Sunday, 30 June 2013

Travel Planning: The Philippines

A little country split into three, bordering several different seas and oceans, The Philippines is renowned for being a tropical dream.

The ideal time to visit is between March and May because of the amazing weather, November time is a little cooler and the rainy season isn't recommended to travellers - but rainy season means cheap so that's all I need to know!

Filipino food is said to be incredible with a variety of different foods to try - good to know I definitely won't go hungry! A must try food is any of the delicious seafood on offer and they also are said to do world famous shakes.

The main Filipino tourist activities seem to be visiting the beautiful beaches, activities such as sea kayaking, trekking and mountain walks, partying, shopping, eat and...kareoke. Filipino's love kareoke!

Culture wise, after three centuries of Spanish ruling and a number of years of American ruling, a very unique Asian culture exists. The huge Spanish and American influences make it like no other place - this will be apparent in the food, music, art...everything! 

Here you can see just how many islands the Philippines actually has...

[Map from here]

For island adventures, it is recommended you visit Luzon for mountain biking, Mindoro for diving, Panay for trekking and Palawan for sea kayaking.

For beaches you are truly overwhelmed with choice! Southern Negros, El Nido, Boracay, Cebu, Pagudpud and Siargao are supposedly the best beaches the Philippines have to offer, and I can't wait to confirm that as it's currently raining here in 'Sunny' Sheffield. Boracay is a party island which is probably the most highly recommended for young backpackers. While Palawan is a more relaxed and detoxing island.

Manila and Cabu are recommended for cheap shopping, a lively atmosphere and the famous Filipino kareoke, something I definitely have to witness as all I can think of is the scene from Bridget Jones where they are singing Madonna songs in a Thai prison!

A couple of other things I've come across: the Underground River in the Puerto Princesa National Park. It's about 50 miles North of the city centre of Puerto Princesa in Palawan. It's said to be very impressive as it has a mountain-to-sea ecosystem. I don't mean to be ignorant but that confuses me a little, it has got 834 brilliant reviews on Trip Advisor though so it must be worth a visit! 

Camiguin is also a must see for its hot springs, located in Mambajao. Just have a look on the link, there are no words to explain why it is a must visit. Incredible!

For snorkelling there is Malapascua, Balicasag (Bohol), and Apo. And if swimming with whale sharks is your thing, head to Donsol.

The boring bits the currency you will need is the Philippine Peso and Visa wise, if you're a UK citizen visiting and staying for under 21 days, you're good to go. Best to check here though if you aren't from the UK.

It's sounds like the Philippines is going to be all about beaches, sunbathing, eating, drinking and shopping - erm, perfect?!

I know, another jumbled travel entry but I feel like I'm getting closer to being able to plan a rough route, yaaay!

N xo

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Nacho Burgers

What do you call cheese that isn't yours? Na..cho Cheese...Best I've got.

I recently disclosed, after my trip to the Lescar, just how much I LOVE the point of a slightly worrying obsessions. The chips, the cheese, the salsa, the gucamole...mouth.drooling...the combination of ingredients is without a doubt, EPIC. And I hate that word, but it's the only word strong enough to describe the wondrous creation that is... The Nacho.

After having a think about something new, yummy and exciting to make for D before our Cider/Mini Festival extravaganza last weekend, I came across Nacho Burgers - sounds amazing, right? Nachos. Meat. Burgers. Cheese. Erm, yes please!

So I gave it a whirl...and the results were OUT. OF. THIS WORLD...even if I do say so myself!

All you need (for two people) is:
250g beef mince - the nicest, leanest you can acquire
1 egg, beaten
2 burger buns - posh ones if poss. or homemade 
Coriander (cilantro), chopped up
1 avocado
1 bag of nachos - half for the burger, have for a side of nachos
2-4 slices of cheesey - depending how cheesey you are 
1 tbsp BBQ sauce
5 tbsp Sour cream
Gucamole - I used my homemade recipe
Salsa, (optional)- I used my homemade recipe
Jalapenos - only for D, my mouth would be on FIRE.
Salt and Pepper, to season

[Adapted from The Londoner]

2 sweet potatoes - to make sweet potato wedges

First of all, preheat your oven to 180-200 (fan)

Get your wedges on ASAP as they take the longest - around 30-40 minutes

Next, I prepped everything - guca (avocado, garlic, coriander, tomato, lime juice) and BBQ/sour cream sauce so it was good to go as soon as the burgers are nicely cooked - mix both and pop to one side. The BBQ sauce and sour cream mix is amazing so if you want to make more, feel free. I also added a little extra BBQ sauce, but that's just preference - you could also use some hot sauce if you wish.

Mix your mince with the egg and a little seasoning (salt and pepper) I also added a bit of diced onion and coriander here too but you don't need to.

