Sunday, 14 December 2014


What a difference a day - and a trip to the shops makes. Presents have been purchased, the tree is up and there is food in the fridge.  The Husband is returned from his last week away of the year. And lo! Christmas can begin.

I'm not a huge Christmas fiend in the way that some people are - seeing Christmas adverts in September makes me groan, and I can't get worked really up about it  - piling too many expectations into one day is a sure fire recipe for disaster. But I do like having time to be with family, to catch up with friends, to switch off. I love a good carol, a 'Christmas film' - either one that's themed around Christmas, or failing that, the Sound of Music. As the kids have grown older, we're developing our own traditions - different from those of the Husband & my own childhoods (the Husband was never going to let me maintain the tradition of not opening 'main' presents till AFTER the Queen's speech, which is what happened in our house when I was a child...) 

But I don't think of myself as a Christmas purist - more a bit of a Christmas pirate, and I'll pick and choose from new ideas, mostly happy to go with the flow, and frankly, when the traditions of other Christmases are so tasty why wouldn't you? In the interests of making sure we have the means for a bit of a party next weekend, I have been trying out various drink options of the mulled variety (hic), and I made a stollen.

Stollen is, I think German/Austrian in origin but for the opportunities it presents for Marzipan, it's a winner for me. I've never made one before, and only occasionally eaten it (there's lots of other things to eat at Christmas, aren't there?), but having had a go, I can see this becoming a bit of a fixture. I mean what is not to like? Enriched bread dough, all those Christmassy spices and of course, marzipan... I ate it unadorned for breakfast this morning in a quiet house (the Husband took the kids off kayaking) with a cup of coffee. The marzipan melted into the dough, a sugary hit from the icing sugar drenched over the rop, plenty of dried fruit, turning it immediately into a health food...Bliss.

I wouldn't begin to suggest this is an authentic recipe - I started off with a Paul Hollywood version and went from there - but I think in terms of flavour and sheer Christmassy food joy, it hits the spot.


250 semi-skimmed milk
150g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into cubes

500g strong white flour
100g caster sugar
10g dried easy blend yeast
10g salt

400g dried fruit (I used a bag of luxury dried fruit mix left over from the Christmas cake)
130g marzipan, grated
2 good shakes of ground all spice
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract

To finish
25g unsalted butter
1 tbsp icing sugar
a good handful of flaked almonds

You'll need a lined baking sheet and a seive to sift the final icing sugar over the hot loaf.

Warm the milk in a small pan then remove from the heat and add the butter and allow it to melt in to the milk.

Combine the stong white flour, sugar, yeast and salt in a bowl, then gradually incorporate the milk/butter mixture. Once combined into a rough dough, knead until you have a smooth dough (I did this in a food processor with the dough hook)

Combine the dried fruit, marzipan, all spice and vanilla & almond extracts in a bowl.

Flour the work surface (again if you kneaded by hand and it's necessary) and pat the dough into a rough rectangle, then carefully tip the fruit mixture onto it and knead it all together. You may think the fruit will never incorporate into the dough, but it will - just go steadily!

Once the fruit is incorporated into the dough, place the dough in a bowl, cover with cling film and leave to rise for 1-2 hours or until doubled in size.

Pre-heat the oven to 190C (170C Fan). Tip the dough onto a floured work surface, form into a rectangle, about 30 cm by 20 cm, then roll tightly into a sausage shape, and place on the lined baking sheet. Cover with a tea towel and leave for 30 mins-1 hour. 

Remove the tea towel, put the loaf in the oven and bake for 50 mins-1 hour. Keep an eye on it and cover with foil if it looks like it's catching.

Just before you take the stollen out of the oven, melt the final 25g of butter. Remove the stollen from the oven, brush it with the melted butter then chuck the flaked almonds over it, then sift the icing sugar over the top and leave to cool completely.

