What a year it's been! As 2014 comes to an end I've been thinking about what I've been up to with my blog and food adventures. First of all a quick apology to those of you who read my blog for recipes - I've been eating out at so many amazing restaurants recently, and putting a lot of recipes I've come up with into my book (that I'm still writing), that I've hardly posted any recipes here at all in the past few months. So please bear with me as I will be redressing the restaurant review/recipe balance on here in the New Year...

The other thing I've been looking back on is my pop up restaurants. This time last year I'd done 4 events - 2 public pop ups and 2 private pop ups for a hen do and a birthday party. Now I've done a total of 13 public pop ups, and 12 private catering gigs, including a 3 course dinner for 60 people, and a vegetarian Thai feast for a hen do. I also had the pleasure of designing the food menu for a private party put on by MoneySuperMarket, which I'll be blogging about in the new year. I've had some great feedback from my events, and I've had some lovely reviews of my pop ups from the following bloggers and writers:

I am continuing with my pop ups in 2015, and already have 2 dates in the diary - the 24th January, which there's still a couple of tickets left for, and Saturday 14th March, when I'm doing a pop up as part of the Nose to Tail fortnight, using less common cuts of meat to prepare the following menu:

Welcome cocktail
Chicken & duck liver pate topped with madeira jelly, duck hearts, raisin puree & homemade bread
Oxtail and ox cheek stew, leeks, wild garlic & flageolet beans, purple sprouting broccoli and parsnip puree
Lemon posset with rhubarb jam and shortbread biscuits
Montgomery cheeseboard, homemade chutney, seeded crackers
COFFEE and HERBAL TEAS: Served with homemade chocolates
Tickets have started selling for the March event already (!?) but there are still plenty available here. I'm also looking to do a pop up in February so check Grub Club for details on that soon. I'll be doing a pop up once a month to start the year and will possibly increase them as the year goes on. Of course, all this is only possible because of the wonderful people at Grub Club who help and support me every step of the way, as well as making it easy for you guys to get tickets for my events. I might even venture into the world of Afternoon Tea in a more central location than my West London home, but of course, I'll post details here about those if/when they happen.
Here are a few photos from some of my most recent pop ups and private catering events so you can see what it's all about....
Welcome raspberry, vodka and prosecco cocktail from early Autumn:
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Who doesn't love a pizza?! It's probably the go-to "naughty" food that I eat the most, because crispy base and melty cheese = heaven! So I popped into Pizza Union near Liverpool Street last week to give their offerings a try. And they're so good that I have to tell you about them!

Pizza Union is tucked between Bishopsgate and Commercial Street near Shoreditch in East London. It's a huge space with a massive pizza oven where they promise superfast 12" pizzas, ready in 3 minutes! And that's exactly what they do. You order and pay at the counter, take a buzzer with you and within 3 minutes the buzzer starts flashing and your pizza is ready to collect. I went with Hugo; I ordered the Formaggi (tomato sauce, mozzarella, mascarpone, gorgonzola and parmesan) with extra artichokes and pepperoni, and Hugo had the Carne (tomato sauce, mozzarella, beef, chicken, pepperoni and onions). The bases are super thin, and crunchy at the edges, and the toppings plentiful and delicious. It was up there with some of the best pizzas I've tried. And they're super cheap too - they were £6.50 each!

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Kerbisher and Malt - the best fish and chip shop in London (?) I know it's a bit of a grand statement, but it's one I've been thinking about a bit recently. You see, I've been to Kerbisher and Malt twice now. The first time I didn't get it - it was good, but it was just fish and chips. But I went back recently and I've changed my mind. I've changed my mind because I've realised, that although there are a couple of places in London that sell excellent fish and chips, that's all they sell, and your arms normally stick to the tables because they're so greasy, and you clean up after yourself, because they're just takeaway shops that happen to have a few seats/tables. But Kerbisher and Malt is different. It really stands out from the rest. It's fish and chips but it's more, it's an actual restaurant for a start, where you pay after your meal, and where the waitresses bring your food to you and take it away when you're done. And they also bring you booze if you so desire. And their food is really, really good.

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ActionAid need our help, now.

This wonderful charity work tirelessly throughout the year to give a better and brighter future to children who need one most around the world. I've worked with them on previous campaigns, and the further we can spread the word the better. This Christmas I have the fortune of being with family and loved ones, in a warm house, with electricity and running water, opening presents we have given each other. A lot of us will think of this as normal but for so many children in the world this is a distant dream of something they've never had. I don't know how much you've spent on presents, but I'm sure it's more than what it costs to sponsor a child in desperate need. With ActionAid you can sponsor one of the world's poorest, most vulnerable children. ActionAid work in over 40 countries with kids who are hungry with no food, sick with no medicine and in danger with no protection. But with your help, for just £15 a month, ActionAid can provide support and help to these children, to give them hope and a better future. You can also give child sponsorship as a gift this year, so if you know someone who has everything, or someone you've yet to buy a present for, why not give them the gift that keeps on giving?

