31 articles Tag food

No Time to Make Meals

Guest Post

One of my biggest struggles as a mum is trying to find time to cook decent meals for my kids that they will eat and that I feel good about them eating. I know they will always eat all the mac and cheese and chicken nuggets I make for them, but what about their broccoli, fruits and other foods that their little bodies need?

There will be many times where I will work extra hard to make something for my kids that I think they will like and that I feel good about, but then they refuse to eat it. We can sit together at the table and have a battle of wills over who will hold out the longest, but nobody wins there. Honestly, I don’t have time for that kind of struggle. I need to find foods that they will eat without a problem and that I don’t have to feel guilty about.

The Extra Effort

I found that if I make the food fun, then that can help my kids to eat it. I cut the fruits into shapes like stars and dinosaurs, and the kids love them. Some of my kids are so picky about the kids of foods that most kids will eat without a problem. Bananas, strawberries and apples are all tough foods to get my kids to eat, but once I make it fun for them, then they will tend to eat it without an issue. Making the extra time to make food interesting and exciting to them is tough to do sometimes, but it is worth it. I find that if I prepare things the night before, then I have the extra time I need throughout the day to get other stuff done. If we spend an hour and half on lunch, then I feel like my entire afternoon is shot, so I try not to put elaborate meals on my schedule for noontime.

The Sneaky Meal

Another way I manage to get my kids to eat food without spending a lot of time making something is to take foods that they like and add a bit of nutrition to it. So, I make the aforementioned mac and cheese and add just a hint of broccoli to it. Other veggies can go in there as well. I have added cooked carrots to great effect as well, and I know there are some kids that will pick through their food and pick out the pieces they don’t like. If you make the pieces of veggies or whatever else small enough, though, then your kids might be less inclined to take them out. It’s hard for them to complain about something so small, especially if you cover everything in cheese so that they can’t tell what is good for them from what is creamy pasta. This works pretty well, and it doesn’t take a lot of extra time.

I am constantly trying to find ways to give my kids the food they need to have without spending a long time in the kitchen, and this is a doable solution. I do the same thing with pizza, adding some pineapple or whole tomato pieces onto it, but I run into the pickiness problem there sometimes. Kids are likely to pick things off their pizza that they don’t like, so I have to encourage them to eat all their food if they want dessert or something like that to get them to overlook the healthy stuff on their pizza. There are ways to deal with even picky kids when you want to incorporate some healthy food into their regular diet, and every kid is different. There are a few tricks that work for me, but I can’t promise they will work for you.

Make Lots of Food

Probably the biggest time saver I ever use in the kitchen is just mass producing whatever I am cooking. If I am making a casserole, I make two dishes of it. If I’m making a soup, I use my largest pot. That way, there are plenty of leftovers, and I can just heat them up later in the week to feed myself and the kids. If I did a good job on the food and the kids like it the first time, then they have no problem eating it again. They despise eating leftovers that they were not too crazy about in the first place, though.  

I try to only make large portions of those foods that I know my kids will love. Otherwise, I can be stuck eating it all by myself over the next week. Sometimes, when I mass produce the food, I end up neglecting my chores around the house, so I like to hire a cleaning company, for example Diamond Clean Calgary to take care of things for me for that day or just ask my husband to pick up some of the slack. One way or the other, I make some concessions and do things a bit differently so that I have time to make the food I need to make.

There is a chance that when you make foods in large quantities like this that something will go wrong. The more you make at once, the more likely it is to all just burn or fall flat or something. So, I take my time and try not to multitask too much. And when I do that, it usually turns out okay.

I know some kids are really difficult when it comes to finding foods for them to eat. It can also be time consuming to try to cook different things throughout the week to see what your kids will eat. I say just stick to the things they like and spice them up in some different ways or give them something tangentially related to what they like. Hopefully, my methods will work for you, but you may have to come up with some of your own for dealing with your kids.

Caribbean Flavours at Turtle Bay

When we first found out that we were going to be reviewing Turtle Bay, my first thought was how happy Husband would be as he’s a HUGE fan of Caribbean food. My second thought was “will the kids cope with the spice?”. It has to be said, my kids aren’t total chilli wusses, BB has been asking for sriracha on her food since she was about 2 and Sausage copes with things like hot wings, so I figured we’d just see how they fared – besides, there was a kids menu to choose from.

