Chocolate, Cocktails and Christmas

Christmas seems to have crept up on me this year – but it’s a little like the Tesco Christmas advert…what starts off as a panic soon turns into excitement. I think we can all agree we need a little Christmas magic more than ever this year!

So, the Christmas lights switch on in Winchester came at just the right time. Winchester is always a beautiful sight but the high street really does look extra special in the build up to Christmas with the lights twinkling away.

After taking in the lights, my sister and I were lucky enough to have tickets to the perfect event to keep the festive feeling alive. We came in out of the cold to Winchester’s cosy little chocolate shop, Chococo, for an evening of special cocktails and sweet treats.

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Chococo-Late was a joint adventure from the Cabinet Rooms and Chococo and what a collaboration it was! Cocktail expertise and chocolate flavours were combined, with just a hint of Christmas thrown too.

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A warm mulled pear & ginger cocktail made with Gosling’s rum was my first tipple of the evening and it truly was Christmas in a cup! I also enjoyed the Chococo Russian and the Sublime Moment – both were beautifully presented and absolutely delicious.

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We tucked into Chococo’s milk, dark and white chocolate buttons as well as a warm chocolate brownie with cappuccino ice cream.  A decadent deluxe hot chocolate featuring cream, marshmallows and chocolate malt balls, also went down well on our table. We didn’t quite have room for the chocolate fondue on the menu but saw another table enjoying this and thought it looked amazing.

We left feeling warm, cosy and full of chocolate…but best of all, brimming with festive cheer. The countdown to Christmas has begun!

Thank you to the Cabinet Rooms and Chococo Winchester for a lovely evening. You can find out more about the brilliant foodie events from the Cabinet Rooms on their website.

Foodie Christmas Gift Guide

Well, with less than a month to go it’s time to start shopping! So, without further ado here’s some of my favourite foodie Christmas gift ideas this year…

Prestat Velvety Milk Chocolate Wafers with English Earl Grey Tea

Prestat

Earl Grey and chocolate wafers combined – what’s not to love? These delicate little treats are made by infusing Earl Grey tea in cocoa butter and adding bergamot oil. I love the beautiful packaging too, an indulgent stocking filler!

Joe & Seph’s Gourmet Popcorn – Glass Gift Jar

popcornThese guys make some fabulous varieties of popcorn including Mince Pie, Brandy Butter, Gin & Tonic, Gingerbread and lots more! A scrumptious treat for any foodie. What better accompaniment to a classic Christmas film than a jar filled with some festive flavoured popcorn?

Marmite Tea Pot

Marmite

I love all things Marmite and over the years have received some gorgeous Marmite gifts including Champagne infused Marmite, chocolate infused with Marmite (yes really) and some beautiful Marmite themed crockery and homewares. However I still can’t help finding this Marmite teapot rather lovely – perfect for those lazy weekend mornings with lots of tea and toast.

Char Teas

Char Teas

This wonderful shop in Winchester is filled with many wonderful varieties of loose leaf tea and you can spend quite a while choosing the perfect one. I think it’s always nice to give someone one of their classic Winchester blends such as Lady Winchester, Winchester Afternoon or Winchester Breakfast Tea. Of course there’s over 150 blends to choose from – so plenty of choice if you’re looking for something more unusual for a tea enthusiast.

Pair Of Mussel Eaters

Mussel EatersHow charming are these? These silver plated mussel eaters are a perfect gift for seafood lovers and a great buy for someone who has everything.  I think they’re quite simply adorable!

Plush Puffs Gourmet Marshmallows

Marshmallows

Another scrummy stocking filler, these posh marshmallows come in some delightful flavours including Mochaccino, Toasty Coconut and Luscious Lemony Meringue. Who could resist these little moorish fluffy bites?

Cath Kidston Mushroom Salt & Pepper Shakers

salt-and-pepper-shakerYou’ve got to admit these are pretty cute. There’s just something so magical and whimsical about mushrooms I think. These would surely be a lovely, quirky addition to anyone’s kitchen.

Personalised Christmas Pudding

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A traditional Christmas pudding personalised with your own message makes a perfect gift for your Christmas day hosts, or for someone who you wish you were spending Christmas day with.

Manuka Honey

Honey

Manuka honey is sweet, tasty and healthy, helping to boost your immune system at this time of year. A lovely little stocking filler for someone who likes something sweet on their toast.

