I feel slightly like I’ve been in a Christmas carb coma for a week or so, thanks to the razzmatazz of the festive season and this is the excuse I’m using for getting a little bit behind with my blog posts. Over the next few days i’ll be playing catchup while casually munching my way through the chocolates and sweets Santa kindly brought me.

Something else Santa delivered co/Zoe at splodzblogz, was my fabulous Moneysupermarket Secret Santa present. For an overview of the scheme see my previous post on the scheme, but as a brief reminder – I was tasked with finding an appropriate present for a fellow blogger and received a brilliant gift from her in return. I was paired up with active, adventurous snacker Zoe and you can read about the foodie Christmas Hamper I sent her here. The hamper was delivered through one of my favourite Leeds shops, Millies, who run a dedicated hamper service

If you find yourself in need of gift ideas next Christmas, or for birthdays, weddings etc, I can thoroughly recommend their service and their hampers, which come packed with really unusual, but vey tasty treats,

As for my surprise, I was thrilled with the gorgeous, colourful tagine Zoe chose for me from kitchenware store Lakeland. She picked up on my love of all things spicy and thought it would make a useful kitchen addition, which I’m pretty sure it will. I haven’t made anything in it yet but I’ve been scouring the cookbooks I received for Christmas for suitable recipe and I’ll be asking Zoe if she has any recommendations too. Here’s a picture of the beaut:

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Christmas is a lovely time of family, festivity and FOOD! There’s not much that tops the pure indulgence of the holiday season and the jewel in the crown of this socially acceptable eatathon is Christmas Day itself. It’s become a tradition in our household that I prepare the starter for Christmas dinner while my hardworking Ma makes everything else including dessert. This is in spite of the fact that neither she nor I actually eat Christmas pudding. For our final course we usually tuck into a large bowl of rum sauce and soya rum sauce respectively, mmm.

This year I decided we deserved more, far more. So, I got my hands on some alternatives to the traditional Christmas pud, desserts without a zillion nuts and sultanas but not without a festive feel. Here are my top three and their respective reviews.

1) Bettys chocolate orange cake £12.95

This is a very classy chocolate cake – filled with chocolate orange ganache, it’s coated with swiss milk chocolate and shimmering gold chocolate. Extraordinarily rich it found favour among the adults who said it went perfectly with a cup of after dinner coffee. This is quite a large cake and could easily feed 10 with it being so rich, however we thought it would be better at an adults gathering or perhaps a New Year shinding because of how utterly indulgent it is. The mix of textures from crisp chocolate through to soft, moist cake and smooth ganache were mouth watering.

Bettys chocolate orange cake

Bettys deliciously rich chocolate orange cake

2) Asda Sparkle Chocolate Cheesecake £7. Apologies for the photo quality on this one, I didn’t have my camera to hand and my iPhone seemed to think this was a blurry cheesecake and not a sparkly one. What you should be able to see though is that it came generously topped with chocolate sauce, curls, balls, flake and more gold shimmer! Apparently gold shimmer is where it’s at when it comes to festive desserts. This was the all-round family favourite thanks to the chocolate topping and crunchy chocolate biscuit base. Not quite so rich as the Bettys cake this still felt like a luxury dessert and the cheesecake tasted ‘cheesy’ unlike many cheaper cheesecakes you buy in supermarkets and at 1kg per serving, it was a real family sized dessert. This was probably our favourite all rounder and is a great fallback for those with unexpected guests.

Asda sparkle chocolate cheesecake

Asda sparkle chocolate cheesecake from the top, complete with sparkle

And to show it’s plentiful size.

Asda sparkle cheesecake from the side

Deep and crunchy and even chocolate cheesecake

I decided to take a slice snap to just how deep the cheesecake was, and yes that is a Christmas tree in the background.

3) Coles black cherry and Amaretto Christmas pudding £6.95-£8.95 This was the closest to a traditional Christmas pud and the dessert I as a huge cherry and Amaretto fan was most excited about.

Cherry and Amaretto pudding

Cherry and Amaretto pudding with cream

Unfortunately, this wasn’t quite the cherryatto delight I was hoping for. It was a little like a toffee pudding crossed with a traditional pud. A strong selling point for the non-Christmas pud eaters was – though it did have almonds on the top it was relatively nut free and sultanas were nearly non-detectable. However, it wasn’t nearly as Amaretto flavoured as I would have liked and the sweet almond liqueur was only really noticeable when you got a cherry (oo-er) which were obviously soaked in the stuff. Still, it was definitely nicer than the traditional Christmas pud and a good compromise for the family. It also felt like a proper grownups dessert.

As there is no Foodie Penpals this month I was very glad to be approached to take part in Moneysupermarket’s Secret Santa Challenge. The scheme is acting as a December connect for bloggers who operate in the same areas and the idea is that each blogger buys another a secret santa present with a budget of £25 (which they’ve provided), with everyone blogging about what they send and receive (much like Foodie Penpals, which I’m hoping to persuade my partner to join).

I love taking part in Foodie Penpals and I also love Christmas, so I jumped at the chance to send a Christmassy foodie package. I’ve been paired up with Zoe at Splodzblogz who has quite an eclectic blog with leanings towards food blogging. From her blog, I’ve learnt Zoe likes doing outdoorsy stuff (a braver lady than I), has quite a sweet tooth and loves a good cuppa.

I’m hoping the parcel I’ve put together for her is suitably Christmassy and appeals to her tastebuds. I’ll be doing another post once I’ve received my parcel and Zoe has unwrapped hers, so check back to find out how it all goes down. Meanwhile, take a look at her blog and her post about the scheme.

