Kosmos: A Greek Feast

On my sixth day on the trot in the office last week (oh the joys!), as I wrestled with yet another Excel spreadsheet, I felt the urge for an impromptu night out. So a few texts later, an evening with Darren, Ben and Nicola was planned, heading to the mythical Kosmos.

Darren has been meaning to take me to Kosmos for several years now and I’ve been dying to go seeing as everyone in Manchester raves about it so I’m not quite sure why it has taken us this long to get around to it. It’s a cute little Greek taverna, with a real family feel, nestled in the middle of Fallowfield. We bundled in out of the rain, grabbed some seats and eagerly scanned the menu.Lucy and Nicola - CopyMy three dining companions were all Kosmos veterans and advised that the best way to start would be with a couple of big sharing platters.

I’m glad I took their advice as the platters were each filled with a mini feast. We ordered two Mini Mezes with plenty of pitta breads and an extra side of Kalamarakia Tiganita (that’s kalamari to you and me!). Each Mini Meze was slightly different and was filled with gorgeous Greek goodies.IMG_3552 IMG_3546IMG_3548Salads, dips, cheese, olives, falafels, stuffed vine leaves galore…IMG_3545IMG_3547IMG_3550 IMG_3549 My favourite had to be the Spanakotyropitakia (what a mouthful!) – gorgeous little cheese and spinach filo parcels. They were just bursting at the seams with filling!IMG_3553The kalamari was really addictive. I probably ended up eating more than my fair share! Ooops. However I do pick through kalamari quite carefully to make sure I don’t eat any that look too much like baby squid – they look too cute to eat! I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like my food to look too much like the animals I’m actually eating. Daft I know, especially for someone who grew up on a farm. IMG_3551After munching our way through the giant meze bowls, I was already stuffed. This was rather unfortunate given that we were only on the starter and I was really looking forward to my next course!

When it came to mains, as I’m a massive cheese fan, it was inevitable that I would be drawn to a dish containing something of the cheesy variety so I plumped for the Kotopoulo Meh Feta Kokkinisto. IMG_3564Chicken breasts stuffed with feta cheese and mushrooms, cooked in a garlic, white wine and tomato sauce. It was really delicious! Look at all that cheesy goodness inside…IMG_3571Kosmos certainly don’t scrimp on their portion sizes, and as I was so full from the starter, I could only manage about half of it. That’ll teach me not to over do it on the pitta breads! Luckily Darren has an endless appetite so he was able to ensure that none of it was wasted. I would love to come back and have this again after having been a little more restrained on the starters, as it was really delicious and it made me so sad not to have eaten it all!

In addition to half of my meal, Darren also tucked into his Rosto. IMG_3566Chunks of lamb shoulder on the bone, slowly cooked with onions, garlic and cinnamon in a rich red wine sauce. The lamb just fell off the bone and was beautifully done.

Meanwhile, Ben and Nicola both went for the Arnaki Meh Spanahi. IMG_3563Chunks of lamb, casseroled in wine, tomatoes, garlic, cinnamon and fresh spinach. It looked divine. When I’d been scanning the menu this was one of the dishes I’d been very tempted by and Ben and Nicola were very pleased with themselves for their good choice!

The others clearly had bigger appetites than me as not a morsel of good food was wasted. We finished with very full bellies, having had a gorgeous meal. No pretentiousness, just really friendly service, and very homely and authentic cooking. If you’re a fan of Greek food, you need to get yourself down here pronto.

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Life Lately #3

A little catch up on my life lately…

Bonfire night

I’d been waiting for an excuse to wear the ridiculously furry hat that I’d picked up at the Pembrokeshire County Show, and bonfire night was the perfect occasion. We jumped on the tram to Chorlton and grabbed ourselves a spot on the green which had been surrounded by a cheery bunch of little food and drink stalls for the night. We’d already had dinner before we came out but Darren couldn’t resist a cheeky hot dog!Furry hat chorlton fireworksChildren happily whizzing sparklers around, the nip of the air on your nose, the excitement and the anticipation of waiting for that first rocket to go off…I love bonfire night. IMG_3503  Although this wasn’t the biggest of displays, it was still beautiful, and it was good fun to spend the evening out in the cool fresh air with our friends, craning our necks to the sky to marvel at the show. I find that I enjoy experiences so much more when I have other people to share them with.

