b*tch’ breakfast of avocado and poached eggs on toast which has become my solid point of comparison for all new breakfast/brunch experiences [see aforementioned top 5 Cardiff breakfasts post for evidence].

The yolk was the star of the show, running perfectly over a lovely thick spreading of smashed avocado and presented on a wooden board for extra pizazz. I was invited to season it with salt & pepper myself so as to suit my own taste, which I liked, and on the whole this breakfast was a dream. I was especially excited that somewhere was mad enough to be open at the absurd hour of 8am on a Sunday which I found myself walking through town in. So, whatever the time or occasion I’d certainly recommend giving Big Moose a try, you may just be in luck as I was!

Second time around I took my parents along and ordered the other thing on the menu screaming my name: the banana, walnut, maple and coconut cream toast. Sound strange? Trust me, it’s a stroke of pure genius. Also totally vegan, by the way. I still can’t quite decide (or perhaps I’m just scared to admit) whether this superseded my beloved avo & eggs on toast and became my new breakfast heaven. It very well may have.

This is one for a sweet tooth, I will warn you, but the texture contrasts were also amazing with the crunchy walnuts and toast against ripe banana and smooth coconut cream, maple syrup marrying it all together in perfect harmony. I’m seriously hungry just thinking about it again; if you like bananas then you really, really need to try this. For the sake of your tastebuds. For the sake of your soul.

And that, my friends, is why you should visit Big Moose Coffee Co. next time you’re in Cardiff city centre. Yes, the food is brilliant. Yes, they’ve designed the café with environmental awareness in mind, taking the no straw stand and encouraging everyone to help themselves to free tap water, both to drink in and fill up your water bottles. Yes, the décor is brilliantly cosy, homely and welcoming. But most of all it’s the culmination of all of these things that makes this place so special and good for the soul in every way.

Treat yourself, treat others, take some time to relax and unwind and all whilst supporting an incredible, local cause. Big Moose, you know I’ll be back soon.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

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‘Special’ by name, special by nature: Arbennig

The award-winning Arbennig restaurant is situated in Pontcanna not far away from the well-reputed Brød Danish bakery (which I’m sadly yet to visit, but it’s on my list) and Pipes beer (a personal favourite of mine), but well worth the wander out of town. I’d heard many good things about it from colleagues and fellow bloggers beforehand and even met the owner briefly when handing out roast dinners to the homeless with the Arbennig staff and other volunteers just after Christmas, but I was yet to dine there myself. So for Valentine’s Day this year we decided to take the plunge and try it out. We were not disappointed.

The set menu was short but catered well for different tastes, we thought, and sometimes I think there’s a charm in smaller menus as it allows more focus on the ingredients themselves and can result in dishes of a higher standard (see photo below). IMG_7008 All three of the starters were chosen between us, mine being the beetroot cured salmon with horseradish, blood orange and endive. I didn’t really know what endive was but I assumed it was the baby gem-like leaves when the dish came, which presented a good texture contrast. It was very tasty, the combination of beetroot and cured (rather than cooked) salmon worked really well, however I personally don’t like horseradish so that was my only issue. My father had the same and absolutely loved it, my mother had the garlic mushrooms and said it was perfectly balanced, not too heavy and a great start to the meal and my boyfriend thoroughly enjoyed his lamb ragu. Happy faces all round so far.

For mains my parents shared the treacle and mustard braised short ribs and I have to say, despite not being to my taste, they looked and smelled (much to my surprise) fantastic. The presentation really was spot on throughout, you can tell this is something Arbennig pride themselves with and they do it all without compromising portion sizes or flavour. The ribs were full of flavour, cooked perfectly with the meat easing off the bone and totally delicious, according to my parents. My father just wanted more! It’s worth mentioning here that the care taken in Arbennig to source their ingredients from local, fresh and often family-run suppliers really shines through in the quality of their dishes, these ribs being no exception.

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The braised short ribs

My boyfriend and I opted for the roasted cod loin where the quality of the fish was also very noticeable, heightening the overall dish which was so bloody tasty we’d have it again any time. The ingredients complimented each other perfectly in every way, the zing of the lemon purée marrying with the fresh fish yet contrasting with the scorched baby gem. It’s such a good feeling knowing that you’re supporting local suppliers, within a local family-run business and the meals taste all the better for it. I love that supporting local is such a big thing in Cardiff and long may it continue if these are the results!

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Roasted cod loin & Israeli cous cous etc.

Several glasses of wine and many comments on how fantastic everything was later, it was time for dessert. Again, all three of them on the set menu were chosen between us: my mother’s blood orange, biscuit crumble and almond meringue combo was another perfectly balanced combination, the meringue (my favourite) was just crumbly enough without breaking apart too easily and tasted incredible. My father’s rhubarb and almond tart was also impressive looking, well-balanced in flavour & texture and very satisfying. But the star of the show for me was the warm chocolate fondant with honeycomb and sorbet… Oh. My. God.

