Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Christmas 2015

I thought I'd do a little update on how Christmas went as I've been absent for a little while. I love Christmas, not sure if I've really made that clear on here but I really really do, always have.

This year we had not one, but two Christmas trees, one in the lounge with all the presents etc underneath, and a real one in the hall which we decorated with just lights which I loved.

It would be pretty fair to say I didn't eat remotely low carb over Christmas and ate non stop for about four days. Surprisingly, though, when I weighed myself this morning, for the first time since Christmas, I had put on 4.5 lbs which I'm actually really pleased with. I know that would horrify most people but considering how much I ate I was expecting far far worse.

Christmas day was pretty standard, we woke up, did presents in bed, went downstairs and did a few more. We had oatcakes and cheese (obligatory Staffordshire breakfast), then started preparing lunch. Later on some family arrived and we had a few nibbles and champagne, before sitting down and eating our Christmas dinner. As chef table/ room decorator, with my sister as deputy we went a bit mad in the dining room with candles and fairy lights, so much so that we hadn't actually left enough space for the food so we had to move some (the picture below shows it before we smothered the table in lights). We ate and ate, and horrifyingly had eaten so much that we had to abandon the Christmas pudding and it didn't get eaten (still hasn't in fact).

In the evening we picked at some of the leftovers, had some mince pies and tipple of our choices- I had Brandy, watched some Christmas tv and chatted lots. We ate these delicious mince pies from asda which are gluten free. I know lots of you aren't necessarily low carb but instead follow this blog because you eat gluten free and most low carb recipes are also gluten free. These mince pies are delicious with a light crumbly pastry and plenty of gluten free mincemeat inside!

The following day was pretty lazy, we all slept in after not going to bed very late in the end. I headed down to my Nana's house for a coffee and gossip for a few hours while I waited for the rest of the house to rouse. I returned home, played with some of my presents (I am essentially still a child), we went for a little walk, everything was looking very festive, and we went past my favourite house; each year they decorate the house like a Christmas present!

We got ready and all headed back down to nana's house in the evening for turkey fajitas to use the rest of the turkey up. My sister and I had vegetable fajitas though as the token veggies in the family.

Sunday was a quiet day, we hung around the house, ate some more, watched lots of tv, listened to Christmas music and had a lovely, low key day. We made some low carb biscuits with a chocolate cream cheese filling, the recipe for which will be coming very soon!

 I dried some orange slices in the aga with my sister after seeing Zoella do it on a vlog, we're going to keep them to decorate some Christmas presents that we still haven't given, as there's still some family we haven't seen and exchanged gifts with. I also dried some cranberries and ginger, and we're going to use these to mull some wine with.

Monday, my mum headed off on holiday so I woke up at the crack of dawn to take her to the airport, then in the evening we headed over to a friends house and had yet more food and drink, listened to even more Christmas music and had a lovely Christmassy evening.

That brings us to today. I've taken an extra day off work just to prolong things slightly and given myself today to recover from hangovers, psyche myself up to eat marginally normally tomorrow, pack the car up, say bye to people and prepare myself mentally for tomorrow.

I'll be back in a day or two talking about New Year, we're having a pretty low key one this year but I'm excited nonetheless! Hope you all had a lovely holiday!

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Rocking whiskey glasses

Christmas is just around the corner and while I am prepared in some ways; the house is well and truly decorated and I have perfected plenty of festive food and drink ideas. In other ways I am still unprepared. For example, I haven't finished my Christmas shopping yet... I try to be organized every year and to a degree I am, as I pick lots of bits and pieces up for people throughout the year. However invariably around this time every year I find myself at this point, where I have lots of little things but none of the main stuff. And, even worse than that, often no ideas for the main presents for people either.

 Men are definitely the hardest people to buy for in my book, with women if all else fails you can get a luxurious version of something you know they like or use, like a candle or handcream, but men are a different matter. Imagine my joy then when I stumbled on these beauties. They strike just the right balance between being gimmicky enough that people are unlikely to have them, whilst also being useful and functional enough not to get tossed to the back of a cupboard. Let me introduce you to... rocking whiskey glasses!