Heat your pan (skillet if you have one, if not a frying pan will do). It needs to be reeeally hot! Shape the burgers into two using your hands. We all know what a burger 'patty' looks like. Pop them in the pan - you shouldn't need a lot, if any, oil because of the fat from the mince. Flip them over every now and again - they should only take 4-5 minutes on each side.

Heat up your grill and when the burgers are done, pop them on an oven tray, cheese on top and stick under the grill to allow the cheese to melt. 

Now for the burger masterpiece - slice yours buns in half

 Pop a layer of nachos on the bottom, I smothered my sour cream and guca here, burger on top of that, extra sour cream and a few more crumbled nachos on top. At this point, you can also add your jalapenos and extra hot sauce if using.

Pop your burger 'lid' on, serve with your delicious wedges and enjoy.

I could honestly eat this now, so good.

N xo

Jaffa Drizzle Cake

I love Jaffa Cakes - they are the only Dark Chocolate containing thing I can stomach eating. Dark chocolate and I don't get along! Jaffa cakes just make me think back to school days when they sold the little snack packs of JC's in the refectory and we'd get them at break. So, I thought why not up my game and make that memory into a cake!

Now, I say 'drizzle' loosely - it should probably be called Jaffa bucket-of-chocolate cake...the more choc the better in my opinion. And because of my dislike for dark chocolate, I did use Cadburys dairy milk instead...and crumbled flakes on top. Delish!

This cake is so ridiculously simple and probably one of my favourites I've made recently.

[Adapted from BBC Good Food]

All you need is:
140g butter
200g self raising flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
200g golden caster sugar
3 eggs
6 tbsp milk (I used skimmed)
1 Orange, zest only (finely grated)

For the drizzle:
4 tbsp orange juice
50g golden caster sugar
80g milk chocolate (you can use dark, that would make it a proper jaffa loaf but I prefer milk, of the cadburys variety!)

First things first, preheat your oven to 180

Lightly butter the base of a loaf tin (original recipe also suggests lining but I opted not to)

Put all of the ingredients for the loaf in a bowl and mix together well with a wooden spoon or whisk.The mix needs to be light, fluffy and well combined.

Pop the mix into your loaf tin - try and make it as level as possible.

Pop it into the oven for about 40-50 minutes until golden. The loaf should feel quite firm when it's done.
(in my fan oven, the loaf took about 43 minutes at 180)

When the loaf is almost ready, in a bowl, mix together the orange juice and sugar needed for the drizzle.
When the cake is cooked, take it out of the oven and pour/spoon the orange/sugar mix over the cooked loaf.

Leave to cool a little in the tin before removing. When cooled, take loaf from tin and place on a wire rack to cool.

When cool, break up the chocolate and place in a bowl. Melt in the microwave in 30 second bursts (or in a bowl over simmering water if you prefer). When runny/melted, drizzle over the cake and leave to set.

See what I mean? Definitely bucket-of-chocolate cake rather than drizzle! It's safe to say this is one of my favourite things I've made recently so I would really recommend having a crack at it, go on, you know you want to!

N xo

3 Day Juice Cleanse - Day 3

Yesterday was the third and final day of my juice cleanse. I can't say I've exactly followed it well at all so I've possibly done myself more harm than good with it. It's much harder than I anticipated, and rather than feel cleansed, I just felt completely bloated and disgusting. Day 2 and 3 's menus seem much more bearable than day 1 though.

On the menu for day 3:

Breakfast - a carton of live yoghurt mixed with a tablespoon of unsweetened muesli and a Blue Passion - 3 passionfruit, 1 canaloupe melon, 1 mango and 4oz blueberries

Verdict: Breakfast was fine! I usually have yoghurt for breakfast anyway with granola so having it with muesli wasn't an issue. I added some blueberries and dried apricots

Mid-morning snack - Six dried apricots and a Minty Morning - 4 large oranges and a sprig of mint

Verdict: Again, fine! I usually have dried fruit/nuts anyway and instead of the Minty Morning, I made lunch times Life Saver, minus the lettuce, and had that. Must nicer without the lettuce I imagine. After my vile cabbage experience on Day 1, I am sticking to fruit juices rather than vegetable ones!

Lunch - A small bowl of raisins, sultanas, walnuts and almonds with a herb/weak Indian tea and a Life Saver - 3 apples, 2 oranges, 1 lemon and 2 handfuls of iceberg lettuce

Verdict: I completely changed my lunch - sitting at a desk all day makes it impossible to just have a boring lunch of fruit and nuts - that's a snack! So I ended up having a salami and avocado panini with mozzarella - yep, completely defeating the object of what I've been trying to do...

