A Stress-Free Sunday Night Dinner with La Belle Assiette

I love getting my friends and family over for dinner.  You know me, I’m a right Monica Geller; “I’m always the hostess!”  It’s stressful, but it’s the kind of stress I feed off of (literally!).  I love setting the table up, deciding what cook for everyone and then serving it up.  But more than anything else I love having all my favourite people around my kitchen table.  My only problem with the whole hosting game is that I’m constantly having to leave that table to go check on the food, top up drinks and then… ugh, clean everything up.  I keep having to disappear in the middle of one of my Dad’s stories, or the latest TV and movie tip-off from my brother and that, my friends, is the worst part of always being the hostess.  Sometimes it’d be nice to just sit at that same table and soak up a Sunday night dinner with the family without having to actually serve it myself.

I thought I’d have to win a Grammy or the lottery to be able to hire a private chef, and since my singing’s only shower-worthy and I can’t remember the last time I won anything on the lottery – I thought I was way off.  But it’s actually more affordable than you’d think!  La Belle Assiette is a website that allows you to hire local chefs and caterers to come and serve a meal in your home with prices starting from as little as £39 a head.  Chefs call up and discuss the menu with you beforehand – taking into consideration any special dietary requirements or fussy eaters you might have – and then they buy all the ingredients, cook the meal and – better yet – clean up afterwards!  So, when an email popped into my inbox asking whether I fancied opening up my little kitchen for the night to local chef, Manveer Holloway, how could I possibly refuse? 🙂


I’m a bit possessive of my kitchen – I always kick people out when I’m cooking, so I wasn’t quite sure what it was going to be like having a stranger come and use my cheap old pans and crusty oven (I did have a panic the night before that nothing was chef-clean enough and scrubbed until my arm almost fell off), but Manveer was friendly and professional right from the get go.  He arrived a few hours before dinner to set up and prepare the food and got right down to it!  I could just sit back and wait for my guests to arrive.  But I didn’t do that, it felt strange not mucking in!  So I went and had a chat with Manveer instead, asking him about his experience in the catering industry and the six months he spent working on the tiny channel island of Aldernay.

The meal kicked off at eight with some bread and olives on the table, followed by a starter of Tikka Marinated Chicken, pickled cue and courgettes (which were absolutely stunning) and mint raita.  And for my Mum, who only eats fish and vegetables; wild mushroom arancini, pea shoots and truffle oil.


When Manveer called me a few weeks before the meal to discuss the menu, he suggested rump of lamb for a main course.  Now, I’m not normally a huge fan of lamb, but I knew that Sunny, my Dad and my brother would be all over it – so I said yes!  Turns out, I hadn’t really given lamb a chance because the lamb Manveer cooked was absolutely delicious! Accompanied with rosemary and garlic mash, pea and butternut puree, fresh leek and red wine sauce it was probably the nicest Sunday Dinner to ever grace my kitchen table!



While we feasted on lamb, my Mum polished off a fillet of seabass with sauteed potatoes, spiced tomato sauce, tempura broccoli and cauliflower florets.  I was amazed how Manveer perfectly timed two very different meals, cooking the fish to perfection while keeping the lamb tender.

To finish off, we had a deconstructed lemon tart with candied lemon peel, limoncello jelly and earl grey syrup (which I loved so much I had to try making myself!).  While we all ate and chatted, Manveer worked hard to get the kitchen back clean and in working order.

What can I say?  The whole night was a total treat from start to finish!  If you’re looking to host a dinner party with a difference then I’d definitely check out La Belle Assiette – your guests will be nattering about it for months!

Massive thanks to La Belle Assiette and Manveer for such an amazing evening – and to Anna from Exposure for the photographs (it was so nice to dig into a plate of food without me having to photograph it first!).

Have a great week everyone! 

*How to Host the Best Ever Barbecue

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So far it’s been a summer of Barbecues; the weather’s been so beautiful here in Wales (I mean who’d have thunk it?) that we’ve had or been to one practically every weekend.  I’m not complaining!  I LOVE a good barbecue, and over the weekend we hosted yet another one in our back garden, thanks to the lovely people at Marks and Spencer who recently sent me an email asking if I’d like to try some of their goodies for the grill.