Christmas? Bring it on.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Potato Surprise Pie

Just as surely as things that go up have to come down, it is also the case that, unless they are incredibly organised and have a bigger freezer capacity than I, people who go out and enjoy themselves 2 weekends on the trot end up with nothing in the fridge and a bit of a crisis - especially given that it's now officially 'Christmas' (having got the Husband's birthday out of the way) and my organisational skills have had to be turned to that rather than the day to day food regime.

I do have a meal plan for December. It's filled in with the many Christmas related events the children are involved with, the Husband's not inconsiderable absences through work-related travel, some parties (more! hooray!) and  a couple of food-related scrawls. I see "salmon?"  against tomorrow. And (rather obviously) "turkey" against 25th. But for the rest of the time? We are doing a lot, and not, apparently eating much.

Actually that's not quite true - closer inspection reveals "leftovers" written in for Monday with an arrow wiggling across the rest of the week (until tomorrow when we are supposed to be having salmon...).

Leftovers on Monday and Tuesday consisted of a rather luscious cauliflower and bacon cheese using up the remnants of various cheese from the weekend, and a sausage and sweet potato casserole, again using up sausages we didn't cook on the beach. The same was on offer on Tuesday, and by Wednesday we had Sausage Casserole left. Left overs from the leftovers, you could say. (I'd over achieved when I bought the sausages). 

Throw into the mix the fact that I've had to scrape together packed lunches and the fridge painted a rather grim picture this afternoon.

But a pot of cream, although a day out of date, was unopened and passed my 'does it taste off' test, and - hallelujiah! 4 slices of bacon. Potatoes an onion and some tired looking tomatoes, and dinner was born. A kind of take on a dauphinoise, I suppose, or a bacon hotpot.

I hesitate to offer a recipe - my dish is, shallow approx 20cm by 20cm, and I thinkly sliced 3-4 maris piper potatoes and an onion, then layered with the bacon and tomatoes plus a grated clove of garlic, salt and pepper and a mixture of 300ml of veg stock and about 100ml of cream, cooked for 40 mins in a hottish oven.

Coupled with some peas (from the freezer) and bingo.


As I haven't done so for ages, I'm linking this up with Dom's Random Recipes challenge #46 for December. He challenged us to take a photo of our Christmas fridge and post it. Granted this is more the pre=Christmas fridge than the Christmas fridge, but still...Thanks, Dom.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Chocolate Orange Campfire Cakes

While the rest of the western world is putting up their Christmas trees and decking their halls, I have had my mind on camp fire cooking this last week. Not an obvious train of thought for early December, and the kids have done their best to distract me, warbling away the Welsh Christmas carols that they have been practising what seems like all day, every day, for the last couple of weeks, but today was the Husband's birthday, and as with most years since we've been together, Christmas has to wait until the birthday is done. 

I always feel for people who have their birthdays close to Christmas - or even on Christmas Day itself. My birthday falls at the end of April, and once when I was probably 8 or 9, it coincided with Easter Sunday, and all I got was chocolate eggs. Admittedly they were bigger than normal, but it always seemed to me like a bit of a cop out, like I'd lost out. Not that I'm harbouring any grudges some 34 years later or anything... 

BUT I do feel that if a birthday and another special festival or holiday coincide, you should make a fuss of the birthday person for their birthday as well as doing whatever you do for the festival and not try to wrap the 2 up together. It's hard - and the Husband's birthday is still a few weeks off Christmas - but for example, there's no tree up here (won't be till next weekend at least) and the Christmas cards that have started to trickle in won't get put up on the mantlepiece for a week at least, so that the birthday cards can take centre stage. 

If there was one thing less likely to be Christmassy to celebrate the Husband's birthday, it was a cook out on the beach in early December, but that's what we decided to do. The weather was kind enough, we had good friends to stay and Saturday lunchtime saw us heading off to Penbryn armed with a shelter, waterproofs, blankets, wood, various buckets, spades, boomerangs, sausages, bacon, marshmallows, a vat of soup and the wherewithal to make chocolate orange campfire cakes.

