Simple Bar and Kitchen, Manchester – Reinvented

It’s that time of year again when bars and restaurants are revamping their menus ready for the summer season. Out are the heartier winter warmers in favour of the lighter summery dishes. Unfortunately I couldn’t go to the launch of the new menu at Simple Bar and Kitchen but my lovely friend Rachel was all too happy to go along for me and report back.

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They got to try samples from the new menu including the beef carpaccio which was a delicate small starter but lovely and tender. Rachel felt it was a little overpriced for the size at £6.50 but that the quality was there.

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The five spice duck confit tacos were very tasty with the confit itself being done in house for hours.

The posh chicken curry on a bed of coriander rice was fairly healthy yet still filling with really delicate flavours: coconutty with a thai influence.

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They had the classic mini burgers but they are also available as cajun chicken or blue cheese. They were a little dry and could have benefited from some sort of chutney but the meat was great quality, it is all free range and bought by the chef from the Arndale Market each day. Mark (the chef) formerly of Michael Caine at Abode, Chester is keen on locally sourced produce and sources this wherever possible.

They also got to try some of the new cocktail menu including the Hotel Motel Holiday Gin which had a savoury twist thanks to the rosemary and had lovely delicate flavours. Definitely one of the gin lovers.

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The Salted Caramel Martini is like a dessert in a glass! Butterscotch liqueur, vanilla schnapps, Baileys and maple syrup with a half salted rim meant it was like two different drinks depending on which side you drank from. Just amazing.

The Ginger and Apple Mojito was really refreshing with slices of cucumber and the Blood Orange Ginger Daiquiri was quite sour but had a lovely kick to it.

The Rose Gin-Tinted Specs was a lovely feminine drink with rose flavours and rose petals scattered on top. On the whole the drinks are very pretty with great measures. They’re is a great list of alternative drinks that give a nice twist to the cocktails you know and love. Some only have one ingredient but the bar staff welcome feedback and are happy to change things around where asked.

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A passionate chef, friendly staff who welcome feedback and some cracking twists on your favourite cocktails. It is safe to safe the ladies had a great time!

Rachel attended the launch of Simple Bar and Kitchen as a guest and wasn’t asked to pay

Recipe – Easter Rocky Road with Co-Operative

When it comes to baking I am all about ease. I like something quick, tasty and satisfying. The Co-Operative challenged me to make an Easter centrepiece so I thought I would do something that was super easy. It’s not a visual centrepiece but you can decorate it as fancy as you like, me? I like more chocolate. Hence my chocolate choices!

Easter Rocky Road – Serves 6

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Ingredients

300g milk chocolate, broken into small pieces
90g mini marshmallows
4 Co-Operative Truly Irresistible stem ginger cookies
1 small bag Cadburys mini eggs

Method

Melt the milk chocolate in a bowl over a pan of boiling water. Be sure not to let the water touch the bottom of the bowl otherwise it will burn.

Crumble the biscuits into a separate bowl, combine all ingredients and place in a greased baking tray.

Pop in the fridge for a minimum of 45 minutes or until firm.

Take out of the fridge and break the rocky road into portions. I stacked them on a plate and scattered with Easter eggs. If you are feeling more creative you could decorate with chicks, fruits or more chocolate.

What have you been baking ready for this weekend? There’s lots of inspiration to be found on the Co-Operative’s website.

The Co-Operative provided the ingredients for this recipe.

Coronation Street The Tour – Now With Added Sets

I was genuinely disappointed when Granada Studios closed its doors in the City Centre. It was somewhere I’d been numerous times as a child and is a place I would have considered an institution in Manchester. I was excited when they opened the doors to the cobbles again and even more excited when my Dad managed to get tickets to see Ed Sheeran perform in Carla’s living room to celebrate the 40th Birthday of Coronation Street! This time I was back to do a behind the scenes Corrie Tour.

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There are new sets for 2015 on the Coronation Street Tour including The Kabin set where you can see the iconic newsagents belonging to Rita and Norris.

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All the sweets are real but we weren’t allowed to steal any which I thought was a little mean of them! Also new for 2015 is Webster’s Auto Centre and Prima Doner out on the cobbles.

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Your old favourites are still there including the infamous cobbles, the back ginnels to explore and of course the scene of Tina’s tragic death. Well I had to re-enact it, despite the typically damp Manchester weather.

