The SACO Kitchen Challenge

IMG_1390I was recently asked by SACO  if I would like to enter their SACO Kitchen Challenge competition.  For those who don’t know SACO, they are a serviced apartment provider offering serviced apartments for daily, weekly or monthly rent in over 40 countries world-wide offering a business or tourist a competitive alternative to a hotel room.

The challenge was to come up with a 2 course dinner menu costing no more than £20 total using only the equipment found in a SACO kitchen; how much better is that than a hotel room, a fully equipped kitchen to hand instead of a crappy kettle and small mini bar fridge?!  Below was the kitchen inventory list I was instructed I could work from:IMG_1387

So last Thursday McD and I stayed in for our date night and cooked our competition entry, Pea, Bacon & mint risotto followed by a Fresh Mint Brownie.  Resisting the urge to pop to Marks & Spencer or somewhere similar for their dine in for 2 £10 offers I popped to one of my nearest supermarkets, Waitrose and purchased the following:

1x Onion (14p)

Frozen Peas (£1.47)

Pack of Bacon (£2.99)

Risotto Rice (£1.23)

Chicken Stock (£1)

Pack of Fresh Mint (82p)

Salted Butter 250g (£1.10)

Parmesan Cheese (£1.59)

Caster Sugar (99p)

Plain Flour (60p)

Baking Powder (93p)

Cocoa Powder (£2.20)

6 eggs (£1)

White Wine Vinegar (£1.15)

Baking Paper (£2.25)

My total spend came to £19.46 and although my brief was to feed two, there was enough food purchased to comfortably feed 4 or even possibly 6 people!  I will not put the recipes into this post directly as nice to have them referenced in separate posts so please follow the links below for the two recipes I created:

Pea, Ham & Mint Risotto

Fresh Mint Chocolate Brownie

McD loved both the dishes, and claimed this meal definitely made it in to his top 10 home cooked meals of all time, obviously it is true, food is the way to a man’s heart ;)

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Pea, Ham & Mint Risotto

IMG_1379So my main meal for the SACO kitchen challenge is a Pea, Ham & Mint Rissoto, it is not the most amazing dish to look at and take photos of but I promise it is satisfyingly full of flavour and ridiculously easy to make.  The ingredients needed are:

A mug of risotto rice

A mug of frozen peas

packet of bacon cut up in to chunks

1 onion – chopped up

500ml of chicken stock

Parmesan cheese to season

Knob of butter to fry bacon and onion

bunch of fresh mint

Eggs & White wine vinegar (optional)

IMG_1377The method is incredibly easy, start by frying the bacon in a little of the butter, once cooked drain the fat from the frying pan and set the aside the bacon on a plate for later.

Next add a little more butter to the pan and fry the onions for a few minutes on a high heat, then pour the cup of risotto rice in to the frying pan and fry the onions and rice together for two minutes, ensuring you keep stirring the rice with a wooden spoon.

Add back the bacon and slowly add 1/4 of the chicken stock, with the temperature still on high keep stirring the rice so it doesn’t stick to the pan and wait for the stock to be absorbed into the rice, once absorbed and not much liquid is left in the pan repeat and another 1/4 of the chicken stock and stir until that is almost fully absorbed, then repeat for a third time.

Once the third quarter of chicken stock has been absorbed you can add the mug of peas along with the remaining 1/4 of chicken stock to the frying pan and continue stirring.

IMG_1378Risotto may be easy to make BUT it does require a lot of attention, you need to stir it continuously so it doesn’t stick to the pan and the rice absorbs as much flavour as possible, after all the chicken stock has been added pour in 500ml of boiled water and continue stirring the risotto on high heat.

Continue the stirring for 10-20 minutes, once most of the liquid has been absorbed and the rice tastes cooked the risotto is done.  Turn down the heat and stir in a generous portion of parmesan cheese and your finely chopped fresh mint, simply add as much or little as your taste requires.

IMG_1375-0A great way to serve the risotto is with a poached egg on top, so with the two spare eggs I had left over from my brownie recipe I poached two eggs in a small pan.  Once the eggs were poached I plated up the risotto and served immediately!  IMG_1380

Delicious, the egg was a great addition, try this recipe I promise you will not be disappointed, it may not look much visually, but I promise it tasted sublime!  A few more pictures that just don’t do it enough justice for you:IMG_1384

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Fresh Mint Chocolate Brownie

IMG_1368-0My dessert for the SACO Kitchen Challenge is an old favourite with a twist; Chocolate Brownies with fresh mint.  I thought the addition of fresh mint (which incidentally was left over from the my risotto recipe) would make the brownie taste a bit like an after eight, and hence be the perfect ending to our dinner – plus who doesn’t like chocolate?! The ingredients for this recipe are:

225g of plain flour

225g of salted butter

400g of caster sugar

60g of cocoa powder

4 eggs

1/2 teaspoon of baking powder

small bunch of fresh mint, finely chopped

Realising scales were not on the SACO kitchen inventory list I guesstimated the proportions above, for example the caster sugar was in a 500g packet so I left what looked like a 1/5th in the packet, likewise the flour was in a 500g packet so left just over 1/2 in the packet when I measured that out.