We’d taken with us a flask full of a hot toddy to keep away the chills – a blend of whiskey, ginger wine and honey. I don’t normally like whiskey at all, but this was gorgeous. I’d highly recommend it – just warm about 3 or 4 shots of whiskey with about half a pint of green ginger wine and then add a good dollop of honey to sweeten it up. Mmmm.Ginger whiskey hot toddy

Misty mornings

As ever, rowing training has continued in earnest. However all training came to a halt recently when the whole city was covered in a blanket of mist. Manchester mist Beetham TowerWe can’t go out on the river when it’s too misty as there would be a real risk of us crashing into something or each other, so we had to hope that the mist would clear eventually. IMG_3586 IMG_3585I think there’s just something a little bit magical about the mist, so I couldn’t resist sharing these photos.

We (the three coxes) sent the boys off on an 8 km run, hoping that the mist would have gone by the time they got back. As the day warmed up the mist gradually lifted, and the boys arrived back from their run as sweaty messes. Inevitably their run had turned very competitive with them all sprinting back trying to out do each other. Muppets.

Non-stop cheese eating

Following the amazing Cheese & Wine Evening we went to a couple of weeks ago, we’ve been continuing our love affair with cheese, cracking it out at every possible occasion. Most people would bring beer or wine to a house party…and whilst we did bring a keg when we went to our friend Martin’s house for his birthday celebrations recently, we also brought plentiful supplies of cheese. IMG_3264GoudaAs soon as we brought out the cheeseboard, people were all over it. Birthday cheese is definitely the way to go! Who can resist?

Finding my inner artist

I always hated art at school. I just never felt that I could get my work to look perfect and that always left me with a great feeling of dissatisfaction. My whole family felt my grumpiness when I had art homework to do! I love looking at other people’s art but just hated trying to do it myself.

So when my friend Lorna suggested going to the late night opening of the Manchester Art Gallery and wanted to get involved in an art workshop, I wasn’t overly keen. However I went along, and actually really enjoyed it. The theme of the evening was tranquility and de-stressing and this really did completely relax me. A far cry from the art homework of old.Manchester art gallery 2The atrium was filled with comfy cushions, art materials and lots of little bits and bobs such as shells, leaves, feathers and pine cones as inspiration for us to start drawing.IMG_3513 IMG_3517Lorna got down to work on her more abstract piece, whilst I used a shell as my starting point.IMG_3516 IMG_3521IMG_3524 IMG_3528Before we left, I couldn’t help myself from taking a wander round a few of the halls in the gallery. I’ve been here lots of times before, but I could look at these beautiful pictures time and time again.IMG_3534IMG_3535Manchester art gallery

Geeky reads

As a biology student, The Selfish Gene was pretty much compulsory reading and I’ve continued to make my way through several of Richard Dawkins’ books over the years, enjoying his very readable style. In a bid to learn a bit more about the man behind them all, I’m currently reading An Appetite For Wonder – Dawkins’ memoirs.IMG_3289My cosy nights in recently have involved my big snuggly pink dressing gown, a scented candle gently burning, The XX’s relaxing melodies on loop and this big hardback book. Perfect down time.

I think I might go and snuggle up on the sofa with it now. Please let me know if you have any good book recommendations. I’m always looking for more things to read!

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Chester: Race Time

In this household, we take our rowing very seriously. In fact, we will be keen for anything that we can be competitive in if we think we stand a good chance of winning! Having not raced in a while, we were keen to get out on the water and back into battle, so our coach signed us up for the Dee Head race in the beautiful Chester.River Dee Chester greenery River Dee Chester River Dee Chester boatsIMG_3401 IMG_3403I adore Chester, and would love to have a little house here on the side of the river where I could sit and watch the world go by. IMG_3419However there was no time to sit around. I was busy directing my crew left right and centre, getting them organised, checking that all of the nuts and bolts on the boat were done up tightly, advising new coxes on the best way to steer the racing course, umming and ahhing about how many layers to wear etc. Sorting out eight big men who inevitably wander off, and over-seeing the assembly of a 17.6 metre long boat (we have to take the boats apart into multiple sections and then reassemble them every time we travel with them) are all part of the challenges of life as a rowing cox.IMG_3438The race was run in a time-trial format, and I was racing twice; once in the morning division against my boyfriend Darren’s crew, and then in a different crew later on in the afternoon division which Darren was part of.Dee Head rowingWhen I cox I turn from a very softly spoken quiet girl into a very aggressive demanding little demon. It’s all very good fun. Rowing cox coxswain new northernerHowever, it’s not quite so much fun for the boys who are putting themselves into significantly increasing levels of pain and fatigue as I push them harder and harder. So hard that they couldn’t row a single stroke more once we cross the finish line. When you’re winning, the pain seems worth it, but when you’re not, it’s just miserable. Chester Dee Head Rowing RaceWhilst I love winning, I don’t find quite the same satisfaction if in order to win, I must be in a crew that beats Darren. It somehow takes the shine away.