So, having put a few successful barbecues under my belt this summer (literally, you should see my waist line…), here are my top ten tips for hosting the best ever barbecue. 🙂


1. Fire up the Grill at 3pm

There’s nothing better than banging barbecue weather, but standing next to the grill at midday – when the sun is blazing overhead – will have you melting faster than that slice of Monterey Jack crowning your burgers.  Spare a thought for your grill jockey and get the grill going at 3pm instead when it’s cooler and shadier.  It’ll also give you plenty of time in the morning to prepare the food and set up. 🙂

2. Keep your set up simple

The last thing you want to be doing when the whole neighbourhood is squeezed into your back garden is rushing around making sure everyone’s got plates, ketchup, napkins etc…  The best way to host a stress-free barbecue is to make sure people can help themselves to whatever they need, whenever they need it.  Create a “Pimp Your Hotdog” stand where all the sauces, buns and garnishes can be found, and set up another space for plates, forks (no one uses knives at barbecues!) and napkins.

When it comes to decorating, keep it simple!  Brightly-coloured streamers and pom poms will look great when there’s a breeze, while fairy or pontoon lights will keep the party going when the sun goes down.  Oh, and don’t forget a couple of citronella candles and wasp traps to keep those stinging party poopers at bay.

3. Serve Pitcher-friendly Drinks

Aside from bottled beers and cans shoved in a massive ice bucket, pitcher-friendly drinks are a great way to serve up some fancier drinks that everyone can help themselves to. Plus, they’re easy to prep and make up beforehand.  I served up these Peach, Apricot and Raspberry Floats over the weekend and they went down a treat!  Just smear some glasses with raspberry coulis and pop them in the fridge or freezer, then make up a jug of the Peach and Apricot Fizz.  Serve up with a hefty blob of frozen yoghurt and garnish with some raspberries and mint.  Yum!


4. Something to Keep Pets Entertained

Bungle is an absolute nightmare when he’s out in the garden.  He digs holes, chews on the plants and just generally likes to cause trouble.  So, when we’re having a barbecue making sure there’s plenty to keep him (and his friends!) entertained is a must.  First things first, make sure there’s fresh water handy and somewhere for furry guests to cool down – whether that’s a shady area or a massive paddling pool is up to you, but be warned, if you pick the paddling pool then you’re going to get showered with shake off!  Make sure there are plenty of toys out, as well as a few treats handy. I like to make Bungle his very own cup of frozen yoghurt with chopped up bits of cheese and sausage.  They’re super easy to make and he goes absolutely mad for them (…plus they keep him out of trouble for a good half hour…).


5. Serve up the *Best Ever Burgers

I mean, can you even call a barbecue a barbecue if you don’t serve up some show-stopping burgers?  Especially here in Wales; according to statistics we consumed 180,000 M&S burgers in the last 12 months – that’s enough to fill the Principality Stadium to capacity twice over!  You all know how much I love Marks and Spencer when it comes to barbecue food; their Posh Dogs make the best hot dogs (and you all know how fussy I am when it comes to Hot Dogs, right?).  Well, now they’ve taken the Grill Crown once again with their Best Ever Burgers.  Apparently, the M&S boeffins (see what I did there?) spent a whole year creating the recipe, playing around with different cuts until they came up with a juicy patty that’s got a little bit of added bone marrow for an extra hit of flavour.  (M&S is also the only national retailer in the UK that can trace every single bit of beef it sells in store, right down the exact cow that provided it.)  We served them up on the weekend with fresh salad, fried red onion rings, beef tomatoes, bacon (phwoar…), some Cheddar and Balsamic Burger Melts and a hefty smudge of Smoky Onion Relish and they were a huge hit.  Sunny grilled them to perfection on the BBQ and when he asked my brother and I how they were, we just nodded and mmmmm’d with warm juice drizzling down our wrists.  Oh yes.  We may have sneaked a few before everyone arrived… 👌


6. Something for the Veggies

But why should us rampant carnivores have all the fun, eh?  Veggies like my Mum love a barbecue too.  There are plenty of great vegetarian dishes you can cook up on the grill, from stuffed peppers and mushrooms, to these spicy halloumi kebabs drizzled with hot mango salsa.  Just remember to make extra because you can bet everyone else is going to want to have a couple too.  And remember, depending on how strict your veggies are, you might want to have a separate grill or disposable barbecue handy to prevent cross contamination.

7. Pick Simple Sides

No one wants to faff around cooking up fancy sides in the middle of a barbecue, so pick a handful of recipes that you can make ahead of time.  Plenty of salad, grilled sweet corn and chips are always easy to make up and go down well.  I like making these baked new potato wedges with my Chilli and Red Pepper Jam and chopped chives.

