Bonjour! Café Rouge Has A New Menu

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The children are off later this week to spend a few days with their daddy.

Whilst I’m practically salivating at the prospect of five nights of uninterrupted sleep in a row (woah there), I’m really dreading how much I’ll miss them. Don’t tell anyone this, especially not them, but I’d probably take the sleep deprivation over spending time without them – I know, I know. Big words.

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I’ll do my usual thing of filling my time off with work, the gym and my lovely friends so it’ll go quickly (Kirsty‘s coming to visit from NYC and there will be nights at the pub with Bryony and Amy) but until they depart on Wednesday we are making the most out of our last few days together. And one of my favourite things to do with these little people is go on a Saturday night dinner date.

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We get dressed up – Elfie wears a dress, Hux a shirt and me high heels – and have a lovely meal out together. Because I sell it to them as something very special they are both beautifully behaved and we have a wonderful time chatting nonsense and learning about my number one favourite thing – food.

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Camembert

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Ragoût D’Escargots

On Saturday night the lovely people at Café Rouge invited us over to their restaurant at The Hub in Milton Keynes to try their new menu and so off we went, dressed up and excited.

I heard the Chief Executive of the Casual Dining Group (who own Cafe Rougé and Bella Italia) speak at a conference a couple of weeks ago and really enjoyed the discussion around the changes that are afoot within the chain. There’s the new menu of classics and new dishes and a programme of re-furbishment happening – exciting times!

As a restaurant I don’t think I would have ever chosen Café Rouge as a dinner destination. Lunch? Yes. Coffee? Probably. But it had never struck me as a place for a dinner date or child-friendly meal so I was interested to see how we’d find our evening.

Cafe Rouge2We arrived at 6pm and were really warmly welcomed by the manager. She showed us to our table and talked us through the menu. I loved her obvious enthusiasm and excitement for the changes that have been made; the Milton Keynes Hub restaurant was actively involved in the development of the new menu and each member of staff I spoke to was so knowledgeable about every item. I was happy to hear they’ve brought back one of my favourite dishes – fried Camembert – and the Confit Duck Leg which I’ve already heard most excellent things about.

We started our meal with the Fougasse à l’ail (£4.95)- an artisan loaf baked with garlic and served with warm garlic butter. It was huge – it disappeared in minutes. We all enjoyed it.

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Rib-Eye with Bearnaise and fries

I knew they’d introduced snails to the menu and was excited to try them. I’ve read that snails are the ‘next big thing’ in foodie circles, being so high in protein yet low in fat, and though they still make me feel a bit gross if I really think about what they are I do really enjoy them. And so we ordered our starters of Camembert (£5.95) and Ragoût D’Escargots (£5.95).

The Camembert was lovely – really enjoyable. But the Escargots were the real star of the show; delicately cooked with red wine and mushrooms and topped with puff pastry. I would eat these over and over again. I enjoyed these with one of my favourite cocktails – a Rouge Royal (Café Rouge’s Kir Royal – £4.95).

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The mains swiftly arrived; I went for my absolute favourite of a rib eye steak (medium) with Bearnaise sauce and french fries (£16.95). It was perfectly cooked and thoroughly delicious – half of it was eaten by the children. Elfie chose the very French Croque Monsier (her verdict: yummy) and Hux never picks anything other than pasta as he is two – the kids menus (main course, dessert and drinks) came in at £6.95.

Pudding was the only disappointment for me that evening. I always pick a Crème Brûlée which is my absolute favourite but the topping was nowhere near as thick and caramelised as it should have been. The strawberry and black pepper sorbet it was served with was lovely, however.

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The kids adored their ice cream sundaes, Hux so much that he insisted on eating it with his hands. You know, sometimes it’s easier not to argue.

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I get invited out for dinner a fair bit (and take myself out even more often!) and don’t always review the restaurants I go to. I like to think I have pretty high standards and so if I leave a restaurant feeling disappointed I’d just rather not write about it.

