There are few things I like more than food but I freaking love my little Snuffle Chops. Last year I quit my job to go freelance so I could get a dog and I’m so glad I did because now I can’t imagine life without this little ball of fun and fur, Ruby.

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A conversation between myself and Emma over at Ohgoshem recently led to me trying out something different, which was a little off the topic of food and all about fun times for Ruby. We set up a parcel exchange for dogs with owners sending tailored packages through the post. You can read more about #poochpackage in my original post here and read about all the packages in Emma’s blog post.

I was matched with the lovely Anna and Beatrix from Tea with Miss Beatrix and quickly got looking for ideas and started a board of doggy treats over on Pinterest, which I’ve been adding lots of things to since. In the end I was a bit pushed for time as I was ill for a few days, so we made these banana, carob and peanut butter dog treats.I wanted to get something fun and fancy to send over too. Luckily I had a discount code for Dogandpupstore where I purchased a few edible treats, a toy and some snazzy shampoo, because all dogs, no matter how classy, seem to love to roll in things they shouldn’t during the summer months.

I had wanted to buy Bea some of her favourite dog treats but they were out of them in Waitrose when I visited, boo! Instead I bought some more practical fresh breath treats. And, what better buy for Beatrix than some actual tea? We chose this one from Woof and Brew, which is supposed to promote a healthy coat. We added some Scooby Snacks to the package too, which we bought in bulk off Amazon a while back, we call them Ruby Snacks in this house and have used them for training Ruby ever since she was a teeny tiny puppy.I popped a toy in the hamper too – a Pink Becothings Becoball in medium as Bea is a little bigger than Ruby and some Animology Fox Poo Shampoo, just in case Bea trudges through anything nasty when fetching her ball.

Because we were told Bea likes shredding paper, we wrapped everything in tissue paper and popped it into a little hamper before posting. We thought Beatrice would have fun sniffing the hamper before tucking in! Unfortunately I forgot to photograph the hamper (oops) but I was very pleased to get this lovely thank you from Anna a few days later by email:

“Just wanted to say a big thank you for Bea’s pooch package. I missed the post so collected it on Saturday and she loves it! She’s already enjoyed a bowl of tea (great idea!), decided to keep the ball in her bed, and shared some scooby snacks and the yummy homemade treats with her young collie cousin, Enzo.
We loved how you packaged it all up too, and she had a great time opening everything.”

Ruby absolutely loved opening her package from Anna and Bea, which had two toys in that quickly became favourites – a squeaky donut and a purple squeaky elephant. There were lots of doggy treats for her to snaffle too. Here she is opening the package and playing with one of her toys.

You can see some of the other parcels as they appeared on Instagram here. If you took part, please share links or photos to your efforts below and if you have any good recipes for homemade treats I should be pinning on my Pinterest board to make for Ruby, let me know. Her birthday is coming up soon, so she’s due some extra spoiling!

Most of my favourite things begin with a ‘c’. Firstly there’s cake, then cocktails and then the low-calorie hero that is coffee. I have a ‘But first, coffee’ print hanging in a study and a T-shirt that simply says ‘Black Coffee, Please’ for those mornings when talking is too much. I’m a bit of a coffee fangirl, truth be told. The recent ‘Coffee with Currys’ night held at Revolution Newcastle could only therefore appealed more if they gave me cake on arrival. They didn’t, but the first creamy cocktail we were presented with as we waited to take part in a coffee cocktail masterclass came pretty damn close.

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The bloggers event was held in celebration of the fabulous pairing of coffee and alcohol and aimed to show off Curry’s collection of coffee machines. You can find the recipes for the coffee cocktails we made on the night here. We do already have a coffee machine at home, which we were lucky enough to be given last Christmas, though I do wish brands were doing more to solve the problem of plastic coffee pods, I’ve heard that some companies now have recycling plans in place and it’s something I think companies like Currys could look at to reassure people and in turn boost sales.