While the fire got going, we explored caves and because the tide was low enough, the beach beyond the one we were settled on, one of the adults got the kids playing minefield - kind of like human battleships - so simple, so much fun - running around in the fresh air on a huge expanse of empty beach.

Fire glowing, and with the light of the day disappearing, we settled in to cook sausages and cowboy meals, and to make these cakes which I'd seen on the internet and decided had to be tried. Part of me couldn't believe they'd work but they did - and some. Essentially you use hollowed out orange skins as the receptacle for cake batter. And yes, you could make your own, but for the purposes of making this up at the beach, I used a box of mix, and took the additional ingredients required - water, oil and eggs - pre-measured in a plastic container ready for mixing up. We did hollow out the oranges before heading beachwards too.

Wrapped in foil, and cooked in the embers of a fire, you get a brilliant moist cake delicately flavoured with orange, more or less depending on how fastidiously you hollow out your oranges.

We will definitely do these again. We whizzed up the orange flesh into juice for breakfast, but you could increase the orange-iness of the cakes by using some orange juice in the place of the water you need to mix up the packet of batter.

Chocolate Orange Campfire Cakes

Makes around 12

12 large, thick skinned oranges
2 packets of Betty Croker Chocolate Chunk Muffin Mix - or whatever takes your fancy
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 large eggs
Lots of strong tin foil

Slice the tops off the oranges about 1/4-1/3 down and scoop the flesh out of both pieces taking care not to split the skin. Trial and error showed us that it's better to have the stalk end as the bottom of the larger piece, because you get a little hole in the other end when you scoop out the flesh, but it's not fatal - just use more tin foil when you wrap the oranges.

Empty the muffin mix into a bowl and whisk together your wet ingredients - we needed 2 tbsp vegetable oil, 2 large eggs and 260 ml water - then stir the wet ingredients into the dry mix.

Spoon the batter into the larger parts of the oranges - don't fill more than about half the cavity you've got. 

Top with the smaller piece of orange, double wrap in foil and chuck into the embers of the fire for 25 minutes. You can carry on cooking your sausages at the same time.

After 25 minutes, remove the foil wrapped packages carefully from the fire and unwrap to find a moist delicious chocolatey orangey cake. Probably best eaten al fresco, with a spoon, but fingers will do.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Cardiff - puddings and pumpkin seeds

So where was I? Ah yes, skipping out of Wahaca in Cardiff last Saturday evening, admiring the pretty lights, replete with tacos and tequila, but not actually full to busting, having decided we didn’t fancy their puds and willing to try our luck elsewhere. 

Obviously the cocktails had gone to our head as we recalled the heady days BC (Before Children) when we lived in a flat in south London and on the rare occasions that we had any money to speak of, we would skip (figuratively of course, for we were young and hip... er actually no, we weren't but we didn't actually skip. It's figurative, OK?) off into the centre of Soho for late night cake, coffee and a walk along the river… 

Eager to repeat the experience, we were sadly brought up short by a distinct lack of comparable establishments in central Cardiff providing what we actually had in mind. The pie shop was closed up too, and most of the other places we found were heaving boozers, music thumping, pavements outside slick with beer (well, Wales had just beaten South Africa) so Carluccios had to do. Oh how times have changed. 

*insert nostalgic sigh for the days when a heaving boozer with beer-slickened pavements and thumping music would have been my idea of a top night out*

The waitress in Carluccios looked at us slightly askance when we declared our desire only for pudding and coffee, but she installed us at a table and produced a couple of the finest espressos I've had recently. There was nearly a major crisis when it transpired that they had (gasp) RUN OUT of lemon tart, but we managed to make do with 2 of their rather delicious chocolate offerings - a warm chocolate pudding for me, baked with ground almonds and served with ice cream, and a rich chocolate torte with raspberry coulis for the  Husband. I also managed a heady Amaretto - I love the stuff but hardly ever drink liqueurs so it was a real treat. I could actually just sit and sniff it and then drink it by dipping my tongue in the glass. But that's not for polite company, so I managed to restrain myself.

