Gastro Goings On – January

Well, thank goodness January is over. It was a tough old month, with bad weather, little funds and I’ve just started a Masters degree as well, which is taking up lots of my free time, so apologies if I’ve been a little quiet!

I’ve still made time for some foodie adventures though, so here’s my first round up of 2016!

I started January with a challenge – to try a Vegan diet. The guys at Veganuary got in touch in late December and asked me to try it out. I knew with the amount of leftovers I’d have I wouldn’t be able to start on the 1st, so I decided to give it a go for 2 weeks from mid Jan. I have to be honest, it really wasn’t for me.

I’m not somebody who believes eating animal products is cruel, like much of the email marketing I received from Veganuary, and because of this, cutting out some of my favourite foods made it really tough, and eating out became virtually impossible, not good for a foodie like me!

It’s not all negative though, as it did force me to get creative in the kitchen and saved me a few pennies on my normal weekly food shop. One of the best things I made was a vegan slow cooker chili which I have affectionately called “Tin Can Chili” (like tin pan alley… get it? 😉 )

1 can black beans, drained
1 can pinto beans, drained
1 can kidney beans, drained
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed or diced
Fresh chilli, chopped (to taste – I like it fiery so I use 2 or 3)
1 red pepper, diced
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp cocoa powder
Fresh coriander to serve

The beauty of this dish is that it’s SO easy to make. Simply tip everything into your slow cooker, give it a good stir, lid on and leave for 8 hours on low. It’s delicious as it is with rice or jacket potatoes, but if you’re not vegan give it a splash of sour cream to really make it come alive!

Burns Night at Four Oaks

Burns Night is one of those holidays that I have a great fondness for. My late Grandfather, God bless him, grew up in Scotland, so I always celebrate Burns Night with pride as a reminder of him.

This year, Steven and I headed to the Four Oaks, a Chef & Brewer pub near the Four Oaks gate of Sutton Park, for their special Burns Night menu.


The 4 course tasting menu had 3 options each for starter, main and dessert, with the obligatory haggis as a second course.

I always enjoy the food at Four Oaks, and although this was a special set menu, it was as good as it usually is.

I had eggs royale to start with which had lovely, delicate smoked salmon, Hollandaise sauce and a poached egg on top of a muffin, while Ste had Cullen Skink. I thought my dish was a great start to the evening, but I would have preferred my egg to be softer. Ste loved the Cullen Skink!

The second course was haggis, neeps and tatties with whisky gravy, and this really was tasty. I love haggis anyway, but this one was particularly well flavoured, with creamy mash and nicely seasoned neeps!

For mains, I had wild Scottish venison while Ste went for the ham hock. The venison was beautiful, blushing pink and deliciously gamey with savoy cabbage and roasted root veg. Steven’s ham hock was salty and meltingly tender with a sticky whisky orange sauce that was almost like a glaze.

By this point we were very full, but still carried on with dessert regardless! The dessert portions were huge, so I couldn’t finish my Spotted Dick, but it was really tasty with rich dried fruit and creamy vanilla custard.

Our lovely waitress Ange looked after us throughout the night and service was exceptional. Considering this is a local gastropub, service was more akin to restaurant service which made our Burns Night very lovely indeed.

Brewhouse & Kitchen Sutton Coldfield

Sutton Coldfield’s first microbrewery was officially opened at Brewhouse & Kitchen Sutton Coldfield this month by local hockey legend Jane Sixsmith. I went along for Dine Birmingham to test out the beers and some samplers of their food menu.

You can read my full review, but spoiler alert, the beer is awesome! I can highly recommend Moody Mike, a smoked porter named after the Mellotron player from the Moody Blues, but be quick, it’s a seasonal brew that’s only around until Spring.

Bar Opus Cocktail Masterclass

On the subject of drinks, I was lucky enough to be invited to a Cocktail Masterclass at Bar Opus in January, where we were given a sneak peak of the new drinks menu, taught to make the Mellow Yellow and the Chase Me and treated to afternoon tea!

We had a ‘Ring of Fire’ theme, where we had to answer questions on drinks and contribute to a communal cocktail at the end, which was great fun and quite novel! As it turned out, I was crowned the cocktail queen for my knowledge and mixing ability, which was a lovely surprise! You can see the recipes for the cocktails we made here in my full review.

Date Night in Yucatan from The Spicery

For me, a night in can be just as good as going out for dinner sometimes, especially as I can keep my slippers on and make-up is optional! I received a 3 month subscription to The Spicery for Christmas with my first box being Date Night in Yucatan, so we treated ourselves to a 3 course meal in the comfort of our little flat.

Our menu for the evening was prawn escabeche with nachos to start, fish tacos for main and Mexican wedding biscuits with spiced orange curd for dessert.

The prawn escabeche starter was delicious. I’d never made escabeche before but the pre-packaged fresh spices and easy to read recipe card made it a breeze. After coating the raw tiger prawns in seasoned flour and frying in a hot pan, I added the mix of spices and vinegar to the pan then left to cool. Served with sour cream, fresh guacamole and crispy nachos it was a punchy and delicious started which I would definitely make again.

The fish tacos were just as tasty with fresh white fish marinated in spices and fried, before heaping into warm tacos with home made pickled onions, salad and home made habanero sauce.

Then finally the Mexican wedding biscuits made a lovely light dessert. With a subtle aniseed flavour the biscuits were yummy as they were, but paired with the creamy, lightly spiced orange curd they were so moreish we finished the lot in one sitting!

So that’s it for my January round up! February is already looking exciting with a trip to Resorts World on the cards and some beautiful loose leaf tea from Jadu to review, but for now, happy Friday!