In our first race, we pipped Darren’s crew to the post, and whilst I was thrilled to win, it did make me a tiny bit sad that Darren hadn’t won as well!

We’re all viciously competitive whilst on the water, but as soon as the race is over, we’re back to being friends again, although perhaps with a few cheeky jibes thrown in!

It was a little bit nippy, so we headed over to the beautiful black and white boat house for lunch to stay warm.IMG_3409Inside, I was thrilled to find a little cart filled to the brim with jars of sweeties. Even better, they were provided free to all competitors. If you mention free food to a bunch of hungry rowers, it’s going to go down very well. There were some very happy faces!Candy Buffet Cart IMG_3393 IMG_3394 IMG_3392Soon enough, it was time to race again. This time with Darren in my boat. By this point the wind had picked up and the stream was flowing really fast so quite a few boats had difficultly in getting into position at the start line so we had to wait quite a while. Luckily my stroke man Ollie kept me amused.WP_20131102_002

Whilst the level of competition in the afternoon wasn’t quite so high, we were still chuffed with our performance and it was another win for us. Woohoo! Rowing River Dee ChesterAs you can see, some people were thrilled with their medals!IMG_3415Brilliantly, even our club’s girls crew won their event as well, so it was smiles all round and a successful day’s racing.Dee Head womenAnd a good win must of course be followed by a good night out.

We started off at Lal Quila on the Curry Mile – my first ever Curry Mile experience…Lal Quila Curry Mile Rusholme Manchester…before meeting up with the girls to party in the teepees at Oast House. Oast House Manchester teepeesIMG_3462 IMG_3461 Decked out with lights and a disco ball ready for a party, and complete with a little log fire and tankards of warm cider, it was the perfect place for a good old gossip and a little bit of boogieing. IMG_3454Warm cider on a cold autumn night is just the best. I felt like I was clutching a little hot water bottle!IMG_3456 A great way to end a successful day.IMG_3458

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Autumn loves

I’m a real summer lover. I’d say that I’m definitely at my happiest when the days are long, the sun is in the sky, I can spend all day outside and there’s a promise of BBQ food. However, autumn is now properly upon us, so I thought I’d share some of my current essentials that have been helping me to make my way into the colder months…Gap stripy jumperMy stripy jumper from GAP. It’s definitely knitwear weather, and I love my fun colours. I like to wear bright clothes whatever the season and autumn is no exception.Accessorize light blue suede gloves Blue suede gloves from Accessorize for keeping my fingers warm! Whilst there are so many cute woollen gloves and mittens out there, I always manage to make holes in them within a few months so they seem like a bit of a false economy. Suede and leather gloves are where it’s at to get you all the way through to spring, year after year.Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream The Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream softens and soothes my lips like no other. This cold and windy weather has made my lips really chapped recently so I’ve been slathering this on and they’ve been sorted out as quick as a flash. MAC Plumful lipstick MAC’s Plumful lipstick – I love berry-toned shades, so I’ve been cracking this one out for seasonal-appropriate lips.Scarves Cosy scarves – this beautiful bronze one from Tie Rack is perfect for layering and when I want something super thick that will act like a wall against the wind, I whip out my old black and white college scarf and pull it right up around my face.Tweed jacketAnd finally, my favourite jacket ever! It’s not super thick, so I basically use this in place of a cardigan, and wear it absolutely everywhere, whether it’s to work, going out to dinner, or just pottering around the city.

What are your autumn essentials?

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Ocean Treasure

I’m known for being very predictable when I eat out and I’m guilty of nearly always ordering something with goat’s cheese in it – I love that stuff! Therefore it was high time I got a little more adventurous and stepped outside my food comfort zone. When an invitation to try out the new menu at Ocean Treasure landed in my inbox, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to mix things up and I jumped at the chance.

Historically I’ve never been a big fan of Chinese food. Having very rarely eaten Chinese when I was growing up (the middle of rural Somerset isn’t exactly a hot bed of international cuisine!), it’s never been a type of food that I’ve plumped for when deciding where to eat out. Therefore as Ocean Treasure focus on serving Chinese food, it was definitely not the sort of restaurant that I would normally have gone to, and this was a great opportunity to try something new. I roped in my friend Edd, and we pottered along after work.Great Northern Railway Company's Goods Warehouse ManchesterSituated on the ground floor of the Great Northern Warehouse, it was immediately clear that this was a little more chic than your average Chinese restaurant, and many of the other customers also appeared to be Chinese, which was surely a ringing endorsement! Whilst the main focus is on Chinese food, there are also many other influences at work that all mingle together, from Korean to traditional British.IMG_3320IMG_3327The New Northerner Lucy Ocean Treasure chopsticksMy friend Edd and I were ushered into a cosy spot next to the window and I apprehensively scanned the menu, hoping to find something that would suit my less than exotic palate!

