A Frankie & Benny's Christmas

We started off dreaming big - grand plans to roast a whole turkey (after discovering that we had purchased a turkey crown and not an entire turkey last year) and much talk about hitting the supermarkets to load up on the Christmas goodies. Ah yes, such dreamers we were. The reality of studying for exams started setting in a few days before Christmas and we realised that perhaps spending the day in the kitchen whipping up Christmas Eve dinner wasn't such a good idea afterall. Some web-browsing and a few phonecalls later, we ended up with a dinner reservation at Frankie & Benny's, one of the cheaper options available for Christmas Eve.

Frankie & Benny's, Surrey Quays
The Mast Leisure Park
Surrey Quays Road London
SE16 2XU

Frankie & Benny's was running a special Christmas Menu with three courses for GBP 17.95. With everything pre-ordered, we were looking forward to spending an evening away from the books.

BBQ Chilli Wings; Onion and Cider Soup;

To kick off the night, I opted to start with the onion and cider soup - creamy, hearty, slightly tangy and extremely satisfying. Some other appetisers that made an appearance that night were the chicken and sage pate and breaded camembert.

The most popular picks for the main course - Frankie's Festive Turkey Dinner; Slow-roasted Short Rib; Salmon Fishcakes

White Chocolate Brownie Trifle; Sticky Toffee Pancakes

I have to admit, I was feeling pretty stuffed after the main course but you know what they say about dessert - there's always, always room for it. I loved every sweet, sticky, crunchy spoonful of my pancakes and by the looks of it, the brownie trifle was quite a hit as well.

A human cracker-pulling chain, far too much food, good company, plenty of story-swapping and no cleaning up after - just the Christmas Eve that we needed. I suppose sometimes it's best to leave it to the professionals.

Hope you had a wonderful Christmas.

Christmas Bars

Inspired by another Great Cookie Swap recipe on Serious Eats, these were quick to make, very quickly polished off as well.

Recipe adapted from Serious Eats' Toffee Bars

2 cups flour
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1 cup soft butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup chocolate chunks, a mix of dark cooking chocolate and Cadbury's Fruit & Nut
1 cup chopped mixed nuts and raisins
Desiccated coconut

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celcius and grease a 9x9 baking tin
Cream butter, sugar, vanilla and yolk
Mix in mixed spice with flour and combine with the butter, sugar, vanilla and yolk mixture.
Spread evenly on the bottom of the baking tin and pop into the oven for 20-25 minutes or until a light golden brown.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle with chocolate chunks, mixed nuts, raisins and desiccated coconut.
Return to the oven for 5 minutes to melt the chocolate.
Remove from the oven, spread chocolate and sprinkle with more desiccated coconut

The lightly spiced bottom half of the bars harden slightly upon cooling, so you get a little bit of bite to go with the decadent chocolate-nut-coconut topping. I initially wanted to make them on Christmas eve, just so we'd have some leftover treats on Christmas day but I simply had to give in to temptation so we had Christmas Bars two days before Christmas and they were completely gone by lunchtime on Christmas Eve.

So much for restraint.

Though it's been said many times, many ways,
Merry Christmas to you.

I hope you have a fantastic one.

Frosty the Gingerbread Man.

I'm a religious reader of Serious Eats, a little bedtime reading if you could call it that and absolutely love that they have put up recipes for the Great Cookie Swap just in time for some Christmas baking. This will be the first of a few attempts to recreate the yummy-ness that is the Cookie Swap.

I'm an addict - hopelessly addicted to the smell of something baking in the oven, the delicious combination of butter and sugar, chocolate and spices. I've been on a bit of a baking spree lately, not just because I constantly need a break from studying but also because I have an overwhelming need to fill the house with the smell of Christmas.

When I saw the recipe for Spicy Gingerbread Cut-outs on the Serious Eats, I knew I had to make a batch because really, what's Christmas without some gingerbread?

I tweaked the recipe very slightly by using honey instead of molasses (1/4 cup honey as a substitute for 1/2 cup molasses) simply because I didn't have any. Honey works perfectly with the recipe, changing only the colour and texture of the end product very slightly. I also decided to top the cookies of with some nuts.

The end result - a lovely spicy, salty, chewy cookie from what is probably one of my favourite baking recipes so far.

Ginger, cinnamon and spices - it's beginning to smell a lot like Christmas.

Grill Kabilla

We trudged out in the snow on a Sunday afternoon with a little slipping and sliding along the way, in search of lunch. We thought it would be about time we paid Lahore a visit since quite a few people have brought it up whenever it comes up in conversations that we live just off Commercial Road. Perhaps it was fate that stepped in that Sunday afternoon - too long a wait for a bus, pavements that were a little too slippery for our own good and the fact that Lahore 2 was closed. On the verge of giving up, we stumbled upon Grill Kabilla - bright, warm and with the 50%-off posters cheerfully displayed, we didn't need any convincing.

Grill Kabilla
Commercial Road
Nearest bus stop: Watney Market

Hungry and glad to be out of the cold, we quickly got down to ordering. (Oh, the joys of ordering knowing that everything on the menu is half price!)

Sag Paneer, my must-have at any Northern Indian restaurant. Creamy, with chunks of paneer, this version had a very slight sour twist to it.

Lamb curry - tender pieces of lamb in a curry that was flavourful and had just the right amount of kick. This provided a nice balance to the milder, less spicy Abdul's Butter Chicken.

From the tandoori menu, grilled fish with onions and bell peppers. We watched from our table as they pulled out a skewer of fish, onions and peppers from the tandoor, with the onions slightly caramelised and the fish a lovely smokey flavour.

