Because even the shopaholics need to eat.

Bicester Village is every girl's dream - a whole area dedicated to brand outlet stores and with it being just an hour from london by train, it's shopping heaven. Food is probably the last thing on most people's minds in Bicester Village but it's definitely not for this foodie. The shopping area itself has a few dining options but if you want something a bit more interesting than Pret a Manger or Starbucks, there's a cosy Hungry Horse pub a stone's throw away from the outlet stores that lets you get away from the crowd.

The Acorn
Pingle Drive,

OX26 6WB

Fish pie has quickly become one of my favourite pub meals after my introduction to it in Nottingham. Like most of the other fish pies that I've had, this one was made up of smoked salmon and haddock. I have come to realise that fish pies seem to differ in style from place to place, some being drier than others. This was one of those drier ones with a thick layer of mash on the top. While it was pretty good for its price, one of the comments was that it didn't contain quite enough fish.

Roast chicken with stuffing, mash, peas and vegetables. Diana particularly enjoyed the creamy mash, eaten with a good helping of gravy.

The classic - fish and chips (or in this case, fish and mash). I am definitely a mushy peas person, which is surprising as I had a pretty strong dislike for them when I was younger. Goes to show that some things just grow on you.

An absolute must-have at The Acorn is the Ultimate Candymania. Chocolate and vanilla ice cream, Twix, Maltesers, Stars, Smarties, brownies and whipped cream in a bowl as big as someone's head - it's one of those desserts that were made for sharing. We loved the brownies, those chewy, chocolatey brownies that had an almost crunchy crust.

"Oh my, I think the ice cream has brought my appetite back!"

While the food isn't spectacular, The Acorn is a pleasant alternative to sandwiches and on-the-go food. Not having to venture far from the shopping area is a definite plus point and the cosy setting is a relaxing escape from the stress of bargain-hunting.

Stop. Breathe.

You've just dealt with a toughie of a paper, and you've still got one to go. You're exhausted, mentally and physically. What do you do when you get a brief respite? Chances are you'll head on over to one of your favourites, your tried and tested, the one that never disappoints.

I think it's called a time-out, needing to step away from the game for awhile just to refuel and regroup. Bayswater's Gold Mine is one of those never-let-you-down places for us so when someone suggested that we take a break from everything for some roast duck, we simply couldn't say no.

As always, the main feature was the duck - this time whole, bones and all. I won't go into detail because I have here. What I realised, however, is that no matter how many times you've had it, there's always that "Oh, wow" moment when you take your first bite. Every single time.

They also serve some of the best roast pork around. Crispy tops and thick slices - just the way I like it.

The simple and incredibly tender stir-fried kailan.

Recommended by the staff, Pei Pah Tofu. The tofu patties, made from tofu and a mix of vegetables I think, made for an interesing dish.

So you kick back, relax, enjoy the food and just leave all your worries at home. Conversation is lighthearted as gossip is shared in hushed tones and you even manage to squeeze in a few games of air hockey and Tap Tap Revenge before the food is served. After your complimentary plate of sliced oranges, you get the bill and head down the road for some frozen yogurt. You take your time, savouring every bit of the refreshingly delicious yogurt and you head home happy and with a little more hope and optimism.

Sometimes you don't need adventure or excitement. Sometimes, you just need the comfort of good food and good friends. It's a good escape, even if just for a little while.

Italy: Of coffee and the other little bits

There's more to Italy than pizza and pasta, as we quickly discovered. The coffee bars probably make up my favourite bit of Italian food culture. A tiny space, a bar top, a display of pastries and biscuits and the unmistakable aroma of coffee. It came as a surprise, initially, how popular these bars seemed to be - just a neverending stream of people coming up to the counter to have their cup of coffee. The glorious aroma hits you as soon as you open the door and it takes a lot not to succumb to temptation. Perhaps the most amusing bit of it all is how even the Italian equivalent of a British pub would have coffee listed alongside their alcohol. Now, that's my kind of pub.

