*Welsh Lamb and Halloumi Salad with a Whiskey Drizzle

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Happy Friday!  A couple of weeks ago Marks and Spencer treated me for St David’s Day and gave me a lovely hamper full of their favourite Welsh products – from meat and cheese, to welshcakes and booze – to enjoy.  And enjoy, I did.  I set myself a little bit of a Ready, Steady Cook challenge and tried to whip up an easy lunch using some of the products in the hamper and whatever I had banging about in my kitchen cupboard, and this is what I came up with!

I’m not the biggest fan of salad – there needs to be a little something-something more than just leaves for me to dive into one – but the halloumi and lamb are the stars here, as well as the sweet whiskey drizzle I whipped up to go on top.  It’s the perfect companion to the salty halloumi.  Very easy to make and a lil’ bit boozy – once you’ve got the base down, you can use it to make any flavour of dressing you like. 🙂

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Welsh Lamb and Halloumi Salad with Whiskey Drizzle (serves 2)

Ingredients

  • 2 lamb leg steaks*, diced
  • 1 block of halloumi, diced
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • spring greens (I used peas, shredded beetroot, spinach, tender leaf salad and spring onions)

For the Drizzle:

  • 50ml whiskey (I used “Myth” by Penderyn Distillery*)
  • 125ml water
  • 1tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1tsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp cornflour
  • 100ml runny honey
  • 1/2 tbsp of tomato ketchup
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 white onion, diced
  • couple of drops of liquid smoke
  • pinch of salt
  1. Fry up your garlic, onion and whiskey with a little oil in a frying pan – until the onion browns slightly. Remove from the heat.
  2. In a separate saucepan, combine the water, vinegar, cornflour, salt, ketchup, liquid smoke and honey until combined.  Pour in the whiskey, onion and garlic mix and gently heat until the drizzle begins to thicken.
  3. Sieve the sauce into a bottle or jug, and set aside to cool.
  4. Lightly fry the diced lamb and halloumi with the dried thyme until cooked, then toss with your salad leaves and veg.  Drizzle that shizzle, then scoff. 😉

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Thanks to Marks and Spencer for spoiling me once again – all gifted items have been marked with a *.  Have a great weekend! 🙂

*Furbo: The Treat Dispensing Dog Cam

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(*This post is sponsored by Furbo)

The absolute worst thing about having Bungle (besides when he wipes his butt on my lovely, white bed sheets…), is having to leave him!  He really is part of the family – he pretty much demands to be, it’s what Golden Retrievers are all about – and honestly I wouldn’t have him any other way and I’d take him everywhere with me if I could.  Sunny and I are really lucky that he’s never alone for too long, but then – y’know – sometimes, it happens.  As much as I’d like to wheel him around in the trolley while I do my weekly food shop (…he’d love that!), it just isn’t going to happen, but do you know what? He might as well be there with me because I never stop thinking about him and worrying that he’s okay at home on his own and isn’t wrecking the place while I’m out.

Enter the pet cam!  I used to think they were a bit of a gimmick until my parents got us a Vimtag camera for Christmas.  The idea is that you set it up in a room where you tend to leave your pet while you’re out, then basically link up to your phone via an app, and – via video link – it allows you check in on your pet while you’re out.  We were pretty much instant converts; we never have to worry about rushing back home, we just pop onto the app, make sure that Bungle’s behaving himself (…he’s usually just fast asleep!), and that gives us the option to stay out a little longer! So when Furbo got in touch and asked if Bungle would like to try out their pet cam, I wondered how it could possibly improve on the camera that we already had – what else could it possibly offer?

Well, in a word… TREATS!

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How it works…

One of the many things that sets Furbo aside from other dog cameras on the market is the fact that it allows you to toss treats!  Once you’ve set up the camera (which is super easy – just plug it into the wall, download the free, accompanying app and connect to it once via Bluetooth) you can check in on your pet at any time – day or night – and from anywhere in the world (provided you’re on wifi!).  You can talk to them through the video link (“Get off the sofa!”), hear them respond (“No, it’s comfy!”), record them, photograph them and even flick/swipe the screen to send a treat!  The Furbo will spit a couple of small treats out through the hole in its base, rewarding doggo for being “a very good boy” while you’re out and about doing your thing! 🙂

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The Good

Bark Alerts

As well as the ability to send treats, one of the best things about Furbo – and something that really sets it aside from other cameras – is the fact that the app will send an alert to your phone if it hears your dog barking.  Bungle only tends to bark when he’s frustrated or if someone comes to the door, so having a camera that listens out for that is awesome; if we get an alert, we know we need to check in pronto tonto.

Design

Another thing I really like about the Furbo as opposed to other cameras is its design – it actually looks good!  While our Vimtag camera looks a little bit like a 90s webcam, the Furbo is easy on the eyes by comparison.  It’s a little bit bigger, sure, (obviously it needs to be to hold a decent bank of treats), but sleeker, and with the trendy and kinda Scandi bambo lid it blends really well with the other furniture in our lounge.  The light on the front changes during different modes of operation – yellow when it’s on standby, blue when you’re using the app, and purple when it’s struggling to find a WIFI signal.