However, we three had a great time at Café Rouge and I think the whole thing was one of the nicest dinner experiences we’ve had in a long time. The staff couldn’t have been more attentive to us (but not overbearingly) and the food was well-cooked, tasty and good value. I was impressed by the wine list and had a try of a very nice Picpoul de Pinet and the restaurant had a great buzz by the time we left.

Plus there’s the bonus of having one of the most awkward family photos taken of us EVER that night. My children, ladies and gentlemen:

IMG_0175Café Rouge: we’ll be back!

Thank you to Café Rouge for inviting us along to try the new menu… we had a great time. 

MTT: Fluffy American Pancakes With Maple Bacon

Fluffy American Pancakes with Maple BaconPancakes were very much A Thing for my brother and I growing up. I remember my mum making them, not just for pancake day but for special treats and to eat as Crepes Suzette at their ever so grown-up dinner parties. My brother and I loved them – we ate them very plainly with only caster sugar, still do – and it was one of the first things I learned how to cook myself.

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Pancake-eating as a kid is one of my favourite memories – sprinkling sugar on those bad boys, rolling them up and stuffing them in my mouth with greasy fingers. I’d always order pancakes as a special treat at the John Lewis Café and any excuse to eat them, including Shrove Tuesday, was an occasion to look forward to. IMG_2313

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My pancake tastes have now diversified to include these Fluffy American Pancakes with Maple Bacon and my love for them originated as all good obsessions do: at a restaurant. Somewhere in Shoreditch, perhaps The Hoxton, and probably for about 12 quid. I was immediately hooked on the combo of soft and crunchy, sweet and salty and decided to re-create them at home myself.

Sidenote: zoom over here for a more diet-friendly Paleo version

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I straight away sought out maple syrup and though my eyes watered at the price the expensive stuff is well worth it (and currently 50% off at Ocado) as the other kind is a not-so-tasty synthetic imitation. I also always make sure I have streaky bacon in the fridge for this recipe which always crisps up much better than thicker back bacon. Smoked is my preference but whatever floats your boat.

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These pancakes have become something of a tradition in our house, we eat them every other weekend and I just can’t. Get. Enough. The maple syrup creates a wonderful sweet/salt symphony when added to the bacon and the pancakes fluff up beautifully to compliment its crisp bite.

Basically – YUM.

Don't burn yo bacon! Fluffy American Pancakes with Maple Bacon

I always use tin foil to protect my baking tray when preparing this bacon; burnt on sugar syrup is fun to scrub off for no-one – I learned this the hard way. And make sure your baking powder is as fresh as possible, this really makes a difference when it comes to the fluff factor of your pancakes. 
Fluffy American Pancakes with Maple Bacon Fluffy American Pancakes with Maple BaconThe original recipe (and best I’ve ever found) comes from the BBC recipe site. I haven’t really changed much about it because it’s always been perfect.

FYI my new breakfast crush is buttermilk fried-chicken with pancakes and maple butter as seen for brunch at Breddos Tacos‘ pop-up at Trip Space last summer. Give me six months and I’ll have mastered it. Epic.

5.0 from 3 reviews
MTT: Fluffy American Pancakes With Maple Bacon
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
In my family this recipe yields six pancakes - we have two each - so you may want to double it!
Recipe type: Breakfast
Cuisine: American
Ingredients
  • Streaky bacon - we have 3 rashers per person.
  • Real maple syrup
  • 135g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 large pinch sea salt
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 130ml milk
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tbsp melted butter (allowed to cool slightly)
  • Butter for cooking
Instructions
  1. Heat your oven to 200 degrees C, and spread your bacon on a tin foil-lined baking tray. Brush generously with maple syrup. Put in the oven as soon as it's reached temperature for around 12-15 minutes.
  2. Pop the flour, baking powder, salt and caster sugar into a large bowl. In a separate bowl lightly whisk together the milk and egg, then whisk in the melted butter.
  3. Pour the milk mixture into the flour mixture and beat using a whisk until you have a smooth batter. The texture you want from this is a lot thicker than you might be used to with french crepes. Let the batter stand for a few minutes.
  4. Heat a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and add a knob of butter. When it's melted, add the batter: I use a dessert spoon and measure out approximately two per pancake. It will seem very thick but this is how it should be. Wait until the top of the pancake begins to bubble, then turn it over and cook until both sides are golden brown and the pancake has risen to about 1cm (½in) thick.
  5. Repeat until all the batter is used up. You can keep the pancakes warm in a low oven, but they taste best fresh out the pan.
  6. Serve with the crispy bacon topped with maple syrup.