To start with we went for the Chicken & Prawn Seaweed Rolls and the Chicken Satay Skewers.Ocean Treasure Chicken and prawn seaweed rollsOcean Treasure Chicken Satay SkewersA fairly safe choice and not particularly mind-blowing, but so far so good.

When we looked back at the menu for our main courses, we had a sneaking suspicion that the chef had been under the influence of a few cheeky beverages when he came to naming and describing some of the dishes. I was drawn into the daft descriptions on the menu, in particular the Sizzling Korean Gangnam Style Beef. To quote the menu, ‘Imaginary lasso at the ready…Ooh Ooh oppa Gangnam Style’. The tongue in cheek menu had me sold…I had to try the dish named after Psy’s mega tune. Gangnum Style Korean Steak Fillet Ocean TreasureIt was gorgeous. Surrounded by onions and peppers and covered in a sizzling sweet tangy Korean BBQ sauce, the quality of the beef was perfect and the flavours were wonderful.

Meanwhile, Edd went for the Crispy Shredded Beef with a Hint of Chilli in OK Sauce.Ocean Treasure Crispy Shreded BeefI tried a bit and it was super yummy. I do love a good sweet and savoury flavour combination, so I’m now kicking myself for not making an effort to eat Chinese more often. Staying in my little comfort zone has led to me seriously missing out. I will not be making this mistake again!

Despite feeling rather full, we couldn’t resist puddings. I went for Custard Spring Rolls whilst Edd went for the Sticky Toffee Pudding. They weren’t exactly the most exotic options on the menu, but we just couldn’t resist. When it’s cold and rainy outside, you seek comfort food!ocean treasure custard spring rollsSticky Toffee Pudding Ocean Treasure Edd was clearly very keen for his pudding!Ocean Treasure sticky toffee puddingThe puddings were devoured very quickly and were promptly declared as delicious by the both of us.

I really enjoyed my little foray into Ocean Treasure. Despite my initial scepticism as to whether I would enjoy stepping outside of my comfort zone, I’ve properly been converted. Edd and I would definitely both come back here again. 

Thank you so much to Ocean Treasure for inviting us, and especially to John Lee the manager, who was so friendly and made the whole experience a real pleasure.

Does anyone else have a food comfort zone, or was I the only daft one?

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A Cheese Fest

Out of all of the good things in life, cheese ranks pretty highly in my book. Creamy goat’s cheese, rich melted Camembert, ‘blow your socks off’ Stilton…I just love a good hunk of cheese.

I’m therefore all over any invitation to get my mitts on some new varieties and put them to the test. And if a sommelier or two fancies giving wine recommendations for each different cheese, I’m more than happy with that! So off we pottered to The Albert Square Chop House to see what treats lay in store for a Cheese & Wine Tasting Evening, hosted by cheese expert Chris and sommeliers George and Marcin.IMG_3215When we arrived, we were pretty excited to see the large quantities of cheeses laid out for us. I tried my hardest to control myself and not go completely nuts straight away.IMG_3217This is my ‘I just want to stuff myself full of cheese’ face. I was keen.IMG_3227Chris, our cheese expert for the evening, taught us all about the background of each of the cheeses, whilst George and Marcin recommended the perfect wine pairings for us to match the different flavours of the cheeses. I know very little about wine, so it was a great chance to expand my knowledge!

