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).

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.

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.

The Primal Kitchen Paleo Bars (review)

The Primal Kitchen (review)I’m always looking for healthy snacks to eat when I’m out and about, both for myself and my children, aged 2 and 4. That’s not always easy, as they tend yell for cheese strings, biscuits and chocolate.

We love cereal bars, but more often than not they tend to have a higher refined sugar content than I’d like. I also often grab one in the morning – when I’m getting the girls ready for school and then setting off to work, I rarely get the chance to eat a decent breakfast. Quite a few varieties of cereal bar contain chocolate? I mean really – I don’t fancy having chocolate for breakfast!

I was intrigued to try The Primal Kitchen Paleo Bars. I didn’t have a clue what a Paleo bar is, but according to their website, it’s all about the Paleo lifestyle – that is food that tastes good but with real food ingredients and no added junk. Food we were ‘born to eat’.

The Primal Kitchen was founded by nutritionist Suzie Walker. She makes bars that don’t use dried fruit that contains vegetable oils, sugar or sulphites as is apparently commonly found in other snack products (alongside chocolate!). Each bar is made with 4-5 Real Food ingredients, is hand made and cold pressed rather than heated. They are also gluten, grain, refined sugar, soya, dairy, GMO and vegetable oil free.
Paleo
Both my husband and I tried the Almond and Cashew, Brazil Nut and Cherry and Hazelnut and Cocoa varieties. We both really enjoyed them! I’ve tried many health food bars previously and think they can taste bland, but the Paleo bars are really tasty.

Plus, they retail at around £1.49 each which I think is reasonable – it’s certainly on a par with a certain brand of children’s bars that I’ve been buying a lot of recently. I think I could add a few of these to my weekly shop – as they taste so good and are healthy I find them good value.

My girls didn’t get a look in at trying these as we snaffled the lot, but I think they would enjoy them as an occasional snack (not too much – teeth issues and fruit sugars and all that!).

I also think these would give a good energy boost before exercise, should I be a champion marathon runner (actually I have been doing a lot of Ashtanga Yoga recently and try not to eat dinner until after the class, so one of these would be perfect).

Try them if you’re looking for a healthy snack – we enjoyed them.

Disclaimer: I received some Primal Kitchen Paleo Bars in return for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Vegetable eating in kids: the parents’ Holy Grail

20140803-193559-70559688.jpg Sunday tea time: I’m cooking salmon for the girls and decide to add noodles because they love them and think that they’re essentially ‘grown up spaghetti’, particularly when I add a bit of soy sauce and lemon.

I was musing on how to get them to eat a vegetable element to the meal, and had one of those rare moments in parenting: the “I’ve just had such a good idea that I’m going to be openly really smug about it” moment.

Small plastic pots, with chopped cucumber and celery, placed neatly to the side of the noodle dish. “Look! Your VERY OWN little pot filled with lovely things!”. They ate the lot. And that wouldn’t have happened if I had just plonked them in the dish (instead I would have got “Urghh! I don’t want that” or my littlest one would have simply flung them on the floor disinterestedly).

And I think that’s the key to vegetable eating in my girls – try and do something different and exciting. It’s not easy, but I’ve realised that I do more ‘vegetable magic’ than I thought.

Besides the vegetable pots which are the current hit (until they become passé – probably within the week), here are some of my current means of ensuring veg eating:

  • Telling them it makes better cartwheels: I mean, every kid wants to do ace cartwheels, surely? And eating copious amounts of carrot is a certain way to the best cartwheels around.
  • Varying how the veg looks on the plate: Smiley faces worked for a while – cucumber slices for the eyes, sweet corn noses, tomato smiles etc. Until nearly-4 year old decided it was ‘scary’. Now I try and make a princess.
  • Trying new, exotic vegetables: This works for about 1 day. Maybe 2 if you’re lucky. But if you’re really struggling this week, try something they haven’t eaten in ages and rave about it like it’s the best thing ever and “Mummy used to eat this when she was a little girl” and it tastes “a lot like cheese” etc.
  • Hiding it: Usually in pasta sauce. I have an ace homemade pasta sauce going which has a tomato, onion and garlic base, and then I just add whichever vegetables I happen to have in and whizz it up in the blender, as smoooooth as possible. “Hmmm, this is yummy, Mummy!”. I know…
  • Saving it for supper: Supper has been a popular thing in our house this year. If my little ones leave their veg at tea time, it suddenly becomes the most appetising thing they’ve ever seen when it’s in a different bowl, and eaten in their bed whilst having stories read to them. Amazing.