 

 

The Trouble With Bread And A Wheat Intolerance

A few weeks ago I had an epiphany. This is slightly concerning to me because three times in the last month I have looked my mum in the eye and said “Mother, I have had an epiphany” and what if we only get a limited amount of epiphanies in life? I feel like I might be using up all of mine on thoughts to do with my lovelife and carbohydrates. I should probably be saving them up for the times I think about World Debt and the problems with Justin Bieber.

Anyway, I had this epiphany. It followed a week that I have not been completely comfortable with, a week of my meals being 20 unhealthy/80 paleo instead of 80/20. I’d been a bit naughty and used the excuse of a few meals out, some special occasions and a couple of dinner parties to go wild in the evenings with the bread, pizza and brownies. And boy, have I felt it. I’ve been sluggish, bloated, tired and spotty. I’ve felt low and have lacked energy. But it’s a vicious cycle: the more I’ve felt lazy and tired the less I’ve wanted to cook and the more carbs I’ve craved. ARGH.

On the day of the epiphany at the lunchtime pre-school run I picked up a loaf of granary bread. Not for me, for the kids to have with the soup we were having for lunch (the most incredible vegan Carrot and Coconut soup… and I don’t even like to eat soup! Recipe coming soon). But because I can resist many things but not the temptation of carbohydrates when they’re in my house I buttered up a couple of pieces of that delicious delicious granary goodness for me to have with my own lunch. I gave myself a mental slap on the hand for doing it, and another one for not having baked the bread myself, but figured it was still pretty healthy after my breakfast of grapes and banana. And it was brown, after all. Much more healthy than a slab of white bread.

Pork Belly pizza

Pizza Express’s epic pork belly pizza… am still dreaming about this.

But then about 40 minutes after lunch – BOOM! Like a brick wall, the fatigue hit. It was a literal slap in the face, coming after a brilliant night’s sleep and a day of working and being active. My eyes and limbs were heavy and I felt so very sleepy, it was awful. If I could have crawled into bed for a nap I would have but instead I Netflix’ed some Pixar and sat on the sofa with the kids.

And this is when it hit me. This post-lunch slump that I’ve always accepted as being part and parcel of being a busy mum, and before that having a demanding full time job, it is because of the WHEAT. I already knew that wheat made me uncomfortably bloated, but this tiredness that I’ve always assumed was a natural slump in my daily body clock, it’s because of what I’m eating for lunch.

(PS: by this point I was so bloated that I had to undo the button of my jeans. Bloody bloating)

I have always been a pretty tired person. I’ve always napped or enjoyed a lie-in at every opportunity and it’s been a great big pain in my wheat-filled arse. I’ve felt lazy at times, frustrated with the fact that my body doesn’t perform like some others, annoyed that it seemed to require so much sleep. Even now with the children sleeping til 7am I often have to take a nap in the middle of the day. I’ve assumed this has just been me, but now I’m wondering if this is simply down to the damned wheat?

I peeled myself off the sofa to do a bit of research and low and behold, chronic fatigue is a symptom of a gluten intolerance. It’s in black and white and you can read more about it here, here and here. I scoured every bit of information I could find and rejoiced: I can’t tell you how liberating this information is, it could explain so much. Falling asleep in afternoon meetings, having to take a nap in my car at work. Not being able to cope with young babies because I’m SO. FREAKING. TIRED. It’s my bloody diet!