Made from handblown glass and packaged in a lovely gift box, these glasses are the perfect gift for any whiskey enthusiast. They look like a normal whiskey glass, but when you place them on a flat surface they spin on the cone on their curved base and simulate the movement you make when you hold a whiskey glass and swill it round in your hand. This then stimulates the flavor and aroma of the whiskey and enhances the drinking experience.

If you wanted to add a little something extra, I've also popped some ice balls in, these ones were from J Crew and come in a set of two. The size of them means they melt much slower and more evenly than normal ice cubes so you don't dilute your drink. They also look pretty good too!

If you want to get even more experimental, you can try freezing things inside the balls, like you would with other ice cubes. I'm thinking of freezing edible flowers or berries in mine in summer.

You can buy the glasses online alongside lots of other beautiful and innovative glassware on the Formahouse website, but if you're in a big rush, you can buy them instore at John Lewis.
*Contains PR samples.


Sunday, 20 December 2015

Green Goddess cocktail with Fair Spirits Quinoa vodka

I am not quite sure where the term Green Goddess came about for juices, smoothies and even salad dressings, but last summer they were all I could drink. Imagine our joy, then, when my sister and I were in Dubai and spotted Green Goddess cocktails on a menu! Both green juice enthusiasts, we enjoyed them daily for the rest of the time there and vowed to set out to find how to make them when we returned. As often is  the case, life happened, and they turned into something we reminisced about but never actually made.

Fast forward to May this year when I was having my daily stalk on The Londoner and found she'd posted a recipe for Green Goddess cocktails. I excitedly rang my sister, within days we'd made one, and now they're one of our favourites! As with most of her recipes, it didn't need much tinkering with, but we did add ginger, as I love that in green juices, changed the lemon to lime, as I love lime, mint and ginger together, and added a little bit of kale. It's almost like a healthy, slightly spicy mojito!

If you're not already a green juice drinker, these might be just the ticket to ease you in, they have just the right amount of natural sweetness that they don't need any added sugar, and the ingredients mean you can enjoy (in moderation of course...) pretty much guilt free!

The Londoner used gin in hers, but I found a drink that will take this already virtuous drink to another level. I can't remember where I first stumbled upon Fair Spirits, but all I do know is that once I found them, I was excited. Dedicated to ethical and sustainable products, Fair spirits produce a range of spirits that are just a little bit different from other spirits. Take the vodka, for example, made from organic quinoa, from 1200 small, independant producers, and as far as I'm aware, it's the only fairtrade spirit on the market, which means that a fair price is being paid to the producers. There's just the most subtle sweetness that is crucial in a cocktail in that has no added sugar, citrus notes bring out the lime and mint in the cocktail, and there's a gentle heat which perfectly complements the ginger.

 Of course you can make the drink with any vodka, or of course gin, as in the original recipe, but if you wanted something a bit more exciting, I really would recommend giving it a try. You can buy it here and it comes in a beautiful presentation box so would make the perfect Christmas gift for any other fellow superfood enthusiasts that you might know.

Without further ado, then, lets get onto how to make the drink, to make two, you will need:
  • 1/2 a cucumber
  • A lime (you don't need to peel it)
  • A handful of kale, stalks removed 
  • 200ml light elderflower juice- I used this one
  • A handful of mint
  • A thumbnail sized chunk of ginger, peeled with the back of a spoon
  • Four measures of vodka
  • Two long glasses

To make them:
  • Add your cucumber, kale, mint, lime and ice to a blender or nutribullet
  • Blitz until completely smooth
  • Take a cocktail shaker
  • Add your vodka and then elderflower juice 
  • Top up with the green juice
  • Use a long spoon to gently stir
  • Pour into your cocktail glasses, if you're making them as long drinks you can do this straight in the glasses, I have done it this way as I used champagne saucers to serve. 
  • Garnish with a lime twist
  • Enjoy in that guilt free way that is only possible when you're drinking cocktails made from ingredients as virtuous as these!
Once you've finished, go and check out the Londoner, quaranteed life envy, and lots of recipes, including lots of low carb ones, and Fair Spirits for more information about these delicious socially responsible spirits.