Turtle Bay Collage

The Turtle Bay we visited was in Chelmsford, just outside the High Chelmer Shopping Centre and in a nice location with an outdoor seating area. The first thing you notice about Turtle Bay is just how vibrant and beautifully styled the whole place is. From the bright colours that scream Jamaica to the wall of guitar amps and the reggae playing in the background, the restaurant felt themed in a way that managed to avoid the pantomime-y feel of other themed restaurants.

We did the usual ‘sit down, peruse the menu, give our drinks order’ and were informed that cocktails were currently 2 for 1, so mine and Sausage’s virgin cocktail orders meant we’d be brought two drinks each – quite a bonus and one to remember next time we’re out for dinner and I’m not driving!

While we were waiting for our food, we were given colouring stuff for the girls, but also a Connect4 game, which made the time between ordering our food and it arriving pass really quickly. Not only did we love the fact that the kids were catered for, we loved the implication that this wasn’t a place where kids had to be seen and not heard, that they were allowed to have fun and be kids.

BB ate from the kids menu, and her main arrived at the same time as our starters, which worked well as she’s a SLOOOOW eater! Serving it this way meant that by the time we’d eaten our starter and mains, she was just about finished too.

Caribbean Flavour at Turtle Bay

In terms of the food, here’s what we ordered:

 I’m not going to bore you with a description of every single morsel of food that we ate (ALTHOUGH, the prawns I had for my starter were TO DIE FOR, and I said to husband that I could quite happily have eaten it ten times over), but every single one of us loved all of our dishes. The jerk chicken and ribs were SO beautifully seasoned and spiced, not so much that it blew your head off, but just enough to make you feel warm down to your flip flops. Husband’s curry goat and my ribs were so tender, the meat melted in your mouth and all of the desserts were perfect and sweet, after such a savoury meal.

The meal was, in fact, such a resounding success, that the whole family declared it the best place we’ve ever reviewed, and we’ve been to a LOT of restaurants in the last eight years! Unless you’ve got kids who are exceptionally fussy with what they eat, please don’t think you can’t eat as a family at Turtle Bay because there are plenty of dishes which cater for those with more delicate taste buds, and everyone else gets to enjoy the deep flavour of Jerk wonderfulness!

It would also be an amazing place for dinner and drinks with friends (not least of all because the cocktails are 2-for-1!), and the decor and atmosphere would really lend itself to relaxation and socialising. All in all (for three starters, three mains, a kids meal, four desserts, four virgin cocktails, two pints of Red Stripe and a soft drink) our meal would have cost £82.60, which I think is excellent value.

As we were leaving, the manager mentioned to us that a new Turtle Bay is going to be opening in Southend, which is even closer to us, and all I can say is, I really  hope he’s correct!

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Become a Mini Ninja at YO! Sushi (review)

If there are two things that my kids love it’s cooking and sushi, but unless you’ve got some serious skills, the two passions rarely meet – until now! Recently, the people at YO! Sushi got in touch to tell us about their in-store cooking classes, Sushi Ninja for adults and Mini Ninja for kids, and we knew we had to go along and try them. Our nearest YO! Sushi is in Lakeside and we’ve actually never eaten there before, despite our love of Japanese food, so it was a first for us all.

We arrived at the the restaurant at 11am, before they start opening up for the day, and the kids were sat down with their bamboo mats in front of them, all cling-filmed up and ready for use, before being taught all about the importance of proper hand hygiene, especially when making food with raw fish. They were given hair covers and gloves to wear and I think I counted at least three glove changes throughout the class, which was impressive to say the least.

The class was run by Marcell, the manager of Lakeside YO!, and she clearly knew her stuff. She was excellent with the kids and taught the whole class without once talking down to the kids or making things too complicated. She was happy to help Burrito Baby, whose hands were probably still a little bit on the small side of sushi rolling, and both of the girls thought she was a fab teacher.

The Mini Sushi Ninja classes cost £15 per child, last one hour and include all of the ingredients, the bamboo mat which the kids get to take away with them, and a goody bag containing the recipe cards, chops sticks and the bag itself. The girls made three types of sushi during the class, a cucumber roll, a salmon nigiri, and a California hand roll, which then gets put into a takeaway box for the kids to eat once they’re done. Husband and I sampled the sushi and were really impressed with how well both girls did. The whole class was such an awesome and different way to spend a morning and the girls actually said that it was their favourite activity of the whole summer.

