Lush Oxford Street: First and Second Impressions

It would take but a little scrolling from a novice SWB reader to discover that I am an unabashed Lush fan. I use a multitude of their products on a daily basis, support their ethics and love their innovative and fabulous cosmetic creations. When I saw the teasers for their new flagship store flash up across their various social media accounts, I knew that I would have to visit as soon as I could after launch day. Rumours flew of a colossal unit with vast displays full of mountains of new, exclusive products; of a store filled with innovative features quite unlike any other Lush shop worldwide. I wanted to see it all for myself.

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The Oxford Street store is located about two minutes walk eastwards along Oxford Street from Oxford Circus tube station, just next door to Marks and Spencer. The chic black frontage stands prominently between the other name brands, but the experience inside is quite other. The front of the shop peels open, unencumbered by dressed, inaccessible windows. The whole feel of the place, as with all Lush outlets, is hands on. Even in the heart of the busy city, Lush unabashedly wants you to touch all of the things.

The unit itself goes back and back and is truly vast. Set over three floors, the new store has plenty of room for elaborate displays featuring live plants (to highlight the ingredients of their neighbouring products), countless sinks for demos of the new innovations and lofty display units to fill the space floor-to-ceiling with eye-catching colour.

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As you enter on the ground floor, an enormous round demo sink greets you to the left (and is usually populated with one of the new bath bombs), with handcare and deodorants on the right. On entering the store on my first visit, I was instantly greeted by a staff member and treated to an on-the-spot hand massage and treatment featuring two of the new products (Salted Coconut Scrub and Elbow Grease). This area also houses the hand/body lotions, and here I noticed that some staple products have been given a better size range. They now come in a half size, and a double size, modelled below by the ever charismatic Simon.

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After handcare, you progress past the stairs and haircare into the back part of the shop, which is full of skin care, facial skin care, a vast display of soaps and shower products, the all new make up sections and mouth care.

Let me break that down a little, and it will have to be a little because, despite have spent hours in Oxford Street, the shop is so overwhelming and there is so much to see that I simply haven’t made it round everything yet.

The facemask display is much larger, with seating for consultations with an attending member of staff. Incidentally, I noticed that staff were zoned to product ranges, which meant you could always find someone if you needed help, despite the crowds. There are three or four new facemasks. I’ve only picked up the one designed for sensitive skin (Rosy Cheeks, a rose based formula), but there is also a mushroom based mask with a yoghurt consistency much like Sacred Truth (It’s called The Man in The Mushroom Mask), a bright blue delight called Don’t Look at Me and I think I saw a black, charcoal one too… Lush have also added another non-fresh (by which I mean that it doesn’t require refrigeration) mask to their repertoire in Cup o’ Coffee, which is mocha-y and delightful.

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I didn’t have time to check out skin care, but the soap display, like a gleaming multi-coloured candy land drew my eye. Old favourite scents have been reformulated into new permanent products (like Maypole, which smells like candy canes), and old products have been brought back, like Milky Bar. All of the current soaps (Rock Star, etc) are present, but in new shapes to catch the eye. Oxford Street also boasts a selection of cold-pressed soaps, which are a new product entirely. Cold pressing helps preserve more goodness in the natural ingredients, so these products should be extra nourishing. They also have a small range of ‘luxury’ soaps. These are very soft in consistency, pricy compared even with the regular soaps, but luscious in fragrance. I highly recommend checking them out- though I have forgotten their names, the aniseedy one and the almondy one are particularly lovely.

Shower is another area where Lush have upped the anti. A few store staples seem to missing from Oxford Street, which makes me wonder if they are being retired, but in their place are probably a dozen new gels, jellies and scrubs. Fan favourite scents like Lord of Misrule, Comforter and Yuzu and Cocoa are represented in new ‘Shower Creams’, which are aerated and rich in wheatgerm oil. Other product scents have new homes in new products. Tuca Tuca massage bar and fragrance is now Don’t Rain On My Parade, Wicci Magic Muscles is now 93,000 Miles jelly, Rub Rub Rub shower scrub is now a solid body scrub bar and Cocktail perfume (my FAVOURITE) is now Wash That Man Right Out of Your Hair shower gel. There are also Soap Sheets- solid, sponge like wash cloths that are actually made of soap. I have no idea how they work, but they are pricey.