Treat Tossing

I mean, obviously, the main draw is the treat tossing function.  It’s great fun!  But what makes it even better is the fact that you can record your own message to accompany the treat toss – a “snack call” – so doggo knows he’s about to get a treat!

Super Wide Lens

One of the only things our Vimtag camera can do that Furbo can’t is the ability to move the camera via the app and follow Bungle’s movements around the room.  Furbo‘s lens is fixed, but, the good news is that it’s a wide-angle lens that has no trouble keeping an eye on the whole room. 🙂

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The Not so Good

The Noise

One of the only gripes I have about Furbo – and there aren’t many at all – is the noise the mechanism makes as it spits out a treat.  It’s a little bit noisy.  I mean, nothing to us humans, but by the way Bungle first reacted to it you’d think the sky was about to cave in!  He’s a slightly skittish dog anyway – he’s never liked sudden noises – and so it took him quite a while to get used to the sounds Furbo makes, even the snack call.  The good thing is that there are plenty of training videos and tips within the app that will help you properly introduce your pup to Furbo that’ll have them loving it in no time!

Depends on the Dog!

Here’s the stickler.  All dogs are completely different.  Some love watching the TV and others barely notice that it’s even there!  Bungle falls into the second category – he always has!  He’s never been bothered about the TV and has never reacted to Facetime or phone calls.  He’s a Golden Retriever with a very finely tuned nose; it’s part of the breed.  So while he’ll always appear behind me when I’m grating cheese on the other side of the house, he won’t react to me if I’m on a screen because he can’t smell me there.  The same applies to talking to him over the camera; he can hear me speaking to him through the Furbo, but won’t really recognise the sound as me because he can’t smell me.  So some of those features – as fantastic as they are – are a bit lost on him.  It’s just a lot of strange noise, and when we first set the camera up it tended to stress him out rather than comfort him.

I suppose what I’m getting at is that not all dogs are going to react to Furbo in the same way.  It depends on how they’re wired!  So if you’ve got a very skittish dog, then it might be worth looking at a more basic camera without all the bells and whistles.  You can always use the training videos of course, but it’s always going to be a bit of a gamble.

Aside from that, as pet cams go Furbo really is top of the pops.  Other than the treat tossing feature, the bark alerts alone are such a simple but really useful feature and it’s the best looking camera on the market by a long way. 🙂

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Big thanks to Karkalis Communications for sending over the Furbo!  Have a great week everyone! 🙂

(This is a sponsored post, you can read more about what that means right here.)

*How to Host a Banging Christmas Party in 10 Steps

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Can you believe that it’ll be Christmas Eve this time next week!?  Crazy!  How many Christmas Parties have you been to so far?  If you haven’t, then I’ll bet you’ve got one coming up this week.  Or are you hosting one yourself?  If so, then this post’s for you.  Hosting at Christmas is one of my favourite things to do (I love planning and organising around Christmas more than any other time of year), but it can also be really stressful (in fact, I wrote a whole post about it here).  So here’s my ten step guide to hosting a banging Christmas Party.  Cheers! 🙂

1. Invitations

Christmas is the busiest time of year for get-togethers and partying HARD.  Office parties, family dinners, drinks “and nibbles” with the neighbours, Black Friday Blowouts… So get that guest list written and those invites sent out as soon as you can to make sure that everyone on your guest list is wide open and able to come along.  It also gives them plenty of time to get those RSVPs in, so you can kick back and get down to planning the good stuff… (i.e. food and booze 😉 )

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2. Dress Code

When you’re writing out your invitations, make sure you let your guests know what they’re expected to wear.  Is it a super-casual friendmas with drinks and games?  Or are we talking bow ties and tiaras – or something in between?

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3. Parking, Logistics and Warning the Neighbours

Maybe this one ought to be done and dusted loooooong before you send out those invitations.  Hosting any party is tough; it’s easy enough to invite everyone around before considering how it’ll actually work.  Like, how will your guests get to your place?  If they’re driving, where can they park without pissing off the neighbours?  And speaking of the neighbours, will they mind you hosting a noisy Christmas Party (and do you care?)?  Which rooms are off limits?  Do you have enough space to host five people?  Ten people?  Your whole neigbourhood?  Where are all the coats and bags going to go?  Shoes – on or off?  Also, what’s your budget when it comes to food and drink?  Get the big questions answered and out of the way as soon as you can – it’ll save problems further down the line or worse, on the night. 🙂

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4.*Food

“Oh Baby, all I want for Christmas is fooooooooood!” Now let’s down to the good stuff!  Because let’s be honest, the best thing about Christmas is stuffing your face, innit?  Before you hit the supermarket, before you even get down to making a list (and checking it twice 😉 ) think about what kind of party you’re hosting because the kind of food you’re going to be serving will depend on that.  Are you planning on serving up a full Christmas Dinner complete with pigs in blankets and a flaming pud?  Are you putting on a “help yourself” buffet?  Or are you just serving up snacks?  Or, are you going to take the weight off and ask everyone to bring a dish (in which case you probably should mention that in your invites, right?)?