We were also lucky enough to stay at YO! Sushi for lunch, and although we’re regular sushi eaters, we wanted to try some new stuff too – Marcell kindly offered to choose a few dishes for us so that we got a variety of flavours and MY GOODNESS did she choose well! I’m not usually a fan of squid, but I liked their spicy pepper squid so much that I ate a whole plate of it by myself! The beef teriyaki was also basically one of the nicest things we’ve ever tasted; we were back in Lakeside the next day for a different event and were seriously considering just going back to YO! for about five plates of beef teriyaki!

Although this was our first experience of YO! Sushi, it most definitely won’t be our last. The class was excellent, the food was genuinely lovely and the whole experience was hugely positive for all of us. The classes were so fun to observe that Husband and I are thinking about trying the adult classes too! Head over to the YO! Sushi website for more info about the classes, store locations and the menus.

Thanks so much to Marcell and the team at YO! Sushi Lakeside for giving us such a lovely experience.

Nostalgia Foods

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As we grow older and our palate develops, we discover a whole new way of eating. We are introduced to different foods, changing cuisines, experiment with our own recipes, and try food we never thought that we would. We can become cultured, bordering on being foodies, loving experimentation and something new, innovative.

Nevertheless… sometimes, you just can’t beat food that tastes of the past.

We all have that one food that is liable to trigger our sense memory and make us think of another time in our life. It might be the taste of an ice cream we once ate on holiday; even if we nibble it in our kitchen on a grey day, it reminds us of walking on the beach with the sun on our skin. It might be sampling a few retro sweets and being transported back to our school days, almost as if we can feel the scratch of our school uniform against our skin once more. It doesn’t have to be sweet, of course – sometimes it can just be the taste of an evening meal that reminds us of the food our Mum used to serve each evening.

There is a real power in nostalgia. For all our changing tastes and experimentation with different cuisines, there is something inherently comforting about food that is familiar and brings with it a smile of days gone by. Rather than ignoring the food of previous years, experiment in a new way and see how it can blend in.

  1. Use Sweets As An Addition To A Dessert

If you like to bake, you could make the most delicious dessert using all the new techniques that you have picked up over the years. Spin sugar, craft with pastry, drizzle with a ganache. Then, for that nostalgic twist, add a few old-style penny sweets on the side. Not only do they add an extra flavour, but they can make the resulting dish extra Instagram worthy!

  1. Old Cooking Techniques

There’s no doubt that we know more now about food and nutrition than we ever have. In the midst of all this knowledge, we have abandoned several methods of cooking. When was the last time you fried something with butter rather than coconut oil, for example?

The best way to bring out old flavours on occasion is to use old cooking methods. Fry with butter, opt for boiling over steaming – you’d be surprised the way it can release flavours you thought you’d forgotten. It doesn’t have to be every day, of course, but it can be a nice twist for a special occasion.

  1. Have An Evening Of Nostalgic Food

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If you want to keep fun with nostalgia to a minimum, then a one-off treat night every few months could be just the ticket. Think of it: a starter of a prawn cocktail and nibbles, a main meal of simple meat and vegetables, and a dessert of spotted dick with a few sweets on the side. It’s the quickest way to make yourself feel like you’re 16 again!

Waitrose Party Food – A Family Review

At this time of year, one of the things that I love to do is try new food and recipes and I can usually be found watching some Christmas-themed cookery show or another, such is my obsession. However, this year I’ve decided to dial back the stress and try to have a more chilled-out festive period, which is why I was particularly interested to try out the Waitrose Party Food range. One of the main appeals is that everything that needs to be cooked goes in at the same temperature, so although you have to get your timings right, you don’t have to wait for an oven to heat or cool between cooking sessions, which made life SO much easier when prepping it all. Here’s some of what we were sent:

Waitrose Party Food

  1. Waitrose Christmas 12 Bourbon BBQ Pork Waffles 230g (£6.00)
  2. Waitrose Christmas Cheese Toasties Selection 110g (£5.00)
  3. Mixed Mini Pie Selection – Chicken & Gravy 400g (£6.00)
  4. Mixed Mini Pie Selection – Beef & Stout 400g (£6.00)
  5. Waitrose 1 chipotle 4 chilli sausage rolls (£2.49)
  6. Waitrose Party pork crackling straws 130g (£4.00)

We were also sent Christmas olives with snowballs 320g (£5.00), Waitrose Chai Spiced Chocolate Nuts 220g (£4.99) and Waitrose Maple Caramelised Cashews 175g (£4.99) but they got devoured by my lot before I could take a picture! We have a bit of a family ritual of going to my MILs on a Saturday evening and either cooking or having a takeaway together, so I took the party food with me to get some varied opinions and basically everything went down really well!