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A section I want a spend a day in, and alas have spent about ten minutes in is the all new makeup section. Lush already has a makeup line, Emotional Brilliance, but the Oxford Street shop has a massive upgrade. Various new powders, solids, crayons, pomades, mascaras and solid lipsticks have joined the party. When I’m next up, I want to spend a good long time having a full consultation. For now, I have three lipsticks that I am LOVING: Witty (Lilac), Secure (Blue-Black) and Soul (Iridescent Shimmer).

In mouth care, which is like a pick a mix leading up to till, there are lots of changes. The existing toothy tabs (solid natural toothpastes- you should try them!) have been repackaged into more practical recyclable plastic bottles, with some being given an updated look (Chou Chou is much prettier now with pink dots)and some being reformulated into tooth powders. There are also several new tooth care products- Tooth Fairy powder for those with a sweet tooth, and new tabs Bling Bling (a citrussy gold tab), Oral Pleasure (fruity and purple) and Boom Boom (charcoal for a deep clean). There are also new lip balms with fruity flavours like lime and passionfruit, and they look to be vegan. The one downside to this section is the low position of the products (hip-waist height on me, and I’m short!), and I really don’t like the way they’re displayed. They are laid out like the sweets are at other highstreet shops- as temptations while you’re queuing, or things you might have forgotten on your way round. Frankly, they shouldn’t be- it undermines the value of the products. If the display was in the same location, for the same function, but more creatively laid out and at a better height, I’d be more happy. As it is, the products are designed to be picked up as an after thought by the customer, as it seems they were an after thought for the creative team.

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Downstairs in the basement level, you will find the Gorilla Gallery. This installation houses some of the stories and inspirations behind the artistic perfumes in the Gorilla Perfume range. I haven’t been able to go in yet, but I have heard very mixed reviews, though generally positive. This area also houses the Gorilla Perfume collection, including the exclusive and otherwise retired ranges that have previously only been available online or at the Gorilla Perfume shop in Islington. My favourite perfume, Cocktail, is available there, as well as the full released range from the new Volume 3: Death, Decay and Renewal, rather than just the in-store picks. This area has some more facial care products, the full massage bar range on a huge table, and the entrance to the Oxford Street Lush Spa.

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Upstairs on the first floor is my least favourite area (after mouth care) and probably my favourite area too. Right at the front, looking out over Oxford Street herself is the Fun area. This popular, multipurpose product isn’t my cup of tea most of the time, so I haven’t really explored it, but this would be a great place to park with the kids if you go as a couple, while one of you browses. There’s plenty of room for them to play with this, well, fun product.

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That ‘least favourite’ area I mentioned is the gift section. For me, it’s sterile, bland, and looks like Ikea threw up. Pure white and boxy, the area is generic high street, not rustic and warm like the rest of the decor of the shop. One step out of the gift area and you are in the bath zone, which is like a farmer’s market, and much more on style. I love this area. The products are in plentiful supply, with dozens of new innovations. There are at least 5 demo sinks set around an island- perfect to compare products all at once. The bombs look like fruits, and it entices you to pick them up and smell them. There are too many new products here to count, between the new bombs, new bubble bars, new reusuable bubble bars and wands, reformulated old favourites and all new bath oil pick and mix. It’s truly a candy land of bath goodies, and if this is what you love about Lush, you NEED to go and experience it for yourself.