The ActionAid Christmas campaign is focusing on 6 of the 40 countries they work in - Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, The Gambia, Afghanistan and Myanmar - where the children are most in need. You can make sure that a child has enough to eat, a safe place to live and the chance to go to school. So please, please help if you can.

One of the previous ActionAid campaigns I worked on was also supported by actress Fay Ripley. She spoke passionately about her visit to the poorest parts of Africa, where she'd met children who had literally been saved by ActionAid's work. For this year's Action Aid Christmas #giveafuture campaign Fay has put together a recipe to share. So please share this post far and wide, and if you make the recipe, why not make a donation as well?

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A few weeks ago, just before my holidays, I went along to an evening of whisky tasting at the recently opened Ramusake restaurant in Kensington. Cardhu whisky was new to me so it was fascinating to learn more about the brand and its history. Cardhu is a Speyside distillery near Moray in Scotland, which was set up on a farm by whisky smuggler John Cumming in 1824, and is now run by Diageo, the world's largest spirit producer. The distillery was originally run by John's wife Helen, before being taken over by their daughter-in-law Elizabeth, after it had been moved to a new site. The distillery produced so much whisky that the majority of it was sold to Johnnie Walker and Sons to add to their own blend. And in 1893 the distillery itself was sold to Johnnie Walker and Sons under the promise that the Cumming family would continue to actually run it.

Cardhu produce a range of single malt whiskies that vary between 12 and 21 years old. But we were at Ramusake to try their new product - Cardhu Gold Reserve, a single malt whisky made in hand-picked toasted oak casks. This creates an extra sweet, rich whisky, with notes of red apples, toffee, pear, clotted cream and tropical fig! It finishes on a dry note, and has a very rounded finish, unlike other whiskies I've tried that have a harsher finish. Cardhu Gold Reserve is perfect on the rocks, with or without ice, and is the first whisky I've really appreciated drinking straight.

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It's not often I go to a restaurant and come out declaring it's the best version of whichever food they're serving that I've tried, so it's a big deal for me to say I've found the BEST ramen that I've ever tasted, especially when it's a no-booking restaurant with food served so fast that you're in and out within 30 minutes. But that restaurant exists and it's Kanada-Ya.

I was invited to visit Kanada-Ya on a cold and rainy Wednesday evening. I arrived with Hugo at 6.30 to see a huge queue outside already, with probably more than 20 people queueing for this 24 seater ramen bar. The restaurant is small and compact with a semi open kitchen - there are bench tables in the centre and a few tables against the windows. The place is buzzing and no sooner has one table been cleared, than the next hungry diners waiting outside are ushered in.

The menu at Kanada-Ya is short and sweet. You choose from 3 options of tonkotsu (which means pork bone) ramen (noodle soup) - all made with the same creamy 18 hour pork bone broth, the toppings alternate slightly between the choices. Their three options of ramen are:

- Original ramen - broth, chashu pork belly, wood ear fungus, noodles, nori and spring onion (£10)
- Moyashi ramen - broth, chashu pork belly, wood ear fungus, noodles, nori and spring onion, topped with blanched bean sprouts (£11)
- Chashu men - broth, deluxe chashu pork collar, wood ear fungus, noodles, nori and spring onion (£12.50)

You can also add extra noodles (£1.50), black garlic sauce (£1), spicy miso (£1.50), Hanjuku egg - a soft boiled egg marinated in soy (£1.80) and extra nori (£0.50). We both went for the Chashu men with spicy miso, and an egg for me. You can also choose how you want your noodles cooked - extra firm, firm, regular or soft. Hugo went for firm and I had regular. The wait between ordering your ramen and it arriving at the table was less than 5 minutes. And when it does arrive you're greeted with a steaming bowl of goodness.

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If you follow me on Instagram, you might've seen that I went on the holiday of a lifetime a couple of weeks ago. The boy's mum very kindly took me, the boy, his brother and his brother's lady off to Mauritius for a break. It was the furthest I've ever travelled and my first time in the Southern hemisphere, so I wanted to share some of my photos, experiences and food discoveries with you here.

We took a night flight direct from Heathrow to Mauritius and arrived to be hit by a wall of heat and humidity, all slightly dazed from a sleep-lacking flight! We were picked up by our driver and driven from the airport, on the south-east of the island, to the hotel, on the north-west. Mauritius is in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar, and is about 70km in length, so it only took an hour to reach the hotel. We were staying at the gorgeous Maritim, Balaclava, and were greeted with the most stunning view through the reception foyer, out over the infinity pool to the crystal blue sea. The views were unlike anything I've seen before, as was the heat!

