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Top Christmas cocktails and drinks

The festive season is fast approaching: a time for family, friends, food and some fabulous drinks. Somehow the frightful weather outside never seems as bad when you’re curled up on the sofa or in front of the fire, ‘Love Actually’ on telly and a glass of something warming in hand.

Here are my suggestions for the perfect naughty festive tipples. If you can’t indulge at Christmas, when can you? ‘Tis the season to be jolly, and after a few of these, you will be well on your jolly way.

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Cajun chicken quinoa lettuce bowls: Recipe and playlist

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It looks like I’m on a one woman quinoa crusade at the moment. I can’t get enough of the stuff. Those little nutty grains are just so yummy, and I always feel better eating them rather than pasta or white rice. The lettuce bowls are really easy to do but I think they are a bit more exciting than just serving the chicken with a simple side salad.

Playlist to accompany your cooking

Recipe

Ingredients – Serves two, or one with good lunch leftovers

2 chicken breasts
1 cup quinoa
1 tbsp cajun seasoning
1 larger red onion – cut into slices
2 peppers – cut into slices
6 spring onions – cut into small pieces
1 chicken stock cube
Iceberg lettuce

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 180C (fan oven).

Cut the chicken breast into bite-sized pieces and coat in the cajun seasoning.

Bake in the oven for around 20 minutes.

While the chicken is baking, wash your quinoa under the tap to rinse off the bitter coating. 

Add the chicken stock cube to boiling water, and cook the quinoa for 15 minutes.

While the quinoa is cooking, stir-fry the onion and pepper pieces for a few minutes until softer, but still with a crunch. Add the spring onion for the last couple of minutes. 

Drain the quinoa, and toss everything together.

With the iceberg lettuce, carefully peel off to form ‘bowls’ and serve the quinoa inside. 

Dress with a ranch dressing, or olive oil and balsamic vinegar. 

Photos on the way! They’re currently being held prisoner on my old phone, which doesn’t want to give them up without a fight.

Review: Pizza Pronto – Penarth

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Pizza Pronto kiosk Penarth

The peculiar little shack near Penarth train station has some new residents, in the form of Pizza Pronto, a new artisan pizza takeaway, which opened today (30 June).

The Penarth Kiosk is officially the town’s smallest business premises, and you can definitely tell as you squeeze past the two people stood inside to get a better look at the menu, and they have to move outside. However, what Pizza Pronto may lack in space, it makes up for in really, good, pizza.

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World Gin Day: the best gifts for gin lovers

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It’s likely that you know a gin lover or two. Perhaps you’re married to one, or related to one, or perhaps your entire friendship with someone is based around your mutual appreciation of the good-gin-stuff. Whether you’re looking for a perfect Christmas present, the best birthday present, or even just a treat for your gin-fiend self, here’s a list of what to buy the juniper lover in your life. 

Gin journey

Leon Dalloway of Shake, Rattle and Stir doing his thang.

Leon Dalloway of Shake, Rattle and Stir doing his thang. [Image: ShakeRattleandStir]

Fun-filled and educational, about gin? Count me in. With Shake Rattle and Stir, you’ll be whisked around the capital to discover all things juniper. There’s a chauffeur-driven gin carriage, a visit to five bars – including a working distillery, gin cocktails, and more gin included.

£60 per person gets you five gin samples, five cocktails, a chauffeur between each bar, lifelong gin lessons, and plenty of fun.

Gin night at:

The Star at Night (London)

Grace and the giant gin

Grace and the Giant Gin

If you don’t fancy being whisked between five bars in the capital, and just fancy a night in the same place where the gin is flowing, head to my favourite haunt, the Star at Night (Soho), home to the London Gin Club. They have wonderful gin taster menus (see picture, Grace not included) which always taste as impressive as they look, a huge gin menu, and plenty of gin cocktails. The staff know their Monkey 47 from their Bathtub, and are always on hand to offer something you probably won’t have tried before, based on gins you already like.  

You can buy gin money, or vouchers from them, and they run tasting sessions – perfect prezzy options.

The Jekyll and Hyde (Birmingham)

JekyllandHyde bar Birmingham

Victorian decadence and LOTS OF GIN [Image: Jekyll and Hyde]

Back in my uni days, I remember when the Jekyll and Hyde’s Victorian Gin Parlour only had around 50 gins. These days, they’re up to 90. How time flies. Aside from the huge gin menu, the Jekyll and Hyde offers an ‘Eat Me Drink Me’ gin and food fusion menu; a great selection of gin cocktails; gin flights, as gin is always better when it comes in threes; and cocktail masterclasses

Become a master distiller 

Plymouth Gin

Make your own bottle [Image: Plymouth Gin]

Home of Plymouth Gin, the Black Friars Distillery in Plymouth opens its doors to gin enthusiasts for a range of tours. If you’re short on time, there’s the 40-minute distillery tour,  which gives an overview of the distillery and the gin. Stepping up the level of gin love, there’s the 1.5-hour gin connoisseur’s tour, with a tutored tasting. And for those of you who always fancied having a go yourself, the master distillers tour offers everything from the connoisseur’s tour, but you also get to distill your own gin recipe, and take a bottle home. 