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Overall, Oxford Street is overwhelming. 220+ new products over three floors, a gallery, a spa, live hair treatments in a barbers chair, vast new ranges to explore… it’s an entirely new experience quite unlike a visit to your cosy local shop. This is Lush on not an industrial scale, but certainly a massive leap for a company that started in a tiny unit in Poole (which, incidentally, they still own). This feels like the direction the company should be going in. They aren’t compromising on their morals, their great and award winning customer service, their innovation, their creativity or their emphasis on the natural and the handmade. What they are is a slicker, smoother, sleeker, better creature altogether- a more modern, yet nostalgic version of themselves. And I can’t wait to go back.

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An SWB Announcement- Blog plans and future.

Hello darlings.

It’s been eons since I wrote to you, and frankly that’s not on. My emotional health has been suffering due to a lack of creativity in my life, I’ve felt guilty and stunted due to not providing content, and this negative atmosphere has only exacerbated the situation, causing a backlog in topics, meaning some limited edition products have become unavailable before I’ve had a chance to talk to you about them. And that, frankly, SUCKS.

I think I need to make a change, and take the pressure off myself for the moment. I need to write whatever comes naturally right now, and now worry about keeping the blog balanced between food and beauty. That has been weighing on my mind lately- not because I want to stop food writing, but more because I haven’t had anything to talk about- I’m cooking a lot at the moment, but not desserts (which I’m known for) and nothing innovative. I’m working hard at the moment on my job, on other projects and on my health, so cooking is more for sustenance right now than adventure. That doesn’t mean it isn’t tasty- I make a batch of my chilli nearly every week and it’s wonderful- but it does mean it’s not good blog fodder. Also, with my forays into YouTube starting, I haven’t had anywhere suitable to film a food video at all.

I consider myself a food writer. The way I view the topics I write about is as cook. I’m interested in how ingredients work, smell and feel, and how they combine to make something more than themselves; how they work as a recipe. This hasn’t changed, but the fact is that for right now I haven’t got anything foodie to talk about. I do however have A LOT of beauty and lifestyle stuff sitting on the back burner while I’ve guilted myself over not providing food content.

So, to hell with that, I’m just going to write. If you’re only here for the food, I understand, and I’ll see you again later in the year when I’m feeling foodie again. If you love the beauty stuff, then stick around. There’s a lot more to come really soon.

Love and kisses, and thank you for your patience and continued readership.

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Special Delivery! February Birchbox

Hello kittens!

I haven’t had a moment to sit down and chat Birchbox in a while, but since I’m currently working my way through this month’s samples, now seemed a good time to hop back on that wagon.

For those who don’t know, Birchbox is a beauty subscription box. Each month, Birchbox sends you approximately five beauty samples and one or more ‘lifestyle’ items (for example food or accessories). The sample sizes are generally large or full sized products, and by reviewing those samples on the website, you can accrue generously offered points to spend in the well stocked Birchbox shop. I’ve been having Birchbox delivered, on and off, for two years, and I love it. It always brightens my day when my box shows up, and I’ve fallen for certain brands based on those samples.

This month’s box theme is Birchbox Loves. Let’s get to it.

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First up, the London Butterflies Bath Salt Scrub. Whilst I’ve never heard of this company before, I’m familiar with the concept of scrubs, and own a couple I’m fairly faithful to. The sample size of this product seems very generous, and the packaging is beautiful- clean, pretty and luxurious. No expense has been spared, and the 34g sample is a perfect miniature of the full sized 225g product.

The product is described as being full of ‘Dead Sea Salt and Sweet Almond Oil’. It has a fresh, soapy fragrance- very classic and pleasant. Disappointingly, it’s not almondy in scent, despite this being the top ingredient. You can almost smell the saltiness of it, however. It doesn’t contain any synthetic scrub elements either- no plastic beads or the like. This is a huge bonus for me, as I HATE those synthetic beads with a passion- they’re crap for the environment, and can easily be replaced with salt, sugar or sand for a similar effect.

I’m really excited to try this product, and I’ll be pretty broken up if it’s a let down. It seems to tick all the boxes otherwise. I also think it’s pretty on theme. It’s a product that’s obviously had some love poured into its creation, it’s a pampering goody, and it makes me excited to try it.

