Pizza Express, Didsbury (review) 

Hot on the heels of our review of the flaming hot Etna pizza with Pizza Express/Deliveroo, we were invited back to Pizza Express in Didsbury, Manchester this weekend to sample their new Autumn menu.

The new Autumn menu includes some much loved PizzaExpress classics, including the Rustichella Romana, Basilicata Romana and Cannelloni.  AND – the new melting Chocolate Fondant.  

Pizza express Didsbury
Our local restaurant is just around the corner from us, so we enjoyed a lovely autumn walk on the way there. Pizza Express restaurants are always a good family choice, as they are great with the children meaning the olds can have a relaxed meal while they’re entertained with colouring and activity sheets and crayons. 

The kids menu is really reasonable: 3 courses for £6.45.  Our excited girls had the dough balls which came with an inviting pot of garlic butter and a separate pot of vegetable sticks. 

They then had their own mini pizzas (1 la reine with olives, ham and mushrooms, and 1 marguerita).  They loved these and got to take the remainder back home (in their own ‘special box’, no less). 

For pudding, they were delighted to tuck into chocolate brownies and a bambiccino – a nice touch which was thrilling for them!

Pizza express Didsbury

Onto the adults, where we were trying out the hearty Autumn menu.  We each had the mozzarella and tomato salad to start which was refreshing and light enough to make room for the mains.  My husband had the Basilicata Romana which was topped with lamb, mint and chilli meatballs.  I had the Canneloni, stuffed with spinach annd ricotta and topped with loads more cheese and a delicious tomato sauce. Both were really tasty – and filling!

Despite this, we still managed to squeeze in pudding.  We just had to try the melting chocolate fondant.  It was soooo nice! All warm, melty, chocolatey gooiness.

We enjoyed or lunch at Pizza Express.  It’s a great local family-friendly restaurant for us and we’ll definitely be returning. 

Disclaimer: We were invited to try the Autumn menu at Pizza Express free of charge.  All opinions are our own. 

Flaming hot pizza with Pizza Express & Deliveroo

We love hot food here in the Expression household.  The hotter the better for my husband and I – plus our girls (now aged 6 and 4) got used to a bit of spice in their food from an early age. 

What else is a favourite? Pizza of course! What family doesn’t love a cosy Saturday evening in with a big fat pizza? Even better, a big, fat, HOT and SPICY pizza? 

This is exactly what we did last night.  Strictly was on TV (yes, after years of holding off our 6 year old is now smitten with the sequinned, spinning wonders parading before us) and we ordered the Pizza Express Etna pizza which is currently available via the Deliveroo app or site. 

Apparently, Pizza Express fans have been clamouring for the return of the flaming hot Etna pizza recipe, which was removed last year. It’s now back – exclusively via Deliveroo. 

The pizza contains spicy ‘nduja sausage paired with sweet and spicy roquito chilli peppers.  We added the Romana base (bigger, nice and thin) and also a side of formaggi dough balls. 

Pizza Express Etna deliveroo
I forgot to mention that wine was also involved

I can report that this was a big hit with the family. I was variously told “nice sausage”, “hmmm, spicy” and “hmmm, melting cheese!”

The deliveroo service is also really handy for those evenings when you just can’t be bothered to go out and yet would still like restaurant quality food.  We’ve used deliveroo quite a few times, for local independent restaurants as well as the larger chains such as Pizza Express.  Our pizza arrived within 30 minutes, nice and hot and delivered by a very friendly chap. 

The Etna recipe  is exclusively available for customers to order by logging on to the Deliveroo mobile app, the Deliveroo website or the Pizza Express website. 

Disclosure:  We were invited to try the exclusive Etna recipe free of charge.  All opinions are our own. 

A perfect Father’s Day bacon butty

 perfect bacon sandwichFather’s Day is once again upon us and my 4 year old and 2 year old daughters are looking forward to treating their beloved Daddy.  Just earlier today we took a trip to our local shops to buy some pressies (shhhhh we can’t say what they are) and they’ve also made some very creative cards.