Vegetable dumplings in yogurt. For our second vegetable dish, we decided to go down the path less taken (for us, anyway). I have to admit that for awhile before we were served, I had visions of delicate, Chinese-style wantans in a creamy yogurt sauce. I suppose you simply cannot take the Chinese out of a girl and yes, what we were actually served made a lot more sense. The expert among us remarked that the dish is usually a lighter colour, something a bit closer to the natural colour of yogurt. I did quite enjoy it however, and would order it again.

One of our three naan selections that day, the onion naan. The perfect complement to all things spicy and flavourful.

With the 50%-off signs cheering us on, we decided to go for a whole jug of mango lassi. Deliciously thick and creamy, it felt almost like dessert.

While not as good as Mirch Masala, the food at Grill Kabilla is still pretty satisfying, particlarly if you get everything at half price. I love a meal with variety and when you can get variety like this for less than 21 pounds in total, I'd say it's a pretty good deal. The servings are rather small, however, and I wouldn't think that there would be good value for money without the half price promotion.

My advice? Get there while the promotion is still going. While it doesn't say when the 'Opening Promotion' will last until, it may be worth trying your luck if you happen to be along Commercial Road.

Curry and spice - that's what you need to chase the winter blues away.

A Starbucks Christmas

'Tis the season for the Christmas coffees and I think that Starbucks serves up the yummiest ones around. I remember being very much amused when the usual coffee outlets started advertising their Christmas-inspired beverages in my very first year in London - I suppose coming from Malaysia, it never occured to me that at this time of year, anything and everything can embrace the Christmas spirit.

This time around, Starbucks has done away with the Dark Cherry Mocha as we've been introduced to the Peppermint Mocha. I have to say, I'm glad we were introduced - the peppermint-chocolate pairing is a classic one and the bitterness of the coffee complements it perfectly. The other usual suspects are around for the holiday season as well - the Gingerbread Latte and the Toffee Nut Latte, both equally delicious. Oh, the choices one must make! The only Christmas beverage that I have yet to try involves eggnog and while I cannot comment from personal experience, I have been told to stick to the other three.

A hot drink, warmth, some light music and a comforting background din - it's difficult to resist walking into Starbucks (or any of the other coffee outlets for that matter) during the gloomy winter months. I've always loved the smell of coffee that hits you as you walk into a Starbucks outlet, how it invites you in and envelopes you - add a dash of Christmas spices to the mix and you've got a winning combination.

Walkin' in a Winter Wonderland

The first sign that Christmas is approaching is the sudden appearance of the Christmas-inspired coffees but it's not until you head on to the Winter Wonderland over at Hyde Park that you know for sure that Christmas is on its way. It's a lot bigger this year, more rides, more stalls and a circus to top it all off. They've kept the fundamental idea - German Market, ice rink, rides and general happiness. It still gives you that familiar feeling, the feeling that just for a couple of hours, you can fully unleash the kid at heart.

The booth that I was on the lookout for - the one with the gingerbread hearts and candied nuts. I think after a couple of years, you start recognising some of the faces behind the counter and this one, I definitely recognised. Nothing like taking a stroll around the fairgrounds with a bag of candied nuts in one hand and a bag of gingerbread squares in the other.

We were missing Spain a tiny bit so when we saw Churros, we knew we had to have some.

Even Jamie Oliver decided to leave his mark at the Winter Wonderland this year. Food, and a little area where you can decorate your very own gingerbread man.

One simply cannot leave the Winter Wonderland without having had a round of Bratwurst. Topped with sauerkraut and settled in nicely in a roll, it's definitely not easy to just walk away from this one - not when one can hear the sizzle of the bratwurst cooking on the grill. Bratwurst, a cup of mulled wine or German beer and a space by one of the wooden barrels and you're set.

Sweets, for kids of all ages.

Sure, everything's just a tiny bit more expensive at the Winter Wonderland but with the sound of children (and adults) gleefully (and sometimes not so gleefully) screaming, the smell of candied nuts and roast pork, the bright lights, the elves and the familiar music, you cannot help but forgive it. In fact, you'll find yourself soaking up the Christmas spirit with a silly grin on your face.

AhKing Bar & Restaurant

There are not very many options when it comes to brunch on a Sunday morning in central London. We stumbled out of the flat into the dreary weather, eyes still a little bleary and voices not completely recovered from the Goo Goo Dolls concert, to find that unlike us, the rest of London was mostly still asleep. We finally decided on AhKing after a quick call to the restaurant to make sure that it was open (Oh, the joys of mobile internet!).

AhKing Bar & Restaruant
31-33 Bloomsbury Way
Tel: 020 7404 8359
Open Daily: 11 am - 11 pm

We resisted temptation and decided that a hotpot meal would be far too much for the both of us, even if it seemed perfect for the weather. Instead, we opted for the set lunch - a choice of a main meal with either sweet corn soup or the soup of the day.

Seafood Loh Mein

My pick - Roast duck and rice (although, to be fair, what I really asked for was roast duck and noodles but when you're that hungry on a Saturday morning, you just take whatever comes your way). While the duck couldn't rival the more well-known Bayswater versions, it was good enough. I also really appreciated the side of vegetables that came with it.

The soup of the day - carrot and preserved vegetables, just the thing for a gloomy day.

With pretty good food, decent prices and a student discount, I feel like I really should have been introduced to AhKing a lot earlier. I suppose it's a case of it being better late than never.