Monday, 30 June 2014

Ping Pong

Once upon a time on a dreary Wednesday evening, the boy and I stepped outside after a lovely Thai massage (ooh la la) and wondered what to do for dinner. 

"I know!" the boys says, "why don't we go for some Dim Sum seeing as we've just had a Thai massage?" 

For saying he is pretty well traveled, how he linked a Thai massage to Dim Sum I will never know, but I was happy to oblige. So off we trotted to Ping Pong. There is definitely no shortage of dim sum restaurants in London but Ping Pong is probably the better known due to being a chain. I find chain restaurants can sometimes be a bit same-old, same-old, but Ping Pong provides plenty of versatility on its menu.

The location we went to was St. Christopher's Place, just behind Oxford Street. This location is on the small side to say the least so, because we hadn't booked, we were invited to wait at the bar until a table was ready. Luckily, a couple left 5 minutes later so we were seated pretty quickly.

With regards to food, you have two options: you can either choose one of the set menus (ranging from £8 - £17 per person) or you can flip the menu over and tick against the options you'd like. You can select as many items as you like and, once your waiter takes the menu away to put through the kitchen, you are presented with a brand new unmarked menu in order to repeat the whole process again and again! It's very easy to over-order this way, especially if you're hungry and you want to tick every box, but I would strongly advise that you select 3-4 items at a time. The food comes out very quickly and, like I said, you can keep asking for more until you're fit to burst if necessary!

Anyway, on to the food. We ended up ordering 12 individual items (plus dessert...yes, I went against my own advice above), so we had quite a selection! There are a lot of variants of fish based steamed dumplings which, in my opinion, tasted all the same. We even had a spicy pork dumpling arrive at the same time as one of the fish orders and even that was hard to differentiate! 

To branch away from the traditional steamed dumpling selection, we went for a few alternatives. The four mushroom puff was gorgeous. The pastry was so light and fluffy and there was plenty of filling to balance out the puff pastry. We also opted for a chicken wonton soup; the chicken wonton part being nice enough, the soup part being a bit bland! The best round of food we got was the final one (we were both stuffed by this point). We chose squid, prawn and coriander cake(delicious! Not at all like the rubbery fish cakes you usually end up with), vegetable spring rolls (average... I can picture the Iceland shopping bag they arrived in), and a Vietnamese rice paper prawn roll (this was probably my favourite. It was very light but had so many flavours going on, helped along by the fish sauce it came with).

Other items were ordered and other items were devoured but, after a while, they seemed to blur in to one.  The pros of Ping Pong is the food comes out very quickly and the staff are generally very accommodating. The cons are, if you ask for tap water, you will be waiting a long time. As it's free, it's clearly not one of their priority items! We also had a side of steamed broccoli that we didn't receive so we had to remind our waiter on the next order about it. 

As I said earlier, be careful in your ordering. Go slow and steady. Not only will you eat more than you need, but the bill will come along and punch you in the face (we both underestimated by a good £20)! Speaking of which, the bill also took ages to get to us... it was as if they enjoyed seeing us squirm when it dawned on us how much we probably spent!

Overall, Ping Pong is OK. It wasn't terrible by any means, and I would definitely go there again if I fancied that style of food. It just didn't leave me jumping for joy at the end of it all. Mind you, that's probably because I was weighed down by the volume of food I'd just eaten...


Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Beer-butt Chicken

Yes, you read that correctly. A beer can + a willing chicken = a ridiculously tasty result. This would be a perfect addition to a barbecue (just ignore the fact it's done in the oven) but also makes a brilliant alternative to traditional roast chicken, no matter what the occasion. The version I did had a spicy rub but you can easily adapt it to your own flavour preferences, or just leave it plain! The idea behind this is that the beer steams the chicken from the inside, giving you incredibly moist meat.'s how it's done:

You will need:
1 x 1.8kg whole chicken(adapt the cooking time accordingly depending on the size you get)
Olive oil
1 x 330ml can beer (if you can't find this size of beer, just use an empty can of coke)
2 tbsp. barbecue sauce
1 fresh red chilli, deseeded
1 bunch spring onions
Handful of fresh coriander

For the rub:
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tbsp. fennel seeds
1 tbsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1-2 dried red chillies
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tbsp. ground black pepper
1 tbsp. soft dark brown sugar

First of all, preheat your oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. Bash all the rub ingredients together in a pestle and mortar until they form a powder. Be prepared to use some elbow grease at this stage... the coriander seeds are little buggers.

