Sourced Locally Fortnight

Sourced Locally Fortnight is a two-week celebration at the East of England Co-op that does exactly what you think it does: it celebrates locally sourced food and drink The aim is to show how amazing local farmers, butchers, brewers and bakers are, and to make buying local food as easy as possible. At a time when many people are concerned with their carbon footprint and where their food comes from, it’s good to know that there is a place where you can shop and worry less about that sort of thing (if you’re in the East of England, that is!).

I was provided with some vouchers so I could shop at an East of England Co-op, and sample some of the local produce that was on offer. I never do a ‘big’ shop at a Co-op, as I find it a bit more expensive than the other supermarkets, so it was fun to take a look and see what I was missing!

I shopped in the middle of the Sourced Locally fortnight, so there were a couple of displays in store with a great selection of food and drink. I hadn’t realised what a selection there would be, to be honest, expecting it to be mainly fruit and vegetables. On the display as soon as I entered the store, there was jam, pasta, apple juice, tea, coffee, cakes, cookies – so much stuff! I had to be careful not to spend everything I had just on this display!

In the end, I was pretty pleased with my selection. I got pasta, pasta sauce, ice cream, vinegar, tomato sauce, strawberries, jam, salt, steak, coleslaw, potatoes and loads more! I really wanted to get some Wilkins & Sons jam, because Tiptree Jam Factory is a favourite, and I also wanted some Maldon Sea Salt, because I spend so much time in Maldon. Everything else was very local, of course – the potatoes were from a farm that is very, very close to where I work!

Because I had all this yumminess, I had to make something nice for dinner, so I had steak, potatoes, carrots, parsnips and sweetcorn. The steak and potatoes were the Sourced Locally items, and they were just delicious! And then I just had to eat some Rossi’s ice cream for dessert. That was never going to last long in my freezer.

I’m really pleased with everything I got with my voucers, but I have to say that ultimately, I can’t afford to shop like this for myself. The items are good quality, and taste amazing, and the price refelcts that. Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to regularly shop at those prices, but I’m pleased that I’ve had my eyes opened to the vast range of food and drink that are available from local sources, and I think I’ll be going back to stock up on certain things (the steak for a start!).

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Pizza Express ~ Summer Menu

Earlier in the summer I was lucky enough to be invited along to Pizza Express to try out their summer menu. After a few false starts, I finally managed to head along to the Colchester branch with Hannah last week, making the most of the last of the summer and trying out their delicious menu.

I’ve been to Pizza Express a lot; it’s the restaurant we always end up when I go to Olympia for work as there is one right on site, and it’s easy to stop by on our way out of the venue. I always know there’s going to be something that I will like, even if I don’t fancy a pizza, because I really like their salads and pastas too. I usually plump for the Pollo Pancetta Salad, and I always enjoy the dough sticks, even if they add unnecessary calories to a salad!

Talking of unnecessary calories, a starter at Pizza Express is always, always Dough Balls for me, and this visit was no different. They are hard to resist, and because Hannah and I were both ordering them, our lovely waiter suggested we get Dough Balls Doppio to share, rather than a portion each. It came with pesto as well as garlic butter, and the whole thing was just as yummy as ever.

For my main meal, I opted for a pizza from the summer menu: the Pollo Forza Romana. I have been known in the past to overestimate my ability to deal with spicy food, and after I had ordered this, with its hot roquito peppers and chilli oil, I did wonder if I had made a mistake, but it wasn’t too hot in the end. It was just right!

Hannah is a vegetarian and has a dairy intolerance, so she can find it quite hard to find meals that suit her. She plumped for the Leggera Superfood Salad, and was very impressed with it! She said that it completely filled her up, and that’s not something she finds with salads an awful lot, but when it’s packed with roasted butternut squash, beetroot, avocado, pine kernals, lentils and cucumber, you shouldn’t really expect to feel hungry afterwards!

We also partook in a summer cocktail, the Hugo. It had been recommended to me, and Hannah had picked it off the menu when she was browsing it before we got to the restaurant, and it totally lived up to all expectations! Prosecco with elderflower, fresh mint and lemon over ice – it was never going to be anything but delightful!

 

I’m really impressed with the Summer menu at Pizza Express. Everything seems to be really fresh and light, and just what you need on a hot summer’s day! If that Indian Summer that has been mooted is on its way, there should be ample opportunity to pop in and try a refreshing Hugo cocktail and a pizza or a salad!