For dinner I made the kids toad in the hole and thought it was only fair to carry out a bit of an experiment: I tried one of their Yorkshire puddings to see the effect it had on me. It happened again. Like clockwork the bloating and the fatigue followed, though as it was the end of the day it seemed a little less noticeable.

Chocolate brownies

I feel a little bit mad with myself. If I’d have known that I was intolerant to gluten 5, even 3 years ago, my life could have been completely different. I have wasted so much time asleep after eating meals, it’s like I’m going to be given the gift of an extra two hours every day. I’m also mad that under no circumstances will I be letting myself eat gluten in the middle of the day because golly gosh do I miss bread. Buttery toast with marmite, crusty bread with a big slick of butter. French stick dipped in brie. No more – I’m back to green juices at breakfast and big ol’ carb-free salads for lunch.

But as much as I miss bread I miss the part of my life that carries on without me when I’m napping after lunch.

NB: I’m in no way a dietician or nutritionist and I will be referring to the professionals when it comes to checking my diet is sustainable and healthy. Paleo 4 life, etc. 

Hux’s Adventures In Weaning

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WEANING. A loaded word if I ever heard one.

With your first child you’re desperate for them to take that next step in to gloopy gluey baby rice and are chomping at the bit to get started from month 4. With your second child you dread moving on to inconvenient solids and wonder if you can stretch a milk diet out til month 7… this was my experience at least.

When Elfie started on solids I was a lean weanin’ machine. I ordered organic veg boxes and steamed squash, courgette and carrot until all the windows in my house were covered in condensation. I devoured anything written by Annabel Karmel and as per her instructions made special little lasagnes and pies for my angel. Weaning was a full-time job.

IMG_1707Elfie in 2011. The cute!

When Hux came along it was a different story. I had two kids, I was working and had a house to run: I didn’t have time to steam the crap out of every vegetable under the sun. And so after some research I decided to go the baby-led weaning route, it would fit in brilliantly with our busy lifestyle, Hux could sit up and eat with us and Elfie at the table and there wouldn’t be mountains of ice cube-shaped purées in my freezer. The carpet would become FILTHY despite me putting a mat under his highchair, but hey, hindsight is a wonderful thing and who puts carpet in a kitchen anyway?!

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For the most part baby-led weaning has worked brilliantly for Hux. He’s had quite a complex diet from day one; I fed him the usual finger-shaped vegetables (carrots, purple sprouting broccoli, French beans for example) but he also eats lasagne, vegetable pasta, sandwiches, meats, beans, pie… anything you can think of using his hands. The stress involved in introducing him to solids has been incomparable to the stress of weaning Elfie. There’s simply none involved, he just eats what we eat but in his little finger-sized portions. Easy!

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The one struggle I’ve found has been with getting fruit into him. I religiously give him a ‘na-na’ after breakfast (he loves them, it was his first word) but he’s otherwise not too keen on the texture of other fruits. This sort of food is really important for him in particular as he does have a tendency to get, erm, ‘blocked up’, so I like to try and get at least his five portions into him daily.

We were recently sent these new Cow & Gate fruit pouches: 6 varieties of 100% fruit which contain 1 whole portion of fruit per pouch. He has one of these for pudding and BOOM! He’s as regular as clockwork again, bless his little bottom. It’s a bit like my early days of religious steaming but without the faff of the steamer.

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Fruit pouches and yoghurts are the only things the little man eats with a spoon, everything else is finger food. Baked beans, spaghetti bolognese, rice pudding… the messier the better. He also enjoys torn up tortilla wraps, marmite on toast, sticks of avocado, pieces of absolutely any meat you put in front of him, ice cubes, twirly pasta, popcorn, rice cakes, smoked salmon; he loves his food. This means his hand-eye co-ordination is pretty brilliant (he throws a ball like a BOSS) and I’m sure he’s slightly further on cognitively than Elfie was at this stage.