However, this is by no means the main event of this coming Sunday.  What they’re really looking forward to is presenting Daddy with breakfast in bed, featuring THE PERFECT BACON SANDWICH.

I’m a vegetarian myself and have never understood bacon-worship. However I understand it’s the best treat ever on a Sunday morning for most meat eaters.  My daughters and husband (actually the rest of our wider family too- so just me, then) love it.

I did a bit of research and here are what I think are the ingredients for the perfect bacon-butty:

  • Two slices of soft and fluffy white bread, such as this delicious specimen from Roberts Bakery.
  • Some unsalted butter, softened 
  • Pack of unsmoked back bacon
  • Smidgen of tomato ketchup 

My husband likes the bacon crispy, but not too crispy, which is quite a difficult feat for a vegetarian who doesn’t really know what she’s doing with bacon. However, I always give it a good go and mainly get it right.

It also important to note that the perfect bacon sandwich is purist- no lettuce, tomato, egg or other nonsense. Pure bacon. 

Let’s hope I get it right this Father’s Day and it starts with the bacon sandwich from heaven! Check out the Roberts Bakery guide to the perfect bacon sandwich

Disclosure: I was sent a breakfast in bed goodie bag in return for this post.  All opinions expressed are my own.

School holiday activities: Home Community Cafe, Didsbury

 home community cafe didsbury  All local parents wondering what on earth they’re going to do with the kids during half-term, may I introduce you to Home Community Cafe, recently opened at the front of Emmanuel Church on Barlow Moor Road, Didsbury.

I was excited to hear about this new venture – an independent, not-for-profit café for all the community in Didsbury, run by volunteer ‘Home Makers’. Crucially for me, with two girls aged 4 and 2, families are not only welcome here but are actively and very warmly provided for. As Hannah, Home’s Creative Director says, “We want children to know that at Home they are not an afterthought, but little stars in our community constellation!”

This café is whole-family-focused: the combination of a great ‘mini café’ children’s section together with a brilliant children’s menu (check out the ‘Little Homies’ collection plate which is served in a bun tray, different items in each section – my two girls love it!) means I can sit ever-so-slightly apart from them, get a massive piece of gorgeous cake and an even larger cup of Tank Coffee and chill out. An event which is often unheard of for busy parents – particularly mums of very inquisitive and lively preschool girls! 

The mini café is one of the best places I’ve encountered – perhaps rather selfishly due to the relaxation effect on myself. There’s a really lovely selection of toys – for example a toy kitchen with pretend food and utensils so young children can indulge their penchant for role play to their heart’s content. They also have their own small tables and chairs to sit and eat their food (it’s really cute to watch them sat here!). The volunteers will happily heat baby food and drink, and the café is breastfeeding-friendly, with cushions and comfy sofas.

Note: for those looking for activities during term-time, too – Home café is currently running a Lego club for all ages on Thursdays from 3pm, with more after-school clubs planned for the future. The café also hosts a free Youth Café on Friday evenings for Years 6-11 and a story time session for preschoolers on Wednesday mornings.

Delicious coffee aside (my regular readers will note that coffee is a big part of my life), I’ve sampled lunch here which is quite different and something special. This is because there’s something new every day. Last week, I sampled an Asparagus, Pea and Mint tart with salad which was amazing. The week before I couldn’t resist the Sicilian Caponata made with aubergine and mozzarella. A quick check of their Facebook page tells me that today’s special is Wild Rice, Pear and Fennel salad (but I’m at work – boo!!). There’s a great selection of home-made cakes, too – check out the Bakewell Tart and you won’t be disappointed! Offerings change daily, but there’s also the regulars – the Collection Plate, for example is like an upcycled Ploughman’s lunch with lots of hummus, cheese, freshly baked bread and salad. Take a look at a sample menu here. home community cafe didsbury

 I know there’ll be many of you wanting to try somewhere new with the kids this coming half-term: give it a try, if only to give yourself a break between activities while your kids are happily at Home.