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There were lots of local bloggers in attendance on the evening and I was particularly pleased to bump into the lovely Sarah from PlainSarahJayne who I used to work with and Chloe’s New Girl in Toon with whom I share mutual Leeds buds.

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Sarah from PlainSarahJayne enjoying her welcome cocktail

During the course of the night we all had to showcase our cocktail making talents and though I wasn’t the most skilled mixologist, I think I put in a performance that my boyfriend would be proud of – he’s usually in charge of the espresso martini making in our house.

I wasn't quite this good!

I wasn’t quite this good!

Do you have a coffee machine in your house? Are coffee and cocktails a winning combo for you? If you have any coffee cocktail recipes of your own, please feel free to share links in the comments below, we are always looking for new recipes to try out!

Curry goes perfectly with a nice cold beer, so I’m told, because I don’t like beer or lager. Believe me I’ve tried to like the stuff and on a super sunny day I can just about force a half an Amstel down but anything darker and I can’t seem to get past a twisty-face inducing mouthful. My record to date is a massive six Estrella on a #ladsladslads night out in Barcelona during Primavera Festival. Hats off to beer drinkers, I’ve no idea how you do it, after six Estrella I was not only sozzled but so extremely bloated I couldn’t possibly contemplate eating anything.

I’m not exactly a wine connoisseur either to be fair – I inevitably flit between Rioja, Pinot Grigio and Prosecco when I order it but a Sommelier and Spice evening was far more appealing to me than a craft beer and curry one would be and so when Angeethi invited us along to sample some wine and curry matchings, I accepted gladly. I’ve been to Angeethi before. When I worked on the nearby Team Valley, my team and I popped in a few time for team outings, so I knew some good quality food would be served up and I was inquisitive to see if I had any innate wine matching instincts. There were a series of starters paired with individual wines and then a round of main course curries where we were given a few wines to sample in one go in order to find our own preferred pairings. As Steve drew the short straw to be designated driver, I bravely consumed twice my quota of wine in order to get a really really good idea of what went well together (not through greediness, honest).

Things started with poppadoms and dips, which we tried not to go mad on as we knew from the pretty menus there was much more to come. The first starter was Chicken Chaat, which was served with a Round Hill white zinfandel rosé – fresh, light and crisp as you’d expect. I’m not usually a rosé fan but this wasn’t as horrendously sweet as some. There was as you can see a fair bit of red onion alongside pomegranate in this dish and through trial and error I realised sipping the rosé brought out a sweetness in the onion.

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Next up was Zaffrani salmon with Sauvignon Blanc Babich Label. I’d have probably picked up a Pinot Grigio if I was pairing at home. We eat salmon at least twice a week in our house, I’m pretty much addicted and so this tandoor salmon was one of my favourites of the evening as was the next starter, the Hara bhara kebab. On previous visits to Angeethi we’ve found that they do veggie food particularly well and this spinach falafel/bhaji-esque ball was delicious. I gobbled up seconds even though I knew I should be saving room for future courses. I wasn’t too keen on the sweet red yoghurt sauce that accompanied it – I’m more of a mint raita fan myself. The last of the picky items were some grilled lamb chops that demanded grilled lamb chops that demanded to be eaten off the bone, accompanied by a nice red Nostros Reserva Pinot Noir, which was probably closest to my usual wine choices.

When I go out for curry I tend to go in one of two directions with my main courses – I either order vegetarian and add a bunch of vegetarian side orders too, so I can try as many things as possible in one go or I choose a lamb dish. The lamb kadhai we were served was very good – a lovely rich, meaty gravy, along with it we had a chicken tikka makhani and fish madras. I love a madras and would probably liked this to have been a mite hotter. I merrily mixed and matched sips of El Cota Rioja Cranza (yay, Rioja!), Casa Silva Cabernet Sauvignon and The Landings Shiraz Cabernet. For some reason two of my curry photos seemed to have gone missing off my phone (booo!) so for now, here’s the chicken tikka makhani…