8. Don’t forget to serve up something sweet!

But make sure it’s not going to sweat in the heat!  Ice lollies and ice cream are great if you’ve got somewhere to store them where guests can come and go as they please, but there are lots of other options too.  Why not whip up a very messy Eaton Mess, or serve up some cake with plenty of fresh berries and ice cold cream? 🙂

9. Evening Games

I went to a barbecue recently where we played musical chairs, no kidding!  We’d all had a bit to drink by that point, and what started off as a game to entertain the kids turned into an adults only duel to the death.  It was hilarious!  Once everyone’s had their fill of food, it’s great to have some after dinner games to entertain everyone while the grill cools and the sun goes down.

10. Make the Cleanup a Doddle

“Let’s host a barbecue, it’ll be great!”  And it is, until everyone goes home and you’re left to scrub grease off the grill and clear up all those bottles (and the mud and grass that the dog’s trodden in through the kitchen…).  Make life easier for yourself and clean up as you go along or consider serving food up on paper plates to cut down on the late night washing up.  Also close doors to rooms indoors that you want to keep clean and tidy; that way guests won’t get lost and leave you with extra spots to scrub up at the end of the day.

How many Barbecues have you had or been to this summer?  I think we’re up to about ten and honestly, I could easy go for at least ten more 😉  Massive thanks to Marks and Spencer for all the glorious food! 🍔

Can we stop being “Busy”?

I bumped into an old friend in Tesco’s a few weeks ago.  See, I’ve started doing my weekly food shop on a Monday morning when it’s practically empty; I slunk in there with my list at 10am bare-faced with a (very) messy bun and wearing the same jogging bottoms Bungle smeared with mud on his walk that morning safe in the knowledge that it’s okay because I’m never going to bump into anyone I know.  Except a few weeks ago – oh the horror! – I did.  I was in the middle of one of those deep internal conversations I have with myself down the bread aisle when I’m trying to decide whether to buy that six pack of jam doughnuts even though I’ve promised myself that I won’t, when she completely caught me off guard.

And then we did the dance.  You know the dance, the old “Hey!  I thought it was you!  I haven’t seen you in ages!” dance-off, where you fling small talk at each other until you run out of things to say (whilst also very sneakily checking out the contents of each other’s trolley – there’s a two year old child in hers and a six pack of doughnuts and a box of laxatives in mine).

“So, how’s things?” she asked.

And that’s when I said it.  “…Oh, you know, really busy.”

Busy.  It’s not so much a lie, but more of a reflex; automatic, impulsive, my go-to response in exactly this sort of situation.  But okay – yeah, you got me – it is also a lie because at that precise moment in time “busy” isn’t the word most people would choose when describing my life.  “Stalled”, is probably a better word (as if the doughnuts and laxatives weren’t clue enough) because actually, things have been a bit quiet; Sunny’s been away with work a lot and I haven’t really had any plans. And despite the fact than I’m completely fine with all that, I still regurgitate that same lie.  Why?  Maybe it’s because I want the conversation to be over as quickly as possible, or maybe – just maybe – it’s because I want to give the illusion that I’m living my best life, that I’m successful and important but without directly saying that I am.  Maybe I’m trying to reassure myself that I’m those things too, as I stand there in my muddy joggers wondering whether I washed that blob of face mask off my cheek that morning that I smeared on to get rid of some super-sexy cystic acne.

Whatever the reason, the lie leaves a bit of an aftertaste in my mouth and so I chase it by asking her the same question.  I feel instantly better when she tacks on a smile, rolls her eyes and says, “Busy too!”

We all are.  Or, we’re all lying about the fact that we are.  Social Media especially is full of people hustling, side-hustling, seeing the world and building relationships.  We’re all eager to let the world know that we’re on our way to our next meeting, climbing the ladder, heading out to dinner, meeting a friend or that we’re getting on another plane… but not so eager to let everyone know when we’re taking the day to do some washing because we’re out of fresh knickers again, or invest in a bit of self care.

When you’re constantly blasted with images and videos of other people being busy, the fact that you’re not can feel like a failure.  And yikes!  No one wants people thinking they’re a failure.  So we’re all – perhaps unintentionally – buying into and perpetuating this lie, keeping up with the Insta-Joneses and purposely documenting/telling people how busy we are, and therefore how in-demand we are, how happy we are, how successful we are… and on and on and on.

So, what should I have said instead?  Should I have just thrown down the veil for a second and just been completely and brutally honest?  Should I have just picked up the laxatives, shook the box and said, “Oh, I’m working on something really important right now”?  Sorry! TMI and probably not, but “I’m good thanks, things are a bit quiet at the moment, but that’s fine” would have been far better and far more honest.  Would it really have been so hard to say that instead?  I don’t want to be that girl who’s always “busy”.  Too busy for the more important things in life.