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Next we have a product by a brand that Birchbox introduced me to, and I love. theBalm cosmetics produce a wide range of cosmetics, but this one is a highlighter. Cindy-Lou Manizer is marketed as a multipurpose product- highlighter, shimmer and eyeshadow. It’s a very pretty shell pink colour with a touch of shimmer for extra luminosity- similar in tone to products I use for highlighters already. I imagine it would be perfect for a dewy, spring/summer look. The formula is very light too- barely there and pleasant to the touch.

theBalm always has fantastic packaging, even for their samples, and this one is a miniature version of the full sized product. The outside looks like a wanted poster for the glossy, illuminated Miss Cindy-Lou Manizer, aka ‘The Con-tour Artist’, who is ravishing in her retro prison stripes. The packet itself is magnetised card over plastic, and opens to reveal a dainty pan of product. It’s cute, feels well thought out and expensive, and is full of the tongue in cheek humour theBalm love to use.

As with the first product, this product feels very pamper-y, and perfect to brighten up your skin for a youthful, first-date look. And I love, love LOVE theBalm, so for me, that puts it on theme too.

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The third item is an eyeliner pencil by Cynthia Rowley Beauty. My sample is black. A quick swatch on the back of the hand reveals the soft, almost oil pastel-y formula of the product, and a rub with my hand reveals its sticking power. According to Birchbox, it can be blended for a smokey look, but I imagine you would need to layer it up for anything more than a smudge. I’ve actually tried this pencil a few times, and it’s pretty nice. The formula goes on nicely without any drag around the sensitive eyelids. Unfortunately it’s not waterproof, and I have allergies, but otherwise it lasts all day.

The pencil itself is a cute mini pencil in lovely matte black with a glossy highlight, gold font and festive golden baubles on the cap. Cynthia Rowley Beauty isn’t a brand I’m familiar with, but this pencil seems pretty good and I look forward to trying it. And really, who doesn’t love a pure black eyeliner?

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Moving on to haircare, Birchbox have sent me the Liz Earle Beauty Co. Botanical Shine Shampoo. I’ve heard excellent things about Liz Earle, and enjoyed the sample of facial cleanser I was sent in another box.

The sample size is a generous 50g, presented in a tube. Also included is a brochure about the rest of the Liz Earle range and their ingredients. The product has a powerful, tart and fruity fragrance, very sweet and reminiscent of fruity sweets. It claims to be ‘naturally active’ and rich in vitamin e, aloe vera, shea butter, apple and orange extracts. The product contains no animal extracts and is It is also SLS/SLES free, which many people will find appealing. Personally I have no preference regarding SLS (which is a surfactant- what makes most shampoos, soaps and shower gels foam and move over the skin), but this is the first shampoo product I have tried without, so it will be interesting to see how it performs. If it does all it promises, I’ll love it!

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Wild About Beauty is a cosmetic line created by Louise Redknapp and MUA Kim Jacob. A few boxes back Birchbox sent out some of their creme eyeshadow range. This month, they’ve supplied us with a full sized product- their Rose Water Illuminating Serum. I really like WAB’s packaging- deep maroon-purple with black silhouettes of insects, feathers and leaves, with contrasting silver text. It’s not the cleanest I’ve seen, but it is pretty. Inside the box, the tube’s colour palette is inverted. The 30ml tube has a pump cap.

This serum is rich in rose water, which is beautifying and soothing for sensitive skin, along with several other natural extracts. It claims to have anti-oxidant and anti-ageing properties, and is designed to boost the radiance and lustre of the skin. Unlike most serums, which in my experience are best applied alone or before moisturisation, this one is designed to be used alone or after moisturisation, almost like a primer.

The serum itself is prettily perfumed, and has a pink iridescent shine to it. It sinks in quickly upon application and leaves the skin smooth and smelling sweet and musky. I look forward to seeing how effective it is on my face, and under makeup.