I Could Eat A Horse Spaghetti Measurer 

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A super stocking filler for someone who has everything, or just loves things for the kitchen! This clever little gadget will measure out how much spaghetti you need for 4 people (or less people if they are hungry horses). It also will measure out a typical man, woman or child portion – pretty useful really!

VOM FASS Blood Orange Vodka

Vodka

I’ve not actually tried this but I want to! Who wouldn’t want to find this under the tree on Christmas day? The beautiful bottle and the bright, citrus-flavoured contents are sure to go down well!

Well, I do hope this eclectic mix of gift ideas has provided some festive inspiration for the foodie in your life. What are your favourite foodie gifts? I’d love to know of any other fabulous food and drink related things for Christmas so tweet, email or leave a comment for me with your suggestions!

Ultimate Afternoon Tea at Bettys…

I recently enjoyed a little pre-Christmas girly trip to York with my lovely mother and sister…and when in York there’s a certain tea room that’s a must visit – I’m talking about Bettys of course!

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Okay, so yes this place is a total tourist trap and there’s usually a substantial queue to get in, but if you embrace this and celebrate the fact that this tea room is a world famous attraction, you’ll have a fabulous time.  Essentially it’s like visiting one of London’s hot spots, whatever day or time you choose to go, there will usually always be plenty of others who had the same idea.

Three ladies full of festive cheer were certainly not going to let anything stand in the way of an afternoon tea at Bettys…feast your eyes on this…

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Mmmmm…do you want a closer look at that cake…?

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On to the tea! Being that it was almost Christmas I enjoyed a seasonal special, Bettys Spiced Christmas tea…

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A black tea with light notes of cinnamon, spices and citrus it was lovely both with and without milk.

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After ordering another round of tea and loading up with souvenirs and gifts to take back home we departed feeling full and happy. York’s a wonderful city to explore, especially in winter…cold, crisp air and beautiful buildings full of character and charm. I suppose in many ways it’s very similar to Winchester really, only larger and somehow grander, probably why it appeals to me so much. Here are a few of the trip’s highlight’s aside from the tea and cake fest at Bettys…

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During our trip the streets of York were host to a rather magical ice festival, with quirky works of art carved out of ice dotted around the cobbled streets. These were two of my favourites…

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I must say a huge thank you to my mum for making the trip happen, and to both my mother and sister for a wonderful time full of fun, food and laughter xXx

How many is too many roast potatoes?

Well for a family of four, the answer is this many…

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A huge plate full of my dad's amazing roast potatoes

These are my dad’s famous Christmas Day roast potatoes and fabulous though they were, I think this was the first year we didn’t manage to polish them all off! The remaining roasties didn’t go to waste though, they went very well in sandwiches and with cold meats the next day. I’m also a big fan of using them for a soup, along with the rest of the left overs from the big day and creating a lovely thick ‘roast dinner soup’. I love hearing about what other people do with their Christmas Day left overs – any unusual recipes…do let me know!

The big day itself was a wonderful occasion spent with my family, eating, drinking, gift giving and generally being merry. And aside from some transportation issues with a bit of bird cage/smart car drama, I couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas.

Thank you to my amazing family for a brilliant day, for welcoming my crazy parrot into your home and for all the fabulous gifts I received! A special shout out goes out to my Dad and his sublime Christmas Dinner – excellent as always!

xXx

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The festive spread

Feeling a bit like Santa…

This week has been so epically full of food…this must be how Santa feels on Christmas morning after gorging himself on a million mince pies the night before!

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It all started on Wednesday at an award ceremony in London’s The Grange St. Paul’s Hotel. After a nightmare journey and arriving 45 minutes late, the evening wasn’t off to a great start but somehow we were still able to consume all three courses of the meal on offer (oh the wonders of mass catering)…wait make that four courses if you count the lovely little Petit Fours at the end…

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I thought the Petit Fours might turn out to be the best bit of the evening, but no…Sue Perkins was hosting! She was witty and amusing as always and certainly made my evening – meeting her more than made up for not winning the award! A large wine afterwards helped too.

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The real tremendous day of eating came on Thursday when I enjoyed breakfast, lunch and dinner out. I began the day with a fabulous girly breakfast at Paul’s – a lovely french patisserie  in London and followed this with a ladies lunch also in London (I will add that I only ate a salad…), finally I rounded the day off with a dinner at Winchester’s Number 5 Bridge Street. Thankfully Number 5’s menu features a whole range of smaller dishes to enjoy, so I didn’t quite have to be rolled home!