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Desserts are often overlooked at Indian restaurants but I always like to try out something authentic rather than diving into an ice cream. I was very pleased to see a gulab jamun paired with Principe de Viana Late Harvest Chardonnay. The wine wasn’t as sickly sweet as some dessert wines and it’s one I’ll be looking up, I don’t usually like Chardonnay but this was my surprise favourite tipple of the evening. I love how stodgy some Indian desserts are and though this might have been too sweet for some, I would have happily had some extra fruity jam oozing over it. God knows where my sweet tooth has come from over the past few years, but I’m starting to feel like I’m more of a pudding than pasty girl!

We had a fabulous evening at Angeethi and will no doubt be back some more salmon soon. What’s your favourite beverage to have with a curry?

 

I have mixed views about chain restaurants – I don’t visit them very regularly simply because I like variety and I don’t believe in paying for something I could whip up easily at home. I’ve been called a food snob on more than one occasion due to my resistance to drop upwards of a tenner on work outings by visiting chain restaurants where I suspect the kitchens do more reheating than cooking.

I know other food enthusiasts are against chains in principle and I have read many posts about how chains stifle creativity, raise rents and make our cities look too similar. At the other side of the argument – chains provide jobs the same way independent restaurants do. I would love to see more protection in place so that we don’t end up with totally identical streets up and down the country, ones that give independents a better chance to flourish alongside good chains and stop smaller names being priced out of rent deals. I’m not about to pay someone a tenner for a meal they’ve merely defrosted and plated up but I don’t boycott chain restaurants completely either. Las Iguanas has long been my chain restaurant of choice when the occasion calls for it – it usually has options for vegetarian friends, the cocktail happy hour is great and service is usually good too. I’m pleased to say Jamie’s has now been added to the list of high street names that are really rather good at what they do.

We were recently invited to try the menu at Jamie’s Italian Newcastle. We received a discount on our meal but this review is a true reflection of our experience on what was a very busy Friday evening. We were greeted at the door and taken to our table by floor staff and introduced to our waitress who was able to explain the menu fully, recommend sides and managed to offer water for the table unprompted, all good so far. We dined early (around 6.30) so there were a fair few family groups in and I do suspect its with groups like these that Jamie’s really excels. I noticed the little touches such as flags on children’s ice creams that show that father Jamie has thought about little ones when putting this offering together.

I’m by no means a Jamie devotee but we do have a few of his cookbooks and my attempt at his Vodka Chilli Pasta remains a lasting and prominent memory for one of my former housemates (I went a bit crazy on the chilli). I’ve never really seen a Jamie Oliver recipe and thought “that sounds horrible”, in fact, when his perky face pops up on screen I’m usually drawn in, so it was to be expected that we found it quite difficult to narrow down our choices from the menu. In the end we selected crispy squid with crushed garlic mayo (£5.95) and Italian nachos (£3.95) to start and were impressed with what turned up at the table.

As you can see the portions were pretty generous considering the price. The garlic mayo was perhaps a little too potent (I was still tasting garlic hours later) and I would perhaps have liked a slightly crisper texture to the fried ravioli nachos but there was a lot to enjoy about this dish. A look around at the other diners confirmed that these portions were a fair representation of what everyone was being served. The place itself is huge, far bigger than I had realised but I found myself enjoying the buzz of the place – the lights and family friendly radio tunes meant the ambience was upbeat. And so, on to the mains.

I ordered the fish special – seabass with fennel, beetroot and carrots and under some duress from me, Steve chose a pizza (Italian Hot £12) and polenta chips. The surprising star was the polenta chips, I wish they weren’t so filling because they were also very more-ish, I’d eaten half a bowl without blinking. I do love rosemary though. All of the elements of Steve’s pizza tasted fresh and it had a good balance of sauce and cheese, it wasn’t at all greasy. Meanwhile, my seabass was a little overwhelmed by the olive oil it was dressed with (I’m still pretty sure Jamie has a personal sponsorship deal with the olive oil industry). I do like a crisp fish skin and that just wasn’t possible with the amount of oil and I’m probably a little more resistant to the stuff as a slimming world follower. The veg was cooked perfectly though and sat great alongside the fennel. In future I’d probably just ask the serving staff to hold off a little on any oil.