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Get your photograph taken in the Rover’s Return pulling a pint, step into Underworld and peer into the living room of Tyrone and Fizz where you will also see the chair that both Jack and Vera sadly passed away in. If you look closely you may also spy one of his pigeons.

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And whilst we are talking about spying things there is also a fun ‘find the meerkat’ game for the kids. You might be able to spot one in the last picture above…

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The guided tour takes around 45 minutes then you are free to roam the cobbles for as long as you please. Tickets are priced at £17 per adult and you can buy them online. The Coronation Street Studios really is an iconic Manchester tourist spot, don’t miss it.

I was invited to the Coronation Street Tour as a guest and was not asked to pay. I was also allowed to go onto the sets and take photographs on the guided tour for the purposes of this press event. Please be aware this is not allowed on guided tours. 

 

 

Health: Pink Collar Boxing

I love fitness and healthy living but do get bored easily. That’s why I see a personal trainer a couple of times a week. He keeps me motivated and, as much as possible, on the straight and narrow. I loved Clubbercise and a new fitness activity I’ve recently discovered is Pink Collar Boxing.

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Pink Collar Boxing is a white collar style ladies boxing tournament which includes 8 weeks of training before pairing you with another lady to fight in a special fight night. It costs nothing to enter and you will be trained by a boxing coach twice a week to become fight ready. All Pink Collar Boxing ask is that you sell at least 10 tickets for the fight night. You are also encouraged to fight for a charity of your choice therefore not just benefiting yourself by getting stronger and fitter, but also raising funds for a charity close to your heart.

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Primal DNA Fitness train the ladies in Stockport and I’ve been to a few of their training sessions over the last few weeks. I naively thought most of the ladies were doing this to better themselves, to raise a bit of money for charity and to learn a new skill. It is so much more than that to these girls, let me tell you.

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These girls all have a story, a reason for being here and training to be a boxer within 8 weeks. One girl had recently moved into the area and attended to make friends and meet new people close by. One girl had tragically lost the father to her children and attended to gain confidence, give herself a new purpose and a new lease of life. She has done just that and is not only fighting at the Pink Collar Boxing event, she is also starting to fight on a semi professional basis. She’s not only gained more confidence than she could ever dream of but also forged a new social life with the girls she trains with. That’s the theme running through the Stockport branch of Pink Collar Boxing, they’re friends. Such good friends that they attend additional training together and grab a drink at the pub as a group regularly.

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I expected lots of rivalry, I mean these girls fight each other at the main event and there’s a pairing up session where they ‘face off’ against their opponent, but there’s no rivalry here. There’s a true support network and these ladies will remain firm friends well after they have tried to beat each other up.

I feel humbled and privileged to have met such an amazing group of women. They are all fighting this weekend in their final tournament and I can’t wait to see what they are made of. They’re all fitter, stronger and leaner with some very sharp punches between them. It is set to be a great night and maybe, just maybe, I may be tempted to sign up for the next tournament. For now I’ll be watching from the ropes cheering them all on.

Some of the girls are supporting When You Wish Upon a Star this time around which, is not only an amazing charity, but also supported my personal trainer and his daughter recently. This is their way of giving something back for that support and you can still sponsor them here: https://www.justgiving.com/CPTPrimal

If you’re interested in signing up to Pink Collar Boxing you can find the locations on their website with information about how to get started. Their’s lots of locations across the country with more cities being announced by the day. Get involved, get fighting fit and give something back. I’ll see you at the ropes.

Restaurant Review: Fazenda, Spinningfields

When I tell people I have yet to visit Bem Brasil in Manchester they are always shocked. One of my favourite restaurants in Tenerife is Churrasqueria Rodeo which operates along very similar lines. Meat served on large knives, all you can eat ‘sides’ and a card to turn on the table when you are full. I still haven’t been and have heard both positive and negative reviews. One place I thought I would give a go this week is Fazenda. I’d heard good things so was excited to see what they were all about and if they were different to my favourite Tenerife based bbq.

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The décor is very different my favourite Tenerife restaurant. Dark, opulent and dimly lit with beautiful candle style chandeliers. The restaurant is much bigger inside than it looks from the Spinningfields street and it could be any time of day, I quite like that about it.