I’ve seen many a fondant go horribly wrong on Masterchef but, from that, I’ve got a good enough idea of what they’re supposed to be like; this was absolute perfection let me tell you. Held its own on the plate just until you dipped your spoon in to gently tear it apart and then out came the oozing, gooey, warm and gorgeous chocolate. I’m a huge chocoholic anyway and honeycomb is one of my favourite things to pair with it, so I can honestly say this is a serious contender for my favourite dessert ever. Perhaps even taking the top spot. The sorbet was the cherry on top, presenting that brilliant contrast between warm and cool, sponge and smooth and just all-round awesome-ness. I’d have it again tomorrow. And the day after, and the day after that… (Except I’ve given up chocolate for lent ☹ *cries*)

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The work of art that was the chocolate fondant…

The service at Arbennig was just as fantastic as the food, too. The staff were very attentive, seeing to our every need or request, happily explaining anything we asked about and were genuinely interested in how much we were enjoying our experience. The place was a little chilly when we first arrived but warmed up when the other tables started filling up (and once our wine had kicked in). All in all, everything was perfectly balanced, very well flavoured and prepared and presented to a high standard. I can’t recommend it enough and can’t wait to go back to try the normal menu; by which I just mean not a set menu, as the restaurant menu itself changes weekly in line with what’s fresh and in season – isn’t that brilliant? Exactly how things should be, not to mention always keeping it interesting. Have you tried Arbennig yet? If not, what are you waiting for?

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Note: this post was not sponsored, we paid for our meal in full and all views are my own.

Getting Saucy in the kitchen with Saucy Affair

Saucy Affair Raw Sauces are new and coming to the UK market. I was fortunate enough to be invited to try their sauces for review, so the following post is kindly sponsored by themselves (however the opinions are my own).

So, what are these ‘raw sauces’? The idea is that they’re simply blended fruit, veggies and herbs, no nonsense, making it easy to cook up something healthy in the kitchen with their ‘just coat and cook’ slogan. Admittedly, it is as simple as that. Upon checking I was also informed that due to these natural ingredients all sauces are vegan friendly, gluten & wheat free, lactose and nut free too. However, the only potentially questionable ingredient is guar/xanthan gum as there is some debate over the fact that although both are derived from natural substances, they have to be processed in some way to make the gum; thus questioning their classification as ‘raw’… But, from what I can gather, despite being largely indigestible neither tend to have negative impacts on the human gut unless consumed in large quantities, and I can only assume that the gum is there just as a preservative. So personally, I’m willing to overlook it (it’s already in so many things, including many dairy products) but if you’d rather stay paleo maybe skip this one out.

There are 6 sauce sensations to choose from: Teriyaki Malarkey, Cucumber Blunder, Smokey Cokey, Fiery Fiasco, Beetroot Cahoot and Tarragon Shenanigan. Each comes with recommended flavours and ingredients to pair with such as white fish, goats cheese, sausages etc. including several of their own recipes on the website. I chose to do a few of theirs and a few of my own in order to be a bit creative. Here’s what I found!

Teriyaki Malarkey

For this I used their Tofu stir fry recipe which was tasty, satisfying and very easy to do. All done in about 15 mins so really good for a quick, simple dinner and this sauce worked really well with both the stir fry and the tofu; all in all, I’d recommend and repeat this recipe. Tofu isn’t something we usually go for but I even got my boyfriend to like it for a change!

Cucumber Blunder

This one I did my usual trick of just chucking things together in a pan to see how it goes; I did follow their advice from the sea bream recipe and fried my cod fillets in the sauce on a medium-high heat, also throwing in some chopped peppers and green beans. I fried all this for 5-8 mins (by the end the cod broke apart into chunks but I don’t mind as long as it’s tasty) and served with creamy mash potato, which is my own secret recipe. It wasn’t very photogenic as you can see above but the sauce complimented the ingredients well without overpowering and the whole dish tasted delicious. Another thumbs up from me.

Smokey Cokey

A smoky BBQ-style sauce, I had this as a packed lunch stirred into pasta with chunks of Quorn sausages and some veggies in the mix. Some grated cheese on top would’ve been the icing on the cake to be honest but this sauce provided a good, smoky flavour without feeling too ‘meaty’ as I sometimes find with BBQ flavoured foods. I can imagine this sauce would go well with chicken wings (key word being imagine) though I wish I’d tried the mac ‘n’ cheese recipe on their website too, maybe next time.

Fiery Fiasco

Burrito bowls have been one of my favourite things to make recently for a quick, tasty dinner and easy meal prep for the following day’s lunch – you may have guessed from my Instagram. This time I used the Fiery Fiasco sauce instead of frying the onion & peppers in fajita seasoning, served with coconut rice and a dollop of mayo – recipe below. Take note of the two chilli rating on this sauce though, it gave a bit more kick than I was expecting! I really enjoyed this dish and the sauce worked well, but personally I don’t think I’d use it again as it was just a little bit hotter than I’d usually make. Perhaps if I tried their seafood fiesta recipe.