Of course, a cracking night out requires a decent breakfast the following morning, and while neither of us felt too shabby, despite tequilas and digestifs, a certain gravitas was required when it came to the contents of breakfast. We were staying on a room only basis in our hotel, so headed out to Bill's to enjoy their breakfasts and their industrial shabby chic restaurant.

I'd never heard of Bill's before and I was a bit disappointed to find out it was part of a chain, because on first glance it didn't feel very chain-like -nestled as it is in a lovely arcade, with a very independent feel too it, even down to the fleece blankets thoughtfully provided for those wishing to enjoy one of the outside tables. Then I spotted the blackboard hanging from the ceiling indicating that it had first started in a greengrocer's in Lewes, which is pretty far from Cardiff, and I was also a bit embarrassed because they seem to be EVERYWHERE. How have I not found out about this before?

Anyway, I can't vouch for the lunches or evening meals, but they do a cracking breakfast at Bill's. I had the eggs royale - smoked salmon and poached eggs on sourdough toast with hollandaise, scattered with pumpkin seeds which was a bit of a surprise addition, but I liked it. The Husband pondered out loud the fact that if he had a big breakfast, he'd feel full and have to moan about it, which lead me to believe he'd go for something else, but in fact he plumped for the full monty - the 'Bill's Breakfast' and enjoyed it hugely. And yes, he did moan about feeling full afterwards, but only in a half-hearted way. Lovely coffee too, although a couple of our drinks orders were missed or arrived very slowly - and in fact the Husband's second Americano just didn't arrive which meant we had to top up on caffeine in Cardiff Bay. But with the sun shining, that was no bad thing...

Monday, 1 December 2014

Cardiff - Cocktails and Quesadillas

The Husband and I escaped to Cardiff for a night this weekend. Too late to book ourselves into any of the great places to eat that had been recommended to us, we decided to embrace some of the ‘chain’ restaurants present in this fantastic city – and we weren’t disappointed.

I visited Cardiff once before, quite a long time ago. With the Husband (although he’s been back since). In fact, we went to see the last England v Wales international at the much loved and now obsolete Arms Park. As I remember, Keiran Bracken’s thighs featured quite heavily (for me at least), as did a man dressed as a leek. Actually, there were quite a lot of men dressed as leeks, and I was quite disappointed not to see even one man-sized leek when we returned to our adopted homeland’s capital on Saturday. What was noticeably prevalent was the rampant goodwill amongst Welsh & Springbok supporters, a general atmosphere of happiness and optimism. Not surprising really, because Cardiff is a lovely city – wide streets, a mixture of old fashioned department stores and arcades and ultra-modern architecture.

When I say we embraced chain restaurants, we did have an initial foray into the independent food scene, visiting the New York Deli, as recommended. Situated in one of the gorgeous little arcades, as well as enjoying the food, if you sit in the window you can also be intrigued by the barbers/tattoo parlour opposite...

Bagels, hoagies, sandwiches heavy on the salt beef and swiss, I enjoyed a delicious Cardiff Devil’s Hoagy – cream cheese, salt beef and gherkins, smothered in a pungent horseradish and tabasco sauce.

I’d specified heat of 4-5 (out of a scale of 1-10) and it was just fine, and set me up perfectly for an afternoon at the Laguna Spa that the Husband had booked me in for (yes, while he watched the rugby, but you know what – each to his or her own, and I was pretty happy with my part of the bargain).

Emerging into the early evening, jubilant Welsh crowds fresh from their win over the ‘boks, we decided we were in the mood for cocktails, and found ourselves initially in 10 Feet Tall

Packed to the gunnels we pushed on through, found a table and settled down to a mojito and a long island iced tea. Very good they were too, but “…very young and hip…” as Twitter advised me. We didn’t feel like it was overly young & hip, but it was quite noisy, and the crowd was definitely drunker at 6.30 than we were ever going to be getting lively, so by definition we were probably too old to be there, and took the advice of Twitter to hightail it over to the newly opened Wahaca, and their cocktail bar.