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The restaurant was fairly empty when we arrived and we were seated quickly with some pretty nibbles that were beautifully spiced. Once our drinks had arrived we decided to hit the salad bar.

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This is where Fazenda excelled beyond my expectations. I was expecting some salad, some chips and maybe some pasta salads. What we were greeted with was a vast array of fresh salad and pasta yes, but also a selection of sauces, sushi, cheeses and deep fried snacks. There was also a selection of bread and hot sides such as rice and green beans in a béchamel sauce.

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Trying my best to stick to the eating plan I chose salad based sides and some of the green beans which tasted fresh with a light sauce.

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You use the red and green cards to identify whether you want meat or not. I mean when the man comes dressed like this with a knife this large are you really going to refuse? We visited at lunch time when the full menu isn’t available but there was still some great options and the picanha (cap of rump) was a firm favourite for both me and my friend. Served very rare we had been asked when seated if it was ok to serve the meat this way. I thought this was a lovely touch.

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We enjoyed the gammon which was served with hot pineapple. The meat was soft and delicate whilst the pineapple lightly glazed to add a sweetness. Just lovely.

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The chicken was a little dry but the skin was lovely and crisp. I also enjoyed the linguica (sausage) although my friend found it a strange choice. I liked that it was different to regular sausage with cured beef adding a different flavour.

We visited on a week day lunch when it costs £17.30 a head but this does go up on evenings and weekends. You are rewarded for this though with different cuts of meat and more adventurous options such as chicken hearts and black pudding. This made a refreshing change to restaurants who just choose to increase their prices because they expect to be busier.

The service in Fazenda was perfect. The meat arrived at the table in a steady fashion so we weren’t over faced and drinks were replenished as required. If you are pottering around Spinningfields and very hungry I’d give them a go, I’ll be back soon.

We dined as guests of Fazenda and were not asked to pay for our meal.

Health: Vita Valentine with Vita Coco

Valentine’s Day can be a lonely time when you are single. Valentine’s Day falling on a Saturday is an absolute killer. Luckily for me I had a date with a bottle of wine and my TV remote but then there was a knock on the door… I hadn’t been forgotten after all!

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I knew from the size of the box it wasn’t David Beckham wrapped up in a bow but it was lovely all the same. The lovely people at Vita Coco had sent me a little surprise to brighten up my lonely evening.

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I’ve never been a huge fan of coconut water but I love the story behind Vita Coco. Never made from concentrate it takes no longer than 72 hours to be picked, cracked, cleaned, flash pasturised and poured into the cartons you can see above. Sometimes fruit puree is added but that is it. Fairly clean and definitely natural. Studies say coconut water is more hydrating than regular water and I am a bit dubious of this statement although I do feel more hydrated after drinking this. The taste of the natural with nothing added isn’t for me, it is a bit too tart and bitter for my liking. That said I really enjoyed the lemonade version as it was really refreshing with a bit of zing to take away the bitterness.

Massive thanks to the Vita Coco team for hydrating my Valentine’s night, you can buy the 330ml cartons in most supermarkets and they are a great size to try.

Gin Emporium at Manchester House

When asked what my favourite spirit is I will always say rum without even thinking. I love the different taste you can get from the ageing process and how there are so many different ones out there to try. A close second though is gin,in fact, when asked my favourite spirit I usually say rum and gin. Living so close to Atlas Bar really helps me to indulge in my gin love with nearly 100 gins behind the bar and regular tweets to keep me up to date with their new arrivals. Manchester House hosted the Gin Emporium a few weeks ago and, with some gins there that I was yet to try, I was one of the first through the door.

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Not much beats the view of our beautiful city from the bar in Manchester House but Hendricks prettied it up even more creating a romantic scene drawing on the rose and cucumber in their gin by draping red roses around with suspended bottles of their gin. Just gorgeous.

The event saw numerous gin brands showcasing their gin with tastings, talks and information and included in the price of the ticket was two gin and tonics with your favourites from the night. I’d tried most of the gins on offer but managed to get a taste of Jinzu which is a new one. With notes of sake and cherry blossom it is certainly different but has a wonderfully light floral tone. This is one of the things I love most about gin, they are all so different. It is frustrating when people claim not to like gin, they’re all so different I don’t believe this the case of most.