The waffles were definitely a hit and the smoky, almost sweet barbeque sauce added a lovely flavour to the softness of the waffles. The cheese toasties were lovely little savoury morsels that I probably could have eaten about ten of, all by myself! My Sausage found the chipotle sausage rolls to be a tiny bit too piquant for her taste, but the rest of us loved them so just beware if you have chilli-wuss kids! The pork crackling straws were like an amazingly delicious alternative to a breadstick and went beautifully with the apple sauce, but BEWARE if you have any dental issues – they’re really hard and crunchy and only get harder and crunchier as they cool, so definitely not or anyone prone to breaking of teeth!

The only thing which was a little hit-and-miss were the mini pies – the beef and stout ones were really tasty, with a rich gravy and crisp pastry, but the chicken ones were less of a hit – not bad or unpleasant, just not really a flavour that any of us found massively appealing.

Largely, we were really impressed with the quality of Waitrose Party Food and the ease of cooking, and for a small family gathering it would be ideal as party nibbles, however I’m not sure that the individual prices would be ideal if you had more than around 10 people to feed. Having said that, people usually shop at Waitrose for the quality of their items, not in order to get a bargain, so maybe this is a moot point?

Everything was sent to us about three weeks ago, right when the family was in the middle of a nasty bout of gastroenteritis, and I was able to freeze everything which is also a huge bonus, meaning that it would be really easy to buy ahead of time and bring out for cooking closer to Christmas, and I’m actually planning to go and get us all a few bits for New Years Eve as they’re ideal for a casual evening at home with Jool’s Hootenanny and a few bottles of fizz!

Have you tried the Waitrose Party Food? What did you think? Leave me a comment below.

The Night I Learned to Make a Big Mac at McDonald’s

My Personalised McDonald's apron!Last night, I had a pretty unusual experience. I was asked along to a local branch of McDonald’s to get a behind-the-scenes look at how a busy store operates and to learn how to make my very own Big Mac – not something you get to do everyday, so of course I agreed! I won’t lie, I went there with a few preconceptions of how I’d find the whole thing but I’m delighted to say that I was pleasantly surprised from beginning to end.

McDonald’s is obviously famous for its fast food but what I was surprised to find out is that everything is actually made to order – long gone are the days of burgers sitting in a heater, ready to be shoved in a bag. As soon as your order is put in, either by giving it to someone at the counter or drive-thru window, or by using McDonald’s swanky new technology which allows you to use a touch-screen to make your order and have it brought to you by a server, it’s put through to someone in the kitchen who builds it all for you from scratch.

Self-Service screens at McDonald's

If I’m honest, the whole experience was quite overwhelming; a veritable information overload if you will! Here’s a quick overview of some of the things I learned:

  • McDonald’s are not only moving towards sending ZERO waste to landfill, but they also recycle their cooking oil for use in their fleet of delivery lorries, which also operate a “never empty” policy to minimise the carbon footprint of their logistics.
  • MCDonald’s offer degrees! Employees who wish to progress are able to apply to take a degree in business management, although education is actually implemented at ALL levels throughout an employees career with them (and one guy we met last night had been working there for 36 years!)
  • Ingredients are delivered three times a week to busy stores and their quick-cook grills which can actually detect which type of patty they’re cooking, can cook a burger in just 40 seconds!
  • The bun for a Big Mac comes in three parts, each of which has a name – the top is the “crown”, the middle is the “club” and the bottom is the “heel”! They also have a special toaster for toasting the buns which took about ten seconds!
  • It’s possible to choose carrot sticks or salad as a side to an adult sized meal – I always thought that was for kids only!

In terms of what I actually observed whilst looking around the restaurant and kitchens, the thing which was most impressive was just how spotlessly clean everything is. Employees are require to stop working every thirty minutes without fail to wash their hands at an amazing sink which you operate with your knee and the whole time we were there, if something wasn’t in use, it was being cleaned.