I know baby-led weaning isn’t for everyone but it’s definitely been the best way for us to wean, ruined carpet or not.

I am a member of the Netmums Blogging Network, a unique community of parent bloggers from around the UK who have been handpicked by the Netmums team to review products and brands on their behalf. I have been paid expenses and supplied with a product sample for this review but retain all editorial control. To find out more click the button:

 

The Lazy Cook: Alice and Gousto

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There is a new home culinary trend on the block. Screw sitting for hours flicking and clicking through the Ocado site to buy your groceries for the week… that’s way too time consuming How much easier is it to pick some meals you want to eat and have the exact ingredients and instructions delivered to your door?

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Initially I thought this was a pretty lazy way to eat. Who hasn’t got the time or energy to throw a few ingredients together in a pan and serve them to their family?

I’ll tell you who hasn’t: ME. Me, when I have just moved house and am grappling with a weaning, teething dribbly mess (hi, Hux). Me, who is trying to fit in an 8 hour day working day somewhere at being a stay at home mum. Me, who would rather do anything but expel brain power on meal plans. It’s lazy but it’s ME!

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And so I gratefully accepted a trial from the folk at Gousto, who offer what they call ‘Gourmet bags’. It’s very simple: you take a look at their weekly menus, select the meals you fancy and BAM! The ingredients will be delivered to your door with full step-by-step instructions. I really do mean step-by-step too, there’s no messing these meals up if you follow their easy colourful instruction cards.

What I liked about their selection of meals is that they’re all quite ‘out there': you won’t find a toad in the hole or pedestrian Spag Bol. These are all recipes that you probably won’t have cooked before, for example I now know I love artichoke, and will definitely cook it again.

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We chose two meals: Lamb pasta with Artichoke as well as pistachio-crusted honey Chicken with Sweet Potato.

I was a little surprised that they were both pretty brilliant. All ingredients for a full meal were included (bar some greens I added myself to go with the chicken) and they were quick and easy to throw together. But most importantly they were delicious. They tasted like the sort of meals that I like to plan to eat a couple of times a week and that take planning, strategic shopping (usually in the large supermarket 10 miles away rather than our local Co-op, butcher or greengrocer) and effort.

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The one thing I didn’t like was how far in advance I had to order my box, about a week and a half, as Gousto need time to prepare their ingredients so you won’t get the 2-3 days lead time you get with an online supermarket shop.
Yes, this is an expensive way to eat. Three meals will cost a couple £42 a week and a family £67, but if we aren’t making an effort to plan and be frugal when it comes to supermarket shopping then I would not be surprised to find that we spend around this amount. The food is organic, locally sourced and seasonal and all packaging is eco-friendly and sustainable. For the times when menu planning is the last thing on my mind – and that’s been the case recently – I will definitely order from them.
Gousto have kindly offered up a two meal couple box up for a reader of More Than Toast to win. All you have to do is enter using the Rafflecopter below, and tell me what YOUR favourite meal is.
Terms and Conditions
All entrants will be automatically subscribed to the Gousto newsletter
This is open to readers aged 18+ who are UK residents. Sorry, Gousto is unable to deliver to the Scottish Islands, Channel Islands or Northern Ireland.
A winner will be randomly selected next Monday, 1st April 2013.

Coffee and Tea

Do you drink Coffee or Tea? Me, I’m a big tea drinker, I never feel like the day has started until I have my cup of Yorkshire Gold in the morning. I’m partial to an espresso after a hard night with the kids too, and luckily my husband’s a massive coffee snob so we usually have a nice bag of Monmouth next to our coffee machine. Basically, caffeine rocks my world and I know I’m not the first mother to say that! Where would we be without our caffeine kick? Sat dribbling in front of CBeebies, that’s where.

Here are loads of excuses why you should enjoy your morning cup of whatever takes your fancy. Next I’d like one of these for wine, please!