Once again, thanks to my wonderful other half for the photos, far better than the ones I attempted. Find more of his photos here

* Contains PR samples

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Christmas giveaway!

Hello! I hope you're all feeling festive and have been enjoying my Christmassy posts! In the spirit of Christmas I am hosting a Christmas giveaway! This is to say thank you for all the new people who've followed me and read my blog this year. It includes lots of things that you need to make or serve some of the festive drinks that I've been doing on here. Some of the items are gifted PR samples and others are things that I've got myself. If you've been reading my posts over the past few weeks you'll recognise some of the things from the posts.

There's two parts to the giveaway, an international part and a UK only part. The alcohol can only be posted to the UK, but the other items can be posted anywhere at all!

This giveaway will end on Tuesday night and will be posted on Wednesday 23rd December 2015 Special delivery which will mean the UK winner will get it on Christmas Eve, and the international winner will get their prize soon after, like a late Christmas present!!

Entering is so easy, you can:
  • Find me on twitter or instagram (I'm called vatkinary on both), find the giveaway photo that I have just posted, follow me and repost it.
  • Follow me on Bloglovin or Pinterest 
  • Google plus the blog
  • If you do all five, each will count as one entry so you can enter five times effectively 
  • Whichever you've done, comment here and tell me that you've done it, and tell me whether you're entering the international, giveaway or the UK one, then cross your fingers and wait!
A little bit about what's included:
  • BLOOM gin- one full sized 70cl bottle- this is just the most lovely gin, as you might guess from the name, it has an almost sweet taste due to the blend of honeysuckle, chamomile and pomelo. It comes in a beautiful tall green bottle and is delicious just with tonic, or with lemonade, especially the new no calorie/sugar rose lemonade I recently discovered in Asda!
  • Ophir gin- one full sized 70cl bottle I write about Ophir Gin in this Gin and tonic with a twist post. Another beautiful gin, this one has an almost spicy taste and is so so fragrant. The taste is so distinctive, you could even drink it alone- perhaps in the shot glasses below!
  • LSA Lulu liqueur glasses- I've talked before about how much I love mismatched glasses where each glass has it's own style. I love LSA glasses and they do quite a lot of sets like this. Perfect for serving after dinner drinks in, or for helping you to exercise portion control when drinking as they're like normal glasses, just tiny!
  • John Lewis champagne saucers- set of two. I fluctuate between preferring champagne flutes or saucers, but at the moment I am loving saucers, less so after a few drinks as they become more difficult to balance and contain your drinks in... (learnt that lesson the hard way!) These glasses are so elegant and are perfect for serving champagne/ cava/ prosecco in as well as cocktails. 
  • Sagarform Sparq round bottom whiskey glasses. these are the perfect gift for a whiskey lover. They have an unstable base which means that they rock when you put them down, they seem unstable but they are perfectly balance and will make a fun talking point as well as aerating your whiskey! They're also a nice big size so you can have a lovely generous serving of whiskey, and come in a lovely box so they're a perfect gift!
  • Sagaform Sparq soapstone tulip shot glasses. these were in my Christmas gift guide, and they're again a great present for someone who you're a bit stuck to buy gifts for. They're made from recycled organic soapstone, you keep them in the freezer, then take them out just before serving. They cool the drink by almost 30 degrees which is perfect as lots of shots aren't necessarily drinks that you desperately always like the taste of, so the colder the better in my opinion. They come in a lovely box as well making them perfect gift fodder!
  • Cocktail R-evolution Molecular Mixology kit. OK so I've not used this yet, but am desperate to have a go. I'm obsessed with quirky cocktails and love cocktail bars like the Alchmeist where your drinks come with dry ice or special foams, and this set helps you to do lots of these sorts of things. There's everything you need in there to make some really fun cocktails, including foams, 'caviars' spheres of mojitos, and layers of cocktails. 
  • Julep cups. I love these, mint juleps are actually quite low carb when you make them with sweetener rather than sugar, and I'm planning on posting a recipe on how to make them very soon. These stainless steel cups really give them the edge when you're serving them, even more so if you use the straws below! 
  • Two sets of striped paper straws. Not much to say about these really, they're just lovely festive paper straws that make any normal cocktail look instantly more Instagrammy/ Pinterest worthy.
And that's everything! Lots of great stuff there that I love so I think you will too!