Splodz likes the outdoors

Splodz likes the outdoors, hopefully my parcel will fuel some adventures

I’ve also joined forces with my work colleague Becs to bring Secret Santa to my office this month, as I really do love surprise presents. It’s definitely beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!

 

I’ve tagged this post as Eating out Adventures and Food Fables as it’s a little bit of both. I mean, I did eat the food while I was out of the flat, but it was also a bit of a food fable. A few weeks ago the friendly folk over at Sushi Boy got in touch to say they were launching a delivery service, providing sushi, soup and noodle takeaway to lovely Leeds.

In these times of austerity I try to be good and take my lunch to the office four out of five days and treat myself to a special Friday lunch out (do you do the same, if so, where’s your favourite sandwich seller?). I therefore waited a whole week until my next treat Friday came around to make an order and I decided to spread the sushi love by inviting my colleagues to place an order too. I’m rather glad I did because our generous boss decided to treat us all to some platters to munch on during our agency lunch. Yes, that’s right, I got sushi delivered for free and you could to if you were an upwardly mobile professional working in the ultra sexy, smart sphere of marketing.

I’ll gloss over the other stuff that occurred over the agency lunch because frankly I don’t want to reveal too much about my genius viral marketing campaign involving C. Thomas Howell in case anyone else rips it off and makes a fortune. So, here are some photographs of the plentiful platters that arrived just in time to fuel our idea making.

Sushi platter from Sushi Boy, Leeds

Sushi platter from Sushi Boy, Leeds

My favourites from this plate were the beetroot and carrot rolls (far left) and smoked mackerel nigiri (far right).

Sushi rolls from Sushi Boy, Leeds

Sushi rolls from Sushi Boy, Leeds

Along with plenty of soy sauce, the platters came with pickled ginger and wasabi, which I greedily piled high on the many pieces I ate. My favourite from this plate were the cream cheese laden ones, which I found hard to resist despite my cheese allergy!

Knowing that my colleagues are like moths to a flame when free food is about, several of us ordered some noodles on top of the sushi – just to make sure we had plenty of energy for the challenging afternoon ahead. Unfortunately we broke into the generous-sized boxes before I could get a camera near them. However, the slurping noises and sauce-splattered chins suggested all the noodles were as nice as the sushi and I can personally vouch for the BBQ pork noodles, which had a nice hint of spice to them and plenty of meat.

All in all this was a very satisfying Friday feast and I think I’ll be ordering from Sushi Boy again and perhaps some other gourmet delivery services too if I can persuade my boss to fund it again….

I seem to start many of my Foodie Penpal posts by explaining why my post is late – we are meant to post on the last day of the month all at the same time. So, as has become the tradition…this month my post is late because I’m away for the weekend visiting some lovely friends in London, so have only just had the time to get to my laptop.

Excuses over, if you haven’t read one of my penpal posts before, Foodie Penpals is a scheme that originated in the US and was brought over to the UK by the lovely Thisisrocksalt, to find out more about how it works take a look at her blog or click on the badge at the bottom of my page.

This month my parcel came courtesy of Rachel over at Foodnerd4life, who I was very impressed to learn has the envious job of inventing pie fillings for a living. Since my evening of pie at Asda HQ ‘pie maker’ is a job I’m much aspiring to. I told Rachel I was feeling very Christmassy, loved spice and warned her about my limited cow milk intake, but gave her quite a loose scope on what I’d like to see in my parcel. In the end, she sent a package full of sugar and spice and all things nice.  Here’s the beautiful food-inspired Christmas card that came in my parcel.

My festive foodie Christmas card courtesy of foodnerd4life

My festive foodie Christmas card courtesy of foodnerd4life

Inside the parcel was a real mix of ready-to-eat and quality ingredients. The diversity of this package blew me away and though I’ve not had a chance to sample much of it yet I’m very excited about doing so. The first thing I dived into was the homemade chocolate fudge, which I did share a little with my work colleagues (I’m nice like that). It’s always lovely when a penpal goes to the effort of making something for you and the fudge was delicious. I hope the fudge I’m making as part of my Christmas hampers turns out half as well. Rachel also include a mix for ;Joy the Bakers pancakes’, the recipe for which can be found on her blog (you should take a look, her blog is very pretty). The special thing about the mix is that it requires no eggs. Also in the sweet category was some Rabbit Candy from her local Chinese store.

Moving on the the spice, Rachel had included some fabulously fragrant Paprika from a recent trip to Madrid (it’s begging for me to make paella with it) and some Japanese  chilli oil. And for the nice, I had some freeze dried olives and some unusual squid ink. I think I’ll probably put the olives into some scones and if Santa brings me the pasta maker I’ve asked for, the squid ink could well be making it’s way into a pasta dish. Here’s my impressive haul..

 

My foodie penpal parcel November 2012

My foodie penpal parcel November 2012

I sent my parcel to Kimberley Stout fullasanegg Manchester, who is a fellow baker and a bit of a chocolate lover. Kimberley told me that she liked ginger (which I may have got a wee bit carried away with).  I sent her some festive chocolates from Bon Bons as I was feeling Christmassy, some chocolate coated ginger fudge – also from Bon Bons, lavender essence for baking and  some Alnwick Marmalade complete with more ginger and rum. I was a bit worried about it looking like quite a small parcel but I’d blown my budget a little in Bob Bons. This little boutique chocolate shop is one of my go tos when I get partnered with someone with a sweet tooth.

There’s no foodie penpals running in December, but I am taking part in another exchange specially for Christmas, which has been organised by moneysupermarket.com. As I love giving and receiving parcels I couldn’t really resist when I was asked, so expect more details on that over the next few weeks.