Home café is open Wednesdays-Fridays 10:30am-6pm, situated at the front of Emmanuel Church on Barlow Moor Road. Keep up-to-date with events and activities on their Facebook page, website or follow them on Twitter.

A dinner party for grown ups

This post is well overdue, as the dinner party in question took place over the Christmas period. Where has the time gone already? How is it February?

Anyway, to the point. I held a dinner party for grown ups. No kids. No trying to talk over screams of “I want more sausage!” or trying not to look exasperated in front of others when a plastic plate gets pushed onto the floor for the 86th time.

Not an iota of child presence. Or at least this is how I planned it to be. However my eldest, now four, made her presence felt in a most unusual way.

I’d decided a while back that it was high time I held a dinner party. It was getting mildly embarrassing thinking of how many we’d been to without reciprocating. What put me off, then? Tiredness and lack of energy I guess – a dinner party on top of the week’s usual shopping and meal planning?!

Yet things have got a bit more normal of late, so I got out the Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay much-neglected books and started menu planning.

The menu:
– pre-dinner cocktail (Mr EC made these – Cointreau, clementine juice and prosecco). Pleasingly lethal.
– Jamie’s Spiced Parsnip Soup
– Gordon’s Beef Wellington.
– Jamie’s Chocolate Torte.

All preparation and cooking went very well, probably because Mr EC was around to deal with preschooler-interruption tactics.

I was well prepared…and so the evening began.

My guests arrived and amazingly both my girls were in bed. I breathed a sigh of relief, until the eldest appeared at the stair gate.

“Can I just come and say hello, Mummy?”

“Oh, ok then.”

She came to say hello to my guests. She tried it on a little, wanting to stay up, but then went to bed and all was quiet again.

We got started on the cocktails, which were very, very nice. I did think I could hear the flutterings of tiny feet upstairs, but decided ignoring it was the best possible option. I made the final touches to the soup course and invited my guests to kindly exit the lounge and make their way to our candlelit dining room.

To be greeted with this on the stairs:

Toilet roll decor
Attractive toilet roll decor – a little avant le dîner amusement, anyone?

So, not to be content with being sent upstairs to bed, my 4-year-old had been busying herself making us a little decoration. With toilet roll delicately placed on several bannister legs, all topped off with one big, smelly bed sock.

And no sign of her. She was asleep by then.

It was quite sweet, really. I honestly am trying not to don’t think it was a dirty protest. More a little surprise for our guests of her own individual making.

The evening went well and I can recommend ‘proper’ dinner parties for all parents – especially if you’ve got a budding Junior Fritz in your home.

Beef Wellington Gordon Ramsay
Beef Welly. Gordon Ramsay style. Proper food (if you eat meat – otherwise stick to cheese).
Primark giraffe onesie

Christmas items I can’t live without

Day 4 of #blogmas and I’m reflecting on those items that are essential for me at Christmas. They are mainly food and drink related, with the odd onesie thrown in.