Remember if your account is private on Instagram I won't be able to see your repost, so make sure you follow me and then comment on here telling me that you have!

 Good luck and Merry Christmas!!

* Contains PR samples 

Friday, 18 December 2015

2015 Christmas gift guide

I did a kitchen wishlist in May this year and loved doing it so much that I've been looking forward to putting this together ever since! You might be thinking it's a touch too late to be thinking about getting Christmas presents, well it absolutely isn't! I still have lots and lots to get and I haven't even started to panic yet. Christmas might be close but we still have a weekend and a few days next week, so browse away and hopefully there'll be a little bit of inspiration here for you!

This gift guide pretty much doubles up as my Christmas list, though it isn't particular food based as I have a whole other one of those... so Mum if you're reading this, get a pen and paper and feel free to snap up any of these things that I haven't already told you about!

1. Now everyone knows about the Liz Earle cleanse and polish, but did you know they do candles? I am a candle enthusiast, that's an understatement actually, we've even had arguments at home about how many candles I have. But I'm a relative newcomer to these ones, they're cruelty free and smell absolutely delicious making them the perfect luxury gift. I received one in the post, and the smell when I opened the envelope was so strong that I fell instantly in love. They're also made from natural wax which eliminates the random panic I sometimes suffer from when wondering how harmful it actually might be to burn so many candles constantly. This one is a lavender and basil candle, two of my favourite smells, and incidentally two of my favourite tastes, I flit between liking to burn similar candles together, or having clusters of different scents, little candle cocktails, if you will. I think I'll burn this one with my Diptyque Eucalyptus candle, as I think they'll smell amazing together.

2. The White company cashmere socks- the gift for the person who has everything. These are expensive for a pair of socks, but they are so delightful. They come in three colours, feel amazing, and are perfect for slipping on after a long bath when you want to feel decadent.

3. I love mismatched glassware, I'm not sure if it's particularly fashionable at the moment, but I feel like I always enjoyed the look of plates and glasses that aren't identical. Perhaps this is because I live with someone who is rather clumsy and often breaks my things, perhaps it's because I actually prefer the look, either way I like them! These look amazing either filled with champagne or with four different champagne cocktails in them. You might even choose to serve fizz in each one but add a different garnish to each just to make them stand apart slightly. My current favourites are hibiscus flowers and pomegranate seeds.

4. I love this Tom Dixon tealight holder, it looks so luxurious and I especially love candle holders as I get through a lot of candles so being able to put little tealights which are so much cheaper, into decadent looking holders, is like having a candle that just keeps on giving! Also, Tom Dixon is quite pricy, yet these are £40 so if you give one to someone they'll probably assume that you spent far more!

5. I love stationary. Always have. Even though I'm a bit of an IT fiend and spend far more time than I'd like to admit on my phone/iPad/computer, there's something infinitely more luxurious and gratifying about putting pen to paper. Along with that, shameful as you might think it, I am definitely not one of the many people who no longer sends Christmas cards and instead makes a donation to charity, as I love both sending and receiving them. In that vein then, are these Peony scented pencils. I love peonies and I much prefer my handwriting when I write in pencil, so I have high hopes for these. Very affordable and with just the right amount of gimmick, they're a perfect stocking filler for a stationary enthusiast.

6. How glamorous are these four metallic bowls by LSA? I always need extra bowls, and I like to have ones which are different to my normal ones for putting nibbles in when entertaining. These combine striking metallic interiors with classic white, perfect for me as I love metallic hues in principle but when it comes to it, am definitely not brave enough to veer too far from white. They would also be perfect for putting things like cotton wool or make up in and using in the bathroom or bedroom.