Let me take you on our taste sensation of an evening…

The first cheese that we got involved with was the big old beast of Old Amsterdam, a smooth flavoursome Gouda, paired with a gorgeous English white wine – The Three Vineyards. old amsterdam 2Whilst Dutch cheese can be known for being a bit bland, this was rich and full of body…a pleasant surprise. In my eyes, if you’re going to have cheese, you may as well have something with a bit of flavour, so this did not disappoint!old amsterdamAfter this first cheesy offering, we were primed and eager for more. Next up it was time for an English cheese and we were served the gorgeous Red Fox. It may look like a Red Leicester, but it has so much more depth of flavour that really develops as you eat it. This is a cheese that I’ll definitely be keeping my eye out for in the future!IMG_3221The slight acidity of the wine really brought out the creamy flavours of the cheese. Marcin and George had done a spectacular job of picking out great cheese and wine pairings. Kleine Zalze South African  white wine cheese and wine eveningThen it was time for a smoky cheddar. I love a good mature cheddar – we’ve had a significant stash of Cathedral City’s Extra Mature and Vintage in the fridge that we’ve been rapidly working our way through and we always have a nosy around the cheese stalls for a good cheddar when we visit a food market. Therefore I was very keen to check out this one from Quickes’ Home Farm in Devon.IMG_3222Very very intense in flavour, this mature cheddar just crumbled away in your mouth. I think that this was my favourite cheese of the night. Divine. With this cheese and wine pairing, it was certainly the strong cheddar that did all the talking next to the more gentle South African shiraz. IMG_3233Now a cheeseboard just wouldn’t be complete without a seriously smelly offering. Bring on the brie and the daft French accents.IMG_3219It was certainly a stinker, but was deliciously creamy nonetheless. One wine clearly wasn’t enough, so we tried it with both a French wine and a really fruity New Zealand one.sauvignon blancAs always, I preferred the sweeter one!

Finally, we tucked into a very powerful Stilton.IMG_3223A very tasty wine was required in order to match the punch of the Stilton, and again we were given two options, rich port, or sweet Royal Tokaji. Royal TokajiWhilst the port took me on a little nostalgic trip back down memory lane to formal dinners at university, my hankering for sweet things tipped the balance in favour of the gorgeously sweet Royal Tokaji.  I’d never tried it before, but I’ll definitely be keeping my eye out for this little gem in the future!

It really was a foodie sensation of an evening. I feel like I now have a whole new appreciation for good wines and how they pair with other food. Darren and I are definitely keen to go back to The Albert Square Chop House to ask George and Marcin for their advice with future meals. They are wine geniuses.

Do you have any favourite cheese and wine pairings? Or any particularly great cheese recommendations? I’m always on the look out for more tasty cheeses to enjoy!

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Macaron Inspiration and Disaster

Get ready for a very macaron-heavy post…IMG_3174Don’t you just want to reach through the screen and grab one?IMG_3175Macarons are simply the prettiest, yummiest, mouth-wateringly cute little treat, and personally I can’t get enough of them.IMG_3178At the weekend, we pottered along to Wilmslow where Darren and I had booked in for a taster afternoon to try out The Real Macaron Company’s little gems. I have a massive sweet tooth, so naturally this was something that I’d quite been looking forward to. I’m not a particularly good baker, so I really appreciate the work of anybody who is!

Holy moly these were good.macaronMore and more flavours just kept appearing in front of us. It was a macaron-lover’s paradise.

From Hazelnut & Raisin.. IMG_3180 …to Chilli & Chocolate. We were spoilt for choice and tried to have one of every flavour!IMG_3169They crumbled softly into your mouth and were filled with the most delicious ganache.IMG_3173My favourites had to be the Pistachio & Dark Chocolate (above) and the Earl Grey & White Chocolate (below).IMG_3177After enjoying so many macarons, Darren and I came away clutching our bellies, and I came away newly inspired to have an attempt at baking them myself.

Now I did mention above that I’m not much of a baker. ‘But how hard can it be?’ I thought. I googled ‘Macaron recipe’ and clicked on the BBC Food’s version and got down to work.

It started off OK as I made my almond paste. However I soon got into all sorts of bother, mostly when it came to attempting to turn the water and sugar into a syrupy mix. On my first go, I completely burnt the sugar. On my second try, it seemed to go OK and I left it whilst I went to whisk my egg whites. However when I came to mix it into my whipped egg whites, the sugar mixture had gone all hard. I tried to melt it and make it liquidy again, but the mixture seemed to retain sugar crystals, which meant that when I came to squeezing the macaron mixture out of the piping bag and onto the tray, sugary lumps kept getting caught in the nib of the piping bag. IMG_3254It just doesn’t look quite right does it?

Nevertheless I persevered, and promptly discovered that my oven is a bit fiercer than I thought it was. What were meant to be lilac-coloured macarons, ended up being slightly brown-tinged.IMG_3255So, unfortunately, they didn’t end up looking quite as good as the ones we’d enjoyed at the weekend!IMG_3263Surprisingly, they did actually taste quite good. They just weren’t very good looking! And when it comes to macarons, it’s all about the presentation. So it’s a baking fail for me!

I definitely need to have some degree of supervision from a pro, as I’m clearly not a natural. With that in mind, I’m hopeful that my macaron-baking luck will shortly improve, as I have booked onto a macaron master class with The Real Macaron Company, where I’m hoping that I will get taught all of the tricks of the trade. Fingers crossed that my second attempt will be a significant improvement!

Have you ever tried baking them? Any tips?

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