IMG_1374-0The method is so very easy, after pre heating the oven to 180 degrees celsius, start by creaming the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl.  Once creamed stir in the cocoa powder & fresh mint, next stir in one egg at a time, and finally stir in the flour & baking powder.

Once all the ingredients are fully mixed transfer the mixture into a baking tray lined with baking paper and cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes.IMG_1385

Once cooked take out of the oven and let cool before removing from the baking tray and cutting the brownie into slices.  Serve warm or cool, alone or with custard, cream or ice cream.  Enjoy :)

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4 Girls and a Boat…

IMG_1297Last week a few of my netball girls and couple of our male cheerleaders decided to spend a saturday afternoon on the River Thames, Sophie had booked us a small boat for 6 people through Ditton Cruisers & Harts Cruisers based at Taggs Boatyard in Thames Ditton.  It was easy to get to just a 20 minute train ride direct from Clapham Junction to Thames Ditton, followed by a short walk to the river.  The boat hire cost was £110 for a half day of 4 hours, working out at £18.33 each, not a bad price for spending the afternoon on the river.

If you don’t have any formal boating experience or a license you can only hire a 6-person boat, but there are larger options if you have your RYA powerboat level 2 certificate or proof of something similar.  Once we arrived at the boat yard we signed in, left a cash deposit and was shown to our boat, and after a very quick introduction we were sent off alone to explore the river.

IMG_1298IMG_1299IMG_1300IMG_1302Coming from London we decided to head in the direction further away from London, we sailed past Hampton Court Palace and up to Sunbury on Thames.  We started off letting the boys drive whilst of course the girls played… but it wasn’t long until equality prevailed and the roles were reversed.

IMG_1303IMG_1304IMG_1313IMG_1314Having prepared for being on the boat the whole afternoon we each bought some bubbles and food for a picnic as well as portable speakers so we could play some good tunes whilst taking in the sights from our boat.

It was such a nice afternoon with good friends, at times we were so absorbed in our gossip and chat we forgot we were on a boat, well until who ever was driving made an erratic steering choice which caused the occasional food or drink to be spilled.

IMG_1307IMG_1308IMG_1305IMG_1306As you can imagine, four very excitable netball girls meant the bubbles didn’t last too long so when the opportunity arose we stopped a couple of times at a few pubs with moorings outside to refuel and make use of their facilities.

IMG_1316IMG_1315IMG_1317This part of the river Thames was very scenic and diverse, as you can see from the two photos below one second you could be passing a magnificent riverside home and the next a boat graveyard, definitely worth exploring if you haven’t done so already.

IMG_1312IMG_1310It was such a fun afternoon out and thoroughly recommend it to anyone looking for something different to do in London, I certainly will be going back again… in fact McD and I were so hooked we have gone and booked on a RYA level 2 powerboat course so we can hire a bigger boat next time, or maybe if I get my own way, we will buy our very own boat to cruise the Thames on!

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Wedding Jewels

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So the finale to my 3 weddings in 7 days was a pretty spectacular big fat greek wedding at The Dorchester, London… I had to break out my old faithful Gold Jigsaw dress, I don’t love wearing the same dress twice but I have a personal rule if you are going to an event that everyone in attendance hasn’t actually seen the dress then it’s perfectly fine to wear it again, of course to try to make this special you need to accessorise it differently.

I accessorised my dress with the diamond earrings McD bought me for my birthday, an amazing necklace from Zara, I bought this when I was in Lisbon, I haven’t seen it in the UK but its colours are so dreamy and perfect for me. I finished the look off with a vintage black opal cluster diamond ring and nude court shoes.

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The wedding was so much fun, the bride Natasha looked amazing in her fairytale gown and the grand ballroom of the Dorchester just left me and McD speechless.  Their wedding band, The Gilev Showband had some serious stamina, they played non stop from when we entered the room until carriages at 1am!  McD and I lasted the whole night on the dance floor, it’s amazing how much effort you go to to look good for a wedding, but by the end of the night your hair is always a mess, make up has faded and your dress a little creased but strangely enough it is these pictures at the end of the night after the fun times that I cherish thanks to the memories created to get to that point, rather than the posed ones of you looking perfectly turned out at the beginning.