Personally, I love putting on a Christmas Buffet and pretty much do it every single year for my family on Boxing Day.  It’s easier than putting on a full Christmas Dinner, you can get it all ready before hand (instead of spending the whole party slaving away in the kitchen!), and everyone gets a little bit of what they fancy.  My go-to every Christmas for party food is *Marks and Spencer because they’re all so easy to prepare, taste amazing and there’s such a fab selection (even for vegans – with these vegan sliders). A festive scoffing sesh in my house just would not be complete without their pork belly squares, profiteroles and baked Camembert – which this year, I have to say is the best yet with its spicy and sweet chilli glaze (the only reason there’s no photo is because it got annihilated within seconds).  Yum!

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5. Party Games

It wouldn’t be a party without a little entertainment, right?  So have a think about how you’re going to keep the good times rollin’ in between catch-ups and conversations.  How about putting on a pub quiz Big Quiz of the Year style with questions based on things that have happened in the past twelve months?  What about a few drinking games to get the juices flowing?  Or go all out with a monster game of Cards Against Humanity. 🙂

6. Drinks

Once you’ve finished planning your shopping list, make a drinks list.  Check your drinks cabinet (i.e. the cupboard under the sink if you’re like me!) and see what’s in stock and what’s running out.  Put all the drinks and mixers somewhere easily accessible so your guests can help themselves throughout the party.  If you’re feeling fancy come up with a few festive cocktails in pitchers or create a suggested drinks menu! 🙂

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7. Deck the Halls

If you haven’t already got your Christmas Decorations up, now’s the time!  Consider which rooms you’re going to be using and get them looking festive with fairy lights and garlands.

8. Christmas Playlist

If you’re like me then you’ll already have one of these babies on your Spotify just ready and raring to go!  I don’t like to have a playlist that’s just chocka full of pure Christmas though – I mean, there’s only so many times you can hear The Pogues before banging your head against wall.  I’ve got all the usual numbers old and new, but I like to mix it up with some classics and a few hits from the past twelve months.  I also LOVE sneaking in a few Vitamin String Quartet covers.  If you’ve never looked them up on Spotify, its basically a group of LA-based musicians who work at recording new versions of well-known songs using a string quartet.  There’s something kind of festive about their music, and it’s fun watching people hear a song they recognise reworked in a totally different way.

9. Game Plan (timings etc)

I like coming up with a game plan before a party, especially when it comes to food.  I like to know exactly what time I need to put the oven on, put food in, take food out etc… Making a list helps me keep on top of things and saves a lot of stress on the day.  It’s also great if you’re co-hosting – that way you don’t have to keep touching base with each other, you can just check the game plan!

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10. *And if you’re going to a party…

Don’t forget to take a little something for your host!  It’s good manners and is always well appreciated.  Sure you could take a bottle of something, but how about spoiling them with an extra special box of chocolates?  This box of fancy chocs from Marks and Spencer not only looks gorgeous, but is an absolute treat.

Thanks to Marks and Spencer for the fabulous food and drink! Happy partying! 😉

*This post contains gifted items, read more about what that means here.

 

*Buttermilk Plum Cake

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We’re stone’s deep into berry season now, and while I love a bowl of strawberries and ice cream as much as the next person, cherries, raspberries and plums for me are where it’s at (although – boring fact – technically plums aren’t botanical berries, they’re actually “drupes”).  Plums are so underrated, but I love them for their slightly sour skins and juicy insides, and they’re even better when baked into a cake.  Even Bungle loves plums 🙂

Anyway, M&S got in touch recently and asked if I’d like to try baking with some of their berries.  They’re a huge fan of the Great British Berry (not to be confused with Mary Berry who is also great) – they’ve had relationships with some of their berry suppliers for over forty years and it absolutely shows; the damson plums they’ve got on offer at the moment are absolutely banging.  This plum cake is incredibly simple to make and turned out so well when I served it up at a recent barbecue that I made it again a few days later.  It’s a little bit like an upside down cake, except you bake it upright!  It also stays lovely and moist for a few days because of the buttermilk and juice from the sliced plums… if you can resist scoffing it all at once, that is! 😉

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Buttermilk Plum Cake

Ingredients

  • 125g Butter
  • 100g Plain Flour
  • 125g Caster Sugar
  • 1 Large Egg
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • 50g Ground Almonds
  • 100ml Buttermilk
  • 4 Ripe Plums stoned and thinly sliced
  • (Single Cream to serve)
  1. Heat the oven up to 170°, then grease a 20cm cake tin, dusting it with a little flour.
  2. Hold back 1 tbsp of sugar, then beat the rest with the butter in a large bowl.  Beat in egg.
  3. Sift together the dry ingredients and then fold into the buttercream and egg mix along with the ground almonds.
  4. Gently stir in the buttermilk, then pour the mixture into the cake tin.
  5. Arrange the sliced plums over the surface, making sure to overlap them as the cake will rise and expand as it bakes.  Sprinkle the surface with the extra sugar, then bake in the oven for 50 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  6. Serve up with fresh single cream. 🙂

Thanks to M&S for the ingredients and for sending this recipe my way – it’s a keeper!  Have a lovely weekend 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! 🍔