Place the chicken in a roasting tray and cut away the strings binding the legs together. Drizzle the chicken with olive oil and use your hands to massage the rub all over the chicken, making sure to get into all the nooks and crannies. Crack open the beer can and pour about half away (or drink it) or pour into an empty can if needed. Position the chicken over the beer can so that it is sitting upright in the roasting tray. Having an assistant at this stage is definitely recommended! Also, learn from my mistakes and lean the chicken against the back of the roasting tray...I had a near casualty when I saw the chicken had fallen over in the oven and spilt half the contents of the can. Not ideal!
Sunglasses optional

Cook the chicken for about 1 hour and 10 minutes (or until it looks golden) and check that the juices run clear by inserting a knife into the thickest part. If all's OK, brush the barbecue sauce all over the chicken and cook for a further 10 minutes until the sauce has turned dark and sticky.

Carefully remove the can from the chicken and you're good to go! Serve however you like... use the spring onions and coriander as a garnish or serve with traditional roasties or just simply with salad! I am warning you now though...when there is a hungry boy (and girl) in the vicinity then do not expect this to last long. And FYI, this rub packs a punch!


Monday, 16 June 2014

Big Easy

The Kings Road in Chelsea probably isn't the first place that springs to mind for most people when it comes to choosing where to go for a relaxed dinner. It falls under the stereotype of being overpriced and pretentious with many members-only clubs in the vicinity which close their doors in the faces of the lowly public. If you agree with that statement then you need to get yourself down to Big Easy; a place which couldn't be further from the description above (and I mean that in a good way!). I guarantee this place will change your perception of the area and, you never know, you'll probably realise there's more to the Kings Road than you originally thought!

Big Easy has it all. Great food, great atmosphere, great drinks, great music...yep, there's a live band playing in and amongst the tables downstairs every night from 8pm. The frontage of the restaurant doesn't give anything away but as soon as you step over the threshold, the place is absolutely buzzing. It's chaotic, it's loud, it's full on and, personally, it's everything I love for a good night out.

The theme here is a BBQ and crabshack; basically messy food and big portions! The larger steaks and items such as surf 'n turf are quite pricey but everything else is reasonable. If you're going to stay and drink there for a while, like we did, then the bill is also going to add up but the good thing about Big Easy is you can make it what you want. If you want a cheap, laid back dinner before moving on somewhere else then you can do that. If you want to make more of a night of it and stay in the restaurant then you can do that too!

On to the food...having two alpha males at the table trying to outdo each other, could only mean that they were bound to order the biggest meal possible (brace yourselves for this): a 750g bone-in sirloin steak with half a 1.5lb lobster, complete with fries and a side salad (on top of the starters we shared, this is A LOT of food).

Ridiculous. There was a round of fajitas ordered whilst I opted for a somewhat lighter version of jumbo tiger shrimp, which have to be the meatiest, juiciest shrimp I have ever tasted (not very filling though). Topped off by a pitcher of frozen margaritas along with a jolly good singalong with the band and you're laughing.

Apart from a minor delay in being seated when we arrived (although we turned this into a positive by hitting the well-stocked bar), Big Easy did not fail to deliver. I'm just glad I don't work in the area as the lunchtime deals they have are a bargain! The good news is Big Easy have recently opened up a second branch in Covent Garden. Once I've burnt off the excesses of this visit, I will be there with bells on.