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Finally, we have this month’s lifestyle item, which is The Chia Co’s Oats + Chia product. This is an instant porridge- you only need to add hot water to have a quick meal. The sachet I got was mixed berries flavour, and honestly, I’m impressed by the ingredients. There is no rubbish in this porridge mix: whole grain oats, chia seeds, coconut sugar, dried mixed berries, virgin coconut oil, and that’s it. No additives or flavourings or preservatives. This product is dairy free and vegan, and also purports to be Non GMO and Kosher. Chia seeds are a super food- packed full of omega 3, fibre and protein, and this seems like a great way to get them into your diet.

The packaging is cute and blocky, with big bold text and clean lines. Very nice indeed- I look forward to giving this a go!

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All in all I thought the box contents were great. There was a good mix of product types, but still plenty of makeup, which I obviously love. All of the products felt geared towards pampering yourself- a beautiful scrub, a luxurious shampoo, a beautifying serum, a nutritious and delicious porridge, an illuminating highlighter and a fierce black eyeliner. Whether that makes you think of a perfect pre-date pack (this box was released for Valentine’s Day, after all), or just a way to love yourself and beat those winter blues, I think it was pretty on trend, without being gaudy and covered in love hearts and false sentiment. Good job, Birchbox. Now, was this box value for money?

  • London Butterflied Bath Salt Scrub: 225g product costs £35, so this 34g sample is worth £5.29
  • theBalm Cosmetics Cindy-Lou Manizer: £16 for 8.5g product, so this 0.57g sample is worth £0.30
  • Cynthia Rowley Beauty Eyeliner: £11 for 1.19g, so this 0.8g sample is worth £7.79
  • Liz Earle Beauty Co. Botanical Shine Shampoo: £10 for 200ml, so this 50ml sample is worth £2.50
  • Wild About Beauty Rose Water Illuminating Serum: full size, £22

The Chia Co Oats + Chia: 5 pack is £4.95, so this sample is worth £0.99

Total: £38.87

This box was super generous: even after shipping (£2.95 of the £12.95 total cost) this box is worth more than three times what I paid. This of course doesn’t include the points I will earn back for a) having bought the box, and b) reviewing the products on Bichbox’s website. Also, there were no duff products this month- all killer, no filler. I’m really pleased with this box, and I’m going to enjoy pampering myself with all the products.

If this has piqued your interest, and you want to join in the Birchbox fun, click here to start!

Later days!

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Valentine’s Day at Lush- Video!

Hello kittens!

Apologies for the silence following my 2015 planning post. I’ve been very ill with the flu, and it’s taken me a while to recover and get myself going. As promised, I’ve made a video! I’ll still be writing here, but one of my goals for this year was to give YouTube another go.

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This time, I’m looking at all of the great products Lush have given us for Valentine’s Day- two bath bombs, three bubble bars, a soap, a shower gel and two lip products. Look out for DeeDee chiming in part way through!

As per the video, I am living for the Unicorn Horn. I’m a huge unicorn fan in all walks of life, so the name and imagery is right up my street. What wins it for me, however, is the cosmic, magic potion-y herbal fragrance- it’s very relaxing for body and mind.

The Kiss lipgloss is a super addition to my lip care products. I’m not much of a gloss girl, but this one I can get behind- it’s smooth and subtle, not sticky or tacky. It looks really pretty over colour, or on nude lips, and is really kind to your skin.

Prince Charming, Prince Charming, ridicule is nothing to be scared of… not that I would EVER ridicule this guy. I LOVE this fragrance, LOVE the effect the combination of softening, soothing vanilla and enzymic fruit notes have on my skin, and love the sweet-tart fragrance on my skin. Yum!

All of the products in the video are being discontinued on saturday in the UK- Valentine’s Day itself. Therefore, if you love any of these, or want to try them, stock up as soon as you can!

That’s all for today- I’m going to go and rest up so I can bring you more content soon.