Ingredients (serves 2-3):

  • 3 Quorn sausages
  • 1 tin chickpeas
  • 1 tin black beans
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1-2 peppers, chopped
  • (1 medium clove of garlic, crushed – if doing with normal fajita seasoning)
  • Coconut oil
  • Basmati rice ~130g or 1 mug-full (also works with brown but that takes longer, or can substitute for cauliflower rice)

Method:

Boil a kettle. Heat a couple of teaspoons of coconut oil in a pan over a medium heat; once melted add in the rice and stir around so that the oil coats it. Add boiled water and reduce to medium-low, simmering for around 10 mins* until rice is fluffy and most or all of the water is absorbed. (Remember to stir occasionally to avoid any sticking to the pan, but the coconut oil should help with this anyway).

Meanwhile, cook the Quorn sausages to your preference (I like to grill them on our panini press), this should take around 10 mins so *try to time it the same as the rice.

Whilst the rice & sausages are cooking, heat a little olive oil in a pan on medium-high heat. Add chopped onion and fry until softened. Then add chopped peppers and fry until onion starts to turn golden.

Drain the chickpeas and black beans and add to the pan. Fry off for about a minute then pour in the bottle of Fiery Fiasco sauce and stir to mix. If your pan has a lid, put the lid on and let it simmer and reduce for around 5 mins. Keep an eye on it and keep intermittently stirring.

By this point, the rice and sausages should be done, or nearly there. Remove the sausages from the heat and put onto a plate to cool for a few minutes. Drain the rice in a sieve to remove any leftover moisture and allow to steam a little.

Next, chop the sausages using kitchen scissors and stir the chunks into the sauce, which should now have thickened and be ready to go; remove it from the heat whilst doing this.

Serve with the coconut rice and a dollop of mayo or yoghurt and enjoy!

Beetroot Cahoot

This is another one I decided to make my own recipe with; there’s a little note on this sauce saying that it can be enjoyed cold as a ketchup, which gave me the idea of pizza, substituting the usual passata for Beetroot Cahoot. Seeing as it was #Veganuary at the time, I also decided to branch out and try a cauliflower base (taken from letscookvegan.videos), so this whole recipe can be vegan (and gluten free) if you skip the goats’ cheese.

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole cauliflower (or cauli rice)
  • 2 tbs Olive oil
  • 1 tsp Sea salt
  • ½ cup oat flour (made from grinding GF oats in a nutribullet/food processor)
  • ½ cup GF self-raising flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • Sprinkle of thyme
  • Sprinkle of smoked paprika
  • Toppings of choice (chopped peppers, sweetcorn, goats’ cheese)

Method:

Preheat the oven to around 200 degrees C. Chop the cauliflower into florets and use a blender or processor to turn into rice. Blanch the cauli rice in hot water then drain into a sieve, shaking as much moisture out as possible before shocking with cold water and transferring to a clean tea towel or nut milk bag, if you have one. Twist and ring out the bag/tea towel until the water is pressed out, then empty into a mixing bowl.

Add all ingredients and mix well with your hands to form a dough. Next, either line a baking tray (circular if possible) with baking paper or grease the tray with olive oil. Form the crust onto the sheet/tray, gently pushing about with your fingers and palms to fill the tray.

Bake for 20-30 mins, keeping an eye on it. The video I used says to overbake it, which I would’ve done had I not been in a rush and so would recommend for next time.

Once it’s browning nicely, take it out and spread the Beetroot Cahoot sauce over the base, using the back of a spoon. Add your toppings of choice and put back in the oven for around 5 mins.

When the toppings look done, take out and enjoy! Be careful because this base is very crumbly – or at least mine was; if yours works like the video it should be fine. This worked well as a combination, the base was really nice and the goats’ cheese really complimented the sauce, however the slight kick of horseradish was not to my liking so I wouldn’t choose this one again. My boyfriend liked it though so each to their own.

Tarragon Shenanigan

I originally had another website recipe I was going to adapt for this one, using the basis of the aubergine bake but swapping out the aubergine for butternut squash and the feta cheese for halloumi. Sadly though, for various reasons, I didn’t manage to cook with this one before its expiry date so I’m unable to give a full review. It did sound delicious and I truly am gutted because I hate to waste anything, yet had I realised sooner that the sauces are actually suitable for freezing I would’ve done that to ensure full usage. My apologies here, guys. I will be looking to try it out when it becomes available in stores out of curiosity.

All in all, I enjoyed cooking with these sauces as a change from my usual routine. I don’t actually tend to use bottled sauces often and prefer to create my own, but as these are formed of humble, natural ingredients I made the exception. My personal favourites and those I would choose to buy in stores were the Teriyaki Malarkey and the Smokey Cokey; the first because the tofu stir fry was absolutely delicious and the second because I’d love to try it with mac ‘n’ cheese. I’d also have the Cucumber Blunder again to try with sea bass and roasted potatoes, so my advice to you is to have a browse on the website for some recipe ideas and pick up one or two bottles when you see them in stores and on supermarket shelves (which should be very soon!).

Have you tried any of these yourself? If not, which are you looking forward to trying? I’d love to know if you try one of the recipes above!

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

Special thanks to Saucy Affair for sponsoring this post with their tasty samples.