Now I’ve long wanted to eat at Wahaca, Thomasina Miers’ Mexican streetfood chain, and the fact that there was a cocktail bar where we could wait for our table made it a no brainer. The more I eat Mexican food, the more I love it: fresh flavours of lime and coriander, beans and tomatoes, avocados, smoky spices. It’s the smoky spices that I really love – chipotle and all that.

We were duly assigned a mobile phone-like pager and an estimated table time of 8, and headed upstairs for a tamarind margarita. Wahaca in Cardiff is in a big modern unit, spread over 3 floors and from the top you can see all the way down. There’s plenty of plate glass giving views of John Lewis opposite, and a relaxed but ‘buzzy’ vibe to the bar. It wasn’t heaving either, so we got served pretty quickly and settled down to enjoy our cocktails and the snacks – tortillas and delicious guacamole. I loved the tamarind margarita – the lemony flavours combined well with the lime and the high grade tequila they profess to use. In fact it slipped down far too easily, as did the Husband’s Wahaca Mule, after which I had a Mojito DF and the Husband had something with hibiscus in which was too flowery for me, but he enjoyed it…

I could have stayed there all evening, quaffing delicious cocktails and nibbling tortilla and guacamole, but perhaps fortunately, we were called to our table, where ‘Jack’ welcomed us. Now, Wahaca operates a little like Wagamamma, whereby the menu is printed out on a table mat/piece of paper, and the waiter or waitress will scribble over it as you give your order. ‘Jack’ was clearly following his script which was a little irritating, explaining how we should order, writing his name on the menu - in case we forgot? But we managed to let that go, ordered mainly from the street food and sides menu, and pretty quickly had some totally delicious morsels in front of us. And another cocktail.

The first morsels were the fennel pork scratchings with more guacamole. You can take the girl out of the North of England, but you'll never rid me of my love of pork scratchings, and this were divine morsels of fennell-y saltiness. Perfect with the guacamole. Even more so than the tortillas we'd eaten earlier.

After that, it wasn't long before we were presented with: pork pibil tacos, black bean tostados, chicken taquitos and chorizo & potato quesadilla. And spicy slaw, 'greens' (lush lush lush - tenderstem brocoli  drizzled with chilli garlic oil and lime - I could have eaten kilos of it), and the sauteed sprout special. It is nearly Christmas after all...

If you ask me, Mexican served this way is pretty much the perfect food to eat when you’re happily tipsy and feeling full of goodwill: cheerful food, bright and vibrant, and really fresh tasting. Wahaca may be a chain, and I haven’t eaten in any of the other Wahacas, but it was lovely. I also liked the way that they used British ingredients like Lancashire cheese where appropriate. Wahaca has won a sustainable food award a couple of times, and I wondered if they might be able to use Welsh cheese in the Cardiff Wahaca – but that’s being really petty because the food was fantastic and, deprived country girl that I am, the view was pretty good too.

To be utterly honest after the lovely ‘main courses’ we didn’t really fancy any of the puddings on offer, churros and hot chocolate and various ice creams, so we decided to do some ‘urban foraging’ for a fix of lemon tart. But that’s for another post…  

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Recipes from a Normal Mum

So Blue turned 11 on Monday in a whirl of Lego, lemonade bottle rockets, Jonny English, a sleepover notable for reminding me (as the older sister of 2 brothers) exactly how much hilarity farting causes a group of pre-pubescent boys, the now obligatory cinammon buns and a roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding dinner that was memorable if nothing else for absolutely the best Yorkshires I've ever made: beautifully risen, light, fluffy, golden. Yorkshire pudding of dreams. But I digress (although there is a point to me telling you that.)

It was a busy weekend, and in the interests of stocking up in advance, I made a smoked fish tart for the Husband and I to eat on Friday evening, with a view to leftovers that would feed us quickly and easily should the need arise.