Mid-afternoon snack - A Cherry Ripe -16oz strawberries and 8oz cherries

Verdict: I opted against having this one as I was still full from this mornings. I drink hot water with lemon in throughout the day anyway, but I had a couple of mugs of that instead of the Cherry Ripe and some strawberries.

Dinner - A bowl of pasta with chopped garlic, olive oil and fresh, chopped tomatoes, a large mixed salad and a carton of low fat live yoghurt Have with a herb/weak Indian tea. And your FINAL juice - a Waterfall - 3 carrots, 2 apples, 2 celery sticks a a handful of parsley

Verdict: Instead of having pasta, I opted to have a chicken salad instead and some strawberries for dessert.

N xo

Friday, 28 June 2013

Flashback Friday - Graduation

November 14th 2012; Graduation Day. I can't believe it's been over a year since I finished University now and that's really made me think about how much has changed in a year and also, Graduation. It was such a lovely day and it was nice to see all the proud parents and families gathering to celebrate our big achievements. I'd convinced myself I wasn't bothered about my Graduation and that I was just thankful all the stress and my life in the library was over but as the day arrived, I was very excited. The panic of 'I hope I don't fall over walking across the stage' set in and it was nice to see some of the friends I hadn't seen since University finished. And you know what, I was and still am bloody proud of myself! I worked very hard for my degree and I'm glad I felt proud that day.

My ceremony began at 11am so we wanted to get a few snaps in first...

The boys

Lucy and I - she got me through final year 

Emily had her Law Graduation on the same day - I would have crumbled without her during those final months. 
Apparently we didn't look like we were enjoying ourselves...

The boys looking dapper!

We were lucky enough to have Sir Robert Winston and (to the right of me) Elliott Kennedy at our ceremony 

My very proud Grandma

 A photo with Chantelle was needed - my first uni friend when I moved into halls all those years ago.

Afterwards we went to Piccollinos for food and took some more pictures in the Winter Gardens.

Despite the look on my Dad's face, I am so glad I could make my Parents proud of me on that day. They had stuck by me through it all - all the blood, sweat and tears - and I can't thank them enough.

Unfortunately, my Grandad had been very ill a few days before, so he was the only missing piece of the Graduation puzzle for me that day. So, after the ceremony and our lovely lunch, I drove back home in my cap and gown to surprise him; not a chance I could miss out on him sharing that day with me.

And, I even managed to get back to Sheffield in time for a few cocktails at the Bowery with my closest friends. 

Graduation was pretty much perfect - so I would urge anybody with a Graduation coming up - look forward to it, you may think it's 'lame' and you're just glad it's over but you will remember that day for the rest of your life.

Who would have thought I would be a Bachelor of Arts English Graduate, Class of 2012. Madness!

N xo

Summer Salads

Having a few days off this week meant I could cook up something I've never made before in the kitchen. I'm lucky enough to get on ridiculously well with my lovely Mummy and, thankfully, she's a big food lover too - especially when it comes to a lunch time salad.

I decided to do my own version of a Panzanella salad (Italian Bread Salad) and a feta, caramelised onion and pinenut salad. Both of which I absolutely love!

All you need for the Panzanella is:
3-4 slices of a-few-days-old sourdough bread, ripped into chunks
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar (or balsamic)

First of all, you need to soak the bread chunks in the olive oil and red wine vinegar for at least half an hour if possible.

While the bread is soaking up the oil and vinegar, prepare the onions, tomatoes and cucumber in a separate bowl.
After the bread has soaked in the oil and vinegar, pop it on a medium to low heat, stirring regularly. The crunchier the bread chunks the better!

After 4 or 5 minutes, or when the bread is golden and crispy, scatter on top of your ready prepared tomatoes, cucumber and onions and throw a few olives on for good measure. 

If you want a dressing for the Panzanella all I did was a mix a little garlic, dijon mustard, white wine vinegar and pepper up to drizzle over.

All you need for the feta salad:
1 onion
1 handful of pinenuts
3-4 tsp brown sugar
Mixed leaves

For the caramelised onion and pinenuts - heat a little oil in a frying pan on a medium to low heat. Throw in your sliced onions and fry until softened (not browned). After a couple of minutes, stir in the sugar, coating the onions. When the onions are caramelising, throw in the pinenuts. Turn the heat as low as possible and leave for a few minutes to allow the pinenuts to soften and brown a little.

The rest is simple. Throw the mixed leaves in the bottom of a bowl, allow your onions and pinenuts to cool a little before throwing on top of the leaves then crumble a bit of feta on top.

Dressing wise, I just drizzled a little balsamic glaze over the top for extra flavour.


It went down a treat and like the greedy little piggies we are, we polished off the lot.

N xo