* I was given a free meal at Pizza Express in exchange for a review.

Ilumi Review

A few weeks ago, I was offered the chance to try some meals from Ilumi. Ilumi pride themselves on making meals that are nut, gluten and dairy free, meaning that they are safe for people who suffer from a wide variety of food intolerances. I don’t suffer from any of these allergies myself, but I know plenty of people who do, and I know how awkward it can be to shop for food when you have to check the ingredients and make sure there is nothing off limits in it. The fact that their products are dairy free means that any of the meals without meat in will also be suitable for vegans.

Generally, I’m not one for ready meals. I have never had particularly good experiences with the ones that I have bought in supermarkets, and as a result, I always think I’d rather just make myself beans on toast than reach for a ready meal. But when the Ilumi box arrived with my four choices, I could tell, just from the packaging, that the meals weren’t going to be the same as a sloppy lasagne with a funny taste from Tesco!

Piri Piri Portuguese Style Rice – £1.50
I’m a big fan of Piri Piri, but I don’t like anything too hot, so I was pleased when I tried this and found that it was just mild enough for me.I had it with some chicken and vegetables, and it tasted great. At £1.50, it’s a good price too.

Spanish Style Rice and Vegetables – £2.75
This is a full meal, so it’s a really quick dinner option. It tastes really good; I don’t think it’s obvious that you are eating a ready meal, because it’s really tasty, and completely lacks that artificial taste that so many microwave meals have. This is one of the options that is totally suitable for vegans.

Cantonese Style Chicken – £3.75
Chinese food is one of my top choices when it comes to a takeaway, and while I wouldn’t pretend that this is the same as getting your favourite chicken dish from the local takeaway, it’s certainly a good compromise. It tastes amazing, it takes a few minutes to prepare, and there’s nothing in it that you need to be worried about.

Basil & Garlic Chicken Meatballs in a Tomato Sauce – £3.75
This was my favourite of the bunch. I had it for dinner last week when I needed to eat fairly quickly, and just had to really wait on the pasta cooking. Instead of cooking it in the microwave, I put it into a saucepan and heated it up, and it felt a lot more like a real dinner that way! I’m not actually usually a fan of meatballs, but I think that’s because I have never had chicken meatballs before, always opting for the beef version. These were yummy, with a great texture, and the sauce was fab.

Three of the products I tried came from the new Mediterranean range (the Cantonese style chicken obviously being the odd one out).

I’m sure you can tell that I’ve been won over, as far as microwave convenience meals are concerned. When they are as tasty as Ilumi’s meals, there’s definitely an argument for having them in the cupboard, for those evenings when you get in late and you can’t be bothered to cook. Most of them would be great for lunch too, provided you work somewhere with access to a microwave!

I think the prices are pretty reasonable too; the full meals are no more than £3.75 and the rice pouches are between £1 and £2.75, depending on what else you have with them. Given that the postage is free, and next day, I think it’s a really good deal, especially when you consider a) how tasty the meals are, and b) that they are suitable for people with a wide variety of food intolerances. I’m thinking of putting in another order, to have a few pouches in reserve when dinner is too much of a chore!

* Ilumi provided me with these products for the purposes of review, but as always, reviews on Is That You Darling are fair and unbiased.

Essex Bloggers Meet ~ Crown Street, Brentwood

A couple of weeks ago, I met up with the Essex Bloggers for the fourth time ( I never got around to writing up a post about the Christmas meet, but that will be forthcoming as soon as I find the photos from the day!). Haydn from Squibb Vicious organised a shopping evening at Crown Street, Brentwood, where we got a chance to take a look round the shops, and then go for a burger at the simply delightful Gastro Burgo Co.

Crown Street is a small pedestrianised walkway leading onto Brentwood high street. I worked in Brentwood for two years, and used to spend a fair bit of time on the high street, but was totally unfamiliar with Crown Street. I probably cut through there to get to the shops I needed to whizz round in my lunch break, but never really took any time to look at the shops I was walking past. On the day that we visited, it was market day – there were a couple of stalls set up on the cobbles, and I had to resist the baked goods that were on sale as I was saving myself for my burger!

We went into all the shops on Crown Street, and had a chat with the proprietors and had a lovely look around. French Quarter is a lovely little shop full of furniture, gifts, and interior items, and everything is so beautiful and individual. We had a chat with Lin, the lady who owns the shop, and she was so enthusiastic about giving local artists and manufacturers a chance to showcase their goods. It’s the perfect place to find a gift!