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Body Shop Hair Chalk

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I absolutely love body shop makeup – see here my review on their mascara!!!  So when I discovered their coloured hair chalk I couldn’t resist buying it and giving it a try.  My first impressions were really good; it’s affordable (only £5) and easy to apply; simply rub your hair along the pot and it picks up the colour, you will need to set with hairspray and wash your hands after.

I found with my brunette hair the blue showed up a lot better than the pink, but the pink looked awesome on my friend’s blonde hair.  This is only chalk on your hair remember so don’t be surprised when if your hair rubs against your skin or clothes and a little chalk will transfer over.

I mentioned already I recently had 3 weddings in 7 days so to mix it up a bit I tried these pots as part of my wedding hair, for one of the weddings I was an evening guest and chose to wear a black dress with a pink print kimono so decided pink tips would suit it perfectly, the pink was actually quite subtle as you can see in the photo below but maybe that was a good thing?

IMG_0995Another wedding I attended I had a gold dress with a blue swirl so thought I could dye individual waves blue to add a bit of contrast to the hair, and as you can see from the photo below it applied really well first thing, but unfortunately that was as good as it was going to get.

IMG_0993By the time I had got to the church it had faded significantly and lost its vibrancy, it even began to react with the lighter shades of my hair and give me green tinted ends, which was embarrassingly asked about by a few wedding guests, the photo below was taken after the church service on the way to the reception, if you look you can make out a blue/green tint at the ends of my hair but not the bright defining streaks I had added in the morning.

So what’s my verdict???  Give it a miss, it’s a great gimmick but doesn’t really hold and transfers too easily off on to your skin and clothes, I imagine it would be great on a photo shoot but for everyday use I just don’t think it works.

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Debbie Does… The Old Crown

IMG_0996I am ashamed to have to write that I would not have known about this pub if it wasn’t for their darling PR company writing to inform me of their existence and inviting me down to review some dishes from their menu.  Now I am quite a lazy blogger but The Old Crown is actually a very short walk away from The British Museum (corner of Museum Street & New Oxford Street), somewhere I had already planned to visit so I thought I could combine the two visits, and as you read on you’ll understand why I now would recommend everyone should find an excuse to visit this quaint little pub too.

We arrived just after lunch and found they had reserved me a table big enough to hold court, unfortunately it was just McD and me but after reading the menu we wished we had more people with us so we could have ordered more food and tried more of their amazing sounding dishes.  Immediately the “You’re pulling my pigs legs” dish stood out to me; pulled pork, baked beans and hand cut chips, what could satisfy a hangover any better?  We were told the burgers are amazing here too so we took our server’s suggestion and opted for the Philly Cheese Steak Burger to try.

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Whilst waiting for the food to come out we took in the great pub atmosphere listening to their jazzy soulful background music; The Old Crown is furnished with wooden tables, well-worn seats and fairy lights giving an overall nice rustic quirky pub feel.

Whilst watching other tables receive their food orders McD and I suffered serious remorse over our choices; we spotted an epic looking hot dog and some tasty looking chicken wings but before we could salivate too much over the other diners’ choices, we too were blown away with presentation and awesomeness of our choice.

IMG_1002IMG_1001IMG_0999I loved the presentation of the BBQ pork in a brown box, the hand cut chips at the bottom were smothered with juicy BBQ pulled pork and tasty boston beans… heaven in a box.  The Burger not only looked immense, it tasted immense too… it had the right mix of cheese and spice, McD thought the patty meat could have been seasoned a little more but as a themed burger it hit the right spot for both of us.

Not that we could fit any desert in, but I was shocked to learn that there was no desert menu, their amazing American style BBQ menu really would be complimented by a dessert offering of warm brownies, homemade fruit pies or ice cream.  We visited on a sunday and there was no sunday roast option too, which might disappoint some people but with so much awesomeness to taste on their menu save the sunday roast for your home ;)

Feeling guilty that we didn’t have to pay for this meal I left a generous tip to our servers and headed home knowing I will certainly be coming back again to The Old Crown as a paying customer.  Now before I leave you here is a shot of their mighty Philly Cheese Steak Burger again, enjoy the #BurgerPorn

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The British Museum

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Can you believe having lived in and around London all my life, I only just got around to visiting The British Museum for the first time this past Sunday!?!  I am so ashamed and definitely plan to head back there more often in the future.  The reason for McD and my visit was to check out an exhibition they currently have on, called Ancient Lives, it’s a look in to the story of 8 very different lives told through the discovery of their mummies, you can’t take photos in the exhibition but the website goes into a lot of detail if you are interested, it was well worth the £10 adult ticket to see it but if you didn’t want to pay £10 there are plenty of free exhibits to see in the museum too.