Obviously, making a Big Mac was VERY exciting for myself and the two other bloggers who attended and the young man who took us through the process was really knowledgeable and patient (good job really, he took a matter of SECONDS to make a burger while we took waaaay longer!). Although I was sad to not come away with the recipe for McDonald’s famous burger sauce, I was pretty tickled to see that it comes in a special gun which dispenses five perfectly even dots of sauce. The whole process was actually pretty intricate (did you know that the gherkins in their burgers are even specifically placed for optimum flavour distribution?!) and I feel like the whole experience gave me a new appreciation of how hard those guys work and how much effort is actually put into the making of the food.

Me and my Big Mac!

Although we’re fans of McDonald’s in the Mum’s the Word house, Husband and I have always viewed it as a guilty pleasure which was only to be enjoyed on rare occasions but after learning about the origins of the produce that McDonald’s uses, as well as seeing how fresh it all is, I definitely won’t be feeling bad about eating it or giving it to the girls in the future.

Another focus of the evening was the new technology which is being installed throughout the stores. As I mentioned above, McDonald’s now have self-ordering screens, which allow you to browse the whole menu and even customise your food before ordering. You’re then given a choice of ‘zones’ in which to sit before a server brings you your meal. Burrito Baby and I actually used this service before and I cannot even begin to tell you how much easier it makes things when you don’t have to carry a fully-laden tray to your table whilst wrangling a toddler. It also makes things easier for disabled customers and the screen even shrinks so that wheelchair users can still reach it all.

I was a little concerned that this level of automation meant that McDonalds had cut down their workforce but I was really happy to hear that this store in particular had actually employed MORE people to cover the kitchens and table service. There was also FAR less congestion on the shop floor – instead of queuing for ages and waiting for food, people were ordering and taking a seat which meant that there were minimal queues, despite the restaurant being full of diners, and that it was actually MUCH quieter.

The store we visited also had a family seating area which had iPads installed for kids and their parents to use and literally every single one was in use while we were there, so they’re obviously popular. Much of this new technology has been installed in response to feedback from customers about what they’d like to see in stores and is all part of the plan for the McDonald’s of the future, and I have to say, it’s so nice to see such a big chain listening to its customers and actually acting on what they learn.

Between the recycling, the reduction of carbon footprint, the quality of the food, the new tech and the beautifully redesigned restaurants, I feel like my preconceptions of what McDonald’s really is were absolutely smashed. This is clearly a company who cares about both its employees AND its customers, as well as the environment and the local community, which is a breath of fresh air. McDonald’s have really impressed me and I hope that they share their achievements with the general public so that they can have their minds changed to.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering…I make a MEAN Big Mac!

(as a weird side-note – I had my hair done yesterday morning and kept thinking “Oh no, I’m going to stink of chip fat by this evening!”. The kitchens at McDonald’s have this special type of air conditioning which not only kept the whole place really cool, but means that you don’t come out of there stinking either. In fact all of us remarked that the prevailing smell throughout the whole place was of fresh bread.)

Thanks to McDonalds for a fun evening.

(Although this is a sponsored post, all opinions are my own and reflect my sincere thoughts and feelings of the experience)

Baby Food Giveaway

When it comes to feeding, Sausage and Burrito Baby were pretty different. With Sausage, she was our first and we truly lived in a Sausage-centric bubble. This meant that I spoon-fed her with organic purees of fruit and veg, or home-made and bulk frozen meals that I’d made myself, for probably longer than was absolutely reasonable. I was just about as overbearing as any good Helicopter Parent can be and whether it was a good thing or not I’ve yet to decide.

Food for Babies

With BB, things were different. Not only was I six years older and wiser, having already raised one kid past babyhood, our lives were very different. No more lazy mornings spent in our PJs watching Cbeebies, BB was thrust onto the school run with us within a week of being born! This meant that by this time, I was opting for easier options such as pre-made food for babies and a healthy smattering of Baby Led Weaning by the time that she was old enough. I may be been a little more ‘low-effort’ with BB, but if anything it’s made her more independent and also more capable with a spoon or fork than Sausage was by the same age.