No matter where we were, the coffee was always excellent - full-flavoured but not too strong. The thought of a caffelatte and a warm pastry to kickstart the day was enough to get even my brother out of bed every morning. It's worth remembering though, that in Italy, ordering a "latte" will get you a cup of warm milk and not coffee with milk, something we learnt the hard (albeit highly amusing) way.

Cakes, pastries and cookies - things I can rarely say "no" to. The thing I like most about European cities is how these delightful little sweets seem to be in abundance. The pastries differed from city to city with the meringue-like pastries being more dominant in Venice. These pastries were a much lighter and more crumbly version of the ones in the other cities, features that one comes to appreciate after a large meal.

I found that I very much preferred Italian croissants to their heavier, more buttery French counterparts. Pictured is my favourite, a Nutella-filled one that we had as part of our buffet breakfast in Milan.

A little mixed bag of cookies to accompany you as you explore the city, or a box of tiramisu to enjoy while you wind down for the day - these little things can make anyones day and they certainly made mine, everyday. Perhaps the part that I looked forward most to at meals was dessert and with such variety, can you really blame me?

Now this, this is the one I can never say "no" to. I'm not sure if it's the sensation that the cold leaves on your tongue, or how the flavour slowly spreads as it melts in your mouth but I am definitely, without a doubt, an ice cream person. With my favourite ice cream parlour in London being an Italian one, I was almost certain that I was going to really enjoy the ice cream in Italy. Smooth, creamy and with flavours that would interest even the most unenthusiastic, I wasn't wrong.

We found ourselves, in the middle of winter, constantly stopping for ice cream.

I just have to give the vegetable soup we had in Venice a special mention. With a natural sweetness from the vegetables, it was so addictive we had to order seconds. What I liked most about it was that it wasn't too thick or creamy - just perfect for a cold winter's night.

Pretty interiors, tablecloths and napkins folded into shapes - in Italy, much effort seems to go into making even the smallest and cheapest restaurants look and feel warm and welcoming, something that we noticed and really appreciated.

It's one of those place where you feel like there's so much more that you have yet to discover, food or otherwise. For some people, the sights make the trip, for others, the shopping perhaps, but for me, it's always the food. I think it's safe to say that this trip was made.

Italy: Of Pizza and Pasta

You know when you've tasted food in the country of origin. It just feels right. There are two things that seem to be synonymous with Italian cuisine - pizza and pasta, and we were forewarned that no matter how much you like them to begin with, it might just get to be a little too much at some point. We set off, expecting a week of rich, creamy and indulgent food that we would get tired of quickly.

We were wrong.

What was perhaps the biggest surprise of all during the trip was the fact that the food was generally a lot lighter than expected. Italian cuisine is really not just the cheese-leaden fare that we seem to be used to. We were right, however, to expect the food to be good - we were rarely disappointed and had hearty meals throughout the trip. I thought I'd share some of my favourite pizzas and pasta dishes and I have to warn you, it's a pretty long list of favourites.

Penne with mushrooms and seafood. It looks unassuming, I know, but this one made the biggest impression on me. Sitting at the table, savouring every bite, there was no doubt that this was the best pasta I had ever had. They had somehow managed to completely infuse the flavours of the fresh seafood with the tomatoes and herbs, creating a remarkable sauce. Like most of my favourites, everything was subtle and every flavour felt genuine. It had the sort of taste that lingers teasingly on your tongue, leaving you wanting more.

Spaghetti alle vongole - spaghetti with clams. With her preference for the lighter, less-creamy options, this quickly became a favourite of mum's. We made it a point to try the dish in every city and found that there were slight differences in each version. My personal favourite was Milan's take on it in which white wine was a more prominent feature. It brought back happy memories of our favourite Chinese-style steamed clams in Ipoh.

Spaghetti with mussels. We're definitely seafood lovers judging from the favourites so far. Unlike the clam version of the spaghetti, this one had a tomato-based sauce which complemented the fresh, just-cooked mussels.

Pasta with prawns and asparagus. I love that even the tomato-based sauces were light and not over-powering. They seem to have found just the right balance so that you don't get a sauce that is too tangy, too watery or too thick. Nothing beats a hot plate of pasta after a day out in the cold and snow, and this, this was like a warm hug after the blizzard that greeted us in Milan.