Later days!

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2015 on SWB

Hello kittens!

I hope you had a great Christmas and New Year, and that 2015 isn’t kicking your butt too much just yet. After a long break, I’m hopping back in the saddle to bring you more delicious recipes and beauty goodies.

Honestly, I’m gutted that the Advent Calendar didn’t get finished. As you can see, I had plenty of content half finished, but I simply didn’t end up with the time and energy to get it done on time.

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I was really looking forward to sharing more recipes with you, and one of my goals for this year is to get the calendar organised in good time, so this doesn’t happen again.

At this time of the year, it’s customary to look back over the achievements of the past twelve months, and look ahead to the rest of the new year. Last year was huge for SWB, with more followers across our social media accounts, and here on the blog, than ever before. Thank you and welcome to all who have joined the party- I’m so pleased to have you, and I value each and every one of you, and your feedback. Do feel free to get in touch with any queries, questions, hints, tips, critiques, comments or dad jokes. I love dad jokes.

Last year, I made a number of Bake-solutions (or twee-ly named resolutions for the blog). Here’s how I did:

Write at least 25 blog posts for she-who-bakes.com: I smashed this target last year, with 79 new posts on the blog. BOOM!

Eat more vegetables, therefore cook with more vegetables: I am pretty sure I did this- I asked my friend Simon if he thought I had, and he said ‘definitely’. I trust him. I certainly came to love broccoli again. And oven baked kale is tops. Mmm.

Get back into preserve making, and share the love:  I certainly tried to do this- the 10+ kilos of fruit in my chest freezer can attest to this. However, I could have done a lot more. I did, however, make some gorgeous Quincemeat, scrummy Spiced Blueberry Jam and marvellous Mango Chutney

Try to cook from every cookbook I have: I know that I didn’t do this. I also acquired lots of new cookbooks. I am a bad lady. But I do have a lot of lovely cookbooks, and this is a plus.

Stay awesome: Well, I reckon I did pretty well on this one… I got a new job, I went on two lovely country holidays, I drank tipsy tea at Mr Fogg’s, I rocked more than a few bold lips, I baked some pretty splendid cakes, I attended two beautiful weddings, I cuddled my menagerie of magnificent pets, I hung out with the best and worst humans on the planet (my friends), I had more than a few Lush baths, ate a truckful of cake and drank buckets upon buckets of coffee… So yeah, I’m pretty sure I nailed that goal, and my instagram can attest to this.

Morning 💋💕 #boldlip #limecrime #bombshell #benebabe #professionalpaleperson

A post shared by Natasha (@shewhobakes) on

So what are my goals for 2015? Well, I’m not going to set then bar sky high by any means. Though this isn’t a resolution, I am trying to be kind to myself, to respect my limits and not expect more than is sensible from myself. That’s how things don’t get done and I end up feeling crappy. However, there are a few things I would like to do.

  • Write at least 50 posts for SWB. This should be doable, but equally, that’s nearly a post a week.
  • Read 12 books. I love to read, but I’ve been so frazzled I haven’t made time for it as much as I would like in the past year. One a month seems achievable, but would also help me through my backlog of unread tomes and can only serve to improve me.
  • Branch out into Youtube. This started last year, but I’m working on some fun stuff. Look out for it!
  • Make more preserves. If only to get through all that fruit, but also because I do love it, and my family have been asking for some.
  • Grow my own. Last year I hardly gardened at all. This year I’d really like to do more growing my own and setting up my garden to produce for me for years to come.
  • Start compiling a cookbook. This has been a dream of mine, and its something I’d like to start working on.

Phew! This post is getting to be somewhat long, so I’ll end it there for today. Expect some new posts in the next week or two. It’s great to be back, and see you all again soon.

Later days!