Sunday, 8 June 2014

30 Day Fitness Challenges

What's this strange yellow thing in the sky? Is my mind playing tricks on me? Is that.....the SUN???!!! The official start of Summer may not be until 21st June (thanks Google) but, if this weekend in London is anything to go by, we may be having an early start. For many of us, this is excellent news. However, for equally as many, the notion of soon having to flash some flesh and strut about in a bikini fills you with dread. 

"No carbs before Marbs" has become a common mantra for the girls (I blame TOWIE) and the manic bikini diet begins. Now, I hate to burst any bubbles here, but it is not possible to drop half your body weight in a couple of weeks, no matter what the internet tells you. Therefore, it is down to that age old combination of good nutrition and exercise to make the changes that you want. Boys, you're included in this also. "Suns out, guns out" anyone??

Unfortunately for most of us, we don't have the time or the money to send ourselves off to intensive boot camps or undergo radical surgery to get results. But fear not! 30 day fitness challenges are a brilliant way to squeeze in exercise and toning techniques. You don't need money, you don't need equipment. All you do need is a little bit of motivation and a bit of a shift about of some furniture to make some space! Two of the challenges which I think are a perfect duo for both boys and girls are the ab challenge and the squat challenge. Girls, don't worry...squats will not give you chunky, muscular legs. What you will get is reduced appearance of any pesky cellulite as well as a firmer bum and thighs. Perfect!

30 Day Squat Challenge
This literally consists of doing an increasing number of squats over 30 days. Simple. Just follow the chart to know how many squats to do and, more importantly, when the rest days are! 

30 Day Ab Challenge
This uses the same idea of gradually increasing the intensity of core exercises. Each day requires you to do a set up sit ups, crunches, leg raises and a timed plank. Click on the videos at the bottom of this post to see how to do each of these exercises properly and avoid injury.

If, like me, you tend to do most of your exercise in the morning then you may find that the increasing number of reps of abs/squats become too time consuming. That's fine. Just divide it up and do half in the morning and half in the evening! As long as you stick to the correct amount per day then you'll be making progress. The first few days will probably leave you feeling rather achy, particularly in the bum region, but that's entirely normal. As they say: no pain, no gain!

Give these challenges a go and see how you get on. If these don't take your fancy then there are plenty other 30 day fitness challenges already available, or you could make up your own. 

Have fun!

                 How to do a sit up:

                  How to do crunches:

                  How to do leg raises:

                  How to do a plank:


Monday, 2 June 2014

Healthy Chocolate Energy Bars

It's a sad fact that, these days, a lot of the products marketed as "healthy", aren't exactly that. Cereals are the biggest villains in this with most major brands adding copious amounts of salt and sugar to them. The same can be said for energy bars as many have synthetic perservatives, flavourings, and sweeteners. If you actually read the ingredients list on some big brand energy bars, you may as well be reading another language.

So, I've discovered a perfect home-made alternative. This receipe is perfect as a grab & go option, involves no cooking and is made of completely natural ingredients. These chocolate energy bars couldn't be easier!

You will need:
140g pitted medjool dates
150g cashew nuts
4 tbsp sultanas
1 tsp cocoa powder (or to taste)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp water

Put all the ingredients into a food processor and pureƩ the mixture until it comes together.
I found that 1 teaspoon of water wasn't enough so added a bit more. (A word of warning: if you're going to add more water, do it in very small amounts. I added about 1.5 teaspoons extra and it became very sticky to handle!) 

 Line a tin of your choice with greaseproof paper. The size of tin doesn't matter;I just used a 2 litre loaf tin as it gave a good surface area to divide the mixture into 10 indiviual bars.

Once the mixture is evenly spread, place in the freezer for at least an hour before dividing them (the mixture is too sticky otherwise!)

That's it! Quick and easy and naturally sweet. As an alternative, you could add mint extract instead of vanilla to give a mint chocolate flavour. At approx. 140kcal and 15g total carbohydrate, these are much healthier (and cheaper) than shop bought versions.