    • Mulled wine. Warming, comforting…and it contains alcohol! A perfect and most ingenious combination. It also makes your house smell nice if you gently warm some on the hob.
    • Warm mince pies with cream. Another brilliant combination, a warmed mince pie with double cream is sooooo nice. I have this lots at Christmas time. It’s a wonder that I don’t look like, to quote a Lancashire phrase, a ‘house side’.
    • Camembert cheese (a whole one). I’m a vegetarian. Vegetarians are generally a healthy bunch. Which is why at the Christmas dinner table you will find me eating a whole baked Camembert whilst everyone else eats their lean turkey.
    • Limoncello. Curveball. For some reason, I’ve got into the habit of drinking limoncello quite a lot around Christmas time. Maybe it’s because I tend to eat a lot and I believe this is an excellent digestif.
    • Sherry. Just realised the alcoholic theme going on here. I only drink sherry at Christmas but I love it. It’s certainly not a drink just for Grandmas – it’s lovely and we haven’t got any in *writes note in calendar to buy some tomorrow*.
Primark giraffe onesie
I have never looked better
  • Primark onesie. For some reason the cold, dark weeks leading up to Christmas bring out a tremendous urge in me to wear a onesie. It’s not something I’d want to spend a lot of money on, which is just as well as Primark do a surprisingly varied range.
  • Comfortable pair of slippers. I am 38 after all, which means I may as well give in and wear tweed slippers as much as possible. Actually mine are purple and fuzzy and very comfortable to pad around the house in, fetching more mulled wine and ensuring my camembert is in the oven.
  • Naf Christmas films to watch. Christmas is also a time to switch your brain off (once the Christmas shopping is over, that is). A naf film is the ultimate in Christmas meditation. Take ‘Elf’, for example. It didn’t win any oscars, but it’s mindless and Christmassy and a bit funny in parts. Brilliant.
  • Christmas pudding.  Not everyone likes Christmas pudding, but I do and my Christmas dinner wouldn’t be the same without it. In fact I may buy myself a couple of individual ones to have on my own, before the big day.
  • Sprouts. I’m also the humble sprout’s biggest fan. I keep a bag of them in the freezer all year round and have them with cheese on top. Sprouts dipped in baked Camembert for Christmas dinner is amazing.
  • Happy children. Of course the most essential Christmas items for me are my lovely, happy girls, excitedly sprinkling fairy dust on Christmas Eve and rooting through their stockings on Christmas morning.

 

Happy christmas children
What are your favourite Christmas items? I’d love to hear!

Favourite family Christmas traditions

Putting the angel on the christmas tree I’ve decided to participate in #blogmas14, which means I’ll be subjecting you all to a post a day during the 25 days of Christmas. They’ll be mainly Christmas-related of course, but I warn you that from time to time I may think “BORED” and write some complete nonsense.

So – day 3.  I thought I would write about our favourite family Christmas traditions.

My two girls are only 4 and 2 so our own little traditions are still emerging. But here are a few that we love:

Putting the angel on the tree

Yes, having said this is a favourite tradition, I totally forgot to take a photo of this epic moment this year.  So see last year’s photo, above!  The tree is a source of great excitement for my two – the choosing of it is undertaken by the girls and Daddy in a most diligent and exacting way, with careful consideration of the size and position of branches and the bulk of the needles.  This is even the case upon buying a fake tree, which we decided to do this year.  Then it’s the decorating, which includes handmade decorations by the girls and usually a decoration each that they’ve chosen from the fantastic display at the local garden centre.  And, after the girls have gone to bed, I dutifully move most of the decorations from the bottom third of the tree to the completely bare upper two-thirds.

The angel is the best bit, although I’m usually on pins as Daddy ascends the step-ladder, relevant girl in his arms to enable her to place it.  And voila!

Our cloth advent mouseAdvent Mouse

Most families will have advent calendars containing a chocolate per day – we have a cloth advent mouse with chocolate and small toys each day.  We have a very creative family member (i.e. not me) who made this for us and the girls are so excited to see what’s inside the pocket each morning.

New pyjamas on Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve is a time for cozying up, drinking mulled wine (adults only – ‘spiced ribena’ for the girls) and opening new PJs bought for each other. Or matching nighties in the case of my two, one of which has refused to wear trousers since she was 18 months old and that includes pyjama trousers. In the past few years, we’ve only bought these for our girls, but this year I’m extending it to the olds. We are each tasked with finding a suitable pair of PJs for the other. These are a pair of potentials for me.

Sprout stalk
Unexpected vegetable recipes

Let’s face it, the actual Christmas dinner can be dull. It’s basically a spruced up roast – there’s just more of it and it’s turkey instead of chicken. I like to spice it up a little with an unexpected vegetable side dish. Sometimes it falls flat on its face, and sometimes it’s a hit – but it’s a talking point either way. Last year’s was the ‘roasted sprout stalk’ which received mixed feedback (about half positive, half “wtf?”) and the year before some unusual butternut squash effort which one family member actually asked to take home seconds of. Undecided on this year’s (please leave any ideas below!).