Tours: 

Plymouth gin distillery tour – 40 minutes: £7
Gin connoisseur’s tour – 1.5 hours: £20
Master distillers tour – 2-2.5 hours: £40

Gin in tweed

Bramble Tipplesworth case

Get tipsy with Tipplesworth [Image: Tipplesworth]

If you would rather have something you can hold, I have been seriously lusting over these Tipplesworth cases. They do have several non-gin varieties, but for World Gin Day, the Bramble Case is a must. Each beautiful tweed case comes with all the ingredients and equipment you need to rustle up the perfect Bramble (£185, Tipplesworth). 

Boozy Berries

Gin soaked raspberries

Pop them in a cocktail, blend them into sorbet, eat them with a spoon, the possibilities are endless [Image: NotontheHighStreet]

If you’re looking for the perfect stocking filler for your gin loving friend, then look no further than these gin-soaked boozy berries. They’re a natural by-product from Pinkster gin, and you’re kinda helping someone to get one of their five a day… you’re so thoughtful (£7, NotontheHighStreet).

The freshest of lemons

Lemon and elderflower tree

Just hope they don’t prefer Hendrick’s… [Image: NotOnTheHighStreet]

Does the gin lover in your life love their lemons? With Plants4Presents’ Grow Your Own Gin and Tonic set, there will never be the need for that last minute rush to the shops, as you’ll simply be able to pop over to your very own lemon tree. And to get you started, the tree comes with a miniature gin and Fevertree tonic. This is a lovely and unusual gin present (£57, NotOnTheHighStreet). Or for the sloe fans, there’s a sloe bush version too, for £44.

Eat your gin

Joe&Seph's G+T popcorn

Get your G+T fix while you’re at the office [Image: Joe&Seph’s]

If World Gin Day is just another day to you, perhaps you just want a token, or a small nod of appreciation to the greatest spirit. If you fancy all the taste of a G+T, with added crunch and with less alcohol, Joe and Seph’s Gin and Tonic popcorn could be the one for you. Although I was sceptical at first, this is really tasty, and at £4 a bag (including postage if you buy three), a bit easier on the purse than a bottle of gin.     

For something even sweeter, there’s also The London Chocolate Company’s gin and tonic white chocolate truffles (£7.95, Amazon), Mr&Mrs gin and tonic rock sweets (£5.49, Amazon), or five alcoholic gin and elderflower lollipops (£7.50, NotontheHighStreet).

Copa glasses

A copa glass

A copa glass, expertly demonstrated by James.

A balloon glass filled with ice really is the only way to drink a G+T – you can appreciate the aromas so much more. While you might have a bit of trouble finding space for them in the glass cupboard, they are a necessary addition to any gin lover’s life. If you’re in London, you can pick up some from the London Gin Club at £15 a pair, you can order them from Alexander and James for £12.50 each, or you can sometimes find them on Amazon/Ebay.

Gin around the house

I bloody love gin print

Yes, yes I do. [Image: NotOnTheHighStreet]

If the several bottles of gin in the cupboard and the constant supply of Fever Tree tonic in the fridge don’t give your gin lover away, make it a bit more obvious. The ‘I Bloody Love Gin’ print (£13.95, NotOnTheHighStreet) is probably the boldest statement. If you want to be a little more demure, there’s the ‘In Gin We Trust’ tote (£13.95, NotOnTheHighStreet), a Merry Ginmas teatowel (£10, NotOnTheHighStreet), the recycled Gordon’s gin bottle lamp (£95, NotOnTheHighStreet), recycled Hendrick’s table lamp (£160, NotOnTheHighStreet), or a gin coaster (£6.95, Amazon). 

As this post gets so much traffic, it has been updated several times to fix dead links, and add new tasty gin finds. 

Lime, chilli, honey, and ginger chicken kebabs with quinoa salad: Recipe and playlist

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It’s summer, it’s healthy, it’s tasty, what more could you ask for? Sticky chicken kebabs that work just as well on the barbecue, or in the oven, served with an easy quinoa salad dotted with bright colours.

Lime, chilli, ginger, honey, chicken kebab with quinoa salad

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Whiskey and ginger sour: Recipe and playlist

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The sun is shining, the weather is sweet yeah (as a certain Bob Marley sang), which means it’s cocktail time. Yes yes, I know it’s cocktail time all year round, but any excuse and all that… 

While this may not be a particularly fruity, summery number, it is sweet, sour, and you will be wanting more. It works especially well if you’re watching Mad Men, or sat in a smoke-hazed room wearing braces and a hat. Other locations and occasions are acceptable.

Old Fashioned and an Iced tea

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Fresh basil pesto: Recipe and playlist

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The humble pesto: is there anything that isn’t improved by a big dollop of basil? This is one of those recipes that is so easy, and so quick, I’m annoyed at myself for not making it before. I’ve treated myself to the odd jar of fresh pesto at the farmers market, but mainly I’ve ploughed through jar after jar of Sacla.

If you have a spare five minutes, this is perfect for a quick midweek meal, either on pasta, or whatever your pesto preference. And you’ll feel so much more satisfied than reaching for that stockpiled Sacla.  

Pesto on pasta

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