    Anyone else any ideas? Mine are good for now but I’m sure the day will soon come when my little ones are wise to my tricks…

  • 10 restaurant-survival tips for anguished parents

    How to survive restaurants with children

    I’m no expert at attending restaurants with small children, but I have had a reasonable amount of experience.

    Some of this experience has involved considering locking myself in the restaurant loos and pretending I don’t exist, if only for a few brief minutes of heavenly respite. Sometimes, I find myself so stuck in my own personal hell that I don’t realise that the whole place is staring at me, as I’m scrabbling under the table to retrieve that cutlery yet again whilst shouting “If I have to do this one more time, you’ve lost one story at bedtime!”

    Recently, our skills as a family on the restaurant-attendance front seem to have marginally improved. This may be partly due to the age of my children – now almost 4 and 2 – but I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned over the past few years that make family restaurant outings less like taking a couple of stray cats to a mouse farm.

    1. Take a bag of anguish-limiting ammunition.  I tend to take an ‘activity’ bag. Obviously don’t put paints and play dough in it unless you want to be banned for life – I tend to take a few colouring pencils and activity books.
    2. Learn about the ‘restaurant stealth schedule’.  The trick is, not to give them everything at once. At no point must they have access to ‘the bag’.  I have learnt to have an eagle eye for spotting when they’re just beginning to get bored with the last task, so I can reveal the next…
    3. Indulge in napkin origami/sugar packet sculpture making.  Sugar packet sculpture making was an invention of my nearly-4-year-old who likes to lay out her napkin and arrange them into shapes upon it, making ‘pretty pictures’.  I’m not sure if the restaurateurs actually like this, but I do as it means I can drink my latte in relative peace.
    4. Download a few apps.  I’m unsure if I’ve shot myself in the foot here, as my youngest is now totally obsessed with my phone and says “I wanna draw” about 5 times an hour, pointing at my phone desperately.  However, I have several drawing apps and a couple of early years games apps which will provide a good 15 minutes of occupation.
    5. Go for ‘the walk’.  Taking a trip around the restaurant, if only for 1 minute, causes distraction.  There are always new things to look at – a plant or picture, maybe even a fish tank if you’re lucky. Which leads me onto…
    6. Explore the ‘adventure toilets’.  To a small child, a restaurant toilet is basically a wondrous adventure park.  For my two, a trip to toilet heaven will distract them from the chaos they were just thinking about causing.
    7. Pizza or cheesy toast is your best friend.  We do experiment with different foods with our children.  They both love a child’s Sunday roast, for example.  But you can’t fail with pizza (or cheesy toast if you’re at a café for lunch).  The fact that mine love it so much means that they will sit still and eat it for a while.
    8. …as is ice cream.  We’re nearly at the end of the meal by this stage.  They’ve started to go feral.  Until the ice cream arrives. Then you’re sorted.
    9. The waiter/waitress ‘stun gun’.  This is particularly effective in Italian restaurants, where children are often made to feel really welcome.  The waiter comes over and starts making a fuss of the children – they are instantly stunned into a)shy silence or b)the need to tell the waiter everything they’ve been doing that day/yesterday/in their whole life.  Thus diverting attention from yourself, as you try and eat your dinner.
    10. Ignoring them.  This is a last resort but one to hold in reserve.  Ignore them? Pretend they aren’t yours?  You could always feign a look of shock as if to say “where did these children appear from?”, “why are they sat at my table when I’m trying to eat??”

    Last weekend, I even enjoyed a calming glass of wine with my lunch, in reasonable peace. Here’s hoping it lasts…