I took the opportunity to delve into 'Recipes from a Normal Mum' by Holly Bell, which I acquired via a Facebook competition run by the lovely Crumbs . Suffolk Smokehouse Tart falls in the 'Food for the Great Outdoors' section - mainly because it's inspired by Holly Bell's summer holidays on the Suffolk coast. Very good it was too. I must admit to buying the pastry, but I'll make it again with the pastry included in the recipe because I like the idea of the addition of the ground mustard seeds. How the tart turns out depends on the strength of flavour of the smoked fish you select - I used what turned out to be quite mild flavoured smoked mackerel I tentatively picked up in Aldi - and it was totally delicious - warm from the oven and cold over the weekend, a big hit.

I have to say I wasn't sure about this book. Firstly, I have to say that the title put me off slightly. Normal Mum?? Who is the Normal Mum here? Not me that's for sure. But then I guess "Recipes from a Deranged, Sleep-deprived Mum" might not have the same attraction, and any way, I doubt Holly Bell is deranged or sleep deprived in that desperate way you can be after your first child  - she has 3 kids - she's an old hand. But you know what I mean - 'normal mum'. Is anyone 'normal'?

Rant over, and on to the second reason for my hesitancy: it's not because I didn't think the recipes wouldn't be any good, because the Smokehouse tart shows they most definitely are, but because I'm not sure it's a book I need any more. I know that saying you don't NEED a cook book is a bit of a heresy in these food blogging parts, but hear me out. In some ways, this book takes me back to the dark days when I was a deranged, sleep-deprived mum. The days before Blue became ill when I would weep at his refusal to eat the salmon fishcakes that Annabel Karmel assured me he'd love, and then weep a second time when I allowed him to smother said fishcakes in ketchup to get him to eat them... and then when Blue was ill and Pink arrived and I sleep-walked through my days, going from one meal to the next in a total fug of confusion, panic and indecision. That culinary rut when you feel you should create delicious and tempting meals for everyone, but either because you've gone back to work, or the second child came along or for some other reason, you feel completely and utterly devoid of the ability or energy to do so. Or was it just me? (Please, please say it wasn't just me...) 

Anyway, this is very much a book to get you out of that rut, and to get you to remember that you can absolutely cook interesting food for your kids and the adults in your life - that the 2 aren't mutually exclusive, and it doesn't need too much effort. It's also a good mix of sensible, nutritious food and the treats and quick fixes which, I'm sorry, but everyone needs, and never more so than when you've got small children. Mini mash ups is a genius idea for small kids, and well, Banoffee Hazelnut Cookie Crumble anyone? Hmm I thought so.

The book is divided up into sections aimed at the different scenarios you might be called on to cook in - feeding a crowd, feeding kids, feeding your partner... and although I haven't tried anything other than the tart, there are a number of recipes that I'm mentally adding to my meal plans: I love the sound of the Guerilla Gardner's Baghdad Beef Stew, the garlic mushroom crackle pie and Stew's keema matar - all the slightly more 'adult' recipes. The specifically children's recipes are great - just the sort of thing I'd have wanted to cook when the kids were smaller - but not now.

And to be honest, I think that's where I am these days. I am mostly out of that rut. Blue's requested food for his birthday weekend included chilli with all the trimmings (guacamole, hot salsa), and the delights specified at the outset of the post. A testament to the fact that the weaning days, the fussy days, the days of meals for them and meals for us, the days of food-related despair. I can cook pretty much as I choose - and if I need to adapt a recipe slightly, I have the confidence to do that. I have Nigella to thank for that, and to a lesser extent Hugh. Tana Ramsey also helped. But if it had been around when I needed it, I think Recipes from a Normal Mum would have done the job too.