There’s a pretty decent drinks selection at Jamie’s – the boy stuck to Moretti, while I started off with a homemade lemonade, which was perfectly refreshing after a bit of rushing to make our reservation. By dessert I was ready to move onto something alcoholic and made a vague attempt to match my Florence Fizz cocktail (£6.95) with my Amalfi Lemon Meringue Cheesecake (£5.45). The Limoncello, pomegranate juice and elderflower fizz went really well with the soft meringue and curd. Sometimes I think the other half orders food because he knows I will like it – other times I know he orders it because I think I will like it (ahem) and I think his dessert choice of  Sour Cherry and Almond Tart (£5.45) was the former on this occasion. It was good but not quite as wonderful as my cheesecake, which I had to battle him a little to finish.

We were more than pleasantly surprised by Jamie’s – I think in terms of price points, they’ve got things right, I like what they have on the menu and there are a lot of deals you can access through membership to their gold club. Jamie’s is unlikely to become our favourite restaurant but it could well become a regular pre-drinks spot.

Have you been to a Jamie’s? What did you think? Do you steer clear of chain restaurants or do you think they have their place? I’d be interested to know how you feel about the topic so please do comment below.

 

Drinking in my 30s is proving to be a very different affair to that of my 20s. For a start, now I no longer live in the centre of a city a night out needs to be approached with military-style planning. I’ve learnt that failure to take this approach can end in unspeakable consequences that go beyond inconvenience. Secondly, I’m getting ever so fussy about what I’m willing to drink (potentially a result of living with a pro drinks mixer). All considered, when I go out now I like it to be a bit of an event, which means my recent invite to the re-launch of the Redwood Lounge at the Vermont Hotel in Newcastle was extremely welcome.

I’d never been to the Redwood Lounge before and must admit that having been to Livellos at the opposite side of the hotel, I was a little apprehensive. I needn’t have been, the Redwood Lounge has a much more relaxed and classier vibe and more importantly for my 31-year-old self, some incredibly comfortable leather sofas! On arrival we made our way to the bar and chose a cocktail from the new menu, I opted for a peach fume (beautifully smoky peach, not too sweet, not too dry) while the OH had a gin martini (he said it was well made and he does know about these things). We then sat ourselves down very comfortably to listen to the entertainment – a singer and guitar player. It’s always a pleasure to watch live music but even more so when you’re in a relaxed setting with a good cocktail in your hand.

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While watching the entertainment I spotted fellow blogger and ex colleague Sarah, who wrote about her experience of the night over on her blog Plain Sarah Jayne, she has a few more photos than I do as i again seem to have selected a spot with poor lighting (when will I learn), so I must admit I had to steal some of the Vermont’s own images for this post!

As part of the relaunch the management introduced the new menu, which includes a Gentleman’s afternoon tea. While I don’t strictly speaking think there’s any need for a his and hers (why should us ladies be deprived of pork pies and scotch eggs?) I thought it an impressive platter. My devotion to condiments is well documented, so I was pleased I had more than one relish, to um, relish.

IMG_7247I’ve heard good things about the Vermont’s other afternoon tea offerings, so it’s been added to the ever-extending ‘to eat’ list. I suspect we will make our way back for drinks first though – places like this with a pleasing cocktail menu and amenable seating arrangements that are a cut above are few and far between in the Toon. And though it’s not strictly a point for review, I can’t help but add the toilets are first class too. The Redwood Lounge is well positioned to accommodate more discerning drinkers, I just wish I didn’t have to climb so many stairs to reach it!