So those are just a few of our own little traditions.  Obviously we do the usual stockings, present opening and general ridiculous amounts of eating and drinking.  What are your own family traditions?

An evening of bloggers and decadence with Co-operative food

number 1 Angel Place, Manchester
Was I actually in the future?

On Friday evening I was transported into the future by shape-shifting aliens who had the knowledge of worm-hole technology…ok not really. But I was at Number 1 Angel Place, the Manchester home of Co-operative Food and that was just as good.

What happens when you put a load of north-west bloggers who don’t get to see each other that often in a room with copious amount of sugar and prosecco? I would tell you the answer, but I may have to kill you. Let’s just say that it involved sending tweets to someone sat less than 1 yard from me saying “I’M BEHIND YOU!” and discussions on just how many glasses of prosecco we could nail in half an hour (in the end, the weary waiter didn’t even bother asking and just topped us up).

We did also try out some of the Co-op’s new range of  Christmas wares, watch a cooking demonstration of some of their new desserts and listen to some incredible bloggers, such as the gorgeous Jo Middleton of Slummy Single Mummy and Jordan McDowell of fashionrambler.com. And eat cheese and biscuits. Lots of it.

Co-operative Food Christmas
Chilli Brownies, how I love thee

During the cooking demonstration, we had the opportunity to try some delicious new desserts and snacks, including different flavours of popcorn and different types of brownies. My absolute favourite of these were the chilli brownies. I’m a big fan of chilli – and these had a real kick which you didn’t realise was there until roughly 30 seconds after eating them. Amazing.

The room was dotted with the Co-op’s latest range of Christmas goodies, including a Christmas Chocolate Toolbox which I thought would make a great stocking filler for my little ones.  The Champagne Truffles also looked particularly delectable and would make a great after-dinner coffee accompaniment on Christmas Day (MINE! ALL MINE!!).

I was generally impressed with their range of cakes and desserts, too, which obviously I ate a lot of during the evening (I was going straight out for a meal afterwards, too – Fatty Expression and Confession).  The flower-topped cupcakes were really lovely, and my two girls tried the marshmallow-topped chocolate cupcakes and loved them.

Co-operative Food Christmas
Co-operative Food Christmas wares…

The talks.  I did listen, honest.  To some of it.  I didn’t talk all the way through and top up my glass at all.  I certainly did not tweet @TheCooperative “what do you call a fly with no wings? A walk”.  That didn’t happen.  Or maybe it did in shape-shifting alien world, but in the real world, I was a picture of decorum, happily jotting down notes and making a useful task list which would aid the development of my blog in the future.

The one thing that did register in my mind was one of Jo Middleton’s 16 questions:  “why did you start this blog in the first place?”.  That’s one I’ll be reflecting on.  I’ve been blogging for nearly 2 years and it will be a good exercise for me to think about what I’m actually doing for once refresh my intentions regarding my blog.

This was a great event for bloggers in the North West and a great chance to try some good quality food.  We do often shop for bits and pieces at the Co-operative.  It’s handy as there’s a couple of stores in our area and I find them accessible – I wouldn’t do my full weekly shop there but definitely a ‘top up’ shop.  I’ll be more interested in their Christmas ranges and desserts in the future.

Disclaimer:  I was invited to this event by Co-operative Food but was under no obligation to write this review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Me and the lovely HodgePodgeDays (www.hodgepodgedays.co.uk), We don't always look like this.  Honest.
Me and the lovely HodgePodgeDays (www.hodgepodgedays.co.uk), We don’t always look like this. Honest.

Festive mornings with Big Cup Little Cup Coffee (and discount code folks!)

Big Cup Little Cup Coffee Pods What would we do without coffee? I love a great cup of coffee in the morning (or afternoon, or evening) and I’ve frequently written about this major driving force in my life on my blog (I also frequently talk about coffee, and frequently order a coffee as my friends know too well).