Friday, 21 November 2014

How to succeed shopping in Aldi...with a little effort

I do seem to have been in reflective mood recently. Not sure why that is - I've never been one for too much introspection, even when I was trying to be a goth. But having just purchased tickets to take Pink to see Olly Murs, something I thought I'd never do (and not just when I was trying to be a goth - at which point, I hasten to add, Mr Murs was probably no more than a proverbial twinkle - I feel so OLD) I thought the time was probably right to 'fess up to something else I never thought I'd do - shop at Aldi.

Of course it's quite the thing these days, isn't it, to declare that you shop at Aldi, and I don't want really want to jump on the band wagon. What I will say is that while I've called this post 'How to succeed shopping in Aldi...' what I should probably have called it is 'Confessions of a food snob' because that is basically what I realise I am guilty of, and what you have to get over if deep down you believe your supermarket soulmate is Waitrose (or Booths for those of you that know) with a liberal sprinkling of the farmers market.

Not that there's anything wrong with shopping at Waitrose if that's your environmentally-friendly jute bag, and definitely nothing wrong with a farmers market, but, as they say, there is another way. Of course in an ideal world perhaps there wouldn't be any supermarkets and we would all shop in small, hyper-local stores but certainly in my life as it currently is, this is unrealistic.

My relationship with discount supermarkets goes quite a long way back. I have memories of my mum coming home triumphant from a Lidls with bags of delicious Liebkuchen - spiced German cookies - but at what ever impressionable age I was, the way she talked about it all being so, well cheap, it was just embarrassing. And now that I have a nearly 11 year old who is suffering from the crippling agonies of living with THE MOST embarrassing parents E-V-V-A, well I can kind of see how her enthusiasm for Lidl turned into a negative in my brain.

For a long time - since I've been in charge of the food shopping, I have essentially avoided discount supermarkets like the plague. I did frequent Leader Price during the year I lived in France in my very early 20s because it was close to the flat I was living in, and of course a discount supermarket in France was bound to be the equivalent of Waitrose (or at least Sainsburys) in the UK. I've also got a deep seated suspicion of Tescos - don't ask me why, but there's a hierarchy that I've lived with for a long time now and it involves trying to buy locally where possible and Sainsburys online delivery (because Ocado is just too expensive) for everything else.

Well since moving West, I've had to change all that. The nearest Sainsburys is a long way away for a start (in fact I'm not sure I know where it is) - no online delivery from them here - and in fact plans for a Sainsburys in Cardigan now appear to have been scrapped as the supermarket has all but admitted to pulling out. Not necessarily a bad thing. Morrisons is a 40 minute drive away (at least - assuming you don't get stuck behind a tractor) in Carmarthen and I think there's an Asda somewhere down Llanelli way...

There are plenty of fabulous farm shops round here, market gardens and the like, but I like to use those for my fresh stuff - meat, veg, eggs - and not the endless tins of chopped tomatoes and pasta we get through.

So what are the options? Well here, it's Tescos and Aldi. There is a Co-Op too but I don't go there - my mind is firmly set in its way of thinking that the Co-Op is for emergencies only (from where we used to live - talk about stuck in my ways). And reader, after coming out of Tescos a few times early on since the move here practically weeping about the cost of my supermarket shopping, which seemed to have inflated beyond belief, I decided I had to do something. So I ventured forth into Aldi.

Now, Aldi is not the best shopping experience in the world. You need to remember to have a £1 coin for the trolleys which can be a challenge, the car park is quite small (but see speed of shopping, below, which encourages high car turnover). You can't always rely on finding that fabulous product that was there last week or last month because it simply may not be there - but if you haven't deemed Aldi worthy of your attention, you really should give it a go. 

The price element is certainly attractive - I would say that I have more than halved what I spend in supermarkets. On 'big shop' days, I find myself in a little challenge to see if I can actually spend more than £50. It's pretty hard, if not impossible, to do. Once (can I admit to this? Deep goes) I actually BOUGHT A DAILY EXPRESS (I can't believe I am admitting this - the ultimate betrayal of my Guardian reading-self?) to get a token that gave me £5 off my shop - but even with purchasing said paper, I had to buy 2 more packs of chocolate buttons to bump the value up to the requisite £50 to then pay £45...The advantage of course is that I can spend more on delicious, local, fresh produce that this area excels in, thus satisfying my inner Waitrose customer.