One advantage to spoon feeding was that I always knew exactly how much Sausage was eating when she was little, whereas with BB is was more of a guessing game; adding up what was left on the plate with what was smeared on the floor/in her hair and working out how much food had actually made it into her tummy! Still, she’s got a massive appetite and likes to graze all day long, so snack foods are definitely her choice, above full meals.

baby-led-weaning

We’ve teamed up with a great company to offer our American readers a $50 gift card – all you have to do is leave me a comment below telling me what you fed your baby when they were little, whether you went for pre-made food or Baby Led Weaning (or any other approach that I may not even have heard of!) The winner will be chosen at random on 15th October 2016. Don’t forget to share this post with your friends so that they can be in with a chance of winning, too!

Beat ‘The Mondays’ with Marmite #MarmiteMondays

Marmite. Probably one of the most divisive foodstuffs in the UK with people either firmly in the ‘Love’ or ‘Hate’ camp and rarely in-between. However, whether you love it or hate it, the guys at Marmite have uncovered a terrifying malady which is affecting the whole country, called…THE MONDAYS! Symptoms of The Mondays are as follows and should be monitored closely:

  • Monotony
  • Overtired
  • Negativity
  • Dilly-Dallying
  • AHHHHHHH-gitated
  • Yawn-y

Here’s what the guys at Marmite had to say about Marmite Mondays:

Following years of not-very- scientific study, we found that millions of ordinary families across the nation are afflicted by a terrible made up condition.

They are victims of a Case of The Mondays – a debilitating condition that leaves those affected feeling bleurghh. A bit mehhh. Or even mweurghh on a Monday morning.

Thankfully, Marmite on toast for breakfast has been found to be our pseudo-scientific remedy. It’s anecdotally proven to help families smash through the start of the week.

If you’re suffering from this condition and want to report a case of The Mondays, call the Marmite Monday Helpline on 0800 832 1835.

Hate Mondays. Love Marmite.

Do you find yourself suffering from The Mondays? I know we do, especially if we’ve had a good weekend and don’t want it to end; that can make a bad case of The Mondays 100 times worse! Fortunately for us, Marmite is a favourite of ours. Our top five ways to eat Marmite are:

  1. Marmite on crumpets with melted cheese
  2. Marmite soldiers with a dippy egg
  3. Marmite toast on thick white bread with lashings of real butter
  4. Added to a Cottage Pie during cooking to give it a rich, savoury flavour
  5. Marmite rice cakes

Are you a family of Marmite lovers? If so, what’s your favourite way to eat Marmite? We’d love to hear from you if there’s a new and delicious way to eat Marmite that we don’t know about yet so please do leave us a comment below…not least of all to cheer us up on this slightly dreary Monday!

Our Family Lunch at Giraffe (review)

GiraffeThis summer holiday has been a bit of a culinary eye-opener for us in the Mum’s the Word house as we’ve been reviewing different restaurants each week and this week’s meal was at Giraffe. Giraffe’s strapline is “Freshly cooked food for everyone served to the sound of great music. Guaranteed to make you feel good!” so we took the girls and MIL with us again to get a good overview of how well they cater for all ages.

Technically, Lakeside is our closest Giraffe but we opted for Chelmsford for a bit of a change of scenery and I’m glad we did. It’s right in the middle of the high street and super easy to find, plus it’s right by the river which was lovely on a sunny day. In fact, it would be a really nice location for an early evening drink and dinner, so next time we go I think I’ll leave the kids at home and just go with Husband.

On the way there, Sausage (who’s recently got her first mobile phone and uses ANY opportunity for a good Google-up!) decided to read the menu to MIL to give her an idea of what she could choose and I think it made MIL a little wary, given that she prefers slightly plainer food and Giraffe’s menu is full of things with exotic sounding ingredients. However, once we got there and she had a chance to read the menu for herself, I think she realised that there were plenty of things she liked.

The kids menu doesn’t have starters but the adults ordered starters and we all ended up sharing, which is something we do anyway as we’re a bit like a wolf-pack, letting each other tuck into our grub. MIL had a garlic flatbread, Husband the chicken gyoza with sweet chilli dipping sauce and I had the Tuscan lamb meatballs.