7. These soapstone glasses by Sagaform are the perfect gift for a boozy friend with ethical taste. Made from organic recycled soapstone, they chill the drink by almost 30 degrees without any dilution from ice, you just keep them in the fridge, then whip them out, fill them up and go, such a fun party piece. I can see myself using them to serve shots of my homemade sugar free chocolate vodka, or tequila shots with salt and lime wedges.

8. These tealight holders are so beautiful, you can pop tealights in them and the light will shine through the cracks in the finish, hang them outside in the summer, adorn your table with them at Christmas. You need them in your life. Plus I love anything jamjar like, including jamjars.

9. Still on the stationary theme are these cocktail recipe cards, with spaces to record garnishes and glass type as well as the recipe and whose bar it was created at, these are a lovely permanent way to store your cocktail recipes.

Well that's it! Hopefully you've seen something in there that took your fancy. There's only 9 ideas but it was so hard to narrow down the millions of things I've seen in the shops and online that I liked the look of. Right, now to make some low carb white mulled wine and plan the rest of my present buying!

* Contains PR samples

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Opihr gin and tonic with a twist

I've had the most marvelous few weeks, testing lots of cocktails for these posts and couldn't be happier with some of the ones I've come up with. I've probably mentioned before, I am not an accomplished cocktail maker but can say with some pride that I am an extremely accomplished cocktail drinker, and chooser, so I'd like to think I have a pretty good idea of what goes together well and tastes nice. Saying that, I don't have very diverse tastes, and don't often steer pretty far from the classics, as cocktails are expensive and there's nothing worse  than ignoring your favourite one, taking a chance on something a bit more experimental, then being disappointed and having to look on in envy as your friends enjoy the ones you usually have.

On that note then, I'd better get cracking, I thought I'd get started with this delight, gin and tonic but with a wonderful twist. Not quite a cocktail but a little bit more exciting than a normal gin and tonic. I've used Opihr Oriental Spiced Gin which is a pretty new discovery on my part. If you haven't tried this gin then you simply must. The smell of this gin is so intense that even the most inexperienced gin drinker/ taster won't be able to deny the strong aroma that hits you when you open the bottle. Distilled at the oldest distillery in England, it's packed with rich and exotic flavours; you get a citrusy hit to start with, but soon feel the gentle heat of the cardamom and coriander. As a consequence, it doesn't need much to accompany it, and is even lovely on it's own with lots of ice. I thought that might be a little bit heavy though, so to tame things down while accentuating the flavours further, I used coriander, juniper and lime ice cubes, and topped it with lots of light tonic water. The result is a spicy and flavourful drink which feels utterly festive yet lacks the carbs of most festive cocktails. In fact the whole drink boasts less than 4g of carbs and 100 calories, guilt free indulgence at it's finest!

Perhaps equally important, (to me anyway) it comes in the most decadent, and almost festive looking bottle, so it looks amazing displayed on a drinks trolley, or just casually whipped out when friends arrive. Previously it was pretty hard to find and only stocked in more specialist places like Master of Malt etc, but now I'm now seeing it stocked in lots of supermarkets as well so it's very accessible.

I've popped these in large balloon glasses rather than tall glasses, while it's only subtle, these glasses really do help you to get more of the smell, enhancing the sensory experience. Apparently the science behind this is that a large part of the aroma and flavour compounds are carried by the bubbles, so the bigger the surface of the drink, the more room for bubbles there is and the greater the sensory hit when you put the drink to your mouth. They always serve gin and tonic in these glasses when we go to Majorca, even though in the UK they're usually always served in tall glasses. Anyway, it's Christmas so why not pop them in a huge decadent bubble glass?! Finally, go heavy on the ice, this is not a problem for me, I only like drinks which are very hot or very cold. There is also a bit of science behind this as well, apparently the lower a drink's temperature is, the harder it is for the carbon dioxide bubbles which create the bubbles to escape. This means that if it's really cold you will get more of the smell and fizz for longer, win win!