And shopping in Aldi is so quick. Not only have I cut my shopping bill, I have cut my shopping time. No dawdling round the higher-end establishments agonising over whether to go for branded or own brand, and whether paying for the 'premium' range actually means I'm getting a better product. No, at Aldi, the reduced choice is actually an advantage.

And quality? Well, as I'll share, you do need to be slightly circumspect. The middle aisles for example, stuffed full of the latest offers which Aldi has become renowned for - discount Wagyu beef anyone?  Some of them are fab, some are not. Spending £1 on a pack of 5 pairs of pants for Pink might not have been the wisest £1 I've ever spent, but I guess it was worth finding that out... But for tinned goods, cereals, rice and pasta, baking ingredients - well you know, it's really pretty good. And then there's the special selections - I even bought some Laverstoke Park Beef Jerky there once, and it definitely didn't cost £2.49. And the prosecco with the orange label for £4.99 (yes, £4.99) is exceptionally drinkable. And the chorizo (in fact cooked meats generally)... and the chocolate (they do this really lush milk chocolate with almonds bar which is to die for - you'll find me eating it in the car park...) the list goes on. You'll establish your own favourites, I won't impose my pre-conceived ideas on you!

But to get the most out of Aldi, you really do need to bear a few things in mind, so I thought if you were dithering, wondering about whether to embark on a voyage of Aldi discovery, I'd share what I wish someone had told me.

- Remember your £1 for the trolley; there's no (un)'helpful' customer service desk to exchange your purseful of coppers for a shiny coin. Alternatively loiter by the trolley park and persuade someone to take your fistful of change in exchange for their (empty) trolley.

- Go with a list. Yes, I know this applies to all supermarkets, but the likelihood is that you will get your head turned by all the amazing products and how cheap they are. You might even end up spending more than £50.

- If there's something there that you use a lot of - buy it (even if it's not on your list). I got a huge number of jars of 'Paprika Smoked' in Aldi recently - I suspect because there had been a labelling malfunction that meant Schwartz felt unable to peddle them to the 'more upmarket' stores. Too bad! Also look out for things like bottled cherries in syrup - fabulous on top of cheesecake...

- But be honest with yourself - how many luxury marzipan stollens can you actually eat before Christmas?

- Be brave. I'll admit to an inherent nervousness about buying something that isn't familiar - so indoctrinated have I been that cheap food is inherently bad food. This is simply not the case. At least we haven't died yet.

- There are some things that you just can't get in Aldi - or you can get it but it's just a false economy. This will be personal to you. For me, loo roll comes top of the list. Sorry, Aldi, but there it is.

- Finally, and most importantly - if you haven't experienced check out at Aldi, brace yourself. No longer will you scan for the shortest queue. Checkout at Aldi requires a bit of a brain re-wire. If you're doing a relatively big shop, you need  time to get all your items out onto the conveyor belt and (if you're anal like me and like to bag things in a certain way - it's all coming out now, isn't it) ordered as you like. Also open your empty bags that you bought with you and place them into the trolley and have them ready to receive your goods. Hopefully you've done all this before it's your turn. Get your trolley into position and on your marks... get set... GO! I challenge you not to end up just chucking everything in as quickly as possible to try and keep up with the flying hands of the checkout staff who have been trained to smile and ask you difficult questions about your weekend whilst shooting your purchases through the scanner at warp speed, and on to the impossibly short counter at the other side at lightening speed. I understand this is a tactic, part of why the costs can be kept down, Get used to it - and get in training... 

So there you go. Confession over. Now get thee to an Aldi...

*Just in case you are wondering, I haven't been paid or otherwise induced to write this post by Aldi or anyone else. Just think of it as a public service broadcast