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Peruvian food seems to be the new thing in London. Lima recently won a Michelin star and a handful of Peruvian influenced places have sprung up since then, including Pachamama in Marylebone which I visited a few weeks ago. You find Pachamama through a missable door off Thayer St, at the south end of Marylebone High St, and head downstairs into the light, bright, and really quite large space that Pachamama have created. The walls are decorated with flowers and a full size horse figure, and the tables by the bar sweep round the corner into a larger dining room, which has smaller, private, lounge type rooms coming off it. They serve fresh and delicious sharing dishes for lunch, and something a bit more substantial for dinner, when the lights go down and the music turns up.

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A couple of years ago I did a food writing course at Leith's cookery school. There were about 15 of us on the course, from all walks of life, each with our own food writing ambitions. Mine was to improve my blog, learn some writing techniques and brush up my skills in the hope of one day writing my own cookbook. 2 years down the line and I still hope to publish my own book, part of which is written, part of which is safely stored in my head!!!! But something exciting popped up on my facebook feed a few weeks ago - one of the ladies on the course, April Carter, has now written her 3rd book (!!), which has been published by Hardie Grant and is now on sale! Her name emblazoned across her book, full of her own recipes - that has to be the dream come true? I was thrilled when April said yes to me previewing one of her recipes from the book for my blog, in the hope that you might want to buy the book yourselves, either to further your own baking, or as a perfect Christmas present for a loved one.

April Carter's 'Decorated - Sublimely crafted cakes for every occasion' book is absolutely beautiful. A collection of recipes for cakes and sweet treats for all occasions and skill levels, the book finishes with a chapter dedicated to how to decorate your own cakes, going into great detail about icing techniques, how to melt chocolate and tips for that extra special finishing touch, all shown via gorgeous photos, taken by Danielle Wood. I know already that April's book is going to be my go-to book for cake making and decorating, and as I'm known as the world's worst cake decorator I can see myself learning a LOT from the last chapter of 'Decorated'. So when an email came into my inbox at work last week asking if I'd bake a cake for a bake sale in aid of Children with Cancer and St John's Hospice (for who they ended up raising over £400), I thought it the ideal time to give one of April's recipes a go, though as you'll see later, I've still got a way to go on the decorating side of things!! Looks aside, it was one of the most delicious cakes I've ever eaten, and April's recipes are a dream to follow - step by step, absolutely perfect instructions.

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I'm normally pretty good at Christmas shopping. I find things I know my nearest and dearest would love, and I either buy them and squirrel them away or keep a list of links to the items in my inbox and purchase a few weeks before Christmas to avoid that nail biting "will it arrive in time" last minute dash. This also means I can avoid Christmas shopping on the high street, which really is my idea of hell. However this year I feel a bit like I've lost my present buying mojo!! I hadn't had any brainwave ideas, and to be honest, I was struggling a bit to come up with any. So I've sat down, and I've done my research, and finally I've got a list together that I thought I'd share with you in case you too are struggling. Some of my ideas, naturally, are food orientated, whilst others are just great gifts I think most people would be happy to receive. I've also popped a couple of recipe ideas below of things you can make for your loved ones that will keep beyond the Christmas period so they can enjoy once the over indulgence period has stopped! The truffle recipe makes THE most delicious boozy truffles, and are from an excellent Christmas baking day I recently did in the Miele showroom, whilst the salted caramel recipe is my own, but also inspired by the Miele day where we made their version of the caramel - though I still think mine's better, and is already something I put in Kilner jars and give to people for birthdays. In fact, the last person I gave it to ended up using it to make a sticky toffee pudding, which they said was the best they'd ever tasted.

Anyway, on to the gifts....

For the foodies/kitchen lovers in your life, I've recently become obsessed with crockery (I know, I'm old!!) and found a wonderful website called Amara where I've been buying plates, cups, jugs and lots more from over the past few months, including these absolute beauties that I don't think any kitchen is complete without - Pols potten plates. I've also got the matching bowls, but if you order those beware that they are quite small!

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How much do you know about gin? I'm sure if you like to drink it then you know which your favourite brand is, but if you're like me, then not much more than that! I went to a gin tasting a couple of weeks ago at The Warwick in Soho, who've just had a refurb and have added a sparkly new Gin Emporium. I learnt so much about how to taste it, what to look for, and which gins they pair with different garnishes - a fascinating evening that I want to share with you.

Gin came to the UK from Holland in the 17th century and immediately became the drink of choice for many due to the fact that there was no tax on it, unlike other spirits. It has grown in popularity since then and has had a recent revival, with lots of small producers popping up due to the relative ease of making it.  I'm going to talk you through the botanicals used to create the flavours of the 8 gins we tried, as the lovely team at The Warwick did for us at the tasting.

We started with Portobello Road, which as you might've guessed, is made on Portobello Road, where you can go and make your own gin as well. It's made using botanicals including lemon, orange, nutmeg and liquorice, but if you go to the distillery you can make yours with whichever selection of botanicals you fancy. At the Warwick it's served as a gin and tonic with Fever Tree tonic (as all their G&Ts are) and with a ruby grapefruit garnish to bring out the citrus botanical flavours.

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