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Advent Calendar 9: Goulash

My mum makes phenomenal goulash. When I was growing up, on a sunday evening, we would gather as a family in the lounge to watch some silly tv, chat about our day and eat a simple meal. We were a busy family (my brother plays sports, my mum was a teacher…) so there usually wasn’t time for a traditional roast dinner. We often had delicious jacket potatoes with varied toppings and left overs. However if more time was available, mum would whip up a delicious rich beefy goulash, let it cook for a couple of hours, and serve it with boiled potatoes and sour cream. Yum.

This recipe of hungarian origin is easy to throw together. Like all good beef stews, it’s a  little bit of chopping, and a whole lot of leaving it alone to bubble and brew for a couple of hours. I know I’ve put several beef stews in this advent calendar, but these warming, hearty dishes are perfect for the winter season. They’re great crowd pleasers and show stoppers for impromptu entertaining, perfect meals to fit other tasks like card writing and gift wrapping around, and for a little bit of effort you get a lot a reward. They’re also exactly what I’m eating right now, and they make me think of spending time with family, and therefore christmas.

Goulash

400g stewing beef (I used shin)
2 onions
2 peppers (one green, one red if you have them)
Handful of flour
2tbsp tomato purée
2tbsp paprika
1 tin chopped tomatoes
75ml wine (red or white work)
300ml beef stock
Salt and pepper

Chop up the beef into one inch cubes.

In a large pan, brown the meat. Remove it from the pan and add the chopped vegetables.

Soften the veg for about five minutes or until the onions are sweated. Add the flour, purée, wine, paprika and seasoning and stir through to make a loose paste.

Put the meat back, then add the tomatoes and stock. Give the stew a good stir to combine all the ingredients.

If your pot is ovenproof, pop the lid on and bake in the oven at 180c for 1 1/2-2 hours. Otherwise, you can cook the whole dish on the hob, covered, for the same amount of time, removing the lid for the final 20-30 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken.

Serve will mountains of fluffy mash, sour cream, and sprinkles of paprika.

I’ll add photos of this delicious redder-than-red stew asap. I hope you’ll give it a go!

Natasha x

Advent Calendar 8: Stoverij

Hasn’t the weather turned super chilly of late? All I want to eat is warming soups and stews and live under a duvet. Alas, I have to, you know, work and such, so this ideal is not feasible 24-7, but eat least when I have the time I can whip up something warming and delicious.

Stoverij is a belgian comfort and/or drunk food that is well loved. It’s traditionally served with chips, which makes it probably the best stew in the world. It’s also full of rich beef, beer and chocolate. Does it get any better?

Stoverij

  • 1 carrot
  • 1 leek
  • 1 small onion
  • 400g stewing beef, cut into inch cubes
  • handful of plain flour
  • knob of butter
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • 1tbsp brown sugar
  • 500ml ale
  • Beef stock cube
  • 25g dark chocolate

Heat some oil in a pan, and brown the beef in 2-4 batches. Try not to over-crowd the pan, or the beef will stew rather than brown off nicely.

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Chop the veg into small pieces and fry off in the butter for approximately five minutes, or until soft.

Sprinkle over the flour, sugar, seasonings and herbs. Deglaze the pan with a glut of the beer and stir the ingredients through.

Crumble in the stock cube, add the rest of the beer and return the meat to the pan. Stir through, then cover and lower the temperature pretty much as low as it will go. Cook for 2 hours until the meat is soft and the sauce thick. If your sauce isn’t thick enough, remove the lid, raise the heat and give it a good blast for 10-30 minutes.

Finish with the chocolate, stirring it into the sauce to melt it down. This will leave you with a rich, cocoa scented stew. Serve with chips if you want to go full Belgian, or mash and vegetables.

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I love this stew- it is pure and indulgent comfort food. It goes great with any veg (particularly my candied carrots) and potatoes, and the silky, rich gravy is addictive. If you haven’t, for any reason, access to beer, you can replace it with stock, cider or wine, though this will affect the flavour/authenticity.

Stay warm, kittens!