And this weekend…well…I’ve shamefully had not one but two Subway sandwiches (dam it’s close proximity to my new home!), but also a lovely dinner at The Bugle Twyford and some hearty bread and mince pies from Winchester City Market.

I guess I’m just preparing my stomach for the indulgences of Christmas….? My tree’s up already, bring on the festivities!

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Dining at WestQuay – The Opening

If you’ve done your Christmas shopping already and paid a visit to WestQuay then you might have noticed some of it’s new eateries, including Pizza Express, Wagamama and Cafe Rouge, all ideal for a bit of retail relief and refuelling! The official opening of the new dining experience at WestQuay took place last Thursday, I went along to check out all the action (and free food!).

Nice bit of free blueberry cupcake from Delightful Cupcakes!

The highlight was front row seats to see Aldo Zilli cook up a three course meal…I never knew how simple it was to make pasta without a machine! I’ll definitely be giving homemade pasta more of a go after watching Aldo’s demonstration. He also highlighted just how much pasta is enough and how most of us use way too much! So that was a little bit of an eye opener! It was amazing to watch though, the dessert was my favourite…a yummy panettone with fruits and dessert wine – something I hope to dish up soon.

Aldo Zilli cooking up a storm!

The free samples from Millie’s Cookies, Dream Cupcakes and more were also fab, along with the chance to win a gorgeous retro fridge and year’s worth of lunches at WestQuay.

Thanks to the folks at WestQuay for the invite!

Festive Eating Continued…

It was a four day weekend for me this week, with plenty of festive foodie moments to savour. It’s just a lovely time of year for friends, family and food – and I’m making the most of it!

My Friday evening may sound a little sad but actually it was a dream, although I was home alone while Tom braved his work Christmas party, I had my own little Christmas party. A few mugs on Winter Pimms and some favourite films saw me through the evening after wrapping a heap of presents. It was also time to do the ‘Christmas Shop’ – you know…the excessive,  wildly indulgent, you’ll-never-eat-that-much, heart attack in a trolley festive food shop? Well I did mine online  with Ocado in an effort to be a little more conservative (didn’t go so well) – suffice to say I’ve now got an assortment of alcohol that would put any cocktail bar to shame – including Baileys Biscotti, Ameretto (for my new favourite – Ameretto and Cranberry – you must try it!), fruity red wines for more mulled wine, St. Peter’s ales and Kopperberg Fruit Ciders. I tried to be a little less spend-happy with the food, preferring to pick a lot of it up at the local farm shop and farmers market.

Time to be merry...

Saturday afternoon saw me repeating the festive food shopping experience, this time in a real supermarket with my little sister. We’re both spending Christmas Day with my parents and decided that as grown ups – we’d do the ‘nibble shop’ for my mum and dad. The trolley was laden with cheese straws, mince pies, Yule log, Christmas cake, nuts and lots of miniature food favourites – Christmas Day is going to be good!  Loose fitting clothes advised.

Hello festive food

Saturday evening I met with some good friends for mulled wine and other drinks and thoroughly good catch-up. With one friend staying the night at mine, we enjoyed a bit of Baileys Biscotti as nice night-cap – a lovely way to end the evening.

Ultimate night cap

I spent the next day braving the busy streets of Winchester, buying gifts from the art and design market and enjoying yet more mulled wine and some sweet crepes with a dear friend at the Christmas markets. We wandered till it was dark and our fingers froze before wishing each other a Merry Christmas and retreating to the warmth of home.

I couldn’t have asked for a better Sunday evening than dinner at The Black Rat with Tom. We haven’t been there for ages, but it’s always been amazing…and it didn’t disappoint!  Every course was deliciously interesting. I couldn’t begin to tell you exactly what I had in as much eloquent detail as the menu itself, but I had a delightful crab starter and monk fish with curried leeks for a main course – and of course cheese to finish…although I could have been tempted by almost all of the desserts on the menu. Needless to say the Black Rat is the foodie highlight of the week for me!

Possibly the best Sunday evening ever at The Black Rat...

That about rounds up this extended weekend’s eating really…all that’s left is to cook up a curry for tonight’s tea.

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