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As well as the tastings and drinks there was also a Twitter competition running on the night with the best picture winning a bottle of gin to be enjoyed on the terraces at Manchester House. Lucky for him my friend Primal Bear was much better with his phone than I was and he has won a night with a bottle of Opihr gin next month.

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I’m all for local produce but am a sucker for American gin Death’s Door. The unique aftertaste which reminds me of chocolate limes is like no other I have tried and it is one that I will always order if I see it on a back bar.

Manchester House plan to hold more spirit events and there is a rumour that the next one will involve rum. I’ll be surprised if they have a rum I haven’t tried but I’ll obviously be attending, just to make sure you understand.

Tickets for the event cost £10 per person which included all tastings and samples as well as 2 drinks on the night and a selection of gin inspired canapes. Considering the sheer luxury of this bar it is an absolute bargain and a great way to learn more about your favourite drink or find new ones. Keep an eye on the website for the next one being released, it is guaranteed to sell out fast.

I attended this event as a guest of Manchester House.

Gourmet Chocolate Tasting Experiences With Hotel Chocolat

I’ve been a fan of Hotel Chocolat for a long time. In fact, I used to get their tasting boxes before they were even rebranded as Hotel Chocolat. I loved getting a surprise box every month and rating them based on the different flavours. I stopped getting the boxes when I started to concentrate on my fitness but that doesn’t mean I don’t look forward to the giant slabs and extra thick eggs I get off my Mum at Christmas and Easter. So when Hotel Chocolat in the Arndale invited me to try their chocolate tasting experience I thought I’d know all I could about the brand and their range.

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We were greeted with a glass of fizz and shown to a table with a little cup which is apparently for if we need to ‘spit out’ or leave any of the chocolate. I actually laughed my head off at this, had they met me?!

The chocolatier at the Manchester store talked to the group about the tasting club and how the first Hotel Chocolat store was opened in 2004. She talked about the three areas that chocolate affects – emotional reaction, memory and descriptive. At sight it should look shiny and even without any grey film. You should also listen to your chocolate. Not because it is going to speak to you or anything but because it should have a clean snap. It should have no air bubbles in the centre. You should then let the chocolate melt in your mouth to get a fully rounded experience of its taste.

We tried so many chocolates from different regions of the world (did you know the country it is made in can affect the taste dramatically due to the climate and soil?), different percentage cocoa as well as some of the filled chocolates you can buy at Hotel Chocolat.

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Hotel Chocolat use 60 cocoa beans per bar compared with 3 beans per bar that your generic commercial chocolate uses. I was shocked at the difference but it certainly shows in the quality. The beans and pods are fermented for 3-5 days before being dried either in the sun or over a fire. The beans are then roasted and put in a conch to smooth and mellow the flavour.

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We also got to try the roasted beans. They are like nuts which we shelled to reveal the cocoa bean inside. The taste was slightly bitter but hard like a nut and I was pleasantly surprised. I couldn’t stop munching on them!

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The champagne truffle is still my favourite with a hard shell and the champagne centre using real champagne rather than a liqueur like many others. The billionaires shortbread was also tasty, one I will be buying in the future.

The 2 hour experience flew by and we learnt so much about the chocolate making process as well as trying that many chocolates that, I have to admit, I did need to use my little cup. I was tempted to put it in my bag for later but dignity got the better of me.

You can book on the experience for £50 which also includes 10% off in store and a goodie bag.

Louis Roederer Tasting at Wine and Wallop

I love fizz I’m not going to lie. I’m not even that fussy – Champagne, Prosecco, Cava. They all have a place for me and I love learning more about them. So when Charlie suggested we go to Wine and Wallop for their Louis Roederer champagne tasting I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I’d been to the launch night of Wine and Wallop a while before and had a great, if not very boozy, evening. I was looking forward to returning…

I started with some great food courtesy of their platters. I’m guessing you are supposed to share but the cheese was just too good and I even helped Charlie finish her meat platter. Generous portions are perfect when washed down with a glass of their exceptional wine.

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We were shown upstairs to a lovely event space and greeted by Guy Cliffe from Louis Roederer. The evening started with an interested video showing the 600 grape pickers strutting their stuff in the vineyards. It was really interesting to see the process actually taking place and hear the story of the family. The family owned business was founded in 1776 and they own most of their own vineyards. Louis Roederer is a fairly small operation with 3.5-4 million bottles produced compared to the 45 million made at Moet & Chandon. Cristal is also made here with 51000 bottles hand turned per person per day. This certainly went a little way to explaining why it costs so much!