It’s time to lift the lid and break the myth of “busy” being a soft synonym for “successful” and using it as a crutch when we feel exactly the opposite. And similarly, it’s time to realise that “quiet” doesn’t mean “boring”, and doesn’t necessarily need to involve a beach to be a good thing.  Just because work is slow, or you haven’t eaten out this month or travelled anywhere interesting recently doesn’t mean that your life is meaningless. The truth is that everyone loves a bit of quiet time now and then, it’s everything else around us that’s working hard to convince us that we shouldn’t.

So anyway, how are you, how’s things? 😉

Our Garden

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I think this is the first year in a while where we’ve had a proper summer.  So far, anyway!  And because the weather has been so nice we’ve spent loads of time out in the garden scoffing barbecue food and just soaking in the sun like the little solar powered creatures we are.  When we moved in to our house three years ago, the back garden didn’t really exist – it was just a muddy slope.  Three years (and a lot of hard work) later and it’s finally looking good.  I mean, it’s still a work in progress, but this is the first year that a lot of the plants we put in during those early days have blossomed.  It’s definitely one of my favourite places to chill – and it’s one of Bungle’s favourite places too (although he can’t really be trusted on his own out there because he likes to dig!). 🙂



Against the back fences we planted a couple of climbing roses that finally seem to be growing!  You know me, I love roses, and so I definitely wanted some in my garden.  Luckily our soil is perfect for growing roses in, although they’re way more upkeep than I thought they’d be; they constantly need spraying to get rid of insects and fungus, and trimming back to encourage more roses.



For my birthday last year Sunny bought me these colourful hanging pots which I absolutely love!  We filled them with pansies and geraniums and it nice having a bit of extra colour on an otherwise boring brown fence. 🙂



10 Lifesaving Products for Dog Owners

It’s been a while since I spammed you with snaps of Bungle, and what better way to do it than to tack on a list of ten items that – as a dog mama – I seriously couldn’t live without.  Paw-renthood has had a pretty steep learning curve for us; Sunny had never had a dog before and neither had I, and we both come from families with two very houseproud matriarchs.  So we pretty much had to figure things out for ourselves from the get-go.  Thankfully, a year on and we’ve finally settled into a bit of a groove in large part thanks to these fantastic bits and bobs. 🙂

1. A Good Vacuum Cleaner

Not all dogs shed, but Bungle does – and we soon worked out that our old Henry Hoover just wasn’t cutting it when it came to sucking up the balls of Bungle fluff that roll across our hard floors like tumbleweed.  Not only that, but it was a bloody nightmare getting it out of the cupboard every day and then putting it away again.  So, about six months ago we bit the bullet and bought a very fancy Dyson V8.  WHAT. A. GAME. CHANGER.  Honestly, they’re expensive – yes – but 100% worth it (Although I’m sure there are some great cordless dupes out there).  They’re powerful, roll over hard floors and carpets like a dream and – perhaps more importantly – they’re easy to use; no fussing with cables and lugging a heavy unit around.  It makes keeping on top of the shedding so easy.

2. A De-Shedding Brush

Another must-have for fluffier breeds!  When Bungle started shedding his puppy fluff, we soon worked out that the standard grooming brush was – surprise, surprise! – just a brush, and wasn’t doing anything to actually remove all the dead dog hair that ends up floating around the floor.  So, we picked up this de-shedding brush from Amazon which cuts through all the dead hairs and therefore prevents further shedding (which means less vacuuming!).

3. Car Seat Hammock & Belt

I miss those days where I could just hold Bungle on my lap in the car; we outgrew them pretty quickly!  Bungle’s not great in the car, he gets sick easily (he once threw up out of the window and pebble-dashed the back of our car AND the one behind us…), he struggles with unpredictable twists and turns and insists on having his head out of the window.  As well as a pet blanket for the back seat, we also bought a black hammock that loops over the back and front headrests; it primarily protects the car seats but it also creates a comfortable, secure space for big dogs to sit (and isn’t too affected by the car’s movement).  Because Bungle likes to stick his head out of the window we bought a belt to secure him in; it clicks into a seat-belt plug and then clips onto Bungle’s harness and stops him from jumping out of the window… which he would if he could! 🙂

4. A Steam Mop

Bungle loves rolling in muddy puddles and living in Wales, wet walks are part and parcel of the whole dog ownership gig.  Luckily, we’ve got hard flooring downstairs so in theory it should be easy to clean up after him.  In the beginning we’d wipe Bungle’s paws and body with a towel to try and clean him off after wet walks, but it was such a pain and didn’t really work.  And – like our old vacuum cleaner – my old vileda sponge mop and bucket just weren’t cutting it when it came to removing mud and dust from the floor.  We picked up a steam mop a couple of months ago and I absolutely love it.  It uses plain old water and comes with two pads that you can just throw in the washing machine once you’ve used them.  Plus, when I wash them with fabric softener, the scent after mopping the floors is so nice!