Starters

Giraffe - Starters

The girls took a great liking to MILs flatbread; luckily it was HUGE so we all had a bit and there was still some left at the end! It was really nice, soft in places, crunchy in places, just garlicky enough without being overpowering. My meatballs were truly delicious, lightly spiced lamb (which you’d expect to be fatty but really wasn’t) in a rich tomato sauce which was almost like a stew. Serving it with a warm tortilla was perfect as it allowed me to mop up all the sauce afterwards! Husband’s gyoza were the real star of the starters though; the dumplings were lightly fried, so they were just crispy but still soft in the middle and the nouc cham sweet chilli sauce was flavourful and sticky, just how it should be. Husband and I didn’t find it spicy but MIL found it a little hot for her taste, so if you’re not a fan of any sort of heat they might be one to avoid.

For our mains, the girls chose from the kids menu with Sausage opting for a cheese and tomato quesadilla while BB went for a chicken wrap. Husband had the jerk ribs and sweet potato fries, MIL had the chicken Milanese and I had a chilli beef burrito.

MainsGiraffe - Mains

One thing I liked about the kids menu is that it actually offered some really diverse dishes. Sure, there are burgers and fish fingers on offer but there are also noodle bowls, grilled salmon and salads. I think we’re long past the era where kids are served bland, uninteresting food while the adults tuck into a culinary delight so it was refreshing to see some nice options for kids. Sausage really enjoyed her quesadilla (she’s a huge fan of all things Mexican) and BB loved her wrap (which I had a nibble of, for science, and found really fresh and tasty), although she couldn’t eat it all.

Husband’s jerk ribs were a hit; the meat itself was deeply seasoned although both Husband and I commented that they could have stood to be a lot spicier as there was none of the heat that we usually associate with jerk, however they were still very pleasant. I’m not a fan of sweet potato but his fries were a hit with everyone else! MIL actually really enjoyed her main after being worried about not finding a dish she’d like and said that the potatoes were especially nice.

If I’m being completely honest, I wasn’t a fan of my burrito. There was nothing wrong with it, per se, and it was exactly how you’d expect a burrito to be, but it just wasn’t to my taste. The sour cream was a nice addition but the mince beef mixture inside was overwhelmingly smoky and I really didn’t like the pink onions which seemed halfway between raw and cooked, but not one or the other.

Dessert was what I was REALLY looking forward to. I’ve never tried churros before but spend enough time on hipster food websites to know how trendy they are and I’ve been wanting to have them for AGES…let me tell you, I wasn’t disappointed! Sausage and I both had the churros, her from the kids menu and me from the adults and we both seriously enjoyed them. The chocolate dipping sauce was really rich and almost bitter but the perfect accompaniment to the sweet, crispy dough; a very indulgent end to our meals.

Desserts

Giraffe - Dessert

MIL had ice cream (take a look at Jane’s Kitchen Miracles for the best ice cream makers) and chose one scoop each of vanilla, chocolate and cherry which was an inspired choice. The cherry ice cream tasted like actual cherries! BB had a kids brownie which came with ice cream (beware, the brownie is HOT! and will burn little mouths if eaten without caution) and polished off as much as she could manage. I think Husband was the winner again with dessert choices; not usually one for mega sweet food, he pushed the boat out and chose a banana waffle split. I cannot emphasise enough how delicious it was. The waffle was chewy and the butterscotch sauce was like a liquid Werthers Original on the plate! Husband’s one minor complaint was that the banana could have stood to be cooked just a little more.

I also need to give an honourable mention to the drinks: Sausage had decided on a “Hippy Hippy Shake” smoothie (pineapple, passion fruit, mango, banana, pomegranate juice) before we even got there and BB followed suit, both of which got polished off in about three seconds. Husband had a strawberry smash which was literally some smashed up strawberries in a glass, topped with soda and mint, and it was SO refreshing! I went for the Orchard Pig Sparkling Apple and Elderflower and enjoyed it so much that I immediately started Googling to see where I could buy more! All a really nice alternative to the usual soft drink offerings.

Aside from a couple of very minor glitches, I think our Giraffe experience was really positive. The staff were incredibly polite and helpful (activity sheets and crayons for the kids are ALWAYS a winner) and the actual setting of the restaurant was really pleasant. We enjoyed the food and all commented that it’s definitely somewhere we’d eat again. Thanks so much to Giraffe for being the place that I finally lost my churro virginity. I’ll remember it forever…

Strada – A Date Night Gem

It’s not often that Husband and I go out for dinner, just the two of us…in fact, I’m struggling to think of a single time it’s happened since Sausage was born, so when Strada asked if the two of us would like to come along for dinner, I got very excited! Our nearest Strada is at Lakeside Shopping Centre in Thurrock and it’s right next to the lake, so it was the perfect setting for a relaxed evening meal.