Right enough of all that, to make two, you will need:
  • Four measures of gin
  • Eight measures of chilled slimline tonic
  • A small handful of coriander
  • A tablespoon of juniper berries
  • 1/2 a lime cut into thin slices
  • Two slices of orange 
  • Two empty ice cube trays
  • Two balloon glasses, or just use two cabernet/ red wine glasses
Making these is a rather longer affair than a traditional gin and tonic because of the ice cubes, but is well worth the effort. Plus, much of it is done beforehand, so when you come to make them, it's fast and that time you spent before hand will seem well worth it! You can obviously make a few slices of burnt oranges which would make it even more festive and while you're doing the ice you could make a few trays so you only really need to put the work in once and then can keep using them.

  • The day before or at least several hours before, boil a kettle and let it cool. This is not essential but will ensure your ice is clear.
  • Gently crush your berries in a pestle and mortar, only slightly just so the flavor starts to come through, you want them to still be pretty much whole.
  • Tear the coriander leaves off and distribute them equally in the ice cube tray, follow this with the berries, and the small lime wedges. Keep them as whole as possible, as if they're in very small pieces they'll break off as the ice melts  and you'll end up with lots of loose bits in the drink. 
  • Fill the tray up with your now cooled water and pop in the freezer. You can obviously ramp the quantities of this up as once they're in the freezer they'll keep and are ready to go whenever you need them!
  • A few hours before, pop your glasses in the freezer to get them frosty and cool, again not essential but will all help with the temperature.
  • Right before you want to make them, remove your glasses from the freezer and fill with the ice
  • Add two measures of gin (50ml) to each glass
  • Top up with tonic
  • Take your orange slice and run it around the rim of the glass, before popping it on the side as a garnish.
  • Inhale those wonderful aromas, lean back and enjoy!  

*Contains PR samples

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Low carb French 75 cocktail with the East London Liquor Company

We're inching closer to Christmas by the day and as I'm feeling both generous and festive, I thought I'd treat you with another low carb cocktail idea.

The French 75 is one of my favourite cocktails, and though it's not a permanent fixture on most cocktail menus, when I see it I always order it. I love sparkling cocktails, and I love gin based drinks, so any drink which combines both is worthy of further investigation. Happily, it's a very simple cocktail which means it's very easy to recreate at home. Even better is the fact that it's made with ingredients I almost always have in: gin (an essential that  I never allow myself to run out, in the same way people don't allow themselves to run out of bread or milk), champagne (there's usually some of this knocking around at this time of year, or at least some prosecco or cava), lemon (again a staple as I cover nearly all salads with a combination of lemon juice and olive oil), and finally sugar syrup/ sugar- well this is where we change things up just slightly, but more of this in a moment...

I've created this one with the Premium Gin: Batch No, 1 by the East London Liquor Company. Hand crafted in small batches at the achingly cool former glue factory in Bow, East London, at 45% this gin packs a punch, without managing to taste like it; a potentially dangerous combination as the rich flavours mean you don't notice the higher alcohol content. Drinking a cocktail has to be a multi sensory experience in my book, and this gin certainly enables that; bold juniper notes, layered on a refreshing citrus note hit you as soon as the glass reaches your nose, closely followed by a dry, almost peppery finish. The aroma, combined with the feeling of the bubbles in your mouth and the layers of flavour, surely make this cocktail one of your essentials this Christmas. It's the right combination of simple, elegant, refreshing and punchy! The lemon in the cocktail perfectly complements the grapefruit botanical in the gin, and the sweetener/ sugar brings out the cassia flavour perfectly.

Let's get to it then, to make one you will need:
  • One measure of gin
  • 10ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 a teaspoon of sweetener, if you're only having the one or you're not too strict about your carbs you could even indulge in 1 teaspoon of fine sugar
  • A dash of fizz- any fizz will do, I have used soda water here as it brings the carbs and calories down even further which is useful if you're planning on indulging in more than one! If you used a cheaper gin you would probably want the champagne to lift it's flavour 
  • A cocktail shaker
  • A strainer

To make it:
  • Add your gin, sweetener and lemon juice to your cocktail shaker, along with a tumbler worth of ice, and shake well.
  • Strain into a champagne flute, top up with your fizz and garnish with a lemon twist and a crispy sage leaf
  • Enjoy in moderation (easier said than done), as these are potent and delicious little numbers!

*Contains PR samples
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