Our first fizz of the evening wasn’t actually a champagne as it is made in the Anderson Valley, California. The Roederer Estate Quartet is made on a 400 acre estate in the Anderson Valley where the Louis Roederer family decided they wanted to expand their business. The wine is mainly available in the States and is made with 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir grapes. Aged for 3 years the wine is complex with a slight sweetness. Lighter than champagne and not as dry I was definitely a fan and could have drank a lot of it. Each wine was paired with a canapé for the evening and this one worked well with the parma ham, pear and rocket. The flavours helped to bring out a richness in the wine.

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Up next was the brut premier champagne. This is a signature wine of the house so each bottle always tastes the same. This is also aged for 3 years but made with 10% pinot meunier, 56% pinot noir and 34% chardonnay. The champagne is a real easy drinker and a clear favourite amongst the group. The canapé of gruyere tarts were lovely and light but did bring out an acidity in the wine.

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Up next was the most exciting champagne of the night. Known as Cristal in a green bottle the brut vintage is the closest I am going to get to the expensive version. Aged for 5 years and made with 60% pinot noir and 40% chardonnay it is soft and lightly floral. This was served with parma ham and asparagus on olive ciabatta which really brought out a creaminess in the wine.

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The next wine was the vintage rose and one I was looking forward to as a rose fan. This uses pinot noir grape skins to lightly colour the wine with it being made with 70% pinot noir and 30% chardonnay grapes. Aged for just under 5 years it has a lovely delicate flavour and is perfect served with oysters, I know, we had oysters with it! I’m not the biggest fan of them to be honest but it was lovely to try them and the saltiness intensified the sweetness in the wine. We also had a smoked salmon and cream cheese canapé that also worked well.

Last but definitely not least was the carte blanche. This wine is the same as the brut premier but with more added sugar making it a demi sec. I loved it but it certainly divided the room.

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The paired canapé was my favourite of the evening too with caramelised onion, goats cheese and honey seasoned with oregano. A lovely end to a lovely evening.

There are regular events at Wine and Wallop so keep your eyes peeled for the next one. It is right next to West Didsbury tram stop so you really have no excuse.

I attended this event fully expecting to pay. This was comped on the night much to our surprise.

 

Mum in a Million With Parkdean

This weekend is Mother’s Day and Parkdean Holidays are celebrating by giving you the chance to win a short break by telling them why your Mum is one in a million. The competition closes on Sunday 15th March but I thought I’d tell you here why my Mum is ace.

I think most people believe their Mum is the best, the number one. I am no different, my Mum is ace.  Here’s why:

When I split up with my ex and rang her broken hearted she dropped everything. And I mean everything. I told her I would be fine, I just needed a chat and that a sleep would help as I hadn’t slept all night. An hour later (I lived 35 miles away from her) she was banging on my front door. She packed me a bag, put me in her car and took me to her house. She cooked, cleaned, watered me and didn’t leave my side until I was strong enough to talk to her. I’m sure most Mum’s would do this for their little girl (read 26 year old woman) but I don’t think I could have gotten through that period of my life without her. It was 7 years ago now and I’m fully recovered from it but I will never forget what she did for me.

My Mum is a real carer. She cares about everyone and will do whatever she can to make sure people are happy. My Gran has been in hospital twice in the past 12 months. The first time she had a heart attack, the second she fell over and couldn’t get herself back up. My Gran is able to live independently in the house she has lived in for over 60 years because my Mum does everything she can to help her do exactly that. She shops, cleans, tidies, washes. Anything my Gran could possibly need, my Mum does for her so she can live a life other older people can’t. I often wonder why she does it. My Gran can be so selfish in her demands on my Mum’s time. But I know I would do exactly the same for her when she gets to that age.

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My Dad will kill me for posting that picture as he looks smashed but it is a great one of my Mum. She is 60 this year and manages to work full time, care for my Gran pretty much full time and run around after their 1 year old labrador who is energetic to say the least.

I don’t know how she is still sane but she is and she is amazing. I mean look at her! Show your Mum you care and enter the Parkdean competition. I will be and if I win she is coming with me for a much deserved pamper.

 

 

 

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