We were given the choice of where to sit and although it was the hottest day of the year so far, we chose to sit inside – the outside area was already filling up when we arrived a few minutes before 6pm and by the time we left it was absolutely heaving, whilst inside was almost empty, so we definitely chose well. We got situated and were brought our drinks plus a jug of water for the table, which was much appreciated in the heat.

I wasn’t drinking alcohol because a) I was driving and b) I’m on strong antibiotics for the hideous tooth situation so I opted for a San Pellegrino Limonata, which is basically the most refreshing thing on the planet. Husband had a glass of Primitivo, a full-bodied red (which I said smelled like Christmas in a glass!) and although it was on the pricey side, Husband was impressed enough to be looking it up on the internet on the way home to see where he could get a full bottle for me to try when I’m able again.

So, onto the food!

Because Strada is Italian, I wanted to go for things which I felt were quintessentially Italian, so for starter I opted for the bresaola while Husband went for the antipasti, both of which were incredible. The beef carpacchio part of my bresaola was so, so tender and flavourful and the combination of parmesan, rocket and balsamic reduction were to die for. Husband’s antipasti (which I may have sampled…!) was just perfect; little nibbles of different flavour and textures, cured meats combined with the freshest pesto and mozzarella – I almost wish I’d opted for the same.

Strada - Starters

For our mains, we both decided that we were in the mood for seafood after such a meat-based starter so Husband had the sea bass while I had the seafood risotto. I’m going to make a confession here; I’ve never actually tried sea bass before…until now. The fish was served with thyme roasted fennel and herby potatoes and was a perfect choice for a hot evening as it was light and summery but full of flavour. The bass was served ‘canoed’, which meant that it’s gutted but left on the head, so there were still a lot of bones in it, which made it a little bit of a faff to eat, but Husband didn’t mind; it’s just worth bearing in mind if you aren’t a fan of bones.

Strada - Mains

Seafood risotto is one of my favourite dishes and it’s not something I’ve ever been brave enough to cook myself so it’s always a treat when I have it in a restaurant, but it does mean I’m quite fussy about it. Strada’s seafood risotto was really top notch. The risotto itself was creamy and absolutely packed with tiger prawns, mussels and squid and had the slightest kick from a hint of chilli, a very welcome element to cut through the creaminess a little. The seafood was all very well cooked (I’m often a bit wary of squid as it can be rubbery, but this wasn’t rubbery in the slightest) and the fresh parmesan which was grated over the top at the table added a lovely edge to the overall flavour.

Strada - Dessert

Dessert was an absolute delight. I opted for the tiramisu because I’m a bit of a fan of anything coffee flavoured while Husband opted for the golden polenta cake. My tiramisu was exactly as you’d expect it to be; sweet and soft with a strong coffee flavour, the perfect end to the meal for me. Husband’s polenta cake was probably the exact opposite of my dessert in many ways; grainy and textured rather than soft and creamy, zesty and spiced opposite my rich and velvety, however we both agreed that it was one of the nicest desserts we’ve ever tasted, and promptly came home to find a recipe so that we can try making it at home!

In terms of the bill, by my calculations it would have come to £67.60, which included three courses each, Husband’s large glass of wine, my two soft drinks and a bowl of marinated olives for the table, which I really don’t think is too bad at all. There is also a “Classics” menu which offers 2 courses for £10.95 or three courses for £13.95 every single day between 12pm and 7pm, which means that you could effectively have a three course meal for two for under £30.

The thing I liked about Strada is that their menu isn’t ridiculously massive, but each dish they do, they seem to do VERY well. I also like the fact that they have dishes which are very traditionally Italian, but they also do dishes like burgers and plainer pizzas, so dining with a fussy eater needn’t be a worry. The one and only area where I would mark them down SLIGHTLY was the cost of drinks – Husband’s glass of wine was £8.15, which is a little steep in my opinion, but we often find the alcohol to be higher priced in chain restaurants, so I guess it’s to be expected. Other than this minor thing, we had a really lovely evening; the staff were incredibly polite and friendly, stopping by to offer their suggestions while we were perusing the menu, the setting was really pleasant and the food was enough to make Husband say “we’re definitely coming back here again!”.

Thanks to Strada for having us – we’ll be back soon!