5. Drying Jacket

Sticking to the whole Wet Dog theme, here’s a great product tip we picked up from a couple of fellow Golden Retriever owners we bumped into on Barry Island.  If you’re fed up of trying to quickly throw a towel over your dog before they shake water and mud up your walls, then you need one of these babies.  Drying Jackets are not only hilarious (they’re like hoodies for dogs), but they work like a dressing gown.  You put them on when they’re wet and the fabric absorbs all the water in their fur, but more importantly, when they shake off, it catches everything.  Bungle loves his, in the winter he loves falling asleep in it.

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6. Treat Dispensing Toys

Bungle’s got plenty of toys that he loves (and loves destroying – like the squeaky lion that he’s slowly balding and the duck that he’s decapitated several times…), but none are more useful than the ones that keep him busy!  We’ve got a Kong that I stuff with yoghurt, banana and cheese and then freeze, and a ball that releases treats gradually, but my favourite one has to be this snake toy I picked up in Home Bargains.  Taped up cereal boxes full of treats also do the trick (as long as you don’t mind clearing up soggy bits of cardboard afterwards…!).



7. The Right Collar and Lead

This is one that we’re still trying to work out!  We’ve tried so many different types of lead and Bungle seems to be stronger than all of them.  We started off with a harness, but that didn’t work and it only seemed to make him stronger (we still use the harness when we’re out and about and in the car, but not while walking)Then we tried extendable leads, and he snapped the whole lot – even the super strong ones.  That was fun!  And then we tried a super strong bungee lead… which again, he snapped.  He actually broke the metal clasp.  So… we moved on to a Halti which loops around the snout and is supposed to stop dogs from pulling.  Basically whenever Bungle tries to pull us across the street to say hello to a dog/human/cat/squirrel/moving leaf that he’s spotted, it pulls his face to the side and prevents most of the pulling.  It worked to begin with, but Bungle’s got a strong neck and seems to have worked out a way around it – to everyone’s surprise.  So next we’re moving on to something similar called a Canny Collar which pulls his nose up when he pulls instead of to the side.

8. Pet Nanny Cam

I know, it sounds ridiculous – but stick with me on this one!  Honestly, it hadn’t even occurred to us to buy a nanny cam for Bungle, but my Mum and Dad were thinking five steps ahead of us (parents, they think they’re so smart… and they are!) when they bought it as a Christmas Present.  It’s basically a live camera that you can tune into through WiFi at any time via an app on your phone.  We installed it in our kitchen on top of our extractor fan and were absolutely amazed at the quality, even at night.  It gives us peace of mind whenever we leave Bungle on his own; when we’re out and about we can tune in and see what he’s up to (/see what he’s destroying).  Now we don’t feel like we have to race back.  There are loads of brands out there, but we’ve got this one.

9. Puppy Pads, Stain Remover & Wet Wipes

Bungle rarely has an accident inside these days, but we still use all the toilet training bits and bobs we picked up in the beginning pretty much every day.  Wet Wipes are always handy for cleaning paws and ears, and Puppy Pads are great to put on the door mat in the winter to dry off wet paws (the largest and cheapest puppy pads can be found at Home Bargains 😉 ).  A good Stain Remover is a MUST.  This one is our go-to; not only did it completely remove a massive diarrhea poop stain from a pale carpet without trace (Bungle’s allergic to chicken and we definitely found that one out the hard way), but it’s also a must-have for toilet training as it blasts urine stains, gets rid of the odour and prevents repeat marking.

10. Travel Water Bowl

Cafes and outdoor spaces around town are becoming more dog friendly these days, but you just can’t guarantee you’re going to come across a water bowl when you’re out and about.  We picked up this travel bottle which comes with a attached plastic trough for easy water breaks on the go.  It is a bit clunky and I’m sure there are more compact versions, but this one works well for us.

Dog owners, what are your holy grail items?  What’s your dog’s favourite toy?  Let me know! 🙂

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