If the artifacts inside the museum aren’t your cup of tea it is well worth going once just to see the grandeur of the building and modern design of the Great Court roof.

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After the exhibition McD & I headed straight over to see the Rosetta Stone, probably one of the museum’s most famous and important artifacts, after a few minutes of battling the tourists to get a close up glimpse we decided to explore more of the Egyptian artifacts, you probably knew this already but The British Musuem has the most comprehensive collection of Egyptian antiquities outside of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

The selfie of McD and I below was with a Green siltstone head of Pharaoh, 26th – 30th Dynasty, 600-340 BC!!!! Below our selfie are snaps I took of various busts and statues of Rameses II and Amenhotep, it was mind blowingly surreal when you think how many years ago these statues were created and what life must have been like back then.

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Below is a peak of what I wore to the museum… it was a sunday hangover kind of day so I just threw on my Dr Denim jeans and Villa jumper from last year, accessorising with my classic Chanel handbag, gold Louis Vuitton scarf and my new look flats… which were not a wise choice, we did so much walking I wish I had worn converse or trainers!

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IMG_1016It was such a great afternoon, not only had McD and I learnt quite a lot from the exhibits we had also reignited a lost love of exploring London… watch this space for plenty more “I have lived in london x years and I can’t belive it’s taken me this long to discover…” blog posts ;)

Having worked up quite an appetite we left the museum to dine at this amazing gastro-pub called The Old Crown, it was just a short stroll away, but more about that in my next post!

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Netball Girls Gone Wild

IMG_0826Last week after a stressful afternoon at a board meeting, yes I do work sometimes ;) I rushed back to town to meet some of my favourite netball girls for a night out in Balham… I know that’s twice in a week I ended up in Balham for a night out (see Lamberts post).  Our night started in Be At One with happy hour and quite a few Pornstar Martinis, it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out how our night ended…

IMG_0827Sophie organised this night out and she called time after about our 5th / 6th cocktail and led us to The Paddyfield, a BYOB Thai & Vietnamese restaurant, I can’t find a website link to share with you but it was really nothing to write home about… huge portions and average tasting food but it was perfect for what we needed, sustenance and catch up time before we hit our final spot of the night!

IMG_0828IMG_0834IMG_0835After dinner we walked in a not so straight line to the Three Moneys Bar, where Sophie had booked us the Monkey Lounge, a private karaoke room; many photos and videos of the night were taken and shamefully shared amongst us all the next morning, but most were unfortunately not suitable for public display.  I highly recommend booking the Monkey Lounge if you are ever in need of a karaoke night or private drinking den in Balham, it wasn’t expensive and was extremely entertaining.  So there you have it another great night out spent in Balham… maybe I need to think about moving there?!

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The perfect wedding guest dress?

IMG_0701This past weekend I had two weddings to go to, and with another one this coming saturday I was panicking a lot about what to wear… I have a trusty wedding dress I blogged about before but I couldn’t wear this to all three weddings so last week I was on a desperate hunt for a new wedding dress.

Finding a dress is particularly hard at the moment, even though McD and I have been together for over a year and half I am still blaming my weight gain on our “happy weight”  but this happy weight isn’t very happy when I have no dress to wear and feel fat and frumpy in any new dress I try on.  Having exhausted the postman with my endless ASOS deliveries in search of the perfect wedding guest dress I turned to the high street and last Friday found myself in Debenhams, where I found the one:

IMG_0694On the hanger I thought it looked too old for me and a bit mumsy but being desperate at this point I added it to my pile of dresses to try on hoping it would look better off the hanger and on me.  This fit and flare Coast dress fitted me like a glove and the colours meant I could pretty much match any of my accessories to it.  It’s a Debenhams exclusive and a little pricey for a dress I hope to not fit into by December but looking good on McD’s arm at his friend’s wedding meant it was worth it.  I thought it was worth sharing this dress on my blog in case anyone else is on a drastic search for the perfect dress too.

IMG_0700My hair was done using my Babylis waving wand which I shared this instructional video with you all before and I accessorised the dress with black heels, a blue blazer I bought last year from ASOS, my trusty Chanel bag and a very handsome McD ;)  I paid a small fortune for my Chanel bag but you could hire one at a more reasonable cost for a wedding or special occassion from my very own business if you wanted…www.TheBorrowersClub.com

The wedding was so much fun too, thank you Matt & Carina… you both looked fabulous; your venue was outstanding, the food was amazing and as for your wedding band – well, I blame them for the sore feet I had the next day from all the dancing I did to their music ;)

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