Whether it’s a lazy Sunday morning or a frantic, dashing around weekday before doing the school run and getting to work, coffee is definitely the thing that perks me up, is comforting and gives me a boost.

We’re into festive season now. The shops have their Christmas wares on show, Christmas adverts are on the TV, people keep asking “what are you doing for Christmas, this year?” and it can all serve to send you into a bit of a panic.

Coffee is the saviour. If in doubt, hide behind a cup of coffee and all problems are miraculously solved (well, maybe not but you’ll feel better).

I was recently introduced to CafePod’s sister brand of Nespresso compatible capsules, Big Cup Little Cup, which was very welcome to be honest.

Big Cup Little Cup Coffee Pods
Hmmmm…lovely expresso

I was lucky enough to try their limited edition seasonal blend Reindeer Rocket which is a full bodied lungo coffee, graded at strength 9 – perfect for warming you up on a cold, winter morning.  The guys at Big Cup Little Cup also kindly provided the following tasting notes for the coffee:

Reindeer Rocket is a limited edition rich coffee with an intense flavour. Arabica beans from Southern Brazil and Central America and Southern Indian Robusta beans create a powerful and bold coffee with flavour of dark chocolate and chestnut that lingers with a sweet, smoky finish on the palate.

Both my husband and I enjoyed this coffee (he was very impressed when I surprised him with a cup using our new ‘for special’ owl cups) and it’s intense, warming flavour. It’s the coffee I intend to serve for guests over the festive period.

If you fancy trying it for yourself, I have a 15% discount code to offer my readers for their first orders. Just enter EXPRESS15 at the online checkout.

Disclaimer: I was sent some Big Cup Little Cup Nespresso Compatible Capsules (Reindeer Rocket blend) to try for the purposes of this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Oi1 Extra Virgin Olive Oil (review)

Oi1 Extra Virgin Olive Oil

We tend to cook most things from scratch here in the Expression Confession household (cheese strings aside) and that means cooking with oils, which we use for frying, braising, roasting or dressing.

Recently the lovely folks at Candiasoil sent me a lovely tub of Oi1 Extra Virgin Olive Oil to trial.

What’s different about their oils is that they’re produced from one single variety of olive from individual farms (in Crete, I believe – great holiday destination) which gives them a more distinguished flavour and character. Most oils we see in the shops are blends of a range of olive varieties as this is more economical.

They also carry something called PDO- ‘protected designation of origin’ which means the olives have been picked out for their high quality.

I tried Oi1 Peza from Koroneiki olives from Peza in central Crete – billed as smooth and slightly fruity and good with red meat, vegetables and homemade dressings. It’s also genuine extra virgin – which means it’s produced from a genuine mechanical pressing process rather than adding chemicals.

Due to its extra virgin qualities, we didn’t want to use this as ordinary frying oil. We tried it firstly as part of a marinade for some lovely lamb chops (I say lovely – I’m vegetarian so these were for husband/children), using the remaining marinade to create a sauce. We also used it mixed with lemon and balsamic vinegar as a dressing for an accompanying salad.

We would definitely agree that the oil is a lot more flavoursome than the oils I usually buy. Much like buying a bottle of wine with different grape varieties, you can certainly tell the difference in character from the single grape variety used.

Also unique is the tin the oil is provided in (rather than a bottle) – this prevents sunlight reaching the oil and breaking down some of its natural beneficial chemicals.

Cost: The oil is £6.50 for 500ml bottle (available in Tesco stores) which I think is reasonable for an extra virgin oil (we use normal olive oil for cooking and extra virgin for marinades and salads).

I think we would definitely purchase this again and keep it as the ‘special’ oil – reserved for dressings and marinades so we can appreciate the flavour!

Disclosure: I was sent a run of Oi1 Extra Virgin Olive Oil to review, free of charge. All opinions expressed are my own.