 

We also popped into Fusey, the clothes shop owned by Joey Essex. Now, I’m not a TOWIE fan at all, I’m really not. I only know who Joey Essex is because he’s one of those people who does stuff away from the show, and I’ve seen him on panel shows. But his shop is perfectly reasonable, even if the clothes aren’t really my sort of thing.

Deb , Alice, Penny, Haydn, Ria and me – some of the Essex Bloggers outside Fusey

We were lucky enough to be invited into two boutiques after they were closed to have a look around, and talk to the owners. Racquét Boutique carries a lot of big brands, such as Ted Baker, French Connection and Superdry. It’s all very much out of my budget, sadly, but it was nice to have a look at some very lovely items and wish I could afford them. The owner of the shop. Allison, chatted to us for ages, and I think that’s the best thing about individually owned high street shops: the personal touch.

 

The other boutique we went into was Violet Hill, and the clothes in there were really something special. We were also lucky enough to have a chance to talk to Alison, the owner of this shop, and she was clearly really passionate about bringing new and exciting labels to Crown Street. All the girls seemed to fall in love with the same dress, though nobody bought it. Haydn was umming and ahing over a Jones and Jones dress, and being the dedicated bloggers we all are, we totally enabled her, so she took advantage of her 15% discount and bought it!

  

After all the shopping, we went into The Gastro Burger Co for dinner. Masterchef finalist Chris Georgiou has taken all his skills and devoted them to making (as far as I’m concerned), one of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten! Before the burger, we had a starter called The Volcano, which I believe is making quite a name for itself locally. It’s a nacho dish, which as you can see from the photo below, is quite enormous, and is very, very tasty. All of the meat used at The Gastro Burger Co is sourced locally, and even the ketchup is homemade! Chris took our order and was a charming chap; between the friendliness, the atmosphere and the food. it won’t be long until I return!

 

The Volcano and my cheese burger at The Gastro Burger Co. Yumsters!

I was really pleasantly surprised by Crown Street. Although the spectre of TOWIE looms large on Brentwood high street, there’s no denying that it’s a vibrant and busy town centre. And Crown Street is perfect, because it’s tucked away, and the shops feel quite special. Everyone is so friendly and welcoming, and I’ve already told my sister we have to go and take a look (mainly so I can go back to Gastro Burger Co for another delic
ious burger!).

 

Thanks so much to Haydn from Squibb Vicious for organising this meet up, and to Laurie from Crown Street for being a fabulous host. I had a really lovely day, and count many of the my fellow Essex Bloggers as good friends! We were lucky enough to get goodie bags to take away, and I’m very excited about burning this Made in Brentwood candle that the French Quarter provided; it smells like Chanel No. 5!

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Simple Pleasures #3

You’d be forgiven for thinking that I had forgotten about my Simple Pleasures series. I started it back in February, with singing along to your favourite songs, and continued in in March with reading in the bath. Then things stalled, but it’s back!

Today’s simple pleasure is about food. Food is a pretty simple pleasure in and of itself, if like me, you love eating. But specifically, today’s post is all about the food that takes no time whatsoever to prepare, but is totally delicious.

For me, a snack or meal that has a great preparation time to enjoyment level ratio is a winner. Something like a roast dinner is infinitely yummy, but it takes so long to make, that by the time you go to eat it, you’re exhausted. Hence why a carvery is always a delight; all the fun of the eating without any of the preparation.

But you’d never go out to a restaurant and order beans on toast (at least I wouldn’t), because it’s so easy to make at home. I often have beans on toast for lunch, and it’s the quickest thing to make, but one of the most delicious things to eat. Seriously, I adore beans on toast.

Obviously, any self respecting beans on toast has to have a generous sprinkling of cheese on top (parmesan or cheddar works for me). Just looking at this photo is making my mouth water!

Another snack that I feel has a good ratio is nachos. Or at least, nachos the way I make them! If I have guacamole, I use it, but more often than not I just have tortilla chips, cheese and sour cream.

I know that most Mexicans and Tex-Mex aficionados would scoff at my nachos, but I don’t care. I put some tortilla chips in a dish, sprinkle on some cheese, bake for about ten minutes and serve with sour cream and guacamole where available. Another snack that doesn’t take any time or effort to prepare, but is delicious once it’s ready!

What are your favourite snacks in this category?