Pizza capricciosa. Again, every city had a different take on it but in general, the pizza capricciosa had my favourite combination of toppings - mozzarella, tomato, mushrooms, artichoke, ham, olives and in Rome, prosciutto ham and half a hard-boiled egg. It's the mix of sweet, tangy, salty and that delightful pickle-y taste that makes it what it is. What I loved about the pizzas, all of them, were that the bases were thin and crisp with extremely generous amounts of toppings. It's pretty astonishing how people finish entire pizzas by themselves, and order seconds.

Clearly, it wasn't just a favourite of mine.

Quatro stagioni - four seasons. With similar toppings to the pizza capricciosa, this became an occasional alternative. The biggest difference between the two was that the toppings on the quatro stagioni were not mixed and were carefully sectioned into, you guessed it, the four quarters of the pizza. Pictured is the one we had in Venice which unlike the rest, had a softer, thicker base that we think might have been made fresh by the little old lady who co-owned the restaurant.

We quickly learnt that there are two types of pizza in Italy, the ones in restaurants that have thin bases and are stoned baked and the pizza rustica that are sold in take-away shops. These have softer, thicker bases and are sold in weight, a concept that seemed quite foreign to us. The best thing about the pizza rustica is that there's always a large variety of toppings - everything from the classic mushroom and ham to broccoli and seasonal vegetables.

Also, having them to go means being able to have lunch by the Pantheon or while strolling down the street and taking in the sights.

It's not till you get there that you fully realise how big a role pizza and pasta play in Italian cuisine. They seem almost like staples, sold at every corner and featured extensively on every menu.

"If rice is our staple, why doesn't it come in more interesting colours like their staple?"

A Merry Little Christmas

It's a simple idea, really - a turkey for Christmas. You get the turkey and the herbs and you think you're almost there except that, staring at the huge turkey that's taking up all the fridge space, you realise that you don't really know what to do with it.

Yes, this Christmas marked our first foray into the whole turkey-roasting business.

Keeping in mind the countless turkey disasters that have been portrayed on television, we decided that an early start would be wise. Armed with our "Cooking With Jamie" cookbook and a few pointers from my dad, we were ready to tackle Christmas dinner.

Along with some store-bought stuffing, we made our own vegetarian stuffing.

Cumin seeds
Large onions
Apples, diced
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Boil the potatoes and mash them with a little bit of olive oil. Saute the cumin seeds and large onions before adding in the celery and apple chunks. Allow to cook over low heat until the apple and celery become reasonably soft. Toss everything into the mash along with the other herbs and mix well. A typical recipe would call for apricots instead of apples but we decided to work with what we had. I personally thought that the sweet apple bits were the best part of the stuffing.

I have to say, it was one of those figure-it-out-as-you-go-along type things with us going with logic and reasoning most of the way. Being the only one willing to have my hand in the turkey, in some strange way, I was almost sad to see it go into the oven. After almost 4 hours, (and as we were beginning to worry that it would never be done), the little gauge popped out and opening the oven door revealed an extremely juicy turkey.

Top 5 lessons learnt

1. A turkey crown is a turkey without its thighs
2. The skin of the turkey can be pulled back like a flap
3. Working a bit of stuffing and herbs between the skin helps with flavour and moisture
4. Roasting the turkey breast-down really helps keep it juicy
5. To close the cavity, use an orange

Top 3 things NOT to do

1. Use the entire packet of Bisto gravy powder when you are only meant to use 2 teaspoons
2. Pop the orange into the microwave for more than 10 seconds because it literally "pops"
3. Try to close the turkey cavity with a few clementines instead of an orange

Alongside a huge pot of pasta (Christmas shapes, no less!), gravy, stuffing, spring rolls, prawn tempura, chicken satay, cheese bites, Italian chocolates and a neverending supply of crackers and chips, the surprisingly successful turkey really set the tone for the evening.

A gold christmas tree, presents, enough food to last 2 days, good friends, funny hats and family - now that's what I call Christmas.