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Advent Calendar delay

Hi all,

Apologies for the delay in advent calendar posts- December is busy for everyone, I know, but I’ve had a bit of a shocker this week. I’m busy writing up several recipes for you (there are two freshly finished pots of deliciousness cooling in my kitchen as we speak), and hopefully we’ll be back on track by the end of the week.

If you have any requests for festive recipes, don’t hesitate to get in touch. The remaining posts aren’t set in stone, and I have about twice as many recipes as I will actually be using this year.

See you soon!

sigdraft

Advent Calendar 6 and 7: Christmas Chutney and Cranberry-Red Onion Marmalade

It doesn’t get much more festive than Cranberries. They’re in season over the festive period, they’re santa-suit red and they taste phenomenal with meats and cheeses- staples in many a Christmas feast. They also have a very high pectin count, meaning they make excellent additions to preserves, helping them to set beautifully.

Cranberry sauce is great and all, but we can do better at SWB this year. Plus, a good chutney or savoury marmalade is a fabulous addition to any cheeseboard or buffet. Here are two of my Christmastime favourites I’m making up for my own Christmas dinner, plus extra for gifts.

Christmas Chutney

This recipe is childsplay to throw together and packs a great flavour punch. It goes great with sharp cheeses or meats in sandwiches, and can be made, start to finish, in under 45 minutes., including any chopping.

  • 400g cranberries
  • 400g cherry tomatoes (you can use regular tomatoes, just chop them up first)
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 1/2tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2tsp ground allspice
  • Pinch of salt
  • 200g light muscovado sugar
  • 100ml cider vinegar

Chop the onion into rough slices.

Pop the cranberries, onion and tomatoes into a saucepan over a low heat, and heat for 10 minutes, until the berries start to pop.

Add all the remaining ingredients and stir to combine and dissolve the sugar.

Simmer the chutney for 15-25 minutes until the chutney is combined and pulpy.

Pot into sterilised jars, or store in the fridge.

IMG_6848Next up is a delicious red onion marmalade with the festive twist. If you don’t want to use the cranberries, use an extra 400g of onions instead for a true red onion marmalade.

Cranberry and Red Onion Marmalade

  • 500g red onions
  • Juice of an orange
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground gunger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander
  • 200g dark muscovado sugar
  • 150ml ruby port
  • 100ml cider vinegar
  • 400g cranberries

In a glug of oil, fry the onions off until translucent.

Add the orange juice, port, vinegar, sugar and all the spices. Stir through to combine and dissolve the sugar.

Simmer the mixture gently for 35-40 minutes. The mixture should be nice and syrupy by this point.

Chuck in the cranberries and turn up the heat a little. Cook for a further 15-20 minutes, until all the berries have popped and the mixture is nice and thick.

Pot into sterilised jars and store in the fridge.

 

Enjoy!

sigdraft

Advent Calendar 5: Mulled Cider

Sometimes the world is out to get you. Hard days and long nights don’t take a holiday because it’s Christmas. Therefore, here is a recipe that will cute your ills, soothe and warm you, and get you well on your way to being merry.

Mulled Cider

  • 1 litre still dry cider (I used Snakecatcher by New Forest Cider)
  • 3 cloves
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 vanilla pod, split
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • Juice of an orange
  • 50ml calvados
  • 50ml pomegranate juice
  • 3tbsp caster sugar

Warm up the cider until steaming. Meanwhile, measure out your dry and wet ingredients.

Chuck in your spices and juice/booze mixture and give everything a good stir. Bruise the cinnamon stick and vanilla pod with your spoon as you do so.

Bring the pot up to a boil, then turn it back down to a simmer for 5-8 minutes

Serve piping hot in heatproof cups.

IMG_6788

This recipe is based on Jamie Oliver’s recipe for the same, with a few measurements tweaked, and an extra dose of booze to warm your cockles. It’s a damn good recipe, so I didn’t need to muck about with it much. Sweet, fruity, boozy and oh so quaffable- this is going to be my go to mulled beverage this year.

Enjoy!

sigdraft